Donald Trump announced that John Kelly, who served as his chief of staff since July of 2017, will leave the White House by the end of the year. Trump told reporters of the long-anticipated move before boarding his flight to attend the Army-Navy football game.
Kelly may be replaced by Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, but Trump gave no indication who would succeed the former DHS secretary.
Kelly had been on the verge of resigning or being fired several times, only to bounce back each time. He was brought on to bring order to the White House, but his influence waned in recent months, and his time as chief of staff was often marked by the same infighting and controversy that has largely defined Trump’s presidency from the beginning.
Trump and Kelly had discussed the chief of staff’s departure over the last 24 hours, a source familiar with the matter told CNN. Although it was not the plan to announce the move on the South Lawn, Kelly, knowing Trump, realized it could come at any moment, whether by tweet or abrupt announcement, the source said.
PJM’s Michael Walsh wrote earlier of the “churn in the White House”:
The media’s endless fascination with the churn in the White House is a testament to its enduring faith in the “process” model they all learned about at Harvard: that “stability” is a virtue to be prized above all others, and that “chaos,” in the form of personnel turnover, is to be avoided. This is one reason, as I noted here, they suddenly became so fond of the orderly G.H.W. Bush, mediocre and ultimately unsuccessful president that he was.
That may be true as far as it goes. For the media, Republican White Houses are always in crisis and always chaotic.
But there is something to be said about order and Kelly was hired specifically to ride herd on an unruly staff:
When Kelly first replaced Reince Priebus as chief of staff, he ruled with an iron fist. He curbed Oval Office access, blocked certain outsiders from being able to call the White House switchboard and executed authority over staffing. But in the last months of his tenure, Kelly saw his status as chief of staff diminish.
Trump began circumventing many of the policies and protocols Kelly enacted. And Trump often vacillated between criticizing and praising Kelly, sometimes within minutes of each other. Kelly started holding increasingly fewer senior staff meetings — once daily occurrences that were whittled down to weekly gatherings — and exerted less control over who talked to the President, which was once his sticking point.
Trump obviously doesn’t want “process,” as Walsh notes, because the only thing that matters is if things get done. Trump’s accomplishments have been mostly administrative — executive orders, regulatory reform, and a pushback against the permanent bureaucracy. In that sense, the White House staff has worked fairly well.
But longtime aides on the Hill have told me that this White House congressional liaison office is the worst they’ve ever worked with. And these are loyal Trumpers who are dismayed at the lack of organization and confusion. There are many Republicans on the Hill who want to work with Trump, but his agenda changes almost from week to week. That is not conducive to getting anything done in Congress.
Kelly’s departure won’t affect how the White House works anymore than Ayers’ arrival will. It is what it is and Trump appears to like it that way.