Republican Lawmakers Struggle to Respond as Democrats Denounce Steve Bannon Hire

The Breitbart News chairman has tapped to serve as chief WH strategist.

ByABC News
November 14, 2016, 2:55 PM

— -- President-elect Donald Trump’s selection of Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus to be his chief of staff brought quick praise from members of the GOP, but Sunday’s other major Trump administration appointment has so far been met with silence from within the party.

While Democrats have been quick to criticize Trump’s appointment of Steve Bannon as chief strategist, top Republicans have been hesitant to talk about Bannon’s new role in the White House. The Breitbart News chairman and former Trump campaign CEO was tapped by the president-elect on Sunday to serve as chief strategist. Priebus and Bannon will work together as "equal partners," according to a statement from the Presidential Transition Team.

On "CBS This Morning," House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy suggested Bannon shouldn’t be blamed for everything posted on the hardliner Breitbart News site. Bannon stepped back from direct oversight of the website's operations following his selection as campaign CEO in August.

Notable Breitbart stories make comparisons between Planned Parenthood and the Nazi Party and use controversial terms to describe members of the LGBT community. One headline from the site claims, "Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy." Another says, "There's No Hiring Bias Against Women in Tech, They Just Suck at Interviews."

"I think you’re putting a lot of things on that site onto Bannon, things he probably doesn’t have control over," McCarthy said.

Later, when asked by reporters about some of Breitbart’s most controversial headlines, McCarthy defended Trump, saying he has the ability to hire "who he thinks is best."

"I’ve always believed at giving somebody a chance, from that perspective as well," McCarthy said of Bannon. "I don’t like to pre-judge people."

Asked what Republicans in Congress will do to assure Americans worried about Bannon’s hiring, McCarthy demurred, instead choosing to draw attention to a painting of Washington crossing the Delaware River hanging in his office.

As for House Speaker Paul Ryan, who was quick to tweet "Congrats!" to his "friend" Priebus on Sunday, Ryan's office said today that he has no additional comment on Bannon and pointed to comments the speaker made Sunday morning.

"I don't have concerns," Ryan said of Bannon on CNN’s "State of the Union." "I have never met the guy. I don't know Steve Bannon, so I have no concerns."

In an interview with a Wisconsin radio station Monday, Ryan urged Americans not to be concerns about Trump's administration after his surprise victory.

"There is a lot of hysteria and hyperbole out there," he said. "I would tell people just to relax. Things are gonna be fine."

Even Republicans who have not shied away from criticizing Trump in the past have so far remained quiet. Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., both of whom publicly refused to back Trump during the election, offered congratulations to Priebus, but not to Bannon. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., also offered no comment on Bannon’s appointment.

Across the aisle, Democratic leaders didn’t hold back from criticizing Bannon’s appointment, with a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., pointing to allegations of domestic violence against Bannon and invoking purported anti-Semitic statements made by the Trump adviser.

"President-elect Trump's choice of Steve Bannon as his top aide signals that White Supremacists will be represented at the highest levels in Trump's White House," reads a statement from Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson. "It is easy to see why the KKK views Trump as their champion when Trump appoints one of the foremost peddlers of White Supremacist themes and rhetoric as his top aide."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., echoed the concern today, labeling Bannon a "white nationalist."

“Bringing Steve Bannon into the White House is an alarming signal that President-elect Trump remains committed to the hateful and divisive vision that defined his campaign," Pelosi said in a statement.

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