Donald Trump’s team has brought a semblance of stability to a transition operation that has weathered days of reports of infighting, as the president-elect also began offering olive branches to his former Republicans critics, including announcing plans to meet with 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney.
They held conference calls. They announced visitors to Trump Tower. They revealed that Trump “landing teams” will soon descend on top agencies, including the Department of Defense. They provided a list of world leaders with whom the president-elect has spoken. They established a basic flow of basic information for the first time. And by late Thursday, the State Department and Pentagon revealed that they’d been in touch with Trump’s team for the first time.
“We feel way ahead of schedule and never in a rush to do the wrong thing,” said Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, noting that in 2000, it wasn’t clear until mid-December who the next president would be.
Trump was in Trump Tower on Thursday, meeting with a slate of supporters, advisers and possible Cabinet picks, including South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Rep. Jeb Hensarling and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, amid swirling talk of who would fill the upper-reaches of the incoming administration.
Hensarling, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee and a possible candidate for Treasury secretary, said he and Trump spoke about “financial reform,” tax policy and trade. “I stand ready to help the president in any capacity possible,” Hensarling told reporters.
But billionaire Carl Ichan, a Trump ally and one of his earliest backers, predicted on Fox News that the next Treasury secretary would be Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s top fundraiser on the campaign. “Look I’m not the one to announce it, but I do believe he will get the job, I do believe it,” Icahn said. “Again, I’m not speaking for Donald, no one speaks for Donald.”
Mnuchin, too, was among those spotted at Trump Tower on Thursday.
Trump’s team also continued to float new names for new posts, with some news outlets reporting that Mitt Romney, with whom Trump is scheduled to meet in the coming days, is being considered for secretary of state. One senior Trump source said that was very unlikely.
As most of Trump’s possible picks have been white men, Conway notably brought Leslie Rutledge, the attorney general of Arkansas, to speak with the gathered reporters. “You always take the call when the White House calls,” Rutledge said.
Meanwhile, Eva Moskowitz, who met with Trump on Wednesday and is the CEO of New York City’s largest charter school network, said she would not serve as Trump’s education secretary. She is one of the few women whose names have been floated for Cabinet-level posts.
Later, Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, took the unusual step of coming to the defense of one of Trump’s top aides: Steve Bannon, who has been accused of fostering anti-Semitism. “We look forward to working with the Trump administration, with all of the members of the Trump administration, including Steve Bannon, and making the U.S.-Israel alliance stronger than ever,” Dermer told reporters, ignoring questions about why he had specifically mentioned Bannon.
Conway said that Trump is “just loving this role in transition” as he considers his choices to staff the government.
“He’s a transactional guy,” Conway told reporters. “He’s used to delivering results and producing, and so at his desk every day, taking the counsel of many different people, taking many different phone calls, going through paperwork and discussing forming his Cabinet and now … his senior staff.”
“He’s really enjoying it,” she said.
But Trump could soon be back on the road. George Gigicos, the campaign’s advance team director, said Trump is planning a “victory tour … in the next couple of weeks.”
“Obviously to the states that we won and the swing states we flipped over,” Gigicos said.
But amid the activity in New York, a sweeping ban on lobbyists threatens to hobble the president-elect’s ability to quickly fill thousands of jobs throughout the federal government in Washington, D.C. Trump’s lobbying restrictions — announced during an impromptu call Wednesday night — sent a shock wave through Washington’s vast network of professional influencers.
While Trump first proposed the five-year lobbying ban during his “drain the swamp” speech in October, it had been unclear whether he would actually follow through as his initial transition team was stocked with lobbyists.
“The whole place is one big lobbyist,” Trump said on “60 Minutes” about Washington.
The lobbying ban is more stringent than President Barack Obama’s lobbying restrictions. Obama banned administration officials from contacting their former agency for two years, but they could still lobby other parts of the government.
People familiar with the transition said Trump aides were infuriated by stories detailing the many lobbyists on the transition. After taking control of the transition from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Vice President-elect Mike Pence and other Trump aides insisted on making good on their five-year ban.
“Everybody that is remaining or will be named going forward will be in compliance” with the lobbying rules, Republican National Committee chief strategist Sean Spicer said told reporters on Thursday. Spicer added that the lobbying restrictions include a lifetime ban on former administration officials representing any foreign government.
Meanwhile, Trump’s transition team finally filed the remaining legal paperwork to begin the process of visiting federal departments and agencies.
“The president-elect’s team has now completed the necessary steps for an initial group of authorized individuals to begin receiving briefings,” said White House spokesman Brandi Hoffine.
Trump aides said they’ll announce members of the national security landing team Friday morning. That team includes transition staff focused on the departments of Defense, State and Justice, and the National Security Council.
Trump himself is slated to take part in a two-hour transition meeting on Friday.
Also on Thursday, the president-elect had meetings scheduled with Oracle CEO Safra Catz, Gen. Jack Keane, who used to be a Hillary Clinton adviser; National Security Agency chief Adm. Mike Rogers; former Cincinnati mayor and Family Research Council fellow Ken Blackwell; FedEx CEO Fred Smith; and Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
At 5 p.m. Trump was scheduled to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, though the meeting was closed to the news media.
Trump on Wednesday aggressively pushed back against the idea that his calls with foreign leaders have been haphazard, tweeting that he has talked with many top international officials in recent days and that he is “always available to them.”
Asked whether Trump aides are taking steps to secure the president-elect’s calls with world leaders, spokesman Jason Miller told reporters on Thursday, “Appropriate precautions are being taken.” He did not offer any specifics.
Conway said the meeting with Abe was private because “We are very sensitive to the fact that President Obama is still in office for the next two months, and we won’t be making diplomatic agreements today.”
Alex Isenstadt and Nancy Cook contributed to this report.
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