President-elect Donald Trump is selecting members of his cabinet. But the transition has been turbulent. Who’s in the running for top positions and what Trump’s choices could say about how he will lead the country.
- Lara Brown Political scientist and associate professor, Graduate School of Political Management, The George Washington University; author, “Jockeying for the American Presidency: The Political Opportunism of Aspirants”
- Elizabeth Saunders Associate professor of political science and international affairs, the George Washington University; Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow, The Council on Foreign Relations
- Eli Stokols National politics reporter, Politico
- Paul Posner Director, the Graduate Public Administration Program at George Mason University and leads the University’s Center on the Public Service
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. President-elect Donald Trump must fill 4,000 cabinet positions. Of those, around 1200 require Senate confirmation. While plenty of names are being floated for top jobs, Trump has yet to make a single pick. Here to talk about the transition and who's in the running, Elizabeth Saunders of the George Washington University, Eli Stokols of Politico, Lara Brown, author of "Jockeying For The American Presidency: The Political Opportunism of Aspirance." And joining us by phone, Paul Posner of George Mason University.
MS. DIANE REHMI'll look forward to hearing your questions, comments, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And thank you all for being with us.
MR. ELI STOKOLSThank you.
MS. LARA BROWNThanks for having us.
MS. ELIZABETH SAUNDERSThank you so much.
MR. PAUL POSNERThank you, Diane.
REHMEli, I'll start with you. We've heard and seen so much about turbulence and turmoil and yet, President-elect Trump says everything is going very smoothly. So what do we really know?
STOKOLSWell, we know that turbulence and turmoil have been a staple of his campaign and his operation for a long time. So when he says that everything is normal, he's right because the people inside Trump Tower are used to this. They're used to kind of just winging it, okay? And we may have to get used to this is what it's going look like...
STOKOLS...for the next four years. I think they were caught flat-footed. I mean, obviously, they just saw the transition as an abstract idea. They were never going to have to mobilize and put into practice because up until the results started coming in, they really were not expecting to win and to have to do this. I think the surprise of having so many jobs to fill, you know, they may also...
STOKOLS4,000 and more than 1,000 that require confirmation. And then, you have the sort of person at the top, Donald Trump, who really values loyalty over everything else. Over experience and pedigree. He wants people who are loyal to him. And you look at his sort of merry pranksters, this band, this inner circle of political rogues who have been with him from the beginning and some of them may have trouble getting confirmed so they're kind of trying to kick this into gear, go from zero to 60 in a way.
STOKOLSIt's a huge task. They're right about that. They do have some time and I think they're starting to reckon with the realities that this is difficult and that putting the person that we're really like in this position may not happen so they're floating a lot of trial balloons. Last night, they finally held a call late at night and said, okay, we're going to brief reporters on this every day now, every morning we're going to talk about who the president-elect is meeting with inside Trump Tower, sort of come up with a little more routine and stability and try to get back the narrative.
STOKOLSThey also talked about we're going to impose a lobbying ban, which they're trying to recruit a ton of people, most of the people who put themselves forward, a lot of them do have experience lobbying, licensed lobbyists in Washington. Donald Trump campaigned pledging to drain the swamp and so if they're going to do that -- everybody, well, wait a second. What are you talking about? Why are all these lobbyists part of your transition team? So they've come up with a ban.
STOKOLSOn the front end, it's pretty lax. Obama's lobbying ban said, you know, you couldn't have been a lobbyist within a year of coming into the administration. Trump's now is basically saying renounce your lobbying license, get rid of it right now and then you can come join us and the slate is washed clean. It's tougher on the back end, supposedly, because they say once you leave the Trump administration, you will not be able to lobby for five years. The question is, who enforces that and if that has any teeth.
STOKOLSSo they're trying to kind of answer some of the questions and get it, you know, change the narrative a little bit, clean up some of these messy stories they've been dealing with. But it's still pretty chaotic, I think, as this point.
REHMEli Stokols, he's national politics reporter for Politico. Paul Posner, how unusual is this? I mean, doesn't every president-elect and transition team, even if there isn't a transition team in place, doesn't all that take time and have to get sorted out? How unusual is this?
