Donald Trump defends Steve Bannon's attacks on Republicans, while pretending otherwise

Standing next to Mitch McConnell, President Trump gave his blessing to Bannon's latest assault in the GOP civil war

By Matthew Sheffield

Published October 16, 2017 5:28PM (EDT)

Donald Trump; Stephen Bannon   (AP/Matt Rourke/Reuters/Carlo Allegri)
Donald Trump; Stephen Bannon (AP/Matt Rourke/Reuters/Carlo Allegri)

On Monday, President Donald Trump got a rare chance to play a conciliatory role as he defended his former top strategist Steve Bannon's "war" against Republican elected officials whom he sees as insufficiently deferential to the president.

"Steve is very committed, he's a friend of mine and he's committed to getting things passed," Trump told reporters at a briefing held in conjunction with a presidential cabinet meeting. "I know how he feels."

Trump added later that while he has a "fantastic relationship" with Republicans in the Senate, "there are some Republicans, frankly, that should be ashamed of themselves."

The president lashed out at Senate Republicans for failing to pass important legislation. "I'm not going to blame myself, I'll be honest. They are not getting the job done. We've had health care approved and then you had a surprise vote by John McCain. We've had other things happen and they're not getting the job done," Trump told reporters.

Since being ousted from the White House, Bannon has returned to his former post as chairman of Breitbart News, the conservative website which he turned into a platform for extremist Republicans and white nationalists over the last several years. In his current effort against Republican elites, Bannon is attempting to get rid of the Senate filibuster and to dislodge the GOP's Senate leader, Mitch McConnell.

On Sunday, Bannon told attendees at the Values Voters Summit, an annual gathering put on by the Christian supremacist group Family Research Council Action, that he was also opposing many Republican elected officials who have not feuded with the president because they refuse to stand up for him against critics, including Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, who recently referred to the White House as an "adult daycare center."

In his speech, Bannon implied that he would support challengers to Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer, and Nevada Sen. Dean Heller.

"There's time for mea culpa," Bannon offered. "You can come to a stick [microphone] and condemn Sen. Corker."

Should any of the above-named senators agree to defend Trump in public and to vote against McConnell and for getting rid of the filibuster, the Breitbart chairman said that maybe the people challenging them "may reconsider."

"Until that time, they're coming for you," Bannon said over the weekend.

Trump seemed to approve of the idea on Monday.

"I can understand where Steve Bannon is coming from," he said. "I can understand where a lot of people are coming from. Because I'm not happy about it and a lot of people aren't happy about it."

Trump then offered a rhetorical wink and nod: "Steve is doing what Steve thinks is the right thing."

Matthew Sheffield

A writer, web developer, and former tv producer, Matthew Sheffield covers politics, media, and technology for Salon. You can email him via or follow him on Twitter.

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Deb Fischer Donald Trump Gop Civil War John Barrasso Mitch Mcconnell Orrin Hatch Steve Bannon