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Combative Trump: ‘How Does The Press Get This Information?’

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The first gripe came three minutes into President Donald Trump’s first solo press conference on Thursday, when he accused reporters of ignoring a poll showing him with a 55 percent approval rating – a figure at odds with most other surveys.

From there, the president’s criticism of the media went from barbed to personal in a cutting assessment of what he viewed as unfair coverage of his first few weeks in office – a period that has seen a succession of crises.

On a day when he ceded a loss over a signature policy in a federal appeals court, had to replace his labor secretary pick and faced questions over the resignation of his national security adviser, Trump chose to make the media a central focus of an unusually long and combative presidential news conference.

When asked by journalists of contacts between his presidential campaign and Russian operatives, he deflected the questions and put the focus instead on what he described as “illegal” government leaks and “dishonest” media coverage.

“The press is out of control,” he said. “The level of dishonesty is out of control,”

After weeks of disclosures in newspapers over turmoil in his administration, he told one reporter to “sit down” for a rambling question.

“Tomorrow, they will say: ‘Donald Trump rants and raves at the press,'” Trump said. “I’m not ranting and raving. I’m just telling you. You know, you’re dishonest people. But I’m not ranting and raving. I love this. I’m having a good time

doing it.”

Trump’s message in the 77-minute session appeared aimed at the same voters who elected him president last November, a large number of whom feel Washington has left them behind and who like his image as an outsider trying to shake up the establishment.

He sought to cast problems buffeting the White House as “the mess” he inherited from former Democratic President Barack Obama, and boasted about the “fine-tuned administration” he is running.

In one unusual exchange near the end of the news conference, Trump called on a questioner, asking if he was “a friendly reporter.”

When the journalist asked about recent threats to 48 Jewish centers across the country and signs of rising anti-Semitism, Trump appeared to take the question personally, replying: “I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life.”

He added he was also the “least racist person,” told the reporter to be “quiet,” accused him of lying, and then dismissed the question as “insulting.”

Most opinion polls show Trump struggling with low approval numbers less than a month into his presidency. A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted February 10 to 14 gave Trump a 46 percent approval rating.

While many presidencies have started off on rocky ground, Trump’s administration has been particularly marked by controversies, fights with the media, and a legal battle over an executive order to ban people temporarily from seven Muslim-majority countries.

“I turn on the TV and open the newspapers and I see stories of chaos, chaos. And yet, it is the exact opposite,” Trump said.

Trump waved away questions about a New York Times report that members of his campaign team had frequent contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials last year.

His main complaint was that the news media had uncovered leaks about intercepted communications between Michael Flynn, ousted this week as national security adviser and Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kisylak, and leaks about his own conversations with the leaders of Mexico and Australia.

“The first thing I thought of, how does the press get this information?” he asked.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton and Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Jason Szep and Peter Cooney)

IMAGE: President Donald Trump holds a news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 16, 2017.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Angry Trump Dismisses Russia Controversy As ‘Scam’ By Hostile Media

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump dismissed a growing controversy about ties between his aides and Russia on Thursday as a “ruse” and “scam” perpetrated by a hostile news media, and denied that any of his associates had contacts with Moscow before last year’s election.

“The leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake,” Trump told a news conference, referring to media reports that his presidential campaign team had contacts with Russian intelligence officials.

Trump, who frequently assailed the news media, also said he had not directed his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, to talk to Russia’s ambassador about U.S. sanctions before taking office.

Trump said he had asked the Justice Department to look into the leaks of “classified information that was given illegally” to journalists regarding the relationship between his aides and Russia.

He also said he did not think that Putin was taking actions that would test him early in his term in office.

Trump, who took office on Jan. 20 and has voiced support for improved ties with Russia, added that he personally had no business deals in that country.

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that phone call records and intercepted calls showed members of Trump’s presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the Nov. 8 election in which Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Pressed by reporters about whether he was aware if any member of his presidential campaign team had contacts with Russia before the election, the Republican president said, “Nobody that I know of.”

Wary Democratic lawmakers challenged Republicans, who control Congress, on Thursday to conduct a credible investigation into contacts between Trump’s associates and Russia. The process could take months and might never be made public.

U.S. intelligence agencies last year concluded that Russia hacked and leaked Democratic emails during the election campaign as part of an effort to tilt the vote in Trump’s favor.

Trump has spoken admiringly of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had a tense relationship with former President Barack Obama over Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, Russian military actions in Syria, and other matters. Even fellow Republicans have expressed unease about Trump’s comments about Putin.

Flynn, a close adviser to Trump during his campaign, was seen by Moscow as a leading advocate of warmer ties with Russia. Trump fired Flynn on Monday after the retired lieutenant general misled Vice President Mike Pence about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador to the United States, before Trump took office, regarding U.S. sanctions on Moscow.

Obama imposed the new sanctions on Russia on Dec. 29 after the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion about Moscow interference in the election campaign. A U.S. official familiar with the transcripts of the calls with the ambassador said Flynn indicated that if Russia did not retaliate, that could smooth the way toward a broader discussion of improving U.S.-Russian relations once Trump took power.

This was potentially illegal under a law barring unauthorized private citizens from interfering in disputes the United States has with other countries.

DEFENDING FLYNN

Trump forcefully defended Flynn’s discussion with the Russian ambassador.

“What he did wasn’t wrong,” Trump said.

“Mike was doing his job. He was calling countries and his counterparts. So, it certainly would have been OK with me if he did it. … I didn’t direct him, but I would have directed him because that’s his job,” Trump said.

“No, I didn’t direct him, but I would have directed him if he didn’t do it. OK?” Trump said, who said the problem was Flynn’s having misled Pence.

Trump again expressed interest in improving ties with Moscow but he said it remains to be seen whether that can occur.

“I would love to be able to get along with Russia,” Trump said. “… But it’s possible I won’t be able to get along with Putin.”

