Reince Priebus, Stephen Bannon Get Key Roles in Trump White House

Stephen Bannon is pictured during a meeting at Trump Tower in New York City on August 20. Bannon has been named chief strategist for President-elect Donald Trump's White House. Carlo Allegri/File Photo/Reuters

President-elect Donald Trump chose Washington insider Reince Priebus as White House chief of staff and firebrand conservative Stephen Bannon as chief strategist, showing a willingness to work with Congress and giving a nod to right-wing activists who helped sweep him into office.

Less than a week after his upset win over Democrat Hillary Clinton in Tuesday's presidential election, Trump's choice on Sunday of Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman and friend of House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, could help him repair his strained relations with members of the Republican Party establishment in Washington.

But Trump gave the job of strategist and senior counselor to Bannon, a fierce critic of Ryan who spearheaded Breitbart News website's shift into a forum for the "alt-right," a loose online confederation of neo-Nazis, white supremacists and anti-Semitics.

Bannon and Priebus would work "as equal partners to transform the federal government," Trump said in a statement.

Democrats were outraged by the choice of Bannon, calling him a promoter of racism and misogyny who is backed by the white supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan.

"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," Adam, Jentleson, a spokesman for Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, said in a statement.

U.S. Representative Adam Schiff said Bannon's selection for a top White House job was unsurprising but alarming.

"His alt-right, anti-Semitic & misogynistic views don't belong in WH," Schiff said in a Twitter post.

In morning television interviews on Monday, Priebus defended Bannon as a wise and well-educated former naval officer and said he had not encountered the sort of extremist or racist views that critics are assailing.

"He was a force for good on the campaign," Priebus said on Fox News, adding that they were in agreement on "almost everything" in terms of advising the president-elect.

Hardline Trump backers counting on the wealthy real estate developer to keep his campaign promise to "drain the swamp" of business-as-usual Washington insiders may be disappointed he has named Priebus as chief of staff, a position that serves as gatekeeper and agenda-setter for the president.

Trump said both appointees were "highly qualified leaders" who had helped him win the White House race.

President Barack Obama, who will be succeeded by Trump on Jan. 20, plans to hold a news conference on Monday at 3:15 p.m. (2015 GMT) before leaving on an international trip.

The Democratic president, who has pledged a smooth transition of leadership despite sharp political differences with Trump, is likely to be asked by reporters about Trump's appointments.

'Don't Be Afraid'

Since the election, Trump has softened one of his major campaign promises of building a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico to keep out illegal immigrants. In an interview with the CBS program 60 Minutes on Sunday, Trump said he would accept some fencing instead of a brick-and-mortar wall.

"But certain areas, a wall is more appropriate. I'm very good at this, it's called construction, there could be some fencing," Trump said.

In the interview, Trump also sought to play down the divisive nature of his candidacy and said Americans alarmed by his election had nothing to fear.

"Don't be afraid. We are going to bring our country back. But certainly, don't be afraid," he said.

The president-elect and his transition team are working on picking members of his Cabinet and the heads of federal agencies.

Among those reported to be under consideration for top posts are former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, as a possible secretary of state or secretary of health and human services; Stephen Hadley, former national security adviser under President George W. Bush, as a possible defense secretary; former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani as attorney general; and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as interior secretary.

Priebus is a longtime Wisconsin political operative who was credited with marshaling party resources for Trump's White House bid.

Bannon could hardly be more different. The former Goldman Sachs banker over the past year led Breitbart News in a charge against the Republican Party establishment, including Priebus' friend Ryan, alienating many veteran Republicans.

The Breitbart attacks on Ryan continued on Sunday, with an article denouncing Ryan's comment on CNN that "we are not planning on erecting a deportation force."

"Speaker Ryan is now telling voters that he will not enact a central part of Trump's mandate," a Breitbart article said.

In the 60 Minutes interview, Trump said he would move to deport up to 3 million immigrants who are in the country illegally and have criminal records.

Demonstrators in major U.S. cities took to the streets for a fifth straight day on Sunday to protest against Trump.

Editor's Picks

Newsweek cover
  • Newsweek magazine delivered to your door
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts
Newsweek cover
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts