Rick Perry, who proposed eliminating the U.S. Energy Department during his unsuccessful bid for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, has emerged as a leading candidate to head the agency under President-elect Donald Trump, a transition official said on Sunday.
Democratic U.S. Senators Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia also are in the running for the job as Trump continues to fill key positions in his administration ahead of taking office on Jan. 20, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Perry served as governor of Texas, a leading oil-producing state, from 2000 when he succeeded President George W. Bush until 2015. In his two unsuccessful presidential runs, he touted his record of job creation in the second-most-populous state.
Perry’s proposal to scrap the Energy Department caused what has become known as his “oops” moment during a November 2011 debate when he could not remember the departments he wanted to eliminate.
“It’s three agencies of government when I get there that are gone: commerce, education and the um, what’s the third one there? Let’s see,” Perry said.
His debate adversaries tried to prod his memory, but Perry ultimately gave up, saying, “I can’t. The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops.” It was the Energy Department, which is responsible for U.S. energy policy and oversees the nation’s nuclear weapons program.
Perry also ran for the 2016 presidential nomination against Trump but dropped out in September 2015 after gaining little traction. Perry initially was a fierce critic of Trump but later endorsed Trump and called him “the people’s choice.”
In July 2015, Perry said: “Let no one be mistaken: Donald Trump’s candidacy is a cancer on conservatism, and it must be clearly diagnosed, excised and discarded.”
If Perry gets the job, it would be further indication that the incoming Trump administration may be friendly toward the fossil fuel industry.
Trump is set to pick U.S. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a climate-change skeptic and an advocate for expanded oil and gas development, to head the Interior Department.
Trump’s pick for the Environmental Protection Agency is Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, an ardent opponent of President Barack Obama’s measures to curb climate change who has sued the EPA to block in a bid to undo a key regulation to curb greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from coal-fired power plants.
And Trump is expected to name Rex Tillerson, chief executive of oil giant Exxon Mobil Corp, as secretary of state.
President-elect Donald Trump plans to add another wealthy business person and elite donor to his Cabinet, saying he would nominate fast-food executive Andrew Puzder as labor secretary.
Puzder heads CKE Restaurants Holdings, the parent company of Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s and other chains. In 2010, he published a book called “Job Creation: How it Really Works and Why Government Doesn’t Understand It.”
“Andy will fight to make American workers safer and more prosperous by enforcing fair occupational safety standards and ensuring workers receive the benefits they deserve, and he will save small businesses from the crushing burdens of unnecessary regulations that are stunting job growth and suppressing wages,” President-elect Trump said in a statement.
Puzder, in the same statement, said he was honored “to help President-elect Trump restore America’s global economic leadership.”
The Californian was one of Trump’s earliest campaign financiers, serving as a co-chairman of his California finance team and organizing fundraisers well before most major donors got on board with the eventual Republican nominee. Together with his wife, Puzder contributed $150,000 in late May to Trump’s campaign and Republican Party partners, fundraising records show.
As one of Trump’s most outspoken defenders, Puzder frequently appeared on cable news and Twitter to talk up the benefits of having a business leader in the White House.
A week after Trump’s election, Puzder said he agreed with Trump’s aim to ease business regulations.
“We’ve reached the point where overregulation is doing meaningful damage to our businesses,” he said last month at the Restaurant Finance & Development Conference in Las Vegas, citing high labor costs, increased health care costs and “political and social” policies as hindrances.
Union leaders decried Puzder as a secretary who would look out for millionaires — but not workers.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement that Puzder’s “business record is defined by fighting against working people.”
Incoming Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer said there’s reason to be skeptical about Puzder.
“Turning the Labor Department over to someone who opposes an increase in the minimum wage, opposes the overtime rule that would raise middle class wages, and whose businesses have repeatedly violated labor laws might be the surest sign yet that the next cabinet will be looking out for the billionaires and special interests, instead of America’s working class,” Schumer said in a statement.
Trump’s selection won praise from the National Retail Federation, however.
“Andrew Puzder is someone with the real-world experience to understand workforce issues and how jobs are created,” said David French, NRF’s senior vice president for government relations.
Trump’s recent appointments have reflected his desire to turn to business leaders — who also were campaign donors. Trump tapped former WWE chief executive and top campaign contributor Linda McMahon to lead the Small Business Administration. He also selected his campaign’s national finance chairman Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs executive and hedge fund investor, as Treasury secretary.
