Trump works to strike balance in cabinet nominees

Gov. Nikki Haley (R-S.C.) answers a question next to Gov. Mike Pence (R-Ind.)

NEW YORK — President-elect Donald Trump is less than three weeks removed from his win over Hillary Clinton, and with his inauguration approaching on Jan. 20 the New York billionaire’s appointments and intentions are coming into focus.Trump made three initial appointments, tapping Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn for national security adviser, and Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo for director of the CIA.But the transition team, led by Vice President-elect Mike Pence, has announced only two other Cabinet choices: South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley for ambassador to the United Nations and former Michigan GOP head Betsy DeVos for education secretary. Trump is expected to announce billionaire investor Wilbur Ross as commerce secretary as early as Monday. Ross helped shape Trump’s campaign stance on renegotiating trade agreements. He also built his fortune buying and selling struggling manufacturing companies. Trump could face opposition during confirmation from both Democrats and some Republicans who have been outspoken critics of the incoming president.Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) all bitterly battled Trump in the primaries, and Paul has been a staunch opponent of both former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, two names floated as possibilities for Trump’s secretary of state.”We have a 52-48 majority, all it would take is two or three Republicans to say they can’t go along with Giuliani and can’t go along with Bolton,” Paul said when asked on MSNBC if he would delay confirmations.Other senators who might defy Trump are Arizona’s John McCain and Jeff Flake, Nebraska’s Ben Sasse, Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, said senior Senate aides and lawmakers. Concerns over his administration beginning its tenure with failed appointments may have led to the meeting between Trump and another adversary, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, about the secretary of state opening. Romney, who in the past called Trump a “phony,” “fraud” and “con man,” would likely have the support of establishment conservatives.Trump also identified retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis — nicknamed “Mad Dog” — as a strong candidate for U.S. defense secretary.Regardless of the nominees, Trump may need to win favor with some Democratic lawmakers — such as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who has already declared his support for Trump’s nomination of Sessions as attorney general — to push through his appointments.Trump has reaffirmed his call for the United States to back out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement President Barack Obama signed which has not yet been approved by the Republican Congress, but has softened his tone on several campaign calling cards that could placate Democrats.Shortly after winning the election, Trump met with Obama and came away from the meeting saying he would be willing to keep parts of the Affordable Care Act, including provisions that allow children to stay on their parents’ health care plan until they turn 26 years old and rules on customers not being denied insurance based on pre-existing conditions.Trump also said he would not call for an investigation into Clinton scandals involving her private email server and The Clinton Foundation, backing off on the statement he made during the second debate that his opponent would “be in jail” if he won the election.And after calling global warming “a hoax” during the campaign, Trump said Tuesday he was “keeping an open mind” on climate change.The selection of Sessions and Pompeo, along with Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus as White House chief of staff, shows Trump has a willingness to reach into the party establishment to fill his Cabinet.On the flip side, Trump’s choice of former Breitbart News head Steve Bannon — a self-described head of the alt-right movement that critics have deemed racist — as chief White House strategist and senior counselor prove the incoming president is willing to reward loyalty with outside-the-box appointments.Breitbart News has been critical of some of Trump’s pivots, specifically not pursuing charges on Clinton, while other media outlets expressed outrage following an off-the-record meeting Monday at Trump Tower in New York where the president-elect laid out criticisms of the press.”But he truly doesn’t seem to understand the First Amendment,” a source told The New Yorker. “He doesn’t. He thinks we are supposed to say what he says and that’s it.”Reuters News Service contributed to this report.