President Barack Obama has dismissed three separate attempts by the media to get the president to criticize president-elect Donald Trump’s decision to appoint Stephen K. Bannon to a top White House post.
One reporter questioned Obama about Bannon’s appointment during the president’s press conference on Monday in the White House briefing room, before his trip to Greece.
The reporter asked:
What do you say to those Americans who may not doubt that there will be a peaceful transition but that are concerned about some of the policies and sentiments that were expressed by President-elect Trump himself or his supporters that may seem hostile to minorities and others? Specifically, I’m talking about the announcement that Steve Bannon, who is a proponent of the so-called alt-right movement, what many call the white nationalist movement, is going to have a prominent role in the White House under President Trump as his chief strategist and senior advisor. What message does that send to the country, to the world?
But Obama refused to engage with the ongoing criticism of Bannon, citing his responsibility to promote a smooth transition of power.
“I think it’s fair to say that it would not be appropriate for me to comment on every appointment that the President-elect starts making if I want to be consistent with the notion that we’re going to try to facilitate a smooth transition,” Obama replied.
In Greece, Obama was asked during a press conference with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, specifically about “the fact that Stephen Bannon was made as chief strategist” questioning whether the president-elect could be a reliable partner with Europe as a result.
Obama replied he was “cautiously optimistic” that Trump could shift from campaign mode to governing mode.
“[T]here’s something about the solemn responsibilities of that office, the extraordinary demands that are placed on the United States, not just by its own people but by people around the world, that forces you to focus, that demands seriousness,” he said.
Obama was again offered the chance to criticize Trump’s staff picks again during a press conference in Germany.
“I’m wondering, as well, if you’ve advised your successor to be extra mindful of what you see as some very worrisome trends, particularly when it comes to making his own potentially powerful staff picks,” one reporter asked Obama during his press conference on Thursday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Obama replied that Trump ran an “extraordinarily unconventional campaign,” that resulted in “the biggest political upset in perhaps modern political history.” He admitted that Trump needed to unify the country with his decisions as president, but did not refer specifically to his staff choices.
Obama is unique among Democrats in not outrightly condemning Bannon’s appointment, falsely accusing Trump of putting a white supremacist and a white nationalist into the White House.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid both blasted Bannon, demanding that Trump rescind his decision for Bannon to serve as his adviser.
“If Trump is serious about seeking unity, the first thing he should do is rescind his appointment of Steve Bannon,” Reid said in a speech on the Senate floor. “Rescind it. Don’t do it. Think about this. Don’t do it.”
Pelosi denounced the decision in a statement to reporters on Monday.
“Bringing Steve Bannon into the White House is an alarming signal that President-elect Trump remains committed to the hateful and divisive vision that defined his campaign,” she said.
Pelosi also asked Vice president-elect Mike Pence for Donald Trump to reconsider his decision to appoint Bannon to his staff, during a private meeting at the Capitol.