One of Reince Priebus’ first duties after being named chief of staff by President-elect Donald Trump was to defend another of his new boss’s appointments, Stephen Bannon.
Bannon, the bare-knuckle media executive who led conservative news site Breitbart until taking on the role of Trump’s campaign CEO in August, is credited with blazing a populist path that helped make Trump the president-elect. But his appointment as chief strategist and senior counselor prompted critics to charge he could propel Trump down a more xenophobic path.
No matter who Trump chooses, someone will bitch.
Monday Priebus said he and Bannon are on the same page when it comes to advancing the agenda of a Trump administration, and downplayed the criticism.
“He was a force for good on the campaign,” Priebus said. “I haven’t seen any of these things that people are crying out about. … It’s a good team, it works.”
Critics are pointing to opinion and editorial stances by Breitbart during his decade-long tenure and charging his prominence in a Trump White House would bring more than just populist nationalism to the White House.
“Stephen Bannon was the main driver behind Breitbart becoming a white ethno-nationalist propaganda mill,” the Southern Poverty Law Center tweeted. “Trump should rescind this hire. In his victory speech, Trump said he intended to be president for ‘all Americans.’ Bannon should go.”
Bannon was reportedly under consideration for the role that went to Priebus, whose selection as chief of staff was mostly met with praise. White House insiders like David Axelrod, former top White House adviser to President Obama, and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham praised Trump for the appointment.
Although Priebus is seen as a consensus builder who knows how to navigate Capitol Hill, Bannon will have Trump’s ear. A bomb-thrower who relishes fighting with his political opponents, Bannon’s fiery rhetoric is believed to have found its way into Trump’s rally speeches as his campaign barnstormed the country leading up to his upset victory over Hillary Clinton Nov. 8.
The Anti-Defamation League also expressed its outrage over Bannon’s appointment, calling it a “sad day.”
“We call on President-elect Trump to appoint and nominate Americans committed to the well-being of all our country’s people,” the group’s chief executive Jonathan Greenblatt said, according to The Washington Post.
California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff tweeted: “Selection of Steve Bannon for senior WH role unsurprising but alarming. His alt-right, anti-Semitic, misogynistic views don’t belong in WH.”
The Council of American-Islamic Relations called Bannon an “anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist and White nationalist alt-right extremist.”
While opposition to Bannon from Democrats and CAIR might be expected, John Weaver, a Republican strategist who worked for Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s presidential campaign, also piled on.
“The racist, fascist extreme right is represented footsteps from the Oval Office,” Weaver tweeted. “Be very vigilant, America.”
Bannon was the executive chairman of Breitbart News and under his reign the website pushed a nationalist, anti-establishment agenda and became one of the leading outlets of the so-called alt-right — a movement often associated with the defense of “Western values.”
Bannon pushed Trump to paint rival Hillary Clinton as part of a global conspiracy made up of the political, financial and media elite, bankers bent on oppressing the country’s working people — a message that carried Trump to the White House.
Bannon’s rise has led critics to dredge up past controversies, including a report that his ex-wife of Bannon said in the 1990s that he expressed fear of Jews when the two battled over sending their daughters to private school nearly a decade ago, according to court papers reviewed this summer by The Associated Press. In a sworn court declaration following their divorce, Mary Louise Piccard said her ex-husband had objected to sending their twin daughters to an elite Los Angeles academy because he “didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews.”
A spokeswoman for Bannon denied he made those statements.
Bannon thanked Trump for the job, saying he and Priebus will extend their partnership in Washington to “help President-elect Trump achieve his agenda.”
“I want to thank President-elect Trump for the opportunity to work with Reince in driving the agenda of the Trump Administration,” he said. “We had a very successful partnership on the campaign, one that led to victory. We will have that same partnership in working to help President-elect Trump achieve his agenda.”
Bannon was notably given top billing in the press release announcing the appointments, a curious arrangement giving that White House chief of staff is typically considered the most powerful West Wing job.
Chiefs of staff in particular play a significant role in policy making, serving as a liaison to Cabinet agencies and deciding what information makes it to the president’s desk. They’re often one of the last people in the room with the president as major decisions are made.
Priebus told Fox News he was “honored” to be chosen and said Trump wants to “do the American people proud.”
“It’s really important that all Americans understand that he is the president for everyone,” he said .