Update on the Trump Transition — Cabinet Appointments And A Kremlin Call

On Friday I detailed numerous potential appointees to President-elect Trump’s cabinet, examining the hodgepodge of political insiders and corporate executives waiting to take over the numerous agencies of the executive branch when he is inaugurated on January 20th.

Since then, numerous new reports (with varying levels of credibility) have come in either confirming or speculating on many of these appointments. Here are some updates as of Monday evening, six days after Trump clinched the electoral college in a stunning political upset.

The most concrete and arguably most consequential report is the confirmation that current Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus has been named Trump’s Chief of Staff.

The decision to tap Priebus for this enormously important role shows Trump’s appreciation for the organizational ground game that the RNC brought to his unorthodox, bare-bones campaign. It also represents his acknowledgement of Priebus’ credibility with Congressional Republicans and how effectively the party chair’s organizational skills will transfer to overseeing the President’s staff.

When President-elect Obama tapped Congressman and former DCCC/House Democratic Caucus chair Rahm Emmanuel to serve as his Chief of Staff in 2009, it represented his seriousness about seizing a political opportunity.

He recognized his window to push through a legislative agenda with both a Democratic House and Senate, circumstances that were not guaranteed to last longer than two years. That’s why he chose Emmanuel, a proven high energy brass-knuckles fighter and Washington insider who would run headfirst into the impossible task of herding cats that is getting Congress to enact a new President’s desired legislation.

Trump’s decision to have Priebus run his staff shows a similar desire on his part to work with Republicans in Congress so that he can accomplish many of the ambitious plans laid out in his Gingrich-inspired “Contract with the American Voter”.

Enacting his first hundred-day plan remains a daunting political task, one which may actually require bipartisanship considering many of Trump’s proposals defy conservative orthodoxy such as funding a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan and potentially reworking Obamacare to preserve key pillars rather than fully repealing the President’s signature legislation.

I can’t help but wonder if, like Emmanuel, Priebus won’t last longer than around two years in the high-pressure position.

In addition to Trump’s Chief of Staff being confirmed, the President-elect has also named his campaign CEO and Executive Chairman of Breitbart News Stephen Bannon as his senior advisor and chief strategist. If Reince Priebus is Trump’s Rahm Emmanuel, Stephen Bannon is his David Axelrod.

This crucial role seems more fitting for Bannon as he comes across as much more of an ideologue than an organizer, the key distinction I pointed out between him and Priebus when they were both considered top contenders for Chief of Staff.

Bannon has also been Trump’s most controversial appointment thus far with ABC news describing him as “a firebrand of the far right”, a euphemism which many might counter is putting it too lightly considering Breitbart is infamous for borderline (again, some would say not so borderline) anti-Semitism and generally considered to promote a somewhat white nationalist sentiment.

Noted conservative commentator Glenn Beck recently called Bannon “a terrifying man” who “wants to tear this system down”.

As well as the news of Bannon and Priebus being appointed to two top White House roles, both the Huffington Post and the Associated Press filed conflicting reports Monday afternoon regarding President-elect Trump’s choice for Secretary of State.

Huffington Post reported that Trump is leaning towards outspoken militant John Bolton, one of a few candidates I profiled as a potential appointee for the position.

The Associated Press then filed a report only a few hours later which at first made me think they might have made a typo, claiming they have a source who confirmed that Rudy Giuliani is currently in the lead to become Secretary of State.

Before the AP’s report it seemed likely that the job currently and previously held by the two most recent Democratic Presidential nominees to lose their respective elections (Clinton & Kerry) would be filled either by John Bolton, Bob Corker, or Jeff Sessions — few would have guessed Giuliani was even a candidate. I mentioned him as being on the shortlist for Attorney General, a position for which he is directly qualified.

One definitely cannot help but wonder who the AP’s source is and what Trump’s intentions could be in nominating one of his staunchest supporters who seems to lack substantive foreign policy experience to the position of our nation’s top diplomat, a decision which would undoubtedly send political shockwaves reverberating throughout Washington.

In addition to these developments in regards to President-elect Trump’s cabinet appointments, two notable events also occurred on Monday. Just about ten minutes after noon Pacific Time, the BBC reported that Trump had spoken via telephone to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Trump’s stance towards Russia and the apparent warmness with which he has regarded its authoritarian President raised concerns from both Democrats and Republicans alike throughout the course of the campaign, concerns which have yet to be fully addressed.

The President-elect’s reported call with the Kremlin was followed up in a matter of minutes by an already scheduled press conference held by President Obama. The President said that Trump had affirmed to him during their recent meeting his commitment to uphold our strategic alliances around the world, particularly our commitments to NATO.

Last night Trump appeared on America’s most watched news program, 60 Minutes, to address a divided nation for the first time once the dust had began to settle following the election.

When pressed he implored those committing hate crimes who feel validated by his election to “stop it”, balked on whether he would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate and jail Secretary Clinton as he had promised, praised some aspects of the Affordable Care Act as well as President Obama himself, and ultimately acknowledged that his “big beautiful wall” might end up being a fence after all in some sections.

President-elect Trump also pledged to deport between two to three million illegal immigrants with criminal records once in office, although a closer look casts doubt on this number — if he meets this goal the number of deportations over the next four years could represent anywhere from a 25%-100% increase relative to the approximately one and a half million deported during President Obama’s first term.

Favorite podcast host of mine and Politico writer Glenn Thrush described the current circumstances perfectly in a piece published last night, “It’s been five days since the reality TV star became the reality president and judging from his public pronouncements and a slightly dizzy ’60 Minutes’ appearance, he still seems to be grappling with the vast implications of his stunning and unexpected victory.

But in the past few days — amid protests in several major cities and a massive case of the national frights about his fitness to govern — Trump has made a handful of moves that offer the first hints of what kind of president he will be.

So what do we know? He’s basically the same brash invader who sacked the establishment citadel on Election Day — but seems a lot more flexible than the sloganeering populist who vowed, in an oath of iron and blood, to build that wall, trash Obamacare and overcome the “rigged system.”

Originally published at www.theodysseyonline.com on November 15, 2016.

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