WASHINGTON - US President-elect Donald Trump is in the process of assembling his team that will assist him in governing the United States for four years after the inauguration on Jan 20.
Here's the list of nominees announced so far:
Mr Reince Priebus, White House Chief of Staff
DUTIES: As chief of staff, he will have the president’s ear at all times. He will supervise staff, set the agenda, ensure decisions are executed across a sprawling bureaucracy and control access to the president
BACKGROUND: A longtime lawyer and Wisconsin political operative, he is the Republican National Committee Chairman and a Washington insider who is influential and popular with the various factions in the Republican party. He was credited with marshaling party resources for Mr Trump's White House bid.
While some Republicans fled from Mr Trump during the campaign, he was unwavering in his backing for the tycoon. He is also a friend of US House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, who distanced himself from Mr Trump during the campaign but whose support is critical to Mr Trump's agenda in Congress.
WHAT OTHERS SAY: His appointment to one of the top government posts signals Mr Trump's willingness to ensure continuity with the Republican agenda when he takes office. But it runs counter to Mr Trump’s pledge to “drain the swamp” of the corrupt Washington elites he had railed against in his campaign.
Some also view Mr Priebus as a deal-maker who will be too eager to push Mr Trump towards compromise on issues like taxes, immigration, trade, health care and the environment.
Despite the criticisms, Mr Priebus' appointment has generally been welcomed. Some say Mr Trump, being an outsider himself, may need someone like Mr Priebus to reach out to those in the Republican Party torn over supporting him.
Mr Stephen Bannon, Chief Strategist
DUTIES: He is likely to be Mr Trump’s chief ideologue and spokesman for an agenda that includes curbing immigration and putting conservative judges in the Supreme Court with the aim of rolling back legislation legalising abortion. As chief strategist and counsellor, he will also have unfettered access to the president.
BACKGROUND: He signed up for the navy straight out of college, but was later drawn to the glamour of Wall Street and joined investment bank Goldman Sachs.
He moved on to specialise in media and entertainment and is a controversial firebrand media figure. He ran Breitbart News from March 2012 to August this year, when he left to join Mr Trump as chief executive of his campaign. Breitbart News is a right-wing, conspiracy-mongering website which provides a voice for the alt-right movement, a loose right-wing confederation that includes hardcore nationalists, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and anti-Semites.
Mr Bannon is known to have made anti-Semitic statements, including not wanting his twin daughters to attend a school with Jews. He was reportedly charged with domestic violence, battery and dissuading a witness following an incident in 1996, but the case was ultimately dismissed when the victim - his ex-wife - did not show up in court.
WHAT OTHERS SAY: His appointment has drawn a wave of criticism. Some say it signals Mr Trump's dedication to operating outside the norms of Washington.
Mr Bannon showed his willingness to engage in brutal political tactics when he instigated the appearance before the second presidential debate of three women who said they had been sexually abused by Mrs Hillary Clinton's husband, former president Bill Clinton.
Democrats, rights activists and minority groups said Mr Trump, himself accused of racism and misogyny during the campaign, had flung open the White House doors to hatemongers. In an interview with Hollywood Reporter, Mr Bannon said that everyone was missing the point. “I’m not a white nationalist, I’m a nationalist. I’m an economic nationalist,” he said. “The globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia.’
LIEUTENANT-GENERAL MICHAEL FLYNN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER
DUTIES: He will play a critical role in determining the president's response to matters such as defeating militant groups like ISIS and the possible escalation of tensions in the South China Sea.
BACKGROUND: The retired three-star general was highly regarded in the military and intelligence communities, especially for his contributions in Iraq and Afghanistan. But he was fired by President Barack Obama in 2014 as head of the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) because of his combative style and bad management practices.
He said in a New York Post op-ed that he was let go because of the "stand I took on radical Islam". He has described Islam as not a religion but a “political ideology” that hides “behind what we call freedom of religion”. In a tweet in February, he said "Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL".
He has also drawn criticisms for accepting a speaking engagement last year with Russia Today (RT), a Kremlin-funded TV network, and his consulting firm has lobbied for a businessman close to Turkey’s autocratic president.
WHAT OTHERS SAY: As a decorated military intelligence officer and former head of the DIA, Mr Flynn has deep experience to draw upon as he serves as Mr Trump’s principal point of contact with the State Department, the Pentagon and a collection of US intelligence agencies that have surged in power and influence since the Sept 11, 2001, attacks.
