Donald Trump begins transition to White House; likely to reward loyalty with top appointments

US President-elect Donald Trump gestures as he speaks at election night rally in Manhattan, New York.
US President-elect Donald Trump gestures as he speaks at election night rally in Manhattan, New York.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Republican Donald Trump put aside celebrations and focused on his transition to the White House as rival Hillary Clinton promised to bury the bitterness of their long presidential race and work to unify a divided country.

After his stunning upset of the heavily favoured Clinton, Mr Trump and his senior aides met at Trump Tower in New York on Wednesday (Nov 9) to begin the transition.

"They are hunkered down in meetings, plotting the next steps, the transition, the first 100 days, key staff positions," said a source close to Mr Trump's campaign.

Mr Trump’s early list of potential appointments to top positions appears to reward people who were loyal to him after a campaign in which many Republican Party leaders kept their distance.

Mr Jeff Sessions, an Alabama senator who was one of Mr Trump’s most fervent supporters in the US Congress, is said to be under consideration for a prominent role, perhaps defense secretary, sources familiar with transition planning said on Wednesday.

Retired General Michael Flynn emerged as a possible pick for Trump’s national security adviser, the sources said.

Mr Flynn, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, played a prominent role during the campaign, often serving as an introductory speaker at campaign rallies and has provided private counsel on foreign affairs. “He has a calming influence on Trump,” said a source familiar with transition planning.

In addition, former House of Representatives Newt Gingrich and US Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee were also considered potential selections for secretary of state, the sources said. Mr Corker chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Both Mr Corker and Mr Gingrich had been under discussion as potential vice presidential picks for Mr  Trump, a position that eventually went to Indiana Governor Mike Pence.

These same sources said Republican National Committee Reince Priebus, who has emerged as a trusted adviser to the New York businessman, was being talked about as a potential White House chief of staff.

A Priebus deputy, RNC senior strategist Sean Spicer, was a possibility for White House press secretary.

Trump’s campaign manager, Ms Kellyanne Conway, who helped bring about a more disciplined approach to the candidate, was seen as potential White House senior adviser.

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who endorsed Mr Trump after dropping out of the 2016 Republican presidential nomination fight, was a possible education secretary.

Mr Richard Grenell, a former spokesman for the United States at the United Nations, was a potential US ambassador to the United Nations, as was New York Republican Representative Peter King.

Mr Mike Rogers, a former chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, was in the mix for CIA director, the sources said.

Mr Trump’s transition team set up a website (https://www.greatagain.gov/) and Twitter account (@transition2017), promising to keep the country posted on plans, Politico reported. 

Mr Trump was a prolific user of Twitter during the campaign, sometimes using it to deliver pithy put-downs of his critics and rivals.

Mr Trump will enjoy Republican majorities in both chambers of the US Congress that could help him implement his legislative agenda and appoint a Supreme Court justice to fill the vacancy created by the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.

In the Senate, Democrats secured a second gain on Wednesday, when Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte conceded defeat in New Hampshire to challenger Maggie Hassan, the state's Democratic governor. But the Republicans retained their majority.

"Now, Donald Trump will lead a unified Republican government and we will work hand-in-hand on a positive agenda to tackle this country's big challenges," House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, who had a strained relationship with Mr Trump, told reporters, saying Mr Trump had earned a mandate in the election.

After Mr Trump's stunning victory, Mrs Clinton, Democratic President Barack Obama and leading figures in the Republican Party who had struggled to make peace with Mr Trump all vowed to move past the ugliness of the campaign to seek common ground.

"Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead," Mrs Clinton said in a concession speech in New York, joined by her husband, former president Bill Clinton, and daughter Chelsea.

With a row of American flags in the background, she told supporters her loss was painful "and it will be for a long time", and that she had offered to work with Mr Trump as he prepares to begin his four-year term on Jan 20.

 

Mr Obama, who campaigned hard against Mr Trump, invited him to the White House for a meeting on Thursday (Friday Singapore time) after a brutal night for the Democratic Party, which also fell short of recapturing majorities in both chambers of Congress.

"We are now all rooting for his success in uniting and leading the country," Mr Obama said at the White House, adding that he and his staff would work with Mr Trump to ensure a successful transition.

"We are not Democrats first, we are not Republicans first, we are Americans first." 

TRUMP PRIORITIES

In an Oct 25 Reuters interview, Mr Trump said his top priorities when he took office would be building stronger borders, repealing Mr Obama's national healthcare plan, aiding military veterans and working to create more jobs.

In his victory speech early on Wednesday, he also promised to embark on a project to rebuild American infrastructure and to double US economic growth.

Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell said on Wednesday that repealing the healthcare plan known as Obamacare would be a "pretty high item" on the agenda. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that she spoke to Mr Trump about passing a "robust" jobs Bill.