A wealthy new York real estate developer with global business interests, Trump also portrayed himself as having no ties to Russia.

“I can tell you, speaking for myself, I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don’t have any deals in Russia,” Trump said.

Critics of the president have called on him since the days of the election campaign to release his tax returns, saying this would shed more light on his business dealings. Trump has said that he will not do so while his tax affairs are under audit by the Internal Revenue Service.

“I have nothing to do with Russia, haven’t made a phone call to Russia in years, don’t speak to people from Russia. Not that I wouldn’t. I just have nobody to speak to,” Trump added.

Trump’s defense secretary, Jim Mattis, told reporters after talks at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Thursday that he did not see possible military collaboration with Russia now, in a blow to Moscow’s hopes to mend ties with Washington after Trump’s election.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Frances Kerry)

IMAGE: U.S. President Donald Trump answers questions during a news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 16, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Will Trump’s National Security Adviser Flynn Survive Russia Controversy?

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, is struggling to get past a controversy over his contacts with Russian officials before Trump took office, conversations that officials said have raised concerns within the White House.

Top White House officials have been reviewing over the weekend Flynn’s contacts with the Russians and whether he discussed the possibility of lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia once Trump took office, which could potentially be in violation of a law banning private citizens from engaging in foreign policy.

Flynn is a retired U.S. army general and former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. An early supporter of Trump, he has been a leading advocate to improve U.S. relations with Russia.

Flynn had initially denied discussing sanctions with the Russians in the weeks before Trump took office Jan. 20 and Vice President Mike Pence went before the television cameras to repeat the denial and defend Flynn.

When a Washington Post report emerged last week quoting officials saying the subject of sanctions had in fact come up, Flynn left open the possibility that he had discussed sanctions but could not remember with 100 percent certainty, an administration official said.

A second administration official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, stressed that Pence made his comments based on a conversation with Flynn. Pence is said to be troubled by the possibility of being misled.

Flynn has apologized to Pence and others over the incident, the first official said.

A third official said the uproar prompted White House chief of staff Reince Priebus to review the matter with other top officials as Trump played host to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over the weekend in Florida.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

There was no indication from transcripts of Flynn’s conversations that he had promised to lift the sanctions but rather he made more general comments about hoping for better U.S.-Russian relations with Trump, the third official said.

Trump has yet to weigh in on the subject, promising to reporters on Friday that he would look into it. Reporters are expected to ask him about Flynn at a press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday.

There was a sense among some officials that while Flynn was on thin ice, he did not appear to be in imminent danger of losing his position, the third official said.

Even so, there were no loud voices speaking up for him. Trump senior policy adviser Stephen Miller was asked on Meet the Press on Sunday whether Trump had confidence in Flynn.

“It’s not for me to tell you what’s in the president’s mind,” Miller said.

(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Mary Milliken)

IMAGE: Former Defense Intelligence Agency Director retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, incoming White House national security adviser, speaks at the U.S. Institute of Peace “2017 Passing the Baton” conference in Washington, U.S., January 10, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Vice President Pence To Lead Voter Fraud Panel

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said in remarks broadcast on Sunday that he would put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of a commission to probe what he believes was voter fraud in last November’s election.

There is an overwhelming consensus among state officials, election experts, and politicians that voter fraud is rare in the United States, but Trump has repeatedly said he thinks perhaps millions of votes cast in the Nov. 8 election were fraudulent.

“I’m going to set up a commission to be headed by Vice President Pence and we’re going to look at it very, very carefully,” Trump told Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly in an interview taped on Friday.

Trump, who was spending the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, captured the presidency by winning enough of the state-by-state Electoral College votes to defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Still, Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, piling up an overwhelming majority in deeply Democratic states like California. This has irked Trump and as a result he has claimed voter fraud without evidence.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that election fraud does occur but that “there is no evidence that it occurred in such a significant number that would have changed the presidential election.”

“And I don’t think we ought to spend any federal money investigating that. I think the states can take a look at this issue,” he said.

(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

IMAGE: (L-R) U.S. President Donald J. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence greet one another on stage during the 2017 “Congress of Tomorrow” Joint Republican Issues Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. January 26, 2017.  REUTERS/Mark Makela

Schumer Warns HHS Nominee Price May Have Violated Stock Act

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to run the Department of Health and Human Services may have broken the law by making a stock purchase just before he introduced legislation that would have benefited the firm, the Senate’s leading Democrat charged on Tuesday.

A confirmation hearing for Tom Price, a Republican congressman and orthopedic surgeon from Georgia, was scheduled for Wednesday before the Senate Health Committee. If confirmed, he would be a key player in carrying out Trump’s plans to overhaul Democratic President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law.

CNN reported on Sunday that Price bought between $1,001 and $15,000 worth of shares last March in Zimmer Biomet Holdings Inc., a medical device manufacturer.

Days later, he introduced legislation in the House of Representatives that would have delayed a regulation that could have ultimately damaged the company, CNN said.

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the leader of the Democratic minority in the Senate, called on the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate whether Price had violated the 2012 Stock Act, a law designed to combat insider trading.

Schumer said Price’s Zimmer Biomet purchase may have been in violation of that law. “It may be that this trade was illegal,” Schumer said on the Senate floor on Tuesday afternoon.

The Trump transition team said late on Monday that the stock purchase was directed not by Price but by a broker and that the congressman himself did not become aware of the stock buy until well after the legislation was introduced.

The transition team urged CNN to retract the story.

“Any effort to connect the introduction of bipartisan legislation by Dr. Price to any campaign contribution is demonstrably false,” said transition spokesman Phil Blando.

Schumer did not sound convinced. “Now they say there’s a broker, it’s kind of strange that this broker would pick this stock totally independently of him introducing legislation that’s so narrow and specific to this company,” Schumer told CNN on Tuesday.

