Trump’s tweets sav­age ail­ing Puerto Rico

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Brian Ben­nett and Cath­leen Decker Los An­ge­les Times brian.ben­nett@la­times.com

With 85 per­cent of the is­land still lack­ing elec­tric­ity, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump tweeted that the U.S. ter­ri­tory is to blame for its predica­ment and that fed­eral aid will be lim­ited.

WASH­ING­TON — White House Chief of Staff John Kelly held a sur­prise news con­fer­ence Thurs­day that, while wide-rang­ing, clearly was in­tended to send one mes­sage: that he feels se­cure and sat­is­fied in his job, and frus­trated with news re­ports to the con­trary.

“I don’t be­lieve — and I just talked to the pres­i­dent — I don’t think I’m be­ing fired to­day. And I am not so frus­trated in this job that I’m think­ing of leav­ing,” he said joc­u­larly in his first mo­ments at the lectern.

“So,” he sum­ma­rized, “un­less things change, I’m not quit­ting, I’m not get­ting fired, and I don’t think I’ll fire any­one to­mor­row.”

Kelly an­swered re­porters’ ques­tions for about 30 min­utes, longer than most brief­ings by press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders, who on Thurs­day stood to the side.

Kelly ad­dressed weighty is­sues in­clud­ing about North Korea, Iran and im­mi­gra­tion.

But per­haps his most re­veal­ing com­ments were on how he sees his job of man­ag­ing the pres­i­dent, who can up­end any staff plans with a provoca­tive post on his Twit­ter ac­count.

The chief of staff said Trump’s tweets don’t make his job more dif­fi­cult. Still, he took the op­por­tu­nity to smooth over the back­lash from Trump’s tweets threat­en­ing a limit to the fed­eral govern­ment’s help for hur­ri­cane-bat­tered Puerto Rico. He also sug­gested some dif­fer­ence of ap­proach to­ward North Korea and Mex­ico, fre­quent tar­gets of Trump’s tweets and hard-line com­ments.

Kelly sug­gested that his hands-off at­ti­tude to the pres­i­dent’s tweets re­flected his broader sense of his job. “I was not brought to this job to con­trol any­thing,” he said, but to man­age the pres­i­dent’s in­put “so he can make the best de­ci­sions.”

Trump re­cently has tried to tamp down sug­ges­tions that Kelly was on the verge of re­sign­ing or be­ing fired, con­tend­ing that Kelly would be chief of staff for seven more years — to the end of a sec­ond Trump term.

Later Thurs­day, as he for­mally nom­i­nated Kelly’s deputy, Kirst­jen Nielsen, as the next sec­re­tary of the Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment, the pres­i­dent lauded Kelly, call­ing him “one of the finest peo­ple I have ever had the priv­i­lege to know.”

Since he was ap­pointed chief of staff July 28, Kelly has won good re­views from con­cerned Repub­li­cans on Capi­tol Hill, though re­cent praise from Sen. Bob Corker of Ten­nessee — that Kelly, De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis and Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son helped pre­vent “chaos” from Trump — an­gered the pres­i­dent.

The in­tense fo­cus on a staff mem­ber — even one who is a dec­o­rated, re­tired Marine gen­eral — has led to un­com­fort­able mo­ments for Kelly, which he tried to min­i­mize with hu­mor Thurs­day.

In Au­gust, he was pho­tographed look­ing sky­ward as Trump gave equal blame for the vi­o­lence in Char­lottesville, Va., to both the white su­prem­a­cists and the anti-racism coun­ter­protesters. Last month, he was pho­tographed with his hand to his head when Trump, speak­ing to the U.N. Gen­eral As­sem­bly, called North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un “Rocket Man.”

“You guys with the cam­eras al­ways catch me when I’m think­ing hard and it looks like I’m frus­trated and mad,” Kelly said.

On sev­eral is­sues, Kelly also sought to clar­ify com­ments from Trump in ways that went beyond stylis­tic. On Puerto Rico, he pro­vided as­sur­ance that the fed­eral govern­ment would be there long-term to help with re­build­ing. When he talked of Mex­ico, Kelly em­pha­sized his “great re­la­tion­ships” with Mex­i­can of­fi­cials, and put much blame for drug traf­fic on de­mand from Amer­i­can users.

Kelly said, as Trump has, that his big­gest fear is North Korea’s nu­clear am­bi­tions.

But Kelly ex­plic­itly said diplo­macy is cru­cial in deal­ing with Py­ongyang, while Trump has dis­par­aged Tiller­son as “wast­ing his time” try­ing to ne­go­ti­ate any­thing.

SU­SAN WALSH/AP

John Kelly, seen speak­ing Thurs­day, says Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s Twit­ter ac­tiv­ity doesn’t add dif­fi­culty to his job.

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