WASHINGTON: Donald Trump shook up his White House transition team Friday, putting running mate Mike Pence in charge and naming a cohort of Washington insiders – and three of his children – to help nail down picks for his future cabinet.
The reshuffle came as anti-Trump protesters spilled onto the streets for a third straight night, with the Republican president-elect facing mounting calls to reassure Americans who fear a xenophobic crackdown under his authority.
At least 1,200 people – among them families with children – rallied late Friday in New York’s Washington Square carrying banners reading “Peace and Love” and “Your wall can’t stand in our way.”
More than 1,000 people gathered in Miami, with weekend protests planned in at least half a dozen cities. A focal point for New York protesters is Trump Tower, where the real estate tycoon-turned-world-leader has been ensconced in his luxury apartment, mapping out his next steps.
The 70-year-old incoming president has a mammoth task of fleshing out his cabinet, as well as steering the complex transition of power, and announced Friday he was elevating Vice President-elect Mike Pence to lead the process.
“Mike will have a big role. He’s very capable,” Trump said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal – the first since his election, adding that he expected his vice-president would serve as his “liaison” with Congress.
Trump included three of his children and his son-in-law Jared Kushner on the transition team – a move likely to raise eyebrows, since the tycoon earlier announced that should he win he would place his vast business interests into a blind trust operated by Donald Trump Jr, Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump.
And in a clear shift with his abrasive campaign, he added to his transition team a string of insider figures from the very establishment that he railed against so strongly, including Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus – now tipped as a possible chief of staff.
“Drain the swamp” became a popular Trump refrain in the closing weeks of the race as he vowed to end the ways of the US capital.
Trump took his first steps toward engaging with Washington on Thursday when he met with Barack Obama at the White House to discuss the transition ahead of the January 20 inauguration – a conversation the outgoing president called “excellent.”
The White House hopes that by rolling out the red carpet for Trump, they can bind him to some of the conventions of the office.
The Oval Office meeting also appears to have nudged Trump towards a compromise on his oft-repeated threat to repeal Obama’s signature health care law. Trump told The Wall Street Journal the president asked him to consider preserving parts of the law – and that he was open to the idea.
“Either Obamacare will be amended, or repealed and replaced,” Trump told the newspaper.
“I told him I will look at his suggestions, and out of respect, I will do that.”
On the Syrian conflict, however, Trump indicated a possible sharp shift away from Obama administration policy. I’ve had an opposite view of many people regarding Syria,” he told the paper, suggesting a closer focus on fighting the Islamic State group – and arguing that in seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad, “we end up fighting Russia,” the regime’s ally.
White House officials said Obama and Trump discussed global hotspots during their talks, as well as the president’s meetings next week with leaders from Germany, Greece and across the Asia-Pacific.
On that trip, Obama is likely to be inundated with panicked questions about America’s role in world affairs. Trump has already spoken with a string of world leaders including British Prime Minister Theresa May and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom he reaffirmed Washington’s strong relations.
The apparently harmonious meeting between Trump and Obama was designed to heal divisions and quell fears about the health of the world’s leading democracy.
Anger over Trump’s win has spilled out into the streets for three nights running, and a march in Portland turned violent Thursday night with cars vandalized and projectiles thrown at police, who responded with rubber bullets and pepper spray. Twenty-five people were arrested.
Commenting on the unrest, Trump tweeted that the media unfairly “incited” the protesters, but he changed tack a few hours later, writing: “Love the fact that the small groups of protesters last night have passion for our great country. We will all come together and be proud!”
An atmosphere of intimidation has been reported in parts of the country, including in South Philadelphia where a shop front was defaced with a swastika and references to Trump.
In a searing statement, top Senate Democrat Harry Reid said Americans were “living in fear of their own government” and that Trump had the obligation to restore a sense of security after a campaign fueled “with bigotry and hate.”