President-elect Donald Trump appeared to be focusing on core economic issues in his emerging Cabinet on Wednesday, while he prepared to step aside from his sprawling businesses.
Trump officially announced key members of his economic team, choosing former banker and Hollywood financier Steven Mnuchin as treasury secretary and billionaire industrialist Wilbur Ross to run the Commerce Department. As Ross’s deputy, Trump turned to Chicago Cubs co-owner Todd Rickets, whose family are powerful conservative donors.
“This team will be instrumental in implementing the President-elect’s America First economic plan that will create more than 25 million jobs over the next decade,” Trump’s transition team said in statement.
The economic focus came as Trump’s advisers continued promoting his role in a deal with air-conditioning manufacturer Carrier, which has announced it would reverse plans to move one of its factories from Indiana to Mexico. The company, owned by United Technologies, said about 1,000 U.S. jobs would be preserved. Trump’s promise to keep jobs in the United States and rebuild American manufacturing was a core part of his insurgent campaign.
“The Carrier deal, I think it’s terrific,” Mnuchin told reporters as he walked into Manhattan’s Trump Tower Wednesday morning to meet with his future boss. He said Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence had “picked up the phone and called the CEO of the United Technologies and told them we want to keep jobs here. Can’t remember the last time a president did that.”
Details of the deal remained unclear, including the extent of Trump’s personal involvement versus Pence or other officials, and whether any incentives were offered to keep the jobs in the state, where Pence is the governor.
Also uncertain were the specifics of how Trump, a longtime real estate developer with interests around the globe, planned to step away from overseeing his business. Trump tweeted Wednesday morning that he would soon leave the conglomerate.
“I will be holding a major news conference in New York City with my children on December 15 to discuss the fact that I will be leaving my great business in total in order to fully focus on running the country in order to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” Trump wrote on Twitter, which has remained his favorite communication medium during the transition.
The announcement, seen as a response to increasingly voiced concerns about the potential conflicts of interest between Trump’s public and private roles, marks a turn from his months-long refusal to distance himself from his private affairs while holding the nation’s highest public office.
But Trump did not say if the new arrangement would include a full sale of his stake or, as he has offered before, a ceding of company management to his children, which ethics advisers have said would not resolve worries that the business could still influence his decisions in the Oval Office.
Presidents are not bound by the strict conflict-of-interest laws governing most U.S. elected officials. But most modern presidents have agreed to sell or sequester their assets in a “blind trust,” led by an independent manager with supreme control, in order to keep past business deals, investments and relationships from influencing their White House term.
Giving company management to his three eldest children – Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka – would still leave open the potential for Trump to make presidential decisions for their benefit. The children have already played a key part in Trump’s governing preparations, serving on the transition team now selecting key appointees and sitting in on meetings with foreign heads of state.
Mnuchin, an investor and former Goldman Sachs executive who joined Trump’s campaign in May as finance chairman, has no government experience. But in his statement announcing Mnuchin’s nomination, which is subject to Senate confirmation, Trump hailed the former private equity fund head as “a world-class financier, banker and businessman,” who has “played a key role in developing our plan to build a dynamic, booming economy that will create millions of jobs.”
Ross is an investor known as the “king of bankruptcy” for buying beaten-down companies with the potential to deliver profits. He helped shape the Trump campaign’s economic agenda, particularly its hard-line stance on the need to renegotiate or withdraw from free trade agreements. That position resonated with the working class voters who were instrumental in delivering Trump’s upset victory.
Trump said that Ross, whose nomination is also subject to Senate confirmation, “is a champion of American manufacturing and knows how to help companies succeed. Most importantly, he is one of the greatest negotiators I have ever met.”
The two expressed confidence in the incoming administration’s ability to boost economic growth as high as 4 percent a year.
Crucial to that projection would be passage of Trump’s proposed overhaul of the tax code, including streamlining individual tax rates into three brackets and reducing the corporate tax rate to 15 percent. Independent research groups have estimated the plan could cost as much as $6 trillion over the next decade. However, that analysis does not include the potential economic benefits the tax cuts could generate.
Trump’s new team spread out to give a sales pitch on Wednesday for his economic vision. In a joint interview with Ross on CNBC’s Squawk Box, Mnuchin said reforming the nation’s tax code would be Trump’s top priority and promised significant tax breaks for the middle class but no absolute cut for high-income households.
And at Trump Tower, Mnuchin told reporters that the new administration’s “number one priority is going to be the economy, get back to three to four percent growth. We believe that’s very sustainable.”
Asked how they would achieve Trump’s promise to convince U.S. companies to bring back massive amounts of cash they have stockpiled overseas because of what they see as high corporate taxes, Mnuchin said:” Well our first priority is going to be the tax plan and the tax plan has both the corporate aspects to it, lowering corporate taxes so we make U.S. companies the most competitive in the world.”
He added, without elaboration, that Trump will ensure that “we repatriate trillions of dollars back to the United States.”
Drew Harwell, Ylan Mui and Jim Tankersley contributed to this report.
Video: Mnuchin outlines Trump administration’s economic priorities
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Video: Trump’s Transition: Who is Steven Mnuchin?
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