Sean Spicer, who will serve as Trump’s White House spokesman, defended Price. “Regarding dem attacks on @RepTomPrice: this is a stock trade worth $300. You couldn’t get into a @SenSchumer fundraiser for that amount,” Spicer said in a tweet.

Another sign of trouble for Republicans in the healthcare arena emerged on Tuesday when the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said a repeal of Obamacare – a top priority of both Trump and congressional Republicans – would increase the number of people without health insurance by 18 million in the first year.

That number would grow to 32 million by the year 2026 and premiums would double in that time, the CBO said.

The report based its analysis on a Republican repeal bill that was passed a year ago but vetoed by Obama. Republicans say the same bill is the blueprint for the repeal effort now under way in Congress.

But House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, characterized the CBO projection as “meaningless.” He said it did not take into account measures under consideration to replace the law or “actions that the incoming administration will take to revitalize the individual (insurance) market that has been decimated by Obamacare.”

Price, an ardent advocate of Obamacare repeal, is one of eight Trump Cabinet nominees who will face Senate confirmation hearings this week. The hearings started on Tuesday with Ryan Zinke, a Republican congressman from Montana tapped for interior secretary, and Republican philanthropist Betsy DeVos, the nominee for education secretary.

Trump’s presidential inauguration is on Friday and his team is hoping to have as many of his nominees as possible, perhaps as many as seven, confirmed by then.

Price, however, will not be one of them. A second Senate panel, the Finance Committee, must also hold a hearing and a vote on Price’s nomination, and it has not yet scheduled its hearing.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)

IMAGE: Rep. Tom Price (R-GA)  has been named secretary of health and human services.
REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Draining The Swamp? Trump’s Health Pick Accused Of Insider Trading

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team defended his nominee for health and human services (HHS) secretary, Tom Price, from charges that he bought shares in a company days before introducing legislation that would have benefited the firm.

A Senate confirmation hearing is scheduled for Wednesday for Price, a Republican congressman from Georgia who, if confirmed, would be a lead agent in carrying out Trump’s plans to overhaul President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.

CNN reported on Sunday that Price bought between $1,001 and $15,000 worth of shares last March in Zimmer Biomet Holdings Inc, a medical device manufacturer.

Days later, he introduced legislation to the House of Representatives that would have delayed a regulation that could have ultimately damaged the company, CNN said.

The Trump transition team said late on Monday that the stock purchase was directed not by Price but by a broker and that Price himself did not become aware of the stock buy until well after the legislation was introduced.

“Any effort to connect the introduction of bipartisan legislation by Dr Price to any campaign contribution is demonstrably false,” said transition spokesman Phil Blando.

“The only pattern we see emerging is that Senate Democrats and their liberal media allies cannot abide by the notion that Dr. Tom Price is uniquely qualified to lead HHS and will stop at nothing to smear his reputation,” he said.

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the leader of the Democratic minority in the Senate, called on the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate whether Price had violated the 2012 Stock Act, a law designed to combat insider trading.

“The President-elect claims he wants to drain the swamp, but Congressman Price has spent his career filling it up,” Schumer said in a statement.

Price is one of eight Trump Cabinet nominees who will face Senate confirmation hearings this week, starting on Tuesday with Ryan Zinke, a Republican Montana congressman pegged as interior secretary, and Republican philanthropist Betsy DeVos who is the education nominee.

Trump’s presidential inauguration is on Friday and his team is hoping to have as many of his nominees as possible, perhaps as many as seven, confirmed by then.

(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Randy Fabi)

IMAGE: markn3tel via Flickr.com

Monica Crowley Declines National Security Post Amid Plagiarism Reports

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Monica Crowley, the foreign policy adviser tapped for a White House job under President-elect Donald Trump, will relinquish the post, a transition official told Reuters on Monday.

A Fox News and talk radio personality, Crowley had been chosen to serve as senior director of strategic communications at the National Security Council. Her appointment had been shadowed by reports of plagiarism in news outlets including CNN and Politico.

“After much reflection I have decided to remain in New York to pursue other opportunities and will not be taking a position in the incoming administration,” she said in a statement quoted by the Washington Times.

“I greatly appreciate being asked to be part of President-elect Trump’s team and I will continue to enthusiastically support him and his agenda for American renewal.”

A CNN review found this month that Crowley plagiarized thousands of words of her 2000 dissertation for her Columbia University Ph.D.

In addition, Politico reported that it found more than a dozen examples of plagiarism in Crowley’s Ph.D. dissertation.

She had been hired to work for Trump’s national security adviser, retired General Michael Flynn, who said in a statement quoted by the Washington Times that he will miss the opportunity to have Crowley on his team.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by James Dalgleish)

Top Senate Democrat Says Trump’s Nominees Need ‘Thorough’ Vetting

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The top Democrat in the U.S. Senate, Chuck Schumer, decried what he called undue haste to confirm President-elect Donald Trump’s nominations for various top posts, saying on Monday they needed more thorough vetting.

Hearings start on Tuesday for the Republican president-elect’s choices for senior administration posts, beginning with U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions, nominated to be attorney general, and retired General John Kelly, Trump’s pick for secretary of homeland security.

Schumer said Trump’s nominees, many of whom have extensive business backgrounds at companies such as Exxon Mobil Corp and Goldman Sachs, should be carefully scrutinized to be sure they avoid conflicts of interest.

“We’re not doing this for sport. Democrats feel very strongly that pushing for a thorough and thoughtful vetting process is the right thing to do,” Schumer said in a speech.

Republicans, who control the majority in the Senate, are presenting the Democratic objections as political grandstanding, saying they moved quickly eight years ago to confirm Democratic President Barack Obama’s Cabinet picks, approving seven the day he began his first term.

Schumer said some of Trump’s nominees have not completed a review process conducted by the U.S. Office of Government Ethics.

Trump transition spokesman Sean Spicer said on Monday that every nominee with a hearing this week has turned in the required paperwork.

