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Trump Names Priebus Chief Of Staff; Bannon Chief Strategist

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And we are getting our first indications of what Donald Trump's White House will look like. The president-elect has chosen Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus to serve as his chief of staff. Another key role will be filled by Steve Bannon, the provocative former executive of the right wing website Breitbart, who also served as CEO of the Trump campaign.

NPR's Scott Horsley joins us to talk about this and other news from the president-elect. Scott, good morning.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So what kind of signals are we getting from Donald Trump here with these appointments?

HORSLEY: It's sort of a mixed signal, David. People always watch these early hires for a sign of what kind of White House operation the incoming president wants. And that's especially true in the case of Donald Trump, since he doesn't have a government track record we can look to. Both Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon had been talked about as possible chiefs of staff.

In selecting the RNC chairman Priebus, Trump seems to be signaling an eagerness to work with the GOP establishment, even though they often tussled during the campaign. Had he chosen Bannon, who's much more of an outsider, a bomb thrower, that would have sent the opposite signal. But Bannon is not going away. The former Breitbart executive, who is associated with the controversial alt-right movement, will be chief strategist and senior counselor to the president.

GREENE: So are they just going to duke it out in the White House? I mean, I had a conversation with Chris Buskirk, who is publisher of a conservative blog and website. I mean, he said that this is this is meant to frustrate everyone, which is something that is healthy in a White House. Is that healthy in a White House?

HORSLEY: (Laughter) We will see. A press release announcing these picks described Priebus and Bannon's roles as equal partners in the new administration.

GREENE: That tells us something.

HORSLEY: In fact, Bannon's name got top billing in the release. Another Trump adviser, Kellyanne Conway, told Fox News these two men are Trump loyalists. And they worked closely together during the course of the presidential campaign.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Well, it tells you a great deal about President Trump that both of those men are thought to have very important roles in his administration, very senior roles. And that - regardless of title, that is absolutely what's going to happen. And that is probably the case for most of his very small but loyal and, frankly, effective senior team, inner circle.

HORSLEY: Prebius could be a liaison to Republicans on Capitol Hill, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, his fellow Wisconsinite. Bannon, meanwhile, might be expected to tend to the populist fires outside Washington that helped send Trump to the White House. I should say some of those outside fires are ugly. Bannon's association with white nationalism and anti-Semitism have prompted groups like the Anti-Defamation League to protest his White House appointment.

GREENE: Yeah. I mean, the reaction already has been really fierce. I mean, and we should pause on Steve Bannon for a minute. I mean, Breitbart News, which he ran for a long time, I mean, has just, you know, published some very offensive things. I mean, they've said that President Obama imports hating Muslims. I mean, they've called Planned Parenthood's work - likening it to the Holocaust. I mean, does this undermine Donald Trump's message - recent message of being a uniter?

HORSLEY: Well, I think, as I say, I think these are mixed signals here. And, of course, Steve Bannon played a key role in helping to sort of write the Donald Trump campaign in the latter stages. So what you get is what the American people voted for.

GREENE: And I guess time will tell to see how much influence he has and Priebus in that White House. You know, so we should say, I mean, people protesting this announcement and also actual protesting on the streets continued over the weekend in cities around the country. Is Donald Trump responding to that and sending a message to the people who are out there?

HORSLEY: Trump has alternated between criticizing the demonstrations and saying he admires the protesters' passion. In an interview they aired on "60 Minutes" last night, Trump complained about the way the protests are being covered in the news media. But he also tried to reassure the demonstrators.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "60 MINUTES")

DONALD TRUMP: Don't be afraid. We are going to bring our country back. But certainly don't be afraid. You know, we just had an election. And sort of like - you have to be given a little time. I mean. People are protesting. If Hillary had won and if my people went out and protested, everybody would say, oh, that's a terrible thing. And it would have been a much different attitude. There is a different attitude. You know, there's a double standard here.

HORSLEY: Trump was also asked about complaints from some African-Americans, Latinos and Muslims who say they've been harassed by people calling themselves Trump supporters. The president-elect said he was surprised and disappointed to hear that. And he spoke bluntly to anyone carrying out such harassment, saying they should stop it.

GREENE: That's got - Trump has been talking about some of his campaign promises including, I mean, he has been talking about repealing Obamacare for months and months and months like other Republicans have said they want to do. But he's also said he wants to preserve some parts of the law. Make sense of that for me.

HORSLEY: He says he wants to make insurance companies keep covering people who have pre-existing medical conditions. That's one of the more popular features of Obamacare. Although that creates some problems if you do away with the requirement that individuals have health insurance, which Trump wants to do.

While getting rid of Obamacare is high on the incoming president's to-do list, Trump told "60 Minutes" there could be a phase-out period. So that 20 million or so people getting coverage through the Affordable Care Act would not be in danger of losing it right away.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "60 MINUTES")

TRUMP: We're not going to have, like, a two-day period. And we're not going to have a two-year period where there's nothing. It will be repealed and replaced and we'll know. And it'll be great health care for much less money. So it'll be better health care, much better for less money. Not a bad combination.

HORSLEY: Trump was also asked about his promise to appoint a Supreme Court justice who opposes abortion. He tried to soft pedal the effects of that on "60 Minutes," saying any reconsideration of Roe v. Wade is - has a long, long way to go.

GREENE: All right. Just a couple of seconds left, Scott. But what about Donald Trump's promise during the presidential campaign to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate his opponent Hillary Clinton?

HORSLEY: He was noncommittal on that, said check back with me.

GREENE: OK. That is NPR's Scott Horsley rounding up the news, new appointments in the future Trump White House and protests continuing around the country. Scott, thanks a lot.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.