US President-elect Donald Trump began putting together his administration with a series of meetings in Washington DC on Thursday, starting with one with President Barack Obama at the White House, which is a tradition symbolising smooth transfer of power.
Trump will have a luncheon meeting with the Republican leadership in Capitol Hill, home to US legislature, which will be instrumental in delivering on many of his elections promises, such as repealing Obamacare and overhauling the tax code. His transition team, headed by New Jersey governor Chris Christie will be sifting through mountains of applications for the 4,000 political appointments the new administration will make across the federal government.
Casting a shadow over all of these is speculation about Trump’s cabinet; specially the most important positions of chief of staff, secretary of state, defence secretary, attorney general, national security adviser and treasury secretary. Trump will be inaugurated on January 20, and as is the tradition, his administration will be underway past noon. Before that, he needs to have his men and women in place, most of them at least, as new appointments will continue to be made.
The meeting with President Obama, which will be subjected to intense scrutiny for the body language between two men who just don’t like each other and other optics, although their personal chemistry is unlikely to be of any consequence.
“It is no secret that the President-elect and I have some pretty significant differences,” Obama said in remarks from the White House on Wednesday. “But remember, eight years ago, President Bush and I had some pretty significant differences.”
He continued: “But President Bush’s team could not have been more professional or more gracious in making sure we had a smooth transition so that we could hit the ground running.”
The transition process has been underway since the conventions of the two parties declared their official nominees. Transitions of both candidates were already in place working out a federal government building in DC processing applications.
Trump will start getting the daily intelligence briefing that the president gets, not the abridged, sporadic and stripped-down version both he and Clinton received as nominees.
Starting this week, Agency Review teams appointed by Trump will begin getting detailed briefings on the organization structure, budget, responsibilities by members of the current administration, according to a White House fact-sheet.
After his meeting with Obama, Trump will head for Capitol Hill to meet House of Representatives speaker Paul Ryan, with whom he has had a prickly relationship so far, and senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.
They will have lunch at the Capital Hill Club, across the Hill, and discuss the way forward.
Ryan is up for re-election and Trump’s support will be important. They have spoken a few times after election night, and Ryan is signalling a full embrace.
He was a reluctant supporter during the campaign phase, and had distanced himself from the nominee after the surfacing of the tapes in which the latter bragged about groping women and forcing himself on them.
With Republicans retaining control of both chambers of Congress, Trump will have as easy a time as Obama had in his first term with Democrats controlling both the senate and the House, and will be able to push his agenda without pushback.
Speculation is under way about Donald Trump’s cabinet, with former Speaker Newt Gingrich among those reportedly being eyed as secretary of state and former New York mayor leading the race for attorney general, the country’s top prosecutor.
Trump has himself not said anything yet and according to his campaign he hadn’t had the time or inclination think about it during campaigning. But leaks from his campaign do point to some of those being considered.
Gingrich, who has spoken glowingly of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and calling him and Trump a “natural fit”, is reportedly leading the secretary of state guessing game, with Senator Bob Corker. Senator Jeff Sessions, an early supporter, retired general Michael Flynn and former National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and former Senator Jim Talent are apparently among those being looked at for the secretary of defence slot. A long time Trump-friend and a Goldman Sachs veteran Steven Mnuchin is the only name that has been heard for the position of treasury secretary, that practically makes him a shoo-in. Trump himself has indicated he wants to give him that job.
Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani is a leading contender for the position of attorney general, and he has not been coy about it, saying in a TV interview on Thursday he is eminently qualified for it, given his long experience.
The Republican National Committee chairman, who is being credited with crafting Trump’s get-out-the-vote machine, is being spoken of as the all-important White House position of chief of staff, controlling access to the president.