President Donald Trump ended one of the most tumultuous weeks of his presidency Friday by accepting the resignation of his chief of staff and moving his Homeland Security secretary into the White House gatekeeper role.
The staff change comes during a period of intense and very public infighting in the West Wing. Trump tapped financier Anthony Scaramucci as communications director and accepted the resignation of press secretary Sean Spicer.
Scaramucci proceeded to declare war on parts of the staff. He dismissed a press aide, accused Priebus of leaking information about him to the media. He also went on an expletive-laden tirade against strategist Stephen Bannon in an interview with The New Yorker. All this played out while the president was taking daily shots at his attorney general, Jeff Sessions.
Priebus, who was the chairman of the Republican National Committee before taking the chief of staff job and helped engineer Trump’s surprise election victory, told CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer that he resigned Thursday after a discussion with the president.
“Anytime either one of us think that we need to make a change or move in a different direction, let’s talk about it and get it done,” he said. “And so, I think the president thought about that, and we talked about it yesterday, and I resigned, and he accepted my resignation. But this is about the president. It’s about moving his agenda forward.”
Priebus said he remains a Trump fan and added that the president consulted with him about his successor, who turned out to be Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. Priebus praised the choice, but he declined to respond to Scaramucci’s attack on him.
Although Priebus cast the staff change as more or less a mutual decision, LifeZette has reported on growing discontent within the White House and a belief among insiders that his days were numbered as Trump sought to elevate loyalists.
While the palace intrigue in Washington has consumed the media, one conservative activist told LifeZette that staff changes in the White House are a “footnote” to regular voters. Tea Party activist Mark Meckler, founder of Citizens for Self-Governance, said people are much more focused on the Senate’s failure to repeal Obamacare.
“What people are paying attention to is the utter, absolute, disgraceful, dishonesty of what happened in Congress,” he said.
Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general who has helped implement Trump’s hard-line immigration policies, said in a statement that he is honored to become chief of staff. He praised his staff at the Department of Homeland Security.
“When I left the Marines, I never thought I would find as committed, as professional, as patriotic a group of individuals,” he said. “I was wrong. You accomplish great things every day defending our nation, and I know your exceptional work will continue.”
Republicans on Capitol Hill expressed hope that Kelly could get the White House under control and focused on Trump’s agenda.
“I’m a firm believer that past performance is the best indicator of future behavior,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in a statement. “With this in mind, the president is in good hands with Secretary Kelly.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), a close fiend of Priebus from their years working together in Wisconsin politics, praised the outgoing chief of chaff.
“Reince Priebus has left it all out on the field, for our party and our country,” he said in a prepared statement. “Here is a guy from Kenosha, Wisconsin, who revitalized the Republican National Committee and became White House chief of staff. He has served the president and the American people capably and passionately. He has achieved so much, and he has done it all with class. I could not be more proud to call Reince a dear friend.”