But he has also shown an erratic streak since leaving government that is likely to make his elevation disconcerting even to the flag officers and senior intelligence officials who once considered him a peer. He stunned former colleagues when he travelled to Moscow last year to appear alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin at a lavish gala for RT, the Kremlin-run propaganda channel, a trip which he admitted he was paid to make and defended himself by saying he saw no distinction between RT and US news channels such as CNN.
Civil rights groups have also denounced Mr Flynn's appointment, saying he has refused to reject Mr Trump’s repeated statements supporting the use of waterboarding and other brutal interrogation measures on terrorism suspects.
MR JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY-GENERAL
DUTIES: As the top legal adviser, he will work closely with the rest of the Cabinet on a wide range of issues. He also has the power to reignite investigation of Mrs Hillary Clinton's email case and could breathe new life into a separate investigation of the activities of Clinton Foundation.
BACKGROUND: He is a four-term senator from Alabama and former federal prosecutor, with a reputation of being a strong conservative lawmaker. His strong commitment to fiscal conservatism made him a darling of the Tea Party movement and his tough views on immigration made him a natural ally for Mr Trump.
During his time in the Senate, he made a name for himself as an advocate for tougher immigration laws. He has repeatedly lobbied for increased security on the Mexican border, wants to reduce legal immigration, and claims that there is “a clear nexus between immigration and terrorism”.
He opposed nearly every immigration Bill and pushed hard for legislation to ban for 10 years federal contractors who hire illegal immigrants. In 1986, then President Ronald Reagan picked him to be a district judge, but he was rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee because of alleged racist remarks. Mr Sessions has denied that he is racist or insensitive to minorities.
WHAT OTHERS SAY: Democrat Senator Charles E. Schumer, the incoming minority leader, has said that Mr Sessions “is going to need a very thorough vetting" because of the racist remarks he made.
Legal experts also believe that he is unlikely to shy away from indicting big companies and individuals for serious white-collar crimes. They say he will likely push for corporate indictments, instead of settling for fines, and may focus on putting more executives in prison.
Mr Jackson Sharman, a white-collar defence lawyer in Alabama, has said he believed Mr Sessions would want to be as tough on white-collar as on street criminals. He pointed to Mr Sessions' opposition to a crime Bill that would have shown sentencing leniency for non-violent offenders.
MR MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR
DUTIES: His duties include providing overall direction for collection of national intelligence outside of the United States and evaluation of intelligence related to the national security
BACKGROUND: He was elected to the House in 2010 as part of the first wave of tea party lawmakers. A US Military Academy and Harvard Law School graduate, he served as an Army cavalry officer before founding an aerospace company and running an oil-field equipment manufacturing firm.
He had also worked as an attorney. He serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and is a close ally of Vice-President Mike Pence.
Mr Pompeo gained prominence through his role in the congressional investigation into the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, and assailed former secretary of state Hillary Clinton during the committee’s hearings. He dissented from the Benghazi report prepared by his own Republican colleagues, which found no significant wrongdoing.
WHAT OTHERS SAY: Some civil liberties and human rights advocates have expressed concern over Mr Pompeo’s selection because he opposes closing the Guantanamo Bay detention centre.
They also criticised his support for the National Security Agency’s now-defunct bulk communications metadata collection and other surveillance programmes. In a January op-ed in the Wall Street Journal he co-authored, Mr Pompeo called for a “fundamental upgrade to America’s surveillance capabilities,” including resuming bulk collection of domestic phone metadata, the numbers and time stamps of calls, but not their content.
He said the programme, which a federal appeals court and two governmental review panels found to be illegal and ineffective, should be expanded to include “publicly available financial and lifestyle information into a comprehensive, searchable database”, and that “legal and bureaucratic impediments to surveillance should be removed”, he wrote.
Mr Anthony Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said “these positions and others merit serious public scrutiny through a confirmation process”.
MS NIKKI HALEY, US AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS
DUTIES: Her job may include reassuring allies worried about some of Mr Trump’s campaign promises. These include building a wall along the US-Mexican border to curb illegal immigration, reviewing trade agreements, and his suggestion that he would push Nato partners to pay more for their own defence.
BACKGROUND: She was born in the small city of Bamberg, South Carolina, to immigrants from India's Punjab state. She was a state lawmaker before becoming governor of South Carolina in 2011, and is the first ethnic minority and first woman to be elected to the governor post.
She led a successful push last year to remove the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the South Carolina state capitol after the killing of nine black churchgoers in Charleston by a white gunman. The flag was carried by pro-slavery Confederate forces during the Civil War and is viewed by many as a racist emblem.
