New chief John Kelly the opposite of Priebus in many ways

US President Donald Trump on Friday sent his beleaguered chief of staff Reince Priebus packing, replacing him with current Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly (left).
US President Donald Trump on Friday sent his beleaguered chief of staff Reince Priebus packing, replacing him with current Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly (left).PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WASHINGTON • Mr John Kelly was not the sort of Marine general who dreamed of working in Washington. He likely never expected he would work in the White House.

In choosing Mr Kelly to be his new chief of staff, United States President Donald Trump has turned to someone who, in many ways, is the opposite of his predecessor Reince Priebus, a seasoned political operator.

Mr Kelly, like the President he serves, has limited experience in politics and only passing familiarity with many of the big domestic issues that will cross Mr Trump's desk. Instead of a deft political sense, he will bring some plain-spoken discipline to an often chaotic West Wing.

The 67-year-old, who is relatively close in age to Mr Trump, has bonded quickly with a president who has often seemed overwhelmed and isolated in Washington. "Sometimes you feel alone and besieged," said a Kelly confidante who also knows the President. In Mr Kelly, Mr Trump's Homeland Security Secretary, the President has picked both an enforcer for the West Wing and someone who can be a friend.

In his 40 years in the military, Mr Kelly developed a reputation for bluntness that won him the respect of his fellow Marines and sometimes grated on senior officials in the Obama administration.

He is best known in Washington as an experienced battlefield commander who led US troops in Iraq and lost a son in Afghanistan in 2010 to a Taleban bomb.

Mr Kelly, like the President he serves, has limited experience in politics and only passing familiarity with many of the big domestic issues that will cross Mr Trump's desk. Instead of a deft political sense, he will bring some plain-spoken discipline to an often chaotic West Wing.

But the most relevant experience he will bring to the chief of staff job is a tour as senior military adviser to defence secretaries Robert Gates and Leon Panetta in the Pentagon. The job demanded Mr Kelly act as a disciplinarian, pressing to make sure the military service chiefs and the sprawling Pentagon bureaucracy were executing the defence secretary's agenda.

He also acted as a gatekeeper, deciding which of the military service's top brass would get time with the defence secretary each day.

The President "clearly needed some adults in the room", said Mr Kelly's long-time friend, who spoke on condition of anonymity to offer frank opinions. "It's the end of the end of the chaos. Not with John Kelly around."

But in Mr Trump, Mr Kelly will be serving a boss who is far different than Mr Gates and Mr Panetta, two disciplined Washington hands.

He will be working in a freewheeling Trump White House that has little in common with the regimented and hierarchical world of the Pentagon or Marine Corps.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 30, 2017, with the headline 'New chief John Kelly the opposite of Priebus in many ways'. Print Edition | Subscribe