POSNEROh, yes. We should expect some amount of chaos. That's happened in every administration. The Clinton transition was an example. One of the best examples of a transition was the hand-off from Bush to Obama. Bush's people set up a very smooth kind of a hand-off, agencies prepare papers, appointees were very available and the kind of (unintelligible) appointing 4,000 people is no mean feat. It doesn't happen in a month or even three months. It sometimes takes, you know, a year or two before positions are fully filled.
POSNERSo in many cases, there are (word?) people and the agencies are really responsible for staffing government. I want to say one other thing. I'm a little concerned about this metaphor, draining the swamp. I understand the lobbying ban, but this is not Andrew Jackson's time and this is not a time when you can invite the party loyalists to then enjoy the spoils. This is a highly professional government. The stakes are high. The consequences are immense. We need the highest level of expertise possible.
POSNERAnd already, I think this administration is coming in from a deficit position. Many of the foreign policy experts renounced the Trump campaign. Some of those people are starting to kind of come back into the fold, but there are many economists who've kind of distanced themselves from this. I mean, if we don't have serious economists, foreign policy experts staffing this government, I think, you know, that will be a problem that will affect this administration longer term. So I'm very concerned that we get the kind of expertise we need to really, you know, kind of make government work.
REHMPaul Posner, he's director of the graduate public administration program at George Mason University. He leads the university center on public service. And we are going to take your calls, 800-433-8850. Lara Brown, Eli and Paul Posner mentioned foreign policy and there were some floats for the director of the state department. I mean, the names seem to be changing each day.
BROWNWell, I don’t think there's any doubt about that. Certainly, the names are changing every day at secretary of state, also at the secretary of defense there's a lot of questions about who would lead those two top agencies. I mean, Elizabeth, I think, knows kind of the deep details of the bios of the individuals kind of being discussed. But as Eli just mentioned, a lot of what we're really looking are sort of these loyalists who are around Donald Trump's campaign and he essentially effectuated a hostile takeover of his Republican party.
BROWNAnd this Republican party and its establishment and all of its networks of experts really had distanced themselves from Donald Trump and this is part of the problem. I mean, I do think that when you're talking and floating names like Rudy Giuliani as being secretary of state, that is somewhat disconcerting to those in the foreign policy community.
BROWNBecause what is his experience in foreign relations and diplomacy? You know, you can't just say, welcoming delegations to New York has been all that you've ever done.
REHMElizabeth Saunders, how do you see it?
SAUNDERSWell, I think, as Eli suggested, the watch word of American foreign policy right now is unpredictable and Donald Trump has made the argument that it's good to be unpredictable, but I think we need to be really clear about what exactly about this is unprecedented. There are a lot of things that are unprecedented right now, but we need to be clear about exactly why, right? Take diplomacy and the calls that he's been taking at Trump Tower from foreign leaders and he's meeting -- his first official meeting today with Japanese Prime Minister Abe.
SAUNDERSHe's, apparently, doing this in somewhat order. It's whoever can get through to him on the phone first. He hasn't, as of last night, the state department and the defense department said that they had not been contacted by the Trump transition team so he's not getting briefings from the state department, from the Pentagon on what to say on these calls.
REHMWhich he should be getting.
SAUNDERSHe should. Now, let's think about why does this matter, right? It's fine to think about changing American foreign policy if a new president wants to come in and make changes, but you want to do it in a very deliberate way. Words matter. Countries may even be taking signals and inferring things from the order in which these calls are being received, even if he may not intend those signals to be sent. But they have consequences. Words have consequences in diplomacy.
SAUNDERSLet's just go back to basics. What is American diplomacy about, right? We know that it's about investing in relationships. It's about patient tending of American interests. Most high-level diplomacy by the president and secretary of state is not conducted in the form of splashy deal-making. It's not even about talking to adversaries. It's not this image of flying over and looking your adversary in the eye. Most of it is kind of boring, eat your spinach, stuff. You go and you meet. You're doing what Barack Obama is doing today in Europe.
SAUNDERSYou go and you meet with your allies. Trump very rarely talked about that kind of diplomacy. He talked about adversaries. He very rarely talks about allies. And this kind of sort of eat your spinach diplomacy is very important.
REHMElizabeth Saunders, she's associate professor of political science and international affairs at the George Washington University. She is also a Stanton Nuclear Security fellow on the Council on Foreign Relations. And we should mention here, the U.S. director of national intelligence, James Clapper, has resigned. Short break, we'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We've already had some emails, some questions about the people who may be advising Trump. There is a question, an email from Victoria. How powerful is Jared Kushner? And I wonder what you think, Lara Brown.
