Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell declined Wednesday to comment on president-elect Donald Trump’s appointment of Steve Bannon to be his senior adviser.
“I’m not going to comment on White House personnel selections,” McConnell said.
Bannon is the former publisher of the conservative website Breitbart, which he once described as “the platform for the alt-right,” a catchall for a brand of conservatism that contains racist and anti-Semitic elements.
Despite his silence on Bannon, over the past eight years of President Barack Obama’s tenure, McConnell has proven more willing to share his opinions on the administration’s staffing choices publicly.
When then-President-elect Obama announced his intention to nominate Eric Holder as attorney general, McConnell criticized the choice, saying on January 9, 2009, “I think the attorney general nominee, Mr. Holder, has got serious questions to respond to.”
When longtime Democratic strategist John Podesta joined the administration in December 2013, McConnell suggested he wouldn’t make much of a difference in what he considered a White House struggling with policy.
McConnell told reporters of Obamacare, “The issue [Obama] wanted to be most associated with is a failure, and no amount of shifting the chairs around on the Titanic is going to solve that problem.”
In May of that same year, McConnell delivered a 1,000-word-plus floor speech on the dangers of confirming Obama’s nominee to be labor secretary, Tom Perez, saying he was “a committed ideologue who appears willing, quite frankly, to say or do anything to achieve his ideological ends.”
To be sure, some of McConnell’s previous comments were about cabinet appointments, on which senators also vote. Plus, McConnell has never commented on an Obama “chief strategist,” which is what Bannon is to Trump. He did praise the selection of RNC chairman Reince Priebus to be Trump’s chief of staff.
“The only personnel decisions he typically comments on are chiefs of staff,” McConnell spokesman Don Stewart told ABC.
But McConnell’s unwillingness to comment on Bannon, citing his aversion to commenting on “personnel selections,” is notable not just because he has frequently commented on similar Obama staff picks, but also because Bannon, who is expected to play a key role in the Trump White House, has garnered so much opposition among congressional Democrats – and little active support among Republicans.
Rep. David Cicilline garnered 168 other signatures Wednesday on a petition to Trump asking him to rescind Bannon’s appointment, writing, “whether intentional or not, the appointment of Mr. Bannon sends a disturbing message about what kind of president Donald Trump wants to be.”
While McConnell hasn’t held back previously on key Obama appointments, the Kentucky Republican’s opinions on Obama staff and cabinet picks were not always negative.
He said having John Kerry as secretary of state would be “a popular choice with the Senate” in December 2012.
When former commerce secretary William Daley was pegged as the president’s new chief of staff in January 2011, McConnell praised the choice.
“I frankly think it’s kind of a hopeful sign,” he said. “This is a guy who’s actually been out in the private sector, been a part of business … My first reaction is, it sounds like a good idea.”
He also sounded an optimistic note months before Obama’s first inauguration, praising incoming chief of staff Rahm Emanuel for meeting with Republican leaders on Capitol Hill.
“I think the new administration is off to a good start,” McConnell said at the time.
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