Presidential Transition Update

December 19, 2016

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At almost six weeks into the Trump transition, President-elect Trump dropped his bold pick for secretary of state; crisscrossed the country to visit four more states (Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida and Alabama) for his “thank you” tour of the United States; held a constructive meeting to mend fences with tech leaders; and began to firm up a timeline for the Republicans’ 2017 policy priorities agenda.


Trump, Tech Industry Meet to Bolster Cooperation on Jobs, Innovation

On Dec. 14, Trump met with the CEOs of major tech companies — including Apple, Amazon, Tesla, Microsoft, Facebook, IBM, Oracle and Google — to begin a partnership to spark innovation and create more jobs in the U.S., particularly for working Americans. Unlike President Obama, President-elect Trump did not have strong ties with Silicon Valley, and, unlike Secretary Clinton, never articulated a policy platform for digital issues during his presidential campaign.

During the meeting. the president-elect discussed a wide range of issues impacting both American workers and American companies, including the tech industry’s need for high-skilled immigration, trade secrets protection and tax reform — a major priority for tech companies that want to return their foreign profits to the U.S. at lower tax rates. President-elect Trump suggested reconvening the tech leaders, perhaps as frequently as every quarter.

The early promise of cooperation marked a dramatic departure from the 2016 campaign, where Trump was often vocally at odds with many tech giants on policy issues including immigration, data privacy and freedom of speech. IBM, represented at the meeting, offered a carrot to the president-elect before the meeting began: an announcement of the company’s decision to hire 25,000 new workers over the next four years. Characterized as a “basis for engaging the incoming administration,” the company’s announcement comes after it has cut thousands of positions worldwide in the past few years.

An article in Politico has more details on the meeting. A press release on the meeting can be found here.

New Executive Committee Members, Transition Leaders, Strategic and Policy Forum Members 

In a press release, President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect and Presidential Transition Team Chair Mike Pence announced on Dec. 16 the addition of new Executive Committee members and key staff leadership who will join the Trump-Pence presidential transition team. Joining the distinguished group of Executive Committee members are Rep. Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-AS), Sheriff Butch Anderson, Safra Catz, Tom Dadey, Nick Langworthy, Omarosa Manigault, Mike McCormack, Joe Mondello and John Sweeney. President-elect Trump also added a new staff leadership position supporting the presidential transition team: Bryan Lanza, deputy communications director.

Moreover, President-elect Trump announced he was adding three members to the President’s Strategic and Policy Forum: Travis Kalanick, CEO and co-founder of Uber Technologies; Elon Musk, chairman and CEO of SpaceX and Tesla; and Indra Nooyi, chairman and CEO of PepsiCo. Earlier this month, President-elect Trump established the President’s Strategic and Policy Forum, which is composed of a band of Wall Street leaders and corporate CEOs, to share their specific experience and knowledge as the president implements his economic agenda.

President-elect Trump Appoints Stephen Miller as His Senior Policy Advisor

President-elect Trump announced on Dec. 13 his selection of Stephen Miller to serve as senior advisor to the president for policy. Miller has served as a key advisor to several members of Congress, including Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), and worked in senior leadership roles on both the Senate Budget and Judiciary committees. Miller has been acting as the president-elect’s top advisor on policy since January 2016, overseeing policy development and formulation efforts, and strategic policy decisions on a day-to-day basis. In his role, Miller will also be responsible for directing White House policy staff, managing speechwriting functions and working to ensure the enactment of the president’s policy agenda. As national policy director during Trump’s presidential campaign, Miller organized policy efforts on numerous fronts, including defense and security policy, energy reform, and veterans’ care.

President-elect Trump Begins to Establish Plan to Avoid Business; Dems Say It’s Not Enough

A Trump spokeswoman announced Dec. 16 that President-elect Trump will not accept briefings on his business while serving as commander in chief, and is also considering walling off business discussions with his two adult sons, who are expected to run the company. Some details are emerging about the potential structure of his company during his presidency. On Twitter Dec. 12, Trump revealed that his company would pursue “no new deals” during his time in the White House. He also said his sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, will be managing the Trump Organization along with his longtime company executives, including general counsel Alan Garten and Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer.