BROWNWell, I think it's certainly a challenge. I mean I think everyone who is looking at this, you know, transition and this potential administration, you know, the idea that Donald Trump's son-in-law would need security clearance, would be essentially privy to very high-level government decisions and possible policy ramifications and...
REHMBut hasn't this happened before? Look at JFK appointing his brother attorney general.
BROWNBut I think the bigger issue is that Kushner actually runs a $13 billion, you know, real estate company. And so this question of what happens in terms of conflicts of interest and does he have to have a blind trust? And what does it mean if Ivanka, his wife, continues running...
REHMNot his wife.
BROWNOh, I'm sorry.
REHMYou mean Melania, his wife...
BROWNNo, no, no. No, I mean Jared Kushner's wife, Ivanka.
REHMOh, forgive me.
BROWNSo Ivanka, Jared Kushner's wife, if she is the one in charge of Trump's empire, what then are the conflicts there with her husband being a senior adviser to the president?
REHMAnd people are raising questions about Stephen Bannon.
STOKOLSWell, I mean, this is a controversial figure. I mean, this is what you get with Steve Bannon, because he was the editor of a website that had a lot of content that was very clearly geared toward attracting people with white supremacist views, racist views. And whether he personally believes that or not, you know, it's his name on the masthead, if there's a masthead at Breitbart. And so it's no wonder that, you know, there's going to be concern about that, especially given some of the rhetoric that Donald Trump espoused during the campaign.
STOKOLSI think, you talk about Jarod Kushner, I mean, Jared Kushner was the person over the weekend, when Donald Trump was trying to decide who to make chief of staff, who really told him, look, you can't put Steve Bannon in that role. Because symbolically, it's just too hot. Put someone like Reince Priebus in that role. Steve Bannon made senior adviser, kind of a co-equal to Priebus. And we've seen Donald Trump set up these kind of competing power structures, power centers in, you know, in his organization.
STOKOLSBut I think Kushner, as difficult as it may be for him to get confirmed -- to see him getting confirmed, it's just as difficult to see him not playing a big role in Donald Trump's administration. Because Trump has come to rely on him so much for guidance, for sort of, you know, mediating disputes and helping him arrive at decisions from who should his campaign to who should be his running mate to, now, who should serve as chief of staff. He's really that person who has Donald Trump's ear more than anybody else.
REHMPaul Posner, question for you. What about past cabinet picks? Have they always had the expertise for the position to which they are appointed? Or do they, themselves, have a huge learning curve?
POSNEROh, there have been many celebrated examples. I think that there are kind of, in some ways, several different things that you want to do with your cabinet pick. One is to appoint someone who really is a noted expert and who can be counted on to deliver on the mission of that department. You know, with ball politics aside, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry are good examples of that in some respect at State. Then you have other cabinet sector secretaries who are often picked to deliver a symbolic message to a primary constituency.
POSNERRonald Reagan did this. He appointed Secretary Jim Watt at Interior and Anne Gorsuch at EPA -- and reminds me very much of Trump -- who were, by design, oppose the mission of their department. And in some ways their role was to partly reassess and perhaps tear down much of that mission. Now I think this shows you how that kind of appointment can ultimately undermine the president.
POSNERIn Anne Gorsuch's case, you know, this -- they operated on this kind of in some ways fantasy that the president could essentially reinvent EPA and kind of completely reform the rules and the laws enacted by Congress. Well, there was a tremendous congressional reaction and she lost her job. And the environmental movement emerged stronger and environmental laws emerged stronger as a result. So there is this kind of tension between satisfying different constituencies. And presidents have to do that, regardless of their stripe.
POSNERThey have to satisfy the core, you know, that brought them there, that got them on the primary route in the first place. But they have a responsibility to govern. And I think failing to attend to that is a sin that catches up with you.
POSNERAnd it, so that's...
REHMElizabeth Saunders, talk about Rudy Giuliani and the fact that his name has emerged as someone who is being strongly considered for secretary of state.
