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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

UN Ambassador Nikki Haley doesn't seem like a natural fit for President Trump's administration: As the first female and first minority governor of South Carolina, she had nearly opposite views on trade, immigration and globalism.

The bottom line: The key is that Trump sees hiring as casting, so it's clear why Haley became such a high-profile member of his Cabinet — with him praising her yesterday, during her Oval Office departure announcement, for making it "a very glamorous position."

  • The president is largely untethered from ideology or policy considerations.
  • A former senior administration official said Trump "likes picks who will ultimately be well-received on the outside."
  • He constantly polls people around him, crowdsourcing from a wide range of people who "may or may not have any expertise, knowledge or insight into that particular position," said a source close to Trump.
  • He runs on pure gut instinct — how he feels when he's in a room with somebody, whether he judges them to be loyal.
  • "He likes people that don’t need him," said a second source close to Trump. "And he likes killers. ... He thought [former lawyer Michael Cohen had been] successful on his own. ... He likes to have leverage over people" — but not if he thinks they're taking advantage of him or getting rich off of him.
  • People in the "they don't need him" category: former economic adviser Gary Cohn, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross (initially) and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (initially).

His personal chemistry with the potential pick trumps everything else:

  • "The perfect example is [Rex] Tillerson," said a source who discussed Tillerson with Trump back when he first picked him (and before he hated him). "Trump had talked to other people about perhaps being secretary of state. Tillerson walks in the room, Trump feels a certain way about him in the span of about 15 minutes, and next thing you know that's his secretary of state."

Being "straight out of Central Casting," as Trump often says, is an advantage:

  • A classic example is Ric Grenell, Trump's ambassador to Germany — who was mentioned yesterday for Haley's job, but Trump said he wants to keep him where he is.
  • "One of the things [Trump] loves about [Grenell] is the guy's overseas stirring stuff up, and he's on TV, and [Trump] is like, 'Oh, there's my beautiful Grenell,'" said a source who has discussed Grenell with Trump. "There he is again. Great looking guy. He can't say two sentences about Grenell without saying how great of a looking guy he is."
  • The source recalled conversations they had with Trump amid the battle over Grenell's confirmation. "It would be," the source said, recounting Trump's comments, "'great looking guy.' He literally called him 'my beautiful Grenell,'" the source added. "He said it with, just, a great deal of pride. Like, 'Look at him go.' He loves it."

To be clear, the president loves what Grenell is doing substantively, according to sources with direct knowledge. Trump particularly enjoys it when Grenell announces that yet another European company has stopped doing business in Iran in order to comply with U.S. sanctions.

Be smart: The former senior administration official said, "It is in conflicts and rivalries between his advisers that Trump feels (and is) most in control."

Go deeper

Updated 7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates

A teacher prepares a hallway barrier to help students maintain social distancing at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) filed a lawsuit Friday against the Biden administration for ordering the state to stop allocating federal COVID relief funds to schools that don't comply with public health recommendations such as masking, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The Treasury Department said last week that the state would have to pay back the money if Ducey does not redesignate the $173 million programs to ensure they don't "undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.