Politico reported that the big issues delaying the announcement of Trump’s grand plan to protect his administration from conflicts of interest are finding a complex legal means for him to return to his business after he is finished with his presidency and a desire to keep the ownership rights to the Trump name solely within the family. Trump’s legal team has been working on a public-private ethics firewall since the President-elect’s upset election victory, but discussions with people surrounding that process note how challenging the process has been personally for Trump as he tries to protect his brand and business ventures.

As the Trump team continues the details of his plan, Democrats have been giving verbal warnings that Trump conflict-of-interest concerns will dog his every move unless he sets up a strong firewall. This criticism has only grown since the press conference announcing his plans, originally set for Dec. 15, was postponed until January. Five Democrats even mentioned a plan for a bill (to be introduced in January) requiring the president-elect and vice president-elect to divest assets that risk a conflict of interest and place the proceeds in a blind trust as well as require any Trump appointees to step aside from official decisions that could unfairly benefit him.

Trump appears to have some room to maneuver as he tries to reshuffle his business dealings, as the GOP leadership has indicated that it will give Trump the benefit of the doubt that he will be making official decisions for the country’s interest, as opposed to his own financial ones. Trump has business ventures in more than 18 other countries, setting up his foreign policy decisions for careful scrutiny of potential conflicts of interest.


President-elect Trump has now made his picks for 17 Cabinet-level positions in his administration. He must appoint individuals to fill the remaining six Cabinet positions by his Jan. 20 inauguration, and he will eventually need to fill about 4,000 positions in the government.

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

Secretary of State

President-elect Donald J. Trump on Dec. 13 officially selected Rex Tillerson, the chief executive of ExxonMobil, to be his secretary of state. In proposing the nomination of Tillerson, the president-elect is dismissing bipartisan concerns that the leader of an energy company has a too-close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Tillerson has been described as a “dealmaker” who has spent the past four decades at Exxon.

A native of Wichita Falls, Texas, Tillerson runs a company with operations in approximately 50 countries, and has brokered deals to expand business in Venezuela, Qatar, Kurdistan and elsewhere. In the past several days, Republican and Democratic lawmakers had warned that Tillerson would face a grueling confirmation process over his two-decade relationship with Russia and with President Putin. A press release on the nomination can be found here.

Secretary of the Department of Energy

On Dec. 14, President-elect Trump selected former Texas Gov. Rick Perry to be his nominee for secretary of the Department of Energy.

In a press release, President-elect Trump praised Perry as “one of the most successful governors in modern history, having led Texas through a sustained period of economic growth and prosperity by developing the state’s energy resources and infrastructure, and making low-cost energy available to companies and families.”

Conservatives favored Perry for the secretary post, viewing him as someone with management experience who would be willing to question the agency’s status quo. His nomination has, however, garnered apprehension from environmental groups and others who are concerned that the Trump administration will roll back efforts to expand renewable energy and give a soapbox to officials questioning the scientific consensus on climate change. Perry served as Texas’ longest-sitting governor from December 2000 to January 2015 and is a strong supporter of oil and gas interests.

Secretary of the Department of the Interior

 President-elect Donald J. Trump on Dec. 15 announced his intent to appoint Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) as secretary of the Department of the Interior. Zinke has consistently led the efforts to renew the Land and Water Conservation Fund in Congress and has also been a firm advocate for sportsmen to gain access to public lands. Zinke is a strong advocate for keeping public lands under federal ownership, putting him in disagreement with some members of his party who favor privatization or placing them under the control of states. It remains unclear where Zinke would stand on opening more federal lands to increased drilling and mining, something Trump pledged during his campaign. Zinke served for 23 years as a U.S. Navy SEAL, retiring in 2008 with a rank of commander after leading SEAL operations around the globe. Zinke’s choice was something of a surprise as some Republican officials wanted him to challenge Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) in Montana’s 2018 senatorial elections.

Director of the Office of Management and Budget

On Dec. 17, President-elect Trump announced his choice for the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC).

“Right now we are nearly $20 trillion in debt, but Mick is a very high-energy leader with deep convictions for how to responsibly manage our nation’s finances and save our country from drowning in red ink. With Mick at the head of OMB, my administration is going to make smart choices about America’s budget, bring new accountability to our federal government, and renew the American taxpayer’s trust in how their money is spent,” said President-elect Trump in a press release.

