Rick Perry now has a seat on Trump’s National Security Council after Steve Bannon’s ‘removal’
Perry, the former Texas governor, has responsibility for the nation’s nuclear weapons programme
Rick Perry was named to the US National Security Council (NSC), putting the secretary of energy and long-time Texas governor into US President Donald Trump’s inner circle for national security decisions.
The decision was part of a larger reshuffling of the NSC announced in a notice published in the federal register that revamped the Principals Committee for the group. The Principals Committee is a body that considers policy solutions to national security issues, and the president has the power to change it at will.
Gone from the list was chief Trump political strategist Steve Bannon, the former chairman of Breitbart News, whose appointment to the NSC was controversial when it was announced on January 28. Critics of Bannon’s role were worried he would politicise a body traditionally viewed as a candid and non-partisan source of national security information to the president.
In addition to Perry, the new NSC line-up includes the director of national intelligence, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the director of the CIA and the ambassador to the UN. Those positions were conspicuously absent from Trump’s original January 28 order.
The changes were directed by Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, who was named Trump’s national security adviser in February after Michael Flynn was forced to resign for misleading Vice-President Mike Pence about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the US.
Two senior White House officials said Bannon’s departure was in no way a demotion and that he rarely attended meetings since being placed on the council.
Several Trump associates described Bannon as overstretched with multiple portfolios within the White House and said the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, has been paying close attention to how to better utilise Bannon’s skills as the administration works to recover from a rocky and dramatic first few months.
“He is still involved in everything and still has the full confidence of the president but to be fair he can only do so much stuff,” a Trump confidant said.
Perry will now participate in high-level meetings to determine policy positions on key national security issues such as the recent chemical attacks in Syria and North Korea’s continued missile tests. Bannon still has the ability to sit in on meetings if invited.
“Steve Bannon’s removal from National Security Council is welcome news,” Republican lawmaker Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said in a tweet after the decision was announced.
Ros-Lehtinen was the first Republican in Congress to protest Bannon’s appointment in January.
The Principals Committee was first established by President George H.W. Bush as a mechanism to organise the NSC. Each subsequent president has re-formed the committee to suit his needs, but Bannon’s appointment was unprecedented because his position in the White House did not require Senate approval.
Some of Barack Obama’s policy advisers sat in on NSC meetings on a limited basis.
Multiple White House officials, including Pence, insisted that Bannon’s removal from the NSC was not a demotion.
“They are going to continue to play important policy roles,” Pence said to Fox News, adding the move was “just a natural evolution to ensure the National Security Council is organised in a way that best serves the president in resolving and making those difficult decisions”.
But Bannon reportedly resisted the shake-up of the National Security Council’s hierarchy that led to his removal.
According to The New York Times’ report published on Wednesday, Bannon at one point threatened to quit if the change was implemented.
Bannon has been notably absent from meetings, the Times wrote, and doubts have simmered among some of Trump’s closest advisers after the administration stumbled in its early weeks.
Trump was reportedly irate over the reception of his first executive order, which overhauled the NSC, claiming he had not been properly briefed about its drastic implications, the Times reported. However, according to the Times, after Trump considered reversing his order the very week it was announced, he decided not to, due to fears of a greater fallout.
Bannon insisted his exit from the committee was planned, calling it a “natural evolution” and not a reduction of his stature inside the White House.
A White House official dismissed questions about a power struggle between Bannon and McMaster, saying they shared the same world view.
However, two current national security officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said McMaster had duelled with Bannon and others over direct access to Trump and other staffing decisions.
Trump was scheduled to meet overnight with Chinese President Xi Jinping with the threat of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes high on the agenda.
As secretary of energy, Perry has responsibility for the nation’s nuclear weapons programme and radioactive waste disposal. On Monday, the White House nominated Dan Brouillette as Perry’s deputy. Brouillette worked in the Energy Department under President George W. Bush and brings energy policy experience that Perry lacks.
Perry was confirmed as secretary of energy by the Senate on March 2.
Tribune News Service, Reuters, The Washington Post