House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, is defending Donald Trump’s right to choose right-wing media provocateur Steve Bannon as chief White House strategist while California Democrats said the pick puts racism at the top level of U.S. power.
Bannon, who was Trump’s campaign chairman, headed Breitbart News, whose headlines included a call to hoist the Confederate flag in the weeks after the mass shooting at a black church in Charleston, S.C.
Other Breitbart headlines under Bannon’s leadership called Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol “a renegade Jew,” said “birth control makes women unattractive and crazy” and that “the solution to online harassment is simple: women should log off.”
Trump on Sunday named Bannon his chief White House strategist and senior counselor.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a tweet that Bannon’s “alt-right, anti-Semitic and misogynistic views” don’t belong in the White House.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, said Trump is fanning the flames of bigotry.
“There must be no sugarcoating the reality that a white nationalist has been named chief strategist for the Trump Administration,” Pelosi said.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremists and hate groups, said that Bannon “was the main driver behind Breitbart becoming a white ethno-nationalist propaganda mill.”
In a sometimes testy news conference on Monday, house majority leader McCarthy said he didn’t know Bannon personally and insisted he didn’t want to prejudge him.
In the very first question at the news conference, a radio reporter read McCarthy headlines from Breitbart, as well as a story about Bannon’s ex-wife testifying that Bannon didn’t want his kids to go to a certain school because there were too many Jews.
McCarthy was asked whether Republicans were willing to cede moral ground for the sake of pushing their agenda in associating with someone like Bannon.
“We’re less than one week since this election, we’re just coming back into session,” McCarthy said. “The president-elect is putting together his team to go out there, that is his right to do…our job here is to get the economy moving again.”
When asked if he was personally comfortable with someone like Bannon having Trump’s ear, McCarthy said he heard from Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who will be Trump’s chief of staff, that those kinds of things are “not the Steve Bannon that he knows.”
“I’ve always believed in giving somebody a chance,” McCarthy said. “I don’t like to prejudge people from others. Did he say it or are we putting everything that was in Breitbart under him?”