Kelly may have signed up for mis­sion im­pos­si­ble

New chief of staff’s hard­est job will by to stand up for the rule of law

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - JOHN PODESTA

As a for­mer White House chief of staff, the best ad­vice I could have given Gen. John Kelly has been over­taken by events: Don’t take the job.

Kelly, who has ren­dered ex­tra­or­di­nary ser­vice and sac­ri­fice to the na­tion, just signed up for what may truly be an im­pos­si­ble mis­sion: bring­ing dis­ci­pline, or­der and strate­gic fo­cus to the chaos that is the Trump White House.

To have any chance of suc­ceed­ing, he will have to ac­com­plish three ex­tra­or­di­nary tasks, all at odds with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s in­stincts.

First, dis­ci­pline. There’s no doubt the de­ci­sion to re­place Reince Priebus with Kelly was based on the hope that a for­mer fourstar Marine gen­eral could get this menagerie in line. You don’t have to com­pare the Trump White House to no-drama Obama or the but­toned-down Bush op­er­a­tions to know there is sim­ply no prece­dent in mod­ern his­tory for the cur­rent White House cul­ture of fac­tion­al­ism, in­fight­ing and lack of re­spect among se­nior staff mem­bers. Of course, most of Trump’s team are sim­ply mod­el­ling their be­hav­iour on that of the boss. His de­mean­ing treat­ment of Priebus and At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions signals that there are no boundaries in Trum­p­land, lead­ing to the un­pro­fes­sional ac­tions of now-for­mer com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor An­thony Scara­mucci. In­deed, press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders in­formed the pub­lic that the pres­i­dent “en­cour­ages” such be­hav­iour.

Kelly is walk­ing into a White House that looks more like a cock fight than an episode of “The West Wing.” (See Mooch, you can use that word with­out be­ing pro­fane.) The White House cul­ture will have to be shaken to its core. Kelly must be able to fire any­one at will, in­clud­ing to en­force a no-tol­er­ance pol­icy for be­hav­iour un­be­com­ing a se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial. Scara­mucci’s de­par­ture Mon­day is a good start, but Kelly will have to keep a tight rein on a White House staff that is used to few boundaries. And if there is go­ing to be an ex­cep­tion for Trump’s rel­a­tives, Kelly should get an ex­plicit com­mit­ment that even Jared Kush­ner and Ivanka Trump re­port through him — no end abounds.

The most dif­fi­cult dis­ci­pline prob­lem for Kelly, though, will not be the staff but Trump him­self. Early signs are not aus­pi­cious. The day af­ter ap­point­ing Kelly, Trump ranted on Twit­ter against Se­nate Re­pub­li­cans for fail­ure to pass their hor­rific health-care bill, which would have de­nied care to mil­lions of Amer­i­cans and raised costs for mil­lions more. I have no doubt that Kelly, un­like Priebus, can say no to power, but whether power will lis­ten is an­other mat­ter.

Kelly’s sec­ond task will be to re­store strate­gic di­rec­tion to Trump’s hap­haz­ard pol­icy-mak­ing process.

In do­mes­tic af­fairs, that will mean re-es­tab­lish­ing re­la­tion­ships with con­gres­sional lead­ers on both sides of the aisle. Trump’s cur­rent strat­egy of par­ti­san bul­ly­ing has been dis­as­trous, pro­duc­ing al­most no sig­nif­i­cant leg­is­la­tion in what has gen­er­ally been the most pro­duc­tive part of a new pres­i­dent’s time in of­fice. Other than rolling back some Obama reg­u­la­tions on be­half of spe­cial in­ter­ests, the only bill of sig­nif­i­cance that has passed is the Rus­sia sanc­tions bill that the White House op­posed.

Kelly can­not out­source the job of es­tab­lish­ing a work­ing re­la­tion­ship with con­gres­sional lead­ers to Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence or his con­gres­sional li­ai­son. The new chief of staff is known as a man of his word, and he has to use that rep­u­ta­tion to es­tab­lish a rap­port and find com­mon ground with Re­pub­li­cans and Democrats on is­sues such as in­fra­struc­ture, tax re­form and, yes, even a bi­par­ti­san ap­proach to im­prov­ing the Af­ford­able Care Act.

In in­ter­na­tional af­fairs, he has to help na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser H.R. McMaster and De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis fo­cus on the clear pri­or­i­ties of Rus­sia, the Mid­dle East and North Korea. With re­spect to the last, he might start by ask­ing why the White House has not even nom­i­nated an am­bas­sador to South Korea or filled any of the se­nior re­gional posts for Asia at State or De­fense. Kelly’s third task might be the hard­est. He has to pro­tect the in­tegrity and in­de­pen­dence of the Jus­tice De­part­ment and Spe­cial Coun­sel Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion from con­stant in­ter­fer­ence by the pres­i­dent and the White House. He has to be res­o­lute in de­fend­ing our con­sti­tu­tional norms and the rule of law. While it may not en­dear him to the pres­i­dent, Kelly will ac­tu­ally be help­ing Trump stay out of even more trou­ble.

I be­gan by not­ing that Kelly may have em­barked on mis­sion im­pos­si­ble, but the good news is that he does have a strong hand to play. The truth is that the pres­i­dent needs Kelly more than Kelly needs him. Trump sim­ply can­not af­ford to have Kelly walk with­out dis­as­trous con­se­quences. The new chief of staff should use that power to re­store dis­ci­pline and dig­nity to a White House sorely in need of both.

Joh Podesta was chair of Hil­lary Clin­ton’s 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, served as coun­sel­lor to Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and chief of staff to Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton.

He has to pro­tect the in­tegrity and in­de­pen­dence of the Jus­tice De­part­ment and Spe­cial Coun­sel Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion

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