White House chief of staff John Kelly to leave role by end of year

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Donald Trump has said chief of staff John Kelly will leave his job by the year’s end amid an expected West Wing reshuffling.

It reflects a focus on the US president’s 2020 re-election campaign and the challenge of governing with Democrats reclaiming control in the House.

An announcement about Mr Kelly’s replacement is expected in the coming days, the president told reporters as he departed the White House for the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia.

Nick Ayers, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, is Mr Trump’s top choice to replace Mr Kelly and the two have held discussions for months about the job, a White House official said.

Mr Trump and Mr Ayers are working out specifics terms under which Mr Ayers would fill the role and the time commitment he will make, the official said.

Trump Chief of Staff
Donald Trump hopes to replace Mr Kelly, right, with Nick Ayers (Susan Walsh/AP)

Mr Ayers, who has young triplets, had long planned to leave the administration at the end of the year.

The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive personnel matters.

The announcement on Saturday comes a day after Mr Trump named his picks for attorney general and ambassador to the United Nations, and two senior aides shifted from the White House to Mr Trump’s campaign.

Mr Kelly had been credited with imposing order on a chaotic West Wing after his arrival in June 2017 from his post as homeland security secretary.

His iron first also alienated some long-time Trump allies and he grew increasingly isolated, with a greatly diminished role.

Known through the West Wing as “the chief” or “the general”, the retired Marine Corps four-star general was tapped by Mr Trump via a tweet to try to normalise a White House riven by infighting and competing power bases.

“John Kelly will leaving — I don’t know if I can say retiring — but he’s a great guy,” Mr Trump told reporters.

“John Kelly will be leaving at the end of the year. We’ll be announcing who will be taking John’s place — it might be on an interim basis.

“I’ll be announcing that over the next day or two but John will be leaving at the end of the year … I appreciate his service very much.”

Mr Kelly had early successes, including ending an open-door Oval Office policy that that had been compared to New York’s Grand Central Station and instituting a more rigorous policy process to try to prevent staffers from going directly to Trump.

But those efforts also miffed the president and some of his most influential outside allies, who had grown accustomed to unimpeded access.

Mr Kelly’s handling of domestic violence accusations against the former White House staff secretary also caused consternation, especially among lower-level White House staffers, who believed he had lied to them about when he found out about the allegations.

In any administration, the role of White House chief of staff is split between the responsibilities of supervising the White House and managing the man sitting in the Oval Office.

George HW Bush
Nick Ayers (right) has the confidence of the president (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via AP)

Mr Ayers also earned the backing of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the president’s daughter and son-in-law and senior advisers, for taking on the new role, White House officials said.

The Georgia native’s meteoric rise in GOP politics included a successful stint at the Republican Governors Association, time as campaign manager for former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty’s failed White House bid and consultant work for dozens of high-profile Republicans, including Mr Pence.

Mr Ayers, 36, would be the youngest chief of staff since 34-year-old Hamilton Jordan served under Jimmy Carter. Mr Kelly is 68.

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