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Changing Presidents Can Be a 'Very Stressful Process'


President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump in the Oval Office to discuss transition plans. November 10, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The election may be over, but for President-elect Donald Trump, the work is just beginning.

The president-elect’s transition team now needs to choose who will work in his administration.

It is a big job. There are positions, such as cabinet secretaries, that must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. In all, there are about 4,000 jobs in the executive branch of the U.S. federal government.

They include everything from top-level advisers and cabinet members to ambassadors, agency directors, and people who answer the telephones.

Dorrance Smith knows about working at the White House. The former senior White House advisor has worked there two times, for Republican Presidents Gerald Ford and George Bush. Later, he was a senior advisor at the Defense Department for President George W. Bush, the son of President George Bush.

Senior White House Advisor Dorrance Smith with President George Bush in The White House Oval Office, September 1992. (White House Photo)
Senior White House Advisor Dorrance Smith with President George Bush in The White House Oval Office, September 1992. (White House Photo)

​Smith says filling all those jobs is not as easy as saying, “I want this person in this job.” The Federal Bureau of Investigation and government lawyers first must investigate them.

“They will go through your background for the past 20 years to determine whether or not you are fit to serve… And you also are going to have to reveal publicly as a public servant your assets and many people would prefer not to have that be public information.”

If the person has financial investments in a related area, they may have to sell them before taking the job. Smith did when he took a media-related job in the administration.

“There are sacrifices and there are decisions that people of means are going to have to make in order to serve and they’ll have to make the determination if it's if it's worth it.”

Donald Trump: Untraditional

Traditionally, the incoming White House team hires people from their party who have worked at the top levels of government. However, Donald Trump is different. He ran a campaign that was not traditional.

Smith says there are Republicans who do not want to work in Trump’s administration.

Before the election, Trump did not have as many people working on a transition plan as democrat Hillary Clinton. Sources say she had more people chosen for government jobs. Shortly after his election, Trump also replaced Chris Christie as the head of his transition team. He named vice-president-elect Mike Pence as the leader of the team.

The president-elect has said he wants to “drain the swamp.” A swamp is a wet muddy area. By using that phrase, he may mean he wants to get rid of government workers he thinks are not doing a good job. But Smith says that not using people who already have strong government experience makes Trump’s job harder.

“Part of what he ran on was draining the swamp and part of being the fact that he's elected was the first step and pulling the plug on the swamp. But now he's got to fill the pond. And it's an overwhelmingly daunting task.”

White House Changes

Presidential elections mean big changes for many workers in the executive branch of the U.S. government.

In 1992, George Bush was not re-elected. So, Dorrance Smith had to decide what to do when he left the White House in January.

The same year, Democratic Congressional official John Angell was moving to the White House. His boss, Leon Panetta, had been named head of the White House budget office.

Senior White House Advisor John Angell with President Bill Clinton December 17, 1996. (White House Photo)
Senior White House Advisor John Angell with President Bill Clinton December 17, 1996. (White House Photo)

Angell explains, after the president’s inauguration speech and parade are over, he walks into the Oval Office of the White House. Then he is in charge of one of the world’s largest organizations.

“You don't know what's going to happen that afternoon. The next morning there could be a financial crisis. There could be a foreign policy crisis. So, you really have to be up and running is the phrase. On January 21st.”

For Angell, getting ready for that day meant many meetings in Washington to prepare a new budget for the Clinton presidency. It also meant flying down to Arkansas in a private jet to meet with then President-Elect Bill Clinton.

It is a “very stressful process” he says. As a government official with many years of experience, both in Congress and the White House, Angell says he thinks Trump is facing a very difficult transition. That is because of his lack to government experience.

President Bill Clinton, Vice-President Al Gore, John Angell and others in the Oval Office, June 18, 1996. (White House Photo)
President Bill Clinton, Vice-President Al Gore, John Angell and others in the Oval Office, June 18, 1996. (White House Photo)

Angell says preparing a budget at the beginning of the Clinton presidency was a very difficult experience.

“And we were working 18 hours a day, and throwing together two or three meetings a day for the president and the team. And it had to be done very quickly and in the end the worst thing was you didn't want to fail. Because you'd be failing at a level you've never failed at before.”

As a former top Congressional official , Angell says Trump faces hard choices about cutting government and cutting programs that are popular with Americans. Trump will be working with a Republican Congress. Some members will have their own ideas of what to cut, and what to keep.

Dorrance Smith gives a funny example of how these things can work.

After losing the 1992 election, President Bush’s administration wanted to cut the yearly “pardoning” of a live turkey at Thanksgiving time in November. In the ceremony, the president appears with a real turkey at the White House and says the turkey will be pardoned—not killed for a meal.

President George Bush pardons the turkey at The White House, November 24, 1992.(AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
President George Bush pardons the turkey at The White House, November 24, 1992.(AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)

But when they took the event off the president’s schedule, they were in for a surprise. Smith says The White House was “swamped” by turkey industry supporters demanding that the pardon ceremony continue.

“I guess there are a lot of turkeys in a lot of congressional districts with a very strong lobby because we had to put it back on. And the lame duck president had to go pardon the turkey one more time.”

What will happen next in the current presidential transition is hard to predict. Smith says Trump’s campaign and election “blew up all of the models.”

The Trump transition team will work on filling those 4,000 jobs. Their new administration will need to be ready for whatever happens on January 21, the first full day of the Trump presidency.

I’m Anne Ball.

Anne Ball wrote this story for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor. We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section and visit us on our Facebook page.

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Words in This Story

transition – n. a change from one group or state or condition to another

assets – n. investments or other items worth money

swamp – n. a wet and muddy place outside

pond – n. a body of water

daunting – adj. difficult

task – n. a job for someone to do

inauguration – n. the ceremony when the new president is sworn into office

pardon – v. to be forgiven, so one will not face punishment

lobby – v. to try to influence government officials to make decisions for or against something

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