In his first two weeks, President Trump has sought to project the image of a new leader moving quickly to enact his agenda.
He has surrounded himself in photo ops with his most trusted senior aides as he signs a flurry of executive orders, visits government agencies and calls world leaders from the Oval Office.
But if the images from the White House aim to show a man of action, they also have delivered another, unspoken message in the early days of the new administration: Most of the aides Trump relies on for counsel as he moves to dramatically reshape the country are men — and nearly all of them are white.
It is a sharp change from the past eight years of the barrier-breaking Obama administration, and one that has reinforced the feeling among Trump’s critics that a narrow, anachronistic worldview is driving an agenda that they consider to be hostile to women and minorities.
“Where are the women?” Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) asked rhetorically on the House floor last week, holding up a photo of Trump flanked by Vice President Pence and six male advisers in the Oval Office a day after he signed an order restricting federal funds for abortion-related activities in foreign countries.
“I can tell you Barack Obama would not have for one minute signed an executive order that would make it harder for women across the globe to get health-care service with [only] men standing behind him,” said Nancy-Ann DeParle, who served as Obama’s deputy chief of staff for policy from 2011 to 2013.
During his inaugural address, Trump stood on the veranda of the U.S. Capitol and declared “an oath of allegiance to all Americans.”
Two days later, after millions of women had demonstrated against his administration in marches in Washington and across the country, Trump presided over a swearing-in ceremony for two dozen senior White House staffers. Among them were five women and one racial minority, former “Apprentice” star Omarosa Manigault, who is serving as a senior communications aide.
Beyond the White House, Trump’s choices to fill 21 Cabinet-level positions include 16 white men, four women (including two Asian Americans) and one African American man, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson.
For the first time since the Reagan administration, there are no Latinos, even as Trump moves to ramp up the deportations of undocumented immigrants.
White House aides discounted criticism over the lack of diversity.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the principal deputy press secretary, said that Trump regularly consults the opinions of a wide range of aides, regardless of their rank.
“He’s not the type who talks to just 20 people,” said Sanders, who emphasized that she did not think that the president’s policy initiatives have been “anti-women.”
“I’ve sat in multiple meetings where he turned and said, ‘Sarah, what do you think about this?’ ” Sanders said. “He called the main line to the press office the other day. I sat and talked to him for 20 minutes.”
Manigault, who has battled suggestions in the black community that she is being used as a racial token, said on “The View” on Jan. 27: “No one uses me.”
She accused the Obama administration of choosing “not to aggressively do African American outreach.”
“They felt that if they helped all Americans, then the black community would be helped,” Manigault said. “That really isn’t the approach that we’re taking. We have a very strategic plan of engaging this community.”
That could be challenging. Democrat Hillary Clinton beat Trump among black voters by 80 percentage points, and she won Latinos by 36 points and women by 12 points, according to the Pew Research Center.
Trump decisively won among white male voters.
“For his base, they don’t care who he hires,” said a former high-ranking female aide in the George W. Bush White House.
Trump’s supporters “don’t want to be told who to hire for their businesses — just the best people for the job,” added the former Bush official, who was not authorized by her employer to speak on the record. “If the left wants to hem and haw over the lack of diversity, fine. If he gets results, then it won’t matter.”
Still, Trump and his team appear to have noticed the criticism.
A day after he signed the abortion funding ban, the president invited reporters into the Oval Office for another round of executive orders. This time, the same men were arrayed behind him along with two women — senior political adviser Kellyanne Conway and Hope Hicks, a senior communications aide.
They were positioned just over Trump’s left shoulder, in the center of the frame for news photographers.
Conway, a longtime Republican pollster and strategist, serves a prominent public role for Trump as an omnipresent face on cable and network news shows. She, Hicks and Manigault have attended the White House daily briefings as press secretary Sean Spicer answers questions from reporters. The press office is largely staffed by women.
But their positions underscore what seems to be a primary assignment for women in the Trump White House as public-relations liaisons to defend the president and, at times, soften his rough edges. Trump’s daughter Ivanka accompanied him on a trip to an Air Force base in Dover, Del., on Wednesday to visit with the family of a U.S. service member killed in Yemen.
Conway, who wrote a 2005 book about how women are reshaping politics and culture, has privately expressed a desire to take on more of a policy role, particularly around military veterans. But she is not known to have the same level of influence on policy as do other senior advisers: Stephen K. Bannon; Stephen Miller; and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law; and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.
Trump is not the first president to be accused of sidelining women. Female aides to Obama voiced frustration that they were not being heard, prompting Obama to hold a private dinner with them and encourage them to speak up.
An Oval Office photo of Obama meeting with 11 aides, 10 of whom were male, prompted renewed questions shortly before his second term. But Obama had the highest percentage of women in the West Wing — 39 percent — in history, according to Jay Newton-Small, author of “Broad Influence: How Women Are Changing the Way America Works.”
Newton-Small said that women must reach a “critical mass” to exert real influence, which she defined as up to 30 percent. She noted that Clinton had pledged to make women half of her Cabinet.
“That would have supercharged it,” she said.
Trump allies said that Hicks, 28, who served as a campaign spokeswoman, is a ubiquitous presence at the president’s side, which could give her outsize influence.
“The way that it works for Trump is, if you’re in the room, he’s going to ask you your opinion,” said a former Trump aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the situation candidly.
The question is who is in the room. On Jan. 27, Trump and Pence traveled to the Pentagon, where they were joined by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis as Trump signed an executive order to bar refugees and suspend travel to the United States from seven majority-Muslim countries.
The entry ban set off major protests Jan. 28 across the country amid reports that federal agents had detained more than 100 foreign travelers, including some who had green cards allowing them legal permanent residence in the country.
That morning, White House aides allowed reporters to observe through the windows of the Oval Office as Trump spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Across the Resolute Desk were five white male aides.
It was not until four days later that Manigault and Carson got an invitation to join Trump at a photo op — this one a meeting with African American supporters in the Roosevelt Room to mark Black History Month.