President Barack Obama declined to discuss President-elect Donald Trump’s appointment of Stephen Bannon as chief strategist and senior advisor, citing his interest in a smooth transition between presidential administrations.
Obama was asked about Bannon during a Monday press conference before heading overseas. CNN’s Athena Jones asked Obama about Americans who are “concerned about some of their policies and sentiments, either expressed by President-elect Trump himself or his supporters, that may seem hostile to minorities and others,” before referencing Bannon.
Obama answered that, “it would not be appropriate for me to comment on every appointment that the President-elect starts making” and that it was up to Trump “to set up a team that he thinks will serve him well and reflect his policies.”
“And my advice as I said to the President-elect when we had our discussions was that campaigning is different from governing,” Obama said later. “I think he recognizes that. I think he is sincere in wanting to be a successful president and moving this country forward. I don’t think any President ever comes in saying to himself I want to figure out how to make people angry or alienate half the country.”
Obama appeared to acknowledge the uniquely divisive role Bannon has played since he took the helm of Trump’s campaign.
“I had been encouraged by his statements on election night about the need for unity and his interest in being the president for all people,” he said of Trump. “And that how he staffs, the first steps he takes, first impressions he makes, and the reset that can happen after an election– All those things are important should be thought about.”
Later, Obama seemed to return to the widespread concern that Bannon’s appointment indicated that Trump’s divisive campaign rhetoric would continue in the White House.
“I did say to him, as I’ve said publicly that because of the nature of the campaigns, and the bitterness and ferocity of the campaigns, it’s really important to try to send signals of unity and reach out to minority groups or women or others that were concerned about the tenor of the campaign,” Obama said. “I think that’s something he will want to do, but this is all happening real fast.”
After his first meeting with the President-elect on Thursday, President Obama said he was “encouraged” by the Trump transition team’s willingness to work with his administration “around many of the issues that this great country faces.” Hours later, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Obama’s statements on the campaign trail that Trump was “temperamentally unfit” and “uniquely unqualified” to be President “haven’t changed.”
At his press conference Monday, Obama addressed that question more directly.
“Whatever you bring to this office, this office has a habit of magnifying and pointing out, and hopefully that you correct for,” he said.
“When you’re a candidate and you say something that is inaccurate or controversial, it has less impact than when you are president of the United States,” he said. “Everybody around the world is paying attention. Markets move.”