Ksenija Pavlovic, Editor in Chief of the Pavlovic Today joins the White House Press Pool for a weekend in New Jersey, where President-Elect Donald J. Trump is holding transitional meetings that will decide who will govern America over the next presidential term.
10:00 Marriott Bridgewater. I am in to cover a full day of meetings of President Elect’s transition team from Mitt Romney to Retired Gen. James Mattis, the first one most likely to become the Secretary of State and the latter Secretary of Defense. If Gen. Mattis, once known as “Mad Dog Mattis,” gets nominated and approved, he would become the highest ranking military officer to become Secretary of Defense in the last fifty years. American government in the making November 19th, 2016.
10:30 In the lobby full of journalists, Stephanie Grisham is giving instructions for the day. We are told that yesterday, President-elect Donald J. Trump spoke with the following foreign leaders: Prime Minister of Iraq, Dr. Haider Al-Abadi, Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, President of European Union Council, Donald Tusk.
Everybody is about to head to the Trump International Golf Club at Bedminster, which is spread out over the vast fields of golf terrains. Everyone is here, including CNN, CNBC, CBS, FOX, as well, as we will later find out, the controversial Steve Bannon.
To Trump’s estate, I am driving in the car with the political reporter Brent Johnson from Star Ledger. He is an expert on New Jersey politics and has been covering Governor Chris Christie, who is scheduled to meet with Trump tomorrow, for a long time.
One still unresolved puzzle is what the political destiny of Christie, who was one of the first Republicans to endorse Donald Trump, will be. How the relationship with Christie will unfold is in fact a big, and at the same time complicated, test for Donald Trump. If the President-elect is real about not forgetting those who have been forgotten, he will need to show the same care for Christie, who came in to publicly support him when the rest of the Republicans were openly opposing him to become the Presidential nominee.
11:00 The gate of the Trump International has a line of vehicles. We are waiting to be swiped by the secret service. We are waiting and waiting and waiting. Brent is making his time useful and is taking out the laptop to type out the story he is working on. Then, we get cleared and we pass into the picturesque and calm member’s golf club for the super wealthy. Secluded is the word of the day.
12:26 PM I am in my work space at Trump’s estate when Erik Trump makes his appearance in front of the press pool without making any statements.
1:00 PM: Mitt Romney comes in a white buick. No one expected him to show up in a white buick. A black car, yes, but not the white buick. He walks straight into the building while Trump is getting out with Mike Pence to greet him. It’s all poised and smooth and floating, but for Trump to consider Romney as Secretary of State is a great turnaround considering what they said about each other during the campaign. Trump is definitely building suspense, but the Sun is so steely and everyone around me is so dead silent. Politics is a serious business, I note.
2:00 PM When, where, and how is American power made? I am typing these words over the bright computer screen, while being just few steps away from the room in which the destiny of Americans is being decided, not one state, country or continent away. It’s being decided just a few feets away from watchdog journalism. I am not sure if politics is imitating life, or life is imitating politics, but I cannot help but wonder what is happening in lives of hardworking Americans who are struggling to make ends meet while we are filing stories and taking pictures of the President Elect coming in and out through the gilded doors after meeting one cabinet candidate after the other. I am already seeing it twenty years forward, opening my political diary two decades and a couple of new presidencies forward, stating that I was present in the moment when American history was made.
Someone next to me is trying to remove himself from the unbearing sun. Finally I find some shade to work beneath. In Trump’s America it is either the frosty shade or the igneous sun, it is very difficult to find shelter.
2:45 PM The Sun is still red-hot and the meeting with Romney is already going for forty minutes, but we do not have any information as to what the content of the talks is.
After a longer time that anyone anticipated, Trump and Romney are back on the porch. The President-elect is affirming that the meeting with Romney went great.
Romney attested in the same fashion saying: “We had a far-reaching conversation with regard to the various theaters in the world where there are interests of the United States of real significance. We discussed those areas and exchanged our views on those topics.I am looking very much too a new administration”.
Both Romney and Trump seem very polite, warm, and pleased with each other. It’s almost like The Stepfords, but no one actually confirmed that the Secretary of State position was offered or taken into consideration.
5:00 PM As the day goes by, the transition team is self-correcting. At one moment, President-Elect asked the press if we need anything.
“Hot chocolate”, someone said. —“Okay, I will send some”, the President-elect responded cheerfully. Now, there is this discussion whether it was appropriate from the press to shout “Hot Chocolate” to the President-Elect or not, but I found that to be the first raw and unscripted moment of the day. The press pool admitting that it was human and Donald Trump considering to soften what for long eighteen months was a very difficult relationship between him and the media.
How well Trump is doing? The truth is, there is still not enough information to decide. It is transition time and the White House press pool veterans have seen it all before. Obama’s transition was not very much different according to those who have witnessed it first hand. There are lot of moving pieces, and while the whole day for Trump’s team was self-correcting, what can be a valid concern, is whether Trump will be able to appoint quality people from the bottom up instead of the top down, which is now his primarily focus.
The transition team is now focusing very much on selecting a tough cabinet. In that fashion, a possibility of appointing a Retired Gen. James Mattis as Defense Secretary is very real.Trump referred to Mattis in front of the press as “a great man”. When following the meeting I asked about a rule prohibiting those who served in active duty within the past seven years, the senior official of transition team told The Pavlovic Today that there are actually waivers that could be put in place.
7:55 PM The night is setting in and I am back at the Marriott hotel. While I am filing this story to be released, I am already making mental notes for the next day. Politics is not easy, but covering the American President is equally tough.