President Donald Trump’s top spokeswoman suggested her boss grew frustrated with outgoing Chief of Staff John Kelly disagreeing with his policies — and sometimes taking disputes public.
“I think he brought a lot of structure to the White House that was needed at the time he came in,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said of his second chief of staff. “That being said, I think the president is looking for somebody who believes in what we’re doing.”
Trump announced Saturday afternoon that the retired Marine Corps general would leave his post at the end of the year, calling him a “great guy” even though they often clashed and had reportedly stopped speaking.
Pressed during a Politico-sponsored forum about whether she believed Kelly was not on board with Trump’s agenda, Sanders brought up times Kelly disagreed with the president.
When senior aides disagree with the commander in chief and his agenda, she said, “they need to do that behind closed doors.” Sanders also noted it is the president’s job to make decisions and “once he’s made them, it’s our job as a staff …. to implement them.”
Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, was the frontrunner to take over for Kelly but turned down the president’s offer. Instead, he is leaving the VP’s office to work for a pro-Trump political action committee.
Trump earlier Tuesday said he is “interviewing a lot of … great people for chief of staff.”
Trump is looking for a new chief who has strong political instincts as he gears up for his expected re-election bid, Sanders said. Ayers fit that bill, but the president concluded Kelly does not.
Senior aides reportedly said Ayers was Plan A — and there is no Plan B, and no clear shortlist of candidates to replace Kelly.
Trump has tried to knock down those reports, as he did at the end of a wild border wall funding meeting with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.
“A lot of people want the job. … And I have some great people. A lot of friends of mine want it,” he said without naming names. “A lot of people that Chuck and Nancy know very well want it. I think people you’d like. … We’re in no rush.”
Trump promised to pick a new chief in “a week or two — maybe less.” He often has promised personnel moves or policy decisions in the same span, only to delay those decisions for a bevy of reasons.