Stephen Bannon and Reince Priebus to lead Trump's White House

Chief of staff rewarded for campaign loyalty and former executive chair of far-right Breitbart News is ‘senior counselor’

Donald Trump has named Reince Priebus as his White House chief of staff, rewarding a loyalist to his party and its long-serving chairman by making him his top aide in the Oval Office. But he also named Steve Bannon, the head of his campaign and of the far-right website Breitbart, as his “chief strategist and senior counselor”.

The statement announcing Trump’s decision named Bannon first, despite the vague title of his role. It said he and Priebus would work as “equal partners”.

“Steve and Reince are highly qualified leaders who worked well together on our campaign and led us to a historic victory,” Trump said. “Now I will have them both with me in the White House as we work to make America great again.”

Bannon mentioned his “very successful partnership” with Priebus, who said in his own statement that the Trump White House would “work to create an economy that works for everyone, secure our borders, repeal and replace Obamacare and destroy radical Islamic terrorism”.

Priebus spent months trying to bring Republican leaders to terms with their party’s nominee, who often railed against them and drove several senior senators away with his mockery of disabled people and prisoners of war, and boasts of groping women.

A fixture in Washington and Wisconsin politics since the mid-2000s, Priebus led the “autopsy report” after Republicans failed to win the 2012 election, recommending efforts to win over Hispanic voters and women.

Throughout Trump’s chaotic and divisive campaign, he served as his diplomat to senior Republicans and donors, and as manager of the party resources to elect candidates around the country.

The White House chief of staff is considered one of the most powerful positions in Washington, charged with helping the president in almost every task and operating the complicated machinery of government.

Why America elected Trump

Bannon stands on the far right of the party, far from Priebus’s dedication to fiscal issues over social ones. A former Goldman Sachs executive and early investor in the sitcom Seinfeld, Bannon has in recent years headed Breitbart News, which has been accused by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of antisemitism, and whose stories regularly traffic in racist and sexist stereotypes and conspiracy theories.

The ADL’s chief executive, Jonathan Greenblatt, welcomed Priebus’s appointment but said of Bannon’s: “It is a sad day when a man who presided over the premier website of the ‘alt-right’ – a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed antisemites and racists – is slated to be a senior staff member in the ‘people’s house’.”

John Weaver, a Republican strategist who worked for Ohio governor John Kasich’s presidential campaign, tweeted: “The racist, fascist extreme right is represented footsteps from the Oval Office. Be very vigilant, America.”

Priebus on Monday defended Bannon, saying the two made an effective pair as they steered Trump past Democrat Hillary Clinton and toward the presidency. He sought to distance Bannon from the incendiary headlines on his website, saying they were written by unspecified others.

“Together, we’ve been able to manage a lot of the decision making in regard to the campaign,” Priebus told NBC’s Today. “It’s worked very, very well.”

In 2007, Bannon’s ex-wife accused him of making antisemitic remarks, which he denied. In 1996 he was charged with domestic violence in a case that was eventually dismissed.

In August, the Guardian found that he was registered to vote in Florida, a key swing state, at an empty house where he did not live, in an apparent breach of election laws. Bannon subsequently changed his registration.

Bannon has repeatedly criticized Republicans, including the House speaker, Paul Ryan, for not moving far enough to the right.

Neither of the appointees has served in elected office, although Priebus, 44, has worked in government since 2004 and as Republican National Committee chairman since 2011.

Bannon has shied from the stage since taking over Trump’s campaign this summer, replacing former lobbyist Paul Manafort, who left after reports of his past ties to pro-Kremlin Ukrainian politicians.

Priebus continued to defend Trump throughout his many controversies this summer, and the businessman praised him during his victory speech on Tuesday.

“I never had a bad second with him,” Trump said. “He’s an unbelievable star.”

Meanwhile, in his first broadcast interview as president-elect, which aired on Sunday evening, Trump told CBS’s 60 Minutes that he planned to deport as many as 3 million people once he acceded to the Oval Office, and that fencing would form part of his promised wall on the border with Mexico.

“What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers, where 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,” he said. “But we’re getting them out of our country, they’re here illegally.”

On the campaign trail, Trump said he would deport all undocumented migrants living in the US, estimated to be about 11 million people.

In the same interview, Trump sent conflicting messages about his hopes for the supreme court, saying he would appoint justices who would send abortion rights “back to the states”, but not those who sought to repeal marriage equality “because it was already settled”.

The supreme court has had eight members since the death of the conservative justice Antonin Scalia in February. Senate Republicans have refused to consider Obama’s nominee for the seat, Merrick Garland.

Trump also suggested he might retain parts of Barack Obama’s healthcare reforms.


Alan Yuhas

The GuardianTramp

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