WASHINGTON - Donald Trump’s White House chief of staff-to-be defended the president-elect’s most recent picks for top administration posts.
“They will do everything they can to protect and secure our country here and abroad every single day that they wake up in the morning,” Reince Priebus said on ABC’s This Week program.
Trump announced Friday he had chosen Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama for attorney general, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn for national security adviser, and Republican Congressman Mike Pompeo of Kansas for CIA director.
A onetime military intelligence specialist, Flynn became a top Trump surrogate on international security matters, often raising eyebrows in the process, tweeting that “fear of Muslims is rational.”
“Islam is a political ideology. It is a political ideology. It definitely hides behind this idea, this notion of it being a religion,” Flynn said in a speech during the campaign.
Trump has spoken approvingly of torture to gather intelligence, and his pick for CIA director, Congressman Mike Pompeo, criticized the Obama administration’s reining in of interrogation techniques on terror suspects.
Meanwhile, one of the first senators to endorse Trump has been tapped to be America’s next attorney general. Like Trump, Jeff Sessions is wary of Muslim refugees.
“If you are not able to do a background check sufficiently, vet the applicants, if you are not able to do that, then you are going to be admitting a certain number of people who have terrorist tendencies,” Sessions told reporters at the Capitol earlier this year.
And, Sessions has long been a hardliner on illegal immigration.
“Who has more right to a job in this country? A lawful immigrant, a green-card holder or a citizen, or a person who entered the country unlawfully?” he asked at a committee hearing.
Like every president-elect, Trump is surrounding himself with people who share his viewpoint. Groups that oppose Trump are blasting his choices. The Southern Poverty Law Center accuses Sessions of aligning himself with xenophobic, racist groups.
Democrats, meanwhile, question Flynn’s temperament.
“This is not someone who is prone to thoughtful consideration of issues,” said California Representative Adam Schiff. “This is someone who often flies off at the handle and makes snap judgments on things that he may not fully understand.”
‘Bringing America together’
Priebus rejected all criticism, saying Trump is assembling a team Americans can rally around.
“President-elect Trump said to all Americans, no matter who you are – your race, your gender, your background – ‘I want to lead all of you. I want to make all of you proud of the work that we are doing.’ And he wants to be a president for all people, so he is bringing America together,” said Priebus, who has served as chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Sessions and Flynn face Senate confirmation hearings, as will many others put forward by Trump.
“The only fair thing to do is ask a lot of questions, very thorough questions [at the hearings], and then make an opinion,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, who will lead Democrats in the chamber next year, also speaking on This Week.
But minority Democrats will be unable to block Trump nominees for administration posts by themselves, having curtailed a key procedural maneuver that Republicans once wielded against selections made by President Barack Obama.