His inauguration just 66 days away, however, Trump’s team brushed off the criticism on Monday and looked toward the hundreds of high-level appointments needed to run the world’s most powerful nation.
The president-elect was considering tapping Richard Grenell as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. If picked and ultimately confirmed by the Senate, he would be the first openly gay person to fill a Cabinet-level foreign policy post. Grenell previously served as U.S. spokesman at the U.N. under President George W. Bush’s administration.
At the same time, Trump is weighing whether to select Michigan GOP chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel, a niece of Trump critic and 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney. She would be the first woman in decades to run the Republican National Committee.
“I’ll be interested in whatever Mr. Trump wants,” McDaniel told The Associated Press on Monday, adding that she was planning to seek the Michigan GOP chairmanship again.
Appointing McDaniel to run the GOP’s political arm could be an effort to help the party heal the anger after a campaign in which Trump demeaned women. The appointment of Grenell could begin to ease concerns by the gay community about Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s positions on same-sex marriage during his time as Indiana governor.
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. They stressed that the decisions were not final.
Internal deliberations about staffing come a day after Trump made overtures to warring Republican circles by appointing Bannon and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus as his White House chief of staff.
The two men had made up the president-elect’s chief of staff shortlist, and while Priebus received that job, Bannon is expected to wield significant clout. Trump gave top billing to the former media executive, who 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.”
Priebus on Monday defended the media mogul, saying the two made an effective pair as they steered Trump past Democrat Hillary Clinton and toward the presidency. He sought to distance Bannon from the incendiary headlines on his website, saying they were written by unspecified others.
“Together, we’ve been able to manage a lot of the decision making in regard to the campaign,” Priebus told NBC’s “Today.” ”It’s worked very, very well.”
Trump’s hires were, at first glance, contradictory, though they fit a pattern of the celebrity businessman creating a veritable Rorschach test that allowed his supporters to see what they wanted. Priebus, who lashed the RNC to Trump this summer despite some intraparty objections, is a GOP operative with deep expertise of the Washington establishment that Trump has vowed to shake up. He has close ties to House Speaker Paul Ryan, a fellow Wisconsinite.
Bannon, meanwhile, helped transform the Breitbart News site into the leading mouthpiece of the party’s anti-establishment wing, which helped fuel the businessman’s political rise. Ryan has been one of his most frequent targets.
Neither Priebus nor Bannon brings policy experience to the White House. Chiefs of staff in particular play a significant role in policymaking, serving as a liaison to Cabinet agencies and deciding what information makes it to the president’s desk. They’re often one of the last people in the room with the president as major decisions are made.
In announcing the appointments, Trump said Priebus and Bannon would work as “equal partners” — effectively creating two power centers in the West Wing. The arrangement is risky and could leave ambiguity over who makes final decisions.
Trump has long encouraged rivalries, both in business and in his presidential campaign. He cycled through three campaign managers during his White House run, creating a web of competing alliances among staffers.
Associated Press writers Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, Ken Thomas in New York and Donna Cassata in Washington contributed to this report.