What do latest Trump administration picks of billionaires, top military officials say?

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Linda McMahon speaks to members of the news media after meeting with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York, U.S., November 30, 2016.   REUTERS/Mike Segar - RTSU2IF

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JUDY WOODRUFF: We get the view from Trump Tower now on the president-elect’s transition from Sean Spicer. He’s spokesman for the Republican National Committee.

Sean Spicer, welcome back to the “NewsHour.”

Let me start with some of the announcements already made today just in the last hour or so. Linda McMahon, with the professional wrestling organization, she and her husband made a huge success of that, appointed to run the Small Business Administration.

This now makes, I think, the fourth or fifth billionaire appointed to the Trump Cabinet. What are we to make of this? What are ordinary Americans to make of this?

SEAN SPICER, Chief Strategist, Republican National Committee: I think you look at the people, like Linda McMahon. She started a company with 13 people. She ended up with 800.

What I think Donald Trump has shown is that he wants to surround himself with people who are successful, who understand how to make change and make things happen. Americans want more jobs. They want to put America first. They want American businesses, they want American families to be put first and foremost.

And I think what Donald Trump is showing: I’m going to get the best, most qualified, most successful people to be part of a Trump-Pence administration, because the one thing that has ended, Judy, is business as usual in Washington, D.C.

You look at someone like Linda McMahon, who not only built an unbelievably successful business, but then went on to mentor young women and others to help them grow and flourish. And I think that’s what we want. We want people who have a track record of success to come into Washington, to shake things up, and get the country back on track, to get jobs moving, to fix a health care system that is not working.

But all of those things that people are talking about that they want, he is surrounding himself with successful people that are going to get the job done.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, there is another pick being confirmed by news organizations, not yet by the Trump transition, and that is to run the Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA, Scott Pruitt, the attorney general of the state of Oklahoma.

The environmental community is already up in arms, reacting very negatively to this, saying he is not only a climate change denier, that he’s very, very close to the fossil fuel industry.

SEAN SPICER: OK, well, look, here’s what I would argue.

First of all, no announcement has been made on that position. Second of all, everybody that comes into a Trump-Pence administration, from the lowest to the highest person in the administration, is here to carry out Donald Trump’s vision and agenda and to get the things that he wants done accomplished.

So, you know, regardless of what somebody’s personal positions are, what they’re signing on to is Donald Trump’s vision, his agenda, his philosophy, and the things that he wants to succeed at.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, the environmental community shouldn’t read this as somebody who is — doesn’t believe in anything, essentially, in their agenda being put in charge of the agency that’s supposed to look after the environment?

SEAN SPICER: Well, look, I think that there’s a big difference between environmentalists on the left and people who care about the environment.

And I know that sounds like a distinction, but the reality is, is that, you know, two of Donald Trump’s kids, Eric and Don Jr., are very avid hunters. They understand and appreciate the wilderness and the outdoors. They love to be out there.

But I think that there’s a big difference between appreciating and wanting to preserve and protect the environment, something — whether it’s clean water or clean air, something that we all cherish, or the agenda pushed by the far left.

And there is a big difference. And so I think that there’s — it is a very big difference to care about whether or not we’re toting to the agenda of the far extreme left that is a job-killing, regulation-type agenda that wants to step out of — put businesses out of business, or people who actually care about the environment and whose goal is clean air, clean water, making sure that we preserve our natural resources and things like that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Two other appointments I want to ask you about, one was announced, the ambassador to China, the governor of Iowa, Terry Branstad.

We know Mr. Trump has stressed, I think what you have to say, is a get-tough with China approach, is one way to describe it. And today, though, he is emphasizing someone who has a close personal relationship with the leader of China. Is he undermining the get-tough message somehow with this?

SEAN SPICER: No, I think what Mr. Trump understands is, he’s been successful at business through negotiation and relationship. He understands how to get what he wants, how to advance a goal.

And what Terry Branstad brings to it this, he’s the longest serving governor in the United States. He has a huge, extensive relationship with the president of China, something that he can leverage to make sure that it is not — it starts that relationship off on a good foot, to make sure that China understands that we have an agenda of putting American workers first.

That’s going to be the agenda here. But it allows that relationship to start from the beginning, as opposed to having a get-to-know-you phase. They have a long, extensive relationship, and that’s going to benefit the United States to advance the Donald Trump agenda and make sure that America gets back some of that — some of those jobs and some of that manufacturing that has gone to China.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just quickly, another appointment, or potential appointment I want to ask about — again, news organizations have this — and that is retired General John Kelly to run the Department of Homeland Security.

If he’s named, he would be the third general to play a major role in this administration, heading the third largest department in the federal government. What is Mr. Trump saying by naming all these top military — people with top military roles?

SEAN SPICER: Well, first of all, no announcement’s been made.

Second, General Kelly is an outstanding public servant, somebody who understands the threats that we face and knows how to tackle them and keep America, you know, our homeland, safe. He would be an excellent choice if Mr. Trump eventually chooses him.

But I think most importantly, again, you’re talking about 4,000 or 5,000 jobs. Yes, he’s focused on these two and potentially third top-ranking military officials, but he’s also looked to successful businessmen, Governor Branstad, as you just mentioned, Governor — excuse me — Linda McMahon, a successful businesswoman.

This is a very, very broad group, diverse group of high-quality, high-caliber people who, in their own respective fields, whether it’s academia, business, or government, have shown that they know how to get the job done.

And that’s what Donald Trump wants, is people who understand how to be successful, how to move this country in the right direction, how to lift up the American worker and put America first.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to ask you about something that first lady Michelle Obama is saying today. She said in an interview she stands by what — the criticism she made of Mr. Trump on the campaign trail, but she said, like her husband, she’s prepared to help him as he transitions. She said, “We want him to be successful.”

My question to you is, after the conversations Mr. Trump has had with President Obama, is he prepared, in any way, to apologize or pull back the many, many tough criticisms he made of President Obama, in effect saying he’s harmed this country by his leadership?

SEAN SPICER: Well, I think there’s a lot of things that’s said on the campaign trail in the heat of a political campaign.

President Obama said very similar things about Mr. Trump. But I think since election night, Mr. Trump extended that olive branch, talked about uniting this country, bringing us all together and moving forward as Americans to move the country forward and lift up everybody.

They have had great meetings. They have developed a great relationship. He said earlier today he continues to enjoy the president’s counsel and has grown to really respect the job that he has and the toughness of it, his commitment and love for this country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally, Sean Spicer, does Mr. Trump stand by his tweet of a couple of days ago that three million votes cast in this election were cast illegally, and, if so, what does he base that on?

SEAN SPICER: Of course he does.

And that’s based off several academic reports that show the number of people. If you extrapolate the percentages in the reports, come out to about that much. So, you know, there are a lot of reports that point to that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we know there’s a dispute about many of them, but more time to talk about that later on.

Sean Spicer, thank you very much.

SEAN SPICER: Thank you, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And later in the program, we will explore president-elect Trump’s relationship with the news media.

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