Trump Replaces Priebus as Chief of Staff With DHS Chief Kelly

  • Priebus ouster follows clash with new top aide Scaramucci
  • The two men had traveled with Trump for speech in Long Island

Trump Names Kelly Chief of Staff, Replacing Priebus

President Donald Trump replaced his chief of staff on Friday, announcing on Twitter that he had appointed Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to the job.

The ouster of Reince Priebus, who said he delivered his resignation on Thursday, caps a week of intensified infighting at the White House in which he was embroiled in a public feud with Trump’s new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci. It also comes as the administration suffered two stinging defeats in Congress.

“I am pleased to inform you that I have just named General/Secretary John F. Kelly as White House Chief of Staff,” Trump said on Twitter while aboard Air Force One. “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.”

Priebus and Scaramucci both traveled with Trump on Friday to Long Island, where the president spoke about crime. The former chief of staff declined to talk to reporters traveling with the president after returning. He and two other senior Trump aides, Stephen Miller and Dan Scavino, got into a van in Trump’s motorcade at Joint Base Andrews shortly before Trump’s tweet, and then Miller and Scavino got out and entered a different vehicle.

“Reince is a good man,” Trump told reporters as he left the aircraft after arriving back in the Washington area. “Secretary Kelly is a star, and he’ll do a good job.”

Priebus, 45, leaves the administration after less than seven months as Trump’s top White House aide, and his departure is the latest in an administration beset by turmoil and turnover. Trump’s first national security, Michael Flynn, was forced out for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with Russian officials. The first White House communications director, Mike Dubke, resigned after less than three months on the job. Priebus ally Sean Spicer resigned as press secretary last week after the hiring of Scaramucci.

“It has been one of the greatest honors of my life to serve this President and our country,” Priebus said in a statement. “I will continue to serve as a strong supporter of the President’s agenda and policies. ”

Priebus and Spicer came from the Republican establishment and were always outsiders, to a degree, in a White House Trump won on his credentials as a political maverick. Priebus, the former Republican National Committee chairman, struggled to navigate an administration riven with conflict, where top aides must compete with the president’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner for influence. People close to Trump had largely blamed the chief of staff for the White House’s troubles in Congress, where the president has yet to secure a major legislative victory.

Simmering Feud

His long-simmering feud with Scaramucci, the founder of SkyBridge Capital who took on the communications job only last week, became an ugly public spectacle this week. Scaramucci suggested on Twitter and during a live CNN interview that Priebus was behind some of the leaks that had infuriated Trump. On Thursday night, the New Yorker magazine published an account of a telephone call Scaramucci placed to writer Ryan Lizza in which the White House communications chief used vulgarities while attacking Priebus as a “paranoid schizophrenic,” and said “he’ll be asked to resign very shortly.”

But Priebus said on CNN Friday in an interview from the White House that the changeover to Kelly had been in the works for weeks.

“This isn’t a situation where there’s a bunch of ill-will feelings,” he said. “It was something that I’ve always talked to the president about. Any time either one of us think that we need to make a change or move in a different direction, let’s just talk about it and get it done."

They talked yesterday, Priebus said: “I resigned and he accepted my resignation"

Kelly, 67, a retired Marine Corps general, will take over as chief of staff on Monday, beginning with a cabinet meeting. In past administrations, the job has been one of the most powerful in Washington, serving as the gatekeeper for the president and handling many of the routine decisions that come to the White House. Trump, though, has held a tight grip on decision-making and strategy, including who among his aides gets direct access to him.

Deputy DHS Secretary Elaine Duke will become the acting leader of the department, its press secretary Dave Lapan said in a statement.

“I am honored to be asked to serve as the Chief of Staff to the President of the United States,” Kelly said in a statement issued by DHS. “To the tremendous men and women of DHS, I thank you for the opportunity to serve as your Secretary. When I left the Marines, I never thought I would find as committed, as professional, as patriotic a group of individuals. I was wrong. You accomplish great things every day defending our nation and I know your exceptional work will continue.”

Kelly’s Allies

Watch Next: Trump Says Priebus Is Good Man, Kelly to Do Fantastic Job

Kelly’s allies in the West Wing include White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon. Throughout Kelly’s brief tenure as Secretary of Homeland Security, Bannon has privately praised the former general’s effectiveness in an administration that often hasn’t functioned smoothly. 

Kelly’s law-and-order approach and the hard line he’s taken on immigration enforcement -- a presidential priority -- have particularly endeared him to Bannon. Kelly also has won favor with Trump for his promise to carry out the president’s highest-profile campaign promise, the construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Illegal crossings of undocumented immigrants on the southern border were down 19 percent in June compared to the same period a year ago, according to data provided in June by DHS. In the first 100 days after Trump signed an executive order early in his presidency that sought to strengthen immigration enforcement, arrests of undocumented immigrants increased 38 percent compared to the same period in 2016, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Priebus’s departure shakes up the balance of power around Trump, whose inner circle includes Bannon; National Economic Director Gary Cohn; Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, and Ivanka, who is also a White House official; and now Scaramucci.

But Priebus had also been a steady hand inside a West Wing that often found itself off-balance. For example, as a spat between Bannon and Kushner spilled out into the open in April, Priebus worked to arrange a détente at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, according to a senior White House official familiar with the internal strife.

Ryan’s Support

“Reince Priebus has left it all out on the field, for our party and our country,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement Friday. “He has served the president and the American people capably and passionately.”

Ryan, who shares Wisconsin roots with Priebus, added, “I could not be more proud to call Reince a dear friend.”

The chief of staff fell out of favor as Trump watched policy losses pile up despite Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress. The president’s attempt to prevent immigration or travel from six predominantly Muslim nations was blocked by courts after a botched rollout. The House health-care bill, once expected to pass easily -- perhaps even on Inauguration Day -- took far longer to negotiate and is broadly unpopular with voters.

A compromise spending bill keeping the government open until October was celebrated as a win by Democrats, who secured continued funding for the women’s health provider Planned Parenthood while minimizing extra spending for Trump’s defense buildup and Mexican border wall.

No major legislation has yet landed on Trump’s desk for his signature, and he’s suffered a string of stinging losses.

In just the past week: the House and Senate rebuked the president by overwhelmingly passing legislation to ramp up sanctions on Russia and to prevent the president from easing them unilaterally; the Senate failed to repeal Obamacare, a central piece of the Republican platform for the past seven years; the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the military won’t act on Trump’s tweet about banning transgender people in the military; several members of Congress warned him against trying to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions; and the Boy Scouts issued an apology for a nakedly political speech Trump delivered at their National Jamboree.

— With assistance by Arit John, and Jennifer Epstein

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