Monday 22 May 2017

Trump continues with top team appointments after North Korea tweet

Donald Trump tweeted that North Korea would not develop nuclear weapons capable of reaching the United States (AP/Matt Rourke)
Donald Trump tweeted that North Korea would not develop nuclear weapons capable of reaching the United States (AP/Matt Rourke)

US president-elect Donald Trump has moved to fill senior posts in his administration even as new questions emerged about his priorities at home and abroad.

With his inauguration less than three weeks away, Mr Trump has appointed a former Reagan government official who has condemned Republicans' commitment to free trade as US trade representative.

The incoming president indicated that Robert Lighthizer, who is expected to take a hard line against China, would represent the US "as we fight for good trade deals that put the American worker first".

The new administration's specific plans for crafting new trade deals, spokesman Sean Spicer said, "will come in time".

While several hundred high-level White House posts remain unfilled, just a handful of outstanding Cabinet-level vacancies remain, specifically in the departments of Agriculture and Veterans Affairs, as well as a director of national intelligence.

Mr Trump's private meetings included one with Leo MacKay, a senior executive at a military contractor who previously served in the Department of Veterans Affairs under former president George W Bush.

"The president-elect is up on the issues," said Mr MacKay, a senior vice president at Lockheed Martin Corp, citing "first-class health care" for veterans as one of his priorities.

While tending to his cabinet, the president-elect and his senior advisers also worked to craft a domestic and international agenda while huddled behind closed doors in his Manhattan skyscraper.

Mr Trump has offered few details on his specific plans for governing in the months leading up to his stunning victory.

He signalled that he would not give his blessing to all of the Republicans' priorities on Capitol Hill, however, and openly questioned the timing of the House Republicans' push to gut an independent ethics board just as the new Congress gathers in Washington.

"Do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it may be, their number one act and priority"? Mr Trump tweeted. House Republicans later dropped the push.

The clash underscored Mr Trump's ability to influence the party's priorities on Capitol Hill. Once Mr Trump is inaugurated on January 20, the Republican Party will control the House, Senate and White House for the first time in nearly a decade.

US vice president-elect Mike Pence and Mr Trump's pick for secretary of state, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, are planning separate visits with representatives on Wednesday.

Ahead of those meetings, Mr Pence issued a direct challenge to Washington Republicans: "The president-elect has a very clear message to Capitol Hill. And that is, it's time to get to work.

"And it's time to keep our word to the American people."

Mr Pence said the administration's initial focus would be "repealing and replacing Obamacare" along with legislation to cut government regulation on businesses.

Mr Trump's team has yet to say whether millions of Americans covered under the health care law would lose health care insurance altogether once it is repealed.

At the same time, Mr Trump faced questions about his foreign policy, having issued a sharp statement about North Korea and China on Twitter the night before.

The president-elect charged that China "won't help with North Korea", a country working to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile.

"It won't happen!" Mr Trump tweeted.

Senior aide Kellyanne Conway said Mr Trump was putting North Korea "on notice", but he was "not making policy at the moment".

She declared that as president, Mr Trump "will stand between (North Korea) and missile capabilities".

The aggressive stance prompted a warning from Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, who said China's efforts and commitment to the dismantling of North Korea's nuclear programme are "consistent and clear".

"We hope all sides can refrain from speaking or doing anything that can aggravate the situation and work in concert to pull the issue back to dialogue and negotiation," Mr Geng said.

Press Association

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