“Everybody will be properly vetted as they have been in the past,” said U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, speaking in New York after meeting with Trump on Monday. He said he hoped to confirm six or seven national security appointees by the time Trump takes office on Jan. 20.

Trump needs to keep the 52 Republicans in the 100-seat Senate on his side to secure the simple majority votes needed for confirmations.

One of the more contentious hearings could be over Rex Tillerson, nominated for secretary of state. Trump’s stated desire for warmer relations with Russia comes at a deeply sensitive moment, after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Moscow used cyber hacking and other methods to try to tilt the U.S. presidential election in Trump’s favor over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Republicans including U.S. Senator John McCain and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, veterans in foreign policy and security issues, have signaled concerns about Tillerson’s ties to Russia during his tenure as the chief executive of Exxon Mobil. Transition officials expressed confidence that Tillerson would win the pair’s support.

Sessions is also likely to face a thorough grilling, with critics arguing he obstructed civil rights protections in the past.

Democrats are likely to question nominees for positions related to national security about Trump’s proposal to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico and his pledge to temporarily suspend immigration from regions deemed to be exporting terrorism.

The Trump team has put the nominees through mock hearings that are standard practice ahead of such events. Questions have included the kind of everyday concerns that periodically upset nominees for high office, such as the price of a gallon of gas. Each mock-up has also included at least one disruptive pretend protester, a transition official said.

Transition officials say they believe they could pick up Democratic votes from senators facing 2018 re-election bids in states Trump won on Nov. 8, such as U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

Trump voiced optimism about the process on Monday, telling reporters at his office and residence in New York, “The confirmation is going great. I think they’ll all pass.”

(Reporting by Steve Holland, additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Emily Stephenson in Washington and Laila Kearney in New York; Editing by Howard Goller and Frances Kerry)

IMAGE: U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks with reporters after the weekly Senate Democratic caucus luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on Washington, U.S. January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Despite Ethics Concerns, Senate Holds Confirmation Hearings For Trump’s Cabinet Posts

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senate confirmation hearings this week for President-elect Donald Trump’s nominees for top jobs – from secretary of state to attorney general – should provide a test of his ability to work with fellow Republicans in Congress to enact his agenda.

Trump’s challenge is to ensure the 100-member Senate’s 52 Republicans stick together to confirm his Cabinet choices to provide a smooth transition to power when the real estate magnate takes over from Democratic President Barack Obama on Jan. 20.

A total of seven confirmation hearings are expected this week, starting on Tuesday with hearings for U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions on his bid to become attorney general and a session for retired Gen. John Kelly, Trump’s pick for secretary of homeland security.

Both present opposition Democrats the opportunity to raise questions about Trump’s immigration proposals, such as his vow to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico and a pledge to temporarily suspend immigration from regions deemed to be exporting terrorism.

The hearings are likely to show how well Trump – a newcomer to elected office – and his team are at holding Republicans in line as he prepares an expansive legislative agenda that includes reworking Obama’s signature healthcare law and tax reform.

“I think you’re going to see Senate Republicans by and large rally around Trump’s nominees and that will set the tone hopefully for a cooperative and productive relationship going forward,” said Republican strategist Ryan Williams.

“That will foster goodwill and collaboration that will allow the administration to work with Republicans because inevitably there will be differences and they will have to address them at some point,” he said.

Five more nominees have hearings on Wednesday, the same day Trump is to stage in New York his first news conference since being elected president.

The five include Rex Tillerson, the nominee for secretary of state; Betsy DeVos, for education secretary; CIA director designate Mike Pompeo; commerce pick Wilbur Ross; and Labor nominee Andrew Puzder.

Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said he believed all would ultimately be confirmed.

“We have an unbelievable all-star group of nominees,” he said. “I think each one of them is going to be confirmed with not only Republican votes but with Democratic votes as well.”

MOCK SESSIONS, MOCK PROTESTERS

To get them ready for tough questions, the Trump team has put the nominees through mock hearings in a room on the sixth floor of a government building in downtown Washington that is being used for transition activities.

The practice sessions have covered the gamut of what type of questions the nominees should expect, including everyday concerns like the price of a gallon of gas.

Each mock hearing has also included at least one mock protester who has tried to disrupt the proceedings, a transition official said.

Nominees have held more than 300 meetings with U.S. senators and met 87 of the 100 members of the Senate, including 37 Democrats. They have spent more than 70 hours participating in mock hearings.

Democrats have raised concerns that several nominees have not yet completed an ethics review process demanded by the congressional Office of Government Ethics, but there was no sign that this would lead to a delay.

Transition officials believe some Democratic senators facing potentially tough re-election bids in 2018 in states that Trump won, such as U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, might be more willing to give Trump’s nominees the benefit of the doubt.

Tillerson’s hearing could be one of the more contentious sessions since Trump wants to warm up relations with Russia despite its use of cyber hacking, according to U.S. intelligence, to try to tilt the U.S. election for Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Some Republicans like U.S. Senator John McCain of Arizona and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have signaled concerns about Tillerson’s ties to Russia during his tenure as the CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that he was not surprised by Trump’s bid to reset U.S. relations with Moscow.

“I remember (President) George W. Bush having the same hope. My suspicion is these hopes will be dashed pretty quickly,” he said.

Still, transition officials expressed confidence that Tillerson would win over McCain and Graham to make for a smooth confirmation as the top U.S. diplomat.

(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Mary Milliken)

IMAGE: Donald Trump sits with U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York, U.S., October 7, 2016.  REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

Trump Says Rep. Mulvaney To Be White House Budget Director

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) – President-elect Donald Trump said on Saturday he has chosen U.S. Representative Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina to be his White House budget director, turning to a fiscal conservative to help pursue his policy agenda.

The nomination to be director of the White House Office of Budget and Management will require Senate confirmation. The announcement was made as Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20, began his holiday vacation at Mar-a-Lago, his oceanfront club in nearby Palm Beach, Florida.