Puzder visited with Trump several times since the election, including a meeting Wednesday afternoon at Trump Tower.
He has long been a reliable GOP donor. He was a major financier for 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney and has remained close to him. At Romney’s annual donor summit in June, Puzder was one of just a few attendees who aggressively promoted Trump to the dozens who were more squeamish about their party’s new star.
He told The Associated Press at the Republican National Convention in late July that he enjoyed the challenge of raising money for Trump, saying he often sought common ground with reluctant GOP donors by talking up Trump’s children.
“If he’s such an evil villain,” Puzder said he would tell would-be donors, “how do you explain the kids?”
AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace contributed to this report.
Donald Trump’s move to pack his administration with military brass is getting mixed reviews, as Congress and others struggle to balance their personal regard for the individuals he’s choosing with a broader worry about an increased militarization of American policy.
No fewer than three combat-experienced retired Army and Marine leaders, with multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, are on tap for high-level government jobs normally reserved for civilians. Others are entrenched in Trump’s organization as close advisers.
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn will serve as the president’s national security adviser, and Trump announced retired Marine four-star Gen. James Mattis Thursday night as his secretary of defense. In addition, retired Marine Gen. John Kelly is a likely pick to head the Department of Homeland Security.
All three had high-profile military careers leading top commands, and they are known for their willingness to offer blunt policy assessments publicly and privately. But their strategic advice could be colored by their years on the battlefront watching soldiers and Marines fight and die battling insurgents in the mountains of Afghanistan and the deserts of Iraq.
Those experiences can have markedly varied effects, making some officers a bit cautious when considering plans to send troops into battle but making others more likely to urge aggressive military responses to national security crises and less patient with the slow pace of diplomacy.
The men Trump has chosen so far are familiar faces on Capitol Hill, having made frequent trips in their former jobs, and lawmakers are expressing personal respect. But some temper that with a wariness about the wisdom of putting so many military leaders at the helm of the country’s national security when the nation was founded on the idea of civilian control.
In particular, some Democrats oppose passing a law overriding a prohibition on an officer leading the Defense Department before he has been out of the military for seven years. That law has been waived only once in American history, for George Marshall in 1950. Flynn’s appointment does not require congressional approval, and there is no similar law for Homeland Security.
Mattis retired from the Marine Corps in June 2013, and Kelly retired early this year. Flynn retired in 2014 after being pushed out of his job as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
“While I deeply respect General Mattis’ service, I will oppose a waiver,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., a member of the Armed Services Committee. “Civilian control of our military is a fundamental principle of American democracy, and I will not vote for an exception to this rule.”
Rep. Adam Smith, ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, echoed that concern, saying that while Mattis served with distinction, “civilian control of the military is not something to be casually cast aside.”
It is unlikely, however, that those trepidations will threaten Mattis’ nomination. He has broad support from Republicans, who hold the majority in both chambers, including from John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“America will be fortunate to have General Mattis in its service once again,” said McCain, R-Ariz.
There were even positive words Friday from House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who said, “We are grateful that the president-elect reportedly found General Mattis’ argument against torture persuasive. We will need the secretary of defense to continue to uphold the laws, alliances and norms that protect our nation and enshrine our values as Americans.”
Still, national security experts raise concerns about the possibility of a greater reliance on military solutions to international problems.
Vikram Singh, a former senior adviser at the Defense Department and now vice president at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, said the law requiring a gap between military service and leading the Pentagon “exists to preserve civilian control of the military, a cornerstone of American democracy, and appointing a general so recently retired from active service to be secretary of defense is a serious matter, no matter how qualified that general may be for the position.”
Jon Soltz, who leads the liberal political action committee VoteVets, said that people with military service are needed in Washington, but “it is somewhat concerning that Donald Trump continues to eye recently retired generals for some of the most important traditionally civilian positions in government.”
He added, “We should never lose sight of the balance in civilian and military roles that has served our nation well for centuries.”
Spencer Meredith, an associate professor at the National Defense University, said Friday that military officers can bring vital strategic thinking and organizational skills to administration jobs. But he acknowledged possible concerns about a cadre of advisers with military viewpoints — the idea that “everything looks like a nail to a hammer.”
The generals themselves have expressed little worry about any militarization of U.S. policy.
