There is only one lawmaker on President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team who hails from west of the Mississippi. That person would be our own Congressman, Devin Nunes.
The appointment to the transition team came out of Nunes’ and Trump’s several encounters during the presidential campaign. During the primary, Nunes reached out to all of the Republican candidates and Trump was the only one to respond. Nunes’ team started helping Trump in April when the vote in California’s Republican primary actually mattered for the first time in decades.
Their first collaboration happened in May and resulted in a successful spring fundraiser in Fresno, which is the bulk of Nunes’ 22nd Congressional District.
During his time in Fresno, Trump made a huge impression on local farmers when he sat down and listened to their grievances about California’s water policy, infrastructure and how it adversely affects Central Valley agriculture. Trump left that meeting saying he was going to fix the Valley’s water problem and that he agreed with Nunes’ assessment that the Central Valley is experiencing a man-made drought.
California ended up not making an impact on the Republican nomination as Senator Ted Cruz dropped out three weeks before the primary, making Trump the de-facto candidate. But Trump’s impact was lasting as political signs, rallies and debate parties continued in Fresno and Tulare Counties through the election.
During another fundraiser in August at Corky Anderson’s Tulare home, Nunes and Trump spent more time together on the ground and in his private plane as Nunes accompanied Trump on several fundraisers in northern and southern California.
So when Nunes got the call a day after the election to discuss the possibility of joining Trump’s transition team, it did not come as a complete shock. Three days later he was part of the exclusive group that included Trump’s three children and son-in-law and some of his closest friends. The only other executive team member from the West Coast is Billionaire Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal, who was an unlikely, but staunch, Silicon Valley supporter of Trump during the election.
There are actually two transition teams. One is the transition landing team that is comprised of hundreds of people working in Washington DC to staff the many agencies. Nunes is a member is the Executive Committee of the Transition Team that works out of Trump Tower in New York and Trump’s estate in Florida. This executive committee advises the president-elect on cabinet and other high level appointments and helps shape public policy for his first year in office.
Because Nunes works in Washington DC, he participates on the team through private phone conversations with Trump and bi-weekly conference call meetings with the team.
On December 16 Nunes flew to New York to work in person with the executive transition team on Trump’s tax policy. When asked how he liked walking the gauntlet of reporters. In his typically understated fashion he said, “I went in a different entrance to stay away from the cameras. I didn’t want any of that.”
Nunes helps with many of Trump’s decisions but was tapped for his expertise on intelligence, defense, and tax policy. As Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Nunes’ advice was sought when deciding to appoint fellow committee member Congressman Mike Pompeo as director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA.) It was also Nunes who suggested retired Marine Corps General James Mattis as Defense Secretary. Both appointments need to first be approved by the United States Senate.
On the local front Nunes is focused on water. That focus influenced his advice on who to hold the position as the Secretary of the Interior. “All the West is concerned how Federal lands are managed. We were happy we got a Westerner in to that position,” he said. The new Secretary of the Interior, if approved by the Senate, will be Congressman Ryan Zinke of Montana.
As number two at the House Ways and Means Committee, Nunes and his colleagues have been putting together a large tax restructuring bill that they plan on introducing to the House floor in January. He and Speaker Paul Ryan started working on the main principles of the bill more than a decade ago.
Nunes initially proposed the American Business Competitiveness Act, focusing only on the business side of taxes, not personal income taxes. Main elements from that bill — which Nunes called revolutionary, saying it would “do away with complicated pieces of the tax code and let business do their thing” — were merged into the House GOP Tax Reform Bill.
“The United States needs to fix its tax system then reevaluate how we go out and make trade agreements.” He said the problem is that American products are taxed in other countries but then other countries’ products don’t face the same level of taxes in our country.
Part of his work on the transition team is walking Trump’s tax team through the bill and integrating Trump’s own tax plan.
As for his first year in office, I asked if Trump will keep tweeting. Nunes said that Trump doesn’t always actually do his own tweets; rather, he has a team, even at 3am. Nunes also dispelled any rumors that Trump doesn’t receive his Presidential Daily Briefings (PDB). He said Trump gets the PDBs just like President Obama did. The problems arose, he said, when different entities wanted their material as part of the briefings, and when that didn’t happen, they spread the rumor that Trump wasn’t getting the PDBs.
As for the future administration, almost all of the transition team will find a place in Trump’s administration except for two. Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York, removed himself from consideration early December, and Nunes himself prefers to stay in Congress to continue working on some bills many years in the making.
President-elect Trump has lived and worked all his life on the East Coast, so it made sense for his closest advisors come from the same neck of the woods. When asked how a member of Congress from such a poor county in California was chosen to help Trump’s transition to the White House, Nunes said, “I don’t see it that way. Tulare County is a great county. I feel sorry for all those people who live in Hollywood or San Francisco. Those are the people who are deprived.”