SAUNDERSWell, I think, I agree with everything that Paul Posner just said. But I think, when we start to think about the major foreign policy positions and particularly the secretary of state, we need to think about what makes those positions and that position in particular unique. The secretary of state is one of the four so-called inner-cabinet positions -- state, defense, treasury and attorney general. And they get a markedly higher level degree of press attention. The secretary of state actually gets the most, typically the most mentions in the press during a president's term. And so that will be a very -- that will be the public face not only of American diplomacy abroad, but also very much of the president's cabinet in many, many ways.
SAUNDERSI think we all seem to think about the position of secretary of state in terms of what it signals to the rank and file bureaucrats, right? Bureaucrats get kind of a bad name. But at the moment, you know, standard operating procedures get a bad name, but at the moment we are sort of relying on them as -- in the midst of this turmoil, to be the bulwark where we -- that sort of run the show. So I think of -- I think a lot about the metaphor of, like, what is the person sitting on the India desk at the State Department going to be taking from this appointment, right? What does that person, who's going to be running day-to-day operations at the State Department for some relationship between the U.S. and some other country?
SAUNDERSIf they see a loyalist put in primarily because that person supported Trump throughout the campaign, what signal does that send in terms of the direction of American foreign policy, how much they'll be protected if they speak out? I think that putting somebody like Rudy Giuliani in would be a very troubling signal.
REHMAnd, Eli, I gather there are many, many issues confronting Giuliani, conflicts of interest that people have raised.
STOKOLSRight. Not just a lack of real experience as a diplomat, but private consulting work with foreign governments that has come out in the last couple of days and maybe slowed down, you know, rubber stamping Rudy Giuliani's, you know, being named as secretary of state. I think it was really interesting yesterday when South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley's name was floated. There are a lot of trial balloons being floated from Trump Tower right now.
STOKOLSAnd I think it's important for people to understand that these are not all coming from Donald Trump's desk himself. A lot of this is coming from people around Donald Trump, trying to influence Donald Trump. Because if Nikki Haley's name gets out there, gets a positive reaction, people will say, oh, look at this. Did you see this? A lot of positive coverage about Nikki Haley. Donald Trump loves nothing more than flattery, than being praised as making smart decisions, appointing the best people.
STOKOLSAnd so I think what you have is people around him really trying to -- I mean, there's a degree of psyops to this, but understanding his psychology and trying to influence him sort of, you know, to reflect back to him and say, look at this, Nikki Haley getting a great response. I mean, this the most media-conscious president-elect, soon to be president, that we'll have ever seen. And so I think this stuff -- I think it's a smart way to go about it in some ways.
REHMWe sure are seeming, as the media, trying to get inside of Donald Trump's head. And I find myself wondering whether it's simply because of how he expressed himself during the campaign or whether we attribute to him thoughts, ideas, behaviors that he really doesn't have. One email from Vickie, is Trump's phone line at Trump Tower secure? How can we know?
BROWNWell, I don't think we really can. I think all we can do is watch what Donald Trump has done thus far. And he has consistently subverted the media. In fact, if you look, the other night, he called a lid -- his people called a lid, which means that the president-elect will not be going out. There will be no, sort of, more traveling or any reporting that day. And then he decided to go out to dinner. This is a problem. You know, he was only captured essentially through cell phone images, not a traveling press.
REHMBut surely even a president-elect is entitled to some freedom.
BROWNNo. In fact, this is a relationship that, in fact, the media got into and created an arrangement with all presidents with regard to coverage of presidents and presidents-elect, post the assassination of John F. Kennedy. And it is this understanding that wherever the president goes and whenever the president moves, a traveling press corps will be there to report it, should anything arise. And so there is really a tension, because I think Donald Trump believes that he can still be a private citizen. And that is not what it means to be president of the United States.
REHMPaul Posner, how do you react to that idea of simply saying we're putting a lid on press coverage?
POSNERWell, I think it's part of a piece that I don't think Trump has held a press conference for a number of months. So I mean it's -- it reflects broader concerns about him kind of circling the wagons with a close band of loyalists and not making himself available. So I'm not sure about -- I think there's some sense that understandable about the president's, you know, kind of trying to find some autonomy.
POSNERBut the broader issue is we have questions about whether he is really going to be accountable to the media in the way that we've become accustomed -- and frankly other presidents have not done that well in that regard either, with the press conferences and the like -- but, so I think it's part of the challenge of how he becomes, you know, more fully integrated into Washington. You know, he's kind of studiously avoiding Washington now. And Obama, to some extent, did too during his transition. He stayed in Chicago.
