In an unexpected move, President Trump announced on Twitter that his Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was out and former Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly is in. USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - Reince Priebus, the former Republican Party leader from Wisconsin, is out as White House chief of staff at the end of a nightmarish week for the Trump White House marked by staff discord, public turmoil and legislative defeat.
President Donald Trump announced on Twitter that his new chief of staff is the current secretary for homeland security, John F. Kelly, a retired Marine general.
"Reince is a good man,” Trump told reporters in the White House press pool Friday. “John Kelly will do a fantastic job. General Kelly has been a star, done an incredible job thus far, respected by everybody. He's a great, great American. Reince is a good man."
In an interview on CNN, Priebus said he resigned Thursday. He said Trump "obviously wanted to make a change."
"I support him in that. The president has a right to hit a reset button. I think it’s a good time to hit a reset button. … It is something I think the White House needs."
Priebus called Kelly a "great pick" and said "I am always going to be a Trump fan."
Speculation has been rampant for weeks about the departure of Priebus.
"We'll be working on a transition here for a couple of weeks together," he said. "This is not like a situation where there is a bunch of ill-will feelings."
But that speculation spiked with Trump’s decision to hire as his new communications director Anthony Scaramucci, who proceeded to wage a war of words against Priebus, culminating in a profane screed published by the New Yorker.
In that article, Scaramucci was quoted as calling Priebus a “paranoid schizophrenic” (with a certain profanity attached). In another interview, he said he and Priebus were like Cain and Abel, the brothers in the Bible. (Cain murdered Abel).
Priebus refused to comment about Scaramucci in the CNN interview.
The relationship between Priebus and Trump has had its ups and downs. Priebus reportedly suggested Trump withdraw from the race last fall after the emergence of the Access Hollywood tape of Trump talking about groping women.
"No woman should ever be described in these terms or talked about in this manner," Priebus, chair of the Republican National Committee, said at the time. "Ever."
That was something Trump had trouble forgetting, according to published reports.
The ouster of Priebus after roughly half a year is a testament to the turmoil that has characterized the White House under Trump, who has been deeply frustrated by political events and media coverage.
The president suffered a huge political defeat early Friday morning when the Senate failed to pass a health care bill, leaving a central, years-old GOP campaign promise unfulfilled.
While Priebus was portrayed by some as a Washington insider upon taking the job, his experience in government and Washington was limited. He was an attorney practicing in Milwaukee when he rose from state GOP chairman to national GOP chairman. He didn’t arrive in the nation’s capital until 2011.
And he struggled under a mercurial president to impose discipline and order on a leaky, faction-ridden White House.
Priebus brought close personal ties with House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin to the job, but relations between the White House and Republicans in Congress have been strained amid the failure of the GOP to produce a signature legislative victory under Trump.
Priebus experienced one bright moment this past week when he and fellow Wisconsinites Ryan and Gov. Scott Walker joined Trump at the White House to celebrate the announcement of a planned Foxconn plant in Wisconsin, potentially bringing thousands of jobs to the state.The project is expected to land in either Kenosha, Priebus’ home county, or Racine County next door.
"Kenosha is going to get a big shot in the arm here; I can’t wait to see it happen for the people there," Priebus said in an interview.
But Trump never mentioned his chief of staff’s name during the ceremony.
Priebus is the latest in a line of Trump White House departures, including former press secretary Sean Spicer (a Priebus ally), former communications director Michael Dubke, and former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
But he is also the shortest serving chief of staff at the outset of an administration.
Speaker Ryan congratulated Kelly, but offered this shout-out to his friend, Priebus:
“Reince Priebus has left it all out on the field, for our party and our country. Here is a guy from Kenosha, Wisconsin, who revitalized the Republican National Committee and became White House chief of staff. He has served the president and the American people capably and passionately. He has achieved so much, and he has done it all with class. I could not be more proud to call Reince a dear friend.”
Some home-state GOP allies of Priebus expressed their displeasure with the news.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a longtime friend of Priebus who was at the same ceremony, said on Twitter Friday:
"Disappointed that my friend @Reince45 isn't going to be serving any longer as WH COS. Dumb move by WH insiders struggling for influence."
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) thanked Priebus, wished him luck, while saying Kelly would “do an excellent job at the White House.”
At a Wisconsin victory party in Washington on the night of the inaugural, Priebus was the toast of the room, the home-state party guy now at the center of power, and the national chair whose organization helped make the difference in Wisconsin and other key states.
"All of this didn’t happen by accident. God ordained today," said Priebus. But "now it’s up to us to follow through" on the party's promises, including the "promise about once and for repealing and replacing Obamacare."
Less than a day after that drive to repeal Obamacare collapsed in the Senate, Priebus was gone as White House Chief of Staff.