By Toluse Olorunnipa and Margaret Talev
President Donald Trump replaced his chief of staff on Friday, announcing on Twitter that he had appointed Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to the job.
The ouster of Reince Priebus, who said he resigned Thursday, caps a week of heightened infighting at the White House, where Priebus had been embroiled in a public feud with Trump’s new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci.
“I am pleased to inform you that I have just named General/Secretary John F. Kelly as White House Chief of Staff,” Trump said on Twitter. “He is a Great American and a Great Leader. John has also done a spectacular job at Homeland Security. He has been a true star of my Administration.”
Priebus and Scaramucci both traveled Friday with Trump for a crime speech on Long Island in New York. The former chief of staff declined to speak with reporters traveling with the president after returning. He and two other senior Trump aides, Stephen Miller and Dan Scavino, got into a van in Trump’s motorcade at Joint Base Andrews in suburban Maryland shortly before Trump’s tweet, then Miller and Scavino got out and entered a different vehicle.
Trump was aboard Air Force One as his tweets were issued. He left the plane at about 5:01 p.m. in New York.
“Reince is a good man,” Trump told reporters as he left the aircraft. “Secretary Kelly is a star, and he’ll do a good job.”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer resigned last week after Scaramucci was hired. Spicer and Priebus were friends and allies, having worked together at the Republican National Committee before joining the White House.
Priebus leaves the White House after less than seven months as Trump’s top adviser. His departure comes after Trump lost a major legislative battle early Friday when the Senate failed to pass legislation repealing Obamacare.
Spicer and Priebus came from the Republican establishment and were outsiders, to a degree, in a White House Trump won on his credentials as a political maverick.
The former Republican National Committee chairman struggled to navigate an administration riven with conflict, where top aides must compete with the president’s daughter and son-in-law for influence. People close to Trump had largely blamed the chief of staff for the White House’s troubles in Congress, where the president has yet to secure a major legislative victory.
Priebus’ departure shakes up the balance of power around Trump, whose inner circle includes chief strategist Steve Bannon; National Economic Director Gary Cohn; Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law; Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump, a White House official; and now Scaramucci.
But Priebus had also been a steady hand inside a West Wing that often found itself off-balance. For example, as a spat between Bannon and Kushner spilled out into the open in April, Priebus worked to arrange a détente at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, according to a senior White House official familiar with the internal strife. And Priebus was heavily involved in persuading House Republicans to hold a vote on their stalled health-care bill, which ultimately was sent to the Senate.
“All I would say is, as you know, Reince is a very close friend of mine,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, told reporters at a news conference on Thursday. “Reince is doing a fantastic job at the White House, and I believe he has the president’s confidence.”
He added, “I think Reince is doing a great job as chief of staff.”
The chief of staff still fell out of favor with Trump, who watched policy losses pile up despite Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress. The president’s attempt to prevent immigration or travel from six predominantly Muslim nations was blocked by courts after a botched rollout. The House healthcare bill, once expected to pass easily — perhaps even on Inauguration Day — took far longer to negotiate and is broadly unpopular with voters.
A compromise spending bill keeping the government open until October was celebrated as a win by Democrats, who secured continued funding for the women’s health provider Planned Parenthood while minimizing extra spending for Trump’s defense build-up and Mexican border wall.
No major legislation has yet landed on Trump’s desk for his signature.