Presidential Transition Update

December 5, 2016

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During a busy week of the Trump transition, President-elect Trump made several key cabinet and senior leadership nominations for agencies, including the departments of Transportation, Treasury, Commerce, Defense, and Housing and Urban Development. Midweek, he took a break from the transition to visit Indiana to announce his successful “job-saving” negotiations with Carrier, an air-conditioning manufacturer, and to begin what he calls his “thank you” swing-state tour in Cincinnati, Ohio. Other news includes several agency landing team announcements, a tweet announcing his decision to completely step away from his businesses and, of course, continued cabinet nominee vetting.


Trump Tweets His Promise to Step Away From His Business

President-elect Trump made a Twitter announcement on Nov. 30 that he would be holding a news conference with his children on Dec. 15 to announce he would be “leaving” his “great business in total in order to fully focus on running the country …” He explained that, while he is not required do so by law, he feels it is “visually important as President, to in no way have a conflict of interest with [his] various businesses.” It is still unclear how President-elect Trump intends to satisfy ethics experts who argue that appointing his children to be in charge of the business would not be enough to ensure his official decisions are independent of his financial ones.

It is likely that concerns of conflicts of interest related to the business holdings of President-elect Trump will continue to shadow his transition in the coming weeks. Buzzfeed News reported on Wednesday that less than a week after Donald Trump won the election, the federal government took a critical next step in the process of finalizing an estimated $32 million tax subsidy for his company to develop a new luxury hotel within the building skeleton of the Old Post Office Pavilion. On Nov. 14, the National Park Service finalized the second phase of a three-step application approval process that would provide the company owned by the president-elect and his children with a tax credit worth as much as 20 percent of the $160 million cost of the rehabilitation. Also at issue, however, is that President-elect Trump will likely have the opportunity to appoint the new director of the National Park Service prior to his submitting the final part of his application, an undoubtable sign of a conflict of interest. Moreover, as the owner of the hotel, the General Services Administration (GSA), would report to President-elect Trump at the same time the agency acts as his landlord. The GSA has acknowledged the potential conflict and said it plans to discuss it with the Trump team.

Trump Tests China by Initiating Relations With President Tsai Ing-wen of Tawain

President-elect Donald Trump rattled the cages of the diplomatic corps on Friday by participating in an “official” introductory phone conversation with Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen; the move conflicts with what has been a difficult U.S. foreign policy balancing act on cross-strait relations for more than 30 years. Whether intentionally or not, President-elect Trump was perceived by some experts as diving headfirst into one of Asia’s longest-running and sensitive foreign policy issues: the sovereignty dispute between Taiwan and mainland China.

While the call does not in itself change policy, it could be perceived by some as implying the possibility of a shift, forcing both China and Taiwan to guess at President-elect Trump’s foreign policy intentions. Some have argued that because Trump’s transition team categorized his call with Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan alongside calls with other heads of state, his administration was implying that Trump recognized her as the leader of a sovereign state. Trump also tweeted that he had spoken with the “President of Taiwan.” Recognizing her as a sovereign leader would communicate that the United States deems Taiwan as independent from mainland China, a position that even Taiwan does not take. Diplomatic officials in both Beijing and Taiwan have dispelled rumors related to the phone call, suggesting that they would prefer to view Trump’s words as a mistake rather than a deliberate policy shift. The New York Times has more on the story here.

More Vice Chairs Added to Trump’s Executive Committee

On Nov. 29, President-elect Donald J. Trump and Vice President-elect and presidential transition team chairman Mike Pence announced the addition of new vice chairs, executive committee members and key staff leadership who will join the Trump-Pence presidential transition team. Joining the distinguished group of vice chairs are Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Kathleen Troia “KT” McFarland, Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY), Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC). Also joining the Executive Committee are: Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI), Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL), Pastor Darrell Scott and Kiron Skinner.

President-elect Trump named additional key leadership staff positions supporting the presidential transition team: Aaron Chang, Steven Cheung, AJ Delgado, Jeff DeWit, Jessica Ditto, George Gigicos, Michael Glassner, Stephanie Grisham, Katrina Pierson and Sean Spicer.