Mulvaney, 49, was an outspoken critic of former House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, who resigned in 2015 amid opposition from fellow Republicans who were members of the House Freedom Caucus.

Mulvaney’s selection points to a strategy by Trump to cut government where he can. The president-elect in recent days has, for example, railed against what he has labeled a far too expensive new version of the Air Force One aircraft he will fly that Boeing is supposed to build.

In a statement announcing his selection, Trump called Mulvaney a strong voice in Congress for “reining in out-of-control spending, fighting government waste and enacting tax policies that will allow working Americans to thrive.”

“With Mick at the head of OMB, my administration is going to make smart choices about America’s budget, bring new accountability to our federal government, and renew the American taxpayer’s trust in how their money is spent,” Trump said.

Mulvaney said the Trump administration “will restore budgetary and fiscal sanity back in Washington”.

“Each day, families across our nation make disciplined choices about how to spend their hard-earned money, and the federal government should exercise the same discretion that hard-working Americans do every day,” Mulvaney said.

Trump on Friday night vowed to seek approval from Congress to spend $1 trillion in new spending to rebuild America’s crumbling network of roads, bridges, airports and other infrastructure as a way to create jobs and make some needed repairs.

“We are going to fix our country. It’s time. We have no choice. It’s time,” Trump said in Orlando, Florida.

Democratic President Barack Obama had sought infrastructure spending but was thwarted by Republicans in Congress.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Dale Hudson)

Trump Nominates Pro-Russian Oil Tycoon For Secretary Of State

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President-elect Donald Trump announced Exxon Mobil Corp’s Rex Tillerson as his choice for secretary of state on Tuesday, praising the business leader as a successful international dealmaker who has led a global operation.

Tillerson’s experience in diplomacy stems from making deals with foreign countries for the world’s largest energy company, although questions have been raised about the oil executive’s relations with Russia.

“He will be a forceful and clear-eyed advocate for America’s vital national interests, and help reverse years of misguided foreign policies and actions that have weakened America’s security and standing in the world,” Trump said in a statement.

Tillerson said he shared Trump’s “vision for restoring the credibility of the United States’ foreign relations and advancing our country’s national security.”

Trump picked Tillerson, 64, after the Texan was backed by several Republican establishment figures including former Secretary of State James Baker, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the transition official said.

Their support is seen as key to helping Tillerson get past a possibly contentious Senate confirmation battle likely to focus on his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In 2013, Putin bestowed a Russian state honor, the Order of Friendship, on Tillerson, citing his work “strengthening cooperation in the energy sector”.

Trump judged in making the pick that Tillerson could adequately address questions about his relations with Russia, an official said.

Lawmakers from both major parties have raised questions about Tillerson and former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, who has been mentioned as a possible No. 2 State Department official and who has voiced hawkish views on Iraq and Iran.

Separately, a source close to the transition said Trump had chosen former Texas Governor Rick Perry as his nominee for energy secretary, with an announcement expected soon. Perry met Trump on Monday at Trump Tower in New York.

Republicans and Democrats said Tillerson, who is president of Exxon Mobil Corp, would be asked about his contacts with Russia, having met Putin several times. He won fresh praise from Moscow on Monday.

Senator John McCain, a leading foreign policy voice and the 2008 Republican candidate for president, told Reuters in an interview: “I have concerns. It’s very well known that he has a very close relationship with Vladimir Putin.”

There has been controversy over the role alleged Russian cyber hacking may have had on the outcome of the Nov. 8 presidential election, in which Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton.

BUSINESS INTERESTS

While busily filling out his Cabinet, Trump is seeking to answer questions about how he will separate himself from his far-flung business empire before taking over the presidency on Jan. 20.

He had planned a news conference on Thursday to lay out the details but delayed it until Tuesday due to what aides said was the crush of picking people to serve in his administration.

In a series of late-night tweets on Monday, Trump said he would be leaving his business before Jan. 20 so he can focus full-time on the presidency and that he would leave his two sons, Donald Trump Jr and Eric Trump, to manage it.

He did not mention his daughter, Ivanka, who has been a central player in Trump’s business affairs and who is said to be considering a move to Washington to help her father.

“No new deals will be done during my term(s) in office,” Trump said.

He said he would hold a press conference “in the near future to discuss the business, Cabinet picks and all other topics of interest. Busy times!”

Trump chose Tillerson over 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who had famously criticized Trump during the party’s fight for a nominee this year. Trump called Romney to tell him he had decided to choose someone else for the job.

“It was an honor to have been considered for secretary of state of our great country,” Romney said in a Facebook posting on Monday night.

“My discussions with President-elect Trump have been both enjoyable and enlightening. I have very high hopes that the new administration will lead the nation to greater strength, prosperity and peace.”

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

IMAGE: ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson speaks during the IHS CERAWeek 2015 energy conference in Houston, Texas April 21, 2015.  REUTERS/Daniel Kramer

Trump Expected To Name Exxon CEO Tillerson As Secretary Of State

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President-elect Donald Trump is expected to name the chief executive of Exxon Mobil Corp as the country’s top diplomat, NBC News reported Saturday.

Exxon chief Rex Tillerson emerged on Friday as Trump’s leading candidate for U.S. secretary of state and met with him Saturday morning, a transition official told Reuters.

The transition official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Tillerson, 64, had moved ahead in Trump’s deliberations over 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who has met Trump twice, including at a dinner in New York.

As Exxon’s CEO, Tillerson oversees operations in more than 50 countries, including Russia.

In 2011, Exxon Mobil signed a deal with Rosneft, Russia’s largest state-owned oil company, for joint oil exploration and production. Since then, the companies have formed 10 joint ventures for projects in Russia.

NBC News cited two sources close to the transition team in reporting that Tillerson will be named as secretary of state.

Trump’s campaign was not immediately able to confirm the selection.

