Election News

Troubled times in Trump Tower as transition team stumbles forward

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(AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)

Pence, now running the transition team, ignored questions from reporters both as he entered Trump Tower, a thick binder tucked under his arm, and as he left six hours later. He took over from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who spent months running transition operations before his demotion last week.

The switch slowed Trump’s ability to coordinate with the White House. Not until Tuesday evening had Pence signed a memorandum of understanding facilitating interactions between his team and Obama administration officials. Christie had signed the document, but Pence’s promotion made it invalid. White House spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine said the administration was waiting on more documents required by law before agencies could begin sharing information with the transition team.

A person familiar with the transition efforts said different factions in Trump’s team “are fighting for power.”

Indeed, Trump effectively created two power centers in his White House even before taking office. He named Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus as his chief of staff and flame-throwing media mogul Steve Bannon as his chief strategist, but called them “equal partners.” Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner is also deeply involved in the transition, creating another layer of uncertainty about who is making decisions.

“That organization right now is not designed to work,” according to the person close to the efforts, who like others involved in the transition, insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the internal process.

Former GOP national security official Eliot Cohen blasted Trump’s team on Twitter, calling them “angry, arrogant.”

Cohen opposed Trump during the campaign, but in recent days, he said those who feel duty-bound to work in a Trump administration should do so. But he said Tuesday that after an exchange with Trump’s team, he had “changed my recommendation.”

Meanwhile, Trump made time to call New Zealand Prime Minister John Key to pass on his sympathies for the powerful earthquake there that killed two people. In the call, which was announced not by Trump’s office but by Key’s, the two also discussed New Zealand’s economy and trade issues.

With Trump’s team divided, emboldened Republicans on Capitol Hill moved forward with a united front. House Speaker Paul Ryan, a lukewarm Trump supporter during the campaign, unanimously won his GOP colleagues’ votes for another term at the helm of the House. He told fellow Republicans he had Trump’s support, and heralded “the dawn of a new, unified Republican government.”

Democrats, reeling from sweeping defeats in the election, focused their ire on Bannon, a man celebrated by the white nationalist movement.

“If Trump is serious about seeking unity, the first thing he should do is rescind his appointment of Steve Bannon,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said. “As long as a champion of racial division is a step away from the Oval Office, it would be impossible to take Trump’s efforts to heal the nation seriously.”

Trump’s team has defended Bannon and tried to put its focus on filling the top national security jobs. Trump’s selections will be the first signals to anxious international allies about the direction he plans to take U.S. foreign policy.

Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, a loyal Trump ally and immigration hard-liner, is said to be a contender for defense secretary.

Dawn Ennis contributed to this report.

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