NEW YORK—President-elect Donald Trump and his team are battling back against charges of chaos and infighting as they race to set up an administration. The incoming Republican administration got an unlikely boost from outgoing Vice President Joe Biden, who said that “no administration is ready on Day One.”
Trump stayed out of the public eye Wednesday, meeting with a stream of visitors at his New York skyscraper. But he took to Twitter to dispute reports of internal tension, declaring the transition operation was proceeding “so smoothly.”
Trump’s team said Wednesday night that it would be rolling out teams to interact with federal agencies during the transition, starting with national security advisers who would work with officials at the State, Justice, Defense and other national security departments.
They also said transition and administration officials would be required to sever lobbying ties and pledge that they will not lobby the government for five years after departing the Trump administration.
Campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said Thursday she expects initial announcements of Cabinet choices to come “either before or after Thanksgiving” and told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program, “It’s Donald Trump and Donald Trump alone who makes the ultimate decisions.”
Trump’s team was essentially starting its transition planning from scratch after scrapping much of the preliminary work New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie conducted during the campaign. After winning the election, Trump demoted Christie and put Vice President-elect Mike Pence in charge.
The result has been a series of new additions to the transition team and several departures, mainly among those aligned with Christie.
Pence met Wednesday with Biden at the Naval Observatory, the vice presidential residence in leafy northwest Washington, D.C. Biden expressed confidence that by Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration, “everything will be in good hands.”
Trump planned to meet Thursday in New York with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, his first get-together with a world leader as president-elect. The State Department has said it had yet to hear from Trump’s transition team, raising the prospect of the Republican holding the meeting without any input from career diplomats with deep experience dealing with Japan.
Trump also plans to meet Thursday with an assortment of GOP officials, including former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling.
Trump aides and allies suggested some of the commotion within the transition team was to be expected given the enormous task at hand.
“The beginning of any transition like this has turmoil because it’s just the nature of the process,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said as he left Trump’s transition headquarters in Washington. He said the picture of Trump’s administration would become clearer over the next two or three weeks.
Former Michigan Rep. Pete Hoekstra, who has informally advised members of Trump’s national security team, blamed Trump’s detractors for the reports of drama.
“When you’re doing a transition that is trying to push the kind of change that Mr. Trump wants to be doing, it’s going to be even harder,” Hoekstra, a former House Intelligence Committee chairman, said.
But others close to the transition process described advisers “fighting for power.” Trump has long stoked internal rivalries among his staff—both in his businesses and his campaign—and has created ambiguity in his transition about who has authority to make key decisions.
Eric Trump, the president-elect’s son, raised expectations of imminent progress Wednesday, telling reporters in the morning that appointments were “likely” to come during the day. Then, other Trump aides suggested a slower pace.
“We’re not going to rush to put names forward until we’re absolutely sure,” Trump spokesman Jason Miller said hours later. “We’re going to make sure that they’re people we’re confident will pass confirmation and we think can implement the president-elect’s vision.”
Trump’s team noted that President Barack Obama waited until a few weeks after the 2008 election to announce many of his Cabinet appointments.
Trump appeared to be weighing an eclectic mix of individuals for top Cabinet posts, including longtime loyalists, former rivals and even a Democrat. Transition officials said Trump met Wednesday with Eva Moskowitz, a former New York councilwoman and charter school founder who is being considered for education secretary.
Other meetings included Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., a potential pick for Health and Human Services, Ray Washburne, a Dallas businessman and top GOP fundraiser in the mix for Commerce secretary, and Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan. New England Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft and New York Jets owner Woody Johnson were also spotted near the lobby’s gilded elevators during the day.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who spent two hours at Trump Tower on Wednesday, has been angling for secretary of state, though his consulting work for foreign governments has emerged as a potential roadblock. Trump is also said to be seriously considering John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, for the top diplomatic job.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who tangled ferociously with Trump during the Republican primary but ultimately endorsed the businessman, could get a top job such as attorney general. An official said, however, he is not viewed as a top contender. The official, like others, wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the transition talks and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Trump aides have released few details about the president-elect’s schedule or phone calls since the election. They tried to play catch-up Wednesday, releasing a list of 29 world leaders who have spoken with Trump or Pence in recent days. Most of the calls had previously only been confirmed by those leaders’ governments.