Military officers, said Kelly, spend their careers willing to give their lives to defend their country and the U.S. Constitution. He said civilian control is rooted in the president as commander in chief and the Congress, which controls spending.
Mattis, in a recent exchange, showed a sense of humor about his status as a career military officer. When a reporter addressed him as “General,” he responded, “Please call me Jim. I was once a general, but it was long ago and I’ve happily rejoined the human race.”
AP National Security Writer Robert Burns contributed to this report.
President-elect Donald Trump is tapping conservatives with deep ties to Washington and Wall Street to fill out key Cabinet roles as he continues to deliberate over his secretary of state.
Trump was moving forward with nominations, including former Goldman Sachs executive Steven Mnuchin as secretary of the Treasury.
Mnuchin’s official announcement was expected as early as Wednesday, according to a person familiar with the decision who insisted on anonymity in order to confirm the pick ahead of time.
Trump on Tuesday chose Georgia Rep. Tom Price to oversee the nation’s health care system, picking a fierce “Obamacare” critic who has championed efforts to privatize Medicare. And he selected another veteran Republican, Elaine Chao, a former labor secretary and the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to head the Department of Transportation.
Mnuchin, 53, led Trump’s finance operations during the presidential campaign and became close to the president-elect and his family. But he has no government experience, which could prove a hurdle in navigating the tricky politics of Washington.
If confirmed by the Senate, Mnuchin would play a central role in shaping Trump’s tax policies and infrastructure plans. He would also lead an agency tasked with implementing international economic sanctions.
Mnuchin is expected to be joined on Trump’s senior economic team by another financier, Wilbur Ross. The billionaire investor is considered the “king of bankruptcy” for buying beaten-down companies with the potential to deliver profits.
Trump dined on frog legs and scallops with 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Manhattan Tuesday night. After the elegant meal, the former Massachusetts governor — once a vocal critic — praised Trump for succeeding where he had failed, saying the president-elect offers a “message of inclusion and bringing people together.”
The meeting — their second in-person session — came as Trump is publicly weighing several options for secretary of state, including Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and former CIA director David Petraeus.
Trump said on Twitter that he and Vice President-elect Mike Pence will travel to Indiana on Thursday for an event with Carrier, the air-conditioning company. During the campaign, Trump repeatedly used news of Carrier’s plans to move some business to Mexico as criticism of Democratic trade policies. Carrier tweeted, “We are pleased to have reached a deal with President-elect Trump & VP-elect Pence to keep close to 1,000 jobs in Indy.”
Price, picked to lead the Department of Health and Human Services after more than a decade in Congress, helped craft House Speaker Paul Ryan’s plan to privatize Medicare — a position Trump opposed in the campaign.
Price’s selection raised questions about the incoming president’s commitment to Medicare, among other popular entitlement programs he repeatedly vowed to preserve before the election. The Georgia congressman led GOP efforts on Capitol Hill to transform Medicare into a voucher-like system, a change that if enacted, would likely dramatically reduce government spending on the health care program that serves an estimated 57 million people.
Trump, in a 2015 interview promoted on his campaign website, pledged not to cut expensive entitlement programs that Republicans have fought for years to cut to help reduce the federal deficit.
He later changed his mind on Medicaid, embracing the GOP concept of turning the program over to the states with a fixed amount of federal “block grant” funding.
Like Price, Chao is well-known in Washington. She was the first Asian-American woman to serve in a president’s Cabinet, as labor secretary under George W. Bush.
Her record in that post suggests she would bring a light hand to safety enforcement as transportation secretary. Under Chao at Labor, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration didn’t issue a single significant new safety regulation for four years. Mine safety inspectors were cut and inspections reduced.
Mnuchin, Price and Chao would require Senate confirmation.
Transition aides said Trump was likely at least a few days away from a decision on secretary of state.
AP writers Catherine Lucey and Jonathan Lemire in New York and Joan Lowry and Erica Werner in Washington contributed to this report.
His Cabinet beginning to take shape, President-elect Donald Trump is offering a Thanksgiving prayer for unity after “a long and bruising” campaign season.
“Emotions are raw and tensions just don’t heal overnight,” the incoming president said in a video message released on the eve of the national holiday. He continued, “It’s my prayer that on this Thanksgiving we begin to heal our divisions and move forward as one country strengthened by shared purpose and very, very common resolve.”
