The White House chief of staff has been replaced with a retired Marine Corps general who has been running the Department of Homeland Security.
Reince Priebus had been increasingly sidelined in recent weeks by President Donald Trump and was referred to publicly this week by the new White House communications director as a “paranoid schizophrenic.”
Speaking to reporters Friday evening White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said “the conversations about this started with the president and Reince about two weeks ago.”
In an interview with CNN following his resignation, Priebus said "the president wanted to go in a different direction."
"It's a good time to hit the reset button," Priebus said. "It's something that I think the White House needs."
Priebus said he actually handed in his resignation to the president on Thursday, but it was not disclosed until Friday.
"We didn't even know it,” said Congressman Pete King who accompanied Trump and Priebus on an Air Force One trip to and from New York on Friday. “We were sitting right across from him and [Priebus] kept a poker face," said the Republican lawmaker.
Initial public word came from Trump on Twitter as Air Force One landed at a rainy Joint Base Andrews.
"Reince is a good man. John Kelly will do a fantastic job,” Trump told reporters at the military base in Maryland. “General Kelly has been a star, done an incredible job thus far, respected by everybody. He's a great, great American.”
Kelly said Friday he is “honored to be asked to serve as the chief of staff to the president.”
Homeland Security’s Deputy Secretary Elaine Duke will become the agency’s acting secretary Monday when Kelly assumes his new post.
Resignation Ends Tenure of Former RNC Chair
Priebus, whose tenure lasted little more than six months, was an establishment figure and the former chairman of the Republican National Committee. His links with Republican lawmakers were expected to help a White House filled with Washington outsiders to accomplish their legislative agenda. However Republicans have failed to pass major legislation despite holding majorities in both houses of Congress.
“We’re going to continue working with the party and we’re going to continue doing what we came here to do,” Sanders told reporters.
Following his ouster Priebus thanked Trump, saying he “will continue to serve as a strong supporter of the President’s agenda and policies.” He also said “I can’t think of a better person than General John Kelly to succeed me.”
When he began his presidency Trump “clearly set up a weak chief of staff system,” University of Akron political science professor David Cohen told VOA.
“Trump in his business career was used to a lot of people having privileges and being able to talk to a lot of people, and he wants to run his White House that way,” said Cohen who is co-authoring a book at White House chiefs of staff. “And so he has granted walk-in privileges to a lot of people, most of whom should not have walk-in privileges to the Oval Office.”
Priebus’ fate seem sealed this week after Anthony Scaramucci was brought on as communications director, leading to the immediate resignation of Sean Spicer as press secretary, a Priebus ally. Later, Scaramucci disparaged Priebus in an expletive-filled interview with a reporter, and alleged Priebus had been leaking information.
The White House chief of staff is typically a gatekeeper for the president, controlling meetings and agendas and who meets with the commander in chief. But under Trump, the West Wing has been more chaotic. Numerous people have walk-in privileges to the Oval Office, giving them the ability to short circuit the power structure of the chief of staff position.
New Chief of Staff Brings Military Experience
Kelly, who originally enlisted in the Marine Corps, eventually became a four-star general, and has been the Homeland Security secretary in the Trump cabinet for the past seven months. He is to begin his new job on Monday morning, according to White House officials.
Kelly reportedly has negotiated more power and authority than Priebus had.
Trump is “not actually a guy that tends to stick to his bargains and so we’ll see if John Kelly’s actually given that kind of authority,” said Cohen.
Kelly will become the second military general to be White House chief of staff. Former Army general Alexander Haig was in the position as the administration of Richard Nixon crumbled and in the early days of the Gerald Ford presidency after Nixon resigned.
Andrew Card, who was chief of staff in the George W. Bush White House, in a phone call to MSNBC, praised Kelly’s appointment saying “I think he’s a good choice. He’s an adult. He has the ability to speak truth to power.”
White House Press Secretary Sanders said in a statement that Kelly is “one of the true stars of the Administration.” She said, “He has helped seal the border and reduced illegal immigration by 70 percent. ... The entire Administration loves him and no one is comparable.”
Priebus goes down in history as having the briefest run as an initial White House chief of staff at 189 days.
The way Priebus was removed “was kind of tawdry, awkward uncomfortable, unfair,” said Card.
Five major positions in the Trump administration have now changed hands in little more than six months.