She supported Trump rivals Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz in the Republican race before saying in October that she would vote for Mr Trump despite reservations about his character. She had criticised him for not releasing his tax returns, prompting him to hit back on Twitter that “the people of South Carolina are embarrassed of Nikki Haley!”
WHAT OTHERS SAY: Some observers have described Ms Haley as a political heavyweight and tough deal maker, who would be a strong voice for UN reforms and stand for American interests throughout the world.
But others are concerned about her lack of experience in foreign policies. "She’d be the least experienced UN ambassador in the history of the country,” said Mr Bakari Sellers, a CNN commentator and a Democrat. In comparison, the current UN ambassador Samantha Power is very well versed in foreign policy and geopolitical relationships, he added. "But Nikki Haley would be a bright light in this administration. She’s the daughter of immigrants, and her story is one I feel comfortable sharing with my daughter on how you can be a success in this country,” he said.
Serving alongside Mr Trump will offer her an opportunity to ascend on the global stage, gain experience in foreign affairs and link herself again to the grassroots, Trump-loving activists in the Republican base. She could also position herself for a future run for national office or an elevation to secretary of state or another Cabinet position in the coming years, should there be a shake-up.
MRS BETSY DEVOS, EDUCATION SECRETARY
DUTIES: She is expected to reform the education system and break the bureaucracy that is holding the young generation back so that world-class education and school choices are available to all.
BACKGROUND: She is a billionaire donor, a former chair of the Michigan Republican Party and an advocate for the privatisation of education.
Her efforts to expand educational opportunities in her home state of Michigan and across the country have focused little on existing public schools, and almost entirely on groups seeking to move students and money away from what Mr Trump calls “failing government schools”.
As chair of the American Federation for Children, she has been active in promoting school choice, a movement that advocates the use of tax credits and vouchers to allow parents to send their children to private schools and for the expansion of charter schools.
Her husband Dick is heir to the Amway fortune, whose father Richard DeVos was ranked Number 88 on Forbes’ list of US billionaires, with an estimated fortune of US$5.4 billion (S$7.7 billion).
WHAT OTHERS SAY: Supporters say Mrs DeVos is tireless and driven, who will be able to press for a new education vision.
She is also described as a conservative who is experienced in politics and well-versed in the relevant policies. Former Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, where Mrs DeVos helped push legislation establishing tax credits for scholarships to private schools, called her an “outstanding pick”. “Her allegiance is to families, particularly those struggling at the bottom of the economic ladder, not to an outdated public education model that has failed them from one generation to the next,” he said.
But critics say she is the most ideological and anti-public education nominee ever to be put forward to run the nearly 40-year-old department. They fear that she and Mr Trump will push programmes that many see as draining resources from the traditional public school districts that educate most American schoolchildren.
Ms Amber Arellano, executive director of the Education Trust-Midwest, an advocacy group in Michigan, said her nomination has “the potential to undermine the nation’s hard-won progress by diverting resources from the young people who most need them, or by failing to uphold the federal government’s responsibility to protecting the needs and interests of all students – especially the most vulnerable”.
MR TOM PRICE, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY
DUTIES: One of his key duties is to repeal and replace President Barack Obama's signature healthcare programme.
BACKGROUND: The six-term Atlanta congressman is an orthopaedic surgeon from Georgia and one of the original Tea Party caucus members. He has served as chairman of the House of Representatives’ Budget Committee since 2015. He was a leader of efforts to dismantle the health law, also known as the Affordable Care Act, and has supported GOP plans to overhaul other major health programs. He has characterised Obamacare - which aims to expand insurance coverage to millions more Americans - as “doing real harm to American families” and has co-sponsored legislation to replace it.
He has instead proposed a plan that would create age-based tax credits for people who buy insurance coverage on their own. His plan would also roll back the 2010 law’s expansion of Medicaid for low-income people, a change that helped Obamacare cut the number of uninsured Americans to 29 million in 2015 from 49 million in 2010.
WHAT OTHERS SAY: Mr Chuck Schumer, the incoming Senate Democratic leader, was among the defenders of Obamacare who criticised Mr Price’s selection. “Nominating Congressman Price to be the HHS secretary is akin to asking the fox to guard the hen house,” he said.
Gay rights groups have also been critical of Mr Price. Ms Sarah Kate Ellis, president and chief executive of GLAAD, formerly known as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, said he was “completely unfit” to be health secretary. When the Supreme Court ruled last year that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage, Mr Price said it was “not only a sad day for marriage, but a further judicial destruction of our entire system of checks and balances.”
