Donald Trump’s presidential transition team is building out a far more ambitious agenda 24 hours after the businessman-turned-TV-star clinched the presidency and helped the GOP preserve control of Congress.
Virtually overnight, the Trump transition team has been flooded with interest from once-skeptical mainstream Republicans and Washington insiders, who are now showing no qualms about working for the Trump administration, say multiple sources close to the team.
With complete GOP control of the executive and legislative branches, top Republican policy experts see a chance for enacting a sweeping conservative agenda, from tougher immigration laws to tax reform to a repeal of Obamacare, and they want to jump on the bandwagon.
“We’re on the cusp of accomplishing very big conservative policy goals, and that is very exciting,” says Lanhee Chen, policy director for Mitt Romney’s presidential run who as recently as July said Trump lacked an ‘ideological core.’
“I’d be lying to say I wasn’t open to it” when asked about a potential job in a Trump administration, Chen added, before saying that he was not trying to campaign for a specific position.
“I frequently compare it to drinking from a tsunami over there,” says former Rep. Michael Ferguson, who now lobbies for BakerHostetler, where many of the Trump transition team fundraisers have been held. “The list of people actually willing to be considered has dramatically gone up.”
So has the number of D.C. insiders tripping over themselves to express support for Trump. “What will be really interesting is the number of D.C. lawyers and lobbyists who claim that they supported Trump all along,” says Ken Kies, a prominent tax lobbyist, Trump supporter and former chief-of-staff to the Joint Committee on Taxation. “They want to be able to show their clients that they have influence with Trump, even if they don’t.”
Many members of the 100-plus Trump transition team were surprised by the election results. Many privately expected the Republican to get lambasted at the polls.
“There was definitely some shock,” one team member told POLITICO, adding, “Let’s just put it this way, I owe a lot of people around here lunches and beers.”
In recent days as polls tightened, the Trump transition team gained momentum. They built a tentative war plan around the premise that Democrats would control the Senate and that a Trump White House would be locked in daily battles with the likes of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
The momentum has only heightened following the election, with sources inside the team saying they are scrambling to refine the 100-day agenda that dozens of policy experts spent months developing. “They’re kind of for the first time taking this thing out for a spin. It’s not super fleshed out, what the plan is. It’s a loosey-goose system,” says one lobbyist close to the transition. “They’re going from zero to 100,000 miles per hour.”
Now, they’re mapping out the legislation they can easily move through the Republican-controlled Senate with the expectation that most policies, apart from a Supreme Court nomination, will sail through.
Among the new ideas for the first 100 days: Inserting funding into appropriations bills for a wall on the border with Mexico to keep out illegal immigrants and undoing hundreds of little pieces of Barack Obama’s legacy through executive orders. Transition team members also want to repeal Obamacare and put together a tax bill — though those efforts are expected to take months, not weeks.
Trump’s DC transition staff huddled in Washington on Wednesday to bask in victory. “Today was more or less a processing day for most people. They’re trying to figure out what’s going on and what the next steps are going to be,” the person on the Trump transition said. “Not that it wasn’t real before, but it’s very real now.”
Trump spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment on the transition. But sources close to the team said it is in the early stages of setting up so-called landing teams, which are tasked with going into dozens of federal agencies and planning the handoff from Obama to Trump.
Trump’s victory has also unleashed new logistical hurdles. For example, the transition team is moving into a new building run by the General Services Administration that can accommodate the growing operation. The team is also expected to set up a website that will serve as an information hub for the transition. They also need to fund-raise to pay for the salaries of the transition team that’s only expected to grow.
And because Trump’s top campaign aides are largely still working out of New York, there is a geographical divide between the top brass and the the wonks toiling away in Washington. Trump’s aides are expected to soon begin moving to D.C., but it’s unclear how quickly.
Indeed, top transition aides met in New York earlier Wednesday to brief the president-elect on the transition and discuss personnel issues. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who leads the transition, was there, as was Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the first senator to endorse Trump, who is now playing a bigger role on the team.
A person familiar with the meeting said Trump and his aides are debating who to tap for chief of staff. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, Christie and campaign manager Kellyanne Conway are seen as leading candidates for the job.
Alex Isenstadt contributed to this report.