- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 15, 2017

President Trump defended the character of embattled White House strategist Steve Bannon Tuesday against rising calls for his resignation for allegedly stoking racial divisions, but the president stopped short of promising that he wouldn’t fire his top adviser.

“He is not a racist, I can tell you that,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. Bannon at a boisterous press conference in New York. “He’s a good person. I like him.”

As for Mr. Bannon’s future in the West Wing, however, the president didn’t make any guarantees. He reminded reporters that the former CEO of Breitbart News had joined his campaign relatively late last year.

“We’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon,” the president said. “I think the press treats him very unfairly.”

His comments came as Mr. Bannon and two other White House advisers faced intensifying calls for their ouster Tuesday in the aftermath of the deadly white nationalist rally in Virginia that has roiled Americans and bruised Mr. Trump’s image.

Democrats in Congress and some moderates in the West Wing renewed their campaign to convince the president and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly to fire Mr. Bannon, who is revered by the “alt-right” movement and is viewed by his adversaries as a link to white nationalists.

A source close to Mr. Bannon said “White House Democrats” — including the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, daughter Ivanka and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster — are lobbying for his ouster by citing the weekend violence in Charlottesville that landed symbolically on the president’s doorstep. The racially motivated clashes left one woman dead and about 20 injured; two Virginia state troopers also died in a helicopter crash while monitoring the unrest.

“They’re using this to try to push out Steve,” the Bannon ally said. “He’s not laying low. He’s the same old guy — no change from Bannon. He’s 100 percent committed to implementing the president’s agenda.”

Mr. Trump was criticized roundly after the violence for failing to denounce white supremacist groups quickly enough, and he faced more protests Tuesday.

In addition to street protests, three CEOs have resigned from the president’s manufacturing council over his response to the Charlottesville violence. Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said he quit the post “because I want to make progress, while many in Washington seem more concerned with attacking anyone who disagrees with them.”

Earlier, Merck CEO Kenneth Fraizer and Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank both stepped down from the council, pointing to Mr. Trump’s failure to call out neo-Nazi groups directly on Saturday.

Mr. Trump said the CEOs who departed were “embarrassed” that their companies weren’t manufacturing more of their products in the U.S.

“They’re not taking their job seriously as it pertains to this country,” the president said. “Some of the folks that will leave, they’re leaving out of embarrassment because they make their products outside. And I’ve been lecturing them, including the gentleman that you’re referring to [Mr. Frazier], about you have to bring it back to this country. We want jobs, manufacturing in this country. They’re having a lot of their product made outside.”

The lightning rod for these tensions is primarily Mr. Bannon. Among those calling for Mr. Bannon’s job was Javier Palomarez, a member of Mr. Trump’s diversity council who is also president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

“If the president wishes to maintain any credibility with the Hispanic community and other minority communities, he needs to purge his administration of all those who disparage diversity and inclusivity,” Mr. Palomarez said. “Firing Steve Bannon is the first step — and a needed step to begin the process of healing the bad feelings this administration has engendered.”

The leaders of four minority House caucus groups went further, calling on Mr. Trump in a letter to fire not only Mr. Bannon but also White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller and presidential assistant Sebastian Gorka. The letter claimed their presence in the White House has emboldened the white supremacist movement.

“Americans deserve to know that white nationalists, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis are not in a position to influence U.S. policy,” the lawmakers wrote. “In this time of tumult in our country, Americans deserve a leader that will bring us all together and denounce those who seek to tear us apart.”

Mr. Bannon is credited with helping to steer Mr. Trump’s brand of economic, populist nationalism that was the hallmark of the president’s campaign and first six months in office. But Mr. Bannon’s detractors inside and outside the White House also blame him for encouraging, through Breitbart, the belief among white nationalists that they have a friend in Mr. Trump.

As the campaign to oust Mr. Bannon intensifies, people close to him have taken note especially of talk-show appearances on Sunday and Monday by Anthony Scaramucci, the former White House communications director who clashed with Mr. Bannon before being fired himself last month. They say Mr. Scaramucci’s bookings on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and ABC’s “This Week,” in which he called for Mr. Bannon’s firing and urged the president to move to the center, likely wouldn’t have happened without the tacit approval of Mr. Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

Mr. Scaramucci told Mr. Colbert that the president “has to move in a more moderate direction, he has to appeal to more independents and moderates who possibly voted for him to help him ascend to the presidency.”

Combining Mr. Bannon’s name with Breitbart, Mr. Scaramucci told ABC’s George Stephanopolous, “You also got this sort of ‘Bannon-bart’ influence in there, which I think is a snag on the president.”

“If the president really wants to execute that legislative agenda that I think is so promising for the American people, the lower-middle-class people and the middle-class people, then he has to move away from that sort of ‘Bannon-bart’ nonsense,” Mr. Scaramucci said. “It’s not serving the president’s interests. He’s got to move more into the mainstream, he’s got to be more into where the moderates are and the independents are.”

The source close to Mr. Bannon said his adversaries inside the White House are getting “desperate” to oust him before special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia ties gains momentum and potentially forces out others close to the president.

“When the subpoenas start flying and all these people start getting called in to testify before the special counsel, that’s when I think a lot of them are going to start leaving the White House,” the Bannon ally said. “It’s not a game anymore. This is a last-ditch desperation play. They’ve all latched on to this Charlottesville thing as their last-ditch bid to push Bannon out.”

In recent weeks Mr. Bannon has been accused of encouraging a campaign on social media and through Breitbart to undermine Mr. McMaster, who has been attacked by conservatives as a “globalist.” At the height of the turmoil, Mr. Trump took the unusual step last week of proclaiming his support for Mr. McMaster.

One Republican close to the West Wing said Mr. Bannon doesn’t have enough allies in the White House to take on Mr. McMaster successfully.

“That’s not a fight he’s going to win,” the Republican said of Mr. Bannon. “He’s outnumbered and outgunned.”

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