President-elect Donald Trump has done his share of hiring before, but he’s never had to fill so many positions that were the most important to both America and his chances at being re-elected in 2020.
Sequestered in his Manhattan high-rise, Donald Trump was huddling Tuesday with Vice President-elect Mike Pence as he moved closer to filling out his Cabinet, including top national security posts. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has emerged as the favorite to serve as secretary of state, a senior Trump official said.
Although Giuliani has little foreign policy experience, the official said there was no real competition for the job as the nation’s top diplomat. However, a second official cautioned that John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, remained in contention for the key post. Both officials requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the process by name.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker also expressed interest in the State Department post and said his team has had “some conversations” with Trump officials. However, the Tennessee Republican told MSNBC there were others who were more “central” to Trump’s presidential campaign for the post.
Even as Trump narrowed in on top appointments, there were signs of tumult within his transition team. Former Rep. Mike Rogers, a well-respected Republican voice on national security, announced his resignation from the transition team on Tuesday, a move likely to rattle GOP officials who worry about Trump’s lack of foreign policy credentials.
Trump had already rejiggered his transition team after winning the election, putting Pence in charge and demoting New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
The switch has slowed Trump’s ability to coordinate with the White House. Pence has yet to sign a memorandum of understanding facilitating interactions between transition officials and Obama administration officials, effectively pausing those efforts. Christie had previously signed the document, but it’s no longer valid given Pence’s promotion. And Pentagon officials say they have yet to hear from the transition team.
Trump spokesman Jason Miller said the president-elect and Pence were meeting Tuesday to review “a number of names” for the incoming administration.
“If the vice president-elect is getting together with the president-elect to discuss names, I would say it’s getting serious,” Miller said.
Giuliani, 72, would be an out-of-box choice to serve as Secretary of State. A former mayor, federal prosecutor and top Trump adviser, Giuliani is known for his hard-line law-and-order views. Bolton has years of U.S. foreign policy experience, but he has also raised eyebrows with some of his hawkish stances, including a 2015 New York Times op-ed in which he advocated bombing Iran to halt the country’s development of nuclear weapons.
A spokeswoman for Giuliani did not immediately respond to a request for comment about his interest in the job. But during an appearance in Washington late Monday, Giuliani said that Bolton would be a “very good choice” to serve as secretary of state. Asked if there was anyone better, Giuliani replied: “Maybe me, I don’t know.”
The New York billionaire also was considering tapping Richard Grenell as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a move that would bring some experience and diversity to his nascent administration. Grenell, who served as U.S. spokesman at the U.N. under President George W. Bush, would be the first openly gay person to fill a Cabinet-level foreign policy post.
The transition planning comes amid an intense and extended backlash from Trump’s decision on Sunday to appoint Steve Bannon, a man celebrated by the white nationalist movement, to serve as his chief strategist and senior adviser.
“After winning the presidency but losing the popular vote, President-elect Trump must try to bring Americans together – not continue to fan the flames of division and bigotry,” said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. Echoing concerns from officials in both parties, she called Bannon’s appointment “an alarming signal” that Trump “remains committed to the hateful and divisive vision that defined his campaign.”
Until joining Trump’s campaign this summer, Bannon led a website that appealed to the so-called “alt-right” – a movement often associated with efforts on the far right to preserve “white identity,” oppose multiculturalism and defend “Western values.”
Meanwhile, Trump, who has no foreign policy experience, spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the phone on Monday.
His transition office said in a readout that Trump “is very much looking forward to having a strong and enduring relationship with Russia and the people of Russia.” Trump has spoken in recent days with the leaders of China, Mexico, South Korea and Canada.
Trump is also weighing whether to select Michigan GOP chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel, a niece of chief Trump critic and 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney. She would be the second woman ever to lead the Republican National Committee – and the first in four decades.
“I’ll be interested in whatever Mr. Trump wants,” McDaniel told media outlets.