(Reporting by Steve Holland, writing by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Franklin Paul and Steve Orlofsky)

IMAGE: ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson speaks during the IHS CERAWeek 2015 energy conference in Houston, Texas April 21, 2015.  REUTERS/Daniel Kramer/File Photo

A Goldman Sachs Banker and A Billionaire Tapped For Economic Posts

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. President-elect Donald Trump chose a former Goldman Sachs banker and a billionaire investor on Tuesday to steer economic policy in his administration and a fierce Obamacare critic to dismantle President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare program.

Republican Trump is expected to name Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs partner and Hollywood financier, as his nominee for Treasury secretary, a source said, putting a Wall Street veteran in the top U.S. economic Cabinet post.

Mnuchin, who spent 17 years at Goldman Sachs before leaving in 2002 to launch a hedge fund, served as Trump’s campaign finance chairman.

Billionaire investor Wilbur Ross, known for his investments in distressed industries, is expected to be named commerce secretary, a source said.

The announcements could come as early as Wednesday.

The flurry of picks showed Trump, a real estate tycoon with no governing experience, rewarding loyalists and established Washington veterans as he rounds out his circle of top advisers.

Republican U.S. Representative Tom Price, an orthopedic surgeon from Georgia, will be Trump’s health and human services secretary. Seema Verma, the founder of a health policy consulting company, will lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is part of Health and Human Services and oversees government health programs for the poor and the elderly and insurance standards.

Trump also announced his choice of Elaine Chao, labor secretary under President George W. Bush, to serve as secretary of transportation, saying in a statement that her expertise would be an asset “in our mission to rebuild our infrastructure.”

While Trump made decisions on his economic team, he continued to mull over who should serve as his top diplomat.

He dined with former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a one-time critic and the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, at a French restaurant in New York on Tuesday night.

Romney sharply criticized Trump during the presidential campaign but he offered praise after their dinner.

“He continues with a message of inclusion, of bringing people together,” Romney told reporters. He said Trump’s Cabinet choices so far and speech on Election Night were encouraging.

DISMANTLING OBAMACARE

Trump cast Price and Verma as a “dream team” to help him once he takes office on Jan. 20 with his campaign pledge to repeal Obamacare, the health law formally known as the Affordable Care Act. It has been a target of Republican attacks since its enactment in 2010.

Price has characterized Obamacare as “doing real harm to American families” and has co-sponsored legislation to replace it.

Verma helped Pence, the Indiana governor, add conservative pieces to Medicaid coverage for the state’s poor by requiring beneficiaries to make contributions to health savings accounts. She also worked on Medicaid programs in Iowa, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.

Chuck Schumer, the incoming Senate Democratic leader, was among the defenders of Obamacare who criticized Price’s selection. “Nominating Congressman Price to be the HHS secretary is akin to asking the fox to guard the hen house,” Schumer said.

The 2010 healthcare overhaul, aimed at expanding insurance coverage to millions more Americans, triggered a long, bitter fight between the White House and congressional Republicans, who said it created unwarranted government intervention in personal healthcare and private industry.

Trump has said he will replace Obamacare with a plan to give states more control over Medicaid and allow insurers to sell plans nationally.

Price and Verma will both need Senate confirmation. Congressional approval will be needed to repeal and change the health law.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest defended Obamacare on Tuesday, saying it had expanded coverage to millions of Americans, boosted consumer protections and shored up the finances of the Medicare program for the elderly.

“We’ll see if Trump care measures up,” he said.

Trump said after meeting Obama following his Nov. 8 election victory that he would consider keeping the provisions of the healthcare law that let parents keep adult children up to age 26 on their insurance policies and that bar insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions.

Price, an early Trump supporter in the U.S. House of Representatives who leads the budget committee, has proposed a plan that would create age-based tax credits for people who buy insurance coverage on their own.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said on Tuesday the eventual congressional plan to replace Obamacare would likely have much in common with Price’s ideas.

Price’s plan would also roll back the 2010 law’s expansion of Medicaid for low-income people, a change that helped Obamacare cut the number of uninsured Americans to 29 million in 2015 from 49 million in 2010.

Trump vowed on the campaign trail to “save” Medicare, but Democrats said Price’s plans could amount to privatizing the government program for the elderly. Price has endorsed converting Medicare from a program that covers set benefits to a voucher-style program to help people buy coverage.

“We say to Republicans who want to privatize Medicare: Go try it. Make our day,” Schumer said on Tuesday, saying the change would be unpopular with the public.

Democrats also criticized the pick because Price has supported barring federal funds for Planned Parenthood, which provides some abortions in addition to birth control, health exams and other services.

Trump has met about 70 people as he looks to shape his White House and Cabinet team. Chao, his pick for transportation secretary, was the first Asian-American woman to hold a Cabinet position, as labor secretary. She is married to Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Trump saw retired General David Petraeus, a potential candidate for the State Department or the Pentagon, on Monday. On Tuesday, he met Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Corker and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, as well as Romney, are in the running for secretary of state.

Trump is set to launch a “thank you tour” of states he won in the election, starting with a rally on Thursday in Cincinnati, aides said.

(Additional reporting by Lawrence Hurley, David Shepardson, Susan Cornwell and Roberta Rampton in Washington and Jilian Mincer in New York; Writing by Emily Stephenson and Jeff Mason; Editing by Peter Cooney, Leslie Adler and Paul Tait)

IMAGE: Steven Mnuchin, the Trump campaign’s finance director, arrives at U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s Trump Tower in New York, U.S., November 29, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Deal With The Devil: Romney Praises Trump Following Dinner Date

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Republican Mitt Romney made an impassioned statement in support of President-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday to try to erase doubts about him among Trump’s supporters and remain in contention for U.S. secretary of state.

Romney, a fierce critic of Trump during the Republican presidential primary battle, stopped short of an outright apology but his intention to wipe the slate clean was clear.