Trump, who was gathered with family on Thursday at his Palm Beach estate, was expected to pause for a day after a two-week scramble to shape his nascent administration from scratch.
He injected the first signs of diversity into his Cabinet-to-be the day before, tapping South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and charter school advocate Betsy DeVos to lead the Department of Education. They are the first women selected for top-level administration posts. Haley is the daughter of Indian immigrants, so she also would be his first minority selection after a string of announcements of white men.
The South Carolina governor has little foreign policy experience, yet Trump praised her as “a proven dealmaker.” DeVos, like Trump, is new to government but has spent decades working to change America’s system of public education.
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson on Wednesday said “an announcement is forthcoming” on his role, which would make him the first black choice — possibly as secretary of Housing and Urban Development — but he also suggested he’d be thinking about it over the Thanksgiving holiday.
“I feel that I can make a significant contribution particularly to making our inner cities great for everyone,” Carson wrote on his Facebook page.
Trump is also expected to select billionaire investor Wilbur Ross Jr. to lead the Commerce Department, a senior Trump adviser said Wednesday, speaking only on condition of anonymity because the adviser was not authorized to disclose internal deliberations. The 78-year-old Ross, who is white, is chairman and chief strategy officer of private-equity firm W.L. Ross & Co., which has specialized in buying failing companies.
Wednesday’s picks came as Trump worked to distance himself from the “alt-right,” a movement of white supremacists who continue to cheer his election. His first appointments included chief counselor Steve Bannon, who previously led a website popular among the alt-right.
Trump on Thursday was with his family behind closed doors at Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach estate. He’s spending the Thanksgiving holiday there after a week of interviewing potential appointees in New York, punctuated by announcements of members of his national security team.
“It’s time to restore the bonds of trust between citizens, because when America is unified there is nothing beyond our reach,” the president-elect said in his Thanksgiving message, which was posted on social media.
The nasty campaign season included clashes between Trump and his new Cabinet selections.
“The people of South Carolina are embarrassed by Nikki Haley!” Trump wrote in March. Haley denounced several of his campaign comments and urged voters to “reject the siren call of the angriest voices.”
DeVos, who is from Michigan, told The Associated Press in July, “A lot of the things he has said are very off-putting and concerning.”
On Wednesday, however, Trump and his colleagues had nothing but kind words for each other. And while other Republicans largely praised the Haley pick, DeVos faced immediate criticism from left and right.
The president of the National Education Association, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, said in a statement that for years DeVos “has lobbied for failed schemes, like vouchers — which take away funding and local control from our public schools — to fund private schools at taxpayers’ expense.”
And Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, tweeted, “Trump has chosen the most ideological, anti-public ed nominee since the creation of the Dept of Education.”
At the same time, some conservatives warned that the longtime Republican donor, who along with her husband has spent millions of dollars to promote candidates who favor charter schools and school vouchers, also supports the Common Core education standards that Trump railed against during the campaign.
DeVos addressed criticism head-on, posting a “Q&A” statement that said directly about Common Core: “I am not a supporter — period.”
Trump will be sworn into office in less than 60 days. Beyond his Cabinet, he must fill hundreds of high-level administration posts.
He is expected to stay in Florida through the weekend.
By his own account, President-elect Donald Trump has worked out a few agreements after a parade of weekend visitors who could land major appointments in his administration.
There were hints but no decisions to announce. Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee in 2012, was “under active and serious consideration” for secretary of state, Vice President-elect Mike Pence said. Trump himself said retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis was an “impressive” prospect for defense secretary.
“We’ve made a couple of deals,” Trump told reporters at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club before returning to New York. He gave assurances that “incredible meetings” would be brining “incredible people” into the government. “You’ll be hearing about them soon.”
More meetings are on Trump’s Monday schedule. His transition team said former Texas governor and GOP presidential rival Rick Perry was expected to meet with Trump on Monday.
Among the visitors to the white-pillared clubhouse Sunday were Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, billionaire investor Wilbur Ross and retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, the former commander of U.S. Southern Command.
The businessman who is now thepresident-elect also apparently was considering options to lead the Commerce Department, meeting with Ross. “Time will tell,” Ross told reporters when asked if he wanted a post.
