PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — His Cabinet beginning to take shape, President-elect Donald Trump is offering a Thanksgiving prayer for unity after “a long and bruising” campaign season.
“Emotions are raw and tensions just don’t heal overnight,” the incoming president said in a video message released on the eve of the national holiday. He continued, “It’s my prayer that on this Thanksgiving we begin to heal our divisions and move forward as one country strengthened by shared purpose and very, very common resolve.”
Trump, who was gathered with family on Thursday at his Palm Beach estate, was expected to pause for a day after a two-week scramble to shape his nascent administration from scratch.
He injected the first signs of diversity into his Cabinet-to-be the day before, tapping South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and charter school advocate Betsy DeVos to lead the Department of Education. They are the first women selected for top-level administration posts. Haley is the daughter of Indian immigrants, so she also would be his first minority selection after a string of announcements of white men.
The South Carolina governor has little foreign policy experience, yet Trump praised her as “a proven dealmaker.” DeVos, like Trump, is new to government but has spent decades working to change America’s system of public education.
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson on Wednesday said “an announcement is forthcoming” on his role, which would make him the first black choice — possibly as secretary of Housing and Urban Development — but he also suggested he’d be thinking about it over the Thanksgiving holiday.
“I feel that I can make a significant contribution particularly to making our inner cities great for everyone,” Carson wrote on his Facebook page.
Trump is also expected to select billionaire investor Wilbur Ross Jr. to lead the Commerce Department, a senior Trump adviser said Wednesday, speaking only on condition of anonymity because the adviser was not authorized to disclose internal deliberations. The 78-year-old Ross, who is white, is chairman and chief strategy officer of private-equity firm W.L. Ross & Co., which has specialized in buying failing companies.
Wednesday’s picks came as Trump worked to distance himself from the “alt-right,” a movement of white supremacists who continue to cheer his election. His first appointments included chief counselor Steve Bannon, who previously led a website popular among the alt-right.
Trump on Thursday was with his family behind closed doors at Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach estate. He’s spending the Thanksgiving holiday there after a week of interviewing potential appointees in New York, punctuated by announcements of members of his national security team.
“It’s time to restore the bonds of trust between citizens, because when America is unified there is nothing beyond our reach,” the president-elect said in his Thanksgiving message, which was posted on social media.
The nasty campaign season included clashes between Trump and his new Cabinet selections.
“The people of South Carolina are embarrassed by Nikki Haley!” Trump wrote in March. Haley denounced several of his campaign comments and urged voters to “reject the siren call of the angriest voices.”
DeVos, who is from Michigan, told The Associated Press in July, “A lot of the things he has said are very off-putting and concerning.”
On Wednesday, however, Trump and his colleagues had nothing but kind words for each other. And while other Republicans largely praised the Haley pick, DeVos faced immediate criticism from left and right.
The president of the National Education Association, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, said in a statement that for years DeVos “has lobbied for failed schemes, like vouchers — which take away funding and local control from our public schools — to fund private schools at taxpayers’ expense.”
And Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, tweeted, “Trump has chosen the most ideological, anti-public ed nominee since the creation of the Dept of Education.”
At the same time, some conservatives warned that the longtime Republican donor, who along with her husband has spent millions of dollars to promote candidates who favor charter schools and school vouchers, also supports the Common Core education standards that Trump railed against during the campaign.
DeVos addressed criticism head-on, posting a “Q&A” statement that said directly about Common Core: “I am not a supporter — period.”
Trump will be sworn into office in less than 60 days. Beyond his Cabinet, he must fill hundreds of high-level administration posts.
He is expected to stay in Florida through the weekend.
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