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Trump tries to steady rocky transition

Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, said the transition was going smoothly despite the large shock wave rippling through Washington about Trump’s lobbying restrictions. | AP Photo

The president-elect’s team has gone on the offensive, holding conference calls, revealing long visitor lists, and banning lobbyists.

Updated

President-elect Donald Trump’s team is seeking to bring a semblance of stability to a transition operation that has weathered days of reports of infighting and turmoil.

They held conference calls. They announced visitors to Trump Tower. They revealed that Trump “landing teams” will soon descend on top agencies, including the Department of Defense. They provided a list of world leaders the president-elect has spoken with as Trump prepared for his first face-to-face diplomatic encounter, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. They established a basic flow of basic information for the first time.

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“We feel way ahead of schedule and never in a rush to do the wrong thing,” said Trump’s former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, noting it wasn’t until mid-December in 2000 that it was clear who would be the next president.

Trump will meet with a slate of supporters, advisers and possible Cabinet picks on Thursday, including South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Rep. Jeb Hensarling and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Meanwhile, Eva Moskowitz, who is CEO of New York City’s largest charter network and met with Trump on Wednesday, said she would not serve as Trump’s education secretary. She is one of the few women whose names have been floated for Cabinet-level posts.

“He’s just loving this role in transition; he’s a transactional guy,” Conway told reporters in Trump Tower of the president-elect. “He’s used to delivering results and producing, and so at his desk every day, taking the counsel of many different people, taking many different phone calls, going through paperwork and discussing forming his Cabinet and now … his senior staff.”

“He’s really enjoying it,” she said.

But amid the activity, a sweeping ban on lobbyists threatens to hobble the president-elect’s ability to quickly fill thousands of jobs throughout the federal government. Trump’s lobbying restrictions — announced during an impromptu call Wednesday night — sent a shock wave through Washington’s vast network of professional influencers.

While Trump first proposed the five-year lobbying ban during his “drain the swamp” speech in October, it had been unclear whether he would actually follow through as his initial transition team was stocked with lobbyists.

“The whole place is one big lobbyist,” Trump said on “60 Minutes” about Washington.

The lobbying ban is more stringent than President Barack Obama’s lobbying restrictions. Obama banned administration officials from contacting their former agency for two years, but they could still lobby other parts of the government.

People familiar with the transition said Trump aides were infuriated by stories detailing the many lobbyists working on the transition. After taking control of the transition from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Vice President-elect Mike Pence and other Trump aides insisted on making good on their five-year ban.

But Democrats and Republicans alike warn that the ban could compound Trump’s problems recruiting top-tier talent. And they say it will discourage lobbyists from formally registering to avoid having to comply with the rule.

“It will only incent further motivation to avoid having to register as a dreaded lobbyist,” one Democratic lobbyist said.

Washington saw a wave of lobbying de-registrations in the run-up to Obama’s presidency, with members of the influence sector worrying that they’d be passed over for jobs. Similarly, officials leaving the administration have taken advantage of federal rules requiring people to register as lobbyists only if lobbying makes up 20 percent of their activity.

Norm Eisen, former chief ethics lawyer in the Obama White House, called the rules a “good start,” but he said they need to be expanded to avoid potential loopholes and cover all people with potential conflicts of interest — whether they’re registered or not. Eisen met with Christie’s transition aides to discuss the proposal, even proposing a draft executive order on the issue.

“And if the president-elect is truly serious about ‘draining the swamp,’ he must do more, like dealing with his own profound conflicts of interest by establishing a true blind trust for his businesses, and stopping the gusher of campaign cash that has flooded the swamp,” he added.

Trump, in his October campaign speech, called for changing the definition of lobbying to “close all the loopholes that former government officials use by labeling themselves consultants and advisers when we all know they are lobbyists.”

Still, many Republicans welcomed the five-year ban.

“It allows people to choose between serving America and serving themselves,” said George David Banks, a former George W. Bush environmental aide and Trump supporter. “Sure, it will limit the number of people who are in the mix. But I don’t think it will have a significant impact on the number of good people who want to serve the republic.”

Trump’s lobbying announcement came after days of uncertainty about how the transition would deal with lobbyists. Trump aides originally told reporters that Pence ordered the removal of all lobbyists from the team. That was news to the lobbyists on the transition, which, as of Wednesday, had not been asked to leave.

Indeed, Trump’s code of ethics requires that lobbyists de-register in order to stay on the team. That’s likely to put the lobbyists on the transition, who have no guarantee of getting a job in the administration, in a bind. Do they give up their lucrative clients for the opportunity to help shape Trump’s administration? So far, the lobbyists on the team have not responded to POLITICO’s questions about whether they will de-register. Lobbyists on the team said they were surprised by Wednesday night’s announcement.

“Everybody that is remaining or will be named going forward will be in compliance” with the lobbying rules, Republican National Committee chief strategist Sean Spicer told reporters on Thursday.

Spicer added that the lobbying restrictions include a lifetime ban on former administration officials representing any foreign government.

Trump aides said they’ll announce members of the national security landing team Friday morning. That team includes transition staff focused on the Defense Department, State Department, Justice Department and the National Security Council.

Trump himself is slated to take part in a two-hour transition meeting on Friday, with one adviser saying they hope to roll out their first Cabinet pick in the coming days.

On Thursday, the president-elect is due to meet with Kissinger, Hensarling, Haley, Oracle CEO Safra Catz, Gen. Jack Keane (who used to be a Clinton adviser), NSA chief Adm. Mike Rogers, former Cincinnati mayor and Family Research Council fellow Ken Blackwell, FedEx CEO Fred Smith and Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

At 5 p.m., Trump is scheduled to meet with Abe, though the meeting will be closed to the press.

Trump on Wednesday aggressively pushed back against the idea that his calls with foreign leaders have been haphazard, tweeting that he has talked with many top international officials in recent days and that he is “always available to them.”

Asked whether Trump aides are taking steps to secure the president-elect’s calls with world leaders, spokesman Jason Miller told reporters, “Appropriate precautions are being taken.” He did not offer any specifics.

Conway said the meeting with Abe was private because, “We are very sensitive to the fact that President Obama is still in office for the next two months, and we won’t be making diplomatic agreements today.”

Source: POLITICO – TOP Stories

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