Four Agency Landing Teams and First EOP Landing Team Announced

This week, the Trump transition team seriously ramped up his efforts to vet, announce and deploy additional agency and White House landing teams. While President-elect Trump has already outpaced President Obama’s 2008 speed in picking Cabinet officials, he is lagging behind when it comes to getting staffers in the trenches at some federal agencies. Overall, the Trump team has announced dozens of members of its so-called landing teams for agencies across the federal government; however, certain issue areas still remain bare. For example, the team has announced a combined total of just eight staffers for EPA and the Energy and Interior departments — agencies with a total workforce of about 100,000 federal employees. This far into Obama’s transition, the Obama team had already deployed its full transition staff of about a dozen into the EPA. The Trump team, by contrast, has named just two staffers so far to its EPA transition team. Bloomberg BNA has more on the story here.

Links to the different agency landing team announcements can be found below.

Monday, Nov. 28 agency landing team announcement

Tuesday, Nov. 29 agency landing team announcement

Wednesday, Nov. 30 White House and Executive Office of the President announcement

Thursday, Dec. 1 agency landing team announcement

Friday, Dec. 2 agency landing team announcement


The frenzy of Trump administration cabinet nominations continued, with President-elect Trump making eight secretary or deputy secretary announcements since our last update. What’s more, in an interview broadcast Friday on Fox News, President-elect Donald Trump said he expects to have “almost all” of his Cabinet picks set by next week, capping off a historically quick Cabinet-naming process. President-elect Donald Trump’s selection of top officials for his administration has been more public and contentious than most, but he’s keeping pace with his predecessors, if not exceeding it, with the rate of his Cabinet picks.

Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services

On Nov. 29, House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) was nominated as President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for the next secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Rep. Price is an orthopedic surgeon and has been a longtime opponent of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which the president-elect has pledged to repeal and replace. While some Republicans have attacked the ACA without proposing an alternative plan, Rep. Price has introduced bills offering a detailed, comprehensive replacement plan in every Congress since 2009, when Democrats began work on the legislation. Many of his ideas are included in House Republicans’ “Better Way” agenda released in June.

Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

President-elect Trump also picked a health policy consulting firm founder and CEO Seema Verma to serve as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Verma comes to the job with extensive Medicaid experience, as her firm SVC, Inc., worked closely with then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to design Indiana’s Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0 Medicaid expansion plan under the Affordable Care Act. Verma’s involvement in it may prove important as Congress and the Trump administration, including the vice-president elect, make decisions on the future of Obamacare.

Secretary of the Department of Transportation

President-elect Trump made an announcement on Nov. 29 to reveal his selection of Elaine Chao as the nominee for secretary of the Department of Transportation. Chao previously served as the secretary of labor under President George W. Bush and deputy secretary of transportation under President George H. W. Bush. Chao’s experience complements Trump’s vision of utilizing tax incentives, private financing and infrastructure investment to boost economic activity and create jobs. During her time at the Labor Department, Chao pursued significant departmental, regulatory and legislative reforms aimed at increasing the competitiveness of America’s workforce and growing the economy through the Bush tax cuts. Chao is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

Secretary of the Department of Commerce

On Nov. 30, President-elect Donald Trump tapped Wilbur Ross Jr. — an investor, steel magnate and company turnaround specialist — to be his commerce secretary. Over the years, Ross has grown a successful investment business by buying troubled companies — in industries such as steel, textiles, auto parts and coal — and restructuring them, often with significant layoffs and budget cuts. Ross is a donor and longtime associate of Trump’s, having helped him resurrect his casino business after it went bankrupt in the early 1990s. A former Democrat, Ross has been a loyal Trump supporter who shares Trump’s skepticism about trade agreements. A press release on the announcement can be found here.

Deputy Secretary of the Department of Commerce

Also on Nov. 30, President-elect Trump announced the appointment of Todd Ricketts as his choice for deputy secretary of the Department of Commerce. Ricketts is the son of billionaire TD Ameritrade founder and conservative donor Joe Ricketts, and the brother of Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican. Another brother, Tom Ricketts, is chairman of the Chicago Cubs. Ricketts is no stranger to Washington, D.C., policy-making. As CEO of the Ricketts family’s End Spending organization, a group that advocates for reduced government spending, Ricketts makes regular trips to the nation’s capital to meet with Republicans, Democrats and think tanks.

