Trump Shakes Up Cabinet: Names DHS Secretary Kelly as New Chief of Staff
Legislative Update By: Robert Law
President Donald Trump shocked the political world Friday afternoon, announcing that he fired chief of staff Reince Priebus and was replacing him with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly. (Washington Post, July 28, 2017) The decision to remove Priebus was unsurprising after new White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci accused the then-chief of staff of leaking information and called Priebus “a paranoiac” during an expletive-laced phone call with The New Yorker. (See NPR, July 27, 2017) However, Washington insiders were caught off guard by the selection of Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, to replace Priebus because he lacks political or legislative experience. In a series of tweets announcing the move, President Trump called Kelly “a Great American and a Great Leader.” (Washington Post, July 28, 2017) “John has also done a spectacular job at Homeland Security. He has been a true star of my Administration.” (Id.)
While Kelly appears to most outsiders to be an unconventional pick, sources inside the White House now say the president has been trying to convince Kelly to take the job for weeks. Two unidentified people who work in the administration told The Washington Post that President Trump initially offered Kelly the role of chief of staff back in mid-May but the DHS Secretary declined. (Id.) “The president has tried to convince the general multiple times, and the general has politely declined several times,” said an anonymous administration official to the Post. (Id.) “But given what’s going on in Washington, I think the president really needs the general to help him restore order in this White House and advance his vision.” (Id.)
Kelly’s decision to finally accept the chief of staff position now creates a vacancy at DHS that could hinder the progress President Trump was making on his immigration enforcement agenda. Deputy DHS Secretary Elaine Duke took over yesterday morning as acting DHS secretary after Kelly was officially sworn in as chief of staff. (Id.) President Trump has yet to announce a new nominee and DHS is likely to be without a Secretary for quite some time because the candidate will have to go through the Senate confirmation process. Disappointingly, Senate Democrats have obstructed and delayed the confirmation of nearly every Trump nominee, including noncontroversial picks that have broad bipartisan support.
Anti-borders Democrats responded to the personnel change with attacks on General Kelly. In a Friday afternoon tweet, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) wrote, “By putting Gen John Kelly in charge, Pres[ident] Trump is … putting our executive branch in the hands of an extremist.” (See The Hill, July 30, 2017) After receiving substantial blowback for calling a distinguished Marine Corps General “extremist,” Rep. Lee tried to “clarify” her comments on CNN. Appearing on “State of the Union,” Lee claimed, “What I’m talking about is his tenure as Homeland Security secretary and the very extreme policies of promoting family dislocation, deportation of innocent men, women and children, breaking up families, promoting a Muslim ban [sic], promoting a wall between the United States and Mexico.” (Id.) “Those are extreme policies,” she insisted. (Id.)
Stay tuned to FAIR as details emerge…