House Republicans returned to Capitol Hill Monday fresh off of last week's election victories only to be met with new questions about President-elect Donald Trump's pick of his controversial campaign CEO to be the chief White House strategist.
On Sunday, Trump's transition announced that Steve Bannon, a figure with ties to an alt-right movement that includes white nationalist elements, would join the White House team -- a move that has drawn condemnation from Democrats as offensive and divisive.
But some Republicans, who will have to work closely with a President Trump, are sticking by the choice, saying that Bannon has to be given a chance.
“The results speak for itself,” said Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, a battleground state that Trump won. “Was Steve Bannon effective? I don’t’ think anybody here would deny that he was effective.”
Bannon’s ability to help deliver Trump a victory, especially in the blue states of Wisconsin and Michigan, was a reason given to support the hire among Republicans on Capitol Hill.
“That messaging … that won those blue states - if Bannon was behind that, I’d give him an A-plus,” said Rep. Dave Brat of Virginia, who just won his second term in Congress after his unexpected 2014 primary win over then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
With Bannon as head of the Breitbart website, the content of which has changed from a more traditional conservative tone to one that has been harshly criticized as sexist, racist and anti-Semitic, featuring stories with headlines like, “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy.”
The Anti-Defamation League is one of several groups who condemned Trump’s appointment of Bannon, calling it “a sad day when a man who presided over the premier website of the Alt Right … is slated to be a senior staff member.”
Breitbart has also been a thorn in the side of House Speaker Paul Ryan. He launched an effort to defeat Ryan in his primary and helped to raise the profile of Paul Nehlan who ran against Ryan in his primary earlier this year.
And in just the past 48 hours, Breitbart has put new pressure on Ryan, posting articles that talk about challenges to Ryan’s speakership and assertions that Ryan’s immigration policy is not “in the best interest of America.”
Ryan hasn’t yet congratulated Bannon on his win, instead focusing his praise on Trump’s newly hired chief-of-staff, Reince Priebus, the RNC chairman.
After Sunday's announcement, Ryan tweeted that he’s “very proud and excited for my friend” Reince Priebus. He didn’t mention Bannon.
Much of the leadership has avoided outright praise for Bannon. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy simply told reporters Monday morning, “don’t prejudge the next president. Give him an opportunity to govern,” when he was asked about Bannon's new role.
McCarthy implied that Preibus’ role will be more prominent.
“Reince is the chief-of-staff. There’s a difference,” McCarthy said.
But the news release by the Trump transition stated that Priebus and Bannon will be “equal partners,” implying that no position will be more important or above the other.
Echoing that sentiment was RNC Communications Director Sean Spicer who said Monday that Priebus will be in charge of the day to day machinations of running a White House while Bannon will be in charge of big picture vision and strategy – a role that appears will have a tremendous amount of say in a Trump administration.
After a campaign that focused heavily at times on Trump's derogatory remarks about women, Mexicans, Muslims, and African Americans, Bannon's ascension could pose a challenge for Republicans in Congress.
While President Obama declined to comment on the matter, his fellow Democrats have condemned Bannon's hire. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid issues a scathing statement Sunday shortly after the hire was announced and he plans to dedicate his entire floor speech Tuesday to more on the topic.
After a tough loss in the 2012 presidential election, the Republican Party wrote a so-called autopsy which concluded that the party needed to attract minorities, women and immigrants to a coalition that was buoyed by white voters. Trump largely won the White House by doing just the opposite. Nonetheless, Spicer called the implementation of the autopsy a “resounding success.”
“We grew our majorities in 2014 and we continue to grow as a party up and down the ballot and from coast to coast. So, I think that the growth and opportunity report 4 years ago laid out where the party should go. It was followed and we've grown,” Spicer said.
Rep. Ralph Abraham, a second-term lawmaker from conservative Louisiana, said “the people have spoken.”
“They elected Trump as their president and now he’s captain of the football team,” he said.