House GOP Leader Defends Trump’s Pick of Alt-Right Hero Steve Bannon
Policy + Politics

House GOP Leader Defends Trump’s Pick of Alt-Right Hero Steve Bannon

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The prospect of a Donald Trump presidency combined with Republican control of both houses of Congress has GOP leaders excited about the opportunity to push through major agenda items that have always been blocked in the past by Congressional Democrats or President Obama.

In a television appearance and a press conference marking the beginning of the post-election lame duck session of Congress, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) signaled that Republican lawmakers are in alignment with Trump on one of his stated top priorities: repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.

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“We’re further along than we have ever been in the past,” McCarthy said, promising, like Trump, that the GOP would craft a program that would provide uninterrupted coverage to people who receive coverage, sometimes highly subsidized, through Obamacare. However, he did not provide many details about how the GOP would handle the details of dismantling a system that has become embedded not just in federal bureaucracy but in the private sector as well.

In a slightly unexpected move, McCarthy also signaled that lawmakers will be open to working with President Trump on infrastructure spending. Trump has called for $1 trillion in investment in infrastructure. GOP lawmakers, in the recent past, have fought hard against efforts to spend federal money on improving the nation’s roads and bridges.

It’s unclear exactly what parts of the nation’s infrastructure Trump’s plan would benefit. The idea, not fully formed as a piece of legislation, is to use tax incentives to encourage private investment in infrastructure projects. However, it isn’t obvious how private investors, even given generous tax breaks, could be enticed to spend money on public goods like roads and bridges.

McCarthy also expressed solidarity with Trump on the question of border security and the deportation of as many as several million undocumented immigrants who have committed felonies.

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McCarthy was unable to avoid questions about Trump’s decision to appoint Breitbart News executive chairman Stephen K. Bannon to the role of “chief strategist and senior counselor” in the White House. Bannon is controversial, to say the least, because his website traffics in stories sympathetic to the white nationalist worldview of the so-called “alt-right” movement. Bannon’s appointment was announced at the same time the Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus was tapped to serve as White House chief of staff.

Facing repeated questions about Bannon, McCarthy replied somewhat testily that journalists are assuming too much about what his selection means.

“The president-elect always gets to pick his team going forward,” McCarthy said. “Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus worked very closely together on this campaign ... The president has the right to select who he thinks to be able to move through.”

McCarthy said, “I don't know Steve. I did talk to Steve yesterday. I talked to the president-elect again yesterday. I talked to Reince."

Also on Monday, McCarthy urged people not to judge Bannon by the content published on the Breitbart News site, even though he was its executive chairman and was, by all accounts, closely involved in coordinating coverage.