Critics say Trump's Bannon pick will empower white nationalists
President-elect Donald Trump faces a growing backlash against his decision to name campaign chairman and former head of Breitbart News Stephen K. Bannon as chief strategist at the White House, a choice critics believe will empower white nationalists.
A chorus of advocacy groups, commentators and congressional Democrats denounced Bannon as a proponent of racist, anti-Semitic and misogynistic views as Trump began his first full week as president-elect. Trump named Bannon his chief strategist and senior counselor on Sunday while also appointing Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus his chief of staff.
"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," said Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., in a statement Sunday night.
"It is easy to see why the KKK views Trump as their champion when Trump appoints one of the foremost peddlers of White Supremacist themes and rhetoric as his top aide. Bannon was 'the main driver behind Breitbart becoming a white ethno-nationalist propaganda mill,' according to the Southern Poverty Law Center."
The statement echoed sentiments from leaders of the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP, other Capitol Hill Democrats and some Republican Trump critics such as Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, who tweeted: "Is there precedent for such a disreputable & unstable extremist in [White House] senior ranks before Bannon?"
A spokesman for Trump accused critics and the media of trying to "divide people" following the election when they raise questions about Bannon's views and history.
Jason Miller, communications director for the Trump presidential transition, said Monday morning Bannon has done a "fantastic job" since joining Trump's inner circle.
"If you've seen the president-elect since the election, he's taken a very measured tone," Miller said in an interview with CNN's "New Day."
"He's made it very clear that he's going to get to work for the American people right away and that he's moved past the election. What I think is frustrating is when we see so much news coverage . . . on the issues that divide us following the election. I think that's irresponsible."
Trump's naming of Bannon and Priebus signaled his aggressive agenda and set 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.
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 Trump sent an opposing signal by tapping Bannon, 62, who 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."
The Bannon announcement came as Trump highlighted some of his first priorities in an interview on CBS' "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 Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. He also repeated his remark that he knows more about the Islamic State 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 that taking birth control makes women "unattractive and crazy." The site called Kristol a "renegade Jew" in 2015.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a hate-watch group, blasted the choice of Bannon 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 radical Islamic 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.
Trump also built his campaign around a pledge to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, but he said Sunday he would accept the plan of some congressional Republicans to build a fence in specific places - something he told MSNBC in February would be acceptable for part of the border because of natural barriers.
Trump again said Sunday that he will probably keep in place parts of the Obama health-care law, including provisions that allow children to stay on their parents' health plans until the person turns 26 and prevent insurers from refusing coverage for preexisting conditions. He said his administration would work to repeal and replace the law simultaneously; he said in a different interview Friday that the law might simply be amended.
"And it'll be great health care for much less money. So it'll be better health care, much better, for less money. Not a bad combination," he told CBS' Lesley Stahl on Sunday.
Trump has said that he would appoint Supreme Court justices to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion and, in Vice President-elect Mike Pence, he will be bringing one of the nation's most antiabortion politicians into the White House.
When asked by Stahl if he plans to appoint a justice who will overturn Roe v. Wade, Trump said whomever he names will be "very pro-life" and that "if it ever were overturned, it would go back to the states."
Trump also said he is "fine" with same-sex marriage being legal.
The president-elect, who did not release his tax returns during the campaign, told "60 Minutes" he will make them public "at the appropriate time."
Trump said he believes that some of the protesters involved in demonstrations that have taken place in major cities since Trump's victory are "professional protesters" and that people shouldn't be scared of his administration.
"Don't be afraid," Trump said. "We are going to bring our country back. But certainly, don't be afraid. You know, we just had an election and sort of like you have to be given a little time."
When asked of reports of racial slurs, harassment and personal threats against African Americans, gay people, Latinos and Muslims and others by some of his supporters, Trump said he didn't hear it but that he "hates" to hear that.
"I am so saddened to hear that. And I say, 'Stop it.' If it - if it helps. I will say this, and I will say right to the cameras: 'Stop it,' " he said.
Trump's personnel announcements are emblematic of the conflicting signals the new administration has sent since Tuesday's upset victory, in which Trump won the electoral college by sweeping a number of Rust Belt states even as he lost the popular vote. Trump vowed to "drain the swamp" of Washington, but numerous lobbyists and big-pocketed donors are appearing in the power structure he is erecting.
Trump defended himself on "60 Minutes," saying that these people "know the system right now" but that it is going to be phased out.
Trump's surrogates also gave conflicting statements on Sunday. Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said on ABC's "This Week" that Trump should put his assets in a blind trust "for the good of the country," but on CNN that putting the Trump companies into a blind trust would "basically put his children out of work."
The president-elect appears to have resumed full use of his Twitter account, which was restricted leading up to Election Day. He took aim at the New York Times, suggesting that a letter sent to subscribers amounted to the paper "apologizing for their BAD coverage of me." The letter did not apologize for bad coverage.
He also tweeted, "The @nytimes states today that DJT believes 'more countries should acquire nuclear weapons.' How dishonest are they. I never said this!" Trump said during the campaign that perhaps South Korea and other countries should have nuclear weapons.
Trump suggested on "60 Minutes" that he might not tweet as much when he occupies the Oval Office - or just not in the way the world has gotten used to.
"I'm going to do very restrained, if I use it at all, I'm going to do very restrained. I find it tremendous. It's a modern form of communication," he said.
Trump's team also continued to tangle Sunday with Reid, who said in a statement Thursday that Trump has "emboldened the forces of hatred and bigotry in America."
Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said Reid should be "very careful about characterizing somebody in a legal sense." Conway said she is not suggesting Trump will sue Reid but that she is "calling for responsibility and maturity and decency for somebody who has held one of the highest positions in our government."
Reid's office swung back in a statement: "Instead of rising to the responsibility of his office, Trump is hiding behind his Twitter account and sending his staff on TV to threaten his critics."