- New chief of staff John Kelly is swiftly bringing order to a chaotic West Wing. Kelly has already earned deference from senior White House staff and even the president himself. It’s unclear how long Trump will allow Kelly to hold the reins.
Retired Gen. John Kelly is settling into his new role as President Donald Trump’s chief of staff, and he’s bringing some changes to a White House that’s been in turmoil since Trump took office.
Since assuming the position, Kelly has taken significant steps to tighten the ship. Among other things, he’s begun ensuring that West Wing meetings are “shorter and stick to their scheduled topic,” according to Axios.
While former chief of staff Reince Priebus remained largely on the sidelines, Kelly has taken on a leadership role to demonstrate that he’s in control, gaining deference from Trump’s closest confidants, like Ivanka Trump and senior adviser Jared Kushner.
The president himself is trying to impress his new chief of staff, Axios reported, by “picking up his game … acting sharper in meetings and even rattling off stats.”
The White House shakeup “definitely has the fingerprints of a new sheriff in town,” Blain Rethmeier, who guided Kelly through the Senate confirmation process for his former post as the secretary of Homeland Security post, told The Associated Press.
It isn’t the first time Kelly’s demonstrated his penchant for imposing order and, when necessary, his willingness to stand up to the president. About a month ago, when Kelly was still the secretary of Homeland Security, he demanded at an Oval Office meeting with Trump and other advisers that everyone leave the room so he could speak candidly with Trump, according to the AP.
Trump initially refused, but relented when Kelly insisted.
It was an unusual move coming from Trump, who has largely resisted being told what to do and frequently favors those who allow him to act on his impulses.
Kelly also reportedly almost resigned from the DHS in May, in protest of the way Trump handled firing former FBI Director James Comey.
- REUTERS/Jim Bourg
Comey was fired on May 9 and became aware of Trump’s decision when he saw it break on cable news, while he was addressing FBI employees in Los Angeles. When he first saw the headlines, Comey laughed and thought it was a prank, The New York Times reported at the time.
After getting confirmation, Comey left Los Angeles for Washington and took a phone call from Kelly on the way. When he learned that Kelly may resign over the events that had transpired, Comey urged him not to, with Kelly eventually agreeing.
Kelly’s most high-profile move as Trump’s chief of staff so far has been his role in the ouster of Anthony Scaramucci.
The decision to dismiss Scaramucci came from Kelly himself, who felt that the former communications director lacked discipline and had burned away his credibility.
Scaramucci’s ouster was fueled by an explosive interview he gave to the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza last week, in which he blasted people who leaked information from the White House and referred to senior White House staff in vulgar terms.
When Lizza refused to disclose a source that had provided him with details of Scaramucci’s private dinner with Trump and several Fox News personalities, Scaramucci zeroed in on former chief of staff Reince Priebus, whom he has long feuded with, calling him “a f—— paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac.”
He also implied that chief strategist Steve Bannon was only interested in media attention, telling Lizza, “I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own c—.”
- Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Although it briefly appeared that Scaramucci had the administration’s backing – Priebus resigned shortly after Scaramucci told Lizza he would do just that, and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders publicly defended Scaramucci after the New Yorker published his rant – the first thing Kelly did after being sworn in as chief of staff on Monday was dismiss Scaramucci.
Trump’s decision to tap Kelly as his new chief of staff was hailed by Republicans who had long called for order in a chaotic White House.
“I think he will bring some order and discipline to the West Wing,” Republican Sen. Susan Collins, a frequent Trump critic, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“He’s going to have to reduce the drama, reduce both the sniping within and reduce the leaks, and bring some discipline to the relationships,” Karl Rove, a Republican strategist and former White House adviser to President George W. Bush, said on “Fox News Sunday” after Trump announced Kelly’s new position.
Kelly’s assertive qualities so far appear to be reining in warring factions of the West Wing, whose private entanglements frequently became public knowledge in the past. And in a drastic change from the way things previously ran, Sanders said that going forward, all senior staff, including Kushner and Bannon, will report directly to Kelly instead of to Trump.
It’s unclear how long Kelly will hold the reins, however, given Trump’s volatile moods and tendency to sour on those who too often try to hold him back, like national security adviser H.R. McMaster.
“The thing that General Kelly should do is not try to change Donald Trump,” former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“Anybody who thinks they’re going to change Donald Trump doesn’t know Donald Trump,” Lewandowski said.