President-elect Donald Trump named his top two advisers on Sunday, signaling an aggressive agenda and setting up what could be a battle within the White House between the populist, outsider forces that propelled his winning campaign and the party establishment that dominates Washington.
Trump named Reince Priebus, the head of the Republican National Committee, as his chief of staff. In appointing Priebus, 44, Trump has brought into his White House a Washington insider who is viewed as broadly acceptable by vast swaths of the party, and he signaled a willingness to work within the establishment he assailed on the campaign trail.
But the president-elect sent an opposing signal by tapping Stephen K. Bannon, his combative campaign chief and former head of the incendiary Breitbart News, as his chief strategist and senior counselor. Bannon, 62, has openly attacked congressional leadership, taking particular aim at House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) — who recommended Priebus for his new job.
“I am thrilled to have my very successful team continue with me in leading our country,” Trump said in a statement. “Steve and Reince are highly qualified leaders who worked well together on our campaign and led us to a historic victory. Now I will have them both with me in the White House as we work to make America great again.”
Bannon’s appointment was blasted by Jewish groups and political operatives on both sides of the aisle who said he is too close to the alt-right and white nationalism. Bannon once called Breitbart “the platform of the alt-right,” a conservative movement that is a hotbed of white nationalist and anti-Semitic sentiment.
Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, said via Twitter on Sunday night: “We at @ADL_National oppose the appt of Steve Bannon to sr role at @WhiteHouse bc he & his alt-right are so hostile to core American values.”
The Bannon announcement came as Trump highlighted some of his first priorities in an interview on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” vowing to “immediately” deport up to 3 million immigrants who are in the country illegally after he is inaugurated and to simultaneously repeal and replace President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. He also repeated his remark that he knows more about the ISIS than U.S. generals do, saying, “I probably do, because look at the job they’ve done.”
Trump’s top two advisers could help him achieve different objectives. Priebus could help Trump notch early legislative victories in a Republican-led Congress and ingratiate himself with the insiders he claims to loathe but who dominate his transition team. A longtime lawyer and Wisconsin political operative, Priebus will work to smooth over residual friction from a campaign during which a number of Republicans refused to endorse Trump, reversed their endorsements or stepped away from him after a 2005 tape surfaced in which Trump is heard saying that he could force himself on women because he was a “star.”
Bannon will be the other voice on Trump’s shoulder: He helped shape Trump’s message on the campaign trail and relishes combativeness. The former Navy officer and investment banker has said the campaign was the American version of worldwide populist movements such as the British vote to sever ties with the European Union.
Bannon’s appointment drew sharp criticism from political operatives on both sides of the aisle who see Bannon as being too close to the alt-right and white nationalism. Breitbart has published stories with headlines stating that women faced with harassment online should “log off” and called Republican Bill Kristol a “renegade Jew.”
Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said in a statement: “President-elect Trump’s choice of Steve Bannon as his top aide signals that White Supremacists will be represented at the highest levels in Trump’s White House.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a hate-watch group, blasted the choice of Bannon. It called him “the main driver behind Breitbart becoming a white ethno-nationalist propaganda mill” and cited Breitbart headlines that included a call to hoist the Confederate flag weeks after shootings at a black Charleston, S.C., church and another that said that political correctness “protects Muslim rape culture.”
Bannon was charged with misdemeanor domestic violence against his former wife more than 20 years ago; the charges included trying to prevent a victim or witness of crime from reporting, inflicting injury and battery. Bannon was never convicted and the case was dismissed. His former wife also accused him of making anti-Semitic remarks, according to a court statement obtained by the New York Daily News.
Trump surrogate Newt Gingrich blasted the idea Sunday that Trump’s campaign catered to the alt-right, calling it “garbage.”
In a statement, Bannon said he and Priebus had a “very successful partnership” on the campaign trail. “We will have that same partnership in working to help President-elect Trump achieve his agenda,” Bannon said.
Priebus gave a preview of some of the administration’s policy priorities. “I am very grateful to the president-elect for this opportunity to serve him and this nation as we work to create an economy that works for everyone, secure our borders, repeal and replace Obamacare and destroy terrorism. He will be a great president for all Americans,” Priebus said.
The personnel announcement comes as the contours of the Trump administration are starting to take shape and as he and his team pivot from campaign rhetoric to the nuts and bolts of governing. Trump and his advisers continue to paint a mixed picture of what the administration will look like, and they have been giving answers often at odds with Trump’s campaign rhetoric, which included pledges to fully repeal the ACA and get Mexico to pay for a wall along the southern border, and crowd chants of “Lock her up!” about his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
On undocumented immigrants, Trump said on “60 Minutes” that his administration will “get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers, we have a lot of these people, probably 2 million, it could be even 3 million. We are getting them out of our country, or we are going to incarcerate. But we’re getting them out of our country; they’re here illegally.”
The remarks are another sign of retreat from Trump’s vows throughout much of the presidential campaign to remove all of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country. By focusing on criminals only, Trump would be mirroring current Obama administration priorities, and experts say his numbers are highly inflated.
The Washington Post