Chief of Staff John Kelly, once thought to be the adult in the room in a chaotic White House, has lost some of his luster since his entrance last July as Reince Priebus’ replacement. As President Trump increasingly relies on his own counsel, the Chief of Staff finds himself losing influence as a player in the White House and being cut out of policy decisions.
Kelly has been unable to contain the escalating chaos coming from beyond the West Wing, leaving him marginalized by some White House staff — and by the president he serves, according to interviews with 10 administration officials, former White House and campaign aides, and Republicans close to the White House.
The chief of staff has no authority to rein in Rudy Giuliani, who intentionally contradicted the president’s statements regarding hush money payments made by Trump’s longtime attorney Michael Cohen to porn actress Stormy Daniels. And Kelly is unable to keep Trump away from outside agitators like Corey Lewandowski or David Bossie, two former top campaign aides who traveled with the president last weekend to a campaign rally in Michigan.
The role of Chief of Staff is a difficult one under the best of circumstances but working for a boss as impulsive and headstrong as Donald Trump is proving to be nearly impossible for the retired Marine General. He has had his own time in the news, first with his poor handling of the Rob Porter situation, and more recently when NBC reported that he has called his mercurial boss an idiot on more than one occasion and sees himself as the savior of the country by preventing the President from making disastrous choices.
On Friday, President Trump and his Chief of Staff spoke to reporters about recent reports that Kelly has spoken negatively about the President, giving assurances that all is well with their relationship.
Trump, speaking Friday before boarding Air Force One en route to Dallas, offered praise for Kelly, telling reporters that the two have “a great relationship” and that Kelly is “doing a great job as chief of staff.” Trump said he “could not be more happy” and said a New York Times report about Kelly’s job status was “absolutely false.”
Kelly, too, offered warm words for the president and for the White House position where he has often been the subject of criticism and controversy.
“I would say it is an absolute privilege to work for a president that has gotten the economy going, about to have a breakthrough, I believe, on North Korea, the jobs report today, I mean, everything is going phenomenally well, attacking the opioid crisis,” Kelly said. “It is nothing less than brilliant what has been accomplished in 15 months, I believe.”
However, as anyone who has been watching the first 15 months of the Trump administration knows, having the President express his praise and support is no guarantee of continued employment. The former Chief of Staff was unceremoniously dumped and Rex Tillerson was fired as Secretary of State via a tweet. Kelly is embattled, with White House staff turning on him through the press and his boss choosing to go around him instead of taking his advice, and there is speculation about exactly how long he will remain in his position.
Why It Matters
Stability is needed in governance. The turnover in high level White House staff in a little more than a year of the Trump presidency has been unprecedented. Having two Chiefs of Staff in less than 18 months with the second surrounded by controversy and near constant speculation that he will be fired or quit is not productive, not for the President nor for the country. The President, any president, needs staff he trusts and can depend on so he can do his job effectively.
Donald Trump claimed during the primary that he would hire the best people. The turnover rate belies that notion.