US President Donald Trump is scheduled to address the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Friday, the second-last day of the annual get together of the country's conservatives.
Vice President Mike Pence and other top White House officials on Thursday urged them to set aside their differences and unite behind Trump's agenda.
Deep post-election divisions between Trump backers and liberals over the president's executive orders and policy directives have emerged since January 20. Trump's lieutenants used their time on Thursday to assure conservatives he was in full control and deserved their support.
"My friends, this is our time. This is the chance we've worked so hard for so long to see," Vice President Mike Pence said. “This is the time to prove again that our answers are the right answers for America," he told the conference in suburban Maryland, outside Washington DC.
The vice president slammed former president Barack Obama’s signature healthcare policy, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. "You know, despite the best efforts of liberal activists in town halls around the country, the American people know that Obamacare has failed and Obamacare must go."
Bannon and Priebus
Trump's chief strategist, Steve Bannon, known as a force inside the White House, made a rare public appearance to appeal for support for the Republican president.
"We want you to have our back" in upcoming battles, Bannon told the gathering. The former head of the alternative facts-oriented Breitbart News denounced mainstream media criticism of Trump.
He appeared onstage alongside White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, discounting rumours of infighting between the two.
However, Twitter was quick to pick up on this reaction from Priebus:
— Kyle Alvarado (@KJAlvarado124) February 23, 2017
Bannon and Priebus both sought to dispel mainstream media accounts of disorder in the house of Trump.
Referring to criticism of the US president and echoing the latter's labelling as 'fake news' traditionally respected media such as The New York Times, ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN, Bannon warned: "It's going to get worse every day" as Trump presses forward with his 2016 campaign promise to "make America great again."
"If you think they're going to give you your country back without a fight you are sadly mistaken," said Bannon. He blamed the "corporatist, globalist media that are adamantly opposed to an economic nationalist agenda" under Trump.
Alt-right and CPAC
CPAC organisers are trying to steer clear of any controversy over the alt-right movement, a loose grouping of ultra-conservatives and neo-libertarians that includes neo-Nazis, white supremacists, anti-Semites and xenophobes. Breitbart News has a following among some of those groups and Bannon in the past had called the media organisation a platform for the movement.
Some Breitbart staffers were scheduled to take part in CPAC panel discussions.
"We don't think there's any role for the alt-right in the conservative movement," Matt Schlapp, head of the American Conservative Union, which organises CPAC, said. CPAC had uninvited Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos after an old internet video recirculated in which he appeared to endorse paedophilia.