Some Capitol Hill Republicans are fearful and frustrated over having Steve Bannon, the conservative firebrand who’s regularly dismissed GOP lawmakers as too eager to work with Democrats, as a National Security Council member.
Adding to their concern: President Donald Trump, who counts Bannon as a top adviser, reduced the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence to lesser roles.
Bannon, a former Navy officer, is not regarded as a national security expert.
“Why would you remove the DNI and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff?” wondered Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. “I don’t think that’s a good decision, and I hope the president reconsiders.”
“Although presidents structure the NSC as they see fit, Bannon should write himself out of this role on the council,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement without elaborating why.
The National Security Council was established in 1947, designed to make sure that the president would receive the best advice on national and international security matters.
By adding Bannon to the council’s principal group,Trump is “creating a council of like-minded folks,” protested Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C.
“If you end up with a council in ready concurrence with the guy at the top, history has proven that can lead to disaster,” Sanford said.
Trump amended his original reorganization plan Monday and added CIA Director Mike Pompeo to the council. The CIA hasn’t been among the National Security Council’s principals since 2005.
"The president has such respect for (CIA) Director Pompeo and the men and women of the CIA that today the president is announcing that he will amend the memo to add CIA back into the NSC," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters. "So I know that there was tweet yesterday from the former national security adviser that said, where is the CIA out of everything?"
Trump’s move Monday seemed to do little to mollify critics concerned about Bannon’s former stewardship of Brietbart News, a website that’s published articles many construed as racist, misogynistic, and appealing to nationalists.
Collins noted that Karl Rove, a senior adviser to President George W. Bush, and David Axelrod, senior adviser to President Barack Obama, at times attended NSC principals committee meeting “but were not named members of it.”
“What I’m concerned about is the president’s executive order reorganizing the NSC in a way that removes the director of national intelligence, the only person who can provide a comprehensive overview of intelligence on a policy issue, and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, the only one who has the comprehensive view of the military consequences of a particular policy from the principal’s committee,” she said.
Sanford worried that Trump is shaking up the NSC structure simply for change sake.
“Not every institution needs to be broken to bring about change in Washington,” he said. “I’ve spent my life fighting for change, but when the institution is working there is a time to trust institutional wisdom.”
He cited allegations of “group think” that led to the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961. He said a security council needs to have different viewpoints and intense and open discussion. He said treating the council as a political body creates politically driven security policy.
“You’re setting yourself up for trouble when you politicize national security,” he said. “National security isn’t a Democrat or Republican issue. It’s just an American issue.”
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., said he has no problem with the way Trump realigned at this point, put added “to me, I probably would not do exactly what he’s doing. But at the end of the day we’ll see how it functions.”
“We’ll see what it means, I’m not sure what it means at this point, I’m not if anybody knows what it means,” Scott said. “We know who’s out and who’s in, but that doesn’t tell us what it means.”
Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., a House Armed Services Committee member, expressed concern that fellow Indianan and former Republican Sen. Dan Coats – Trump’s pick for national intelligence director – would be excluded from key security decisions under Trump’s NSC realignment.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Trump “has the right to decide how he’s going to set up his NSC” but added that the president’s arrangement “is a little different.”
“It’s his prerogative to set it up how he wishes,” Corker said, adding that “he could change that arrangement in five minutes, right?”
Former advisers from Republican and Democratic administrations expressed outrage and concern over Bannon’s ascendency and apparent demotion of the joint chiefs chairman and DNI director in his National Security Council realignment.
Mike Morrell, a former deputy director and acting director of the CIA under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama called Bannon’s placement on the NSC "unprecedented," saying it obliterates destroys a firewall between the White House’s political and policy apparatus.
"Every principals’ meeting starts with an intelligence briefing by the DNI," Morrell told CBS’ "This Morning." "And having somebody like Bannon in the room brings politics into a room where there should be no politics."
Trump’s move “is an unusual arrangement and one that potentially creates complications in terms of politicizing the decision-making,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. “But time will tell whether it was the right decision or the wrong decision.”
Matthew Schofield contributed to this article.