Pence takes over from Christie as head of Trump transition team amid in-fighting
By Bonnie K. Goodman
From the moment, Donald Trump was elected president on early Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, all attention turned to presidential transition. On Friday, Nov. 11, 2016, President-Elect Trump tapped his running-mate Vice-President-Elect Mike Pence to run his transition team. Although the focus is now on transition since May, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie led the transition plans, but with reports of conflict between Trump’s team, the president-elect looked to someone who unifies the most important first task of the new administration. The transition team selects a cabinet and fills key positions in the White House while setting policy priorities to get the ball rolling after inauguration day.
Trump first met with his transition team on Wednesday, Nov. 9, but after just two days and a trip to Washington meeting with President Barack Obama, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Trump decided to change course. The president-elect replaced Christie with Pence while reducing Christie to one of the Vice Chairmen on the transition team.
Other vice chairmen on the transition team include close Trump campaign aides and surrogates, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Dr. Ben Carson and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. After the announcement, Christie issued a statement, “I am proud to have run the pre-election phase of the transition team along with a thoroughly professional and dedicated team of people.”
The decision to place Pence in that position shows that the president-elect plans to give his Vice President more influence and importance, harkening back to the influence of former President George W. Bush’s VP Dick Cheney had in the White House. Pence has experience on Capitol Hill, and is respected by both parties and has connections with leadership on either side of the aisle. Trump is already tapping into that influence with Pence joining him in meetings with GOP Congressional leadership on Thursday, and calling the Democratic leadership.
Trump issued a statement on Friday announcing his entire transition team. Trump said, “Together this outstanding group of advisors, led by Vice President-elect Mike Pence, will build on the initial work done under the leadership of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to help prepare a transformative government ready to lead from day one.” Continuing the President-elect explained, “The mission of our team will be clear: put together the most highly qualified group of successful leaders who will be able to implement our change agenda in Washington. Together, we will begin the urgent task of rebuilding this nation — specifically jobs, security and opportunity.”
The transition team will include a 16-member executive committee that includes Trump’s children, and his son-in-law Jared Kushner. The following is the complete list of Trump’s revised transition team:
Pennsylvania Congressman Lou Barletta
Tennessee Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi
New York Congressman Chris Collins
Pennsylvania Congressman Tom Marino
Congressman Devin Nunes
Donald Trump Jr.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus
Trump Campaign CEO Stephen K. Bannon
Trump also announced the Presidential Transition Team’s Staff Leadership lineup:
Former Campaign Manager Kellyanne Conway, Senior Advisor
Former deputy campaign manager David Bossie, Deputy Executive Director
Stephen Miller, National Policy Director
Jason Miller, Communications Director
Hope Hicks, National Press Secretary
Dan Scavino, Director of Social Media
Don McGahn, General Counsel
Republican National Committee chief-of-staff Katie Walsh, Senior Advisor
Trump has been busy meeting with his transition staff and prospective cabinet members at his Trump Tower on 5th Avenue in Manhattan. On Friday alone according to Politico, Trump met with “former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, Eric Trump, Ivanka Trump, Kushner, Anthony Scaramucci, Rudy Giuliani, digital director Brad Parscale, senior communications adviser Jason Miller, senior adviser Stephen Miller and campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks.”
Politico is also reporting that internal conflicts in the Trump camp led to Christie’s ouster, conflicts between Christie’s aides, Trump loyalists, and GOP establishment. Particularly Corey Lewandowski and RNC chairman Reince Priebus, which has been going on since the campaign, although Lewandowski denies there are any conflicts. Even after Lewandowski was fired as campaign manager, he continued advising Trump throughout the campaign. Now, Lewandowski is in the running for RNC Chair in Priebus gets tapped in the White House, a sure sign pointing to an elevated post, he resigned as a contributor to CNN on Friday.
There is also conflicts between Trump New York advisors and his Washington transition team players because very little attention was being paid towards the transition until after the election. There is a third faction on the team with allegiances to Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions. Sessions is responsible for “congressional outreach and immigration policy.”
Conservatives on the team viewed Christie and his aides “as big-business-backing centrists who were insufficiently conservative on cultural issues.” Christie was also looking to reward Republicans who refused to support Trump during the campaign rather than punish them. Kushner had problems with Christie and his top deputy, Rich Bagger.
Kushner was key in replacing Christie had prejudices against the New Jersey governor, who was the district attorney that convicted his father ten- years ago. Kushner has been a close advisor to his father-in-law and came with him to the White House Thursday, where he spoke with Obama Chief-of-Staff Denis McDonough.
The compromise solution was elevating conservative Pence and his aides, as Bush did with Cheney in 2000. Still, one operative told Politico, “This is like the Oklahoma landgrab. It’s gonna get vicious the next 70 days as people try to place their people where they want them. And Christie’s people ain’t the same as [Trump campaign CEO Steve] Bannon’s people ain’t the same as Sessions’ people.”