A coalition of progressive state lawmakers from around the country on Monday sent a letter to Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), demanding the U.S. Senate only confirm cabinet nominees "who have an established record of respecting the importance of diplomacy and other tools of statecraft over the unnecessary use of force, respecting civil liberties, placing American interests over personal interests, and upholding our sacred tradition of a civilian-led government."
The letter was organized by the legislative arm of Women's Action for New Directions (WAND), a Cambridge-based grassroots advocacy organization dedicated to amplifying women's voices in national security, disarmament, and anti-militarization campaigns. Signed by 125 female and male state legislators, the letter has the backing of groups including the Arms Control Association, Global Zero, National Priorities Project, Peace Action, and Win Without War.
It calls for nominees to be "evaluated around five principles core to maintaining American strength abroad and at home":
- Diplomacy Over Military Intervention. We urge you to oppose nominees who see war and conflict as the best or only means to defend America's interests.
- Arms Control. We urge you to oppose nominees who seek to maintain or increase the number of nuclear weapons in the world, rather than support policies of nonproliferation, reduction, and eventual elimination.
- Civil Liberties. We urge you to oppose nominees who would undermine the civil liberties of the American people enshrined in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution.
- Conflicts of Interest. We urge you to oppose nominees whose personal or professional interests might conflict, or have the perception of conflict, with the interests of the public they serve.
- Civilian Leadership. While we strongly respect the experience and credentials of our military's active and retired generals, we urge you to oppose nominees who would undermine the core American philosophy of civilian leadership.
From the selection of multiple military generals for top positions in his administration to the abundant conflicts of interest among his wealthy cabinet nominees, it appears President-elect Donald Trump has been using a different rubric—and that's not even taking into account Trump's own recent statements advocating a nuclear arms race.
The letter does not name any of Trump's nominees specifically, but an accompanying press release pointed to picks like Rex Tillerson (for secretary of state), Jeff Sessions (for attorney general), and Rick Perry (for energy secretary) as among those who might not fit the bill.
Of Perry, for example, the group notes that he "famously couldn't remember the name of the Department of Energy, but claimed he planned to eliminate it if president. Sixty percent of the department's budget relates to nuclear weapons and has most recently been run by trained physicists. The most recent Energy Secretary, Ernie Moniz, had a major role in negotiating the nuclear agreement with Iran, providing vital technical support. It is essential the department be led by someone who understands its major role in preventing the spread of nuclear weapons around the globe, not to mention someone who doesn't philosophically believe the agency should be dismantled."
Legislators signing this letter hail from Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and West Virginia.
Their perspective is unique, they write, because "U.S. national security policy has implications in our home states. From crumbling bridges and inadequate road maintenance to the opioid crisis and a lack of support for our veterans, the last 15 years of war and nation-building endeavors have taken an enormous toll on our communities and our ability as state lawmakers to provide critical services to our constituents."
Former Maine state representative and WAND national security political director Diane Russell explained: "Here in Portland, Maine, parents are organizing to convince the city to fund four new elementary schools because ours are falling apart. I served eight years in the Maine House and I can tell you there's no money at the state level to help because we have sent that money overseas."
Of Tillerson, she said, "We need a secretary of state who will put diplomacy first and keep more of our money at home."