US president-elect Donald Trump made his first two key appointments on Sunday, one an overture to Republican inner circles and the other a shot across the bow of the Washington DC establishment.
Trump named GOP chief Reince Priebus as his chief of staff, and tapped right-wing Breitbart news executive Stephen Bannon as chief strategist and senior counsellor.
The two men had made up Trump’s chief of staff shortlist, and while Priebus got that job, Bannon’s post is expected to have significant clout. The media executive with ties to the white nationalist movement was given top billing in the statement announcing their appointments.
Priebus, who tied the Republican National Committee to Trump this summer despite some intra-party objections, is a GOP operative with deep expertise of the Washington establishment that Trump has vowed to shake up. He also has close ties to House Speaker Paul Ryan.
“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,” Priebus said in the statement.
Bannon, meanwhile, helped to transform the Breitbart news site into the leading mouthpiece of the party’s anti-establishment wing, which helped fuel Trump’s political rise. Ryan has been one of his most frequent targets.
In announcing the appointments, Trump said Priebus and Bannon would work as “equal partners” – effectively creating two power centres in the West Wing. The arrangement is risky and could leave ambiguity over who makes final decisions.
Priebus is a traditional choice, one meant as an olive branch to the Republicans who control both houses of Congress as Trump looks to pass his legislative agenda.
Ryan tweeted: “I’m very proud and excited for my friend @Reince. Congrats!”
Ryan made no mention of Bannon in that tweet, but earlier told CNN that he didn’t know Bannon but “I trust Donald’s judgment.”
The Bannon pick, however, is anything but safe.
Under Bannon’s tenure, Breitbart pushed a nationalist agenda and became one of the leading outlets of the so-called alt-right – a movement often associated with white supremacist ideas that oppose multiculturalism and defend “Western values”.
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.”
Bannon, who became Trump’s campaign CEO in August, pushed him to adopt more populist rhetoric and 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.
Matthew Del Carlo, a Republican strategist, told Al Jazeera that Trump was building a strong coalition.
“He’s bringing various interests in the Republican party together to get an agenda – and he has a very ambitious agenda – through Congress. He won an historic presidential election not seen since the 1920s, when not only did we win the executive branch, we also won both houses … obviously he’s bringing in Reince because he needs the House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has a great relationship with Reince, to push his agenda through.”
Deportation or incarceration
In his first television interview since the election, Trump on Sunday said he planned to immediately deport or jail as many three million immigrants who are in the country illegally.
The interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes gave the first clues as to how the billionaire businessman-turned-politician will govern the country.
Demonstrators in major US cities took to the streets for a fifth straight day to protest against his election, raging against campaign promises to restrict Muslim immigration and deport immigrants in the country illegally, as well as allegations that the former reality TV star sexually abused women.
Trump said in the CBS interview that once he takes office he will work to remove immigrants with criminal records who are in the country illegally.
“What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers … probably two million of them, it could be even three million … out of our country, or we are going to incarcerate them,” he said.
During his campaign, Trump said he would deport the estimated 11 million immigrants in the country illegally, most of whom are Hispanic, and said Mexico was sending criminals and rapists into the US.