WASHINGTON — Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff who failed to impose order on a chaos-wracked West Wing, was pushed out after a stormy six-month tenure, and President Trump replaced him with John F. Kelly, the secretary of homeland security and retired four-star Marine general.
Trump announced Kelly’s appointment on Twitter shortly before 5 p.m. and only afterward sent out another message thanking Priebus for his service. “We accomplished a lot together and I am proud of him!” Trump wrote.
I am pleased to inform you that I have just named General/Secretary John F Kelly as White House Chief of Staff. He is a Great American....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 28, 2017
...and a Great Leader. John has also done a spectacular job at Homeland Security. He has been a true star of my Administration— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 28, 2017
I would like to thank Reince Priebus for his service and dedication to his country. We accomplished a lot together and I am proud of him!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 28, 2017
Priebus’s ouster was the latest convulsion in a White House that has been whipsawed by feuds and political setbacks in recent days. The president became convinced that Priebus was not strong enough to run the White House operation and that he needed a general to take charge. Kelly, who has demonstrated strong leadership at the Department of Homeland Security, had become a favorite of Trump’s.
Just hours earlier, the president had heaped praise on Kelly at an event in Long Island talking about the battle against the violent MS-13 gang. “I want to congratulate John Kelly, who has done an incredible job of secretary of homeland security,” the president said. “One of our real stars. Truly one of our stars. John Kelly is one of our great stars.”
But some advisers to Trump were opposed to the choice, arguing that Kelly did not have the political background for the job. “The president needs someone who understands the Trump constituency as his chief of staff, someone who has both administrative skills and political savvy,” Roger Stone, Trump’s off-and-on adviser, said, anticipating Kelly’s selection before the announcement was made.
Priebus, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, lost his job just hours after the president’s signature drive to repeal his predecessor’s health care program collapsed on the Senate floor and a day after an ugly feud with the new communications director erupted in a public airing of the deep animosities plaguing the White House.
In an interview on CNN last night, Priebus said he talked to Trump on Thursday and offered his resignation. He said their discussion was part of an ongoing conversation about whether a change was needed. “I resigned and he accepted,” he told Wolf Blitzer.
Priebus said, “This is not a situation where there’s a bunch of ill will . . . it was a good time to hit the reset button. It’s something the White House needs. I think it’s healthy.”
The announcement capped a fraught 24 hours in which the president’s advisers waited for a change they had long anticipated. Priebus accompanied Trump on Air Force One for a day trip to Long Island as his fate was being decided. Making for a tense flight, his rival, Anthony Scaramucci, the communications director who had publicly vowed to force Priebus’s resignation, was also on the plane and in the motorcade.
In barely half a year on the job, Priebus never won the full confidence of the president nor was granted the authority to impose a working organizational structure on the West Wing. Always seeming to be on the edge of ouster, Priebus saw his fate finally sealed a week ago when Trump hired Scaramucci, an edgy Wall Street financier, over the chief of staff’s objections. Priebus’s ally, Sean Spicer, the press secretary, resigned in protest.
More than just a personnel dispute, the disagreement suggested a broader cleavage that would lead to Priebus’s resignation. In tapping Scaramucci, Trump was turning to a wealthy New Yorker who had become part of his inner circle, and who compensated in charisma and rapport with Trump and his family for what he lacked in governing experience.
Priebus represented a more conventional breed of senior White House figure, chosen by the president despite a career defined by the calculations of traditional Republican Party politics, which Trump regards as part of “the swamp” he was elected to drain.
Priebus and Spicer had told the president they believed Scaramucci, a gregarious hedge fund manager and fund-raiser, lacked the political experience and organizational skills required to serve in the role of communications director. In the end, however, those warnings fell on deaf ears and further soured Trump, who almost from the start suggested both publicly and privately that the job of his chief of staff was not safe.
Scaramucci made clear when he was hired that he reported not to Priebus but directly to the president and by Wednesday night was publicly suggesting that the chief of staff was a leaker and even threatened to seek an FBI investigation. On Thursday, he went on television and dared Priebus to deny leaking and described the two of them as Cain and Abel, the biblical brothers whose rivalry results in one killing the other.
On Thursday evening, The New Yorker posted an interview with Scaramucci that included a vulgarity-laced tirade against Priebus. He called Priebus a “paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac,” who leaked information against him and vowed to get him fired. “He’ll be asked to resign very shortly,” Scaramucci said.
In the CNN interview, Priebus refused to respond to Scaramucci’s vulgar comments about him or his allegations that he was a leaker. “I’m not going to get into the mud,’’ Priebus said.
Meanwhile, Scaramucci’s wife has filed for divorce, according to the New York Post.
The paper, citing multiple sources, reported Friday that Deirdre Ball, 38, is giving Scaramucci — with whom she has two children — the axe after three years of marriage. Apparently Ball is not quite as sold on the Washington political lifestyle as Scaramucci, 53.
“She liked the nice Wall Street life and their home on Long Island, not the insane world of D.C.,” an unnamed source told the tabloid.
Another anonymous source claims clashing loyalties toward the commander-in-chief caused tension. Ball has been less than enthused about Scaramucci’s ascent in the ranks of Donald Trump’s White House. “Deidre is not a fan of Trump,” the source said.
Scaramucci was photographed without a ring at the White House Friday.
Priebus, as party chairman last year, was slow to embrace Trump’s candidacy, and the president never let his chief of staff forget it. Trump had often joked about his chief of staff’s long-term loyalty and liked reminding the people around him that Priebus suggested that he consider dropping out after the “Access Hollywood” tape of Trump’s crude remarks about women was made public in October.