U.S. president-elect Donald Trump hadn’t been seen in public for days when he walked into New York City’s 21 Club to applause from fellow diners Tuesday.
The unannounced evening out with family was a contrast to the behind-the scenes machinations that suggested a struggling transition as names surfaced and sank for top administration positions.
Not to worry, Trump suggested in a Tuesday night tweet: “Very organized process taking place as I decide on cabinet and many other positions. I am the only one who knows who the finalists are!”
Very organized process taking place as I decide on Cabinet and many other positions. I am the only one who knows who the finalists are!
Trump spokesman Jason Miller echoed those remarks later in the day, saying the president-elect is “not going to rush” his cabinet picks.
Miller told reporters at Trump Tower in New York City that outgoing President Barack Obama did not have “his entire cabinet formed within the first week” after his election in 2008.
Before dinner at the midtown Manhattan restaurant — he broke with protocol and left his press contingent behind — Trump met with the head of his transition team, vice-president-elect Mike Pence, but another day passed without a cabinet announcement.
Strains were showing within the process. Trump’s allies engaged in an unusual round of public speculation about his potential appointments. Former Michigan representative Mike Rogers, a respected Republican voice on national security issues, quit the transition effort. And an apparent clerical oversight effectively halted the Trump team’s ability to co-ordinate with Obama’s White House.
Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani seemed to be angling for secretary of state. But Trump’s transition team was reviewing Giuliani’s paid consulting work for foreign governments, which could delay a nomination or bump him to a different position, according to a person briefed on the matter but not authorized to speak publicly about it.
Giuliani founded Giuliani Partners in 2001 and helped businesses on behalf of foreign governments, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. He also advised TransCanada, which sought to build the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, and helped the maker of the painkiller drug OxyContin settle a dispute with the Drug Enforcement Administration.
A Trump official said John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, remained in contention for secretary of state. Bolton has years of foreign policy experience but has raised eyebrows with some of his hawkish stances, including a 2015 New York Times op-ed in which he advocated bombing Iran to halt the country’s nuclear program.
Businessman Carl Icahn disclosed on Twitter, based on conversations with the president-elect, that Trump was considering Steve Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs banker, and Wilbur Ross, a billionaire investor, to lead the Treasury and Commerce departments.
‘You are already breaking your campaign promises to “drain the swamp.”‘ - Senator Elizabeth Warren
These and other rumoured appointments prompted an open letter from Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts — a vocal Trump opponent during the campaign — who accused the president-elect of going back on his promises to protect the working class.
“Within days of your election, you have elevated a slew of Wall Street bankers, industry insiders, and special interest lobbyists to your transition team,” Warren wrote in the eight-page letter, which includes footnotes citing Trump’s speeches.
“You are already breaking your campaign promises to ‘drain the swamp.’”
‘Fighting for power’
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had spent months running transition operations before his demotion last week. The switch to Pence, however, slowed Trump’s ability to co-ordinate with the White House. Not until Tuesday evening had Pence signed a memorandum of understanding facilitating interactions between his team and Obama administration officials. Christie had signed the document, but Pence’s promotion made it invalid.
White House spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine said the administration was waiting on more documents required by law before agencies could begin sharing information with the transition team.
A person familiar with the transition efforts said different factions in Trump’s team “are fighting for power.”
A similar report in the Times — about disarray in the transition team, and the difficulty faced by foreign leaders looking to speak with the president-elect — prompted a series of tweets early Wednesday from Trump, who said the process is going “smoothly.”
Indeed, Trump effectively created two power centres in his White House even before taking office. He named Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus as his chief of staff and flame-throwing media mogul Steve Bannon as his chief strategist, but called them “equal partners.”
Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is also deeply involved in the transition, creating another layer of uncertainty about who is making decisions.
“That organization right now is not designed to work,” according to the person close to the efforts, who like others involved in the transition, insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the internal process.
Former Republican national security official Eliot Cohen blasted Trump’s team on Twitter, calling them “angry, arrogant.” Cohen opposed Trump during the campaign, but in recent days, he said those who feel duty bound to work in a Trump administration should do so. But he said Tuesday that after an exchange with Trump’s team, he had “changed my recommendation.”
With Trump’s team divided, emboldened Republicans on Capitol Hill moved forward with a united front.
Senate Republicans on Wednesday re-elected Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell to be majority leader when the new Congress convenes in January.
The 74-year-old is considered a clever tactician who mixes conservative leanings with a willingness to cut bipartisan deals when necessary. McConnell distanced himself from Trump during the campaign, but has said he’s ready to work with him.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, a lukewarm Trump supporter during the campaign, unanimously won his colleagues’ votes on Tuesday for another term at the helm of the House. He told fellow party members that he had Trump’s support, and heralded “the dawn of a new, unified Republican government.”