President-elect Donald Trump is making an overture to warring Republican circles by appointing GOP chief Reince Priebus as his White House chief of staff and Breitbart News executive Stephen Bannon as chief strategist and senior counselor.
The two men had made up the president-elect’s chief of staff shortlist, and while Priebus received that job, Bannon’s post is expected to wield significant clout.
Priebus on Monday defended Bannon , saying the two made an effective pair as they steered Trump past Democrat Hillary Clinton and toward the presidency.
“Together, we’ve been able to manage a lot of the decision making in regard to the campaign,” Priebus told the NBC. ”It’s worked very, very well.”
Trump’s hires were, at first glance, contradictory. Priebus, who lashed the RNC to Trump this summer despite some intraparty objections, is a GOP operative with deep expertise of the Washington establishment that Trump has vowed to shake up. He has close ties to House Speaker Paul Ryan, a fellow Wisconsinite.
Bannon, meanwhile, helped transform the Breitbart News site into the leading mouthpiece of the party’s anti-establishment wing, which helped fuel the businessman’s political rise. Ryan has been one of his most frequent targets.
“Steve and Reince are highly qualified leaders who worked well together on our campaign and led us to a historic victory,” Trump said Sunday in a statement announcing his picks. “Now I will have them both with me in the White House as we work to make America great again.”
Neither Priebus nor Bannon brings policy experience to the White House. Chiefs of staff in particular play a significant role in policymaking, serving as a liaison to Cabinet agencies and deciding what information makes it to the president’s desk. They’re often one of the last people in the room with the president as major decisions are made.
In announcing the appointments, Trump said Priebus and Bannon would work as “equal partners” — effectively creating two power centers in the West Wing. The arrangement is risky and could leave ambiguity over who makes final decisions.
Trump has long encouraged rivalries, both in business and in his presidential campaign. He cycled through three campaign managers during his White House run, creating a web of competing alliances among staffers.
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.
The Bannon pick, however, is controversial.
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.
Bannon, who became campaign CEO in August, pushed Trump 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 but to some, carried anti-Semitic undertones.
An ex-wife of Bannon said he expressed fear of Jews when the two battled over sending their daughters to private school nearly a decade ago, according to court papers reviewed this summer by The Associated Press. In a sworn court declaration following their divorce, Mary Louise Piccard said her ex-husband had objected to sending their twin daughters to an elite Los Angeles academy because he “didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews.”
A spokeswoman for Bannon denied he made those statements.