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Donald Trump’s chief of staff Reince Priebus goes in continuing White House churn

Reince Priebus’s departure comes just days after Press Secretary Sean Spice, a close ally, put in his papers following the president’s decision to hire Anthony Scaramucci, a New York financier, as his communications director

world Updated: Jul 29, 2017 15:08 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Washington, Hindustan Times
Donald Trump,Reince Priebus,Sean Spice
Donald Trump and Reince Priebus address supporters during an election rally in Manhattan, New York, US.(Reuters File)

US president Donald Trump announced his chief of staff Reince Priebus’s exit on Friday, a development that had long been anticipated, and named retired general John Kelly, currently serving as secretary of the department of homeland security, to replace him.

“I am pleased to inform you that I have just named General/Secretary John F Kelly as White House Chief of Staff. He is a Great American and a Great Leader,” Trump wrote in posts on Twitter. “John has also done a spectacular job at Homeland Security. He has been a true star of my Administration.”

He added, “I would like to thank Reince Priebus for his service and dedication to his country. We accomplished a lot together and I am proud of him!”

Priebus told CNN he decided to leave because the president had wanted to go in a different direction, “reset” his presidency. He put in his papers on Thursday — and, no, he was not asked to resign — and the president accepted.

Priebus’s departure comes just days after Press Secretary Sean Spice, a close ally, put in his papers following the president’s decision to hire Anthony Scaramucci, a New York financier, as his communications director, in effect the head of the White House media strategy and press shop.

Kelly is a retired Marin Corps general and Indian officials came to know him somewhat during his tenure at the department of homeland security. National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and foreign secretary S Jaishankar met him separately during their respective visits to DC. And Kelly was a part of the US delegation for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s White House meetings with President Trump late June.

Priebus, an establishment Republican figure who rose through the ranks to head the Republican National Convention for years, had never assimilated himself into the Trump team that came to DC as outsiders to politics and flaunted it as an accomplishment. It didn’t help that as chairman of the Republican National Committee, Priebus had been slow to warm up to Trump, as most establishment Republican leaders at the time.

Though he did throw himself in completely with Trump eventually, he remained somewhat wary of his chances. And in the aftermath of the outrage triggered by the Hollywood Access tapes — on which Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women — Priebus was among those who counselled the candidate to quit the race. Trump never let him forget that.

Priebus was also never able to assume control of the White House as required of a chief of staff, often called the gatekeeper to the Oval Office and the president. In fact, he had to contend with a rival from Day One, and before, chief strategist Steve Bannon.

The president had announced their appointments at the same time — on the same stationery — creating, many observers had warned then, two rival centres of power. Reports of their squabbling began surfacing soon after the new administration took charge and persisted despite a very public show of solidarity they staged at a convention of conservatives outside DC.

Reports about Priebus’s precarious hold on his job started in February, and continued. The last red flag came in the profanity-laden interview the newly appointed communications director Scaramucci gave to The New Yorker on Thursday. “Reince Priebus—if you want to leak something—he’ll be asked to resign very shortly,” he had said.

And just the day after, President Trump made it official.

Priebus joins a lengthening queue of people exiting Trump’s White House in just six months of his presidency — NSA Michael Flynn, deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh, communications director Michael Dubke and, just the last week, press secretary Sean Spicer.

That’s a high turnover rate by any account and indicate at the minimum a White House and administration in a constant of flux and churn. Speculation and rumors of other exits abound — such as Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom Trump is clearly trying to force out by publicly criticizing and mocking him.

The state department, then, denied reports that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was considering leaving office due continuing differences with the White House over policy and personnel issues. And there are some reports suggesting National Security Adviser General (a serving general) H R McMaster is being isolated and could be on the chopping block too.

First Published: Jul 29, 2017 07:30 IST