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President Trump Swears In New Chief Of Staff

Jul 31, 2017
Originally published on July 31, 2017 5:41 pm
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President Trump's new chief of staff was sworn in today. General John Kelly wasted no time putting his stamp on the West Wing. Kelly quickly got rid of Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director, a job Scaramucci had accepted 10 days ago. This new shakeup comes as the president is struggling for a fresh start in the wake of legislative setbacks and the ongoing Russian investigation. NPR's Scott Horsley has more.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Trump is expecting big things from his new chief of staff. He introduced Kelly at the White House cabinet meeting this morning using typically Trumpian superlatives.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I predict that General Kelly will go down, in terms of the position of chief of staff, one of the great ever.

HORSLEY: Supporters hope Kelly will bring some much-needed discipline to the White House which has been dogged by infighting and conflicting priorities. Chris Whipple, who interviewed 17 former chiefs of staff for his book "The Gatekeepers," says Kelly can only do that if he's given the power to set the agenda for the White House staff and control who talks to the president.

CHRIS WHIPPLE: Everything depends on that. If Kelly does not become empowered, then this is really mission impossible.

HORSLEY: Kelly flexed his power on his very first day in office, accepting the resignation of Anthony Scaramucci, who'd taken the job as communications director less than two weeks ago. At the time, the White House said Scaramucci would report directly to the president, not the chief of staff. But White House Spokeswoman Sarah Sanders says Kelly will impose a more streamlined chain of command.

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SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: General Kelly has the full authority to operate within the White House, and all staff will report to him.

HORSLEY: Scaramucci's fleeting tenure at the White House was punctuated by a profanity-laced interview he gave to The New Yorker in which he railed against press leaks and threatened to fire much of the White House staff. Whipple argues that's no way to operate.

WHIPPLE: You can't just threaten to strap everybody up to a polygraph the way you minimize leaks is you tell the truth, and you run a competent White House staff that engenders loyalty and not fear.

HORSLEY: Kelly's supporters suggest he'll do just that. The retired Marine general had been serving as homeland security secretary, where Trump notes he presided over a dramatic drop in illegal immigration.

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TRUMP: You look at the border. You look at the tremendous results we've had. And you look at the spirit. And with a very controversial situation, there's been very little controversy, which is pretty amazing by itself.

HORSLEY: That would be a welcome change for a White House that's been marked by controversy from its first days. Last week was a particular low point as the GOP Senate defeated a Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. Whipple says there are plenty of examples from Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton in which presidents did get a fresh start by hiring a new chief of staff. But he's not optimistic that Kelly can turn things around for this White House.

WHIPPLE: The fundamental problem is Donald Trump. Does anybody really believe that he wants someone who will walk into the Oval Office, close the door behind him and tell him what he doesn't want to hear?

HORSLEY: Thus far, Trump has chosen to operate the White House much the way he ran his campaign and, before that, the Trump Organization - impulsively, unpredictably and with a 140-character attention span. Former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski defended that style on NBC's "Meet The Press."

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COREY LEWANDOWSKI: The thing that General Kelly should do is not try to change Donald Trump. You have to let Trump be Trump. That is what has made him successful over the last 30 years. That is what the American people voted for. And anybody who thinks they're going to change Donald Trump doesn't know Donald Trump.

HORSLEY: Just this morning, Trump was gloating about the booming stock market, adding via Twitter, no White House chaos. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.