It was hard to tell if some of the visitors were on the job hunt. Hollywood powerbroker Ari Emanuel and BET founder Robert Johnson came through over the weekend as did health care billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong. Trump made a show of each guest, greeting them formally at the door, shaking hands and smiling for the cameras and telling the press how “great” they were.
“King of Hollywood,” Trump said, as he ushered Emanuel in the door Sunday.
Between conversations, Trump revealed he was making transition plans for his family. He told reporters that his wife, Melania, and their 10-year-old son, Barron, would move to Washington when the school year ends.
Trump also turned to Twitter to share some of his thinking. In between criticism of “Saturday Night Live,” the hit musical “Hamilton,” and retiring Democratic leader Harry Reid, he wrote that, “General James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis, who is being considered for secretary of defense, was very impressive yesterday. A true General’s General!”
The comments were indications that Trump is looking outside his immediate circle as he works toward rounding out his foreign policy and national security teams. On Friday, he named a loyalist, retired Gen. Michael Flynn, as his national security adviser.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and 2012 GOP presidential contender, and Trump exchanged bitter insults during the campaign, and Mattis has not been considered a Trump confidante. The appointment of more establishment figures could offer some reassurance to lawmakers and others concerned about Trump’s hard-line positions on immigration and national security and his lack of foreign policy experience.
Trump told reporters Sunday that one of his most loyal and public allies, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, was also a prospect for secretary of state “and other things.” Giuliani at one point had been considered for attorney general, but Trump gave that job to Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama.
But even as Trump and his team discussed pressing issues facing the country and how to staff the incoming administration, the president-elect’s Twitter feed suggested other issues too were on his mind.
His targets Sunday included Sen. Reid. Trump tweeted that incoming Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, another media-savvy New Yorker, was “far smarter” than Reid and “has the ability to get things done.”
Trump also complained that “Saturday Night Live,” which thrives on making fun of politicians, is “biased” and not funny. The night before, actor Alec Baldwin portrayed Trump as Googling: “What is ISIS?”
Trump also insisted again that the cast and producers of “Hamilton” should apologize after the lead actor addressed Pence from the stage Friday night, telling the vice president-elect that “diverse America” was “alarmed and anxious.” Pence said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that he wasn’t offended.
Kellman reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report.
Follow Lucey and Kellman on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/Catherine_Lucey and @APLaurieKellman.
Republican President-elect Donald Trump’s choices for leadership posts threaten national unity and promise to turn back the clock on progress for racial, religious and sexual minorities, civil rights leaders and others said Friday after his nomination of Alabama U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general.
Comments attributed to Trump’s picks, also including Stephen Bannon as senior adviser and chief strategist and former Army Lt. Michael Flynn as national security adviser, serve to embolden everyday Americans to lash out at members of minority groups, they said.
Sessions, a Republican, was denied a federal judgeship in 1986 after hearings in which he was accused of making racially charged remarks as a U.S. attorney. According to transcripts, Sessions was accused, among other things, of joking that he thought the Ku Klux Klan “was OK” until he learned its members smoked marijuana and of calling a black assistant U.S. attorney “boy.” During the hearing, Sessions denied making some of the comments and said others were jokes taken out of context.
Black Lives Matter activist and Campaign Zero co-founder DeRay Mckesson said Sessions’ “documented racism and previous ineligibility for public office make him unfit to be the standard-bearer for the nation’s justice system.”
“If Sessions were to become the attorney general, the freedom and liberty of the historically marginalized would be severely threatened,” said Mckesson, who has protested in several cities demanding police reform to address bias against communities of color. “Sessions’ nomination would also confirm that Trump plans to govern as he campaigned — as a proponent of bigotry, racism and xenophobia.”
Bannon led the Breitbart website, which has been widely condemned as racist, sexist and anti-Semitic. In a 2011 radio interview, Bannon said conservative women infuriated liberals because they “would be pro-family, they would have husbands, they would love their children,” contrasting that against a slur for lesbians.
Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway has called the accusations against Bannon “very unfair.”
Lennie Gerber, an 80-year-old resident of High Point, North Carolina, who led the fight against her state’s ban on same-sex marriage, said she worried Trump’s appointments will further incite such sentiments among the public.
“Saying that kind of thing incites the racism and the anti-gay feelings in everybody else and says you’re free to express these things,” Gerber said. “These people who’ve been suppressed by the positive transformation that has gone on over the last few years are now feeling free to express themselves.”
