NEW YORK - His inauguration less than three weeks away, President-elect Donald Trump worked to fill senior posts in his administration Tuesday as he began to press his agenda at home and abroad.
The incoming president tapped as U.S. trade representative a former Reagan official who has condemned Republicans' commitment to free trade. Trump indicated that Robert Lighthizer, who is expected to take a hard line against China, would represent "the United States as we fight for good trade deals that put the American worker first."
The new administration's specific plans for crafting new trade deals, spokesman Sean Spicer said, "will come in time."
While several hundred high-level White House posts remain unfilled, just a handful of outstanding Cabinet-level vacancies remain, specifically in the departments of agriculture and veterans affairs, as well as a director of national intelligence. Trump's private meetings Tuesday included one with Leo MacKay, a senior executive at a military contractor who previously served in the Department of Veterans Affairs under President George W. Bush.
"The president-elect is up on the issues," said MacKay, a senior vice president at Lockheed Martin Corp., citing "first-class health care" for veterans as one of his priorities.
The president also tapped a familiar face from his former reality show to join his administration. Omarosa Manigault, a contestant from the first season of "The Apprentice," is expected to focus on public engagement in the White House, according to two people familiar with the decision. They insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the hiring process publicly.
Details about Trump's plans have been hard to come by, both before and after his stunning election victory, but he declared late Tuesday on Twitter that he would hold his first formal news conference as the president-elect on January 11 in New York City.
Trump has already waited longer than any other president-elect in the modern era to hold his first news conference. Most have held such events within days of their elections.
While tending to his staff, the president-elect and his senior advisers also worked to craft a domestic and international agenda while huddled behind closed doors in his Manhattan skyscraper.
Ethics board move
He signaled Tuesday that he would not bless all of the GOP's priorities on Capitol Hill, however, openly questioning the timing of the House Republican push to gut an independent ethics board just as the new Congress gathered in Washington.
"Do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it may be, their number one act and priority?" Trump tweeted. The House GOP later dropped the push.
The clash underscored Trump's ability to influence the GOP's priorities on Capitol Hill. Once Trump is inaugurated on January 20, the Republican Party will control the House, Senate and White House for the first time in nearly a decade.
Vice President-elect Mike Pence and Trump's pick for secretary of state, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, were planning separate visits with lawmakers Wednesday.
Ahead of those meetings, Pence issued a direct challenge to Washington Republicans. "The president-elect has a very clear message to Capitol Hill. And that is: It's time to get to work," he said Tuesday. "And it's time to keep our word to the American people."
Pence said the administration's initial focus would be "repealing and replacing Obamacare" along with legislation to cut government regulation on businesses. Trump's team has yet to say whether millions of Americans covered under the health care law would lose health care insurance altogether once it is repealed.
China, North Korea
At the same time, Trump faced questions about his foreign policy, having issued a sharp statement about North Korea and China on Twitter the night before.
The president-elect charged that China "won't help with North Korea," a country working to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile. "It won't happen!" Trump tweeted, without expanding.
Senior aide Kellyanne Conway said Tuesday that Trump was putting North Korea "on notice," but he was "not making policy at the moment." She declared that as president, Trump "will stand between [North Korea] and missile capabilities."
The aggressive stance prompted a warning from Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, who said China's efforts and commitment to the dismantling of North Korea's nuclear program are "consistent and clear."
"We hope all sides can refrain from speaking or doing anything that can aggravate the situation and work in concert to pull the issue back to dialogue and negotiation," Geng said.