The last 7 cabinet secretaries I’ll cover have had some of the most power. In addition to Jeh Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security, and John King, and Rod Paige, Secretaries of Education, we have had two black Secretaries of State: Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice and two black Attorneys General: Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch. I want to take a look at both who they were and what their departments are in charge of.
Rod Paige was appointed by George W. Bush in 2001 to head the Department of Education. The Department functions are to establish policy for, administer and coordinate most federal assistance to education, collect data on US schools, and to enforce federal educational laws regarding privacy and civil rights. Paige was born in 1933, and educated in Jackson State University with a Doctor of Education in Physical Education from Indiana University. He served in the Navy, taught in Mississippi, and coached football at Jackson State and Texas Southern. He later became a Dean, and an officer of the Board of Education and later superintendent of schools in Houston. As Secretary of Education, Paige was responsible for implementing the No Child Left Behind law. He frequently fought with the National Education Association, and helped provide more flexibility for educators to establish single-sex classes and schools at the elementary and secondary levels. John King Jr. served as Education Secretary for one year under Obama from 2016-2017. Born in 1975, he attended Harvard and Columbia, and later Yale Law School. He co-founded the Roxbury Preparatory Charter School and worked on other charter school programs in Massachusetts. In 2011, he became Commissioner of Education of the State of New York, and president of the University of the State of New York, comprises more than 7,000 public and independent elementary and secondary schools; 270 public, independent and proprietary colleges and universities; 7,000 libraries; 900 museums; 25 public broadcasting facilities; 3,000 historical repositories; 436 proprietary schools; 52 professions encompassing more than 850,000 licensees plus 240,000 certified educators; and services for children and adults with disabilities. In 2015, King became Acting Deputy Secretary of Education under Arne Duncan who later resigned. King was charged to follow through on the successor to No Child Left Behind, called “Every Student Succeeds”. He served until Trump took office.
Jeh Johnson, born in 1957, was named Secretary of Homeland Security by Obama in 2013 after having served as General Counsel for the Air Force and for the Department of Defense where he crafted much of the US militaries current counterterrorism policies and helped secure the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, allowing LGBT individuals to freely serve in the US military. Johnson attended Morehouse and got his law degree at Columbia University. On 9/11, 2001, Johnson was in New York City when the planes hit the Twin Towers and has a very personal view of the tragedy. The Department of Homeland Security was formed as a direct consequence of 9/11. It is now the third largest cabinet department after Defense and Veterans Affairs, and is charged to deal with anti-terrorism, border security, immigration and customs, cyber security, and disaster prevention and management. It includes the Immigration and Naturalization Service, FEMA, an office for “Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction”, Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers, the US Coast Guard, The US Secret Service, US Customs and Border Protection and the Transportation Security Administration. As Secretary, Johnson dealt with a fair amount of controversy with a high influx of child immigrants in 2014, who were sent to “family residential centers” while “credible fear” interviews were conducted. Johnsons also oversaw the US reaction to the Ebola epidemic. Finally, Johnson worked with Obama on the “Dreamer” policies.
The position of Secretary of State is one of the major cabinet positions, along with Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Treasury. The Secretary of State heads the department that advises the president AND represents the country in internal affairs and foreign policy issues around the world. Colin Powell, born in 1937 was named to the position by George W. Bush in 2001. He is a retired 4-star general, was National Security Advisor and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (the highest military position in the Department of Defense) under George H.W. Bush. He also served in the Vietnam War as an infantry captain his first tour and as a major for his second tour, having joined ROTC in college. Powell was Secretary of State during 9/11 and one of his duties was to explain the “war on terrorism” to other nations. He helped build the case for the 2003 Iraq invasion and was in charge of garnering international support for it in order to mount a multi-national coalition for the invasion. He is known for a speech he gave citing Saddam Hussein’s buildup of nuclear material – the speech was later found to be highly flawed and inaccurate. In later statements, Powell acknowledged that it was unlikely that there were WMDs in Iraq and that the intelligence had been faulty.
It is said that Powell was asked to step down. As soon as he agreed to retire, Condoleezza Rice was nominated to succeed him. Rice, born in 1954, Rice obtained her degrees from University of Denver and University of Notre Dame in political science. She worked for the state department under Carter, served as provost at Stanford, then joined the George H.W. Bush administration as a Soviet Union expert on the National Security Council as the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union was dissolved. George W. Bush tapped Rice to the position of National Security Advisor in 2000. According to CIA Director George Tenef, Rice was briefed about the possibility of an Al Qaeda attack in the summer of 2001. Rice was a proponent of the 2003 Iraq invasion, writing a NY Times editorial entitled “Why We Know Iraq is Lying”. Rice also supported waterboarding as a torture technique. When Rice was confirmed as Secretary of State, the vote was 85-13, with the most negative votes ever cast against a secretary of state since 1825. As Secretary of State, Rice pioneered the policy of “Transformational Diplomacy” directed toward expanding the number of responsible democratic governments in the world and especially the Middle East. Rice logged more miles traveling than any other Secretary of State before her. Rice was also charged with reviewing the nuclear capabilities of North Korea and Iran as well as India.
Last, the attorney general. The US Attorney General heads the Department of Justice which was founded in the 1870’s, vigorously prosecuting KKK members. The DOJ includes the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the US Marshals Service. It represents the US in legal matters such as cases before the Supreme Court, and is in charge of the federal prison system under the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Eric Holder, born in 1951 was nominated to the office of Attorney General in 2009. Holder received his bachelors and law degree from Columbia University. He worked for the NAACP leakage defense fund during his first summer of law school. He worked for the Justice Department from 1976 to 1988. Clinton named him as Deputy Attorney General under Janet Reno in 1997. As part of his role, although an opponent of the death penalty, he helped craft the concept of “hate crimes”. Holder worked in private practice up until his nomination as attorney general. As Attorney General, Holder defended Obama’s right to use drone strikes and raids, and Obama’s decision to use special forces troops to kill Osama Bin Laden. Holder worked to shift terrorism cases from military to federal courts, prosecuting numerous terrorists who were imprisoned at Guantanamo. Holder was involved in international cooperation efforts against terrorism in Africa and the Middle East. Within the US, Holder championed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and fought against voter ID laws and redistricting in the South. He filed suit against Arizona before the Supreme Court over their tough immigration law, which he considered “racial profiling”. In 2011, Holder declared that the US would no longer defend cases involving same-sex marriage and believed that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional. When Holder stepped down in 2015, Obama nominated Loretta Lynch to replace him. Lynch, born in 1959, received her bachelors and law degrees from Harvard and helped to charter their Delta chapter. Lynch began working as a prosecutor in 19990, and served as a US Attorney in New York under Clinton, overseeing the Abner Louima case. Lynch worked in private practice after the Clinton administration, until returning to the US Attorney position under Obama. Lynch’s confirmation was hard won, approved by the Senate 56-43. During her tenure, she prosecuted Dylann Roof for a hate crime and advocated the death penalty as a result of the Charleston church shooting. She worked to address the need for better transition of felons back into society, by appealing to governors. Lynch oversaw responses to the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting.
So there you have it. We have had power.