Civil rights leaders are calling on Trump to rescind Sessions’ nomination or for the Senate to reject him. Sessions requires Senate confirmation as attorney general, as does Republican Kansas U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo for CIA director, but Bannon and Flynn do not.
In August, Flynn spoke at an event in Dallas for the anti-Islamist group Act for America, calling Islam, a religion with 1.6 billion adherents, “a political ideology” and “a cancer.”
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said, “Unfortunately, these very important picks in his administration send a troubling message indicating that the bigotry we saw expressed in the campaign will continue.”
Aside from comments and actions attributed to the nominees, their lack of diversity worries civil rights leaders.
Washington attorney A. Scott Bolden said Trump is “0 for 4” on diversity: All his picks are white men.
“The scariest part of his potential administration will be how his political debts to the alt-right will manifest itself in his administration and policies,” Bolden said. “Jeff Sessions is one of those manifestations … to be in control not only of justice in America, but really to bring injustice to America.”
Trump had said he planned to reward loyalty, and he demonstrated such with his nomination of Sessions, who was the first senator to endorse him.
Daniela Lapidous, a 22-year-old Jewish woman who works to fight climate change, called Bannon a “misogynist and anti-Semite and an anti-climate extremist.” She said she never before felt the need to fight anti-Semitism but now thinks that she must.
“I’ve been somewhat convinced that anti-Semitism isn’t a thing in the United States anymore, but this past year, with Trump and Bannon, it’s made me scared about that for the first time in my life,” said Lapidous, who lives in San Francisco.
The Rev. Jeffrey Brown, associate pastor of the Twelfth Baptist Church in Boston, said he’s unhappy with Trump’s choices, particularly Sessions.
“I hear people complaining that we should give the Trump administration a chance,” Brown said. “It’s very clear by his appointments that he’s not going to give a lot of communities in the United States that same chance.”
Elaine Walton, a black resident of New Orleans, said she had deep concerns. Her most visceral reaction to Trump’s picks? “Fear. How is he going to be the top watchdog for the country when he’s so biased?”
“I think those people cannot lead him, advise him on how to lead this country forward,” she said. “They are going to advise him on how to lead the country backwards.”
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Alanna Durkin in Richmond, Virginia; Rebecca Santana in New Orleans; Rachel Zoll in New York; and Denise Lavoie in Boston.
The Senate confirmation hearing of Sen. Jeff Sessions, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Attorney General, is likely to rehash racially charged allegations that derailed his efforts to become a federal judge and made him a symbol of black-voter intimidation under the Reagan Administration.
The expected focus on Sessions’ record on race, policing and immigration comes as the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has surged in prominence under the Obama administration. If confirmed, Sessions would have broad latitude to define how federal prosecutors across the country wield their powers and make changes to the Justice Department’s priorities.
Lawmakers and advocates expressed concern Friday that Sessions could sideline or undo the Obama administration’s civil rights efforts, which have included investigations of police departments for unconstitutional practices and lawsuits meant to protect the rights of transgender individuals and black voters.
“Given some of his past statements and his staunch opposition to immigration reform, I am very concerned about what he would do with the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice and want to hear what he has to say,” incoming Democratic minority leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York said in a statement.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said he strongly supported Sessions, who he said “has worked tirelessly to safeguard the public and to improve the lives of Americans from all walks of life.
Sessions’ peers on the Senate Judiciary Committee will almost certainly delve into the Alabama senator’s past statements on race at his confirmation hearing. The panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, hinted as much on Friday, saying the “American people deserve to learn about Senator Sessions’ record.”
Leahy voted against Sessions for a district judgeship when he last came before the Judiciary Committee in 1986.
During that hearing, Sessions was criticized for joking in the presence of an attorney with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division that the Ku Klux Klan was “OK” until he learned they smoked marijuana. He was also said to have called a black assistant U.S. attorney “boy” and the NAACP “un-American” and “communist-inspired.”
Gerry Hebert, a former Justice Department attorney who worked with Sessions in the early 1980s, said he remembered Sessions making racially offensive remarks.
“I filed all these things away thinking, ‘God, what a racist this guy is,'” Hebert said.
Sessions, a former prosecutor, has said the racially charged allegations against him have been painful to him and an unfair stain on his public reputation. He called the matter “heartbreaking” in a 2009 CNN interview and described the allegations as “false distortions.”
