President-elect Donald Trump has picked Senator Jeff Sessions, a hardliner on immigration and a fierce critic of H-1B visas — used by US companies to hire highly skilled foreigners, including many from India — as his attorney general.
The Trump team also announced the appointment of retired general Michael Flynn, who is known for making incendiary anti-Muslim comments, as National Security Adviser, and Congressman Michael Pompeo as CIA director.
There was no word yet about secretary of state for which South Carolina’s Indian-American governor Nikki Haley is understood to be in consideration along with former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton.
Sessions had introduced a legislation in 2015, making H-1B hires prohibitively expensive for employers to force them to use local hands, and backed a legislation that sought to bring down the annual cap for the visa category from 65,000 to 50,000.
While it’s still unclear how his appointment as the attorney general could directly impact the H-1B programme, which is a massive source of revenue for Indian IT companies, his position as a member of Trump’s core team could signal trouble.
Trump has been ambivalent on the issue, telling HT in an earlier interview, that he likes the programme and has used it for his businesses, but his first priority is to save and protect American jobs.
India worries about protectionist moves around the programme, and has dragged the US to the World Trade Organization for substantially hiking application fees for H-1B and L-1 — another visa programme for skilled workers — in 2016.
There were also reports suggesting Trump could be considering Mitt Romney, a critic and failed 2012 presidential nominee, for a position in his cabinet — secretary of state or treasury. They are meeting over the weekend.
Trump has not announced appointments to other important cabinet berths such as secretary of defence, treasury, homeland security and human and health services.
The appointments announced on Friday were seen to indicate Trump was rewarding loyalty above all else — Sessions and Flynn were among his early backers, and also the staunchest, standing by him through his many falls and controversies.
Sessions has a history of racism, and his nomination as federal judge by president Ronald Reagan, a Republican, in 1986, was rejected by a Republican-controlled senate judiciary committee over racially charged remarks and comments.
An African American colleague had said in testimony to the committee then that Sessions had called him a “boy”, a racial slur, and ranked that that he was fine with the racist outfit Ku Klux Klan “until I found out they smoked pot”.
Flynn, who will oversee the country’s formidable national security set-up from a room just a few doors from the Oval Office, is known to have made anti-Muslim remarks, which would be particularly troubling given the present climate.
He had argued Islam is a political ideology that the founding father of America “wanted nothing to do with” and tweeted in February a link to a YouTube video titled, “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL: Please forward a link to this video …”
During Pompeo’s first run for the House of Representatives in 2010, his campaign had promoted on Twitter an article that had called his Democratic rival Raj Goyle, an Indian-American, “evil” and “turban topper”.
Pompeo, a leading member of the Tea Party wing of the Republican, had gone on to win that election and two more terms. The tweet and the article, which have both been removed since, had said Goyle, a state representative then, “could be a muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist etc who knows”. He told reporters later that Pompeo had personally called and apologised for it.
“What he told me on the call is that he apologised and was shocked by it and it was a communications error,” Goyle had said, adding if his own campaign has done anything of the sort, he would have fired the staffer responsible for it.
Trump has already been under fire for appointing Steven Bannon, a former media executive, known to favour AltRight white nationalists; and the appointment of Sessions and Flynn are likely to further agitate those already nervous.
But not David Duke, a former member of the racist outfit Ku Klux Klan, who is celebrating. “Bannon, Flynn, Sessions — Great! Senate must demand that Sessions as AG stop the massive institutional race discrimination against whites!” he tweeted.