Get ready for a little Christmas-season drama at the White House … or at least in the media. Axios’ Jonathan Swan and Mike Allen offered a bare-bones report on the upcoming departure of chief of staff John Kelly earlier this morning as part of a review of other changes coming. According to their sources, Mike Pence’s chief of staff Nick Ayers will likely get the job instead:
One sign of a new sense of urgency: West Wing officials widely believe that chief of staff John Kelly’s departure is imminent and that Nick Ayers, chief of staff to Vice President Pence, will replace him.
As we reported right after the midterms, Ayers’ backers have been telling the president he has the sharp political instincts to remake the West Wing to better combat the hazards ahead.
Jared and Ivanka have boosted him. But he has a number of detractors who have been trying to convince the president he’d be a disaster.
CNN followed up with two sources who also say Kelly will resign within days as his relationship with Donald Trump has hit an all-time low. “Right now, the president and his chief of staff are not even on speaking terms,” CNN’s Kaitlan Collins reports below:
JUST IN: John Kelly is expected to resign as White House chief of staff in the coming days, two sources familiar with the situation unfolding in the West Wing tell CNN https://t.co/eVLFkVg7li pic.twitter.com/UwNzQHrRXa
— CNN (@CNN) December 7, 2018
John Kelly is expected to resign as White House chief of staff in the coming days, two sources familiar with the situation unfolding in the West Wing tell CNN.
Seventeen months in, Kelly and President Donald Trump have reached a stalemate in their relationship and it is no longer seen as tenable by either party. Though Trump asked Kelly over the summer to stay on as chief of staff for two more years, the two have stopped speaking in recent days.
Of course, we’ve heard about phantom firings before. Remember that fun day when Axios’ Swan and CNN’s Collins reported that Rod Rosenstein had been fired? Good times, good times. Rosenstein’s still in the Department of Justice directory and the constitutional crisis never did come upon us. Still, the relationship has appeared rocky, and despite Trump’s bravado about the midterms, the loss of the House will require at least some retuning on Trump’s White House team. A move now does make some sense, especially in the period between congressional sessions.
A Kelly departure wouldn’t have that same drama, but it would be disruptive enough. The new chief of staff — Ayers or anyone else — will want his own people in key White House positions. That means a fairly extensive shake-up, albeit a relatively quiet one and likely overshadowed by some higher-profile changes in the Cabinet.
The big question will be whether the new chief of staff can contain Trump’s less productive impulses. Kelly brought significant personal standing on his own into the relationship, thanks to his long and excellent service at the command level of the military. Ayers has mainly been a behind-the-scenes person, well-regarded by insiders but largely unknown outside of those circles. Can he contend with the forceful personality and gale-force impulses of Trump? Can anyone?
Update: Maybe Rosenstein’s not out of the woods yet either. This came as part of an early-morning Trump Twitter rant about Robert Mueller’s investigation:
….Foundation be listed at the top of the Report? Will the scathing document written about Lyin’ James Comey, by the man in charge of the case, Rod Rosenstein (who also signed the FISA Warrant), be a big part of the Report? Isn’t Rod therefore totally conflicted? Will all of….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2018
Update, 12:43 pm: The Daily Caller hears something very different:
White House chief of staff John Kelly has no intention of resigning in the coming days, despite media reports to the contrary, a knowledgeable source tells The Daily Caller.
Kelly decided to take the day off work as President Donald Trump travels to Kansas City, Missouri, to give a speech on law enforcement, the source told TheDC. The source characterized reports that Kelly will resign in the coming days as “absolutely untrue.”
That doesn’t mean Kelly’s not going to be leaving the job — he could be getting fired. But this sounds a bit like what happened to the Rosenstein-resignation story.