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Trump looks to close Washington’s revolving door

Members of Donald Trump’s administration will have to agree to a lifetime ban on lobbying for foreign governments, his transition team said on Thursday, as the president-elect seeks to reassure voters that he is sticking to his promise to rid Washington of cronyism and corruption.

Mr Trump ran on a campaign to “drain the swamp”, but his transition team has sputtered in recent days, flip-flopping on whether it will accept former lobbyists in the new administration.

On Thursday, his team changed position again, announcing that it would appoint public officials with lobbying experience, as long as they signed declarations promising three things: that they had terminated their lobbying work before taking office; that they would wait five years after leaving office to take on new lobbying work; and that they would never lobby again for foreign governments.

Sean Spicer, chief strategist for the Republican National Committee, called the new measures “true forward-thinking change”. 

“What is crucial to understand about this lobbying ban is instead of looking back, it looks forward,” Mr Spicer said in a conference call with reporters. “The focus on this is to ensure that service to the national [interest] is truly first. And that [trying] to enrich themselves is not at the heart of it.”

Yet in the same call, both Mr Spicer and Jason Miller, Mr Trump’s communications director, struggled to answer who exactly was briefing the president-elect as he took more than two dozen calls from foreign leaders, or what security precautions his office was taking to make sure those calls were not intercepted. They also failed to provide further information on Mr Trump’s schedule for the next week beyond a two-hour transition meeting on Friday. 

At the same time, there were signs of an insurgency brewing inside the Democratic Party after Ohio Representative Tim Ryan announced that he would challenge House minority leader Nancy Pelosi for her leadership role in the Democrats’ December 1 vote.

In a letter to fellow representatives, Mr Ryan argued that Democrats needed new leadership to seize back their majority in the House. Ms Pelosi has been in the role since 2007.

As Mr Trump prepares to form his cabinet, the president-elect has continued to meet with top surrogates such as Jeff Sessions, the Alabama senator who was a powerful ally of Mr Trump during the election. But he is also meeting with some of his top critics.

On Thursday, the president-elect scheduled meetings with Nikki Haley, the South Carolina governor and former critic of Mr Trump who is being considered for secretary of state. Mitt Romney, another vocal critic of Mr Trump during the campaign, is also being considered for the secretary of state job and will meet Mr Trump on Sunday, MSNBC reported, while Ted Cruz, Mr Trump’s fierce primary rival, is one of the people being considered for attorney-general.

In a meeting in Washington, vice president-elect Mike Pence told Republican lawmakers to “buckle up”, a reference to the plans he and Mr Trump have to overhaul some of Barack Obama’s signature policy achievements, including Obamacare. Mr Pence was also meeting the two top Democrats in Congress, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the incoming senate minority leader. 

Stricter anti-lobbying rules could make the task of putting a new administration harder by dissuading some veteran public officials from joining. 

Mr Trump’s advisers are already behind schedule in sending representatives in to federal agencies, a process that is meant to help ease the transition from one administration to the next. While agencies including the Treasury were ready for Mr Trump’s transition officials as early as Monday, those representatives had yet to arrive days later.

Mr Spicer said the transition team would send the names of representatives set to serve in the Department of Defence, the State Department, the National Security Council and the Department of Justice to the White House later on Thursday. 

Early next week, it would announce transition appointments for other agencies including the Treasury, the Federal Reserve, and Securities and Exchange Commission, Mr Spicer said. 

The developments came as James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, announced on Thursday that he had resigned after five decades of service. 

One name being considered by Mr Trump’s transition team to replace him is James Woolsey, the former CIA director under president Bill Clinton and a national security adviser in both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Via FT