The former Massachusetts governor, who was the Republican presidential nominee in 2012 and lost, praised Trump for a “message of inclusion and bringing people together” since his Nov. 8 victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Noting the appointments Trump has made to fill key cabinet positions for his administration and his desire for greater unity among Americans, Romney said that “all of those things combined give me increasing hope that President-elect Trump is the very man who can lead us” to a better future.

Romney made his remarks after a lengthy meal with Trump and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus at a French restaurant at a Trump hotel in Manhattan. They dined on garlic soup with frog legs, scallops, steak and lamb chop.

Since Trump began to seriously consider Romney as a potential secretary of state, some on Trump’s team have voiced doubts about bringing in a former critic and rallied around their preferred candidate, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a long-time Trump friend and loyalist.

Leading this effort in an unusually public way has been senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, who told a round of television interviews on Sunday that Trump supporters would feel “betrayed” if Romney was picked.

Trump, however, has kept Romney in contention for the secretary of state position, and a Republican source close to the transition effort said Priebus has been pushing for Romney behind the scenes.

“I had a wonderful evening with President-elect Trump,” Romney said in remarks to reporters after the dinner. “We had another discussion about affairs throughout the world and these discussions I’ve had with him have been enlightening, and interesting, and engaging. I’ve enjoyed them very, very much.”

A senior Trump aide described Romney’s remarks as “solid.”

Trump is to meet on Friday for the second time with retired Marine Corps General John Kelly as part of his secretary of state search, the aide said.

Trump is also considering U.S. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Corker met Trump at Trump Tower earlier on Tuesday and told reporters afterward that Trump “needs to choose someone that he’s very comfortable with and he knows there’s going be no daylight between him and them.”

“The world needs to know that the secretary of state is someone who speaks fully for the president and again, that’s a decision he’s going to have to make,” Corker said.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Nick Macfie)

IMAGE: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump sits at a table for dinner with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (R) and his choice for White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (L) at Jean-Georges at the  Trump International Hotel & Tower in New York, U.S., November 29, 2016.  REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Obamacare Critic To Head Health And Human Services

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. President-elect Donald Trump named a vociferous critic of Obamacare and a policy consultant on Tuesday to help him overhaul the healthcare system that Republicans have targeted since Democrats enacted sweeping reforms in 2010.

Republican Representative Tom Price, an orthopedic surgeon from Georgia, will be Trump’s Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary, and consultant Seema Verma will lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a powerful agency that oversees government health programs and insurance standards.

Trump cast Price and Verma as a “dream team” to help him once he takes office on Jan. 20 with his campaign pledge to repeal Obamacare, Democratic President Barack Obama’s signature health law formally known as the Affordable Care Act.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer denounced the choice, calling Price “far out of the mainstream of what Americans want” and defending federal government healthcare efforts such as Obamacare and Medicare, the insurance program for the elderly and disabled, as well as support for Planned Parenthood, a women’s health organization.

“Nominating Congressman Price to be the HHS secretary is akin to asking the fox to guard the hen house,” Schumer said.

Of Price, Trump said in a statement: “He is exceptionally qualified to shepherd our commitment to repeal and replace Obamacare and bring affordable and accessible healthcare to every American.”

Price said there was much work to be done “to ensure we have a healthcare system that works for patients, families, and doctors.”

The 2010 Obamacare law, aimed at expanding health insurance coverage to millions more Americans, triggered a long and bitter fight between the White House and congressional Republicans, who said it created unwarranted government intervention in personal healthcare and private industry.

Trump has said he will replace Obamacare with a plan to give states more control over the Medicaid health plan for the poor and allow insurers to sell plans nationally.

Both positions named by Trump on Tuesday require Senate confirmation, and the Trump administration will need congressional approval to repeal and change the health law.

TACKLING OBAMACARE

Price, an early Trump supporter in the U.S. House of Representatives, is chairman of the budget committee. He has long championed a plan of tax credits, expanded health savings accounts and lawsuit reforms to replace Obamacare.

Verma worked with Vice President-elect Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana, on a compromise to expand Medicaid coverage for the state’s poor with federal funding. The Indiana program requires beneficiaries to make monthly contributions to health savings accounts.

“What the governor fought for is the personal-responsibility part of the program,” Seema Verma told the Times of Indiana earlier this year.

Trump said Verma had decades of experience advising on Medicare and Medicaid policy and helping states navigate complicated healthcare systems.

Price campaigned with Trump because he promised to overhaul Obamacare. However, Trump’s position on the health insurance program appeared to soften after he met Obama following the hard-fought Nov. 8 election.

Obama has acknowledged the law could use improvements but has credited Obamacare with cutting the number of uninsured Americans from 49 million in 2010 to 29 million in 2015. Much of that drop is due to the law’s provision allowing states to expand Medicaid.

Trump said he would consider keeping provisions in the law that let parents keep adult children up to age 26 on insurance policies and bar insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has touted House Republicans’ plan to replace Obamacare, praised the selection of Price, saying: “We could not ask for a better partner to work with Congress to fix our nation’s health care challenges.”

MORE CABINET PICKS

Trump’s work to fill his administration comes alongside a series of controversial tweets targeting efforts to recount the presidential vote and, on Tuesday, one calling for burning the U.S. flag to be a crime. The Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that flag burning is protected speech under the First Amendment.

Trump has met with about 70 people as he looks to shape his White House and Cabinet team. He is expected to reveal an additional Cabinet pick on Tuesday while continuing to consider his options for the three biggest positions – secretaries of state, defense and Treasury.

Trump saw retired General David Petraeus, a potential candidate for the State Department or the Pentagon, on Monday. On Tuesday, he is expected to meet with U.S. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and later have dinner with Mitt Romney.

Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, and Corker are in the running for secretary of state, along with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

(Addtional reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Writing by Roberta Rampton and Susan Heavey; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Frances Kerry)

IMAGE: Chairman of the House Budget Committee Tom Price (R-GA) announces the House Budget during a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 17, 2015. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

Trump Considers Mattis, Romney For Top National Security Jobs

BEDMINSTER, N.J. (Reuters) – President-elect Donald Trump on Sunday identified retired Marine Corps General James Mattis as a strong candidate for U.S. defense secretary, while Mitt Romney, previously a Trump critic, was under serious consideration as secretary of state.

