Donald Trump holds marathon meetings with potential hires, says they are 'really talented people'

US President-elect Donald Trump waves as former governor Mitt Romney leaves after a meeting at the clubhouse of Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey.
US President-elect Donald Trump waves as former governor Mitt Romney leaves after a meeting at the clubhouse of Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

BEDMINSTER, New Jersey (BLOOMBERG/NYTIMES ) - President-elect Donald Trump emerged from hours of meetings at his New Jersey golf resort, declaring that the day's talks were "really good" and that his candidates are "really talented people" who would make good on his campaign pledge to make America great again.

Responding to a CNN report that retired Marine General James Mattis is now the front-runner to become defence secretary, Trump said merely, "Well, we think he's a great guy. He is some great man." Mattis was at the resort for more than an hour on Saturday (Nov 19).

Trump was also having dinner with Patrick Soon-Shiong, an aide said. Soon-Shiong became a billionaire selling two drug companies and owns a stake in the Los Angeles Lakers NBA basketball team.

Mitt Romney and Steve Mnuchin, who was the finance chairman of Trump's campaign, earlier led a parade of visitors to the clubhouse in Bedminster as the president-elect continues to assemble his administration.

Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee and a fierce critic of Trump for most of the 2016 election season, is now said to be on the short list to become secretary of state. Mnuchin, a close ally, may be under consideration for Treasury secretary.

The former governor of Massachusetts, Romney spent about an hour with Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence. 

 

The outreach signalled a change in tone one day after Trump moved to elevate hard-liners to pivotal national security positions. It was not clear whether Trump had offered the State Department post to Romney, or whether Romney, who has broken sharply with him on Russia, free trade and other issues, would accept if Trump did.

But some strategists argued that merely by reaching out to Romney, Trump was demonstrating an openness to new people and ideas, even from the unlikeliest of sources. It may also have been intended to inject the sort of unpredictability and spectacle into the transition process that the president-elect thrives on.

"Went great," Trump said, cupping his hands at his mouth to project his voice.

"We had a far-reaching conversation with regards to the various theatres of the world of interest to the United States, of real significance," Romney said upon emerging. He did not take questions.

UPSCALE RESORT

Trump, 70, decamped from his midtown Manhattan penthouse on Friday afternoon to the upscale club set in Bedminster, in New Jersey's horse country, about 80 kilometres to the west. The course sits on the former estate of automaker John DeLorean. It features two 18-hole courses designed by renowned architect Tom Fazio, and is scheduled to host the 2017 US Women's Open tournament.

Besides Romney, Trump's short list to become the nation's top diplomat is said to include former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Senator Bob Corker from Tennessee, John Bolton, a former US ambassador to the UN, and Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina.

Mnuchin is one of 16 members of the transition team's executive committee, along with the president-elect's son Eric Trump, who also attended on Saturday.

Sean Spicer, spokesman for the Trump transition team, told reporters that it was "very possible we'll see an additional announcement" in the national security area on Saturday. The director of national intelligence and secretary of defence are two notable jobs not filled to date.

NATIONAL SECURITY

On Friday, Trump tapped three campaign loyalists, whose positions lie outside the conservative mainstream, to positions that could drive the nation's immigration and intelligence agenda.

Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions was nominated for attorney general, Representative Mike Pompeo for CIA director, and retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn as national security adviser. Contentious hearings are possible in the Senate for Sessions and Pompeo; Flynn's appointment is not subject to confirmation.

Romney fits a decidedly different mould. This year, he said that if Trump became the Republican nominee, "the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished," and he suggested Trump was dangerous and unstable.

He deplored Trump's personal qualities: "the bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third-grade theatrics."

John Feehery, a Republican strategist, said Trump was showing "great magnanimity" by talking to Romney, the party's 2012 presidential nominee and a former governor of Massachusetts.

"I think it is meant to reassure some of the establishment that he is going to reach out to them, and that's an important part of healing the party."

But if he took a Cabinet post, Romney could serve as a moderating influence on the hard-liners Trump has already selected. It could also force Romney to defend administration policies he did not believe in.

President Barack Obama, speaking in Lima on Saturday while attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, said Trump's administration should not be prejudged.

At a town hall meeting, Obama urged the world "not to make immediate judgements, but give this new president-elect a chance" to put his team together.

The meeting schedule, Jason Miller, a spokesman for Trump's transition team, said Saturday, "really shows the reach and the depth to which we are going to pull in diverse ideas and different perspectives as we form this administration."

"As we're working to bring the country together and move forward," Miller added in a conference call with reporters, "this shows really where his head is as the next leader of our country."

Candidates for other administration posts arrived in Bedminster on Saturday, including Betsy DeVos, a major Republican donor, and educator Michelle Rhee. Both are said to be under consideration as education secretary.

Choosing Rhee as education secretary "would show real disruption," Feehery added. But she is "also someone who has a real track record of delivering the kind of results he's looking for, and who the establishment hates."

Rhee governed with a brash style as chancellor of Washington's public school system, which was struggling at the time to improve underperforming schools and reverse below-average test scores.

She enraged teachers' unions by firing teachers who had received poor evaluations, renegotiating teacher contracts to weaken seniority protections and tie their pay to student achievement, and endorsing vouchers to allow poor students to attend private schools.

Rhee, who founded the education advocacy group StudentsFirst, has been a supporter of Common Core, a set of education standards that Trump has said he will scrap.

Billionaire investor Wilbur Ross, who may be on the short list for commerce secretary, will sit down with Trump on Sunday.

Others meeting with Trump on Sunday, according to the transition team, include Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, the only woman currently in a Republican congressional leadership post; Giuliani; Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, who has pressed aggressive measures to crack down on undocumented immigrants and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Christie was removed by Trump as chairman of his transition team days after the election.