Presidential Transition Update

December 12, 2016

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During another busy week of the Trump transition, President-elect Trump made several key cabinet appointments; continued his “thank you” tour of the swing states in Iowa, Michigan and Louisiana; announced a controversial decision to retain producing credit on his reality series, Celebrity Apprentice; and was named Time magazine’s 2016 Person of the Year.


Trump Tower Focuses on Cabinet, Ignoring DC Transition Team Push for Policy Plans

Although the majority of President-elect Trump’s transition staff are set up in the nation’s capital developing detailed policy plans for the Trump administration’s first 100 days, senior counselors in Trump Tower have almost exclusively fixed their attention on top Cabinet appointments, with Trump and his inner circle instead choosing to rely on the counsel of politicians, CEOs and campaign donors for senior staff recommendations.

Even some Obama administration officials are anxious that the Trump transition has huge headway to overcome in developing department-specific transition plans. The New York-D.C. transition dislocation reflects Trump’s propensity to focus on personnel and, especially, personality, over policy. Some argue that tilt, in combination with his improvisational style and the divisions between the teams, will make his transition to the White House more challenging, increasing the chance that he’ll have a more fragmented roadmap for governing on day one.

Moreover, D.C. transition staff, the majority of whom have direct experience working in federal agencies and are policy experts in their fields, have been told not to expect senior-level jobs in the Trump administration. Transition leaders have said that members of the agency landing teams will not be tapped for Senate-confirmed jobs — a pronouncement that straightaway consigns them to persons with less decision-making power and rank.

Politico has more on the story here.

Pence Huddles With GOP Senators on ACA Repeal and 2017 Policy Agenda

On Dec. 6, Vice President-elect Mike Pence joined Senate Republicans, many of whom are close to Pence from his days on Capitol Hill, for the first of what is expected to be many regularly scheduled closed-door lunches with members of the upper chamber. The GOP senators’ caucus discussed their policy agenda for 2017 during the meal. Since his selection as the No. 2 on the GOP ticket, Pence has been seen as a key conduit for President-elect Trump to congressional Republicans.

However, even after the meeting, Senate Republicans are no closer to resolving an issue that’s splintering the Republican Party moving into the new Trump administration: how much time to allow for the crafting and passage of repeal and replace for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). During the meeting, Pence disclosed that the incoming administration is ready to garner a strong working relationship with Congress on ACA repeal. At the meeting, Pence did not offer a timeline for how long President-elect Trump wants the ACA transition period to last. In an interview with the press, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) said Pence discussed repealing parts of Obamacare through executive action — the rest would likely be repealed using the budget reconciliation process.

Senate Republicans intend to initiate the repeal effort as early as Jan. 3 by voting on a budget resolution. By pursuing ACA repeal through the budget resolution, it procedurally allows Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act via a simple majority vote, important given that Republicans don’t have the traditional 60 votes needed to override a Democratic filibuster. Then, shortly after Trump’s inauguration, Republicans aim to have a repeal bill on his desk to sign.

President-elect Trump also had a meeting in New York with Speaker Ryan (R-WI) on Dec. 9, where they discussed the transition and policies and legislative priorities that congressional Republicans plan to pursue in Trump’s first few months in office. Speaker Ryan and President-elect Trump speak almost daily by phone.

New Twitter Page For Trump’s Inaugural; Event Announcements Are Forthcoming

On Dec. 8, Vice President-elect Pence announced the creation of a new Twitter account for inaugural event announcements. @TrumpInaugural will be the official account of the 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee.

A schedule of inaugural festivities is expected to be released this week; however, on Dec. 9 the Inaugural Committee released a sneak peek tweet of the events to expect. The committee rolled out a series of donor packages on Nov. 29 aimed at enticing rich donors and corporations to contribute to funding the festivities. Events for donors include an opening “victory reception,” as well as a series of more personal events with the incoming first family, Vice President-elect Mike Pence and senior officials in President elect Trump’s cabinet. Donors also will be invited to upscale dinners on the evening before the inauguration, and some will be able to attend one of the two official balls planned for inauguration night. With about $50 million in pledged donations for the events thus far, the fundraising team continues its efforts to fund an event that fits the extraordinary and glitzy lifestyle of President-elect Trump.


