Advertisement
Politics

Donald Trump’s transition team loses a key figure as he struggles to find his footing

Vice President-elect Mike Pence
Vice President-elect Mike Pence is also in charge of President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team.
(Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

The shoot-from-the-hip style that helped Donald Trump win the presidency is now playing out in his transition to governing.

An insular group of loyalists and family members are at the helm, giving the public little information. A top establishment figure abruptly departed the transition team. And officials from across the federal government say they have heard nothing from the people who are supposed to take their place two months from now.

For the record:
2:00 PM, Aug. 18, 2019 An earlier version of this post misidentified former Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, who has left the Trump transition team, as Rep. Mike D. Rogers of Alabama.

By Tuesday, a week after his election, Trump’s team had yet to discuss even basic elements of the government handoff with key players at the Pentagon, the State Department and other vital agencies, in large part because of a delay in signing the paperwork dictating the nuts and bolts of the process.

“We are standing by ready to assist,” said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.

Advertisement

“We stand ready,” said State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau.

The president-elect addressed the transition in a Twitter message Tuesday evening. “Very organized process taking place as I decide on Cabinet and many other positions,” he wrote. “I am the only one who knows who the finalists are!”

The Trump campaign had kept mum throughout the day as confidants and family members streamed in and out of Trump Tower in New York, occasionally stopping to speak with reporters cordoned behind a red velvet rope in the lobby, but giving up little before riding the elevator to Trump’s office.

Advertisement

Leaks about internal squabbles and personnel moves, many involving close campaign allies competing for top posts, were left to fill the information void.

“No. No,” retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, a Trump advisor, said when asked about rumors of infighting on the Trump team. “It’s all been good.”

But one of Trump’s most respected links to the Republican foreign policy community, former Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, abruptly announced he was leaving the transition team. Rogers, a former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, had been an important bridge between Trump and skeptics in his party.

Rogers had been a holdover from the transition team assembled by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was replaced as the team’s leader last week by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, the vice president-elect.

A person close to Rogers called his departure part of an effort to distance the team from Christie. 

“Anyone close to Chris Christie got dumped,” said the Rogers ally, who would not be named discussing internal transition team dynamics. "All the level-headed people are stepping aside.”

Another potential bridge was also cut off when Eliot Cohen, a prominent conservative critic of Trump, portrayed himself as walking away angrily from an attempt at reconciliation. Cohen, a supporter of the war in Iraq who served in President George W. Bush’s State Department, had organized a letter signed by dozens of former officials denouncing Trump during the campaign.

“After exchange [with] Trump transition team, changed my recommendation,” Cohen wrote on Twitter. “Stay away. They’re angry, arrogant, screaming ‘you LOST!’ Will be ugly.”  

Advertisement

Trump had insisted during the campaign, contrary to evidence, that he had always opposed the Iraq war.

Another potential player in the administration, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, also took himself out of the running for an administration job, according to Terry M. Giles, finance chairman during Carson’s presidential campaign.

Christie’s departure was also responsible for the delay in setting up meetings between Trump’s team and the leaders of federal government agencies. Christie had signed an agreement with the Obama administration that set parameters for interactions between White House officials and designated representatives of the president-elect’s team.

That agreement, which is required by federal law and sets the conditions for access to documents, staff and facilities of federal agencies, no longer applied once Christie was removed from his position. The White House said it received a new agreement signed by Pence late Tuesday.

“The government is ready for the Trump folks, and the Trump folks need to get moving,” said Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan group that focuses on good governance. 

Stier said Trump seems to be figuring out how to move from campaigning to governing, one of the stiffest challenges that any president-elect faces, particularly one who campaigned as an outsider. The task is enormous, he noted: hiring 4,000 people, implementing policy, learning enough to avoid national security risks, preparing a budget a month after inauguration and preparing for “things you can’t expect, the asteroids that come in.”

“With two houses of Congress now held by the Republicans, they have to produce” quickly, said Martha Kumar, an expert in presidential transitions. 

Those most affected by Trump’s agenda are also anxious about the lack of clarity. Hospital groups, health insurers, consumer advocates and others have been scrambling since the election to learn how the Trump administration and its allies on Capitol Hill will fulfill their pledge to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Advertisement

Industry officials and others say it has been almost impossible to find out what the new administration is planning. Even identifying who is making decisions on what was a signature issue for Trump during the campaign has been a challenge, health sector leaders said.

In 2008, President-elect Barack Obama’s team moved faster, signing an agreement to meet with top officials in Bush’s White House four days after he was elected. Eight years earlier, Bush’s transition team could not begin meeting with agency officials for weeks because the result of the 2000 election was in doubt.

Kumar and Stier both said that Trump has time to regain his footing. Kumar believes Pence, who served in Congress, was a wise choice to lead the effort, given his ties to top lawmakers.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) tried to reassure the public that the effort remained on track and that he was in touch with Trump almost daily.

“We’re going to do everything we can to help make him be as successful as he’s going to be,” Ryan said.

Trump’s team tapped Rep. Chris Collins of New York — the first in the House to support him — as a liaison to House Republicans, and sent an aide to Tuesday’s meeting of the House GOP as a legislative emissary. 

Yet even as the process moves forward, all new administrations face hurdles in getting their Cabinet choices approved by the Senate, even if their party has control. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a leading libertarian voice who briefly mounted his own presidential run, told CNN on Tuesday that he would not support John Bolton, once Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations, as a potential secretary of State, and would also have trouble supporting Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor, for the job because of their support for the war in Iraq.

“Giuliani and Bolton are very similar,” Paul said. “Bolton just has a more extensive cheerleading background with regard to the Middle East.”

Liberal critics have also begun taking aim at Trump’s choices. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, speaking to corporate leaders at a Wall Street Journal forum, said Trump had already broken his promise to clean up Washington.

“He’s putting together a transition team that’s full of lobbyists,” she said. “The kind of people he actually ran against.”

Times staff writers Michael A. Memoli, W.J. Hennigan, Tracy Wilkinson and Noam N. Levey contributed to this report.

Twitter: @noahbierman, @lisamascaro

Trump used to rail against drug prices. Now the industry’s allies are helping shape his agenda

Despite talk of GOP unity, Trump’s programs face fight from Republican budget hawks

Why Trump — or any other politician — can’t do much to bring back manual labor jobs


UPDATES:

7:50 p.m.: This story was updated with a tweet from Donald Trump.

5:25 p.m.: This story was updated with the White House saying Pence signed an agreement to begin transition work.

This story was originally published at 4:25 p.m.


Newsletters
Get our twice-weekly Politics newsletter
Advertisement