Steve Peoples, Jill Colvin & Ken Thomas
Sequestered in his Manhattan high-rise, President-elect Donald Trump is preparing to fill key foreign policy posts. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has emerged as the favorite to serve as secretary of state, a senior Trump official said.
Although Giuliani has little foreign policy experience, the official said there was no real competition for the job as the nation’s top diplomat. However, a second official cautioned that John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, remained in contention for the key post. Both officials requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the process by name.
The New York billionaire also was considering tapping Richard Grenell as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a move that would bring some experience and diversity to his nascent administration. Grenell, who served as U.S. spokesman at the U.N. under President George W. Bush, would be the first openly gay person to fill a Cabinet-level foreign policy post.
The personnel moves under consideration were confirmed by people with direct knowledge of Trump’s thinking who were not authorized to publicly disclose private discussions.
Giuliani, 72, would be an out-of-box choice to lead the State Department. A former mayor, federal prosecutor and top Trump adviser, Giuliani is known for his hard-line law-and-order views. Bolton has years of federal government experience, but he has also raised eyebrows with some of his hawkish stances, including a 2015 New York Times op-ed in which he advocated bombing Iran to halt the country’s development of nuclear weapons.
A spokeswoman for Giuliani did not immediately respond to a request for comment about his interest in the job. But during an appearance in Washington late Monday, Giuliani said that Bolton would be a “very good choice” to serve as Trump’s secretary of state. Asked if there was anyone better, Giuliani replied: “Maybe me, I don’t know.”
Vice President-elect Mike Pence was expected to join the incoming president at Trump Tower on Tuesday to review “a number of names” for the incoming administration, according to spokesman Jason Miller.
“If the vice president-elect is getting together with the president elect to discuss names, I would say it’s getting serious,” Miller said.
The transition planning comes amid an intense and extended backlash from Trump’s decision on Sunday to appoint Steve Bannon, a man celebrated by the white nationalist movement, to serve as his chief strategist and senior adviser.
“After winning the presidency but losing the popular vote, President-elect Trump must try to bring Americans together – not continue to fan the flames of division and bigotry,” said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. Echoing concerns from officials in both parties, she called Bannon’s appointment “an alarming signal” that Trump “remains committed to the hateful and divisive vision that defined his campaign.”
Until joining Trump’s campaign this summer, Bannon led a website that appealed to the so-called “alt-right” – a movement often associated with efforts on the far right to preserve “white identity,” oppose multiculturalism and defend “Western values.”
President Barack Obama avoided any direct criticism of Trump’s personnel moves during a Monday news conference, suggesting that the new president deserves “room to staff up.” The outgoing president encouraged Trump, however, to embrace a unifying tone.
“It’s really important to try to send some signals of unity and to reach out to minority groups or women or others that were concerned about the tenor of the campaign,” Obama said. “And I think that’s something he will – he will want to do.”
Meanwhile, Trump, who has little foreign policy experience of his own, spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the phone on Monday.
His transition office said in a readout that Trump “is very much looking forward to having a strong and enduring relationship with Russia and the people of Russia.” Trump has spoken in recent days with the leaders of China, Mexico, South Korea and Canada.
Trump is also weighing whether to select Michigan GOP chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel, a niece of chief Trump critic and 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney. She would be the second woman ever to lead the Republican National Committee – and the first in four decades.
“I’ll be interested in whatever Mr. Trump wants,” McDaniel told The Associated Press.
Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League, called Bannon’s selection “a sad day.”
Bannon “presided over the rise of Breitbart as a haven online” for the “alt-right,” Greenblatt said. The website under Bannon’s leadership, he said, “trafficked in the some of the worst tropes, not just only against Jews – but the anti-Semitism is real – but also against other minorities, particularly Mexicans and Muslims.”