This week, the Trump transition team continued forward with last week’s stated objective of releasing more picks for President-elect Trump’s Cabinet. Trump has said he will name a secretary of state either this week or next; however, Rex Tillerson is the leading candidate, given President-elect Trump’s recent tweet.

Also worth mentioning, on Dec. 9 former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani withdrew his name from consideration for any position in the upcoming Trump administration, instead opting to stay in the private sector. A longtime friend of President-elect Trump, Giuliani has said he will stay on the Trump transition team as vice chairman.

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

Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security

On Dec. 12, the Trump transition team announced that retired Marine General John Kelly would be nominated as the next secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Like the president-elect, Kelly holds strong convictions in favor of preventing illegal immigration. Last year, Kelly testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that the absence of security on the U.S.-Mexican border represents a dire national security threat. As former supervisor of the military’s Southern Command, Kelly was in charge of U.S. military activities and enhancing relationships in the Caribbean and Latin America. He is also a supporter of keeping open the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba.

Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency

The transition team confirmed on Dec. 7 that Scott Pruitt, the attorney general of the oil-and-gas-friendly state of Oklahoma, would be nominated as President-elect Trump’s administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The selection likely signals an intention by the next administration to dismantle much of President Obama’s climate change and environmental legacy.

Pruitt has a lengthy record of battling what he sees as the Obama administration’s regulatory overreach, including leading a coalition of state attorneys general to sue the EPA over the Clean Power Plan, the principal Obama-era policy intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from electric utilities. Pruitt is also part of a group of state attorneys general who brought suit against the EPA regarding its new regulations that try to curb methane emissions, a greenhouse gas that is disproportionately produced by the oil and gas sector. A strong proponent of states’ rights, Pruitt has also served as head of the Republican Attorneys General Association. A press release on the announcement can be found here.

Administrator of the Small Business Administration

On Dec. 7, President-elect Trump tapped Linda McMahon, former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), to lead the Small Business Administration.

“Linda has a tremendous background and is widely recognized as one of the country’s top female executives advising businesses around the globe. She helped grow W.W.E. from a modest 13-person operation to a publicly traded global enterprise with more than 800 employees in offices worldwide,” Trump said in a statement

She is also the current co-founder and CEO of Women’s Leadership Live LLC, which aims to assist women in starting or expanding their own businesses. McMahon, a longtime Republican, ran for U.S. Senate in Connecticut in both 2010 and 2012; her husband, Vince, was one of Trump’s biggest campaign donors.

U.S. Ambassador to China

President-elect Donald Trump will nominate Gov. Terry Branstad (R-IA) as the next U.S. ambassador to China, a transition official said on Dec. 7. Given that China is one of Iowa’s biggest export markets, experts say his appointment could assist in easing trade tensions between the two countries.

In China, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang called Branstad an “old friend” and said, “We welcome him to play a greater role in advancing the development of China-U.S. relations.”

Branstad’s nomination suggests that Trump could be forecasting a less-combative stance toward China than many expected, particularly as his campaign promised to declare China a currency manipulator and levy tariffs as high as 35 percent on imported Chinese goods. A press release on the announcement can be found here.

Secretary of the Department of Labor

It was announced on Dec. 8 that Andrew Puzder — CEO of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of Hardee’s, Carl’s Jr. and Green Burrito — will be tapped as President-elect Trump’s Secretary of Labor. He is a strong advocate for President-elect Trump’s plan to lower taxes for corporations and the wealthy and to loosen regulations for businesses to encourage job growth. A strong opponent of the Affordable Care Act, he claims Obama-era policies have significantly harmed the restaurant industry.

