WASHINGTON, Nov 12 – Donald Trump is to huddle Saturday with his White House transition team for a second day over cabinet picks as the president-elect says he is open to keeping parts of President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law. The billionaire real estate mogul said in interviews that he would consider an “amended” version of the 2010 law, a shift in position after vowing on the campaign trail to repeal the measure.
The announcement was one of several surprises, as Trump shook up his transition team by putting running mate Mike Pence in charge and named a cohort of Washington insiders – and three of his children – to help with the process of choosing a new cabinet. The reshuffle came as anti-Trump protesters spilled onto the streets for a third straight night, with the Republican facing mounting calls to reassure Americans who fear a xenophobic crackdown under his authority.
Throngs of people – among them families and children – rallied late Friday in New York’s Washington Square carrying banners reading “Peace and Love” and “Your wall can’t stand in our way”. Local media estimated a turnout of some 4,000 protesters. More than 1,000 people gathered in Miami, with weekend protests planned in at least half a dozen cities.
A focal point for New York protests is Trump Tower, where the real estate tycoon-turned-world-leader has been ensconced in his luxury apartment, mapping out his next steps. The 70-year-old incoming president has a mammoth task of fleshing out his cabinet, as well as steering the complex transition of power, and announced on Friday he was elevating Vice President-elect Pence to lead the process.
Trump included three of his children and his son-in-law Jared Kushner on the transition team – a move likely to raise eyebrows, since the tycoon earlier announced that should he win he would place his vast business interests into a blind trust operated by Donald Trump Jr, Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump.
And in a clear shift from his abrasive campaign, he added to his transition team a string of insider figures from the very establishment that he railed against so strongly, including Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus – now tipped as a possible chief of staff.
Trump took his first steps toward engaging with Washington on Thursday when he met with Barack Obama at the White House to discuss the transition ahead of the Jan 20 inauguration – a conversation the outgoing president called “excellent”. The Oval Office meeting appears to have nudged Trump towards a compromise on his oft-repeated threat to repeal Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Trump told The Wall Street Journal the president asked him to consider preserving parts of the healthcare law – and that he was open to the idea. “Either Obamacare will be amended, or repealed and replaced,” Trump told the newspaper. “I told him I will look at his suggestions, and out of respect, I will do that.”
According to The Journal, Trump said he favoured maintaining a prohibition on insurance companies denying consumers coverage based due to so-called pre-existing conditions. Before the law took effect, insurers had been able to refuse to cover people who had previously suffered almost any illness.
Trump also said he was not opposed to requiring insurers to allow children to remain on their parents’ insurance policies until the age of 26, a key Obamacare tenet. On the Syrian conflict, however, Trump indicated a possible sharp shift away from Obama administration policy.
“I’ve had an opposite view of many people regarding Syria,” he told the paper, suggesting a closer focus on fighting the Islamic State group – and arguing that in seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad, “we end up fighting Russia”, the regime’s ally. Trump has already spoken with a string of world leaders including British Prime Minister Theresa May and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom he reaffirmed Washington’s strong relations.
The apparently harmonious meeting between Trump and Obama was designed to heal divisions and quell fears about the health of the world’s leading democracy. Meanwhile, in an interview to be aired on Sunday, Trump showed a rare softer side, describing the election night call he received from Hillary Clinton conceding that he had won.
“It was a lovely call, and it was a tough call for her – I mean, I can imagine. I mean, for me, it would have been very, very difficult. She couldn’t have been nicer. She just said, ‘Congratulations, Donald, well done’,” he said in the interview, excerpts of which were aired Friday.
And I said, “I want to thank you very much, you were a great competitor,” he said, praising his vanquished political foe as “very strong and very smart.” He also described a call he received from her husband, former president Bill Clinton, who he said “couldn’t have been more gracious.” Trump said he wouldn’t rule out approaching the former US leader for advice. — AFP