Christie out, Pence in as Trump shakes up transition team
President elect Trump announced on Friday that New Jersey governor Chris Christie was being replaced as head of his transition team with vice president-elect Mike Pence.
The move comes in the wake of the conviction of two close Christie aides in the Bridgegate scandal.
While Christie has long been a high-profile surrogate and member of Trump's inner circle, his viability as part of the team was thrown into question when two of his closest allies were convicted on charges of fraud and conspiracy related to the Bridgegate scandal.
A source close to Trump said Christie “will still be around” — hardly a ringing endorsement.
Christie issued a statement Friday afternoon, thanking Trump for the opportunity to continue in the transition effort. "As we now enter the post-election phase, I look forward to working with Vice-President Elect Pence and the rest of the leadership team to implement that template as we prepare for January 20, 2017,” he said, adding, “I want to thank President-Elect Trump for the opportunity to continue to help lead in this next phase and thank all of the pre-election leadership team for the outstanding work they have done over the six months leading up to Election Day."
Putting Pence at the top of his transition team could signal an interest on the part of Trump in more quickly building ties to Washington, a city where he is an outsider, having never served in government at any level. The Indiana governor and vice president-elect is a former member of the House of Representatives who has maintained close ties to the capital, one of the main reasons he was selected as the Manhattan billionaire's running mate.
Since then, he has served as the bridge between Trump and Republicans skeptical of his unconventional rise through the party. Many prominent GOP senators, including Sens. Jeff Flake, Marco Rubio and John McCain all said they were heartened when Pence's name began to surface as a potential vice presidential pick.
In his own statement, Trump also announced that some of his most prominent surrogates will serve as vice chairs of his transition team’s executive committee. Ben Carson, Newt Gingrich, Michael Flynn, Rudy Giuliani and Sen. Jeff Sessions will formally take on those roles. Christie will also serve as a vice chair.
Replacing Christie was a no-brainer, but putting Pence in charge is an excellent move. Pence not only has good ties to the Washington establishment, but he has good conservative credentials that should reassure some on the right who may have worried that Trump would keep conservatives at arm's length during the transitions. Pence's appointment guarantees that the right will at least have a voice in cabinet selections as well as the equally important assistant secretaries who many times carry the load for the politically appointed cabinet member.
With the exception of Christie, who probably won't be on the short list for any cabinet position, the transition vice chairs are all in line to be given serious consideration for a cabinet slot in a Trump administration. It will be interesting to see where president-elect Trump will go to fill out the remainder of his top advisers – especially in foreign and defense policy, where establishment Republicans totally repudiated Trump, with many voting for Hillary Clinton. There are sure to be many experts from think-tanks eager to serve in a Trump administration, so he won't have any trouble filling open slots.