Still campaigning, Trump hopes to boost GOP in Louisiana

NEW YORK (AP) — Tending to party politics, President-elect Donald Trump is rallying supporters in Louisiana on Friday ahead of the state’s Senate runoff election, aiming to pad the Republican majority he will inherit.

Trump was campaigning for Republican John Kennedy in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and then making another stop on his “thank you” tour in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a state that helped him prevail against Democrat Hillary Clinton in last month’s election. Ahead of his trip, he met with House Speaker Paul Ryan to discuss policy priorities.

He’s also still deliberating and deciding his choices for top jobs in his administration. He now is expected to pick Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn to lead the White House National Economic Council, according to people familiar with the decision.

Trump repeatedly vilified the Wall Street bank on the campaign trail, but with the choice of Cohn he will have named three of its officers to key positions.

While candidate Trump was often at odds with the establishment wing of his party, the incoming president has been broadly supported by GOP leaders since the election. Still, he has reason to consolidate any lingering factions within the party, most immediately in Louisiana.

Kennedy, the state treasurer, faces off Saturday against Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, a Democrat, for the seat of retiring Republican Sen. David Vitter. Neither won a majority in the November primary, leading to the runoff. Polls have shown Kennedy with a comfortable lead.

Republicans will have a narrow 52-48 Senate majority next year if they maintain the Louisiana seat. Trump has backed Kennedy and Vice President-elect Mike Pence campaigned for him last week in New Orleans, saying a Kennedy win would “put an exclamation point at the end of a great American victory in 2016.”

Trump is also moving forward on filling top administration positions. Washington state Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers has emerged as a leading candidate to head the Interior Department, according to a person involved in the transition.

Trump’s transition team is also locked in a heated battle over the next head of the Republican National Committee. Current chairman Reince Priebus is heading to the White House with Trump, creating a vacancy at the RNC.

Priebus is said to support Michigan Republican Party chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel for the post, though other senior officials are backing Nick Ayers, an aide to Vice President-elect Mike Pence. McDaniel is to speak at Trump’s rally in Grand Rapids Friday night, sparking speculation that an announcement could come soon.

Trump’s selection Wednesday of fast-food executive Andrew Puzder to lead the Labor Department was panned by workers’ rights organizations and labor unions. Puzder, who heads CKE Restaurants Holdings, the parent of Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s and other chains, brings yet another wealthy business person and elite donor into his administration-in-the-making.

Trump said in a statement that as labor secretary, Puzder will “save small businesses from the crushing burdens of unnecessary regulations that are stunting job growth and suppressing wages.” He later defended his decision to stack his Cabinet with the extremely wealthy, saying in Des Moines: “I want people who have made a fortune! Now they’re negotiating for you!”

But the choice could lead to a confirmation fight.

“American families need a Labor Department that stands up for workers’ wages, retirement security and safety, not one focused on reducing their pay. Andy Puzder has a long record of fighting against the wages of working families,” said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

Trump has selected retired Marine Gen. John Kelly to head the Department of Homeland Security, according to people close to the transition; he officially picked Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a climate-change denier whose policies have helped fossil fuel companies, as head of the Environmental Protection Agency; and he named the former chief executive of World Wrestling Entertainment, Linda McMahon, to head the Small Business Administration.

Pruitt, whose selection demoralized some environmentalists and Democrats, came not long after Trump met with former Vice President Al Gore, a leading environmental activist, and said he had “an open mind” about honoring the Paris climate accords.

Trump, in Iowa, vowed to that he would “end the EPA intrusion into your lives,” prompting cheers from the crowd.

Major decisions remain for Trump, including his choice for secretary of state. The deliberations have become a source of tension within Trump’s transition team, with Priebus said to be backing Mitt Romney, while other advisers oppose the idea of bringing the 2012 GOP nominee into the administration given his fierce criticism of Trump during the campaign.

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