Some staffers have reported directly to the President instead of the chief of staff
One former campaign adviser said Trump responds well to military officers
Incoming White House chief of staff John Kelly’s ability to instill order was on the minds of those inside and outside the Trump administration Sunday, but it remained unclear to them whether he will be able to get his underlings to snap to.
President Donald Trump on Friday swapped in the homeland security secretary and retired Marine Corps general to be his chief of staff following Reince Preibus’ resignation from the job last week.
But when asked on CNN’s “State of the Union” if all staff members would answer to Kelly, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney simply responded, “I don’t know,” adding that he would report to Kelly just as he had Priebus.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway also got a chain-of-command question on “Fox News Sunday,” and said that she would talk to Kelly about that at her first formal meeting with him on Monday.
“I will speak with General Kelly and the President about that, as I’m sure Anthony Scaramucci will,” Conway said, referring to the newly appointed White House communications director.
Scaramucci, who had a fraught relationship with Priebus and was brought in to bring order to a press shop in turmoil, notably announced when he took the job earlier this month that he reports to Trump, not the then-chief of staff.
A senior administration official declined to say whether Scaramucci would continue to report directly to the President with Kelly coming on, saying only that the “President gave Gen. Kelly full authority.”
And when asked whether first daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner would lose the direct access to the President that they enjoy and go through Kelly, a White House source would only say: “Jared and Ivanka are very supportive of him (Kelly) coming in and have a tremendous amount of admiration for him and will follow his lead on how he wants things done.”
Pressed on that point, the source said: “They will follow his lead. They want this to work.”
Response from allies and opposition
Trump supporters outside the White House signaled their hope Sunday that the move to Kelly would be a productive shift for the administration.
“We’re all very hopeful now – those of us who backed Trump from the very beginning – that General Kelly can do a better job of marshaling the White House, the Cabinet members and the President himself,” Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign adviser, said on CNN.
One thing Kelly would have on his side, Caputo said, was deference from Trump, who Caputo said “responds very, very well to flag officers.”
When asked by anchor Jake Tapper whether Kelly would bring a new kind of order to the Trump White House, such as suggesting that the President stop tweeting or at least introducing a review process for his tweets, Caputo said it was possible, provided Trump agreed to some ground rules with Kelly.
“I trust that the President is going to stand by whatever commitments he made to the general,” he said.
Corey Lewandowski, a former Trump campaign manager and former CNN contributor, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he took Kelly’s hiring as evidence Trump wanted to shake things up to jump-start his stalled political agenda.
“The major issues of his agenda have not been accomplished through Congress,” Lewandowski said. “And he’s decided to make a change at the top to move his agenda forward.”
Lewandowski warned, however, against trying to alter the President’s behavior.
“The thing that General Kelly should do is not try to change Donald Trump,” Lewandowski said.
Meanwhile, voices from the Democratic side offered a mixed response to the hire.
John Podesta, who was chief of staff under President Bill Clinton and campaign chairman for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, offered personal praise for Kelly on ABC’s “This Week” and predicted the former Marine Corps general would say “no” to Trump when he felt he needed to.
But Kelly’s ability to reform the White House would come down to the President backing his chief of staff’s authority over the independent actors there, Podesta said.
“Will he accept the discipline that General Kelly will try to impose on the Anthony Scaramuccis and the Steve Bannons and the Jared Kushners and the rest?” Podesta asked. “Will the President back him up, or will he keep his door open to having all these characters kind of coming in and coming out?”
Podesta also said a key job for Kelly would be to maintain the independence of the special counsel investigation of Russia’s alleged efforts to influence last year’s election, led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller.
Rep. Barbara Lee, one of the more liberal Democrats in Congress, criticized not only Trump, but Kelly himself.
Writing on Twitter after the news of Kelly’s appointment, Lee said, “By putting Gen John Kelly in charge, Pres Trump is militarizing the White House & putting our executive branch in the hands of an extremist.”
Asked about the comment on CNN, Lee said she respected military service, but Kelly’s tenure enforcing Trump’s policies in the Department of Homeland Security was what drove her criticism.
“Promoting family dislocation, deportation of innocent men, women and children, breaking up families, promoting a Muslim ban, promoting a wall between the United States and Mexico,” Lee said. “Those are extreme policies.”
CNN’s Athena Jones contributed to this report.