- The Washington Times - Monday, November 21, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump isn’t putting together a team of rivals; he is interviewing an ensemble cast of characters — reaching across the aisle, into the business world and all the way to Hollywood as he puts together his administration.

He began the daylong series of interviews Monday at Trump Tower with a sit-down with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Hawaii Democrat known for bucking her party and challenging President Obama on confronting Islamic terrorism.

The president-elect ended the day with the release of a video message in which he touted the “patriots” coming forward to join the Trump administration and outlined plans for his first 100 days in the Oval Office.

“My agenda will be based on a simple core principle: putting America first,” he said. “Whether it’s producing steel, building cars or curing disease, I want the next generation of production and innovation to happen right here, in our great homeland, America — creating wealth and jobs for American workers.”

In his video, he promised to cancel the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal on his first day in office, to create jobs by lifting restrictions on energy production, to eliminate federal regulations by requiring two to be trimmed for every one added, to craft a strategy to combat cyberattacks, to crack down on the abuse of foreign worker visa programs and to impose lobbying bans on administration officials.

Eyeing Ms. Gabbard for a foreign policy or national security job in his administration was Mr. Trump’s latest unconventional move as he navigates the White House transition.

“Donald Trump is doing more reaching out and trying to come across the aisle than the Democrats are,” said Republican Party strategist and pollster Jim McLaughlin. “He gets it. He understands that he’s going to need Democratic votes, and he doesn’t want to make the same kind of mistakes that Barack Obama made — passing something like Obamacare without getting one Republican vote.”

Democrats in the mix include former D.C. Public Schools chief Michelle Rhee for education secretary and Hollywood superagent Ari Emanuel, who had Mr. Trump’s ear during interviews Sunday at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

Mr. Emanuel, brother of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Obamacare architect Ezekiel Emanuel, runs the Los Angeles talent agency that represented Mr. Trump when he starred in the reality TV show “The Apprentice.” The firm also bought the Miss Universe pageant from the Trump Organization when Mr. Trump launched his presidential campaign.

The Trump transition team would not say whether there was a potential role in the administration for Mr. Emanuel or if he would serve as an unofficial liaison to Hollywood.

Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to the Trump transition, said the candidates represent every facet of America.

“It’s been dozens of dozens of people who represent all walks of life, both political parties, both genders, different sexual orientations and religions, backgrounds, races and ethnicities. We’re quite excited,” she told reporters at Trump Tower.

Mr. Trump has been the target of sharp criticism of the transition operation during the two weeks since the election, from speculation about chaos consuming the transition team to complaints that he is moving too slowly.

The billionaire real estate mogul has been accused of turning the transition process into a spectacle of reality TV proportions.

Mr. Trump’s favorable rating, however, has jumped 9 percentage points since the election and now sits at 46 percent, according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll released Monday.

Just prior to the election, 37 percent of Americans had a favorable opinion of Mr. Trump and 61 percent had an unfavorable opinion.

“Trump’s favorability among voters has reached new highs since he became president-elect,” said Morning Consult co-founder and chief research officer Kyle Dropp. “This honeymoon phase is common for new presidents. For example, Obama saw about a 20-point swing in his favor following the 2008 election.”

Republican political consultant Doug Heye, who was a loud voice in the Never Trump crowd during the campaign, said Mr. Trump deserves credit for taking the transition by the horns.

“By definition, it is a chaotic process,” Mr. Heye said. “The reaction for a week was this is a ‘Game of Thrones’ knife fight. But eight years ago we were told Barack Obama had a team of rivals and what a brilliant move that was and how much the country was going to benefit from it.”

“Obviously, the two are being looked at and treated in completely different ways,” he said. “He’s moved faster than anyone else has. I would actually encourage him to slow down a little bit.”

Mr. Trump, who has bashed the news media as much as it has bashed him, met with top executives and anchors from all the major news networks, including ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News.

“There was no need to mend fences. It was off-the-record meeting,” Mrs. Conway said. “It was very cordial, very productive, very congenial. It was also very candid and very honest. From my own perspective, it’s great to hit the reset button. It was a long, hard-fought campaign. Donald Trump proved that he animated America. He understood America, and now he will be the president of all Americans.”

In recent days, Mr. Trump also has brought in fierce opponents from within the Republican Party establishment for transition interviews. He met Monday with former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who called Mr. Trump a “cancer on conservatism” but now is angling for a job running the Energy or Defense Department.

Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee who denounced Mr. Trump and pleaded for Republicans to abandon him during this year’s race, is getting a look for secretary of state.

Mr. Trump has met with several business titans. He is getting advice from investment giant Wilbur L. Ross, who is known for saving failing companies in the coal, steel, textile and telecommunication industries.

He met with Blackstone Group’s global real estate boss Jonathan Gray, who donated the maximum amount to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign but now is under consideration for Treasury secretary in the Trump administration.

Ms. Gabbard, the first Hindu member of Congress and an Army veteran who serves on the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees, is believed to be under consideration for a post in the Defense Department, the State Department or the United Nations.

She caused a furor in her party during the presidential campaign when she quit the Democratic National Committee to support Sen. Bernard Sanders and oppose Hillary Clinton, the eventual nominee.

She also has called out Mr. Obama for refusing to say “radical Islamic terrorism,” which was also a common criticism from Mr. Trump on the campaign trail.

After the meeting, Ms. Gabbard released a statement saying Mr. Trump brought her in to discuss policies regarding Syria and fighting terrorist groups such as the Islamic State.

She said she argued against interventionist policies and wanted to make her views known “before the drumbeats of war that neocons have been beating drag us into an escalation of the war to overthrow the Syrian government.”

“While the rules of political expediency would say I should have refused to meet with President-elect Trump, I never have and never will play politics with American and Syrian lives,” she said.

Mr. Trump also has spoken against interventionist policies, including the U.S.-led Iraq War.

Ms. Gabbard described the exchange as a “frank and positive conversation.”

“For years, the issue of ending interventionist, regime change warfare has been one of my top priorities. This was the major reason I ran for Congress. I saw firsthand the cost of war and the lives lost due to the interventionist warmongering policies our country has pursued for far too long,” she said.

“Let me be clear,” said Ms. Gabbard: “I will never allow partisanship to undermine our national security when the lives of countless people lay in the balance.”

David Sherfinski contributed to this report.

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