Donald Trump starts assembling White House staff

  • 15/11/2016
Donald Trump with new chief of staff Reince Priebus (Reuters)
Donald Trump with new chief of staff Reince Priebus (Reuters)

President-elect Donald Trump has tapped Washington insider Reince Priebus as White House chief of staff and firebrand conservative Stephen Bannon as chief strategist, showing a willingness to work with Congress and giving a nod to right-wing activists who helped sweep him into office.

Less than a week after his upset win over Democrat Hillary Clinton in Tuesday's presidential election, Trump's choice on Sunday of Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman and friend of House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, could help him repair his strained relations with members of the Republican Party establishment in Washington.

But Trump gave the job of strategist and senior counsellor to Bannon, a fierce critic of Ryan who spearheaded Breitbart News website's shift into a forum for the "alt-right", a loose online confederation of neo-Nazis, white supremacists and anti-Semites.

Bannon and Priebus would work "as equal partners to transform the federal government", Trump said in a statement.

Democrats were outraged by the choice of Bannon, calling him a promoter of racism and misogyny who is backed by the white supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan.

In morning television interviews on Monday, Priebus defended Bannon as a wise and well-educated former naval officer and said he had not encountered the sort of extremist or racist views that critics are assailing.

Hardline Trump backers counting on the wealthy real estate developer to keep his campaign promise to "drain the swamp" of business-as-usual Washington insiders may be disappointed he has named Priebus as chief of staff, a position that serves as gatekeeper and agenda-setter for the president.

Since the election, Trump has softened one of his major campaign promises of building a wall along the US border with Mexico to keep out illegal immigrants. In an interview with 60 Minutes on Sunday, Trump said he would accept some fencing instead of a brick-and-mortar wall.

Trump also sought to play down the divisive nature of his candidacy and said Americans alarmed by his election had nothing to fear.

The president-elect and his transition team are working on picking members of his Cabinet and the heads of federal agencies.

Among those reported to be under consideration for top posts are former US House Speaker Newt Gingrich, as a possible secretary of state or secretary of health and human services; Stephen Hadley, former national security adviser under President George W. Bush, as a possible defence secretary; former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani as attorney general; and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as interior secretary.