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What's Next For The White House After Bannon's Departure?


It's been another extraordinary week in Washington. President Trump doubled down on initial controversial comments that both sides are responsible for violence in Charlottesville, Va., aligning himself with those in the so-called alt-right. His comments fueled new debate about taking down Confederate monuments, and they also spurred an outcry from the business community and also among many top Republicans.

And then at the end of the week - another big staff shakeup, with the departure of his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who immediately returned to Breitbart News. What does this mean for the presidency going forward? NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is here to help us navigate what it all means.

Hi, Mara.


BROWN: Why was Steve Bannon let go?

LIASSON: Well, Steve Bannon had been on thin ice with the president for some time. But one thing to make clear - he was forced to go not because the president decided to go in a different ideological direction, but there was a long list of complaints against Steve Bannon. He trashed his colleagues. He was responsible for a lot of infighting. He also had gotten too big for his britches. President Trump wasn't happy that his face was on the cover of news magazines or he was getting top billing in books about the campaign. And one of the final straws might have been an interview Bannon gave this week, where he undercut administration policy on the biggest foreign policy threat currently facing the country, which is North Korea.

But I think the most significant thing about Bannon's departure is that now he's on the outside. He says he's going to wage war for the president from his very effective platform, Breitbart. He said that his hands are back on his weapons. And he plans to go after a long list of enemies, including Democrats, the left and key parts of Trump's own legislative coalition - allies like the Republican establishment and the people inside the White House that Bannon calls the globalists, which may include the president's own daughter and son-in-law. So we'll see how all that works out.

BROWN: What do you think this means going forward though?

LIASSON: I don't think it means a lot of change inside the White House. I think that the new chief of staff, John Kelly, may have exerted some new discipline over the staff, but certainly not over the president. We saw that Tuesday in that impromptu press conference. And I think that the president is still a Bannonist (ph) at heart. Even if Steve Bannon isn't there, or even if he wasn't talking to the president, we saw on Tuesday that Donald Trump tends to default to that kind of white grievance, nationalist, populist rhetoric. But Bannon's departure might strengthen the hands of some White House staffers who are more mainstream conservatives on trade or foreign policy.

BROWN: Mara, where does this leave the Trump presidency after seven months?

LIASSON: I think it leaves Donald Trump more and more isolated. You saw the disbanding of three business councils this week - one on manufacturing, one on strategy and one on infrastructure - because the business leaders were resigning from those councils in droves. He's even having trouble performing the ceremonial aspects of the presidency. Just this morning, the White House announced he wouldn't preside at the Kennedy Center Honors because several of the honorees had already said they wouldn't come to the White House reception.

You also have this alternative theory that what the president says is being increasingly ignored, that it doesn't matter. His national security and military leaders are forging ahead, even if what he said contradicts what they're doing. And members of Congress are ignoring him, whether it's his comments on Venezuela or North Korea or a transgender ban or tax reform or health care. They're really tuning him out. And the other part of that theory is that maybe Donald Trump doesn't mind that at all. He's more interested in tweeting than he is in governing.

BROWN: That's NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thanks, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.