With cameras filming his every move, even his airplane, President-elect Donald J. Trump arrived in Washington a day before he is sworn in, appearing at a luncheon with supporters at the Trump International Hotel, where he praised the collective IQ of his cabinet members.
“We have by far the highest IQ of any Cabinet ever assembled,” Trump said in the remarks, which reporters heard only the first several minutes of before being escorted out.
Of course, he put himself into the high IQ category when he boasted, “This is a gorgeous room. A total genius must have built this place.”
(As an aside, it is impossible to do the math, but President Barack Obama’s starters did include a Nobel Laureate in physics at the Energy Department, a former president of Harvard heading the National Economic Council and the president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank as Treasury secretary.)
Trump also singled out specific supporters, including Woody Johnson, the owner of the New York Jets football team, and his pick for Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin. Mnuchin, Trump noted, was not at the lunch because he was being “grilled” at his Senate confirmation hearing several blocks away.
Trump also faulted senators for not being “nice” to Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, his pick for health and human services secretary.
And speaking of Johnson, the Jets owner is expected to get one of the plum jobs in diplomacy, U.S. ambassador to Britain, or as the Brits call it, ambassador of the United States to the Court of St. James’s.
Johnson is only the third ambassador to be announced by Trump, after Nikki Haley as the ambassador to the United Nations and David Friedman, his longtime attorney and appointee as ambassador to Israel. Given that both Trump and his counterpart, the prime minister, Theresa May, are relatively new in their roles, Johnson’s ability to quickly get Trump on the phone could be helpful.
Trump also assured Israelis in comments posted online Thursday that he planned to follow through on his campaign promise to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv soon after taking office.
“Of course I remember what I told you about Jerusalem,” Trump told Boaz Bismuth of the newspaper Israel Hayom when he encountered him at a preinaugural event on Wednesday. “Of course I didn’t forget. And you know I’m not a person who breaks promises.”
Israel Hayom is owned by Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino magnate and Republican donor who is a powerful supporter of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.
Trump’s spokesman, Sean Spicer, suggested at a briefing on Thursday that the incoming president would make the embassy move one of his first acts after taking office on Friday. “There will be a further announcement on that,” he said. “The president has made clear that Israel has not gotten the respect it deserves.”
But implementation of such an announcement could still take months, given that the U.S. consulate facilities currently in Jerusalem are not considered adequate for an embassy. Obama and other veterans of Middle East politics have warned against such a move because it would prejudge final status negotiations with the Palestinians and potentially provoke a violent backlash.
And without a single Cabinet or sub-Cabinet official confirmed yet by the Senate, President-elect Trump has asked 50 officials from Obama’s expiring administration to stay on temporarily after Friday’s inauguration to ensure the smooth operation of government, Trump’s transition team announced on Thursday.
Among those requested to stick around are senior figures in the battle against terrorism and other security officials. Obama similarly kept around officials in such positions when he took over from President George W. Bush eight years ago, including some of those now being asked to remain in place by Trump.
“Make no mistake, we’re ready to go on day one,” Spicer told a briefing shortly before Trump was scheduled to depart New York for Washington. But the new president, he added, wanted to make sure that the United States was ready to handle any unforeseen events. “Right now our focus was on continuity of government.”
Among those asked to stay were Brett McGurk, the special envoy overseeing the war against the Islamic State; Nick Rasmussen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center; Adam J. Szubin, the acting undersecretary of Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence; Robert O. Work, the deputy defense secretary; and Thomas A. Shannon Jr., the undersecretary of state for political affairs.
With his selection of an agriculture secretary, Trump has now named nominees for all 21 Cabinet and Cabinet-rank jobs, but it remained unclear how many would be confirmed by the Senate by Monday, the first full work day of the new administration. A few sub-Cabinet jobs have been filled.
The incoming administration also has tapped 536 members of what it calls a “beachhead team” to show up at agencies across the government Monday morning to serve as a first wave of appointees to begin operations while confirmations proceed.