US: Glimpses into the Trump Administration

Published on November 16, 2016

Early glimpses of the incoming Trump Administration are emerging amid a tumultuous selection and vetting process by the inner circle of family and advisors in Trump Tower in New York, while the initial contours of some of the priorities to the Trump White House economy policy are likewise coming into view.

*** Topping the list of near certain nominations, Steven Mnuchin, the former Goldman Sachs partner who was Trump’s national finance chairman, is likely to be nominated for Secretary of Treasury as early as this week. He will face some opposition in confirmation from adversaries of Wall Street generally, but has not drawn fire to himself to date, and should be easily confirmed. ***

*** Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, is said to have his choice of cabinet positions, Defense, Justice, or Homeland Security, and we understand he is also eyeing the Office of Management and Budget. Our sense, though, is that Sessions may choose to remain in the Senate, where he could leverage his strong personal connection to the incoming president to become a key Senate power broker. He is also said to looking for an eventual nomination to the Supreme Court. ***

*** If Sessions opts against defense, we understand a dark horse favorite for defense secretary could be Jim Talent, the former Missouri congressman and Senator. Talent, who lost his bid for re-election to current Senator Claire McCaskill in 2006, has kept a low profile but active behind the scenes role in Republican circles working closely with both the activist right, such as the Heritage Foundation, and with establishment figures such as Mitt Romney. ***

*** A near half dozen names have been tossed into the mix for Secretary of State, the most recent being South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, which would be a pretty unusual choice. But for now former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is probably still the front runner for the position. While his international dealings at the Bracewell law firm are a concern, he was already vetted once as a presidential candidate, and may survive potential conflicts being reported now in the press. The one thing certain about Guiliani is that he wants a cabinet position, and Trump wants to give him one. ***

*** Another very likely nominee is Michael Flynn to head the National Security Council. There are some issues in his non-disclosure of income from foreign governments, including Turkey and Russia, but the NSC position does not require Senate confirmation. Flynn also had a strong hand in working with son-in-law Jared Kushner to oust New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as head of the transition team, which was quickly following by a purge of Christie allies, among them a rival in former House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers. ***

*** Vice President-elect Mike Pence has moved quickly to gain control and stabilize the transition efforts, even as a rivalry over influence in cabinet selections looks to have emerged between Chief of Staff-designee Reince Priebus and Special Advisor Steve Bannon. ***

*** For all the concerns over the influence of the highly controversial Bannon and “alt-right,” he apparently is not popular with the Trump family, and is not being consulted on all decisions. While Pence is technically “in charge,” it is son-in-law Kushner who has by far the better pipeline to Trump on all those decisions. ***

*** On economic policy, the Trump White House may sequence its tax reform efforts by pushing first on corporate tax reform, including capital repatriation, before tackling personal income tax policy, and some of the more politically controversial trade-offs the latter would entail on deductions. ***

*** The Trump plan presented during the campaign, while light on details, borrowed heavily from House Speaker Paul Ryan’s plan, and leaders are optimistic about the prospects for quick passage of a corporate tax reform plan. ***

*** And finally, on the infrastructure spending side, we understand the Trump White House will early in its term next year look to push for infrastructure programs focused on low income, urban, and what would often be racial minority dominated areas that would score the GOP key political points, and maximize the chances for winning bi-partisan support. ***

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