Almost two hours after news broke Friday that President Donald Trump decided to part ways with White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy — at least at that moment — had another topic on his mind.
He retweeted a message that the chief executive sent out Friday morning, before Bannon’s ouster was reported, about elevating the country’s Cyber Command. McCarthy called it “the right move.”
This is the right move. Our cybersecurity operations need a comprehensive and unified approach at the highest levels. https://t.co/3KebJY5p5x
And as of Friday evening, Speaker Paul Ryan had yet to weigh in on Bannon’s departure from an administration rocked by several in recent weeks — from White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and incoming communications director Anthony Scaramucci, who left before he formally took over the position.
The silence following Bannon’s ouster from House GOP leadership — and nearly every other member of the Republican conference — was the latest example of the delicate dance lawmakers must do around a controversial presidency shared by their own party while not alienating their conservative base.
It took Ryan and McCarthy more than 24 hours to address Trump’s controversial firing of former FBI Director James Comey — and then they defended the president.
Ryan consistently refuses to address a House committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, often denouncing the Kremlin but avoiding questions on the possibility of the Trump campaign associates being connected.
A good relationship
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 group.
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows helped the White House shepherd a health care overhaul through the House and continued talks on how to revive the effort after it failed in the Senate.
The North Carolina Republican worked with Bannon to muster enough support from the conservative group when a health care bill was crafted that narrowly passed the House. A spokeswoman for Meadows did not respond to a request for comment on Bannon leaving the administration.
A spokesman for Ryan also did not respond to a request for comment about Bannon’s firing. And a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Kentucky Republican does not comment on personnel matters.
House and Senate Democrats praised Bannon’s departure but used the opportunity to call for change from the top down — starting with the president.
Several took personal swipes at Bannon including New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries who called Trump’s former campaign advisor “Grand Wizard.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called Bannon’s departure “welcome news.” The California Democrat stopped short of calling for Trump himself to abandon the presidency but instead attacked his agenda.
“Personnel changes are worthless so long as President Trump continues to advance policies that disgrace our cherished American values,” Pelosi said. “The Trump administration must not only purge itself of the remaining white supremacists on staff, but abandon bigoted ideology that clearly governs its decisions.”
Bannon’s departure comes several days after Trump had come under fire from Democrats and some Republicans for the way he handled addressing violent racially tinged protests in Charlottesville that brought out neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
A day after slamming the pro-white groups who organized the two-day protests of the planned removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, Trump appeared to give some of their members cover.
While the president denounced protesters on “both sides,” he defended some who opposed the statue’s removal as “very fine people.”
A controversial figure
Bannon had been a controversial figure in the White House from the start.
Upon his hiring from the campaign to the administration in November, Pelosi called it “an alarming signal” and that there would be no “sugarcoating the reality that a white nationalist has been named chief strategist for the Trump administration.”
Republican lawmakers have been tiptoeing around Trump since he was on the campaign trail, at times endorsing his candidacy and at others distancing themselves while carefully appeasing the conservative base.
Members of the GOP in the House and Senate have said a chaotic White House gets in the way of the hefty legislative agenda the president is eager to push through Congress not including September deadlines in which the legislative branch must raise the debt ceiling and fund the government for the next fiscal year.
At least one Republican House member opted to praise on Bannon’s departure — albeit one who is not running for re-election.
“Glad he’s out but admin must work to build bridges, not destroy them,” the Florida Republican tweeted Friday.
John T. Bennett contributed to this report.