President Trump said Saturday that White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly will leave his post by the end of the year, capping the retired Marine general’s rocky tenure as the president’s top aide and marking another personnel change in a White House dominated by departures.
“John Kelly will be leaving — I don’t know if I can say ‘retiring.’ But, he’s a great guy,” Trump said on the South Lawn of the White House. “John Kelly will be leaving toward the end of the year, at the end of the year.”
White House officials said the two men had a private discussion Friday after months of mounting frustration on the part of the president about his chief of staff and nonstop speculation about Kelly’s future. Kelly is likely to be replaced by Nick Ayers, the vice president’s chief of staff, who possesses a more political mind, ahead of the president’s 2020 reelection campaign.
But the decision on appointing Ayers was not final Saturday as the president attended the Army vs. Navy football game in Philadelphia, and the two men remained in protracted negotiations about the job, according to White House officials.
Kelly’s tenure in the White House came with its successes and failures and underscored a bigger question: How much difference can any White House chief of staff make with the headstrong, impulsive and mercurial president, who often governs by impulse and tweet, is uninterested in reading lengthy documents and is happiest at his raucous rallies?
Current and former aides say Kelly brought much-needed discipline to a dysfunctional West Wing by limiting the number of visitors to the Oval Office, curbing erroneous information from the president’s desk and limiting attendance at meetings to people who needed to be present. He often talked the president out of his worst impulses, removed some of the president’s most contentious aides, including Omarosa Manigault Newman, Sebastian Gorka and Stephen K. Bannon, and provided the president necessary lessons in national security matters. Among Republicans in Congress and military officials, Kelly was seen as an essential steadying hand.
“He was a force for order, clarity and good sense,” said House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.). “He is departing what is often a thankless job, but John Kelly has my eternal gratitude.”
While Trump loyalists said Kelly tried to change the president too much, Kelly also drew derision internally for supporting the president’s rhetoric after last year’s deadly white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville and mishandling the case of former staff secretary Rob Porter.
In one of his most memorable episodes, Kelly falsely attacked Rep. Frederica S. Wilson, a Florida Democrat who criticized the president. He also showed support for Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in White House meetings and supported the widely criticized family separation policy at the U.S.-Mexico border.
He also was unable to head off some of the president’s foreign policy blunders, and he often shared the president’s most hawkish impulses on immigration.
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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Josh Dawsey, Seung Min Kim and Philip Rucker