Reince Priebus, White House Chief of Staff, will be replaced by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, President Donald Trump announced in a two-part tweet Friday. Initially, it was unclear whether Priebus resigned or was fired by Trump. A senior White House official told Politico that Priebus resigned.
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. John has also done a spectacular job at Homeland Security. He has been a true star of my administration. 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!
-President Donald Trump, Twitter, @realdonaldtrump
The announcement that Priebus resigned is the latest installment in a shadow war between White House Comms Director Anthony Scaramucci, who is fresh off of a rant with the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, and Priebus. Scaramucci called Priebus a “fucking paranoid schizophrenic” and said that he was trying to “cock block” him and keep him out of the West Wing. Scaramucci has been accusing Priebus of being the source of leaks since he took office seven days ago.
Possibly less connected to this matter but equally important is the fact that this resignation by the top unelected official at the White House comes just after the latest failure of the Senate GOP’s effort to repeal and replace Obamacare just last night. The three Senators that defected were Senators John McCain, Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins. This failure marks the latest setback in Trump’s legislative priorities. Priebus had played a large role in lobbying Senators to vote for the repeal, and he had been blamed for the losses.
The former Chair of the Republican National Committee had been reported to be in Trump’s bad graces for months. This latest resignation in the White House proves yet again a point many have been making all week: Trump doesn’t fire people most of the time, he makes it unbearable for them to work with him anymore until they resign. Like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is also rumored to be considering leaving, he wanted to make it to the one-year mark before leaving the White House as Chief of Staff.
As rumors swirled about Priebus’s ouster this week, people were saying that Kelly was who Trump wanted to replace him with. Kelly is a retired Marine Corps general and the former commander of the U.S. Southern Command. Trump has talked frequently about how much he loves his generals, despite saying he knows more than them about ISIS during the 2016 campaign.
This latest resignation follows the resignation of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer last week amid the takeover of Anthony Scaramucci, commonly referred to as “the Mooch” as Comms director. The clash between Scaramucci and Priebus was clear from the beginning. Priebus, among other senior White House staffers, had tried to keep Trump from hiring Scaramucci for months, as he acknowledged yesterday on the phone with Ryan Lizza.
The resignation of Priebus is the most significant shakeup that has occurred so far in the West Wing, which has been chaotic and divided since the onset of Trump’s presidency. This is a West Wing that lacks any unity, a divide between Trump loyalists like Hope Hicks and Anthony Scaramucci, and more seasoned political operatives such as Reince Priebus and Stephen Bannon. Bannon is interesting because though he has seemed loyal to Trump, he has been in disagreement with him several times on matters of policy.
Whether or not Kelly will be a forceful voice in reasoning with Trump is unclear so far.
A source in the White House told Politico that Trump frequently lashed out at Priebus after legislative failures, which are all of the time, and blamed him for the health care bill failure. Priebus insisted that health care is the first one the agenda and that he could push the bill given his connection and influence with Speaker Paul Ryan.
After the health care bill failed to even get a vote, the White House deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh was fired, but never replaced. Communications director Mike Dubke resigned after President Trump’s first foreign trip to Saudi Arabia, Rome, Israel, and more.
From the beginning of the administration, Priebus was in a weak position in the White House because power was split between him, Senior Advisor Stephen Bannon, and Trump’s son in-law Jared Kushner. The only success that Priebus was credited with was the successful appointment of Neil Gorsuch as Supreme Court Associate Justice, the only major congressional achievement of Trump’s presidency.
Although Priebus and Bannon were not aligned at the onset of the Trump administration, since Priebus represented the Republican establishment and Bannon the fringe alt-right, the two became allies towards the end of his tenure as his status and stature in the West Wing weakened.