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At annual CPAC, new energy reflects new Trump administration

February 23, 2017 at 6:50 PM EDT
President Trump’s top advisers took the stage at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, where thousands have gathered to chart the future under a Republican White House. But while the Trump team seems to have taken over the conference schedule, at question is whether they are also taking over the conservative movement. John Yang reports.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: President Trump’s top advisers took the stage today at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. They’re among the thousands who’ve gathered just across the river from Washington to discuss the future of the conservative movement, now that a Republican is back in power.

John Yang has our report.

JOHN YANG: This year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, clearly reflects the new resident of the White House.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, Counselor to the President: Well, I think, by tomorrow, this will be TPAC this year.

JOHN YANG: Eight top administration officials, including President Trump himself, are on the three-day agenda. Today’s lead-off speaker, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Every great movement ends up being a little bit sclerotic and dusty after a time, and I think they need an infusion of energy. And in the case of candidate Trump and president-elect and nominee Trump, he went right to the grassroots and brought you along.

JOHN YANG: That new energy is evident among many conference attendees.

DEVON HUNTER, CPAC Participant: There’s so many people and there’s so many ideas and all of the speakers and everything. It’s really exciting.

ANGELA MORABITO, CPAC Participant: We know that we have a voice. The president talks straight to us now, and this is our chance to talk back.

JOHN YANG: Last year, at the height of the Republican presidential primaries, candidate Trump skipped CPAC altogether. And while the Trump team has taken over this year’s schedule, the question is whether they are also taking over the conservative movement.

Today, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, the former party chairman, and senior Trump adviser Steve Bannon, the insurgent-turned-insider, sought to present a united front. They dismissed reports of White House infighting.

REINCE PRIEBUS, White House Chief Of Staff: In regard to us two I think the biggest misconception is everything that you’re reading.

STEVE BANNON, White House Chief Strategist: Reince is indefatigable. I mean, it’s low-key, but it’s determination, the thing I respect most. And the only way this thing works is, Reince is always kind of steady.

JOHN YANG: Bannon said the president’s attitude is full steam ahead.

STEVE BANNON: He’s going to continue to press his agenda. And as economic conditions get better, as more jobs get better, they’re going to continue to fight. If you think they’re going to give you your country back without a fight, you’re sadly mistaken. Every day, every day, it’s going to be a fight.

JOHN YANG: Earlier, the executive director of the American Conservative Union, which organizes CPAC, slammed the alt-right movement, a mix of white nationalism, neo-Nazi beliefs and hard-edged populism.

DAN SCHNEIDER, Executive Director, American Conservative Union: We know who these people are. They met just a couple months ago in Washington, D.C., to spew their hatred and make their “Heil Hitler” salutes. They are anti-Semites. They are racists. They are sexists.

JOHN YANG: Richard Spencer, the man credited with coining the phrase alt-right, attended today’s conference, but said he was asked to leave.

For the PBS NewsHour, I’m John Yang.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We will take a closer look at President Trump’s inner circle, and the role his senior adviser Steve Bannon is playing, later in the program.

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