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In a joint phone call with The Hill on Wednesday, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Stephen Bannon furiously pushed back at reports of division, saying there is no friction between them.
Trump aides are particularly angry with a story published Tuesday by the conservative outlet Bannon once ran, Breitbart News, in which anonymous sources blamed Priebus for tumult at the White House and suggested that the chief of staff’s job was in immediate jeopardy.
But Bannon and Priebus insisted that they’re working closely and amicably together and that reports to the contrary are false.
“Reince is doing an amazing job,” Bannon told The Hill. “We are executing on President Trump’s agenda in record time. That’s because Reince is getting the job done.”
“It is a privilege to come to work on behalf of President Trump to serve the American people,” added Priebus. “We are a completely united team dedicated to enacting his bold agenda to bring back jobs and keep this country safe.”
Until recently, the White House had been slow to respond to the continuous drip of leaks that have led to the media narrative that Bannon and Priebus represent rival wings within the White House.
Allies of both men told The Hill on Wednesday that the press is being played by low-level staffers or former campaign hands, now White House outsiders, who have no idea about the working relationship between the two or the internal dynamics.
And they insist that the Breitbart story is totally false, the creation of rogue outsiders hell-bent on Priebus’s destruction.
“I am a believer in Reince and the President continues to be well served by his leadership,” Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a senior adviser to the president, said in a separate statement.
In a joint statement announcing the hiring of Bannon and Priebus last November, Trump said the two would work together as “equal partners.”
Bannon has since rocketed into public consciousness, with the administration’s opponents warning about his outsized influence over Trump and media outlets portraying him as the person pulling the strings — often at Priebus’s expense.
The perception of an internal battle for influence has been heightened by leaks, reported by countless news outlets, purported to have come from the White House or Trump’s inner circle.
The White House has begun taking a more aggressive posture aimed at beating back those reports, insisting that the leaks are coming from individuals with no actual knowledge of the White House’s inner workings.
“Reince has done an excellent job,” said Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks. “He works tirelessly to carry out the president’s agenda and the entire staff is grateful for his dedication and leadership.”
Much of the perceived tension between Bannon and Priebus stems from their diametrically opposed backgrounds.
As the former Breitbart News executive, Bannon oversaw a publication that relished in targeting GOP establishment figures like Priebus and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and challenging traditional Republican orthodoxy.
Priebus, the former Republican National Committee chairman, has long been seen as a voice for establishment Republicans and a calming force in Trump’s administration.
That makes Priebus a target for some longtime Trump allies, who see him as an interloper who can’t be trusted. Those who think Priebus was never a true believer now say he’s using his power to freeze out some of Trump’s oldest allies.
“The White House has become an RNC cabal, all RNC people top to bottom,” said one GOP operative with knowledge of Trump’s operations. “Almost all the campaign people are banished to agencies. None are in the White House. There is an undercurrent of distrust and anger at the agency level that is palpable. They hate Reince Priebus and his lackeys because he screwed these people. He’s very cunning. He’s really something else.”
Those tensions exploded into the open this week when Matthew Boyle, Breitbart’s Washington political editor, ran a story based on unnamed sources “close to the president” blaming Priebus for everything from national security adviser Michael Flynn’s resignation to the slow pace of Trump’s Cabinet confirmations in the Senate.
Many assumed the story ran with the blessing of Bannon and represented the latest salvo in his ongoing struggle with Priebus.
“It’s obvious what’s happening. Bannon’s trying to run him out,” one GOP lawmaker told The Hill on Wednesday.
“I think Bannon’s knives are out for Priebus, but Trump set this up on purpose so they would compete,” the lawmaker said.
However, Bannon says he did not know the story would run and was angry that his old publication had attacked his colleague at a critical juncture for the administration.
Still, Priebus’s critics sense that he is vulnerable in the wake of the most chaotic stretch yet for the young administration. They’re increasingly airing their grievances with the chief of staff.
Longtime Trump confidante and conservative provocateur Roger Stone has blamed Priebus for Flynn’s ouster, declaring it a “Pearl Harbor” attack on Trump allies and demanding that he be the next to go.
And Newsmax founder Chris Ruddy, another longtime friend of Trump’s, went on CNN over the weekend to say Priebus is in over his head, before walking his remarks back.
“He’s supposed to be the guy making the trains run on time and he’s not doing it,” said one source with knowledge of the inner workings at the White House.
“There are so many things that are not being done right now because he’s not doing his job and that’s why you’re starting to see people speak up about how they think and hope he’ll be gone soon,” said another GOP source with ties to the White House and conservative business leaders.
It’s not entirely clear, however, if anyone with real influence with Trump is behind the criticism of Priebus or the effort to sink him.
Priebus’s critics have become more vocal since Flynn resigned. Flynn was a fierce Trump loyalist and a longtime supporter, and some of his backers would like to see an establishment figure knocked off now that they’ve lost one of their own.
That frustrates allies of Bannon and Priebus, who have gone out of their way to show they have a healthy working relationship.
“You can’t govern by trading one head for another,” a Bannon friend said.
White House officials claim that the daily barrage of reports about infighting actually helps to unite the staff.
“Everyone here has each others back, and the more people try to feed that rumor mill, the stronger the bonds get,” one official told The Hill.
Establishment Republicans are hopeful that Priebus succeeds, viewing him as a key ally in the White House.
“Priebus is the only one in that orbit who understands how things work operationally,” said a former Republican administration aide. “And he’s proven that he knows how to run an operation. Say what you want about the election, the RNC was run pretty well.”
—Scott Wong and Amie Parnes contributed