Though President-elect Donald Trump’s first five picks for top jobs in his administration have all been white men, transition officials insisted Monday that the team he ultimately puts together will represent a cross-section of America.
Trump spokesman Jason Miller told reporters on a conference call that the president-elect met with a “high-caliber and broad and diverse group” of job seekers and advisers in recent days and predicted that the top rungs of the executive branch that Trump assembles in the coming weeks “will be very broad and diverse, both with the Cabinet and the administration.”
That point was echoed by Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, who said that assuring diversity — both in backgrounds and political philosophy — is a priority for Trump.
“And diversity means meeting with people across the aisle who are traditionally more Democratic, who are coming together and wanting to offer him advice, perhaps vie for a spot in his Cabinet,” Conway said. “But willing to give him counsel and willing to share experiences and have candid conversations about their views and their backgrounds.”
The Trump aides were seeking to dismiss speculation that the parade of people summoned by the president-elect — which has included women, nonwhites and erstwhile political foes — has been merely for show.
That skepticism comes in the aftermath of a brutal presidential campaign that was punctuated by frequent incidents in which Trump said and did things that offended women, Latinos and Muslims, while drawing support from white nationalist groups.
Exit polls suggest that Trump owes his victory to white voters, of whom 58 percent supported him. By comparison, he won only 8 percent of African American voters, and 29 percent each of Hispanics and Asian Americans, the exit polls showed.
“It is time for us to come together as one united people. It’s time,” Trump said in his election-night victory speech. “I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans, and this is so important to me.”
At the same time, Trump has made clear he is not ready to let bygones be bygones, feuding in recent days on Twitter with the cast of the hit musical “Hamilton” and with “Saturday Night Live.” On Monday afternoon, he had a contentious Trump Tower meeting with another one of his chief adversaries: members of the news media.
In the session with more than a dozen television executives and on-air journalists, Trump was highly critical of coverage of him, according to several people familiar with the gathering. Keeping his voice calm and his tone flippant, he told the group sitting around a conference table that they failed to provide their viewers with fair and accurate coverage and told them they failed to understand him or his appeal to millions of Americans.
Trump expressed particular ire at CNN and at several reporters at other cable networks whom he sees as unreasonably antagonistic toward him, though he did not mention them by name.
The people variously described Trump as “combative,” “proud” and “dismissive” toward the news organizations present. He also shrugged off the need for a constant pool covering him, they said, although he did not delve into specifics.
On Tuesday, he was scheduled to meet with publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., as well as editors and reporters of the journalistic institution that Trump frequently refers to as “the failing New York Times.” But he abruptly cancelled that meeting via Twitter on Tuesday morning, claiming that the Times had changed the ground rules. The Times denied any change.
Trump’s meetings on Monday included Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), who was the first Hindu member of Congress and who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), a socialist, in the Democratic primaries. On foreign policy, Gabbard, a combat veteran who served in Iraq, has been critical of the Obama administration’s handling of the war in Syria.
After the meeting with Trump, she issued a statement saying that her “frank and positive conversation” with the president-elect had centered on “our current policies regarding Syria, our fight against terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS, as well as other foreign policy challenges we face.”
“I felt it important to take the opportunity to meet with the President-elect now before the drumbeats of war that neocons have been beating drag us into an escalation of the war to overthrow the Syrian government,” she added.
Gabbard spokeswoman Emily Latimer said the congresswoman “did not meet with President-elect Trump seeking a job, nor did he offer her one.”
Another woman who met with Trump on Monday was Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R), who said she had discussed “a wide range of issues” with him but was not offered a position. “It was just an initial meeting to discuss a wide range of topics,” Fallin said.
Also on the list of those meeting with Trump on Monday were former Texas governor Rick Perry, who was a harsh critic when he opposed Trump in the runup to the GOP primaries; former House speaker Newt Gingrich; former senator Scott Brown (Mass.), who indicated that he is interested in being tapped as secretary of veterans affairs; and Elaine Chao, a former labor secretary who is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
On Monday evening, Trump released a video in which he said: “Our transition team is working very smoothly, efficiently and effectively. Truly great and talented men and women, patriots indeed, are being brought in, and many will soon be a part of our government.”
