New York - Donald Trump embraced new Cabinet officers on Wednesday whose backgrounds suggest he's primed to put tough actions behind his campaign rhetoric on immigration and the environment, even as he seemed to soften his yearlong stance on immigrants brought to the US illegally as children.
It's clearer by the day, underscored by Trump's at-times contradictory words, that his actual policies as president won't be settled until after he takes his seat in the Oval Office.
Retired Marine General John Kelly has been selected to head the Department of Homeland Security, and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a climate-change denier whose policies have helped fossil fuel companies, is to be announced as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Separately, Trump named the former chief executive of World Wrestling Entertainment, Linda McMahon, to head the Small Business Administration - and may have breathed new life into the candidacy of a secretary of state contender.
Trump said he planned to name his choice for the key Cabinet post next week and insisted that former rival Mitt Romney still had a chance.
READ: Trump is Time magazine's Person of the Year
Trump, who has met twice with the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, denied he was stringing Romney along to make him pay for earlier remarks that Trump was unfit to be president.
"No, it's not about revenge. It's about what's good for the country, and I'm able to put this stuff behind us - and I hit him very hard also," Trump said in a telephone interview on NBC.
Three sources close to the selection process said late on Wednesday that Romney's stock is on the rise again within Trump's circle after a period in which the celebrity businessman had cooled on the candidacy of the former Massachusetts governor.
But Trump has changed his mind repeatedly throughout the process and has expanded the pool of contenders beyond the previously identified final four of Romney, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Senate Foreign Relations Chair Bob Corker and former CIA Director David Petraeus.
Trump's long presidential campaign was in large part defined by searing rhetoric and his steadfast promises to build an impenetrable wall on the border with Mexico and crack down on immigrants living in the US illegally.
But he struck a softer tone in an interview published on Wednesday after he was named Time Magazine's "Person of the Year".
"We're going to work something out that's going to make people happy and proud," Trump said. "They got brought here at a very young age; they've worked here, they've gone to school here. Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs. And they're in never-never land because they don't know what's going to happen."
He offered no details about a policy that would make that clear.
During the campaign, Trump's tough comments - including a vow to overturn US President Barack Obama's executive orders on immigration - have led to fears among immigrant advocates that he will end Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme.
Hundreds of thousands of young immigrants have gained work permits and temporary protection from deportation under the 2012 programme, which aides to Trump have said would be revisited.
Others continue to press the immigrants' case. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel presented Trump a letter Wednesday from 14 big city mayors urging him to keep the programme intact.
"They were working hard toward the American dream," Emmanuel told reporters in lobby of Trump's skyscraper. "It's no fault of their own their parents came here. They are something we should hold up and embrace."
Though some immigrant advocates hope Trump's words were an olive branch, others were sceptical.
"We've seen this movie before," Frank Sharry of the immigrant-rights group America's Voice said in a statement. "Unfortunately we expect no pivot and no softening."