President-elect Donald Trump named Cabinet picks Wednesday who would bring some gender and racial diversity to his administration, as well as a degree of political independence, but raised questions about his pledge to seek experience in choosing stewards of vast government bureaucracies.
Trump’s picks for United Nations ambassador, Republican Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, and for Education secretary, Betsy DeVos, a billionaire advocate of school vouchers, were the first two women named in a transition that had been dominated by white, male Trump loyalists.
Haley is the daughter of Indian immigrants. Dr. Ben Carson, who is black, also said Wednesday that he was under serious consideration to serve as secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
The latest selections also offer some political diversity and could buffer Trump from criticism that he was filling out the top echelon of his administration exclusively with people who had backed his campaign.
Haley was openly critical of Trump during the Republican primary, endorsing two of his opponents before finally standing alongside the eventual nominee. DeVos was less outspoken in her reservations but contributed to at least two of Trump’s rivals and went into the summer nominating convention telling the Detroit News she wasn’t sure whether to back him.
But Haley and Carson, if he is chosen, would seem to contradict Trump’s statement a day earlier, in an interview with the New York Times, that he valued expertise in stocking his administration.
“We’re trying very hard to get the best people — not necessarily people that will be the most politically correct people because that hasn’t been working,” Trump had said.
“So we have really experts in the field. Some are known and some are not known, but they’re known within their field as being the best. That’s very important to me.”
A popular and engaging governor and a rising star in the GOP, Haley, 44, has little background in foreign affairs. Carson, 65, is a retired neurosurgeon whose primary credential in housing policy may be that he once lived in tenement housing.
Days ago, a senior advisor said Carson thought he lacked the background needed to manage a federal agency.
Carson didn’t want to take a position that could “cripple the presidency,” Armstrong Williams, an advisor to both Trump and Carson, told the Hill newspaper. HUD is responsible for administering low-income housing assistance, fair-housing laws, housing development and aid to neighborhoods in distress.
On Wednesday, however, Carson indicated a change of heart.
“After serious discussions with the Trump transition team, I feel that I can make a significant contribution, particularly to making our inner cities great for everyone,” Carson said on Facebook. “An announcement is forthcoming about my role in helping to make America great again.”
DeVos, 58, does have long experience in education policy, advocating for conservative goals and tangling with teacher unions.
She and her family — her father-in-law co-founded Amway and has a fortune that Forbes estimated at $5 billion — are among the nation’s biggest donors to the Republican Party and to conservative Christian causes, including opposition to same-sex marriage.
She is also a former four-time chair of the Michigan Republican Party.
“Betsy DeVos is a brilliant and passionate education advocate,” Trump said in a statement. “Under her leadership, we will reform the U.S. education system and break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back so that we can deliver world-class education and school choice to all families.”
DeVos moved quickly on Wednesday to reassure conservatives on one issue — the Common Core curriculum standards. She has been an ally of former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, who backed Common Core.
“Many of you are asking about Common Core,” she wrote on Twitter. “To clarify, I am not a supporter – period.”
Her selection suggests that Trump may make a priority of backing vouchers — a longtime conservative goal that he endorsed during the campaign. Voucher programs give tax funds to parents that they can use to pay for private or parochial schools if they find their local public schools unsatisfactory. DeVos has been a leading advocate of their use.
Teacher unions, which intensely oppose vouchers, denounced the selection of DeVos.
“Trump makes it loud and clear that his education policy will focus on privatizing, defunding, and destroying public education in America,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “The sum total of her involvement has been spending her family’s wealth in an effort to dismantle public education in Michigan.”
The selection of Haley represented a nod by Trump to more moderate forces in the GOP, especially in the realm of global diplomacy.
An aide to Trump defended Haley’s credentials, saying she had improved the South Carolina economy while engaging in overseas trade and recruitment travel.
The move also would give a promotion to one of Trump’s early supporters, South Carolina Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster, who would move into Haley’s job. For Haley, the U.N. post could provide a useful credential if she wants to seek higher office, much as it did for George H.W. Bush, who served as U.N. ambassador in the early 1970s.
The announcement of Haley’s selection was somewhat unusual because Trump has not yet announced a secretary of State, the U.N. ambassador’s nominal boss.
Aides say he is looking closely at former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, a sharp critic of Trump during the campaign.
Some conservatives have attacked that possibility. Former GOP Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, for example, said Wednesday that choosing Romney would be a “big insult” to Trump’s voters.
Trump is also considering one of his most loyal backers, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. A Trump aide says the president-elect is spending “significant time” on that choice.
The selection is likely to be top of mind as Trump gathers with family at his Mar-a-Lago resort for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Times staff writer Joy Resmovits in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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