Donald Trump has named only 29 of his 660 executive department appointments, according to the Partnership for Public Service.
WASHINGTON — Donald Trump arrived in Washington the day before his inauguration as the nation’s 45th president in a swirl of cinematic pageantry but facing serious questions about whether his transition has left critical parts of the government dangerously short-handed.
Trump is to be sworn in just before 9 a.m. PST Friday, but his team was still scrambling to fill key administration posts when he got to Washington on Thursday, announcing last-minute plans to retain 50 essential State Department and national-security officials working in the Obama administration to ensure “continuity of government,” according to Sean Spicer, the incoming White House press secretary.
The final staff preparations included designating Thomas Shannon Jr., an Obama appointee, as acting secretary of state, pending the expected confirmation of Rex Tillerson.
As of Thursday, only two of Trump’s 15 Cabinet nominees — John Kelly, to head the Department of Homeland Security, and his nominee for defense secretary, Gen. James Mattis — had been approved by congressional committees and were close to assuming their posts.
In all, Trump has named only 29 of his 660 executive department appointments, according to the Partnership for Public Service, which has been tracking the process. That is far slower than recent predecessors, falling far short of the schedule originally outlined by Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who was Trump’s transition director before Trump ousted him 10 weeks ago.
None of this seemed to bother Trump. After arriving from New York, the president-elect trod down red-carpeted stairs from a government plane at Joint Base Andrews with his wife, Melania, and sped off to deliver a speech at a reception at his hotel near the White House. There, he said, his Cabinet nominees had “by far the highest IQ of any Cabinet assembled.”
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Later, he laid a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery and attended his Lincoln Memorial inaugural concert, saying that one had never been held there before, even though many similar events have taken place there.
To the unwavering supporters who were with him from the start, he promised: “You’re not forgotten any more. You’re not forgotten anymore,” adding, “I’ll see you tomorrow” as fireworks exploded into the evening sky.
Blocks away, the White House was quickly emptying out. President Obama had his final weekly lunch with Vice President Joe Biden and got in a few final official acts, cutting the sentences of 330 inmates and placing a call to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Trump campaigned on a platform of shaking up Washington, but his arrival began with two concessions to a city he may not inhabit full time: This week, he was forced to abandon his cherished “Trump” 757 for the presidential 747, and, according to people close to the transition, he has traded in his Android phone for a secure, encrypted device approved by the Secret Service with a new number that few people possess.
The official rationale was security. But some of Trump’s new aides, who have often been blindsided when a reporter, outside adviser or office seeker dialed the president-elect directly, expressed relief. Several of them, however, expect Trump to satisfy his compulsion for continuous communication by calling outsiders and by tramping from office to office in search of gossip and sounding boards.
Trump’s management style places unique strains on his top advisers, including Reince Priebus, Trump’s chief of staff, traditionally a gatekeeper’s post that has involved restricting the flow of people and paper to the Oval Office.
Priebus is navigating a West Wing crowded with powerful figures in their own right, including the president-elect’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who will always outweigh anyone else regardless of title; the chief strategist Stephen Bannon; the counselor Kellyanne Conway; Vice President-elect Mike Pence; and economic adviser Gary Cohn, the blunt former Goldman Sachs executive who is rising fast in Trump’s circle.
In a conference call with incoming staff this week, Priebus told midlevel aides they should avoid interacting with Trump without his permission, that they were prohibited from talking to the news media, and that they should carefully restrict their social-media posts, according to two people with knowledge of the call.
On Thursday, aides released names of more than a dozen appointments to the White House staff. Trump also named a friend, New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, to be ambassador to Britain.
Thursday’s hires notwithstanding, the halting pace of transition has alarmed senior Obama administration officials and some Republican lawmakers, who have repeatedly complained about the Trump team’s unwillingness to coordinate transition planning with them.
Since his election Nov. 8, Trump has had little interest in the minutiae of his transition, saying it was “bad karma” to get too involved, according to a person who spoke with him at the time. At one point, he wanted to halt the planning altogether, out of superstition, the person said.
“In 21 years of covering the State Department and in eight years of serving there, I’ve seen rocky transitions and experienced what feels like a hostile takeover, but I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank, and a former journalist and Bill Clinton administration official.
With rain in the forecast, the National Park Service announced it was easing its “no umbrella” policy for Friday, allowing collapsible umbrellas along the parade route and on the National Mall.
Trump was unfazed, telling donors Thursday night that if “it really pours that’s OK, because people will realize it’s my real hair. Might be a mess, but they’re going to see that it’s my real hair.”