In defending his record, Sessions is likely to point to his vote to confirm Eric Holder as the country’s first black attorney general and to point to his sponsorship of the bipartisan Fair Sentencing Act, which sought to reduce racial disparities in how black and white drug offenders are treated.
When he was U.S. Attorney in Alabama, his office investigated the 1981 murder of Michael Donald, a black man who was kidnapped, beaten and killed by two Klansmen who hanged his body in a tree. The two men were later arrested and convicted.
“He couldn’t have been more supportive of making sure we got convicted the murderers of the last black man who was lynched by the Klan,” said former Justice Department attorney Barry Kowalski, who worked with Sessions.
But “those incidents don’t obliterate the well-established record of hostility to civil rights enforcement in other areas,” said Wade Henderson, the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
Sessions’ civil rights record as a prosecutor and a senator matters because, if confirmed, he would have oversight of a division that Holder has described as the Justice Department’s “crown jewel.”
Sessions himself has said a “properly exercised” Civil Rights Division “provides tremendous benefit to American citizens” but should not be used as “a sword to assert inappropriate claims that have the effect of promoting political agendas.”
As attorney general, he would have the power to depart significantly from the priorities of his Democratic-nominated predecessors.
The Obama administration Justice Department has opened 24 investigations of law enforcement agencies, including police departments in Baltimore, Chicago and Ferguson, Missouri, for unconstitutional practices and has reached court-enforceable consent decrees with many of them. It sued North Carolina over a bathroom bill it said discriminated against transgender individuals, and has challenged state voting laws that it said disenfranchised minority voters.
As a supporter of Trump, who campaigned on law and order, Sessions is likely to pursue fewer civil rights investigations of troubled police departments. He may also elevate voter fraud as a priority, something the current Justice Department leaders see as negligible.
In the mid-1980s, Sessions was criticized over the prosecution of three civil rights activists on charges of vote tampering in Perry County, Alabama. The three activists, who included Albert Turner, a former adviser to Martin Luther King Jr., were acquitted.
During his confirmation hearing Sessions defended the case, citing evidence of absentee-ballot tampering. Democrats in Congress and civil-rights groups said it was an example of the Reagan Administration intimidating black voters.
As a senator, Sessions condemned the Justice Department in 2009 for dropping its case against the New Black Panther Party following allegations of voter intimidation outside a Philadelphia polling place. He has also defended the lawfulness of state voter identification laws.
Despite any policy differences, the Civil Rights Division is expected to continue enforcing civil rights laws, such as prosecuting police officers for egregious acts of violence against unarmed citizens.
“The challenge for an incoming administration is always to make those policy changes without making law enforcement look like a purely political undertaking,” said William Yeomans, who worked in the division for more than two decades. Otherwise, “it hurts the legitimacy of the institution.”
Associated Press writer Eileen Sullivan in Washington and Kimberly Chandler in Montgomery, Alabama contributed to this report.
San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro was long viewed as biding his time: waiting out shifting demographics in Texas until 2018, when a Hispanic Democrat with a national profile could be a formidable contender for governor.
Instead, the 39-year-old rising political star has accepted President Barack Obama’s offer to become the nation’s housing secretary. Aside from positioning Castro as a possible vice presidential candidate in 2016, it’s a promotion that his fiercely Republican home state couldn’t offer anytime soon.
Democrats, led by architects of Obama’s re-election in 2012, are pouring millions of dollars into the state to put Texas back in play on the electoral map. No Democrat has won a statewide race in Texas in two decades, the longest streak of political futility in the U.S. But the state’s booming Hispanic population — Hispanics since 2000 have counted for roughly two out of every three new residents — has given Democrats hope. At the same time, a turnaround could still be far off.
“If we do what we’re supposed to do, we’re going to be OK in Texas for a long, long time,” said Lionel Sosa, a Republican former adviser to President George W. Bush who helped the GOP capture 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 2004 presidential election.
Castro is an up-and-comer described as an “all-star” on Friday by Obama, who in 2012 picked him to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. A Mexican-American whose mother was a civil rights activist, Castro at the time was coming off an easy re-election in San Antonio, where he said he saw himself staying as mayor until term limits pushed him out in 2017.
Those close to him said joining Obama’s cabinet now after spurning a previous opportunity wasn’t a matter of Castro growing pessimistic or impatient about his future in Texas.
