Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff who failed to impose order on a chaos-racked West Wing, was pushed out on Friday after a stormy six-month tenure, and President Trump replaced him with John F Kelly, the secretary of homeland security and retired four-star Marine general.
Mr Trump announced the change via Twitter while aboard Air Force One on a tarmac outside Washington minutes after returning from Long Island. Mr Priebus, who had joined the president on the trip and never let on to other passengers what was about to occur, stepped off the plane into a drenching rain, ducked into a car and was driven away without comment.
Mr Trump emerged under a large umbrella and praised his outgoing and incoming chiefs. “Reince is a good man,” Mr Trump shouted to nearby reporters. “John Kelly will do a fantastic job. General Kelly has been a star, done an incredible job thus far, respected by everybody, a great, great, American. But Reince Priebus — a good man.”
Mr Priebus’s ouster was the latest convulsion in a White House that has been whipsawed by feuds and political setbacks in recent days. The president became convinced that Mr Priebus was not strong enough to run the White House operation and told him two weeks ago that he wanted to make a change, according to White House officials.
Mr Priebus said he tendered his resignation to the president on Thursday, the same day the newly appointed White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, was quoted vowing to force the chief of staff out. Even so, as late as Friday morning, Mr Priebus told colleagues he thought he would have a week before the announcement to make a graceful exit.
Mr Priebus said after the announcement he had always made clear to Mr Trump that when the president thought it was time for a new chief, he would support that. “The president has a right to hit a reset button,” he said on CNN I think it’s a good time to hit the reset button.”
The shake-up added to the sense of instability in Mr Trump’s White House. In six months, he has fired a national security adviser, an FBI director and a holdover acting attorney general, while his White House press secretary, communications director, deputy chief of staff, deputy national security adviser and legal team spokesman have all left.
Privately, even Mr Priebus’s critics wondered how Mr Kelly would surmount the same challenges — controlling a freewheeling president who often circumvents paid staff members by seeking counsel from a roster of outside advisers.
Other aides were left to wonder about their own future. Mr Trump has considered pushing out Stephen K Bannon, his chief strategist, according to a White House official who discussed internal deliberations on the condition of anonymity.
Mr Priebus’s departure was announced 15 hours after the president’s signature drive to repeal his predecessor’s health care program collapsed on the Senate floor. Mr Priebus had collaborated with his ally, Speaker Paul Ryan, on health care and pushed a bill through the House only to watch it crater in the upper chamber.
“My view is Reince was very well liked by the president, but Donald Trump is a guy who’s all about results,” said Christopher Ruddy, a friend of the president’s. “I think he’s taking stock and seeing that this health care thing that was promised to him by Reince and Paul Ryan was not properly developed. In my view, he’s a disappointed customer.”
Mr Trump signaled Mr Priebus’s fate a week ago by hiring Mr Scaramucci over the chief of staff’s objections. Mr Priebus had blocked Mr Scaramucci from joining the White House staff for six months, and Mr Spicer resigned in protest.
Mr Priebus and Mr Spicer told the president they believed Mr Scaramucci, a gregarious hedge fund manager, lacked the required political experience and organisational skills.
Mr Scaramucci quickly engaged in open war against Mr Priebus — with the president’s encouragement. On Thursday evening, The New Yorker posted an interview with Mr Scaramucci that included a profanity-laced tirade against Mr Priebus. He called Mr Priebus a “paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac,” who had leaked information against him, and vowed to get the chief of staff fired.
During last year’s campaign, Mr Priebus was slow to embrace Mr Trump’s candidacy, and the president never let him forget it. Mr Trump often reminded people around him Mr Priebus had suggested he consider dropping out after an Access Hollywood tape of Mr Trump’s crude remarks about women was made public in October.
– The New York Times