Trump’s selection of Mulvaney to become his budget chief could represent a shift for the incoming administration on addressing increasing entitlement spending. Unlike Mulvaney and many Republicans in Congress, Trump has not called for spending cuts and policy changes to Medicare and Social Security and made campaign statements rejecting the need to raise the retirement age for these publicly supported programs. Mulvaney, a vocal Tea Party member, was elected to Congress in the Republican wave of 2010, and long backed a balanced-budget amendment. He also co-authored Republicans’ “Cut, Cap and Balance” measure and introduced legislation to downsize the federal workforce via attrition, among other budget-controlling measures.

Director of the National Economic Council

On Dec. 12, President-elect Donald Trump named Gary Cohn, the president and chief operating officer of Goldman Sachs, to serve as assistant to the president for economic policy and director of the national economic council.

“As my top economic advisor, Gary Cohn … will help craft economic policies that will grow wages for our workers, stop the exodus of jobs overseas and create many great new opportunities for Americans who have been struggling,” Trump said in a press release. “He fully understands the economy and will use all of his vast knowledge and experience to make sure the American people start winning again.”

The press release also notes that Mr. Cohn will help to both design and coordinate the president-elect’s America First economic agenda and make sure increasing wages for American workers will be a top priority. He is also expected to work closely with the president-elect’s economic team at the Treasury and Commerce departments. Cohn has worked at Goldman Sachs since 1990 and has been a partner since 1994.

Chair of the Republican National Committee

On Dec. 14, President-elect Trump announced the nomination of the new chair of the Republican National Committee (RNC), Ronna Romney McDaniel, as his choice to succeed his incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.

“I’m excited to have a highly effective leader in Ronna McDaniel as RNC deputy chair and I look forward to her serving as the Party’s chairman in 2017,” Trump said. “Ronna has been extremely loyal to our movement and her efforts were critical to our tremendous victory in Michigan, and I know she will bring the same passion to the Republican National Committee.”

A third-generation politician, she follows the footsteps of her grandfather, former three-term Michigan Gov. George. Romney; and her uncle, 2012 GOP presidential nominee and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. She was elected Michigan’s representative to the Republican National Committee in 2014 and ran for chair of the Michigan Republican Party in 2015, receiving support from both the party establishment and Tea Party activists.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel

 President-elect Trump on Dec. 16 announced the nomination of David Friedman to serve as the U.S. ambassador to Israel. Friedman was one of President-elect Trump’s principal advisors on the U.S.-Israel relationship during the campaign and previously represented President-elect Trump in matters involving his Atlantic City casinos. He has no public sector diplomatic experience and has long championed strongly conservative, pro-Israel views that have been generally more conservative than traditional United States policy toward the region. Freidman is a founding partner of Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman LLP, who specialized in litigation and bankruptcy law. Freidman is a fluent speaker of Hebrew and a lifelong student of Israel’s history.

Secretary of the Army

On Dec. 19, President-elect Trump nominated Vincent “Vinnie” Viola as secretary of the Army. Viola is a former U.S. Army infantry officer and current Virtu Financial founder and executive chairman. He is the founder of multiple high-value companies, including Virtu Financial, and he has chaired the New York Mercantile Exchange.

“Whether it is his distinguished military service or highly impressive track record in the world of business, Vinnie has proved throughout his life that he knows how to be a leader and deliver major results in the face of any challenge. He is a man of outstanding work ethic, integrity, and strategic vision, with an exceptional ability to motivate others. The American people, whether civilian or military, should have great confidence that Vinnie Viola has what it takes to keep America safe and oversee issues of concern to our troops in the Army,” President-elect Trump said in a press release.

Viola is a West Point graduate and U.S. Army veteran, who was trained as an Airborne Ranger infantry officer and served in the 101st Airborne Division. Viola has long been engaged with national security issues even after his military service. Since the events of 9/11, he has been actively engaged in the Army philanthropically in the areas of counterterrorism, cybersecurity and leadership development, including helping to found the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.

President-Elect Trump Announces National Security Council Leaders

President-elect Donald J. Trump announced on Dec. 15 his selection of Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, USA (Ret.), as chief of staff and executive secretary of the National Security Council, and Dr. Monica Crowley as senior director of strategic communications for the National Security Council.

Gen. Kellogg is a decorated veteran of the U.S. Army, serving from 1967 to 2003, including two tours during the Vietnam War. He served as the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division from 1997 to 1998 and, prior to his retirement, Gen. Kellogg was the director of command, control, communications and computers for U.S. forces under the Joint Chiefs of Staff. From November 2003 to March 2004, Gen. Kellogg served as the chief operations officer for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. In this role, Kellogg oversaw the efforts to form the new Iraqi military after it was disbanded, as well as the reconstruction of the country’s infrastructure. Since retiring from the Army in 2003, Gen. Kellogg has moved on to a career in the private sector as an adviser to the homeland security division of Oracle Corporation. He was named a foreign policy advisor to then-presidential candidate Trump in March 2016.

Dr. Monica Crowley is a foreign affairs and political analyst for the Fox News Channel and regular columnist for the Washington Times. She holds a doctorate in international relations from Columbia University and is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Previously, Dr. Crowley served as foreign policy assistant and communications director to former President Richard Nixon from 1990 until his death in 1994.


Democrats Open to Working With Republicans on Obamacare Replacement

Twenty-five Democrats are on the ballot in 2018, including 10 in states won by President-elect Trump. While they may never vote for Obamacare repeal, Republicans are anticipating that those members will face pressure to cooperate on an Affordable Care Act replacement plan, assuming the alternative is leaving millions of Americans without health insurance. A surprising number of Democratic members say they’re amenable to assisting Republicans in finding a way to replace the country’s healthcare program.

Interviews with more than a half-dozen Democratic senators across the party’s ideological gamut have indicated that the GOP strategy may not be implausible. As largely partisan as the entire Affordable Care Act development and implementation process has been, replacing it could draw backing from both parties, so long as the changes take the form of modifications rather than a complete overhaul. Republicans are considering enacting their replacement plan piecemeal, with small bills that address one section of the health care system at a time. Republicans’ goal will be to expand access to health care by shrinking insurance costs and the complexity of federal regulation. Enacting any substantive alternative will require a minimum of eight Democratic votes in the Senate due to the body’s filibuster rule.

Politico has more on the story here.

GOP Firming Up Policy Blueprint for Early Next Year; Plan To Includes Tax Cuts and Health Care Reform

The incoming Trump administration and congressional Republican leadership are amalgamating around a policy agenda that focuses on cutting taxes and repealing Obamacare early next year, a blueprint that could circumvent an intraparty conflict over an expensive infrastructure stimulus-package early in Trump’s presidency. Politico reported that incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus gave a press conference indicating that Republicans will focus on budgetary issues and health care reform during the first nine months of 2017. That news largely mirrors House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s stated focus on tax reform and Obamacare repeal and suggests the party will spend much of its energy and momentum on those two issues.

“We’re probably going to lead with Obamacare repeal and replace. Then we’ll have a small tax reform package and then a bigger tax reform package at the end of April,” Priebus said. “It’s going to be a busy year with the first nine months being very much consumed with Obamacare and tax reform.”

Asked whether Trump will pursue any stimulus plan, Priebus said, “I would love to not get into the details with you. We’re not going to do that today.” Acknowledging that an agenda focusing on Obamacare and tax reform is “gonna be a ton of work” and that the slow pace and obstructionist nature of the Senate is “frustrating,” Preibus declined to comment on whether home mortgage deductions will be capped to raise revenue, as was proposed by Trump’s newly nominated treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Indicating that no final decisions had been made on tax reform, Preibus suggested that a border adjustment plan that taxes imports but not exports could be a less controversial way to keep jobs from leaving the United States than imposing tariffs would be. On Twitter, Trump recently proposed that companies that shift operations overseas could face a 35 percent import tax when their products are sold in the United States.

Transition Team Tries to Build Relationships With Native American Leaders

On Dec. 14, several senior members of President-elect Trump’s Department of Interior and domestic policy teams attended a meeting with American Indian and Alaska Native tribal leaders. The meeting of more than 200 people — including tribal leaders, lobbyists and consultants — was organized by Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) as an attempt to bolster amelioration with Native American groups. Those who attended the meeting said discussions focused on preserving Native American sovereignty, energy development, protecting water rights and the ongoing fight over the Dakota Access pipeline.

New Mexico state Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage, a member of Trump’s Native American Coalition who took part in the meeting, said it aided in “dispel[ing] a lot of the rumors that were circulating” regarding how Trump might approach Native American issues. Clahchischilliage said there were talks among some tribal groups that Trump was skeptical of Native American sovereignty or may attempt to eradicate the Indian Health Service.

Politico has more on the story here