Secretary of the Department of the Treasury

Steven Mnuchin was announced on Nov. 30 as Trump’s nominee for secretary of the Department of Treasury, which would add both a key campaign figure and a Wall Street veteran to his administration. Mnuchin served as finance chairman for Trump’s presidential campaign and was last the chairman of Dune Capital Management. Mnuchin would take the helm of a Treasury that could take a starkly different approach than the department did under the Obama administration on taxes, trade and financial regulation. As head of the Treasury, Mnuchin would be a critical linchpin in carrying out Trump’s campaign pledges to swiftly address some of the nation’s most challenging political and economic issues. Those include overhauling the tax code, reconsidering a deal that lifted some sanctions on Iran, renegotiating trade agreements to help American manufacturers and designating China a currency manipulator.

Secretary of the Department of Defense

At a rally Dec. 1, President-elect Donald Trump announced that he has chosen retired Marine Gen. James “Maddog” Mattis as his secretary of defense. Mattis, who retired as chief of U.S. Central Command in 2013, has often said that Washington lacks an overall strategy in the Middle East, opting instead to tackle issues in an ineffective, one-by-one manner.

A special waiver will be required for Gen. Mattis to be confirmed due to a law dating back to 1947, which requires seven years to elapse between the time an individual has left military service and when that individual can be appointed as the secretary of defense. An exception was granted only once thus far, for Gen. George Marshall. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), a member of the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on personnel, has already said she will oppose Mattis becoming Pentagon chief. Others — including both chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services committees, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R.-TX) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), respectively — have signaled support for the pick. With the 60-vote filibuster threshold in place, Mattis’ selection does give Democrats some leverage over the nomination process that they would not have had with a nominee that did not require a waiver.

Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development

On Dec. 5, President-elect Trump nominated Dr. Ben Carson to serve as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“Ben Carson has a brilliant mind and is passionate about strengthening communities and families within those communities. We have talked at length about my urban renewal agenda and our message of economic revival, very much including our inner cities. Ben shares my optimism about the future of our country and is part of ensuring that this is a Presidency representing all Americans. He is a tough competitor and never gives up,” President-elect Trump said on Monday.

With no experience in government public service or running a large bureaucracy, Dr. Carson had publicly flip-flopped on whether he wanted to join the administration. He will oversee an agency with a $47 billion budget, bringing to the job a philosophical opposition to government programs that encourage what he calls “dependency” and engage in “social engineering.”  A press release on the announcement can be found here.

Two Conservative Democratic Senators May Be Considered for Trump Cabinet Posts

Several news outlets have reported that two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin (WY) and Heidi Heitkamp (ND), have been interviewed to potentially serve as energy secretary in the Trump administration. Heitkamp already met with Trump on Friday, and it’s possible she’s also being considered for agriculture secretary. Both Manchin and Heitkamp are up for re-election in 2018 in red states. West Virginia and North Dakota are also energy-producing states where even Democrats tend to support Republican criticism of Obama environmental regulations threatening fossil-fuel-industry jobs and America’s energy independence. The choice of either senator would represent a “twofer”: a likely Republican Senate seat gain in 2018 (in Heitkamp’s case, actually, an immediate pickup as North Dakota’s governor is a Republican), and the ability to tout bipartisanship in the new Cabinet without the new secretary holding policy views that are incompatible with Trump’s or congressional Republicans’ views.

An evolving list of rumored Trump appointees can be found here.


Trump Establishes the President’s Strategic and Policy Forum

President-elect Donald J. Trump announced that he is establishing the President’s Strategic and Policy Forum. The forum, which is composed of a cadre of Wall Street leaders and corporate CEOs, will be called upon to meet with the president frequently to share their specific experience and knowledge as the president implements his plan to bring back jobs. The forum will be chaired by Stephen A. Schwarzman, chairman, CEO and co-founder of Blackstone. The first meeting of the forum will be held at the White House during the first week of February.
“Members of the Forum will be charged with providing their individual views to the President — informed by their unique vantage points in the private sector — on how government policy impacts economic growth, job creation, and productivity,” the transition team said in a statement. “The Forum is designed to provide direct input to the President from many of the best and brightest in the business world in a frank, non-bureaucratic, and non-partisan manner.”

Pro-Trump Supporters Sitting Pretty for the 115th Congress

A few GOP House members were publicly criticized and mocked by their colleagues for supporting the party outsider, Donald Trump; now, they are key members on his transition team and strong intergovernmental branch resources. Politico reports on specific Republican members — including Reps. Lou Barletta (R-PA), Chris Collins (R-NY), Devin Nunes (R-UT) and Darrell Issa (R-CA) — and speaks to the inside-baseball access they now have to President-elect Trump’s transition and future administration.