Trump’s chief of staff: He’s not leav­ing job or be­ing fired

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BY JONATHAN LEMIRE As­so­ci­ated Press

Wash­ing­ton — The re­tired gen­eral brought in to in­still or­der at a chaotic White House made a rare pub­lic ap­pear­ance Thurs­day to de­clare he’s stay­ing in his post — and to in­sist that the pres­i­dent’s volatile Twit­ter feed wasn’t mak­ing his job harder.

“Un­less things change, I’m not quit­ting, I’m not get­ting fired and I don’t think I’ll fire any­one to­mor­row,” chief of staff John Kelly told re­porters dur­ing a sur­prise show­ing at the daily White House briefing. “I don’t think I’m be­ing fired to­day, and I’m not so frus­trated in this job that I’m think­ing of leav­ing.”

The ex­tra­or­di­nary state­ment drew a bit of laugh­ter, but it re­flected on­go­ing tur­moil in the top ranks of a White House riven by staff changes, in­ter­nal feuds and re­ports that Kelly is grow­ing in­creas­ingly frus­trated in his po­si­tion.

Trump, in turn, has as at times chafed at Kelly’s ef­forts to reign in the free­wheel­ing, open-door style that marked his busi­ness ca­reer and early months in the White House.

The pres­i­dent has taken to leav­ing the Oval Of­fice at times to en­gage aides, so­licit opin­ions and re-cre­ate the un­fet­tered feel­ing he has told al­lies he misses, ac­cord­ing to two peo­ple who have spo­ken re­cently to the pres­i­dent but were not au­tho­rized to dis­cuss pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions.

Kelly pushed back against re­cent re­ports that he and Trump were clash­ing but ac­knowl­edged he has or­ga­nized the White House more tightly and changed how peo­ple in­ter­act with the pres­i­dent.

“I re­strict no one, by the way, from go­ing in to see him,” Kelly said. “But when we go in to see him now, rather than the one­sies and twosies, we go in and help him col­lec­tively un­der­stand what — what he needs to un­der­stand to make th­ese vi­tal de­ci­sions.”

Kelly called his chief of staff po­si­tion the hard­est and the most im­por­tant job he’s ever held — but not the best one. That would be en­listed Marine sergeant in­fantry­man.

Kelly’s 23-minute ap­pear­ance, the lat­est in a se­ries of pub­lic procla­ma­tions of loy­alty to Trump from his un­der­lings, un­der­scored the chal­lenges he faces work­ing for an ide­o­log­i­cally flex­i­ble and at times bel­li­cose pres­i­dent.

He said he hoped for a diplo­matic so­lu­tion to the North Korea cri­sis even though Trump has ridiculed the no­tion. He in­sisted that the White House “will stand with those Amer­i­can ci­ti­zens in Puerto Rico un­til the job is done” just hours af­ter Trump ap­peared to threaten to end re­lief ef­forts to the hur­ri­cane-rav­aged is­land. And he de­nied that Trump’s im­pul­sive and some­times in­flam­ma­tory tweets made his job more dif­fi­cult but in­sisted he made no ef­fort to curb them.

Kelly said he’s read that “I’ve been a fail­ure at con­trol­ling the pres­i­dent, or a fail­ure at con­trol­ling his tweet­ing, and all that.” But he added that he was “not brought to this job to con­trol any­thing but the flow of in­for­ma­tion to our pres­i­dent, so that he can make the best de­ci­sions.”

De­spite Kelly’s pub­lic procla­ma­tions, there have been mo­ments of fric­tion between the men.

Trump has grown ir­ri­tated with some of the re­stric­tions placed on him by Kel- ly and has vented to friends that he does not like the me­dia de­pic­tion of the chief of staff clean­ing up a dys­func­tional White House, ac­cord­ing to the peo­ple who have spo­ken with him.

Kelly, mean­while, has been dis­mayed by Trump’s snip­ing at fel­low Repub­li­cans and his fo­cus on cul­ture war is­sues, like NFL play­ers kneel­ing dur­ing the na­tional an­them, that dis­tract from his leg­isla­tive agenda. But the chief of staff in­sisted that widely-shared pho­tos of him ap­pear­ing frus­trated dur­ing Trump’s speeches do not re­flect his ac­tual mood.

“You guys with the cam­eras al­ways catch me when I’m think­ing hard, and it looks like I’m frus­trated and mad,” Kelly said to laugh­ter, his Bos­ton ac­cent pok­ing through.

He was far more se­ri­ous when dis­cussing some of the chal­lenges fac­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion and na­tion. Kelly said North Korea was his fore­most con­cern, fear­ful that its bur­geon­ing nu­clear pro­gram could in­spire other na­tions to fol­low suit. He de­clared that Py­ongyang “sim­ply can­not” be al­lowed to de­velop weapons that could reach the U.S. main­land.

“Right now, we think the threat is man­age­able,” Kelly said. But he added, “Let’s hope diplo­macy works.”

Kelly also said in­ac­cu­rate me­dia re­ports are his great­est “frus­tra­tion.”

Su­san Walsh / AP

“I don’t think I’m be­ing fired to­day,” White House Chief of Staff John Kelly says.

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