On 13 April 2017, President Donald Trump’s administration quietly swore in former Washington state lawmaker Don Benton to head the Selective Service System, making him the first person to do so without having served in the military. The White House announced his nomination three days earlier. The appointment did not require confirmation by the Senate.
Benton, a Republican who served in the Washington state Senate, most recently acted as a senior advisor to the Environmental Protection Agency. But he was reportedly shut out of staff meetings because he “piped up so frequently during policy discussions.” Benton also chaired Trump’s campaign in Washington state, where he lost by 16 percentage points to Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Benton’s appointment was criticized by Richard Painter, the vice chair of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a non-partisan watchdog group monitoring potential corruption on the part of elected officials. Painter called Benton’s appointment “an insult to those who serve” on Twitter, and described him as a “political hack.”
Painter (who served as the chief White House ethics lawyer between 2005 and 2007 for then-President George W. Bush) also derided the White House announcement about Benton’s appointment, which highlighted his work “removing hazardous waste from the waste stream” while leading an agency in Washington state. He said:
If this administration doesn’t understand the difference between disposing of hazardous waste and determining the fate of young men’s lives, then they’ve got bigger problems to deal with than this one nominee.
Selective Service registration is mandatory for male U.S. citizens within 30 days after their 18th birthday. Permanent residents and undocumented immigrants between the ages of 18 and 25 are also required to register with the service.
Michael McPhearson, who leads the anti-war advocacy group Veterans for Peace, told us that Benton’s appointment also allows him to appoint members to Selective Service local boards. In the event that a new military draft is implemented, the boards determine eligibility for military deferments or exemptions. The boards also rule on conscientious objector petitions. Benton’s lack of military experience, McPhearson said, could affect his views:
Certainly [Benton] does not know — at least from experience — what it means to serve, or maybe even understand why a person would not want to.
In 2013, Benton was accused by Sen. Ann Rivers (R) of calling her a “trashy trampy-mouthed little girl.” Benton responded by saying that Rivers cursed at him and “made [him] feel physically threatened.” McPhearson, whose group opposes the draft altogether, said that he had not heard of Benton before he was appointed, but stated after reading about his history that:
I would be concerned no matter what agency he was appointed to when it seems like he has the kind of personality where it’s tough to get along with people. I think you need — not only in something like this but in all agencies — someone who can work with people and get things done.
Benton’s appointment did not require Senate confirmation because his position is one of 163 offices covered under the Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act of 2011, which allows for unilateral appointments by the president.
The bill was sponsored by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY). We contacted Schumer seeking comment. He has yet to respond. We also contacted the White House seeking comment on Benton’s alleged behavior, but likewise, have yet to receive a response.