President Trump ousted White House chief of staff Reince Priebus on Friday, replacing him with Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly, in a White House shake-up unfolding daily amid the chaos and infighting, which overshadows any tangible accomplishments.
The move according to credible sources was designed to bring order to a West Wing beset for six straight months by power struggles and leaks.
With his legislative agenda largely stalled, Trump became convinced that Priebus was a “weak” leader after being lobbied intensely by rival advisers to remove the establishment Republican fixture who has long had friction with some of Trump’s inner-circle loyalists, according to White House officials.
In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, when pressed to respond to being replaced by General John Kelly, Priebus said he submitted his formal resignation to the President privately on Thursday. Sources close to Priebus, however, insisted that he was not resigning on when asked on Friday.
Trump announced on Twitter shortly after landing on Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington.
“I am pleased to inform you that I have just named General/Secretary John F Kelly as White House Chief of Staff,” Trump tweeted. “He is a Great American… and a Great Leader. John has also done a spectacular job at Homeland Security. He has been a true star of my Administration.”
I am pleased to inform you that I have just named General/Secretary John F Kelly as White House Chief of Staff. He is a Great American….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 28, 2017
Sources close to Priebus contacted reporters to say that Priebus had formally resigned on Thursday after the President named General John Kelly as his new chief of staff on Friday afternoon. Sources say some White House officials questioned Priebus’ version of events, suggesting he and his allies were attempting to put a positive spin on Trump’s abrupt decision to replace Priebus with Kelly.
“The President wanted to go a different direction,” Priebus told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room” Friday evening.” A president has a right to hit a reset button. I think it’s a good time to hit the reset button. I think he was right to hit the reset button.”
“I’m always going to be a Trump fan,” Priebus said. “I’m on Team Trump, and I look forward to helping him achieve his goals and his agenda for the American people.”
John Kelly (R) will take over from Reince Priebus (L) as chief of staff [Molly Riley/Mike Theiler/AFP]
Kelly’s hiring is expected to render more streamlined structural West Wing, and perhaps the departures of some remaining Priebus allies is likely. Kelly intends to bring some semblance of traditional discipline to the West Wing, where warring advisers have been able to circumvent the chief of staff and report directly to the president and sidestep the policy process, according to people with knowledge of his plans.
A retired four-star Marine general, Kelly earned Trump’s approval for his work combating illegal immigration and his leadership qualities, both in the battlefield and at the Department of Homeland Security.
Trump thanked Priebus on Twitter “for his service and dedication to his country. We accomplished a lot together, and I am proud of him!”
I would like to thank Reince Priebus for his service and dedication to his country. We accomplished a lot together and I am proud of him!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 28, 2017
The sweeping change comes after an open display of conflict between Priebus and Anthony Scaramucci, the newly appointed as White House communications director, played out in real time like a script from reality tv on Thursday. Scaramucci accused Priebus of leaking damaging information about him to the news media later denigrating Priebus in a profanity-laced interview with The New Yorker.
Priebus said in a statement, “It has been one of the greatest honors of my life to serve this president and our country. I want to thank the president for giving me this very special opportunity. I will continue to serve as a strong supporter of the president’s agenda and policies. I can’t think of a better person than General John Kelly to succeed me, and I wish him God’s blessings and great success.”
Allies close to Priebus said he told them he decided to resign because the internal chaos had become “unsustainable,” and that he felt demeaned by the president’s treatment of him. One friend said Priebus said he was frustrated that he could not assert control over basic White House functions, such as policy development, communications and even formal announcements – which were often made impulsively by the president, such as this week’s ban on transgender people serving in the military.
Defenders of Priebus said he was given an impossible job of managing a president who pushed back at attempts to control his more rash impulses.
White House officials were quick to say the decision for Priebus to depart was made solely by Trump. It was announced after Priebus presided over the Friday morning senior staff meeting and accompanied Trump to a law enforcement event in New York.
Trump has long been drawn to military leaders — “my generals,” he calls them — and by appointing Kelly, the president hopes to bring military discipline to his often-unruly West Wing.
Kelly is expected to be sworn into the job on Monday morning and convene a Cabinet meeting. He is being succeeded at the Department of Homeland Security by his current deputy, Elaine Duke, who will become acting secretary.
Kelly, who is widely admired by Trump family members and loyalists, had formed a bond with the president over recent months that was fortified when he aggressively defended the travel ban policy. Their relationship has only grown stronger since, with Trump telling aides that he sees Kelly as someone who dutifully follows through on his agenda—including a border security crackdown and a sharp reduction in illegal immigration — and does not cause him problems.
Because Kelly has little political and legislative experience, many officials in the West Wing expect that policy issues will largely fall under Vice President Pence’s portfolio, said two people familiar with the likely changes. Pence — who spent Thursday evening in the Capitol unsuccessfully trying to convince
Priebus, who as chairman of the Republican National Committee nurtured a close relationship with Trump during last year’s campaign, was named White House chief of staff to bring Washington experience to the administration of a political novice. Part of Priebus’ pitch was that he could use his long-standing relationships with Republican leaders on Capitol Hill — including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), a personal friend — to help pass Trump’s ambitious agenda.
“On paper, he was a perfect choice, but he didn’t have the managerial skills,” said Christopher Ruddy, chief executive of Newsmax Media and a Trump friend. But, he continued, “That Ryan connection became a burden for him as health care failed. The president felt he had to carry this defective football that had no buy in, thanks to Reince and Ryan.”
Ryan issued a statement praising Priebus, saying he “left it all out on the field, for our party and our country.”
“He has achieved so much, and he has done it all with class,” Ryan said. “I could not be more proud to call Reince a dear friend.”
After Scaramucci was named communications director last week against Priebus’ vehement objections, White House officials widely believed that Priebus’ position had become more imperiled. His closest ally, press secretary Sean Spicer, resigned in protest last week over Scaramucci’s hiring and at a time urged Priebus to consider his future, officials said, noting that the situation had darkened.
Trump had long questioned the depth of Priebus’ loyalty, often remarking about how last October Priebus encouraged Trump to drop out of the presidential race after The Washington Post published a video of Trump bragging about sexual harassment in a 2005 “Access Hollywood” interview. The senior official described Priebus’ counsel that day as “a stain he was never going to remove “The scarlet ‘ A.H.’”
By LeNora Millen 07-29-17