Donald Trump made his first significant moves as the nation’s president-elect on Sunday, naming two campaign insiders with sharply contrasting approaches as his top White House aides while also signaling that he will seek to promptly deport up to 3 million immigrants with “criminal records’’ who are in the U.S. illegally.
The rapid-fire developments highlighted the challenges Trump faces in reconciling the rhetoric that helped propel him to victory with how he is prepared to govern.
The tension between passion and pragmatism played out vividly with Trump’s selection of his often-provocative campaign operative, former Breitbart News executive Stephen K. Bannon, as “chief strategist and senior counselor to the president.’’ In the same announcement, Trump named Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, known as a more collegial figure, to be White House chief of staff.
A news release issued by Trump’s presidential transition office said Bannon and Priebus will serve as “equal partners.’’ Neither position is subject to Senate confirmation.
Bannon, 62, was executive director of Breitbart News when he took a leave of absence in August to lead Trump’s campaign. Bannon also has produced several documentary films, served as a naval officer and was once an investment banker at Goldman Sachs. Priebus, 44, first established himself in Wisconsin politics, where he worked as a legislative aide and, later, as a lawyer with a Milwaukee firm.
“I am thrilled to have my very successful team continue with me in leading our country,’’ Trump said in the news release. “Steve and Reince are highly qualified leaders who worked well together on our campaign and led us to a historic victory.’’
Bannon, on the other hand, has a record of savaging non-ideological Republicans who favored more moderate approaches to issues such as immigration.
Publicity for a 2010 documentary that Bannon directed and produced, “Battle America,’’ described it as “a searing look at the ongoing conflict between ‘Constitutional Conservatives’ and an out-of-touch, arrogant and ever-expanding central government.’’ In comments in January to the Washington Post, Bannon described what Breitbart News was offering under his leadership:
“We call ourselves ‘the Fight Club.’ You don’t come to us for warm and fuzzy. We think of ourselves as virulently anti-establishment, particularly anti-the permanent political class.’’
Breitbart is also known for its darker undercurrent, giving voice to the so-called alt-right, a loose collection of extremists that includes openly racist or anti-Semitic activists. Given his leadership there, Bannon’s ascension to the White House was immediately condemned on both sides of the aisle.
“Be very vigilant America,” Republican consultant John Weaver warned on Twitter. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), the ranking member on the House intelligence committee, called the move “unsurprising but alarming,” saying Bannon’s views have no place in the White House.
The appointments of Bannon and Priebus resemble, at least in part, former President Reagan’s decision at the start of his presidency to split power in the White House between James A. Baker III, who served as chief of staff and had close ties to the GOP establishment, and Edwin Meese, a more ideological figure who had longstanding ties to Reagan going back to his tenure as California governor. The rivalry between the two and their aides became a constant of Reagan’s first term, so much so that Reagan at a Cabinet meeting once appealed for an end to internal sniping.
Trump, in an interview broadcast Sunday night on CBS’ “60 Minutes,’’ appeared to adjust expectations for how he will implement immigration policy, one of his signature election themes. Though he backed prompt deportations for those in the U.S. illegally who also have criminal records, Trump also said he will defer the far wider exclusions he called for during the campaign until “after the border is secure.’’
“After the border is secure, and after everything gets normalized, we’re going to make a determination’’ on whether to deport others, he said.
Trump’s estimate of how many immigrants have criminal records exceeds what others have found. About 820,000 people in the U.S. illegally have criminal convictions, according to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, a group that is funded by Fortune 500 companies, major foundations and the U.S. and more than a dozen foreign governments.
In an immigration policy speech in August, Trump said about 2 million “criminal aliens” lived in the U.S., a calculation made by the Center for Immigration Studies, a nonprofit group that seeks to lower immigration levels. The organization said it was citing a Department of Homeland Security report that counted 1.9 million “removable criminal aliens.” That cohort, however, includes people who are legal permanent residents or have temporary visas.
Trump did not provide a timetable for when this second phase of determinations might unfold. Asked about his oft-repeated pledge to secure the U.S.-Mexico border by building a wall, Trump said that he would consider sections of fencing, as preferred by some members of Congress. About 650 or so miles of fencing is already in place along the border.
As for another pledge he made during the campaign — to seek prosecution of Hillary Clinton related to her handling of sensitive government information — Trump said, “I’m going to think about it. … She did some bad things.’’ Yet Trump also seemed reluctant to follow through against his vanquished rival and, by extension, former President Bill Clinton.
“I don’t want to hurt them,’’ Trump said. “I don’t want to hurt them. They’re — they’re good people.’’
In a related vein, Trump said he did not yet know whether he would seek the resignation of FBI Director James Comey, whose public comments about aspects of the investigation of the emails ignited controversy in the campaign’s late stages.
“I haven’t made up my mind,’’ Trump said. “I respect him a lot.… This is a tough time for him, and I would like to talk to him’’ before deciding.
“Nobody cares,’’ Trump said, adding, “Obviously, the public didn’t care because I won the election very easily. So they don’t care. I never thought they did care.’’
Trump also told “60 Minutes” that he considers gay marriage to be the law of the land. “It’s settled in the Supreme Court,’’ he said. “I mean, it’s done.… I’m fine with that.’’
Trump’s comments on immigration were echoed Sunday by other Republican leaders. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union,’’ said, “We’re focused on securing the border.… We’re not planning on erecting a deportation force.’’
Newt Gingrich, who served as House speaker in the 1990s and who is assisting Trump’s transition, told CBS’ "Face the Nation’’ that the deportation of immigrants in the country illegally who have criminal pasts would be the new administration’s priority.
Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a close Trump ally whom the president-elect may appoint as U.S. attorney general, said his administration “would have to be very careful’’ regarding immigration from terrorism-prone regions of the Middle East.
“I think this is going to be a country-by-country decision,’’ Giuliani told CNN, saying that much will depend on the extent to which each country cooperates in sharing information.
One clear exception, Giuliani suggested, would be prospective immigrants from Syria, because of the possibility that terrorists might be planted among refugees.
“We would be foolish to allow these people to come into the United States,’’ Giuliani said, adding that U.S. authorities “already have 1,000 investigations of radical Islamic terrorists in the United States.’’
Under Obama administration policy, Syrian refugees applying for asylum in the U.S. undergo an 18- to 24-month vetting process, some of the most stringent examinations the government says it conducts in considering whom to allow in the country.
Giuliani also addressed the extent to which Trump will seek to insulate official government decisions from any perceived conflicts of interest with his business empire. Giuliani said the president-elect could so by pledging, in writing, to maintain no more than “a passive interest’’ in his private holdings. Such a pledge would avert the need to create a blind trust, he said.
“There’s no perfect way to do this,’’ Giuliani said. “You have to have some confidence in the integrity of the president.’’
Also Sunday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), indicated that lawmakers would not pursue another investigation of Hillary Clinton, saying that Republicans were focused on job creation and healthcare.
“I leave that portion to law enforcement,” McCarthy said on “Fox News Sunday” about a potential Clinton inquiry. “That’s just the way I do it. Keep politics out of it.”
6:15 p.m.: This story was updated with comments from Trump and background.
This story was originally published at 11 a.m.