News & Politics

Steve Bannon Finally Gets the Heave-Ho After Weeks of Speculation

There has been a bipartisan call for his firing since an alt-right rally left one dead.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Steve Bannon is leaving the Trump White House. White House chief of staff John Kelly confirmed the news on Friday,

As of Friday morning, the New York Times reported, Bannon was still working in the White House — despite offering Trump his resignation on August 7. CNN reported that Friday would be his last day and that he was “essentially forced out.”

“We’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon,” Trump said at his controversial Trump Tower press conference on Tuesday. His chief White House strategist has since gone on a media tour. But as CNN’s Jim Acosta reported on Friday, sources in the White House said Trump did not like Bannon stealing the spotlight — despite what was widely criticized as a disastrous week for the president.

There was a bipartisan call for Bannon’s firing following the fatal violence at an alt-right protest in Charlottesville on Saturday. In his former job, Bannon served as the CEO of Breitbart, which he proclaimed as the home of the alt-right.

Bannon is gunning for a trade war with China, but not everyone in the Trump administration may be on board with that. Bannon has been an outspoken critic of U.S. trade policy with the world’s second-largest economy, but his call to escalate tensions between the superpowers is at odds with U.S. diplomatic efforts to recruit China’s help in dealing with the North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats.

While Trump has publicly echoed Bannon’s views the U.S. needs to take a harder stance on China regarding trade, the president’s diplomatic and military chiefs aren’t putting that issue on the top of their agendas. Instead, they view China as a partner in trying to put a leash on North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

“To me,” Bannon said in an interview with the American Prospect this week, “the economic war with China is everything. And we have to be maniacally focused on that. If we continue to lose it, we’re five years away, I think, ten years at the most, of hitting an inflection point from which we’ll never be able to recover.”

Specifically, Bannon wants to use a provision in the 1974 U.S. Trade Act to block China from requiring that U.S. companies doing business there share innovations with their Chinese joint-venture partners. He also wants to take a harder stance on Chinese steel and aluminum dumping. The president seems on board with these efforts.

But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis appear less interested in antagonizing China and more focused on containing Pyongyang’s threats.

At a press conference in Washington D.C. on Thursday, CBS News reported that Tillerson and Mattis reiterated U.S. resolve to defend its allies in Asia and its willingness to deploy a military against North Korea.

“Obviously any diplomatic effort in any situation where you have this level of threat that we are confronted with, a threat of proportions that none of us like to contemplate, has to be backed by a strong military consequence if North Korea chooses wrongly,” Tillerson said.

While the U.S. is using strong language publicly about North Korea threats, it’s also recruiting China’s assistance. Susan Thornton, the State Department’s chief Asia and Pacific affairs diplomat, recently said China was “helpful and instrumental” in implementing the U.N. sanctions against North Korea for recent long-range missile tests.

For his part, Bannon rejects the notion that the U.S. would resort to a military strikes against North Korea to answer its nuclear threats.

“There’s no military solution, forget it,” he told the libearl American Prospect this week. “Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.”

From Bannon’s perspective, there’s little China is going to do to help the U.S. contain North Korea, so the U.S. might as well focus on fixing what he sees as a bigger threat to America’s future prosperity: China’s trade strategies. 

Bannon’s forced resignation follows a series of resignation from other senior White House staffers.

Sophia Tesfaye is the Deputy Politics Editor at Salon.

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