Politics

White House: Steve Bannon Is Out

President’s chief strategist increasingly a lightning rod for criticism

Steve Bannon is out as  chief strategist to President Donald Trump. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images file photo)

President Donald Trump has decided to part ways with White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. The former Breitbart executive infused his campaign and presidency with nationalist rhetoric and policies.

“White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve’s last day,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “We are grateful for his service and wish him the best.”

Bannon is just the latest senior Trump White House official or Cabinet member to leave the administration. His ouster is likely to anger Trump's far-right base, while at the same time making so-called "establishment Republicans" breathe easier about the administration's policy agenda.

He follows the departures or firings of national security adviser Michael Flynn, FBI Director James B. Comey, Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland, and Anthony Scaramucci, at the time the incoming communications director. Bannon’s departure immediately shakes up the ever-tense and -changing power dynamics inside the West Wing.

He had been mostly aligned with policy adviser Stephen Miller, a former GOP senate aide who shares his nationalist views. Bannon leaving appears to ding Miller by taking away an ally who once had the president’s ear.

Other factions stand to immediately benefit.

One is composed of Trump’s daughter and senior adviser, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, senior adviser Jared Kushner.

But perhaps the biggest winner is National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, who had clashed with Bannon since taking over for Flynn. In recent weeks, Breitbart and other conservative media outlets had targeted McMaster in an attempt to pressure Trump into dismissing the Army three-star general.

It also is another major power move by retired Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, who is Trump’s new chief of staff. A few weeks ago, Kelly’s first substantial move was to oust Scaramucci after an expletive-laden interview went viral.

Also a winner: Vice President Mike Pence, who has kept his distance from Bannon and his nationalist views - it removes another onetime member of Trump’s inner circle as Pence tries to put his fingerprints on administration policies.

On Capitol Hill, conservative Republicans at first glance appear to be losing a West Wing ally. But on several issues, Trump himself has engineered policy pivots toward conservatives as he increasingly publicly mentions and praises his political base that share their views.

Bannon was one of the White House officials who had a good relationship with the hardline conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus, but they still have an ally in Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, who was one of the founding members of the caucus.

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., also has appeared to forge a good relationship with Trump after helping get a health care overhaul through the House and continuing talks on how to revive the effort after it stalled in the Senate.

A lightning rod for controversy

Bannon has been a controversial figure since he first appeared at Trump’s side, but the president has been under increased pressure to dismiss him in the wake of last weekend’s deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, during protests organized by white supremacist groups.

Bannon raised eyebrows — and the ire of Democratic lawmakers and some Republicans — with elated comments Tuesday evening to an American Prospect reporter after the president earlier that day appeared to give cover to white supremacist groups for the second time since Saturday afternoon.

“The Democrats, the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em,” Bannon told the publication. “I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”

The conservative media mogul and unapologetic nationalist leader-turned-White House chief strategist clearly was welcoming the ongoing debate over race spawned by the deadly Charlottesville protests.

Though Trump on Tuesday told reporters he had not spoken to “Mr. Bannon” about Charlottesville, many senior Democratic members partially blamed Bannon for Trump’s embrace of the far-right supremacist groups — and the president’s apparent attempts to change the conversation to one about whether to take down Confederate statutes across the country.

“President Trump and Steve Bannon are trying to divert attention away from the President’s refusal to unequivocally and full-throatedly denounce white supremacy, neo-Nazism, and other forms of bigotry,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement. “While it is critical that we work towards the goal of Senator Cory Booker’s legislation [to remove statutes in the Capitol], we must continue to denounce and resist President Trump for his reprehensible actions.”

In one of the strongest Democratic statements, Democratic National Committee Press Secretary Michael Tyler said in a statement “there is one less white supremacist in the White House, but that doesn’t change the man sitting behind the Resolute Desk.”

“Donald Trump has spent decades fueling hate in communities, including his recent attempts to divide our country and give a voice to white supremacists,” Tyler said.

The first signs Trump was mulling the move came during that same impromptu and combative Tuesday press conference during which he stopped short of giving Bannon a full endorsement.

“Mr. Bannon came on late,” he said. “We’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon.” He refused to rule out firing his chief strategist. (The president also contended Bannon is “not a racist.”)

But some critics have suggested otherwise, pointing to Breitbart headlines and articles — and Bannon’s own statements — promoting some far-right and white supremacist views.

Friendly fire

Bannon had riled even some congressional Republicans.

“The only time I ever interacted with Steve Bannon, he was yelling at me, so I’m not going to shed a tear,” Virginia GOP Rep. Tom Garrett said Friday during a radio interview.

Garrett is a member of the House Freedom Caucus who represents Charlottesville. He was informed of Bannon’s firing during a live interview on WAMU’s The Kojo Nnamdi Show.

Other Democratic members were quick to join Schumer in commenting on Bannon’s ouster. Several identified what they perceive as the real problem — the occupant of the Oval Office.

“Firing of Steve Bannon is more than rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. It’s like firing the first officer. But problem is still @POTUS,” Rep. Ted. Lieu, D-Calif., wrote on Twitter.

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, was more pithy: “It’s the President that matters.” In another tweet, he said Trump has not altered his erratic behavior after other personnel changes.

One of the more forceful reactions came from California Democratic Rep. Jared Huffman, who took to Twitter with this: “Mr. President, please follow the lead of your political soulmate Steve Bannon: resign.”

And Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., credited still-new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly with ousting a senior aide who had become too controversial: “Looks like general John Kelly is taking control of the White House. That is a good thing.”

-Bridget Bowman, Rema Rahman, Lindsey McPherson and Eric Garcia contributed to this report.

 

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.