Rep. Barbara Lee and the chairs of four Democratic caucuses in the House of Representatives are demanding President Trump remove his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, from the National Security Council, arguing that Bannon’s appointment to the group is “dangerous.”
Lee, a Democrat from California, along with the chairs of the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Congressional Progressive Caucus and Congressional Hispanic Caucus will deliver the demand to Trump via a letter Wednesday.
“While we respect the traditional privilege of the presidency to shape the NSC to its unique needs, we strongly denounce Mr. Bannon’s inclusion in the Principals Committee and standing invitation to attend National Security Council meetings and demand you immediately undo the politicization of America’s national security,” the lawmakers write. “It is completely dangerous and morally reprehensible.”
In an interview with Yahoo News, Lee said she found it “outrageous” and “disturbing” that Trump placed Bannon on the National Security Council, a senior group of experts who advise the president on foreign and domestic crises and shape security policy. Principal members of the group, which now include Bannon, can meet without the president. In Saturday’s memorandum, Trump also removed the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from the meetings.
It’s unusual for the president to appoint a political adviser as a principal. President George W. Bush intentionally left his political strategist Karl Rove out of the NSC meetings to ensure that domestic political concerns were not driving national security policy. President Barack Obama allowed his strategist David Axelrod into a few of the meetings, but Axelrod was never a principal.
The lawmakers argue that Bannon’s past as a chairman of the conservative site Breitbart News makes him unfit to advise the president on national security matters. “Mr. Bannon has provided a platform for white nationalists and the alt right, and he has also espoused a false theory of a violent clash of civilizations between the West and Islam that only serves to fuel violent extremism,” they write.
Bannon was a Navy officer in the early 1980s and a Goldman Sachs executive before beginning his career in conservative media. He’s said Breitbart was a platform for the “alt right” but denies that his brand of nationalism is racist. “I’m not a white nationalist, I’m a nationalist,” he told the Hollywood Reporter in November. “I’m an economic nationalist.” He seems to relish his role as a villain of the political left, joking in the same interview that “darkness is good.” He continued: “Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power. It only helps us when they get it wrong. When they’re blind to who we are and what we’re doing.”
Democrats also object to Bannon’s “lack of government experience” in the letter, an argument to which the White House objects. “He’s got a tremendous understanding of the world and the geopolitical landscape that we have now,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on ABC’s This Week Sunday in defending the president’s appointment of Bannon.
Lee said she found it ‘”terrifying” when Trump appointed Bannon, who helped run his campaign, as his chief strategist — a position equal in power to the chief of staff. “To have someone in the White House with his background is to me unacceptable,” Lee said. “It’s adding insult to injury to have him as a permanent member of the NSC.”
The congresswoman said she has a “team of people” looking into what Democrats can do to oppose Bannon if their demands to Trump fall on deaf ears, and it will continue to target him. “We’re still looking at our strategies and making some determinations in terms of what legal authority we have if in fact the president doesn’t remove him,” Lee said. “It’s dangerous, it’s scary, so we’re going to try to do everything we can do to communicate this very clearly to the president and to the American people.”
Read the full letter below.