WASHINGTON (AP) — US President Donald Trump’s top pick to replace chief of staff John Kelly, Nick Ayers, was no longer expected to fill the role and several others were emerging as possible candidates.
The new hire was to be key to a West Wing reshuffling to shift focus toward the 2020 re-election campaign and the challenge of governing with Democrats in control of the House.
Ayers, who is chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, was seen as the favorite for the job when Trump announced Saturday that Kelly would leave around year’s end. But a White House official said Sunday that Trump and Ayers could not reach agreement on Ayers’ length of service and that he would instead assist the president from outside the administration.
Ayers confirmed the decision in a tweet, thanking Trump and Pence for giving him the opportunity to work in the White House. “I will be departing at the end of the year but will work with the #MAGA team to advance the cause,” he said.
In a tweet of his own, Trump laid out the agenda: “I am in the process of interviewing some really great people for the position of White House Chief of Staff. Fake News has been saying with certainty it was Nick Ayers, a spectacular person who will always be with our #MAGA agenda. I will be making a decision soon!”
I am in the process of interviewing some really great people for the position of White House Chief of Staff. Fake News has been saying with certainty it was Nick Ayers, a spectacular person who will always be with our #MAGA agenda. I will be making a decision soon!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 10, 2018
It was not immediately clear whether Trump had a new favorite among those being mentioned. People with knowledge of the discussions but not authorized to discuss the matter by name say the possible contenders include:
—Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget.
—Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the House Freedom Caucus.
—Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. A person familiar with Mnuchin’s thinking said he is happy with his work at the Treasury Department and has not sought the job of chief of staff.
—US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. He told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he hadn’t spoken to anyone at the White House about the position and was “entirely focused” on his current job.
—Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker. Trump has chosen William Barr to replace Jeff Sessions as attorney general.
—David Bossie, Trump’s former deputy campaign manager.
Trump wants his next chief of staff to hold the job through the 2020 election, said the White House official, who was not authorized to discuss the personnel issue by name and, as did others, spoke on condition of anonymity.
Ayers and Trump had discussed the job for months. The father of young triplets, he had long planned to leave the administration at the end of the year, and had only agreed to serve in an interim basis through next spring.
Ayers will run a pro-Trump super PAC, according to a person familiar with his plans who was not authorized to discuss them by name.
Kelly, whose last day on the job is set to be Jan. 2, had been credited with imposing order on a chaotic West Wing after his arrival in June 2017 from his post as homeland security secretary. But his iron fist also alienated some longtime Trump allies, and over time he grew increasingly isolated, with an increasingly diminished role.