General John Kelly sworn in as White House chief of staff as Donald Trump aims to overcome legislative setbacks

A retired four-star Marine general may have signed up for his toughest fight ever as Donald Trump’s chief of staff

Alexandra Wilts
New York
Monday 31 July 2017 15:11
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Trump's lawyer suggested he and Chief of Staff John Kelly were only adults in White House
Trump's lawyer suggested he and Chief of Staff John Kelly were only adults in White House

John Kelly has been sworn in as Donald Trump’s chief of staff as the President seeks to reset relations between White House officials and get his legislative agenda back on track after a week of setbacks in Congress.

But while Mr Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general, has been selected to help bring order to the chaotic White House, it is uncertain whether he’ll be able to help reign in what many see as the biggest discipline problem of all: Mr Trump’s social media usage. Recently, Mr Trump has repeatedly taken to Twitter to berate his attorney general Jeff Sessions and complain about ongoing investigations into possible collusion between his campaign and the Russian government.

The President, wearing his signature red tie, white shirt and dark suit, said in the Oval Office during Mr Kelly’s swearing-in ceremony that he has “no doubt” that Mr Kelly, his former head of the Department of Homeland Security, will do a “spectacular job” leading the West Wing staff.

“What he’s done in terms of Homeland Security is record-shattering,” the President said, pointing to Mr Kelly’s efforts at the department on border security.

As secretary of Homeland Security, Mr Kelly has taken a hard line against illegal immigration and vigorously backed the President on the need for a travel ban on refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries. The ban, which was allowed to go into limited effect by the Supreme Court in June, was later reduced to six countries.

“We look forward to – if it’s possible – an even better job as chief of staff,” Mr Trump said.

Mr Kelly, who served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, will now take on a faction-filled White House, where frequent resignations and firings appear to be turning into the new normal.

A retired four-star Marine general, Mr Kelly served in the military for nearly five decades. He ran the military’s operations in Central America, South America and the Caribbean and has worked as a senior assistant to the Secretary of Defence. He will be the first current or former general to serve as White House chief of staff since Alexander Haig in the final stage of Richard Nixon’s administration in the 1970s.

As chief of staff, Mr Kelly will be at the helm of a White House ridden with scandals related to investigations into whether Trump campaign officials colluded with the Russian government. There is also the question of how he’ll deal with a President with the habits of going to outside advisers for counsel and publicly berating his administration officials, most recently Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Mr Kelly replaces Reince Priebus, an establishment Republican, who was ousted after a nasty public feud with Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director.

The animosities plaguing the Trump White House were put on full public display last week after Mr Scaramucci told a New Yorker reporter that Mr Priebus is a “paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac,” and accused him of leaking information to journalists.

“Reince was terribly effective, but was probably a little bit more laid back and independent in the way he ran the office,” Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director, said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“And I think the president wants to go a different direction, wants a little bit more discipline, a little more structure in there.”

Corey Lewandowski, Mr Trump’s former campaign manager, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he expects Mr Kelly is going to bring the type of discipline to the staff to ensure that the leaks are stopped and that the president’s agenda is foremost of what takes place in that building, so there will be no more backbiting, there’ll be no more stabbing each other in the back.”

Mr Trump’s announcement that Mr Kelly would replace Mr Priebus came less than a day after Republicans suffered a humiliating defeat when their last proposal aimed at dismantling Obamacare failed. One of the President’s key campaign promises had been to repeal and replace his predecessor’s healthcare law.

Mr Trump has still been unable to secure a major legislative victory since being sworn in as president in January.

Several of Mr Trump’s advisers reportedly opposed the President’s choice for his new chief of staff, suggesting Mr Kelly does not have the political savvy and background needed for the job.

Mr Kelly had been retired from the military for less than a year when Mr Trump asked him to run his Department of Homeland Security. In an 88-11 vote, the Senate confirmed Mr Kelly as Homeland Security Secretary in January, putting him in charge of the administration’s policies on issues including immigration, cybersecurity, countering domestic terrorism and aviation security.

Mr Kelly told CNN in June that “what I never saw on the military side was the level of the toxic kind of politics that are associated with what I do now,” repeating what he frequently tells members of Congress who criticise his actions: if you don’t like the laws, try to change them.

John Podesta, President Bill Clinton’s last chief of staff, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that dealing with national security is “a very different matter than someone who has to navigate all the crosscurrents of dealing with domestic politics, dealing with Capitol Hill and dealing with a president who just can’t throw his phone away and stop tweeting.”

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