By Susan Cornwell and Alana Wise
WASHINGTON Democrats, civil rights groups and even some Republicans slammed U.S. President-elect Donald Trump on Monday for choosing right-wing firebrand Stephen Bannon as a key aide, saying it would elevate the white nationalist movement into the top levels of the White House.Making his first appointments since last week's upset win over Democrat Hillary Clinton, Trump picked Bannon as his chief strategist and counsellor, and Washington insider Reince Priebus as his chief of staff on Sunday, saying the two would share the task of steering his administration as "equal partners."The choice of Priebus was seen as a conciliatory signal of Trump's willingness to work with Congress after he takes office on Jan. 20. But critics blasted the selection of Bannon, who spearheaded a shift of the Breitbart News website into a forum for the "alt-right," a loose online group of neo-Nazis, white supremacists and anti-Semites."There should be no sugarcoating the truth here: Donald Trump just invited a white nationalist into the highest reaches of the government," said Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley, who called on Trump to rescind the choice.Democrats and advocacy groups on the left called Bannon a promoter of racism and misogyny who is backed by the white supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan."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 anti-Semites and racists - is slated to be a senior staff member in the ‘people’s house'," said Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the Anti-Defamation League.The Democrats' leader in the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, said Bannon's appointment sent "an alarming signal that President-elect Trump remains committed to the hateful and divisive vision that defined his campaign."Even some conservatives and Republicans voiced dismay. Evan McMullin, who ran as a conservative independent presidential candidate, wondered on Twitter if any national Republican leaders would condemn the pick of "anti-Semite" Bannon.John Weaver, a top strategist for Republican Ohio Governor John Kasich, tweeted that the "racist, fascist extreme right is represented footsteps from the Oval Office. Be very vigilant America." Kasich was one of 16 Republican presidential hopefuls Trump defeated in the party primaries ahead of last Tuesday's election.Priebus defended Bannon on Monday, calling him a wise and well-educated former naval officer and saying 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 they were in agreement on "almost everything" in terms of advising the president-elect.Kellyanne Conway, Trump's former campaign manager and a senior adviser, told reporters in New York she was offended by the reaction to Bannon. She described him as a "brilliant tactician" who was the general in charge of Trump's campaign.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 MANAGEMENT STYLE
Throughout his career Trump has often pitted competing staff factions against each other to get a wide range of views.
"He likes taking opinions from a lot of different people. He's not a person who just listens to one person and does whatever that one person says. He decides," Priebus said on NBC's "Today Show."The early stages of Trump's unorthodox presidential campaign were marked by frequent clashes between Paul Manafort, an experienced political insider, and brash manager Corey Lewandowski. Both eventually resigned.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.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.
Bannon, a former Goldman Sachs banker, over the past year led Breitbart News in a charge against the Republican Party establishment, including Priebus' friend Paul Ryan, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.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. Police in New York on Monday were investigating two cases involving swastikas drawn or painted in public spaces, as civil rights activists said there had been a surge in hate crimes following last week's election.The president-elect, a businessman who has never held public office, 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 defence secretary; former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani as attorney general; and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as interior secretary. (Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Peter Cooney, Bernadette Baum and Frances Kerry)
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Updated Date: Nov 15, 2016 00:45 AM