Trump picks Priebus as White House chief of staff

WASHINGTON, Nov 13 (Reuters) - President-elect Donald Trump on Sunday picked Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, the favorite of the party's establishment and a low-key Washington insider, to serve in the influential position of White House chief of staff.

The choice of Priebus, a loyal campaign ally to Trump who has close ties with House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, signaled a willingness to work with Ryan and the Republican-led Congress to get his agenda passed.

The other front-runner for the job had been Stephen Bannon, Trump's campaign chairman and former head of the conservative Breitbart News. Trump named Bannon as his chief strategist and senior counselor.

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White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus
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White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus
Reince Priebus, Chairman of the Republican National Committee stands at the main podium as he previews the stage at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. on July 17, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and Chairman of the Republican National Committee Reince Priebus (R) address supporters during his election night rally in Manhattan, New York, U.S. on November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo
White House Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon (L) and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, U.S., February 23, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
US President Donald Trump chats with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus while watching Super Bowl LI at Trump International Golf Club Palm Beach in West Palm Beach, Florida on February 5, 2017. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US Vice President Mike Pence (L) and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus arrive for a joing press conference by US President Donald Trump and Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the East Room of the White House on February 13, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President elect Donald Trump shakes hands with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus (C) as Vice President-elect Mike Pence (R) looks onat election night rally in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., July 21 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) (R) talks to RNC Chair Reince Priebus at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 19, 2016. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus gavels the convention to order at the start of the first session of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 18, 2016. REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich
US President Donald Trump holds an executive memorandum on defeating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria after signing it in the Oval Office of the White House on January 28, 2017, in Washington, DC. Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway (3rd L) and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (2nd L) joined Trump. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 7: White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus listens during a meeting with county sheriffs in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC on Tuesday, Feb. 07, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (R), US Vice President Mike Pence (C) and Senior Adviser Jared Kushner watch from the Rose Garden as Marine One carrying US President Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka takes off from the White House in Washington, DC, on February 1, 2017. Trump flew to Dover Air Force Base for arrival of remains of a US commando killed William 'Ryan' Owens early January 29, in Yemen during a raid on Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. / AFP / NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
Reince Priebus, White House Chief of Staff-elect, from left, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, and Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, dine at Jean Georges Restaurant in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. Congressional Republicans are considering a lightning-strike rollback of Obamacare early next year to kick off the Trump era, but first they have to agree on a plan limited enough to hold their caucus together. Photographer: John Angelillo/Pool via Bloomberg
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus hold his hand over his heart for the U.S. Naitonal Anthem at the start of the first session of the at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 18, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, U.S., February 23, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (L) and Chief Strategist Steve Bannon walk as they depart the White House, accompanying U.S. President Donald Trump for a trip to South Carolina and Florida, in Washington, U.S., February 17, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (R) and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (2ndL) arrive for a news conference by U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 16, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 02: (AFP OUT) White House Chief of Staff Reince Preibus attends a meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and executives and union representatives from the Harley Davidson company at the White House on February 2, 2017 in Washington, DC. At the end of the photo opportunity, Trump said 'nothing is off the table' in relation to current disagreements between the U.S. and Iran. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 28: White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (R) looks on as President Donald Trump speaks on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Oval Office of the White House, January 28, 2017 in Washington, DC. On Saturday, President Trump is making several phone calls with world leaders from Japan, Germany, Russia, France and Australia. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 28: (L to R) White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus speaks with White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon as President Donald Trump speaks on the phone with Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel in the Oval Office of the White House, January 28, 2017 in Washington, DC. On Saturday, President Trump is making several phone calls with world leaders from Japan, Germany, Russia, France and Australia. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 20: Reince Priebus, White House chief of staff, is seen on the West Front of the Capitol after Donald J. Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, January 20, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, and wife Sally Priebus arrive for the 58th presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. Donald Trump will become the 45th president of the United States today, in a celebration of American unity for a country that is anything but unified. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus is escorted by Madeleine Westerhaut as he arrives for meetings with US President-elect Donald Trump December 28, 2016 at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida. / AFP / DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 09: Republican president-elect Donald Trump and Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, embrace during his election night event at the New York Hilton Midtown in the early morning hours of November 9, 2016 in New York City. Donald Trump defeated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to become the 45th president of the United States. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
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The chief of staff position, which serves as a gatekeeper and agenda-setter for the president, is typically one of the most important early choices for an incoming president.

