WHITE HOUSE —
President Donald Trump heads into the homestretch of his first year in office with a lean, but arguably less mean White House team, led by a no-nonsense captain intent on avoiding the unforced errors that have plagued the president’s first months in office.
New White House appointments announced Wednesday include quiet professionals in the mold of Chief of Staff John Kelly, a former Marine general who was brought in six weeks ago to clean the Augean stables surrounding the Oval office.
Among the new additions are two Floridians, Zachary Fuentes and Kirstjen Nielsen, who served under Kelly in his previous post as Homeland Security Secretary, and Keith Davids, a Navy captain who was brought in from a position as deputy commander of the Naval Special Warfare Command.
Davids and Fuentes will hold the rank of Special Assistant to the President. Nielsen will be Assistant to the President and Principal Deputy Chief of Staff.
Gone from the White House since Kelly’s arrival are the bomb-throwers; the Bannons, Gorkas and Scaramuccis who were lightning rods for a legion of media critics, opposition Democrats, and the still substantial establishment wing of the Republican Party that collectively held its nose while embracing a man they see as a populist who hijacked the party by running against them.
Gone also are Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and spokesman Sean Spicer, establishment insiders who came to the White House from top positions at the Republican National Committee, as well as longtime Trump loyalist Keith Schiller, whose title as Director of Oval Office Operations was loosely defined.
Another Trump confidant said to be in Kelly’s crosshairs is Omarosa Manigault, who has been with the president since his days as a reality TV star. Manigault was reported to have raised Kelly’s ire for feeding Trump information about how bad he was being treated in the press, which triggered angry presidential tweets.
Kelly has also been credited with nixing other potentially controversial appointments, including former Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke, who had been interested in a senior administration position. News agencies Wednesday said Kelly had opposed the appointment partly because of a scandal concerning treatment of inmates at Clarke’s jail.
“For the first time since [Trump’s inauguration in] January it’s starting to look a little more professionalized,” said Gary Rose, political science professor at Sacred Heart University and author of the book ‘HAYWIRE: a Chronology of the 2016 Presidential Contest’.
“Some people says Trump is incorrigible and is never going to accept what others suggest, but I contend that he’s going to realize that he needs a party to govern,” Rose told VOA.
The magnitude of the legislative task ahead was amplified Wednesday when Trump held what was billed as a conciliatory meeting with congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle. All four, Democrats Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, and Republicans Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, have been the objects of Trump Twitter blasts in terms not often seen in polite Washington political circles. They were shown in pool video sitting quietly in the Oval Office as the meeting began.
Afterward, the president said progress had been made in key areas, but Capitol Hill observers said it seems unlikely that the huge gaps between Democratic and Republican positions had been bridged.
Political observer Geoffrey Skelley of the Sabato Center at the University of Virginia said Trump’s verbal blasts at even his own party’s congressional leaders are coming back to haunt him.
“A serious thing during the Trump presidency has been his inability to use the bully pulpit to push for policies he supports,” Skelley said in an interview. “That’s because he’s not vested in the kinds of policy goals Republicans in Congress are vested in, and that inconsistency has made it difficult for him to be the number one lobbyist.”
Jim Carafano, a vice president of the generally pro-Trump Heritage Foundation, gives the president high marks for hiring Kelly to bring order from the chaos that prevailed in the early months of the administration. But he said the chief of staff cannot and will not try to change the president.
“Trump’s always going to be Trump. He’s been Trump his entire adult life. Why do people think he’s going to stop being exactly the person he is?” said Carafano.
“I think he won’t do that because he’s never done that in his entire professional life, no matter what criticism and attacks have gone against him. He’s never has, so why would he start now? Why would he stop being the person people want him to be?”