Politics

Trump Often Frustrated by Pace of Congress, Kelly Says

Amid reports of tension, president says he’s fortunate to have retired general

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly meets with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in January when he was the Homeland Security secretary nominee. On Thursday, Kelly spoke to reporters about the president’s frustrations with Congress. (Tom Williams/Roll Call File Photo)

President Donald Trump views himself as a go-getter and is often frustrated by the pace of Washington, including the process of crafting legislation on Capitol Hill, his chief of staff said Thursday.

The president has let his feelings known about the Republican-controlled legislative branch numerous times on Twitter and in public remarks — especially the inability of GOP lawmakers to pass health care legislation.

White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly explained why Trump is so frustrated by the place he derides as a swamp.

“Our government is designed to be slow, and it is,” Kelly said, taking questions during Thursday’s White House press briefing amid reports of tensions between him and the president.

Trump views himself as a Washington outsider and a “man of action,” Kelly said.

The latter image can run counter to Washington’s deliberative style, which requires consensus-building among lawmakers with varying district and state interests and ideological stripes.

With Trump, that can create a “great frustration,” as Kelly described it.

That also is fueled by what Kelly, in so many words, indirectly described as an impatient POTUS who views many of the things Congress should be producing as “obvious.”

The retired four-star Marine Corps general turned Homeland Security secretary turned White House chief of staff then ticked off health care, strengthening the military, and other parts of Trump’s agenda as examples of those “obvious” outcomes in the president’s eyes.

But, to Trump, “the process is so hard sometimes,” Kelly said. That is something echoed by the president in February: “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.” His critics pointed out that many, particularly in the health care sector and Congress, have long known that an industry worth one-sixth of the U.S. economy was complicated. 

Kelly did sidestep a question about whether Trump blames Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for the failure to pass a health care overhaul bill. The chief of staff did not directly answer, saying only that the legislative branch is “designed” to be “extremely” complex and “slow-moving.” He said he has “respect” for lawmakers, adding that any leadership post is difficult because varying interests mean leaders cannot depend on any member to vote with them every time.

He did not say he had explained that to the president.

Kelly’s appearance in the White House briefing room was a rare move. Chiefs of staff often hit the Sunday political shows, but do not often brief reporters from the podium. White House officials are eager to downplay allegations that Trump and Kelly are feuding. That includes Trump.

At an event minutes after Kelly left the briefing room, Trump called his chief of staff “one of the finest people I’ve ever known,” adding that he is “fortunate to have him” running the White House.

One matter Kelly did not sidestep were those same allegations, joking as he took over the briefing from Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders that he had just talked to Trump and was “pretty sure” he won’t be fired on Thursday.

Trump’s top staffer pulled back the curtain a bit about his own dealings with lawmakers, saying he often calls those who say critical things about him or expresses a “misconception” about a White House policy or action. He described those conversations as “grown-up,” revealing he “sometimes” takes what members tell him straight to Trump.

About critical things lawmakers say about Trump, Kelly said the president “has the right to defend himself.” Sometimes that happens early in the morning via his personal Twitter account — but his chief of staff said he was not brought in to control Trump’s social media habits.

Rather, Kelly said he took the job to manage the information flow to Trump. He talked about having taken steps to ensure the president hears all sides of an argument, and receives more options before making a final decision.

Asked if the president’s tweets make his job more difficult, Kelly responded, “No.”

Kelly did not say whether the American people should be concerned about a war with North Korea over its nuclear arms and long-range missile programs. But he did say they should be concerned about the North’s missile arsenal, which might now have the range to hit the United States — especially its Pacific Ocean territories such as Guam.

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