Chief of staff exits Air Force One for last time

US President Donald Trump with outgoing White House chief of staff Reince Priebus. White House officials said the President became convinced Mr Priebus was not strong enough to run the White House operation and told him two weeks ago that he wanted t
US President Donald Trump with outgoing White House chief of staff Reince Priebus. White House officials said the President became convinced Mr Priebus was not strong enough to run the White House operation and told him two weeks ago that he wanted to make a change.REUTERS FILE PHOTO

Priebus' ouster is the latest convulsion in a White House whipsawed by feuds, setbacks

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump announced the change via Twitter while sitting aboard Air Force One on a tarmac outside Washington minutes after returning from Long Island on Friday afternoon.

His chief of staff Reince Priebus, who had joined the President on the trip and never let on to other passengers what was about to occur, stepped off the plane into a drenching rain, ducked into a car and was driven away.

Mr Trump then emerged under a large umbrella and praised his outgoing and incoming chiefs. "Reince is a good man," Mr Trump shouted to nearby reporters. "John Kelly will do a fantastic job. General Kelly has been a star, done an incredible job thus far, respected by everybody, a great, great, American. But Reince Priebus - a good man."

Mr Priebus' ouster after a stormy six-month tenure 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 Mr Priebus was not strong enough to run the White House operation and told him two weeks ago that he wanted to make a change, according to White House officials.

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Intrigued at the idea of putting a general in charge, Mr Trump offered the job to Mr Kelly, the Secretary of Homeland Security and retired four-star Marine general, a few days ago.

Mr Priebus said he had tendered his resignation to the President on Thursday, the same day the newly appointed White House communications director, Mr Anthony Scaramucci, was quoted vowing to force the chief of staff out. Even so, as late as Friday morning, Mr Priebus told colleagues that he thought he would have a week before the announcement to make a graceful exit, but he evidently learnt otherwise later in the day.

Mr Kelly will take over the corner office in the West Wing tomorrow.

Mr Priebus said after the announcement that he had always made clear to Mr Trump that when the President thought it was time for a new chief, he would support that. "The President has a right to change directions," he said on CNN. "The President has a right to hit a reset button. I think it's a good time to hit the reset button."

Some advisers to Mr Trump opposed the choice, arguing that Mr Kelly did not have the political background for the job.

REINCE IS GOOD, KELLY IS A STAR

Reince is a good man. John Kelly will do a fantastic job. General Kelly has been a star, done an incredible job thus far, respected by everybody, a great, great, American. But Reince Priebus - a good man.

U.S. PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, praising his outgoing and incoming chiefs of staff.


IT'S HIS PREROGATIVE

The President has a right to change directions. The President has a right to hit a reset button. I think it's a good time to hit the reset button.

Mr REINCE PRIEBUS, who said that he had always made clear to Mr Trump that when the President thought it was time for a new chief, he would support that.


ALL ABOUT RESULTS

My view is Reince was very well liked by the President, but Donald Trump is a guy who's all about results, and he will always be looking not only at everyone around him and their results, but his own results. I think he's taking stock and seeing that this healthcare thing that was promised to him by Reince and (House Speaker) Paul Ryan was not properly developed. In my view, he's a disappointed customer.

MR CHRISTOPHER RUDDY, the chief executive of Newsmax Media and a friend of the President.

The Friday afternoon shake-up added to the sense of instability in Mr Trump's White House. In six months in office, he has fired a national security adviser, an FBI director and a holdover acting attorney- general, while his White House press secretary, communications director, deputy chief of staff, deputy national security adviser and legal team spokesman have all left.

Privately, even Mr Priebus' critics wondered how Mr Kelly would surmount the same challenges - controlling a freewheeling President who often circumvents paid staff members by seeking counsel from a roster of outside advisers.

Other aides were left to wonder about their own future. Mr Trump has considered pushing out Mr Stephen Bannon, his chief strategist, according to a White House official who discussed internal deliberations on condition of anonymity. Several conservative supporters of Mr Bannon told Mr Trump on Friday that the President would risk losing base supporters if he let the strategist go.

Mr Priebus' departure was announced 15 hours after the President's signature drive to repeal his predecessor's healthcare programme collapsed on the Senate floor and a day after an ugly feud with Mr Scaramucci erupted in a public airing of the deep animosities plaguing the White House.

Mr Priebus had collaborated with his ally, Speaker Paul Ryan, on healthcare and pushed a Bill through the House only to watch it crater in the Upper Chamber.

"My view is Reince was very well liked by the President, but Donald Trump is a guy who's all about results, and he will always be looking not only at everyone around him and their results, but his own results," said Mr Christopher Ruddy, chief executive of Newsmax Media and a friend of the President's.

"I think he's taking stock and seeing that this healthcare thing that was promised to him by Reince and Paul Ryan was not properly developed. In my view, he's a disappointed customer."

Mr Priebus, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, represented the establishment that Mr Trump had run against and never won the President's full confidence nor was granted the authority to impose a working organisational structure on a West Wing that included multiple power centres, including the President's daughter, Ms Ivanka Trump, and son-in-law, Mr Jared Kushner.

Always seeming to be on the edge, Mr Priebus had hoped to last a full year, but in the end no other White House chief of staff has been forced out after such a short tenure.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 30, 2017, with the headline 'Chief of staff exits Air Force One for last time'. Print Edition | Subscribe