WASHINGTON – Josh Bolten, former chief of staff to President George W. Bush, applauded the Trump transition team for considering a “diverse crowd” of candidates for cabinet positions in a transparent way.
“I think it’s refreshing. Now I came from an administration that held the names of people that were being considered very tightly and it was basically a genuine secret until it was announced, each cabinet announcement, that President-elect Bush made at the end of 2000 and in 2001. The Obama folks handled things a bit differently,” Bolten said during a Council on Foreign Relations discussion, “Navigating the U.S. Presidential Transition.”
“They also kept it secret, but then they would leak the name of the likely nominee a day or two before they planned to announce it and see how things went, which was a pretty smart way to do it and I think everybody made it through. But I like what the Trump people are doing in very publicly parading folks out,” he added.
Bolten said the Trump transition team has shown “open-mindedness” in its approach to building the administration.
“Trump has promised to bring kind of a new feel to governance and to Washington, and if one of the new things that he brings is a greater sense of transparency and access I am all for it. There’s also something about the Trump candidacy itself about which many people were frightened – that it would be a narrow, non-inclusive range of people that would be giving advice to the new president,” he said.
“Even if they don’t pick some of these folks I think it’s great we are seeing this diverse crowd including Democrats, including Mitt Romney, who said such horrible things about Trump during the campaign – and Trump about him. I think it’s great we are seeing him go through the front door being considered for secretary of State even if he is not appointed. It suggests to me there is an open-mindedness and a sensitivity to inclusiveness that was not evident to many people during the campaign,” he added. Former Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (R-Tenn.) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) are said to be under consideration for cabinet posts.
Bolten encouraged establishment Republicans who are mulling whether or not to join the Trump administration to give the president-elect and his team a chance.
“Without compromising principle at least on a regular basis – well, you go into government and you’re always having to do things you disagree with, there’s no question about that. But you certainly don’t violate any moral principles – but I think people can go in and give this administration a chance, see how it goes,” he said. “I think these are all public-spirited people. I think it’s their duty to go in and serve and help this administration be the best it can possibly be so I am not ambiguous on that question. Most of the people with whom I served in government strenuously opposed Donald Trump. I would be thrilled to see most or all of them serving in the Trump administration now.”
Bolten also said there are some “exciting prospects” for Trump’s term including an opportunity to pass a tax reform package.
“We have a real chance to do serious tax reform that has evaded us for 30 years. It has been literally 30 years since a major tax reform has been done in this country,” he said.
Thomas “Mack” McLarty III, former White House chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, said he is interested in seeing how Trump reaches out to the Democratic side of the aisle during his time in office.
“Even with the Republicans having the majority in the House and the Senate and the White House, you still are going to need votes from the Democratic Party to get much of your legislation passed,” he said.
The panelists were asked which appointment they are following the closest. McLarty and Bill Daley, former White House chief of staff to President Obama, both said they are looking forward to finding out who Trump is going to choose as U.S. trade representative.
“Now, having been a cabinet person, most of the people under them do all of the work so they are much more important than the person who becomes cabinet secretary. So I can’t think of someone but I agree with Mack: a real indication on the economic team won’t be so much the Treasury secretary as it will be the USTR,” Daley said.
Bolten encouraged the public to follow Trump’s appointments for White House positions, such as the assistants to the president, since they do not require a confirmation.
“Those are the positions worth watching because those are the people who will have an opportunity to speak to the president on at least a weekly if not daily basis,” he said.