On November 10, President Obama and President-elect Donald Trump met at the White House for the first of several meetings the two men will have to discuss the transition of power between their administrations. Accompanying the President-elect that day was Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and close adviser, who reportedly asked how many members of the White House staff would stay on for the next administration. The answer: practically none. That question, and its answer, are emblematic of the daunting task facing President-elect Trump—filling over 4,000 positions in the federal government.
With the transition underway, here are a few things that I am watching:
Goodbye Christie, Hello Pence
While the meeting between Obama and Trump is a commonplace part of this process, we have already seen some interesting developments since Tuesday’s election. The biggest news came Friday with the announcement that Vice President-elect Mike Pence would replace New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as the chairman of the transition team. Christie, who had been leading the effort during the election, was reportedly removed because the team felt that the effort needed to be led by someone with stronger ties to Washington and because Trump was unhappy with the fallout from the “Bridgegate” verdict.
Keep Your Friends Close
Supporting Pence are six co-chairs, including Christie, Dr. Ben Carson, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Director of the DIA Michael Flynn, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL). That, along with the transition team’s executive committee, shows that Trump is rewarding people who supported him throughout the primaries and general election, while also bringing in some key members of Congress who may be able to help him bridge the gap between his administration and the Republican-controlled Congress.
Drain Use the Swamp!
The transition team itself, which is managing the day-to-day work of the transition effort, had been somewhat controversial in that many of the positions had been filled with lobbyists and other Washington insiders. Initially, the President-elect defended this decision, arguing that these lobbyists were the only people with the expertise the team needed to execute the transition. However, that defense did not seem to work as many Trump supporters continued to point out that their presence in the transition effort contradicted Trump’s closing salvo in the campaign to “drain the swamp” in Washington, referring to limiting the power and influence of the political establishment, lobbyists and special interests in the capital. Now, according to reports this week, it appears that Trump and his team have decided to remove lobbyists from the transition effort, a move that some may say shows he is maintaining campaign promises, but others may argue is removing the people who are best suited to successfully navigate the transition.
Establishment Thoughts: Priebus Good. Bannon Bad.
With the election over and the transition underway, President-elect Trump now begins the arduous task of actually serving as President of the United States. As the first person elected to the office with no political or military experience, he is in the unique position of having to both learn the system and prepare for the job at the same time. His selection of RNC chair Reince Priebus to serve as chief of staff shows that he is aware of the fact that he needs to bring in people who understand Washington, while his controversial decision to bring former Breitbart CEO Steve Bannon on as chief strategist and “equal partner” to Priebus indicates that he is still interested in surrounding himself with Washington outsiders.
Think About the Children!
Finally, Kushner and Trump’s three eldest children all have positions on the transition team’s executive committee, and will continue to influence their father, but the Trump team has also indicated that they will operate his businesses under a blind trust while Trump serves as President. This dual role for the Trump children has many wondering if the businessman can truly separate himself from his company while occupying the office of President.
Where do we go from here?
As previously mentioned, President-elect Trump is the first person elected to the office with no previous political or military experience. Like him or not, the country is about to conduct one of the most significant social experiments in history — can someone with no such experience actually do the job? And, the reality is, it is a real (and fair) question and one that we will not be able to concretely answer for some time. This transition process is the beginning of the answer to that question, but it could also be a process that creates more doubt for many Americans.
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