"I am thrilled to have my very successful team continue with me in leading our country," Trump said in a statement. "Steve and Reince are highly qualified leaders who worked well together on our campaign and led us to a historic victory. Now I will have them both with me in the White House."

Trump, who will succeed Democratic President Barack Obama on Jan. 20, has been contemplating the candidates for top jobs in the White House and in various Cabinet positions since Tuesday's election win over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The selection of Priebus as chief of staff could anger some hardline Trump supporters who were counting on Trump to keep his campaign promise to "drain the swamp" of business-as-usual Washington insiders.

Trump and his advisers already have hedged on some of his major campaign promises, including on immigration, healthcare and appointing a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton.

Priebus is a longtime Wisconsin political operative who was credited with marshaling party resources for Trump's White House bid. The Republican National Committee stepped in and ran most of the party's get-out-the-vote effort this year in the absence of such an operation by the Trump campaign.

He frequently traveled with Trump on the campaign trail and was seen as a positive force who helped rein in the unpredictable Trump in the closing weeks. Trump made his high regard for Priebus known on election night when he pulled him to the microphone to take a bow for his campaign efforts.

Bannon is a firebrand outsider who as head of Breibart repeatedly attacked the Republican Party establishment including Ryan, alienating many veteran Republicans. Bannon showed his willingness to engage in brutal political tactics when he instigated the appearance before a presidential debate of three women who said they had been sexually abused by his Democratic rival's husband, former President Bill Clinton.

BORDER WALL

Trump backed away on Sunday from his promise to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border, saying some areas could instead be "fencing," and added he would move to deport up to 3 million immigrants in the country illegally who have criminal records.

Trump, whose pledge to force Mexico to pay for a border wall was a centerpiece of his White House, said in "certain areas" he would accept fencing instead of a brick-and-mortar wall, according to excerpts of his interview with the CBS program "60 Minutes."

"But certain areas, a wall is more appropriate. I'm very good at this, it's called construction, there could be some fencing," the New York real estate developer said.

In the "60 Minutes" interview, Trump sought to play down the divisive nature of his candidacy and said Americans alarmed by his election have nothing to fear. "Don't be afraid. We are going to bring our country back. But certainly, don't be afraid," he said.

Demonstrators in major U.S. cities took to the streets for a fifth straight day on Sunday to protest against Trump, decrying his campaign promises to restrict Muslim immigration and deport immigrants in the country illegally, as well as allegations that the former reality TV star sexually abused women.

Trump said in the interview that once he takes office he would remove immigrants with criminal records who are in the country illegally.

"What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers, where a lot of these people, probably two million, it could be even three million, we are getting them out of our country or we are going to incarcerate. But we're getting them out of our country," he told "60 Minutes."

During the campaign, Trump said he would deport the estimated 11 million immigrants in the country illegally, most of whom are Hispanic. Trump said Mexico was sending criminals and rapists into the United States.

Ryan, who like Priebus is from Wisconsin and will play a key role in getting Trump's agenda through the Republican-led Congress, on Sunday backed away from Trump's promise during the campaign of a "deportation force" to round up and deport immigrants in the country illegally.

"We are not planning on erecting a deportation force. Donald Trump's not planning on that," Ryan told CNN's "State of the Union" program. "I think we should put people's minds at ease. That is not what our focus is. That is not what we're focused on. We're focused on securing the border."

Kevin McCarthy, the No. 2 House Republican, said on "Fox News Sunday" the wall with Mexico could in parts be a "virtual" wall patrolled by drones.

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Howard Schneider; Editing by Will Dunham)

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