For months, President Donald Trump has been trying to convince Cindy McCain—a respected voice on refugees and other humanitarian issues and wife of Sen. John McCain, a Trump critic—to join his administration. Now, it’s a “done deal” for both parties, according to two senior administration officials.
After months of being offered—and rejecting—several potential posts in the Trump administration, Cindy McCain and the president came to the agreement of a Washington, D.C.-based ambassador-at-large position, which would focus on anti human trafficking efforts, refugees, and humanitarian-aid matters. The title being kicked around internally is “U.S. ambassador-at-large for human rights,” though that title is subject to change, and it is unclear if a new office within the State Department would be created for her.
“[Trump personally], aggressively courted her for this,” one White House official told The Daily Beast. “It’s a done deal now… The president had floated several positions before—this is the one that stuck.”
A formal announcement of that new role is expected within a matter of weeks. Early last month, the Associated Press was the first to report that Cindy McCain was expected to be “offered a prominent role in the Trump administration’s State Department.”
The Trump White House has been known to suddenly reverse course on major personnel changes, meaning plans for McCain’s new post could always hit a snag. But administration sources say she has communicated to the president that she will accept the post if it’s offered.
According to the White House official, the president’s daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump had strongly recommended that President Trump make a “hard sell” to McCain. Ivanka, who hosted an anti human trafficking roundtable at the White House last month, was impressed by McCain’s years of work on global humanitarian issues.
McCain has worked for years to raise awareness about the plight of refugees from Eastern Europe to Africa to the Middle East. She has also worked closely with elected officials to combat human trafficking.
The president has privately discussed the prospect of an administration position with McCain multiple times, including during at least one White House dinner that Trump hosted for the McCains in April.
“When [President Trump] sat down and ate with [John] McCain, it was always really to meet with the other McCain,” another senior Trump administration official with knowledge of the discussions told The Daily Beast. Officials spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely.
Sen. McCain emerged from the April dinner more optimistic about the Trump administration’s foreign policy, but his recounting of the conversation suggested that their areas of agreement were more in the realm of national security and defense policy than the humanitarian work that his wife has championed—and is now set to undertake at State.
The McCain Institute, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s spokesman, and Sen. McCain’s office did not respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment on this story. The State Department’s press office declined comment and referred questions to the White House. Spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said she had “nothing to announce at this time.”
Despite Trump’s pursuit of Cindy McCain for his new ambassador-at-large, affections are hardly mutual.
Cindy McCain—along with the rest of the McCains—is no fan of Trump’s brand of nationalist, vulgar Republican politics, and sees him as standing against many of her core humanitarian beliefs, sources say. When Sen. McCain announced in October that he would not vote for Trump, he alluded to his wife’s past work on human rights and other humanitarian issues—the same issues she will now be working on in the Trump administration.
“Donald Trump’s behavior this week, concluding with the disclosure of his demeaning comments about women and his boasts about sexual assaults, make it impossible to continue to offer even conditional support for his candidacy,” McCain said in a statement at the time. “Cindy, with her strong background in human rights and respect for women fully agrees with me on this.”
Though Trump’s comments, immortalized in the now-notorious Access Hollywood footage, were the last straw during the 2016 election for the McCains, they came after months of Trump’s attacks against the senator and his family.
Most notable was his attack on McCain’s record of service in the Vietnam War—comments that Cindy McCain called “shallow and stupid.” But Trump has also gone after their daughter, Meghan McCain, a media personality who had been frequently critical of Trump. The president called her “angry and obnoxious” in a tweet early in the campaign.
Despite that checkered history, Cindy McCain is on track to serve in the administration of a president who often acts and sounds like the polar opposite to her on human rights issues such as the refugee crisis.
“This is crisis mode, and I’m disappointed in how the United States has responded to this,” McCain said on CNBC a month before Trump formally accepted the GOP presidential nomination last year. “We are at risk here of truly losing a generation of Syrian young people to a scourge of human trafficking—among others things—that’s taking place as a result of this.”