Kelly’s challenge? Bringing stability to Trump White House – The Hill
President Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, faces a daunting task in his new role: bringing order and discipline to an unruly White House that has struggled to notch much-needed victories.
On his first day, Kelly made a statement about who is in charge by axing Anthony Scaramucci, the brash former Wall Street financier who intensified the drama inside the West Wing during his tumultuous 10-day stint as communications director.
But the hard work is just beginning for Kelly, whose success depends on whether he can quell the fighting and end the competition between rival power centers for influence within the White House.
He’ll also need to contend with managing his own boss and with winning legislative victories.
While Kelly earned bipartisan respect during his four-decade career in the Marine Corps, he has virtually no experience wheeling and dealing with members of Congress.
“It’s exponentially more challenging than anything John Kelly has done in his life, and he’s done a lot of things,” Chris Whipple, author of “The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency,” said in a Tuesday interview with WNYC.
“He’s got to not only be empowered to be first among equals in the White House to execute Trump’s agenda, but most importantly, he has to be the guy who walks into the Oval Office, closes the door and tells Donald TrumpDonald TrumpHow Polish populism explains Trump and the rebirth of nationalism Lewandowski: Priebus ‘ultimately responsible’ for White House leaks Ex-Cruz aide: Now Bannon is establishment voice in Trump White House MORE what he doesn’t want to hear,” he added. “If he can’t do that, then this will fail.”
The early signs are promising for Kelly. White House officials say he has been given full authority over the staff and that all aides will report to him. Ousted predecessor Reince Priebus never had such power.
In a Monday staff meeting, Kelly said he’d been empowered to impose more control over who meets with the president and how he receives information and advice.
Yet doubters inside and outside the West Wing wonder if Kelly will hold on to that power. They point to Trump’s tendency to favor a more freewheeling organizational style.
Kelly must contend with the president’s Twitter account and Trump’s daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, who both serve as senior White House advisers.
The couple, who reportedly tried to convince Trump to hire deputy national security adviser Dina Powell as chief of staff, eventually backed his selection of Kelly. A source close to the couple said the pair will follow whatever structure he wants to impose.
But that could mean accepting limits on access to the Oval Office and communicating with the president about official business that previously did not exist.
Some interpreted a Monday tweet from the president’s elder daughter that said she looked forward to working “alongside” Kelly as a sign that she views the new chief of staff as a counterpart rather than a superior.
A Republican operative who worked under Priebus expressed skepticism that rules on access regarding the president’s family would change.
If people listen to him, “that’s great,” the source said. “Color me skeptical — I’ll believe it when I see it.”
“If ‘Javanka’ short-circuit his authority, that’s going to be a problem,” said another Republican source, using a nickname for the couple.
A major part of Kelly’s job will be managing the White House’s legislative agenda.
Kelly served as the Marine Corps commandant’s liaison to the House in the late 1990s, and Capitol Hill veterans say that lawmakers’ deep well of respect for him bodes well for success.
Still, delivering a victory on tax reform, the White House’s next agenda item, could prove difficult, said Doug Heye, who served as deputy chief of staff for communications for former House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric CantorSpecial interests hide behind vets on Independence Day What to watch for in Comey’s testimony Trump nominates two new DOD officials MORE (R-Va.).
“The second part of the job is making sure that Trump and the administration stay out of their own way in trying to enact these things,” he said. “He’s got a difficult job internally and externally.”
There is broad optimism among Washington Republicans that Kelly will prove better than his predecessor.
“It was really smart for the White House to change leadership ahead of the tough fight over taxes,” said one Republican Hill veteran, who said the ObamaCare repeal effort might not have collapsed if Kelly had been chief of staff from the beginning.
Kelly also comes on board as Trump is weighing whether to sign bipartisan legislation from Congress that would make it harder for him to roll back sanctions on Russia. The White House said Tuesday that Trump plans to sign the legislation, but the White House’s previous criticism of the measure raised questions about whether he will follow through.
“To not sign that legislation would be, I think, not wise for the president to do,” said Anita McBride, who served in the Reagan administration and in both Bush White Houses. She predicted Kelly would share that advice in private.
Trump might be more willing to listen to advice from Kelly.
The president has repeatedly referred to Kelly as one of “my generals,” the three top officers he hired to serve in his administration. By contrast, Trump is said to have treated Priebus with little respect behind closed doors.
About a month ago, Kelly — then the Homeland Security secretary — cleared the room during an Oval Office meeting to confront Trump about his complaints that the U.S. was admitting too many high-risk travelers, according to The Associated Press.
It’s unclear if Kelly will challenge Trump to cut down on his tweets or adopt a less off-the-cuff style. Trump allies say the president’s style helped him win the 2016 election, underscoring the need to “let Trump be Trump.”
Trump has made it clear he’s not giving up Twitter any time soon.
“Only the Fake News Media and Trump enemies want me to stop using Social Media (110 million people). Only way for me to get the truth out!” he tweeted Tuesday.
The last general to serve as White House chief of staff, Alexander Haig, was praised for his handling of the job under President Nixon.
But he lasted only a month under President Ford following Nixon’s resignation.
“Gerald Ford had a model very much like Donald Trump’s,” Whipple said Sunday on CNN. “All of his senior advisers were coming and going willy-nilly. Haig was unable to control the chaos; it was absolute chaos.”