White House chief of staff, John Kelly, was brought into the position to instill military order, many calling him the “adult in the room.” A notoriously complicated position, constantly under fire from all sides — a military flag officer seems a likely candidate for success. Kelly is only the second general officer to helm the West Wing, but his successful execution of that post is now being called into question.
The latest in a series of what are being called missteps was Kelly’s initial defense of former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, accused by two ex wives of domestic violence. Rumors began swirling on Saturday that Trump was now considering Mick Mulvaney, current White House budget director and head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as a potential successor, when reports in the New York Times claimed that Kelly had offered to tender his resignation.
The retired four star Marine Corps General first stepped up for the Trump administration as the Secretary of Homeland Security. Kelly then took over the chief of staff position when Reince Priebus was let go in July 2017, with the President saying Kelly was the “true star of his administration.”
Since then, Kelly has been known for better managing the chaos on Pennsylvania Avenue and making himself available to media — striking a tough but affable image as the father of a fallen soldier and the son of Irish Catholic immigrants. But he would also come under fire from mostly the left for some of his less politically polished comments and actions.
The first to raise the ire of the left came during the national debate over confederate war memorial statues when Kelly described Robert E Lee as an “honorable man.” Next in October, Kelly made a rare appearance at the White House press briefing and declared that he would only take questions from reporters who had a personal connection to a fallen soldier, followed by those who knew a gold star family.
Then there was the infamous tiff with Democratic congresswoman Frederica Wilson over the condolence call President Trump made to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson who was killed in an ambush in Niger. Kelly had his boss’ back but was accused of racism in the process.
But the solidarity between POTUS and his chief of staff would begin to show signs of cracking in January when Trump appeared to believe Kelly was accused him of backing away from his promise to build a border wall. Then the worst came this past week amid the Rob Porter allegations and subsequent firing.
As one might expect of a senior leader in the chain of command, Kelly first issued a solid defense of Porter calling him “a friend, a confidant and a trusted professional.” Later, when a photo was published showing one of the women with a black eye, Kelly said he was “shocked” but continued to stand by him.
But by Wednesday night, Porter was gone. Reports then began to suggest that Kelly had known about the abuse allegations since last Fall, casting a shadow over his handling of things and questioning whether the “adult in the room” had failed to control the juvenile behaviors of his charges.
Kelly has been both praised and scolded for his willingness to speak out and express an opinion, a break from the norm for chiefs of staff. He drew additional fire this week, on top of the Porter issues, for saying some immigrants are “too lazy to get off their asses” to register for government protections.
Former RNC Chairman Michael Steele addressed the openly vocal Kelly saying, “The chief of staff should not be in a position where he’s expressing his opinion on anything. He should be expressing what the president wants. That at least makes it easy for him to deal with some of this.”
Kelly’s future is still being debated around the beltway, with sources saying the President is unhappy with his performance and considering replacements like Mulvaney. This would mark the third chief of staff in just over a year, amongst rapid turnover of other staff positions, throwing negative light about management prowess onto an already embattled administration.
Featured image courtesy of the Associated Press.