Trump wrote on Twitter that “General James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis, who is being considered for secretary of defense, was very impressive yesterday. A true General’s General!” Trump met with Mattis, who previously headed the U.S. military’s Central Command, on Saturday in New Jersey.

Trump also met on Saturday with Romney, who is a possible selection as the top U.S. diplomat.

The president-elect told reporters that he would likely have some announcements on top administration positions on Sunday but did not say which ones.

On Sunday, Trump was to meet with several more contenders for senior jobs, including former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who also is in the running for secretary of state, and billionaire investor Wilbur Ross, who is being considered for commerce secretary.

Trump was also scheduled to meet with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who was a close adviser during his campaign but was removed as the head of his transition team.

Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who now heads Trump’s transition team,” said Mattis has had “a legendary military career.”

Pence also said Trump and Romney “had a good meeting. It was a warm and a substantive exchange, and I know he is under active consideration to be secretary of state.”

Pence said Romney was willing to be considered for the job.

Trump takes office on Jan. 20 and has working to fill key positions in his administration.

Trump’s incoming White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, said on ABC’s “This Week” program that Romney and Trump had a “very substantive” conversation in which they discussed foreign hot spots and other issues.

Romney, the unsuccessful 2012 Republican presidential nominee, was a leader of the Republican establishment movement that tried to block Trump from becoming the nominee this year. In March, Romney called Trump “a phony,” “a fraud” and “a con man.”

In another instance of political drama, Pence said he was not offended by pointed comments made to him by a cast member of “Hamilton” after he attended the hit Broadway show.

Trump on Saturday demanded an apology over the comments, but Pence on Sunday declined to ask for one. Pence acknowledged that many Americans were disappointed and anxious after Trump’s Nov. 8 election victory, but he sought to reassure Americans that Trump would be a president “for all Americans.”

After the show, actor Brandon Victor Dixon, who in the play portrays America’s third vice president, Aaron Burr, read a statement directed at Pence while standing in front of the cast in full costume.

“We, sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights,” Dixon said.

Conservative radio talk show host Laura Ingraham confirmed on Sunday she is being considered by Trump to serve as White House press secretary.

“It’s an intriguing idea,” she said on Fox News Sunday.

Ingraham defended the Trump transition team’s decision not to include a pool of reporters when he has traveled at times. She said the news media had been “stacking the deck against Trump” before the election.

(Additional reporting by David Shepardson and Toni Clarke in Washington; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Caren Bohan and Mary Milliken)

IMAGE: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump (L) and Vice President-elect Mike Pence (R) greet retired Marine General James Mattis in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

Team Of Rivals? Donald Trump Meets With Mitt Romney

BEDMINSTER, N.J. (Reuters) – President-elect Donald Trump and 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney set aside their long-simmering rivalry on Saturday and had talks likely to feed speculation that Romney could be a candidate to be Trump’s secretary of state.

Trump and Romney emerged from their meeting after an hour and 20 minutes. Trump told reporters their talks “went great,” and Romney said he and Trump “had a far-reaching conversation with regards to the various theaters in the world.”

“We Discussed those areas, and exchanged our views on those topics — a very thorough and in-depth discussion in the time we had. And I appreciate the chance to speak with the president-elect and I look forward to the coming administration and the things that it’s going to be doing,” Romney said.

Romney, who was a leader of the establishment Republican “never Trump” movement that tried to block Trump from becoming the party’s nominee, was first in a long list of people Trump was meeting on Saturday and Sunday as he seeks to fill out his Cabinet and gather advice ahead of his Jan. 20 move to the White House.

The president-elect also met on Saturday with retired Marine General James Mattis, considered a contender for defense secretary.

“A great man,” Trump said of Mattis as they posed for pictures in front of the clubhouse at Trump National golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, where Trump has a weekend home.

Meetings were also held with Michelle Rhee, the former Washington, D.C. public schools chancellor and a possible education secretary, and Betsy DeVos, a former head of the Michigan Republican Party who is also a candidate for education secretary.

On Sunday, Trump is to sit down with Wilbur Ross, a potential commerce secretary who made billions by betting on bankruptcies and distressed assets, and business executive David McCormick, head of investment firm Bridgewater Associates, as well as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who was recently demoted in his role on Trump’s transition team.

Romney had opposed Trump’s march to the Republican presidential nomination. In a speech in March, he said Trump would be dangerous as president, with policies that could touch off a recession.

Romney had other criticisms of Trump, as well. “I’m afraid that when it comes to foreign policy he is very, very not smart,” he said.

Trump had denounced Romney as a “choke artist” for losing the 2012 election to President Barack Obama.

But with Trump now president-in-waiting, Romney’s appearance at Trump National Bedminster on an unseasonably warm November day was symbolic of hard-won party unity.

“Mr. President-elect, how are you sir?” Romney said on arrival.

Whether Romney will join the Trump administration is unclear. Romney, a more mainstream Republican, would serve alongside more hawkish Trump appointees named on Friday: Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama as attorney general, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn as national security adviser and Representative Mike Pompeo as CIA director.

Trump has been considering former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a close adviser, for secretary of state, as well as former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton and Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee. Trump is to meet Giuliani on Sunday.

Transition officials said Trump’s meeting with Romney was supposed to be a general discussion about the incoming administration.

A Romney confidant said of Romney’s secretary of state prospects: “Could it happen? I suppose. But it’s unlikely.”

Instead, the source said the meeting gives “the good housekeeping seal of approval to Republicans who don’t know if they should help Trump or not.”

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by David Gregorio and Leslie Adler)

IMAGE: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence greet former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (L) as he arrives for their meeting at the the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar