By STEVE PEOPLES and CATHERINE LUCEY
President-elect Donald Trump made two Cabinet selections on Tuesday, choosing fierce Obamacare critic Georgia Rep. Tom Price to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, and Elaine Chao, who served in the Cabinet of George W. Bush, to serve as the secretary of the Department of Transportation.
Trump announced his choice of Price, while the selection of Chao, the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, was confirmed by a person with knowledge of the decision but not authorized to speak publicly.
Price is “exceptionally qualified” to lead an effort to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s health care law, Trump said in a statement. The president-elect’s transition team did not immediately respond to questions about the congressman’s past commitment to transform Medicare into a voucher-like system, a position at odds with Trump’s repeated campaign promises not to cut the popular health care program that serves an estimated 57 million people.
“Chairman Price, a renowned physician, has earned a reputation for being a tireless problem solver and the go-to expert on health care policy, making him the ideal choice to serve in this capacity,” Trump said.
Chao led the Department of Labor for several years under Bush.
The president-elect appeared to still be torn over his choice for secretary of state. He summoned former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to New York for dinner Tuesday night to discuss the post for a second time. He was also meeting with Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who is getting new attention from Trump’s team. On Monday, Trump spent an hour with retired Gen. David Petraeus, another contender.
Trump’s decision to consider Romney for the powerful Cabinet post has sparked a public backlash from some of his closest aides and allies. Campaign manager Kellyanne Conway has warned that it would be a “betrayal” to Trump supporters if he selected Romney, who was a severe critic of the president-elect during the campaign.
Even as he weighed crucial Cabinet decisions, Trump appeared distracted by outside issues — or eager to create distractions himself. He took to Twitter early Tuesday to declare that “nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag.” He warned that those who do should face “perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”
Trump offered no context for his message. The Supreme Court has ruled that flag burning is protected by the First Amendment.
The president-elect spent the weekend tweeting his opposition to recount efforts in up to three states led by Green Party candidate Jill Stein and joined by Hillary Clinton’s team. He also falsely claimed that millions of people had voted illegally in the presidential election and provided no evidence to back up the charge.
Trump won praise from Republicans Tuesday for his pick of Price to serve as health and human services secretary. A six-term congressman and orthopedic surgeon, Price has been a leading critic of Obama’s health care law. If confirmed by the Senate, he would be a leading figure in Republican efforts to repeal the measure.
Incoming Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Price “has proven to be far out of the mainstream of what Americans want” for programs that help seniors, women, families and those with disabilities. His nomination, Schumer said, is “akin to asking the fox to guard the henhouse.”
Trump’s team also announced Tuesday that Seema Verma has been chosen to be administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Jason Miller, a transition team spokesman, said at least one other Cabinet post would be announced in the afternoon. He did not elaborate.
Transition aides said Trump was likely at least a few days away from a decision on secretary of state. Romney has support from Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who is heading the transition effort.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a loyal Trump ally, was initially seen as the leading contender to helm the State Department. But questions about his overseas business dealings, as well as his public campaigning for the job, have given Trump pause.
Trump is now said to be considering Giuliani to head the Homeland Security Department, according to those close to the transition process.
Peoples reported from Washington. AP writers Julie Pace and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in Washington and Jonathan Lemire contributed to this report.