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John Kelly To Step Down As White House Chief Of Staff

Dec 8, 2018
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Once again, President Trump is shaking things up at the White House. He announced today that his chief of staff, retired Marine General John Kelly, will leave the job at the end of the year.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: John Kelly will be leaving, but I don't know if I can say retiring. But he's a great guy. John Kelly will be leaving at the end of the year.

MARTIN: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith has been following these developments, and she is with us now.

Hi, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hi.

MARTIN: So there have been rumors for a while now that Kelly was on the way out. Do we know why the president made this announcement now?

KEITH: We don't. But certainly, this has been a rough weekend, rough couple of days for the president with all of the court filings related to his former lawyer Michael Cohen and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. And, in amongst those documents being released, President Trump has announced a bunch of different personnel shifts - unclear whether this is an effort to shift headlines or if he was just done with his chief of staff finally.

MARTIN: Is there any idea who will replace him?

KEITH: Well, the president - and this is sort of a sign of how this may have been a rush job - but the president doesn't have someone in place to replace him yet. A lot of the talk has centered around Nick Ayers, who's chief of staff to Vice President Pence. One reason that he would be an attractive option is that he is a very politically-minded person. He comes from a background of political consulting, where General John Kelly comes from a military background and really didn't get the politics and wasn't into the politics in the way President Trump is. But Nick Ayers has family considerations, and one administration official told me that nothing is confirmed yet.

MARTIN: And, to that end, you talked about Mr. Kelly's distinguished career in the military - General Kelly's distinguished career. There was this expectation that he would bring that sense of military discipline to the White House. Was he successful in any way?

KEITH: No. I mean, he certainly did not bring order to the Trump presidency or the Trump White House. He came to bring an end to the chaos. The chaos persisted. And he became part of the chaos, in fact. You know, he started the job at the end of July, 2017. By November, 2017, he came into the White House briefing room to bat down rumors that he was being fired or quitting. And then it just continued on and on and on like that.

You know, he - in some ways, he was able to, you know, maybe control the paperwork some. But, over time, President Trump brought on new people and had them report directly to him rather than to the chief of staff.

MARTIN: Tam, we only have a little under a minute left. But it does seem that there has been an unusual flurry of changes at the White House. Now, changes after the midterms is usual, but it seems unusual. Is that right?

KEITH: It is absolutely unusual. There has been an unprecedented level of staff turnover throughout the course of the Trump presidency, which isn't even two years old yet. I spoke to Kathryn Dunn Tenpas at the Brookings Institution. She has this usually sleepy specialty of tracking White House staffing, and this is what she told me about the turnover at chief of staff.

KATHRYN DUNN TENPAS: President Trump has set a record. And this time, it is the record for the most chiefs of staff within the first 24 months. Since Harry Truman, no president has had three different chiefs of staff over the course of 24 months.

KEITH: And when it comes to other high-level staff, President Trump is off the charts as compared to his recent predecessors.

MARTIN: That's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

Tam, thank you.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.