President Donald Trump has dismissed widespread reports that his administration is riven by discord, saying he is sticking by his polarising chief strategist, Steve Bannon, calling him a “very decent guy” who is getting a “bad rap.”
Trump even revealed his own term for Bannon’s ideology: “alt-left,” a play on Bannon’s ties to the nationalist conservative movement sometimes called the alt-right.
Why alt-left? “Bannon’s more of a libertarian than anything else, if you want to know the truth,” Trump said Monday during an interview with Bloomberg News in the Oval Office.
Trump’s playful approach to the former chief of Breitbart News — perhaps the biggest target of liberal fury — and his other comments about his staff suggest that a widespread shakeup of his inner circle is unlikely in the near future.
He said Bannon and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus both would likely still be in their same roles several months from now, along with two other figures in his administration who have drawn withering fire: counsellor Kellyanne Conway and press secretary Sean Spicer.
Trump also said that Bannon and Trump’s senior adviser, son-in-law Jared Kushner, have managed to repair their relationship.
“Bannon is a very decent guy who feels very strongly about the country. Likewise, Jared. And they’re getting along fine,” Trump said, calling Kushner “a very brilliant young guy.”
But the president did acknowledge past tensions on the staff.
“We have a lot of people that are getting along well,” Trump said. “It’s coming out better now than it was, you know, for a while. And for a while it was a little testy, I guess for some of them, but I said, ‘You’ve got to get your acts together.”
Since late March, Trump has been said to be considering a shuffle of his top advisers. The whisper campaign in Washington — sometimes targeting Priebus and other times Bannon — resulted from squabbling within the inner circle and a string of setbacks for Trump’s nascent presidency.
Back in February, when reports of discord between Priebus and Bannon were crowding the headlines, the pair presented a united front in a series of news interviews and at a speaking appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference. But the speculation about Priebus’s future reached a high point after House Republicans failed to advance legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare on 23 March, the seven-year anniversary of its passage, as Trump had originally wanted.
The heat switched to Bannon after his 4 April removal from the principals committee of the National Security Council. Soon after, reports emerged of in-fighting with Kushner. On 7 April, Priebus, at Trump’s request, oversaw a session of “marriage counseling” for Bannon and Kushner, as one aide described it. The pair agreed to resolve their differences, aides said.
Priebus, the former Republican National Committee chairman, has looked to merge the outsider world of the Trump campaign with the party establishment he’s long led. Bannon, for his part, been among the most vocal advocates for a nationalist, anti-establishment approach to governance within the Trump White House.
The two men were in charge of running operations within a Trump White House that has experienced a string of blunders and missteps, including a travel ban barring visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries that was hastily written and quickly blocked by federal courts.
One White House official said last week that Trump’s top aides believe they have learned better the governing process and are now striving to keep various agency leaders and decision-makers in the loop so that no one feels shut out.
Trump said Monday that he didn’t expect to see departures from the White House soon.
“Now, I will tell you, probably people are going to get job offers. You know, things happen,” he said. “But I’m very happy with our group. We’re doing very well.”
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