“A lot of people take the longer view of the demographic changes occurring in our state. I think that (Castro) has always known both the demographic and political realities in Texas,” said Democratic state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, another of the party’s rising stars in San Antonio. “But opportunity is only going to knock so many times when the president of the United States asks you to serve.”
Mark McKinnon, a top Republican strategist who advised the presidential campaigns of Bush and John McCain, said Castro had hit his political ceiling back home.
“I think Julian Castro is (a) big fish that has just outgrown his pond in Texas,” he said in an email interview.
Wendy Davis, a Texas Democrat equally as famous as Castro after her nearly 13-hour filibuster over new abortion restrictions last summer, has energized her party like no gubernatorial candidate since Ann Richards, who narrowly won the office in 1990. Yet Davis remains a heavy underdog to Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott.
Nor is the Texas GOP getting any less conservative: Tea party challengers are poised to knock off establishment Republicans and clean up in primary runoffs Tuesday.
Democrats say 2020 is a realistic target for Texas to become a swing state. Obama lost Texas by 16 points in 2012, and a year later, those who engineered his re-election campaign launched Battleground Texas with the goal of using long-term, grass-roots organizing to ultimately put the state’s 38 electoral votes up for grabs.
If confirmed by the Senate, Castro would become one of the highest-ranking Hispanic officials in the federal government. Two years ago, Castro spoofed the constant speculation about his political ceiling with a video in which he asks his iPhone’s digital personal assistant, Siri, whether he should run for higher office.
“Ay, mijo,” the phone answered back in Spanish. “Of course you should.”
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Shuffling his second-term Cabinet, President Barack Obama plans to nominate Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan to be budget director and is considering San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro to succeed Donovan, according to people familiar with the selection process.
The moves would raise the profile of two men with close ties to the president.
Donovan is an original member of Obama’s Cabinet and is well-liked within the White House, where officials have lauded his work overseeing the government’s response to Hurricane Sandy.
As budget director, he would have significant influence over the administration’s policy and spending priorities.
Castro’s star has been on the rise since Obama picked him to deliver the keynote address at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. The 39-year-old Castro is considered a possible vice presidential pick in 2016.
If Castro is nominated to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development and is confirmed by the Senate, he would become one of the highest-ranking Hispanic officials in the Obama administration.
A person familiar with the selection process said Donovan has been offered the budget director job and has accepted. A person with knowledge of Castro’s vetting said the mayor has expressed interest in the housing job and plans to accept if it is offered following a formal screening process.
Both people spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the situation ahead of an official announcement from the White House. The White House said Saturday that it had no personnel announcements to make.
Obama has previously tried to offer Castro a Cabinet post, but the mayor decided to stay in San Antonio and handily won a third term last year.
“This was a job I really did look forward to growing up, when I thought about politics,” Castro said in 2011. “So I’m not in a hurry to leave.”
Still, Castro and his brother have become popular figures on the Democratic fundraising circuit. Julian Castro in particular is seen as a possible running mate in 2016 for a party that has staked its success in presidential elections in part on winning broad support from Hispanics.
Serving in Obama’s Cabinet would help broaden Castro’s experience beyond local politics.
HUD plays a key role in the “Promise Zone” initiative, a federal effort to revitalize high-poverty communities by increasing economic activity, improving educational opportunities and leveraging private capital. San Antonio was among the first cities that received a grant for the program from the administration.
Donovan has overseen the department throughout Obama’s presidency. The 48-year-old is seen by Obama advisers as a strong manager and was tapped in 2012 to oversee the administration’s response efforts after Sandy battered the East Coast.
“In the aftermath of Sandy, when we thought about who was somebody who we had confidence could drive a process to make sure that the federal, state and local coordination delivered for the people who had been affected, and that we could rebuild both on the New York side and the Jersey side as effectively as possible and as quickly as possible, Shaun came to mind,” Obama said Wednesday during a fundraiser in New York that Donovan also attended.
The director of the Office of Management and Budget is a Cabinet-level post under Obama. Those who have held the job earlier in the administration, including current Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, have played crucial roles in setting budget priorities and negotiating fiscal agreements with Congress.
If confirmed by the Senate, Donovan would take over from Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who was nominated to lead Department of Health and Human Services after Kathleen Sebelius resigned this year.