POSNERSo, but I think it's a question of, will he become a fully, kind of, integral player, you know, who is able to work with not only the Congress but the bureaucracy and other governments and the bond market and all of these players that you don't think of when you're stumping the country in a bus.
POSNERAnd suddenly, you're perspective is broadened and the expectations change radically. I -- there's a real question how he's going to adapt to that. Is he going to close his wagons and withdraw? Or is he going to kind of embrace that and find some new creative ways of responding?
REHMPaul Posner, and I know you do have to leave us. I thank you for joining us.
POSNERPaul Posner is director of the Graduate Public Administration Program at George Mason University. Thank you so much, sir, for being with us.
POSNERThank you, Diane. I appreciate it.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Elizabeth, tell us whose names are being floated for defense secretary.
SAUNDERSWell, this is a position where you've heard a lot of names. It's -- the first name I think I heard was Jeff Sessions, who was...
REHMA member of Congress.
SAUNDERS...early and strong, the senator from Alabama, an early and strong supporter of Donald Trump. And then that's a position where lots of different people's names have cycled in. You heard Kelly Ayotte, who was just defeated in her reelection race in New Hampshire. And a lot of people said, okay, well that would be sort of a more mainstream appointment. She'd been on armed services, for example.
SAUNDERSAnd now it seems, the last I heard -- and again, you know, all of us are flying blind here, so we don't have any, sort of, any more knowledge really than anybody reading the newspapers -- but, that it had circled back to Sessions, in part because there were concerns that he'd have difficulty getting confirmation as attorney general, which is another position he'd been floated for.
SAUNDERSAnd I think this actually highlights something we haven't talked about, which is the role that Congress will play. And, you know, the sort of obvious thing to note about that would be that he has a Republican Congress and so therefore these appointees might sail through. But I do think, at least on foreign policy, where in no other area was there a greater split between the Republican establishment and the Trump campaign -- there were a lot of splits, but the biggest one was on national security and foreign policy -- where the Republican foreign policy establishment broke with Trump in a dramatic and large-scale way.
SAUNDERSYou do have some Republican senators, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, who have -- Rand Paul -- who have signaled that they are not going to rubber-stamp this stuff. And I think that is where may begin to see a source of accountability and it will be very, very important. When a member of Congress from the other party criticizes the president, that's called Tuesday in Washington. That's this -- that's -- it's not really news, right? When you lose your own party, that becomes even more newsworthy and therefore more credible. And I think those are the folks to be watching right now, are the Republican foreign policy hands.
REHMWould Rudy Giuliani have a tough time getting confirmed if he were nominated as secretary of state?
STOKOLSI think it's hard to know. But I think it's true that those senators, McCain, Graham, maybe Jeff Flake of Arizona, Rand Paul, if some hawkish person is put forward, will be digging in on this. And I think that is what the people in Trump's orbit right now are trying to determine. Because there are a lot of pieces on this chess board to move around. If you put this person here, if you put Jeff Sessions at defense, the Pentagon, what do you do -- where does Rudy go, if he doesn't get secretary of state, right? What are the roles for these people who Donald Trump wants to reward?
STOKOLSAnd so I think you have the establishment figures inside Trump Tower -- Reince Priebus and Jarod Kushner to some extent -- really on the phone a lot with Mitch McConnell, with Speaker Ryan...
STOKOLSTrying to figure out, okay, like, what are people -- what are our members of Congress going to be okay with? And that is very opaque right now.
SAUNDERSJust one small point on the process that's going to unfold here. We're still in the -- not a single one of these appointments has actually been announced yet. And we are still in the trial-balloon phase. We're still in the any-names-are-possible phase. Once the very first one is announced, this -- the sequencing actually becomes important, right? The reaction to the first one may have an impact on the second one. So, and this isn't true of other administrations. In the George W. Bush administration, they appointed Powell as secretary of state. And then Rumsfeld was actually put -- Donald Rumsfeld was put at the Pentagon in part to be a check on him, based on the reaction to Powell's appointment.
SAUNDERSSo I would just caution everyone against thinking about, like, this is just sort of filling in a bunch of boxes, right? The sequence will matter quite a lot.
REHMElizabeth Saunders of George Washington University. We'll take a short break here and, when we come back, we'll open the phones. I look forward to hearing your comments and questions. Stay with us.