Worried that a Trump victory could cause economic and global uncertainty, investors initially fled stocks worldwide, but Wall Street made a dramatic turnaround and the US dollar hit its highest level against the Japanese yen in nearly four months.

The Mexican peso recouped some losses after falling to a record low. The currency has been vulnerable to Mr Trump's threats to rip up a free trade agreement with Mexico and to tax money sent home by migrants to pay to build a border wall.

Scattered protests broke out across the country over Mr Trump's triumph. In Berkeley, California, outside San Francisco, some 1,500 high school students and teachers walked out of classes chanting: "Not our president."

Smaller groups of students walked out of classes in nearby Oakland and in Seattle, while several hundred students protested at the University of Texas, according to local reports.

Speaking to cheering supporters in a New York hotel ballroom after his victory, Mr Trump said it was time to heal divisions after a campaign that exposed deep differences among Americans.

"It is time for us to come together as one united people," he said. "I will be president for all Americans."

His comments departed sharply from his campaign rhetoric in which he repeatedly branded Mrs Clinton as "Crooked Hillary" amid supporters' chants of "lock her up".

Mr Trump's campaign manager, Ms Kellyanne Conway, did not rule out on Wednesday the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Mrs Clinton's past conduct, a threat Mr Trump made in an election debate last month.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said it hoped the tradition of not using the criminal justice system to exact revenge on political opponents would continue under Mr Trump.

Senior House Republican Jason Chaffetz plans to continue investigating Mrs Clinton's use of a private rather than government e-mail server while she was secretary of state, a Chaffetz aide said. FBI director James Comey has said a year-long probe by the agency into the setup revealed nothing to merit criminal charges.

Despite losing the state-by-state electoral battle that determines the US presidency, Mrs Clinton narrowly led Mr Trump in the nationwide popular vote, according to US media tallies.

Fuelling his upset was Mr Trump's avid support among white non-college educated workers. He ran up big leads in rural areas, beating Mrs Clinton by 27 percentage points among voters outside of urban areas, a Reuters/Ipsos Election Day poll found.

While Mrs Clinton, 69, won Hispanics and black and young voters, she did not win those groups by greater margins than Mr Obama did in 2012. Younger blacks did not support Mrs Clinton like they did for Mr Obama. She won eight of 10 black voters between the ages of 35 and 54. Mr Obama won almost 100 per cent of those voters in 2012.

At 70, Mr Trump will be the oldest first-term US president. The presidency will be Mr Trump's first elected office, and it remains to be seen how he will work with Congress. During the campaign, Mr Trump was the target of sharp disapproval, not just from Democrats but from many in his own party.

GOOD NEWS FOR RUSSIA

Foreign leaders pledged to work with Mr Trump, but some officials expressed alarm the vote could mark the end of an era in which Washington promoted democratic values and was seen by its allies as a guarantor of peace.

During the campaign, Mr Trump expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, questioned central tenets of the Nato military alliance and suggested that Japan and South Korea should develop nuclear weapons to shoulder their own defence burden.

Russia and Putin appeared to be winners from Mr Trump's victory. Defying years of US foreign policy orthodoxy, the Republican had promised much warmer relations with Moscow, despite Russia's intervention in the Syrian civil war and its seizure of Ukraine's Crimea region.

Russia's Parliament erupted in applause after a lawmaker announced that Mr Trump had been elected, and Mr Putin told foreign ambassadors he was ready to fully restore ties with Washington.

Russia is hoping that improved relations could yield an elusive prize: the lifting or easing of sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union to punish Moscow for its 2014 annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who sparred with Mr Obama, spoke by phone to Mr Trump, who proposed they meet "at the first opportunity", Mr Netanyahu's office said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said Beijing and Washington shared responsibility for promoting global development and prosperity.

Iran urged Mr Trump to stay committed to the nuclear accord between Teheran and world powers, which Mr Trump has sharply criticised. Several authoritarian and right-wing leaders hailed Mr Trump's victory.

Other officials abroad, some with senior roles in government, took the unusual step of denouncing the outcome, calling it a worrying signal for liberal democracy and tolerance in the world.

"Trump is the pioneer of a new authoritarian and chauvinist international movement. He is also a warning for us," German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said in an interview with the Funke newspaper group.

US neighbour Mexico was pitched into deep uncertainty by the victory for Mr Trump, who has often accused it of stealing US jobs and sending criminals across the US border.

Mr Trump campaigned on a pledge to take the country on a more isolationist, protectionist "America First" path.

He wants to rewrite international trade deals to reduce trade deficits and has taken positions that raise the possibility of damaging relations with America's most trusted allies in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.