MR STEVEN MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY
DUTIES: To explore issuing debt maturing in more than 30 years to cushion the effect of rising interest rates.
BACKGROUND: He is a relatively little-known but successful private equity investor, hedge fund manager and Hollywood financier who spent 17 years at Goldman Sachs before leaving in 2002.
He assembled an investor group to buy a failed California mortgage lender in 2009, rebranded it as OneWest Bank and built it into Southern California’s largest bank. The bank came under fire for its foreclosure practices as housing advocacy groups accused it of being too quick to foreclose on struggling homeowners.
WHAT OTHERS SAY: “Steve Mnuchin is just another Wall Street insider,” Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said in a joint statement. “That is not the type of change that Donald Trump promised to bring to Washington – that is hypocrisy at its worst.”
But analysts say it is Mr Mnuchin’s track record at hedge and private equity funds, which is where the real money is made on Wall Street these days, that makes him appealing to Mr Donald Trump.
“Mnuchin as Treasury secretary is somebody who can speak to bankers – Jamie Dimon, Lloyd Blankfein, James Gorman and Brian Moynihan. He can speak their language,” said Mr Gary Kaminsky, a former vice chairman at Morgan Stanley, referring to the chief executives of JPMorgan Chase, Goldman, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America.
MR WILBUR ROSS, COMMERCE SECRETARY
DUTIES: He will move the US away from the broad multinational free trade agreements that have shaped the global economy over the past generation in favour of bilateral deals.
BACKGROUND: He heads the private equity firm W.L. Ross & Co. His net worth was pegged by Forbes at about US$2.9 billion. A staunch supporter of Trump and an economic adviser, Mr Ross has helped shape the Trump campaign’s views on trade policy. He blames the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, which entered into force in 1994, and the 2001 entry of China into the World Trade Organisation for causing massive US factory job losses.
WHAT OTHERS SAY: Mr Trump said that Mr Ross “is a champion of American manufacturing and knows how to help companies succeed. Most importantly, he is one of the greatest negotiators I have ever met.”
“I think they are in broad alignment,” Mr Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said of Mr Ross and Mr Trump’s views. But, he added, “Ross is probably more single-mindedly protectionist than Trump.”
MR JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY
DUTIES: Mr Mattis views with alarm Moscow’s expansionist or bellicose policies in Syria, Ukraine and the Baltics. And he has told the president-elect that torture does not work.
Despite his tough stance on Iran, Mr Mattis also thinks that tearing up the Iran nuclear deal would hurt the United States, and he favours working closely with allies to strictly enforce its terms.
BACKGROUND: Mr Mattis, who retired as chief of US Central Command in 2013, has often said that Washington lacks an overall strategy in the Middle East, opting to instead handle issues in an ineffective one-by-one manner.
With nicknames include “Mad Dog” and the “Warrior Monk”, he served more than four decades in the Marine Corps and is known as one of the most influential military leaders of his generation, a strategic thinker who occasionally drew rebukes for his aggressive talk.
Since retiring, he has served as a consultant and as a visiting fellow with the Hoover Institution, a think tank at Stanford University.
WHAT OTHERS SAY: “The president-elect is smart to think about putting someone as respected as Jim Mattis in this role,” said a former senior Pentagon official. “He’s a warrior, scholar and straight shooter – literally and figuratively. He speaks truth to everyone and would certainly speak truth to this new commander in chief.”
But the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss Mr Trump’s personnel choices, said: “If there’s any concern at all, it’s the principle of civilian control over the military. This role was never intended to be a kind of Joint Chiefs of Staff on steroids, and that’s the biggest single risk tied to Mattis. For Mattis, the biggest risk for him personally is that he will have a national security adviser in the form of Mike Flynn whose management style and extreme views may arch Mattis’s eyebrows and cause conflict over time. It’s no fun to be secretary of defense if you have to constantly feud with the White House.”
Mr Steven Simon, who worked with Mr Mattis when he served on Mr Obama’s National Security Council, said Mr Mattis made frequent stops in Israel during trips to the region, part of an effort to encourage the Jewish state and its Arab neighbours to work together to counter Iranian influence.
“They respected Mattis because they saw him as a straight shooter and a good listener,” Mr Simon said of the Israelis and Arabs.
SOURCE: THE STRAITS TIMES US BUREAU, WASHINGTON POST, NYTIMES, REUTERS