Trump steers to right for his first choices
Civil rights leaders, Democrats especially critical of Sessions
WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump began filling his Cabinet on Friday with stalwarts of the right, signaling with a trio of top national security and law enforcement selections that he will aggressively pursue promises he made during the campaign that have caused deep anxiety among immigrant and Muslim communities.
Trump’s choices dimmed speculation that he would move to the center as he begins to govern a nation still deeply fractured and on edge, uncertain how the president-elect would proceed.
On Friday, Trump provided some clarity about his intentions.
Trump’s choice for attorney general, Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, is an anti-immigration crusader deeply disliked by civil rights activists.
The president-elect’s choice for national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, is an experienced warrior who has suggested that Americans should
fear all Muslims.
Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas, who got the nod for CIA director, broke with colleagues on the House Benghazi Committee to co-author a minority report accusing Hillary Clinton of a cover-up.
The choices renewed the rancor Trump set off earlier in the week when he named as his top White House strategist Stephen Bannon, the media executive who has aligned himself with white nationalists.
They presaged a contentious start to the Trump administration, with Democrats and civil rights activists vowing to use Senate hearings to put the spotlight on the controversial pasts of the selections who must be confirmed, which include Sessions and Pompeo.
Trump advisers and GOP lawmakers moved quickly to highlight moments in the careers of the men when they worked with colleagues across the aisle. They suggested that Friday’s announcements don’t necessarily indicate Trump is heading in a sharply ideological direction, as many more top spots have yet to be filled.
GOP establishment favorite and 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney, for example, is slated to meet with Trump this weekend, months after giving a speech arguing that Trump would be an unqualified and dangerous president. Trump is also talking with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, another favorite of moderates.
But the positioning did little to quiet an outcry, with the angriest and fiercest response directed at Sessions.
“If you have nostalgia for the days when blacks kept quiet, gays were in the closet, immigrants were invisible and women stayed in the kitchen, Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is your man,” Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, D-Ill., said in a statement.
Sessions, 69, was one of the earliest and Former presidential candidate and Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is expected to meet with Donald Trump over the weekend. most enthusiastic backers of Trump’s presidential bid. While he is generally liked by colleagues in both political parties, he is among the hardest-liners on immigration in Congress, and his selection ensures that the limits on immigration and expanded deportations that Trump called for during the campaign are likely to be at the forefront of his administration’s policies.
Sessions made racially insensitive remarks that cost him a federal judgeship in 1986, when the Senate Judiciary Committee drilled down on the comments. If confirmed to be attorney general, Sessions would lead an agency that under President Obama has waded aggressively into civil rights issues, particularly after the unrest South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is mentioned as one of the more moderate figures Donald Trump is considering for office and planning to speak with. sparked by the killings of black men by police officers in recent years.
Sessions’ Republican colleagues quickly closed ranks around him Friday, suggesting that his confirmation is likely. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky praised him, pointing to how Sessions has collaborated with some of the Senate’s most liberal lawmakers on legislation..
Incoming Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer of New York warned that his cordial relationship with Sessions, with whomhe exercises at the gym, does not give the nominee a pass on tough questioning. The appointment of Flynn, which does not require Senate confirmation, raised similar concerns of racial and ethnic animosity. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, put Flynn in the same category as Bannon, saying the two embody Trump’s “most divisive rhetoric.”
Flynn has been an outspoken critic of the Obama administration’s approach to Islamic militancy. He has argued that acts of terrorism committed by Muslims are rooted in mainstream Islamic faith. In February, Flynn tweeted a YouTube video that says all Muslims should be feared and lists bombings perpetrated by Muslims. “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL: please forward this to others: the truth fears no questions,” Flynn wrote.
“He is familiar with the complex set of security challenges we face,” Sen Jack Reed, D-R.I., the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, said in a statement. “And President-elect Trump does not have a lot of experience in this arena.” But Reed also expressed concern with comments Flynn made “in the heat of the campaign.”
Pompeo, a former Army officer and aerospace executive, was elected as part of the 2010 tea party wave election. He has defended as legal the CIA’s waterboarding and other torture, which Trump has said he wants to bring back over the objections of military and intelligence leaders.
Pompeo’s nomination to run the CIA “is profoundly disturbing,” Glenn Carle, a former senior officer who was involved in the CIA’s interrogation and detention program, said in a telephone interview from Dubai. Carle, who spent 23 years as a spy before retiring in 2007, has criticized the agency’s brutal treatment of detainees.
Democrats took a less hostile posture toward Pompeo than Trump’s other selections. The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, called Pompeo “very bright and hardworking.”
Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas has been chosen to head the CIA.
Sen. Jeff Sessions is to be nominated as attorney general.