The sources say the transition appears to be struggling with who they want for the deputy secretary of state post, just as they did for the top job before Trump tapped retiring ExxonMobile CEO Rex Tillerson.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former National Security Advisor Steve Hadley and Bob Gates, former secretary of defense, all of whom know Tillerson, recommended him for the post after Vice-President elect Mike Pence asked their advice about possible candidates.
It is not clear if any appointment would come before Tillerson is confirmed.
John Bolton, a leading candidate to be Tillerson's second-in-command at the State Department, is encountering headwinds from fellow Republicans, including from Trump's choice to lead the agency. The brusque and opinionated Bolton is as loved in some quarters for his uncompromising conservatism as he is loathed in others -- particularly among foreign service diplomats in the State Department -- for his views and style.
Even Tillerson is said to have expressed reservations about Bolton, according to sources.
Members of the foreign policy establishment have proposed alternative candidates for the job. Elliot Abrams, a former deputy national security advisor to George W. Bush, and Robert Kimmitt, who previously served as Bush's deputy secretary of the Treasury Department and was an ambassador to Germany and had a top job at the State Department under President George H.W. Bush, have been gaining steam as possible deputies to Tillerson, sources familiar with the search said.
In a recent interview with the Daily Caller, Hadley said Paula Dobriansky, a former undersecretary at the State Department during the George W. Bush years, and James Jeffrey, a career ambassador in Iraq and Turkey who also served as Bush's deputy national security advisor, would make good deputy secretaries, in addition to Bolton and Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Haass, a former director of policy planning at the State Department under Rice, is already being considered by the transition, according to several sources. Haass spoke to Trump by phone and met with the transition team at Trump Tower earlier this month on a "wide range of issues and personalities," according to a source, who said the team was asking his advice on policy and potential staff recommendations. At no time was the deputy job raised with Haass, the source said.
The deputy position requires Senate confirmation and there are already indications it would be an uphill battle for Bolton. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, praised Bolton as "a reformer who would turn the State Department upside down and make it work better. He understands who our friends and enemies are."
But the nine Democrats on the committee are unlikely to support him, and Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which gets the first vote on State Department nominees, has made clear he opposes Bolton because of the former diplomat's support for the Iraq War.