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With Bannon out, how will the White House change?

August 18, 2017 at 6:50 PM EDT
Chief strategist Steve Bannon ended his tenure at the White House Friday, yet another departure in a string of top staff firings. Bannon has been credited with helping President Trump win the 2016 election and has played a controversial role in the administration. Hari Sreenivasan discusses the ouster with Washington Week's Robert Costa.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Two major stories tonight: the fall of Steve Bannon and the fallout in Barcelona.

We begin with the news that Bannon’s tenure as White House chief strategist is over. It came three days after President Trump praised him, but left his fate in doubt.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I like Mr. Bannon. He’s a friend of mine. But Mr. Bannon came on very late. You know that. And I like him. He’s a good man. He is not a racist, I can tell you that. He’s a good person.

He actually gets a very unfair press in that regard. But we will see what happens with Mr. Bannon. But he’s a good person, and I think the press treats him, frankly, very unfairly.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Joining me now to discuss the ouster of President Trump’s chief strategist is Robert Costa, national political reporter with The Washington Post and host of “Washington Week.”

What happened?

ROBERT COSTA: This was a long, simmering problem inside of the White House, at least according to my sources there.

Bannon was someone who came in, like President Trump, as an outsider, and working in the federal government, inside the confines of the West Wing just was never a fit for this populist, nationalist hard-liner who wanted to disrupt the entire system.

HARI SREENIVASAN: What were the camps that were solidifying, considering, just in the last four weeks, how many different factions of influence have disappeared?

ROBERT COSTA: One of the main reasons Bannon is departing the White House tonight is because of General Kelly, the new chief of staff. He’s tried to implement this new system of order, make sure that people like Bannon even at the senior level in the White House are not outside of their lanes.

HARI SREENIVASAN: What happens after, when he leaves?

It seems that there are people who leave the White House, but still retain some influence with President Trump.

ROBERT COSTA: You asked about these factions. And there are many factions within the White House, the Jared Kushner wing, which is the more moderate side, the Bannon wing, which was the hard-core Trump nationalist wing.

They are going to continue their fights even if Bannon is outside of the White House. Bannon’s been already talking to his billionaire ally Robert Mercer about starting maybe a new media venture. And Bannon is furious, I’m told by his friends today, because he thinks he represents the Trump base, he represents the spirit of what the Trump campaign was.

And he thinks General Kelly, even though he respects General Kelly, Jared Kushner and others are bringing the president in the wrong direction.

HARI SREENIVASAN: When you see some of the alt-right or at least the hard conservatives, they use #War, that this is on now. Is President Trump now going to be basically seeing enemy fire from the far right and the left?

ROBERT COSTA: So far, many Bannon associates are trying to separate their support of President Trump from their dislike of the moderates inside the White House.

There is a fear in the Trump base that, because Gary Cohn, the national economic director, former president of Goldman Sachs, is a Democrat, you have Jared Kushner, who is a former Democrat, and these different voices are around the president who aren’t like — who aren’t Breitbart readers, aren’t people from the conservative movement, that maybe the president will go in a more centrist direction.

That alarms the Bannon crowd.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Did he feel like he wasn’t having enough influence? Because a lot of people look back at the events after Charlottesville and say, well, that’s Steve Bannon’s influence on President Trump.

ROBERT COSTA: It wasn’t really about Bannon’s influence on President Trump.

President Trump’s always governed and led on his own instincts. Bannon was an echo of Trump’s instincts. That’s what he always was inside the administration. That’s why he had power. It wasn’t because he had this grand strategy to win over President Trump. He was with President Trump in spirit. That’s why he remained so long, even as others fell away.

HARI SREENIVASAN: What about the point of view that Bannon represents? Just because he’s gone doesn’t mean that the White House is clear of it.

ROBERT COSTA: Well, President Trump remains there, and he’s a Bannon-style Republican.

And you still have Stephen Miller, the former aide to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, writing the speeches for President Trump, so that element remains. But John Kelly, the new general command, 45-year Marine, he’s a non-ideological figure. So, I think Bannon’s — based on my reporting, Bannon’s grip on the ideology of the Trump administration may start to fade away as he goes away.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And, finally, whose idea was it? We have seen reports that the registration was handed in maybe a week or two ago?

ROBERT COSTA: The timeline is a bit fuzzy.

Bannon’s known he’s been on thin ice for a long time. The decision came down to President Trump. But it’s worth noting that a lot of people close to President Trump said part of the reason Bannon is gone, he took too many away from President Trump when it came to the campaign last year, this new bestselling book by Josh Green.

There’s a lot of talk among those who are close to President Trump that he’s frustrated that Bannon’s profile just got too high.

HARI SREENIVASAN: OK. You’re going to talk about this and much more on “Washington Week” tonight. What else you got?

ROBERT COSTA: We’re going to start off with the Bannon discussion, but I really want to dive in to Charlottesville and race in America.

That, to me, is the defining issue of the week.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, “Washington Week” on most PBS stations right after this.

Thanks so much, Robert.

ROBERT COSTA: Thank you.

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