An article in Time called President-elect Donald Trump’s transition “chaotic,” while The New York Times asserted that Trump’s transition team is plagued by “discord” and “disarray.”
Politico quoted an anonymous insider saying the transition team was having a “knife fight” when it comes to filling Cabinet posts.
If very recent history is a guide, it might be too early to tell whether the Trump transition is any more or less organized than that of other president-elects, since nearly all recent presidents going back to at least Jimmy Carter made Cabinet announcements in December, with a handful of exceptions.
We hadn’t made any major appointments at this point in 2008. I don’t remember being criticized for it. https://t.co/3yXvA8g6bL
— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) November 17, 2016
During a conference call with reporters Thursday, Trump transition team spokesman Jason Miller said the incoming administration isn’t rushing the Cabinet decisions.
“The president-elect will be announcing specific Cabinet positions, as well as key administration staff, when those decisions are made,” Miller said. “The focus of the administration is putting together the best team. It is not an arbitrary time table. It is about getting it right.”
“It does make me laugh at all the stories you guys are writing about, ‘Oh, the transition team is in disarray.’” @Raul_Labrador says.
In response to some of the media coverage, Trump tweeted the transition was a “Very organized process taking place as I decide on Cabinet and many other positions. I am the only one who knows who the finalists are!”
The Associated Press reported late Thursday that Trump had offered retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn the job of national security adviser. The position is not a cabinet post, but has traditionally been one of the highest ranking jobs in any administration.
Among names to being considered for the Cabinet are either former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Trump loyalist, and Trump critic former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are being considered for secretary of state, while Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Trump’s chief GOP primary opponent, is reportedly under consideration for attorney general.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, a former Alabama state attorney general and U.S. attorney, met with Trump on Thursday, and a transition team press release said Trump is “unbelievably impressed” with his record.
Richard Nixon was the last president to name his entire Cabinet during the first six weeks after being elected, according to Fox News.
Winning an election amid a financial crisis in 2008, President-elect Barack Obama made his first cabinet announcement, Timothy Geithner for secretary of treasury, on Nov. 24.
Aside from that, Obama’s earliest announcements came on Dec. 1, with Hillary Clinton as secretary of state pick, Janet Napolitano as his selection secretary of homeland security, and Eric Holder as his choice for attorney general. Obama also announced that same day he would keep Bush Defense Secretary Robert Gates on board.
Obama abandoned later December announcements, such as plans to name Tom Daschle to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, and making Bill Richardson commerce secretary. Announcements for those jobs came in early 2009 after controversies—demonstrating a less than smooth transition.
Former Obama adviser David Axelrod tweeted, “Lots of reasons to be concerned about @realDonaldTrump transition but the pace of announcements isn’t one of them. That’s not fair.” After some reaction, Axelrod later tweeted Thursday, “We hadn’t made any major appointments at this point in 2008. I don’t remember being criticized for it.”
December announcements for president-elects have been the general rule for Cabinet announcements for all recent presidents going back to at least Carter, according to the U.S. Senate.
There were other rare exceptions.
President-elect George H.W. Bush, having been vice president for eight years, announced Nov. 9, 1988, that his longtime confidante James Baker would be secretary of state.
Later that month, Bush also announced that Ronald Reagan’s Attorney General Richard Thornburgh, Reagan Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady, and Reagan Education Secretary Lauro Cavazos Jr. would remain in their posts. This made for an easier transition than most.
“All changes and all transitions are in disarray,” Craig Shirley, a presidential historian and bestselling author, told The Daily Signal in a phone interview. “This is a big job to change governments. Ronald Reagan had a rocky transition. Bill Clinton had a very rough transition. John F. Kennedy’s transition was very controversial after he announced his brother would be attorney general.”
Nevertheless, CBS News noted, “The White House is still waiting to receive a list of relevant names from Mr. Trump’s transition office so that individuals can begin interfacing with relevant agencies between now and January 20.”
While another New York Times piece remarked, “He may not yet have nominated a single Cabinet member, or sent emissaries to the federal agencies, or held a news conference as president-elect, but Mr. Trump does have a presidential inaugural committee lined up.”
The Trump campaign planned less before the election than 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, whose preemptively transition plotting didn’t work out, Rep. Raúl Labrador, R-Idaho, told reporters Wednesday.
During a Conversation With Conservatives gathering sponsored by The Heritage Foundation, Labrador said:
Donald Trump wanted to win the election rather than spend all his time talking about the transition. In fact, I was with him when one of his team members started talking about the transition and he said, ‘I don’t want to talk about this, I don’t want to jinx this. I want to move forward and talk about how we’re going to win this election.’ I appreciate that. It does mean it delays the transition by a little bit. But it does make me laugh at all the stories you guys are writing about, ‘Oh, the transition team is in disarray. Blah, blah, blah.’ It’s a difficult job to transition from a campaign to being the chief executive of the United States. Let’s give him an opportunity to be successful.
President George W. Bush announced his first Cabinet secretary nominations on Dec. 16, 2000, somewhat later than previous presidents because of the prolonged post-election that year, with the news that Colin Powell was his choice for secretary of state.
On Dec. 20, 2000, Bush made four more announcements, including Paul O’Neil as his pick to be treasury secretary, and others before the end of the year. Bush finished with three more announcements on Jan. 2, 2001.
President-elect Bill Clinton announced his first Cabinet pick, Lloyd Bentsen as treasury secretary, on Dec. 10, 1992. A day later, he announced Donna Shalala as his pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services and Robert Reich to be labor secretary.
On Dec. 11, 1980, Reagan announced his choices of William French Smith to be attorney general, Caspar Weinberger as defense secretary, Richard Schweiker as secretary of health and human services, Malcolm Baldridge to be commerce secretary, Andrew Lewis as transportation secretary, and Donald Regan as treasury secretary.
On the same day, Reagan also announced his choice of William Casey to lead the CIA and David Stockman to be the director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Carter announced that Cyrus Vance was his choice for secretary of state on Dec. 3, 1976, and made subsequent announcements later in the month.