President-elect Donald Trump picks two women, including a critic, for Cabinet

President-elect Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos after their meeting at Trump International Golf Club, in Bedminster Township, New Jersey on Nov 18, 2016.
President-elect Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos after their meeting at Trump International Golf Club, in Bedminster Township, New Jersey on Nov 18, 2016. PHOTO: AFP
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley speaks during the 2016 National Lawyers Convention sponsored by the Federalist Society in Washington, DC on Nov 18, 2016.
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley speaks during the 2016 National Lawyers Convention sponsored by the Federalist Society in Washington, DC on Nov 18, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

PALM BEACH, United States (AFP) - President-elect Donald Trump has begun to broaden the base of his future Cabinet, nominating two conservative women including a critic, after his earlier picks rewarded campaign loyalists.

Mr Trump's nomination of South Carolina's 44-year-old governor Nikki Haley as US ambassador to the United Nations will be seen as a sign that he is ready to forgive some foes to raise a bigger tent.

But his choice of wealthy activist Betsy DeVos, a champion of alternatives to local government schools, as education secretary, was another victory for social conservatives.

Mr Trump's one-time presidential rival, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, appeared to be next in line for the nod - reportedly as housing secretary - after he posted on social media that an announcement was imminent.

His choice of Ms Haley for the UN was announced on Wednesday (Nov 23) amid reports that he is considering another vocal critic - the former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney - for the key post of secretary of state.

 
 

And it followed a cordial chat between Mr Trump and the New York Times, a newspaper he considers hostile, in which he softened his stance on climate change, torture and prosecuting his defeated rival Hillary Clinton.

The 70-year-old property tycoon also told the Times that he is "seriously, seriously considering" appointing widely-respected retired Marine general James Mattis as his defence secretary.

The UN ambassador post is of cabinet rank and if Ms Haley - a staunch conservative with no foreign policy experience - is confirmed by the Senate she will become a powerful figure in world diplomacy, despite previously clashing with Mr Trump.

As one of two women tapped so far for the cabinet, the daughter of Indian immigrants also injects a measure of diversity in a group that until now consisted solely of white men.

Last year, after a white supremacist murdered nine black churchgoers in South Carolina, Haley supported a decision by legislators to remove the Confederate flag from the state house.

The decision drew protests from racist groups and this year, while campaigning for Mr Trump's rival in the primaries Marco Rubio, Ms Haley called Mr Trump out for his failure to repudiate the Ku Klux Klan.

"I will not stop until we fight a man that chooses not to disavow the KKK. That is not a part of our party. That is not who we are," she declared.

Mr Trump, true to form, responded with one of his trademark Twitter insults, declaring: "The people of South Carolina are embarrassed by Nikki Haley!"

Besides Ms Haley, Mr Trump also named Ms Betsy DeVos, a wealthy Republican campaigner for alternatives to public schools, as his education secretary.

She is a Republican megadonor from Michigan who has been active in promoting school choice, a movement that advocates the use of tax credits and vouchers to allow parents to opt out of the public school system.

"Under her leadership we will reform the US education system and break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back so that we can deliver world-class education and school choice to all families," Mr Trump said.

His views on education have been inconsistent, but during the campaign he promised a US$20 billion dollar federal program to allow low income students to attend private or charter schools.

Mr Trump's choice last week of the self-described "economic nationalist" Steve Bannon, head of the right-wing news platform Breitbart, as his chief strategist delighted white supremacists.

But on Tuesday, after video emerged of fans of the so-called alt-right making straight-armed salutes and chanting "Hail Trump," the president-elect disavowed the movement.

As he works with his advisers in his luxury Mar-a-Lago golf resort outside Palm Beach, all eyes will be on the appointments he makes for a sign of the direction his administration will take.

When Mr Trump's Nov 8 election victory still seemed an unlikely prospect, many Republicans and conservative policy experts condemned his anti-Muslim rhetoric, his affinity for Russia or his isolationist and protectionist positions.

Many of these figures are now moderating their tone and looking for work, whether they are lured by the prospect of a powerful job or are keen to serve US interests as a moderating influence inside a Trump administration.

The former Iraq and Afghan war commander, retired general David Petraeus - who resigned as head of the CIA after he was caught sharing classified data with his mistress - made his pitch on Wednesday.

"If you're asked, you've got to serve, put aside any reservations based on campaign rhetoric, and figure out what's best for the country," he told BBC Radio.

In May, Gen Petraeus described hardline rhetoric like Mr Trump's threat to ban all Muslims from travelling to the United States as "toxic" and "corrosive to our vital national security interests."

This week a Trump aide was photographed carrying notes on a border security plan into Trump Tower. The first three points were legible in the picture, and pointed to stringent vetting for Muslim visa applicants.

The president-elect and his family will stay at Mar-a-Lago through Thursday's Thanksgiving holiday and the weekend. More meetings will be held on Monday with transition officials, his spokesmen said.

Meanwhile, erstwhile Democratic candidate Clinton - who lost to Trump by carrying a minority of the electoral college which decides the election outcome - saw her notional lead in the popular vote tally pass two million votes.