As John Kelly churns through his last few days as the White House chief of staff, a report has emerged from The New York Times that Kelly frequently told aides Donald Trump was not up to the task of being president. Kelly himself gave an interview with The Los Angeles Times, published today, in which he said that the measure of his job performance while in the chief of staff job is what Trump did not do, i.e. what Kelly helped to prevent from happening, which, as a framework for workplace accomplishments, is hardly reassuring and adds to the disconcerting perception that Trump needs a babysitter.
Among the Kelly comments in The Los Angeles Times interview that are likely to rankle President Trump are Kelly’s statements about the border wall, which Kelly described as not actually a wall, saying that early on in the administration CPB officials had told the administration that while physical barriers are needed in some places, technology upgrades and increased staffing are higher priorities. According to The Hill:
Outgoing White House chief of staff John Kelly has frequently told aides that President Trump is not up for the task of being president, according to The New York Times. The newspaper, citing two former administration officials, also reported that Kelly was known to tell aides that he had the “worst job in the world.” The report arrived after Kelly, who is set to leave the White House next month, made critical statements about the administration and Trump in an expansive interview with the Los Angeles Times…”To be honest, it’s not a wall,” Kelly said to the newspaper. “The president still says ‘wall’ — oftentimes frankly he’ll say ‘barrier’ or ‘fencing,’ now he’s tended toward steel slats. “But we left a solid concrete wall early on in the administration, when we asked people what they needed and where they needed it.” Kelly added that Customs and Border Protection agents told him during his brief stint as Homeland Security secretary that they need physical barriers in some areas. But they largely indicated a desire for new technology and additional personnel, Kelly said.
Kelly is due to be replaced, at least on a temporary basis, by Mick Mulvaney, who, in addition to being acting White House chief of staff, will also apparently keep his post as Director of the Office of Management and Budget. Replacing Kelly proved to be a fraught proposition for Trump after the top contender, Nick Ayers, Vice President Pence’s chief of staff, refused to take the post for anything more than a several month stopgap, while Trump wanted a two year commitment. Ayers ended up resigning even from his post with Pence, also effective as of the end of 2018.
Mulvaney will be the third White House chief of staff of Trump’s administration, following in the unsteady footprints of Reince Priebus and John Kelly. Kelly had often been described as the adult in the room, one to rein in Trump and the chaos of his White House, a characterization which particularly rankled Trump. Indeed, Kelly himself described this reining in of Trump as his primary accomplishment as chief of staff. According to The Los Angeles Times:
The retired four-star Marine general will leave the administration on Wednesday. First as Homeland Security chief and then in 18 months at the White House, he presided over some of the Trump administration’s most controversial immigration and security policies. In the phone interview Friday, Kelly defended his rocky tenure, arguing that it is best measured by what the president did not do when Kelly was at his side. It was only after Kelly’s departure was confirmed Dec. 8, for example, that Trump abruptly announced the pullout of all U.S. troops from Syria and half the 14,000 troops from Afghanistan, two moves that Kelly had opposed. Kelly’s supporters say he stepped in to block or divert the president on dozens of matters large and small. They credit him, in part, for persuading Trump not to pull U.S. forces out of South Korea, or withdraw from NATO, as he had threatened.
In choosing Mulvaney, it seems fairly clear that Trump wanted to select someone who would not stand up to him the way Kelly did. Trump has even suggested that Mulvaney may be his long-term choice, which makes it all the more questionable that Mulvaney will apparently be holding down two full-time jobs in the administration. Perhaps that means Trump expects chief of staff #3 to spend far less time on the job of chief of staff than Kelly, who in today’s interview described his schedule most days as waking at 4AM and not returning home until 9PM, where he proceeded to do more work before going to sleep.