President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday selected two prominent Republican women for Cabinet-level positions, adding diversity to an inner circle that was already coming under fire for being composed mostly of white men.
In a potentially controversial choice, Trump intends to nominate billionaire philanthropist Betsy DeVos for education secretary, people familiar with the selection said, turning to a conservative activist who has forcefully pushed for private school voucher programs. Her nomination is expected to face strong opposition from public school advocates, who oppose her efforts to funnel taxpayer dollars from public to private and religious schools.
Hours earlier, Trump had announced that he will fill the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations slot with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a rising Republican star and daughter of Indian immigrants who has virtually no foreign policy experience.
Haley’s nomination had marked Trump’s first female appointment to a Cabinet-level post after his initial selections, such as Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions and incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn, had been older white men.
Though Trump was elected with strong support from white working class voters, people familiar with the president-elect’s thinking said he wanted to announce both women’s appointments before Thanksgiving to show his cabinet will be diverse. The decision to nominate DeVos, who met with Trump last weekend, was made in the past 48 hours, the people said. They added that DeVos benefited from strong support in the conservative movement and among conservative political donors.
But DeVos immediately drew scathing opposition from the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teacher’s union. “By nominating Betsy DeVos, the Trump administration has demonstrated just how out of touch it is with what works best for students, parents, educators and communities,’’ NEA President Lily Eskelsen García said in a statement. “She has consistently pushed a corporate agenda to privatize, de-professionalize and impose cookie-cutter solutions to public education.’’
While Trump’s transition team has not commented publicly, DeVos tweeted that she is “honored to work with the President-elect on his vision to make American education great again. The status quo in ed is not acceptable.”
Haley, a former Trump critic, is generally considered a mainstream Republican, with views on military and national security matters that fall within the GOP’s hawkish mainstream.
“Governor Haley has a proven track record of bringing people together regardless of background or party affiliation to move critical policies forward for the betterment of her state and our country,” Trump said in a statement. “She will be a great leader representing us on the world stage.”
Haley, who has accepted the offer, said she is “honored that the President-elect has asked me to join his team and serve the country we love.’’
Her words represented a sharp departure from the campaign, during which she initially backed Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) for the GOP nomination and lambasted Trump as “everything a governor doesn’t want in a president.”
Trump is considering another prominent former rival and mainstream Republican, 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, for secretary of state, though some Trump advisers are reportedly pushing back against that and backing other candidates, such as former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Haley’s selection, also seen as an effort to reach out to establishment Republicans unsettled by Trump’s surprise victory, came amid indications that he was slowing down transition planning to spend Thanksgiving with his family. The president-elect flew Tuesday night to Mar-a-Lago, his private club in Palm Beach, where he will spend the holiday and weekend.
Trump aides declined to provide details of his schedule over the next few days, saying in a conference call that Trump’s family prefers keeping the holiday private. The aides said Trump planned to announce another Cabinet-level nominee later Wednesday but would not elaborate.
One possibility is another former Trump rival, Ben Carson, who could be named secretary of housing and urban development. Carson tweeted Wednesday that “an announcement is forthcoming about my role in helping to make America great again,’’ though he declined to be more specific. Trump had tweeted Tuesday that he is “seriously considering” Carson for the post.
Carson, who ran against Trump for the Republican nomination before backing him, told Fox News: “It certainly is something that has been a long-term interest of mine, and I’ll be thinking and praying about it seriously over the holiday.”
Haley, 44, who is serving her second term, has worked on trade and labor issues and traveled abroad as governor, including to Europe. She is considered a novice in international affairs, but her home state senator, Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), appeared to be trying to buck up her foreign policy bona fides in a statement praising Haley on Wednesday.
“As Governor of South Carolina she has recruited and dealt with some of the largest international business firms in the world. Her husband was a member of the South Carolina National Guard who served a tour of duty in Afghanistan,” Graham said. “Governor Haley and her family fully understand what is at stake in the war against radical Islam. I know she will be a valuable ally to President-elect Trump.”
Haley, who met with Trump Thursday at Manhattan’s Trump Tower, grew up in a small South Carolina town and was elected governor in 2010 as a tea party reformer. But she has since been viewed as part of the GOP establishment.
Her breakout moment on the national stage came with her widely praised handling of last year’s slaying of a prominent minister and eight parishioners at a historic African American church in Charleston. Haley choked back tears at a news conference, saying the “heart and soul of South Carolina was broken.’’
She was at the forefront of the subsequent debate over whether the Confederate flag should still fly on statehouse grounds, insisting that the legislature remove it. After the flag came down, she told The Washington Post that she has two teenage children and that “I just couldn’t look them in the face and keep that flag up.”
If confirmed, Haley would be replaced by South Carolina Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster, a top Trump ally. His ascension is seen inside of Trump’s inner circle as a welcome consequence of her departure, the person said — a way to promote them both.
During the campaign, Haley was critical of some of Trump’s proposals, such as his temporary ban on Muslims’ entry to the U.S.
When she gave the GOP response to President Obama’s State of the Union address this year, Haley criticized the “angriest voices” within national politics and their “siren call” to voters, a line widely seen as a not-so-subtle shot at Trump’s campaign.
But when she visited Trump last week, Haley told reporters that she never disliked Trump despite her past comments.
“He was a friend and supporter before he ran for president, and was kind to me then. But when I see something I am uncomfortable with, I say it,” she said. “When we met, it was friends who had known each other before.”