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The worst member of Trump’s Cabinet in 2019: A bracketology

Even with the churn in the Cabinet, the competition remains fierce.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen speaks at a multilateral meeting at the Honduran Ministry of Security in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on March 27. (Jorge Cabrera/Reuters)

Last year, I took advantage of America’s obsession with NCAA brackets to ask a very important question: “Who is the worst member of Trump’s Cabinet?” The winner, as selected by Twitter poll, was Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, which may explain why he stepped down two months later. Another finalist, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, also departed in the past year.

With all the turnover in Trump’s Cabinet, 2019 is a brand-new race, so it’s time to list the top six seeds again! Although there are some returning favorites, do not count out some of the newcomers to Team Trump!

Seed No. 1: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Last year I wrote that, “to his credit, Ross has remained mostly unscathed in the scandal department.” BUT HE’S MADE UP FOR LOST TIME, BABY! Ross did his best Mr. Magoo impersonation during the January government shutdown:

Then there is the genuine government-related scandal that Ross has overseen while commerce secretary. In September, Ari Berman reported in Mother Jones that Ross had lied to Congress about the origins of a controversial question about U.S. citizenship on the 2020 Census. Last month, “Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross acted in ‘bad faith,’ broke several laws and violated the constitutional underpinning of representative democracy when he added a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, a federal judge ruled,” according to The Washington Post’s Fred Barbash.

As I have tweeted repeatedly over the past year, in a normal administration Ross would have resigned months ago. Even in this administration, his combination of cluelessness and corruption earn him the No. 1 seed. He already won New York Times columnist Gail Collins’s January 2019 invitational.

Seed No. 2: Labor Secretary Alex Acosta. Acosta has come out of nowhere to garner a No. 2 seed. This has less to do with his performance as labor secretary and a lot to do with the Miami Herald’s investigation of his role in a sweetheart plea bargain with multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein of Palm Beach, Fla. After Epstein was accused of molesting more than 100 underage girls, Acosta — then the U.S. attorney for Southern Florida — agreed to an absurdly lenient plea deal. According to the Herald’s reporting, “Acosta allowed Epstein’s lawyers unusual freedoms in dictating the terms of the non-prosecution agreement.” He also agreed to keep the plea deal secret from Epstein’s victims.

As a result of the Herald’s reporting, the Justice Department has opened an investigation of Acosta’s role in negotiating the plea deal.

Seed No. 3: Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan. You really have to give Shanahan credit. Despite being merely an acting secretary, and despite holding that position for only a few months, he has managed to underwhelm in multiple ways. He underwhelmed members of Congress at the Munich Security Conference and failed to impress other members of Congress in his testimony. Furthermore, he has already managed to earn himself an ethics investigation from the Pentagon’s inspector general over whether he demonstrated favoritism toward Boeing, his former employer. Little wonder that any momentum toward nominating Shanahan to be the permanent defense secretary has stalled.

Seed No. 4: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Trump’s education secretary has never met an interview that she could not flub. Her testimony before Congress last week did not go well. And then there was the Special Olympics disaster. DeVos deserves credit for apparently resisting the cuts to that funding, but in the end she acquiesced to the White House’s insistence on cutting it. She then offered the worst possible defense of the reductions, leading Trump to publicly undercut her (after which, DeVos responded in kind).

Seed No. 5: Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson. As I noted last year, “Carson was also called onto the White House carpet for his questionable spending priorities. Carson is a rising star of incompetency, aided by the fact that he knew absolutely nothing about housing policy before taking the job.”

Since then, he has continued not to accomplish anything of note. He did, however, announce that he would step down after 2020, which is an awfully long time to be a lame duck.

Seed No. 6: Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. She has become the public face of the Trump administration’s cruel and unusual immigration policies, which include, you know, putting children in cages. Her department keeps reducing immigration policy to a Hulk-like mantra of “We need wall.” Not much more needs to be said about her tenure.

Who is the winner? The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts relied on Twitter polls to get to the Final Four. As the one and two seeds, Ross and Acosta received first-round byes:

DeVos bested Carson, but in an upset, the lower-seeded homeland security secretary knocked off the acting defense secretary. Neither vote was close. Which left Ross, Acosta, DeVos and Nielsen. And the winner is:

Congratulations to Nielsen! Despite being the underdog, she easily bested Shanahan and then triumphed over a stellar lineup of hacks and cronies. One can only hope that she follows Pruitt’s path out of government.