Will it really help to call Congress members to protest Trump’s appointment of Steve Bannon?

Serving at the president’s pleasure.
Serving at the president’s pleasure.
Image: Reuters/Carlo Allegr's
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A grassroots mobilization is underway to protest Donald Trump’s appointment of Steve Bannon as White House chief strategist. Organizers are urging their social-media contacts to call their elected officials in the US Congress and voice their opposition to Bannon, who’s been accused of pushing a white supremacist agenda.

Here’s a sample script of what organizers are asking participants to say, taken from a Facebook post:

“Hi, my name is [Your Name], and I’m a constituent of [Representative’s Name]. I live at [Your Address]. I’m calling to ask [Representative’s Name] to make it a priority to pressure Paul Ryan to pressure Donald Trump to remove Steve Bannon, a known white supremacist, from the position of Chief Strategist. Bannon is a dangerous man.”

It’s an unprecedented challenge to White House personnel decisions that have traditionally been accepted without much fuss. Still, callers should keep in mind that lawmakers have no say on Trump’s chief strategist pick. While US presidents need Senate approval to assign cabinet positions, such as the heads of the state or energy departments, and Supreme Court justices, they don’t need permission to hire and fire their own staff, according to James Thurber, a government professor at American University.

That said, embarrassment and pressure can work, adds Thurber, whose own daughter has joined the anti-Bannon call drive. For example, congressional complaints played a role in the replacement of former president Bill Clinton’s first chief of staff less than halfway through his first term, he says.

It’s unclear whether the strategy will be effective on Trump. But the flood of calls is already sending a message to the incoming president “that he’s not going to get a pass on a lot of his decisions, that people are watching and they’re going to try to hold him accountable,” said Michael Gerhardt, a scholar in residence at the National Constitution Center.

The same goes for lawmakers. Bannon opponents are keeping close tabs on which Congress members have spoken out against him, including in this Google Sheet. Some Democrats are welcoming the pressure coming in from their constituency: