Donald Trump announced his plans early Monday to nominate Dr. Ben Carson to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
“Ben Carson has a brilliant mind and is passionate about strengthening communities and families within those communities,” Trump said in a statement distributed by his transition team. “We have talked at length about my urban renewal agenda and our message of economic revival, very much including our inner cities. Ben shares my optimism about the future of our country and is part of ensuring that this is a Presidency representing all Americans. He is a tough competitor and never gives up,” Trump added.
“I feel that I can make a significant contribution particularly by strengthening communities that are most in need,” Carson, a former GOP presidential candidate who became a Trump supporter, said in the statement. “We have much work to do in enhancing every aspect of our nation and ensuring that our nation’s housing needs are met.”
Confirming once again that political statements are never to be taken at face value, Armstrong Williams, Carson’s campaign manager and a close friend, told The Hill last month that the retired neurosurgeon was not interested in serving as Trump’s secretary of Health and Human Services. “Dr. Carson feels he has no government experience, he’s never run a federal agency. The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency,” Williams said at the time.
A few weeks later he changed his mind.
In other Trump team news, the WSJ confirmed a rumor that was floated last week, when it reported that Trump is widening the circle of candidates for secretary of state and will interview more prospects this week, transition officials said, a sign that after multiple meetings with high-profile hopefuls he still isn’t sold on whom he wants as the nation’s top diplomat.
Though Mr. Trump’s transition team said last week that the search had narrowed to four finalists, new candidates have emerged, including Rex Tillerson, chairman and chief executive of Exxon Mobil Corp., one transition adviser said. Mr. Tillerson is scheduled to meet with Mr. Trump for an interview this week. Alan Jeffers, an Exxon spokesman, declined to comment.
Mr. Tillerson, 64 years old, grew up in Texas and joined Exxon in 1975. He leads a company with operations in more than 50 countries, from Canada to Papua New Guinea, that often exerts itself abroad with the sweep of a sovereign nation. He is slated to retire next year and Exxon has identified Darren Woods as a successor.
As Exxon’s CEO since 2006, Mr. Tillerson could leverage existing relationships with numerous world leaders, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin, with whom he has had dealings for more than a decade.
Mr. Tillerson’s close ties to the company, including tens of millions of dollars of Exxon shares that will become available to him in the coming decade, could complicate his efforts to lift sanctions or intervene in trade disputes where Exxon has a financial interest. It would be almost impossible for him to recuse himself from working with all the countries in which Exxon operates or markets products.
Mr. Tillerson’s corporate pedigree would make him an unconventional choice, foreign policy analysts said. Jon Alterman, a Middle East expert at the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies, noted that former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles was a lawyer at a top New York City firm, but not a CEO, and that George Shultz was president of Bechtel Corp., but also served in government.
As head of a company with a massive global footprint, Mr. Tillerson, though, is no stranger to foreign leaders. As Exxon’s chief executive, he has spoken against sanctions on Russia, where the company in 2012 signed a $3.2 billion deal that Mr. Putin said could eventually reach $500 billion in investments.
Mr. Tillerson has some of the closest ties among U.S. CEOs to Mr. Putin and Russia, with his work there dating back to when Mr. Putin rose to power after Boris Yeltsin’s resignation. The 2012 deal gave Exxon access to prized arctic resources. Later that year, the Kremlin bestowed the country’s Order of Friendship on the American businessman.
Mr. Tillerson supported a Trump rival in the Republican primaries: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. He gave the maximum $2,700 to the Bush campaign, and another $5,000 to the Right to Rise, the super PAC that backed Mr. Bush. He didn’t make a contribution to Mr. Trump’s campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political giving.
Vice President-elect Mike Pence, appearing Sunday on NBC, said the list of secretary of state candidates “might grow a little bit.”
On Sunday evening, Mr. Trump’s transition officials said another candidate for both secretary of state and energy secretary is Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.). The conservative Democrat would add a bipartisan dimension to the Trump cabinet if chosen.
Kellyanne Conway, a senior Trump adviser, told reporters Sunday: “It is true that he’s broadened the search…He’s very fortunate to have interest among serious men and women who, all of whom need to understand that their first responsibility as secretary of state would be to implement and adhere to the president-elect’s America First foreign policy, if you will, his view of the world.”
A final decision could come by week’s end, the transition adviser said.