Moreover, in a Forbes op-ed that ran after the Labor Department finalized its overtime rule in May 2016, Puzder argued that the regulation would “add to the extensive regulatory maze the Obama Administration has imposed on employers,” and lead to fewer hours and reduced opportunities for workers. Like President-elect Trump, Puzder has also hinted that, while he doesn’t oppose increasing the minimum wage, raising it to $15 would lead to job loss and increased automation. Puzder was a senior policy adviser to the Trump presidential campaign while also coordinating a joint fundraising committee between Trump and the Republican National Committee.

So far, President-elect Trump seems to be assembling a pro-business Cabinet that could clash with unions, an observation particularly noteworthy given that Trump won the election with the help of union household voters in key states like Ohio and Michigan.

Secretary of the Department of Interior

President-elect Donald Trump is expected to select Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), a known climate-change skeptic and ally to the oil and gas industry, to head the Department of Interior. The nomination could hasten access by the oil and gas industry to national parks and offshore fossil fuel deposits stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic, where energy companies have been eager to drill and mine.

The selection of McMorris Rogers was criticized by several environmental groups; however, it complements President-elect Trump’s campaign pledges to bolster the U.S. energy industry by expanding access to federal lands and reducing federal regulations on fossil fuel energy production. A member of House Republican leadership, McMorris Rogers also voted for the Native American Energy Act, a bill that eases restrictions on the drilling of tribal lands.

Senate Democrats Indicate Obstructionist Confirmation Process for Some Trump Cabinet Picks

Senate Democrats are already planning to put Trump’s Cabinet nominees through a lengthy and grueling confirmation process, devising delay tactics that could consume weeks of the Senate calendar and hinder President-elect Trump’s policy plans for his first 100 days. Politico interviewed multiple Democratic senators last week who altogether insinuated that they are not in the mood to hotline Trump’s cabinet selections, especially in light of Republicans’ almost-year-long political delay in the confirmation of President Obama’s Supreme Court Justice candidate, Merrick Garland.

In particular, Democrats argue that some of the president-elect’s more controversial Cabinet picks — including their colleague Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) for attorney general, Steven Mnuchin for treasury secretary, and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt — should demand a comprehensive public vetting. “[Republicans] have been rewarded for stealing a Supreme Court justice. We’re going to help them confirm their nominees, many of whom are disqualified?” argued Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH). “It’s not obstruction, it’s not partisan, it’s just a duty to find out what they’d do in these jobs.”

While Senate Democrats can’t block Trump’s appointments, as only 51 votes are needed for a confirmation, they can, however, make the process more unpleasant and conceivably demand up to 30 hours of debate for each Cabinet nominee. Democrats could also stall the nomination of lower-level nominees, keeping the attention of the Senate on executive confirmations for weeks as Trump assumes the presidency and congressional Republicans try to capitalize on political momentum of the election results.

Some appointees, like the Department of Transportation secretary nominee Elaine Chao, are unlikely to be delayed. But Democrats will likely force Trump’s secretary of defense nominee, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, to get the 60 votes needed for a legislative waiver to assume his position. Democrats have also identified at least two other nominations, including Betsy DeVos to be secretary of the Department of Education and Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) to be secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, as potential targets to delay.

Politico has more on the story here.


Sen. Grassley Meets With Seema Verma, CMS Administrator Nominee

Politico reported that Sen. Grassley (R-IA) met with Seema Verma, President-elect Trump’s nominee for the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), on Dec. 7. During the meeting, Sen. Grassley, who is a senior member of the committee that has oversight over the agency, raised the EpiPen misclassification issue that led to the pending $465 settlement between the Justice Department (DOJ) and Mylan pharmaceuticals.

“A new administration offers an opportunity to exert more oversight of government programs and tax dollars,” the Iowa senator said in a statement. Sen. Grassley hinted that he would bring up the issue again during Verma’s nomination hearing before the Senate Finance Committee.

Trump Economic Advisor, Treasury Secretary Nominee Make the Rounds on Capitol Hill

On Dec. 8, David Malpass, the leader of the president-elect’s Treasury Department transition team, met with House Financial Services Committee Republicans, while Treasury secretary nominee Steven Mnuchin continued to schedule meetings in the Senate. Malpass talked with committee members about the direction of Republican-run Washington.