REHMWelcome back. As we talk about the transition to a Trump presidency, how his selections are going to be made, here's an email from Jeff, who says, Chris Christie had the transition plans in place. He was dumped in favor of Mike Pence to head the transition team, and Pence was unprepared for the task. It might be of interest to your listeners that Chris Christie prosecuted, publicly embarrassed and jailed Jared Kushner's father over a decade ago. It appears as though revenge was extracted within the transition team. How do you see that, Lara Brown?
BROWNWell, I think what we do have is certainly this issue that Eli brought up earlier, that, you know, the Trump campaign didn't really envision that they would necessarily be winning. They did put Chris Christie as head of the transition team I think more as a way to give him something and to make it appear as though he had a very important job. Because he was one of the first Republicans to endorse Donald Trump. But then, it is also clear that, you know, a few days after Chris Christie's aides, were in fact, found guilty in the Bridgegate scandal that occurred.
BROWNYou know, Chris Christie was also dumped from the transition and Pence was put in. So I think there are a lot of ways that what we see here are personal politics influencing these professional decisions.
REHMWhat about this idea of revenge, Eli?
STOKOLSWell, I agree with Lara. I mean, I think my view is that if this was, if the transition during the campaign was viewed as something that actually would have had to be put into practice, if they thought they were going to win, they wouldn't have given it to Chris Christie in the first place. The tension between Kushner and Christie, Christie also being an ally of former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, someone who Kushner and the Paul Manafort crew became very wary of, and eventually moved outside of the campaign.
STOKOLSThese are influences they're trying to restrict and so Jared Kushner stood in the way of Chris Christie being considered eventually. Because Donald Trump liked him, being considered to be the number two, the running mate, when those choices were being made in early July. And now, I think it was only, it was sort of inevitable that he would be sidelined now that this transition and all these plum jobs are out there and you're not going to have Chris Christie in charge of figuring this out. So bring in Mike Pence, Sort of obvious.
STOKOLSI think it just -- it did put them a little bit behind schedule because they are sort of starting from a stop here and Mike Pence has to get up to speed. He was slow to sign the memorandum of understanding that enables information to flow back and forth from the agencies under the Obama administration to the transition folks with President-elect Trump and Vice President-elect Pence. So, it has been slow to get off the ground as a result of the infighting and dysfunction.
STOKOLSBut again, that's just another example. I mean, you could tell that story -- we've told that story so many times over the campaign. It's just another instance.
REHMAll right, and before we open the phones, let's talk a little about the women that Donald Trump may be considering for top posts. Lara Brown.
BROWNWell, this may sound sort of overly political, and maybe I'm reading too much into it, but certainly there has been criticism, pretty early on, that Donald Trump is not planning to appoint a cabinet or many high level officials that look like America. The diversity is a real problem for him and that all of the top people discussed are essentially white men. And I think this is when I hear that people like former Senator Kelly Ayotte or soon to be former Senator.
BROWNAnd Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina and even former Governor Sarah Palin may be floated and has been talked about as a possible pick for the interior. I wonder if any of these are really serious kind of trial balloons or if they are, in fact, ways to say to the public, see, I am considering women. Women will be a part of my administration, even though, you know, some of these women, Sarah Palin may be considered a loyalist and Kelly Ayotte may be considered establishment. You know, Donald Trump may be essentially trying to signal that he is open to the entire Republican Party.
REHMAll right, let's go to the phones. To Lewis in Indianapolis, you're on the air.
LEWISThanks, first off, for allowing opposing views on your show. I know you've gotten some grief from callers the last few days, maybe even the last week. I think your show is pretty fair for both sides.
REHMThanks. I can take it.
LEWISIt makes for good radio.
LEWISOn a topic, I can't remember if, it's been eight years, if Obama's appointees came under the same kind of scrutiny as Trump's are. I only remember maybe one, Van Jones was maybe a domestic terrorist and appointed by him. Is that true?
REHMWho are you...
BROWNActually, Van Jones was floated for an appointment. I don't recall what position it was, but there was a tremendous amount of controversy, because I believe if I recall correctly, he had been involved with ACORN, and he had been a community organizer and there was a lot of questions about how much he had been, essentially, an outside agitator. You know, and could he, and should he in fact be in the Obama administration? He wasn't then, in fact, appointed, so that it is true that it was scuttled.
REHM...all right, let's go now to Hershey, Pennsylvania. Tara, you're on the air.
TARAFirst, let me say the silence left behind when your voice is gone will be deafening for me.
TARAAnd I think many of us in this world.
REHMBut you know I am going to do a weekly podcast, so I promise you...
TARAIt's not enough.
REHM...thank you. Go right ahead.
TARAAnd I'm so happy that before you do leave, I finally get to talk with you instead of talking at the radio.
REHMGood. Good. Go right ahead.
TARASo my question is as representing a large community of people that I associate with, and we read about this transition team, and we see people from the White House who are supposed to assist and make sure that everything goes well. You know, we read in the New York Times that they were fired and essentially, there's nobody in the Trump Tower now that represents the White House as it is. My, my question is at what point, or what responsibility would President Obama have when he sees Donald Trump making calls without being debriefed?
TARAOr necessarily having the right security measures in place to, you know, leaders of other countries and nobody's really present to represent what I would call a sane perspective. At what point does President Obama step in and say, this is a threat to our national security?
REHMInteresting question. Elizabeth.
SAUNDERSWell, I think it would very unlikely that he would say so publicly. But I think that he, if the, if reports are accurate, he has actually said that he's gonna spend some more time as a reaction to his first meeting with Trump, when Trump apparently didn't seem to realize that he had to hire for all the West Wing positions. He's going to spend more time with Trump. I think Brian Beutler from the New Republic had a wonderful piece the other day parsing the words that Obama said in one of his press conferences and noting that Obama talked about the paper flow.
SAUNDERSAnd how Obama himself knew that he wasn't that good at managing paper and one of the first things he did was to find good people to help him manage the paper. And this was a small detail, but very important. And that this was, in a way, a message to -- a subtle message, a polite message, but a message nonetheless that the details are so important here. Again, policy papers, transition papers, bureaucrats, these are not sexy topics, but they are really, really important.
SAUNDERSAnd we're going back to basics here. And I think what Obama will be doing, a lot of it will not make the news, but he will try to do most of this work behind the scenes.
REHMAll right, and to Paul in Destin, Florida. Hi there.
PAULHi Diane, how are you?
PAULThank you so much for taking my call.
PAULI'm really going to miss you in January, if I may echo the last caller's sentiments.
PAULAnd your replacement has huge shoes to fill.
PAULMy request, my question, looking at the Iran nuclear deal through the eyes of somebody on active duty military, you know, I'm not a huge fan of the deal that we made, but I don't think it's all bad and I'm wondering if the panel thinks that either a Ambassador Bolten or Mayor Giuliani would go in and just get rid of that deal altogether and what they think the effects of that would be. With the second part of the question being if God forbid something does happen.
PAULAnd we do end up with military action in Iran, with the President-elect Trump's saying a couple of times that he would not honor Article 5 of NATO, would we have to go that alone?
REHMWhoa. That really...
SAUNDERSYou're looking at me, right?
REHMYeah, I sure am, Elizabeth.
SAUNDERSI keep hoping someone else has the answers to these questions. So, I think these are excellent questions, and I think at the moment, we don't have great answers.
REHMWe just don't know.
SAUNDERSSo he has said that he wants to scrap the Iran deal and get a better deal. And I think, you know, so taking that -- those statements and trying to sort of, again, go back to basics and think about, first, the Iran deal is a multilateral deal. It was not simply a deal between the United States and Iran. So there are other parties, including Russia, who played a very important role. And it's not clear that it can just be scrapped on that level. There's a multilateral international sanctions regime in place that was put tremendous pressure on Iran that was part of what got the deal in place to begin with.
SAUNDERSSo, so there's that. It's not clear that there is, in fact, a better deal to be had. And that the international partners would be there to help us, so just whether the Iran deal can and would be scrapped I think is an open question.
REHMWe've had a number of questions about who exactly needs Senate confirmation. Lara.
BROWNWell, that's true. I mean, essentially, at every cabinet agency, you have not just the cabinet secretary, but you have undersecretaries, you have assistant secretaries. Typically, the lowest it goes down in terms of Senate confirmation is a Deputy Assistant Secretary. So for instance, many of the positions are in fact sort of special assistant positions at the cabinet levels that help secretaries and undersecretaries and assistant secretaries. Those are what they call Schedule C appointees. They don't need cabinet -- they don't need Senate confirmation.
