Here’s a fun bit from last night’s WaPo story about McMaster’s maybe/maybe-not departure. The rumblings about mass firings have created a sense of madness within the West Wing, the paper claims. In politics as in college hoops: When you’re in the grip of March madness, there’s only one thing to do. Gamble!
The mood inside the White House in recent days has verged on mania, as Trump increasingly keeps his own counsel and senior aides struggle to determine the gradations between rumor and truth. At times, they say, they are anxious and nervous, wondering what each new headline may mean for them personally.
But in other moments, they appear almost as characters in an absurdist farce — openly joking about whose career might end with the next presidential tweet. White House officials have begun betting about which staffer will be ousted next, though few, if any, have much reliable information about what is actually going on.
I’ve got John Bolton over McMaster in the Natsec Regional. If Trump doesn’t pull the plug on the general by close of business today, my bracket’s busted.
Almost every major figure in the administration (i.e. not Mattis) has been rumored to be on the chopping block in the last few days: McMaster, Carson, Zinke, Shulkin, Scott Pruitt, and of course perennial sad-sack Jeff Sessions. As Ed noted earlier, even John Kelly’s name has suddenly bubbled up. That would make sense given his months of tension with the dauphine, Ivanka, and her consort Lord Jared as well as the fact that Kelly apparently blew up on Air Force One this week over the handling of Rex Tillerson’s firing. Combine all that with Trump’s annoyance at the Rob Porter mess that Kelly enabled with his lax attention to security clearances and a total purge suddenly seemed in the offing. POTUS was about to clean house, starting with his right-hand man. Everyone must go! Except Mattis.
But no. Per the Journal, an understanding has been reached, however temporarily. Despite a scare, Kelly survives and advances in the West Wing Regional.
Jarred by the treatment of former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whom the president fired by tweet on Tuesday morning, Mr. Kelly suggested to colleagues that he may be the next to be pushed out of the White House. Mr. Kelly’s cryptic comments left several White House staffers with the impression that Mr. Kelly would force the issue with the president, and that they should start looking for new jobs, too.
The internal drama heightened when Mr. Kelly flew with the president to California on Tuesday, but returned alone and was working in his West Wing office on Wednesday morning. Mr. Kelly’s allies in the White House, however, said the chief of staff had always planned on flying the 4,500-mile round-trip between Washington and San Diego in less than a day.
But on Thursday, Messrs. Trump and Kelly had a productive meeting that left both men reassured. Mr. Trump told advisers afterward that Mr. Kelly was “100% safe.” Mr. Kelly told his associates that, at least for the moment, he and the president had patched things up. “I’m in,” Mr. Kelly told staff.
What could have been said at this allegedly productive meeting to soothe tensions so quickly and avert a looming resignation? The Journal claims that the “truce” may only be temporary, which would help explain it. Maybe Trump and Kelly agreed that, with so many department chiefs being hustled out the door, it’d be too chaotic to suddenly be without a chief of staff as well. They may have decided that Kelly will stay on for a set number of months until all of the new cabinet members and West Wing advisors are seated, then ease on into retirement. He’d only need to notch another four (and a half) months as chief to make it a full year. “Get me through July,” Trump might have said, “and then we’ll give you a big send-off.”
Whatever deal they reached, though, must have been on terms favorable to Trump, and not because he’s the president and Kelly’s the deputy. It was observed during Kelly’s first few months on the job that Trump needed him more than Kelly needed Trump: Kelly took the position reluctantly, insisting on full authority to decide who has access to Trump, and Trump, having endured chaos during Reince Priebus’s tenure, badly needed someone to impose order on his daily schedule. Now, though, POTUS seems more confident as POTUS. The story of the last few weeks is him imposing his will — slapping tariffs on trade partners, booting Tillerson, agreeing to the Kim Jong Un summit without consulting advisors first, and on and on. It could be that he and Kelly agreed that the latter should stay on subject to some of that early authority granted to him to control access to Trump being withdrawn. Maybe we’ll be seeing more Javanka and Corey Lewandowski and God knows who else hanging around the Oval Office at odd hours going forward.
Or maybe the whole “Kelly in or out?” thing is just a prank Trump’s playing on the media, manufacturing drama and suspense for his own amusement. I doubt there’s anything in the world he enjoys more than pulling their strings. Except watching “Fox & Friends,” of course.
Be wary of anyone who claims they know exactly what is going on in the West Wing, or more importantly, the president's mind. The only official who is, without a doubt, leaving the White House today is Rick Dearborn, the deputy chief of staff who resigned back in December.
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) March 16, 2018
It's clear that Trump, who had nothing on his schedule until 11 a.m., is enjoying this. Sources say he delights in watching the media jump through hoops. Though he was considering firing McMaster before, it's entirely possible that he delays it now just to prove the media wrong. https://t.co/LzPHfKQAki
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) March 16, 2018
I think he’s serious about axing Shulkin at the VA and clearly McMaster will be replaced sooner rather than later but it’s possible all of the other names floated lately amount to Trump fake-tossing the tennis ball to see if his puppies in the media will go bounding in that direction. What a life.
By the way, how come we haven’t heard Steve Mnuchin’s name floated as a possible firing? CREW looked at his travel habits last year and found that Mnuchin took eight separate flights on military aircraft costing taxpayers upwards of $1 million with no discernible reason for preferring that to much cheaper commercial air travel. That’s Tom Price territory, scandal-wise. Other cabinet members who have overspent on themselves (i.e. Shulkin, Zinke, and Carson) are all at risk of being fired, as POTUS dislikes how they’ve undercut his “drain the swamp” message. And Trump might reasonably want a more populist figure in at Treasury as he lurches towards protectionism. When do we start hearing rumblings about Mnuchin?