The rumors around John Kelly, the US president’s chief of staff, have finally been confirmed: The former Marine general will leave his current job by the end of the year. President Donald Trump announced the news to reporters on the White House lawn on Saturday afternoon (Dec. 8). Even the timing of the announcement was an indication of the sour relationship between Trump and Kelly; the chief of staff had planned to tell his staff on Monday, according to the New York Times (paywall), but Trump beat him to it.
Kelly was hired in July 2017, and he quickly established himself as “the adult in the room” (paywall), emphasizing the narrative that his experience as a Marine would allow him to bring order to a chaotic White House. Politicians on both sides of the aisle bought into the chief of staff’s steely, no-nonsense manner. “The kind of discipline that he is going to bring is important,” senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat of Connecticut, said on CNN shortly after Kelly was hired. “I hope that we’re at a turning point now.”
Those hopes proved misguided. In the months since, many have lamented that Kelly was not living up to his cultivated reputation as a man who could keep Trump in check. Indeed, his own rhetoric on immigration was incendiary. He claimed that illegal immigrants refused to assimilate into US culture and that those who didn’t register for DACA were“too lazy to get off their asses.” He also referred to Confederate general Robert E. Lee as “an honorable man who gave up his country to fight for his state.” That comment was widely condemned as implying that the fight to maintain slavery was a valiant act.
Meanwhile, like so many other West Wing employees, Kelly’s relationship with the president has slowly deteriorated. In April, White House staffers claimed that Kelly had called Trump an “idiot,” saying that the president “doesn’t even understand what DACA is. He’s an idiot,” and, “we’ve got to save him from himself.” At the time, Kelly seemed confident of his influence in the White House, allegedly claiming that, “If it weren’t for me, the president was going to agree to some hasty deal.” Though Kelly denied these comments, and Trump dismissed them as “fake news,” the relationship between the two soured. Trump reportedly believed that his chief of staff was keeping crucial information secret, and Kelly’s departure from the White House was widely anticipated for months.
Who’s next on the list to take the role, now that Kelly is out? Vice president Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, has been reported as the most likely candidate. But, though Ayers is believed to have the political savvy that Kelly lacked, it’s currently uncertain whether he wants the job full-time, according to the New York Times (paywall), or only on an interim basis until the spring. Still, judging by the track record of Trump’s White House staffers, there may not be a meaningful difference.