Just minutes after being sworn in as White House chief of staff, John Kelly walked communications director Anthony Scaramucci to Kelly’s new West Wing office for an uncomfortable conversation. At the one-on-one meeting a few steps from the Oval Office, the former Marine general told Scaramucci that his services were no longer required.
In a normal administration, the firing of Scaramucci—after just 11 days on the job—would be a sign of turmoil. In the Trump era, it was a sign of hope for many White House staffers.
Kelly, who took over the chief of staff post Monday morning, is taking on perhaps the toughest job in Washington: bringing order to the most dysfunctional White House in recent memory. Forcing out Scaramucci—a former hedge-fund executive who won Trump’s faith with obsequious defenses of the administration’s policies, only to lose it after a vulgar rant to a reporter—was an important marker of the breadth of Kelly’s mandate.
“General Kelly has the full authority to operate within the White House, and all staff will report to him,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Monday. This is normally standard policy for the White House chief of staff. Yet the declaration was notable because Kelly’s predecessor, Reince Priebus, was never fully empowered by Trump.
Winning the trust of the President is only part of Kelly’s challenge. The former Marine general must also straighten out his staff. During the first six months of the Trump administration, the jockeying between the West Wing’s competing power centers spilled into public view on an almost-daily basis. More than a dozen aides maintained “walk-in” privileges to the Oval Office, and often used them to knife opponents or advance their own agendas. Priebus proved to be powerless to stop it. Senior aides didn’t formally answer to him, and Trump often encouraged the behavior.
Now, with his legislative agenda in shambles, escalating foreign policy challenges and an expanding Russia investigation, Trump’s elevation of Kelly signals a desire for change.
On paper, the retired four-star brings significant strengths to the job. He earned Trump’s respect as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and demonstrated an ability to manage complex organizations as head of U.S. Southern Command. At 67, he’s of Trump’s generation and is respected as an equal.
Sanders explained Scaramucci’s departure as part of a plan to provide Kelly with a “clean slate,”…