Pence in, Christie out as head of Trump’s transition team
President-elect Donald Trump put vice presidential running mate Mike Pence in charge of his White House transition team on Friday, knocking New Jersey Governor Chris Christie down a peg as he began the work of filling top administration jobs.
Christie will remain as a vice chair of the transition effort, Trump’s campaign said, as he deals with the fallout from the ‘Bridgegate’ lane closure scandal that has damaged his political standing.
The announcement came shortly after Trump aides convened at the real-estate mogul’s apartment building in New York City to begin weighing candidates for some of the 4,000 jobs he will have to fill shortly after he takes office on Jan. 20, 2017.
Trump said three of his five children and his son-in-law Jared Kushner would help oversee the transition.
“I can see already how he is going to be a great president and I’m glad I could play a small role in it,” former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani told reporters after the meeting.
Giuliani is the leading contender for attorney general, according to two sources familiar with the discussions. Christie, once a top candidate for the job, appears to no longer be in the running, they said.
Since his surprise defeat of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in Tuesday’s election, dozens of possible appointees have been floated, from grassroots conservative heroes like Sarah Palin to seasoned Washington hands like David Malpass.
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus is a strong candidate for White House chief of staff, according to sources close to the campaign. Trump campaign CEO Steve Bannon, a conservative provocateur, is also being considered for the job.
Trump has a relatively small pool of candidates to work with, as many Republicans condemned his racially inflammatory rhetoric over the course of the campaign and some of his positions, such as his attacks on free trade, run against party orthodoxy.
Trump’s campaign spent relatively little time on transition planning during the campaign, and even his Republican supporters had been bracing for a loss.
“I was on Romney’s transition team, and it was a well-oiled machine months before the election. Now there’s a scramble,” said one Republican source, referring to the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney.
With a Republican-controlled House and Senate, Trump has the ability to follow through on his campaign promises to cut taxes, tighten immigration, scale back climate change rules and repeal President Barack Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare.
An Obama administration rule requiring retirement advisers to act in their clients’ interests could also be on the chopping block.
But House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan and other congressional Republicans may balk at his protectionist trade policies and expensive transportation spending plan.
“Busy day planned in New York. Will soon be making some very important decisions on the people who will be running our government!” Trump wrote on Twitter on Friday morning.
Trump’s most loyal supporters could play a prominent role in his administration. Campaign sources say Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions could serve as Defense Secretary, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich might be named as Secretary of State and retired General Michael Flynn could serve as national security adviser.
Those three, along with Giuliani and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, were named as vice chairs of the transition team on Friday.
Meanwhile, Democrats began regrouping from their loss. Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean said he wanted to return as head of the Democratic National Committee to build the party’s presence in conservative states.
Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison, a Muslim who leads the party’s liberal wing, also emerged as a candidate for the job, while former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, whose presidential bid fizzled early this year, said he was taking a “hard look” at running for DNC chairman as well.
Though many top Democrats on Capitol Hill have pledged to try to cooperate with Trump, the Senate’s top Democrat sounded a defiant note.
“If this is going to be a time of healing, we must first put the responsibility for healing where it belongs: at the feet of Donald Trump, a sexual predator who lost the popular vote and fueled his campaign with bigotry and hate,” said Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, who is retiring in January.
(Additional reporting by David Shepardson, Emily Stephenson, Ginger Gibson, Diane Bartz, Julia Harte and Julia Edwards Ainsley in Washington; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Bill Rigby)