“The committee had a constructive coffee with David Malpass,” said Rep. French Hil (R-AR). “We talked about the priorities of regulatory reform — both by good appointees that would take action within their statutory authority to make reforms, as well as legislative ideas.”

On the Senate side, Mnuchin met with Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and senior committee member Chuck Grassley (R-IA), both of whom are important to his confirmation process. Hatch noted that Mnuchin had a “deep understanding of the fiscal challenges we face.” Grassley said the nominee was “well-qualified for the position he’s been appointed to” and that the president-elect made a “good decision.”

The Wall Street Journal reported more about the working relationship between Senate Finance Chairman Hatch and President-elect Trump on Dec. 8.

Trump Committee Vice Chair Sees Tax Reform as Way to Combat High College Tuition Costs

Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY), a Republican member of the House Ways and Means Committee and the vice chairman of Trump’s transition team, believes that tax reform could be the vehicle for combating the rising costs of college tuition. In recent months, both Reed and President-elect Trump have brought up the issue publicly.

Rep. Reed rolled out a draft plan on Dec. 3 that he will introduce as legislation in the 115th Congress. Under the plan, any university eligible for tax-exempt donations, and that has an endowment of $1 billion or more, must spend at least a quarter of the endowment’s yearly income on financial aid for low-income students. In addition, the proposal requires colleges to submit plans to keep costs below the rate of inflation. Should colleges fail to comply with these plans, they could see reductions in certain federal aid programs or see their tax exemption at risk.

A press release on Rep. Reed’s plan can be found here.

Senate Democrats Seek Common Ground With Trump on Outsourcing, While Alienating Congressional Republicans

The potential for common ground between Trump and Democrats is getting an early test over the issue of outsourcing, a deep concern for many of Trump’s blue collar supporters. Newly nominated Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and other Democrats are encouraging President-elect Trump to weigh in against the choice by House Republicans to strip “Buy America” language from a water infrastructure bill last week. The 11th-hour effort to muster support for the provision, which requires American iron and steel products be used in projects assisted by the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, comes days after Trump promised that his own infrastructure plan would “buy American and hire American.”

Minority Leader Schumer organized a rally at the Capitol with Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), Center for American Progress Action Fund CEO Neera Tanden, and United Steelworkers Representative Leo Gerard to promote a new public data tracker to tally the American jobs lost as a result of outsourcing during the Trump administration. Dems even suggested that President-elect Trump himself could utilize the new tracker to publicly admonish companies that are outsourcing processes and services overseas and to automation.

More information on Democrats’ “Buy American” fight can be found here.

Rather timely, Politico reported that senior members of President-elect Trump’s transition team met with representatives from over 100 companies at the National Association of Manufacturers headquarters on Dec. 9 to discuss their ideas for strengthening industry. Participants in the meeting discussed the association’s policy priorities on comprehensive tax reform, trade, transportation, immigration, environmental and labor policy

Trump Transition Team Asks Which DOE Employees Worked on Climate Change

On Dec. 8, Bloomberg News reported that President-elect Trump’s Department of Energy (DOE) landing team sent a 74-item questionnaire to Obama’s Energy Department as a means to begin developing plans to reshape the department. The transition team has asked the agency to list the names of employees and contractors who attended United Nations climate change conferences and identify the persons responsible for crafting the administration’s social cost of carbon metrics, a controversial tool developed as a means to estimate and validate the climate benefits of new federal regulations. The advisers are also seeking information on agency loan programs and research activities for clean energy.

The move comes as President-elect Trump and newly appointed EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt have publicly stated their intention to dismantle specific aspects of President Obama’s climate policies. The questionnaire, which some officials have described as unusually “intrusive,” has raised concerns that the Trump transition team was trying to figure out how to target individuals, including civil servants, who have helped implement Obama’s climate policies. Critics worry that the Trump transition team’s demand that DOE name names is particularly noteworthy in light of congressional Republicans’ demands to relax civil-service protections, which would make it easier to fire federal employees.