WASHINGTON — White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci was forced out Monday after barely 10 days in his post, as Donald Trump’s new chief of staff asserted his authority on his first day in office.
John Kelly, who had served as Trump’s secretary of homeland security for six months, has been brought in as chief of staff to bring order and discipline to a White House beset by scandal, infighting, low approval ratings and legislative defeats.
After an Oval Office swearing-in ceremony, Trump confidently predicted the 67-year-old combat veteran — one of a group Trump has dubbed “my generals” — will do a “spectacular job.”
And Kelly got straight to work, as reports emerged that Trump dismissed Scaramucci — the fast-talking New York financier — at Kelly’s request.
“Mr. Scaramucci felt it was best to give Chief of Staff John Kelly a clean slate and the ability to build his own team. We wish him all the best,” the White House said in a terse statement.
Scaramucci had courted controversy with an expletive-laden attack on his colleagues — then chief of staff Reince Priebus, who was forced out last week, and chief White House strategist Steve Bannon.
Kelly inherits the day-to-day running of a White House staff that — far from marching in lockstep — look like a regiment pinned down by heavy fire, getting conflicting orders from their commander and squabbling over the way forward.
“I predict that General Kelly will go down as, in terms of the position of chief of staff, one of the great(est) ever,” Trump said.
“What he has done in terms of homeland security is record-shattering, if you look at the border, if you look at the tremendous results we’ve had.”
Kelly replaces Priebus, a Republican Party operative who was ousted last week after the spectacular failure of Trump’s bid to repeal Obamacare and as his ugly feud with Scaramucci spilled into the open.
The chief of staff is the highest ranking White House employee — a chief operating officer who organizes staff, manages the president’s schedule and decides who gets access to him and when.
That is no small mission in Trump’s White House, where a rotating cast of family and staff with unclear roles and opaque job titles walk into the Oval Office seemingly at will.
Many question whether anyone can rein in the mercurial, Twitter-happy Trump, who has appeared to encourage the infighting among various factions vying for influence in his administration.
Trump — ever determined to project success — insisted Monday that there was no “chaos” at the White House, which was instead running as a finely tuned machine.
“I think we’re doing incredibly well. The economy is doing incredibly well, and many other things. So we’re starting from a really good base,” he told a cabinet meeting.
“We have the highest stock market in history,” Trump said, adding that US economic growth in the last quarter stood at 2.6 percent and was approaching the three percent target he once set.
“Unemployment is the lowest it’s been in 17 years. Business enthusiasm is about as high as they’ve ever seen it.”
But aside from the economy, there has been little reason for Trump to cheer.
Under pressure from a widening probe into his campaign’s contacts with Russia last year, Trump last week attacked his own attorney general Jeff Sessions for disloyalty, alarming his conservative base, before turning on Priebus.
In another tweet Monday, Trump hinted that Congress’s own health insurance plan should be replaced for its failure to repeal Obamacare, his predecessor’s signature reform of the US health care system.
Highest Stock Market EVER, best economic numbers in years, unemployment lowest in 17 years, wages raising, border secure, S.C.: No WH chaos!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 31, 2017
“If Obamacare is hurting people & it is, why shouldn’t it hurt the insurance companies and why should Congress not be paying what public pays?”
Since taking office six months ago, Trump’s tumultuous administration has seen a succession of negative headlines and brewing scandals.
Fueling the fire, the billionaire Republican has parted with a number of top officials including his national security advisor, deputy national security advisor and FBI director, among others — an unparalleled turnover for such a young presidency.
On the global stage, Trump faces the stark challenge of a North Korea that could be on the verge of marrying nuclear and ballistic missile technology.
“We’ll handle North Korea. We’re going to be able to handle them. It will be handled. We handle everything. Thank you very much,” Trump said.
Kelly’s arrival is likely to signal a renewed focus on border security and immigration.
“As the coils of the Russia investigation grow tighter, as his failures in Congress mount, Trump reaches for what he knows -—demagoguery of the rawest sort,” predicted Eliot Cohen, a former State Department official once tipped to join the Trump White House.
“Trump will remain Trump, and the various denizens of the White House are unlikely to treat Kelly with much more deference than they treat one another,” he wrote in the Atlantic magazine.