President-elect Donald Trump on Thursday defended his decision to nominate at least five billionaires to serve in his Cabinet, and he compared billionaires to great athletes.
“A newspaper criticized me and said, ‘Why can’t they have people of modest means?’” Trump said to a rally crowd in Des Moines, Iowa. “Because I want people that made a fortune! Because now they are negotiating [for] you, OK?”
“It’s no different than a great baseball player or a great golfer,” Trump added. “I mean, we want the people that are going to bring….” he said, before losing his train of thought.
Trump has come under fire in recent days from newspaper editorial boards and ethics experts for appointing so many billionaires and multimillionaires to top spots in his administration. Already, Trump’s Cabinet is poised to be the wealthiest presidential Cabinet in history, with a combined net worth of at least $14.5 billion.
The bulk of this money comes from just six nominees: Trump’s pick for secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, is a billionaire who married into inherited wealth. His choice for the No. 2 job at Commerce, Todd Ricketts, similarly did not earn his fortune.
Commerce Secretary designee Wilbur Ross made his billions on Wall Street, while Trump’s nominee to the lead the Small Business Administration, Linda McMahon, is a professional wrestling magnate who has spent $100 million of her own money on failed political campaigns.
Two more Trump picks have personal fortunes in the hundreds of millions: Treasury Secretary nominee Steve Mnuchin, and Andy Puzder, Trump’s choice for Secretary of Labor.
The bevy of billionaires who will help Trump run the country stands in contrast to his populist campaign message. As a candidate, Trump frequently criticized the financial industry, accusing hedge fund managers of shuffling papers, and Wall Street millionaires of not paying their fair share in taxes.
But on Thursday Trump whistled a different tune, lavishing praise on his millionaire appointees: “They’re so proud to do it, these people, they’ve given up fortunes, of income, to come and make a dollar a year, and they are so proud to do it.”