He also outlined a series of executive actions in the video that he said he intends to take on his first day in office: issuing notification of intent to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement; canceling restrictions on energy production; putting in place a rule that two regulations must be eliminated for every new one enacted; ordering a plan to protect U.S. infrastructure from cyberattacks and other forms of attack; directing the Labor Department to investigate “abuses of visa programs that undercut the American worker”; and imposing a five-year ban on executive officials becoming lobbyists.
No personnel announcements are imminent, officials said Monday, adding that Trump is planning to spend Thanksgiving with his family at Mar-a-Lago, his private club in Palm Beach, Fla.
Two new names have emerged as possible candidates for secretary of homeland security, including a retired Marine general who clashed with the Obama administration over women in combat and over plans to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, people familiar with the selection process said Monday.
Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, who retired this year as chief of U.S. Southern Command, is under consideration for the homeland security post, the people familiar with the process said. Another candidate is Frances Townsend, a top homeland security and counterterrorism official in the George W. Bush administration, they said.
Additionally, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach appeared to be carrying a written plan for the Department of Homeland Security into a meeting with Trump on Sunday. According to one page of the plan photographed by the Associated Press, it focused in part on questioning “high-risk” immigrants over support they may allegedly have for Islamic sharia law.
Kobach entered the national spotlight several years ago when he advised Mitt Romney on the idea of “self-deportation” for undocumented immigrants during the 2012 presidential campaign. A former chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, Kobach also wrote Arizona’s strict immigration law and has helped lead the fight against President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.
It is unclear how seriously Kobach is under consideration for DHS, but he is a strong Trump supporter who helped influence the president-elect’s hard-line views on immigration. Trump has pledged a crackdown on illegal immigration that would require an exorbitantly expensive — and logistically difficult — operation to remove millions of people from the country.
Overseeing it all would be DHS, which was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks primarily to coordinate the battle against terrorism but is now perhaps known as well for its immigration role. A beefed-up U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a DHS component, would be instrumental if Trump follows through on rounding up far more undocumented immigrants. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, also part of DHS, would come under increased pressure to add more layers of security to the Southwest border.
Meanwhile, Miller, the Trump spokesman, pointedly declined to back embattled FBI Director James B. Comey on Monday, saying Trump would meet with the nation’s top law enforcement officer “at some point.’’
“There hasn’t been any official statement with regard to Director Comey,’’ Miller said during the transition team’s daily briefing. Asked whether Trump would seek the resignation of Comey, who played a controversial role in the presidential campaign’s final days, Miller said only, “I would imagine that at some point, the two will meet.”
Comey drew biting criticism at various points from Republicans and Democrats over the FBI’s handling of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state. Clinton has told donors she blamed her surprising loss on the FBI chief, who told Congress 11 days before the election that the bureau was reviewing further Clinton emails, then said two days before Election Day that the review had not changed his decision not to recommend charges against Clinton.
The transition operation continued to confront questions Monday over how Trump will handle potential conflicts of interest between his sprawling business empire and his new role as the chief executive of the federal government.
Last week, Trump held a meeting at Trump Tower with three business partners building a Trump property south of Mumbai. His daughter Ivanka Trump — a vice president at the Trump Organization and one of the family members who will be in charge of Donald Trump’s businesses after he takes office — attended his meeting last week with the Japanese prime minister.
A new Washington Post analysis of financial filings shows that at least 111 Trump companies have done business in 18 countries and territories, including eight launched during the campaign that appear tied to a potential hotel project in Saudi Arabia.
“Prior to the election it was well known that I have interests in properties all over the world,” Trump tweeted Monday evening. “Only the crooked media makes this a big deal!”
Sari Horwitz and Elise Viebeck in Washington and Robert Costa and Philip Rucker in New York contributed to this report.