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Mitt Romney is ‘serious’ candidate for secretary of state

Donald Trump and Mitt Romney emerged Saturday after their meeting at a Trump-owned golf club in Bedminster, N.J.
Donald Trump and Mitt Romney emerged Saturday after their meeting at a Trump-owned golf club in Bedminster, N.J.Mike Segar/Reuters

WASHINGTON — Marine General James Mattis emerged Sunday as a leading contender for secretary of defense in the Trump administration, and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney was described as a serious prospect for secretary of state.

Job seekers, advisers, and would-be allies paraded through Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., over the weekend as President-elect Donald Trump worked on filling his Cabinet.

Trump, who met Saturday with Mattis, called him ‘‘the real deal’’ and a ‘‘brilliant, wonderful man.’’ In a tweet early Sunday morning, Trump said ‘‘General James ‘‘Mad Dog’’ Mattis, who is being considered for secretary of defense, was very impressive yesterday. A true General’s General!’’

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A person familiar with transition discussions, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that no decision has been reached about whether Mattis will join the new administration. Now a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, Mattis has publicly criticized President Obama’s defense and national security policies.

Romney, whom Trump also met with on Saturday, is under ‘‘active and serious consideration’’ to serve as secretary of state, said Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who heads the transition team.

‘‘I know the president-elect was very grateful that Governor Mitt Romney came here to New Jersey yesterday,’’ Pence said Sunday on CBS’s ‘‘Face the Nation.’’

‘‘We spent the better part of an hour together with him. And then I know that the two of them actually had some private time together,’’ Pence said. “I would tell you that it was not only a cordial meeting but also it was a very substantive meeting.’’

It is still an open question whether Romney, once a fierce critic of the president-elect, would be willing to serve in a Trump administration.

As Trump continued his search for nominees Sunday, members of his team took to the talk shows. Pence and Reince Priebus, the incoming chief of staff, defended Trump’s Cabinet picks so far and elaborated on Trump’s more controversial campaign promises.

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After Trump and Pence attended services at nearby Lamington Presbyterian Church in Bedminster, they began back-to-back meetings with a dozen people.

They included Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, who had been ousted as chairman of Trump’s transition team; former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani; and the secretary of state of Kansas, Kris Kobach, who is an immigration hard-liner.

Trump spokesman Jason Miller said ‘‘there definitely is a possibility’’ that more Cabinet announcements could be made Monday.

In a separate development Sunday, Trump confirmed a New York Post report that future first lady Melania Trump and the couple’s 10-year-old son, Barron, will stay in New York and not immediately move to the White House after the new president is inaugurated in January. Barron will continue to go to his school on the Upper West Side.

When Trump was asked by reporters Sunday whether Melania and Barron would join him in the White House, he said, ‘‘Very soon. After he’s finished with school.’’

His spokesman, Miller, said, ‘‘No formal statement has been released yet with regard to the family and their transition plans to Washington. But the one thing I will say is that there’s obviously a sensitivity to pulling their 10-year-old out of school in the middle of the school year.’’

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,’’ Priebus was asked about Trump’s call last December for a ‘‘total and complete shutdown of Muslims’’ entering the country. ‘‘I’m not going to rule out anything, but we’re not going to have a registry based on a religion,’’ Priebus said.

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In a separate interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Priebus spoke about a tweet in February by retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, whom Trump has chosen as his national security adviser. Flynn said, ‘‘Fear of Muslims is rational.’’

‘‘Is that the official policy of the Trump administration, that fear of Muslims is rational?’’ Tapper asked.

‘‘Well, of course not,’’ Priebus said. ‘‘Look, I think, in some cases, there are radical members of that religion that need to be dealt with, but certainly we make it clear that that’s not a blanket statement for everyone. And that’s how we’re going to lead.’’

Priebus also vowed that Trump’s White House counsel will ensure that Trump avoids all conflicts of interest with his business ventures during his administration.

Last week, Trump held a meeting at Trump Tower with three business partners building a Trump property south of Mumbai.

His daughter Ivanka, a vice president at the Trump Organization and one of the family members who will be in charge of Trump’s businesses after he takes office, attended his meeting last week with the Japanese prime minister.

Tapper asked Priebus, ‘‘As White House chief of staff, you’re supposed to look out for any political or ethical minefields. Is it seriously the position of the Trump transition team that this is not a huge cauldron of potential conflicts of interest?’’

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‘‘Obviously we will comply with all those laws and we will have our White House counsel review all of these things. . . . I can assure the American people that there wouldn’t be any wrongdoing or any sort of undue influence over any decision-making,’’ Priebus said.

Priebus also defended Trump’s choice of Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, as attorney general. Several minority and civil rights groups, including the NAACP and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, have spoken out against the selection, sharply criticizing Sessions and referring to accusations of racism that kept him from a federal judgeship in 1986.

The consideration of Mattis, who oversaw US forces in the Middle East from 2010 to 2013, could be seen as a rebuke to Obama.

Mattis was said to have consistently pushed the military to punish Iran and its allies, including calling for more covert actions to capture and kill Iranian operatives and interdictions of Iranian warships.

Former defense officials said Mattis’s views on Iran caused him to fall out of favor with the Obama administration, which was negotiating the Iranian nuclear deal at the time.