The Donald J. Trump administration is looking a whole lot like the coalition who brought him the White House win.
On Friday, Trump rolled out three more picks for the most powerful jobs in Washington, and they offered up a little something for everyone.
Establishment Republicans, many of whom are ambivalent about joining the Trump administration, were pleasantly surprised by the selection of Mike Pompeo, a Kansas congressman and West Point graduate, to lead the CIA.
Trump’s fervent supporters got two high-profile selections who helped guide the tone and direction of Trump’s scorched-earth campaign: former Gen. Mike Flynn, named as Trump’s national security adviser, and Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, appointed to serve as attorney general.
But for Democrats looking for a conciliatory gesture, they got shafted. If, however, the determined opposition is seeking new opportunities to fight, to assert that the next administration may be just as nativist as Trump’s most divisive campaign rhetoric, the choices of Flynn and Session offered additional cannon fodder.
Of the first five people Trump has named to serve in his administration, none are women, and none are minorities. Establishment Republicans, their squeamishness about Trump largely washed away by the unexpected governing opportunity he has delivered to conservatives, largely praised the president-elect’s choices on Friday.
Many focused on Pompeo, the closest thing to a mainstream choice, despite his controversial support for the “enhanced interrogation techniques” that the Bush administration authorized against suspected terrorists that President Barack Obama ended.
“Pompeo is a real star and has an intelligence background,” said longtime Republican lobbyist Charlie Black. “That’s a really good pick.”
Dan Senor, a former foreign policy adviser to Mitt Romney, tweeted that Pompeo is a “superb pick” to serve as CIA director and that “he’s distinguished himself in Cong[ress] on nat[ional] security.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition called Pompeo a “wonderful choice.”
“Throughout his years of public service, Rep. Pompeo has been a friend of American Jews and a true friend of Israel,” the RJC said in a statement. “His staunch opposition to the Iran nuclear deal shows he takes our interests to heart and we are proud to support him.”
But Flynn and Sessions and the personal baggage they carry are far more controversial — and likely to cost the president-elect more political capital during his transition.
Flynn, a hard-liner on fighting ISIL, has come under scrutiny for a number of incendiary comments on the campaign trail, including his tweet that “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL.” His close ties to Russia and praise of Vladimir Putin have also drawn attention at a time when the West’s continued economic sanctions against Russia, a response to Putin’s annexation of Crimea and territories in Ukraine, will likely depend on whether the Trump administration holds firm.
But the 58-year-old does not face a confirmation hearing, as Sessions will. Already Friday, Democrats are focusing on his failed confirmation three decades ago, when the Judiciary Committee torpedoed his nomination for a U.S. district judge post amid accusations of racist comments toward African-Americans — that he’d called the NAACP “un-American” and once addressed a black attorney as “boy.” Sessions has denied the accusations.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Friday signaled that Democrats are ready for a fight over Sessions, whose nomination she referred to as “a compromise with racism” as she asked Trump to “rescind” the pick. “If he refuses, then it will fall to the Senate to exercise fundamental moral leadership for our nation and all of its people,” she said in a statement.
Trump, whose own racially charged rhetoric did not prevent him from winning the presidency, appears undeterred by whatever controversy some of his appointments may spark.
“He’s picking people in a way that shows he meant what he said in the campaign,” said Ari Fleischer, who served as George W. Bush’s first White House press secretary and was a part of filling out the last Republican administration. “Trump is ready. He knows what he wants; he believes these are the right people. He knows there are controversies with every one of them, but welcome to the modern era. There are going to be controversies with everyone.”
On a conference call with reporters, Trump’s team offered a preview of how they’ll look to quell an uprising over Sessions. Jason Miller, a senior communications adviser, said that the senator filed desegregation lawsuits in Alabama and, as a senator, voted to confirm former Attorney General Eric Holder, the first African-American to hold that post, to extend the Civil Rights Act, and pushed to recognize Rosa Parks with the Congressional Gold Medal.
“We feel very confident that Sen. Sessions has the background and the support to receive confirmation,” Miller said.
While a number of Democratic groups issued statements blasting Sessions as a “racist” and “the most anti-immigration Senator in the chamber,” at least one Democrat promised an open mind.
“Sen. Sessions and I have had significant disagreements over the years, particularly on civil rights, voting rights, immigration and criminal justice issues,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “But unlike Republicans’ practice of unprecedented obstruction of President Obama’s nominees, I believe nominees deserve a full and fair process before the Senate.”
Trump’s first five appointments — Friday’s announcement followed his naming Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus to be White House chief of staff and Steve Bannon, the former Breitbart editor who was named campaign CEO and crafted Trump’s message in the final months, as his senior White House adviser — offer few hints about the appointments to come, including his pick for secretary of state, the most visible and symbolically important Cabinet post.
The president-elect is headed to his Bedminster, New Jersey, estate Friday afternoon, where he will continue to hold meetings with potential appointees over the weekend. Mitt Romney is scheduled to meet with Trump on Saturday, although it’s unclear whether that meeting is to discuss the secretary of state position that Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump’s most loyal supporters, openly covets.
The selection of Romney or even South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who met with Trump earlier this week, “would go a long way as a green light for a lot of the party’s best and brightest who are still sitting on the sidelines,” according to a prominent GOP source on Capitol Hill.
But with Trump, the improbable is always possible — and so are head fakes.
“We just saw Ted Cruz go to Trump Tower and suddenly everyone was speculating he was under consideration for attorney general,” Fleischer said. “The next day, Trump names Sessions as AG. Does he follow suit by picking Rudy on Monday after meeting with Romney?
“We don’t know, but there’s almost a sense here that Trump is enjoying having his former opponents come before him and then not giving them what they want.”