BROWNBut they also typically don't start really working until, you know, sort of all of the resumes have been gone through and the White House office of personnel has really kind of called who are the campaign loyalists, who are the party workers, who are the people that we can put there to help the policy experts who are typically those ones who do need Senate confirmation.
STOKOLSWell, I mean, General Flynn is an interesting one, because he was active duty. So, he has not been out of active duty for, I think, seven years is the timeline. So he couldn't be confirmed. You'd have to get a waiver, I believe.
BROWNTo be, to be Secretary of Defense.
STOKOLSTo be Secretary of Defense.
BROWNBut he could be National Security Advisor without confirmation.
STOKOLSRight, so those sorts of things are coming across the transition team's desk and they're having to figure that stuff out. I mean, I think this is all very complicated. There are a lot of rules, and these are people who maybe haven't studied them up until the last week.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And to, let's see, Jamie in Tallahassee, Florida. You're on the air.
JAMIEHi, thank you so much for taking my call.
JAMIEIf I can be the third person to say that you're the best Diane, and we're going to miss having you on daily radio.
JAMIEOf course. I was just wondering, prior to, or part of the previous conversation about how tumultuous the Trump administration is going to be, I mean, in terms of the appointment of Steven Bannon. Will we consider him to be a potentially more long term appointment and advisor, given how long he's had Trump's ear? And how ideological he is, or if he also could be someone that potentially filters in and out and whether we consider him to be one of Trump's top tier advisors?
BROWNWell, I just want to take this, because I do think that it's important that we not think that Steve Bannon is so far out there in terms of having a President appoint a political advisor. Karl Rove and David Axelrod were each appointed into the respective administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama as, sort of, top political advisors and special counselors. So...
REHMHowever, to compare Steve Bannon, who has made and been involved in such alt right kinds of statements and conversation.
REHMI don't think that does it justice.
BROWN...well, I don't disagree about, sort of, the character of Steve Bannon or the personal issues with regard to Steve Bannon. But I think we do have to understand that Presidents will appoint a political advisor and those political advisors, you know, are essentially the ones watching out for their base, their loyalties, and their political decisions.
REHMBut his, it's his background, Eli.
STOKOLSYeah, and it's not -- I mean, alt right includes statements that are not just blatantly racist but sexist, misogynist. I mean, there are plenty of reasons for people to be raising concerns about Steve Bannon. I will say though that, you know, Corey Lewandowski, when he was named campaign manager, didn't have much experience there either, was sort of a strange pick to run a campaign. He took him because nobody else really wanted the job. And I would say that whether Steve Bannon is inside the West Wing or whether he leaves after a year, whatever the case may be.
STOKOLSPeople in Trump's orbit who are close to him, who have his ear, they never really leave. Corey Lewandowski continued, even though he became a CNN contributor, continued to talk to Trump on a regular basis. Same with Paul Manafort, after he was fired in August. And so, all these people Trump keeps around. Roger Stone still has his ear, even though he, you know, had an official role on the campaign for about a month before he left. All these people will be speaking to the new President all the time. And it's a strange group, but these are the people that he trusts.
SAUNDERSAnd I think we should also bear in mind if we do get a pick that appears to be more mainstream, Kelly Ayotte or Bob Corker as Secretary of State, somebody like that. It's not as though we should all drop everything and break into, you know, "The Sun Will Come out Tomorrow." Right? In order for the mainstream to really make it back into the Trump orbit, they have to be willing to go in, the Trump team has to be willing to receive them and put them in a job.
SAUNDERSAnd then, after that, Trump has to be willing to listen to them. And there's no guarantee that even if somebody like that gets appointed, that they will actually will have significant influence. Colin Powell was basically frozen out of a lot of the major decisions in the George W. Bush administration. Which was clearly much more orderly and regularized transition and administration than this one appears to be. So, it's not over.
REHMIt certainly isn't. And we started out talking about the turbulence, the turmoil. From what you all have said today, it certainly sounds that way. Elizabeth Saunders of George Washington University and the Council on Foreign Relations. Eli Stokols of Politico and Lara Brown, author of "Jockeying for the American Presidency: The Political Opportunism of Aspirants." Thank you all for being with us.
SAUNDERSThank you so much.
REHMAnd thanks all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.