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President Donald Trump is considering major changes in his top-level staff, including replacing White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, according to a Friday report from Axios.
Leading the list of possible replacements is House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, who was one of the first congressional leaders to support Trump and has established himself as one of the president’s trusted confidants.
Other candidates include the businessman and former lobbyist Wayne Berman, the political consultant David Urban, and Trump’s economic adviser and former Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn, according to staffers who spoke with Axios.
Priebus has reportedly been in hot water since the botched rollout in January of the president’s first executive order banning travel to the US from seven majority-Muslim nations, and he fell further out of Trump’s favor after House Republicans’ failure in March to pass legislation to reform the US healthcare system.
But Priebus insisted in late March that he was “not in any trouble” with Trump and that he had “a great relationship with the president.”
Other reports of widening rifts among Trump’s top advisers have been published this week, highlighted by one on Wednesday that said Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, was removed from the National Security Council.
The New York Times reported that despite his efforts to play it cool with the media, Bannon resisted his removal from the NSC and at one point threatened to quit over it. Axios reported, however, that Bannon had been telling associates that such stories were “100% nonsense.”
The Wall Street Journal also reported on Friday that Trump is considering replacing Priebus and Bannon and is “trying out different names with his friends,” according to someone “close to the White House.” The Journal reported that Cohn is among those being considered to replace Priebus.
White House spokesperson Lindsay Walters in a statement on Friday that the reports of staff turnover are “completely false” and “driven by people who want to distract from the success taking place in this administration.”
Other reports this week indicate that relations have soured between the two camps in the White House – one led by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and the other by Bannon, who has developed an alliance with Priebus.
A senior official told The Daily Beast that the friction between the Bannon and Kushner camps boiled down to a broad range of policy concerning “trade, health care, immigration, taxes, [terrorism] – you name it.”
While Bannon favors Trump’s controversial travel ban and the rolling back of environmental regulations and protections for transgender students, Kushner is attempting to exert a moderating force on the president.
On foreign policy, Bannon, described as a nationalist, advocates a hands-off approach, while Kushner is inclined toward interventionism in the Middle East.
Bannon also told his associates, “I love a gunfight,” according to another Axios report, which said that “the hatred between the two wings” in the White House was “intense and irreconcilable.”
A top aide told Axios that “the tension, the exhaustion, the raw nerves have gotten much harder to disguise,” adding that it was not a question of whether top staffers would be replaced, but when.
Pamela Engel contributed to this report.