WASHINGTON ― Democrats raised alarms Monday over the naming of Steve Bannon, executive chairman at Breitbart News, as President-elect Donald Trump’s chief strategist and senior counselor.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called the pick an “alarming signal” that Trump “remains committed to the hateful and divisive vision that defined his campaign.”
Bannon, known for his white nationalist views, took a break from running Brietbart ― which has published headlines like “Racist, Pro-Nazi Roots Of Planned Parenthood Revealed” ― to help run Trump’s campaign. Trump announced Bannon’s new position on Sunday.
“There must be no sugarcoating the reality that a white nationalist has been named chief strategist for the Trump Administration,” Pelosi said in a statement Monday.
She urged Trump to bring Americans together rather than continue to “fan the flames of division.”
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) called Bannon’s appointment “deeply disturbing.”
“His leadership of Breitbart, which provides a voice to radical white supremacist groups, allegations about his comments on Jews, and charges of domestic abuse ought to be seen as disqualifying for a role at the White House,” Hoyer said.
Seconds after the House gaveled into session for the first time since September, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) spoke first, saying that Bannon “built his media career catering to white supremacists and anti-Semites.”
“The fact that Republicans have been silent on Bannon’s appointment is a disturbing sign,” McCollum said. “It shows that the Republican Party has embraced Trump’s campaign agenda of blatant sexism, racial bigotry and religious intolerance.”
Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) warned that having Bannon so close to Trump, helping make key decisions, would “poison the well” with Congress and the public and fuel the activities of hate groups.
“If the saying is true and you are the company you keep, Donald Trump has chosen to champion the positions of neo-Nazis, white nationalists and anti-Semites by appointing Steve Bannon,” Markey said. “There is no place in our society, let alone the White House, for purveyors like Steve Bannon of hate and violence against any group of Americans.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) piled on, saying that Bannon “boasted of Breitbart as “‘the platform for the alt-right,’ which is the politically correct term for the resurrection of white nationalism.”
Merkley noted that after the massacre of nine people at a historically African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, last year, Breitbart published an article with the headline “Hoist It High And Proud: The Confederate Flag Proclaims A Glorious Heritage.”
In a letter to House Democrats on Monday, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) called on her colleagues to wear a safety pin this week as sign of solidarity with people and groups who fear they may be targeted in post-election hate crimes. The pin, Wasserman Schultz said, is an indication that the people wearing it “stand for safety.”
“In the wake of the legitimate fear that has been instilled in the hearts of too many of our fellow Americans, a symbol of safety, unity, and love has been advanced by wearing a safety pin on your lapel,” Wasserman Schultz wrote. “We invite you and your staff to join us in fastening a safety pin to your clothing this week, as a demonstration that we stand for safety, healing and unity against bigotry, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and misogyny.”
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who announced his bid Monday for the Democratic National Committee chairmanship, called on Trump to “rescind” his appointment of Bannon.
“If the President-elect is serious about rejecting bigotry, hatred, and violence from his supporters, he must rescind Stephen Bannon’s appointment,” Ellison said. “This man shouldn’t be allowed to visit the White House ― let alone run it.”
House Republicans have remained relatively quiet about Bannon, instead focusing on the news that Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus has been named Trump’s chief of staff. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Sunday that because he’s never met Bannon, he has “no concerns” about Bannon’s new role in the White House.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) became testy on Monday when reporters asked him about Bannon’s white nationalist ties. Dodging every question about whether he was concerned by Bannon’s post in the White House, McCarthy only said that Trump has “the right to select his team,” and that the president-elect shouldn’t be “pre-judged.”
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans to give a speech on Bannon Tuesday when the Senate returns for the first time since the election.
After the announcement of Bannon’s post, Reid’s spokesman Adam Jentleson said “it is easy to see why the KKK views Trump as their champion.”
This article has been updated to include Ellison’s remarks.