President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday began to follow through on a pledge to put together a diverse administration — not only expanding its makeup along ethnic and gender lines, but also inviting aboard former critics and adversaries.
Trump named South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) to be his United Nations ambassador, tapped billionaire philanthropist Betsy DeVos as education secretary and appeared to be nearing an announcement of retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In choosing two women — one the daughter of immigrants from India — and possibly an African American man for Cabinet-level appointments, Trump has cast more broadly than he did with his first five picks for top jobs in his Cabinet and White House. All of those initial selections were white men.
Trump’s latest appointments also show that a president-elect famous for demanding unwavering loyalty from those around him is magnanimous enough to look beyond his past grievances — and perhaps has concluded that recruiting potential foes onto his team is a smart strategy for healing and neutralizing the deep divisions within the Republican Party.
In a videotaped Thanksgiving message released Wednesday evening, Trump made a broader appeal for political reconciliation after a campaign marked by racial and gender divisions: “We have just finished a long and bruising political campaign. Emotions are raw and tensions just don’t heal overnight.”
“It doesn’t go quickly, unfortunately,” the president-elect added, “but we have before us the chance now to make history together to bring real change to Washington, real safety to our cities and real prosperity to our communities, including our inner cities.”
His comments came as votes continued to be counted from the Nov. 8 election and showed that his Democratic opponent, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, has amassed a popular-vote lead that now exceeds 2 million ballots, or a margin of about 1.5 percent. Yet she finished nearly 60 votes behind Trump in the electoral college.
That disparity has festered with many Clinton supporters — including some who are calling for recount efforts in several states that she lost — making it more difficult for them to accept the fact that their candidate will not be taking the oath of office in January.
Meanwhile, the Republican Party continues to grapple with internal fissures stemming from the fact that much of its establishment wing had refused to get behind Trump’s candidacy or did so only reluctantly.
Trump and Haley had been harshly critical of each other during the bitter 2016 campaign. Just days before the election, she pronounced herself “not a fan” of her party’s nominee, though she would vote for him, and lamented that “this election has turned my stomach upside down.”
For his part, Trump had deemed her an embarrassment to her state.
Carson was one of the 16 opponents that Trump vanquished in the Republican primary season. At one point, quoting a memoir in which Carson acknowledged having a “pathological temper” in his youth, Trump said that the soft-spoken former neurosurgeon had a sickness comparable to being a child molester.
Though Carson endorsed Trump after folding his own campaign, it was with ambivalence. “Are there better people?” Carson said in a radio interview. “Probably.”
DeVos, a major GOP donor who had contributed to several of Trump’s primary opponents, also questioned whether Trump reflected Republican Party values.
Haley and Carson both have scant experience in the subject areas of their posts — international diplomacy in her case and housing and community development in his.
DeVos, on the other hand, has a national reputation as 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.
Haley has been seen as a rising star in the Republican Party since her 2010 election as South Carolina governor, where she won the GOP nomination as an insurgent fueled by the tea party but became well-regarded by the party establishment as well.
Last year, Haley won wide acclaim in the wake of a racially motivated massacre in an African American church in Charleston; her efforts to heal and unify her state included calling for the removal of a Confederate flag on the grounds of the State Capitol that had for decades been a symbol of divisiveness.
She tangled with Trump repeatedly during the presidential campaign and used her star turn giving the GOP response to this year’s State of the Union address to rebuke his candidacy as “the siren call of the angriest voices.” Shortly before her state’s crucial primary, Haley endorsed Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) for the nomination.
But at a meeting of the Republican Governors Association the week after the presidential election, Haley was sounding a different note, saying she was “just giddy” about the prospect of a Trump administration.
Serving alongside Trump offers her an opportunity to ascend on the global stage, gain experience in foreign affairs and link herself again to the grass-roots, Trump-loving activists in the Republican base.
Haley also leaves herself positioned for a future run for national office or an elevation to secretary of state or another Cabinet position in the coming years, should there be a shake-up.
Trump is considering another prominent former rival and mainstream Republican, 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, for secretary of state, although some Trump advisers are pushing back against that and backing other candidates, such as former New York City mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.
DeVos — whose husband, Dick DeVos Jr., is an heir to the Amway direct-sale fortune — is a Michigan power broker and major donor to conservative causes and candidates around the country. Her brother is Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, one of the most profitable private security contractors during the Iraq War.
DeVos and her family supported Rubio in the GOP presidential primaries, and she was never an enthusiastic supporter of Trump. “I still have reservations about him as a person,” she told The Washington Post in July at the Republican National Convention, which she attended as a Michigan delegate.
She was more enthusiastic on Wednesday. “I am honored to work with the President-elect on his vision to make American education great again. The status quo in ed is not acceptable,” DeVos tweeted Wednesday afternoon, before any official announcement was made. “Together, we can work to make transformational change to ensure every student has the opportunity to fulfill his or her highest potential.”
DeVos has been closer to Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who as governor of Indiana pushed to expand that state’s voucher program into the nation’s largest.
Her nomination was greeted with enthusiasm by GOP leaders on Capitol Hill. Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and a frequent critic of what he viewed as the Obama administration’s federal overreach on education, called her “an excellent choice.”
But others said her nomination heralded an intent by the Trump administration to dismantle the nation’s public schools by draining them of students and resources.
“Betsy DeVos is everything Donald Trump said is wrong in America: an ultra-wealthy heiress who uses her money to game the system and push a special-interest agenda that is opposed by the majority of voters,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn — executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, an organization that has long raised concerns about funneling tax dollars to religious schools — called her nomination “an insult to public education.”
Meanwhile, Carson tweeted Wednesday that “an announcement is forthcoming about my role in helping to make America great again,’’ although he declined to be more specific. Trump had tweeted Tuesday that he is “seriously considering” Carson for the HUD post.
In an interview with Fox News, Carson said that the issues he would deal with in that job represent “a long-term interest of mine, and I’ll be thinking and praying about it seriously over the holiday.”
Carson has often spoken of the struggles of his upbringing by a poor single mother in Detroit. He earned a scholarship to Yale and ultimately achieved acclaim as a pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
Emma Brown and Robert Costa contributed to this report.