Kelly steps in to im­pose or­der for pres­i­dent

Suc­cess may de­pend on the author­ity he is granted


Pres­i­dent Trump is try­ing to take com­mand of his floun­der­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion by en­list­ing a re­tired four-star Ma­rine gen­eral as his White House chief of staff, em­pow­er­ing a no-non­sense dis­ci­plinar­ian to trans­form a dys­func­tional West Wing into the “fine­tuned ma­chine” the pres­i­dent has bragged of run­ning but which has not yet ma­te­ri­al­ized.

John F. Kelly will be sworn in Mon­day at the nadir of Trump’s pres­i­dency, with his­tor­i­cally low ap­proval rat­ings, a stalled leg­isla­tive agenda and an es­ca­lat­ing Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion that casts a dark cloud.

Trump en­vi­sions Kelly ex­e­cut­ing his or­ders with mil­i­tary pre­ci­sion and steely grav­i­tas, and with­out tend­ing to out­side po­lit­i­cal mo­ti­va­tions or fret­ting about palace in­trigue, ac­cord­ing to Trump con­fi­dants. The pres­i­dent re­placed Reince Priebus with Kelly, who had what Trump con­sid­ers a star run as home­land se­cu­rity sec­re­tary, in the hope of pro­ject­ing over­all tough­ness and of in­spir­ing the re­spect — and even fear — that has eluded him on Capi­tol Hill, where fel­low Repub­li­cans last week de­fied the White House on health care and Rus­sian

But no mat­ter how de­ci­sive his lead­er­ship, Kelly alone can­not turn Trump’s vi­sion into real­ity. War­ring in­ter­nal fac­tions that have stirred chaos, stoked sus­pi­cions and free­lanced poli­cies for six straight months may not eas­ily sub­mit to Kelly’s rule. And the pres­i­dent — whose rash im­pulses rou­tinely have sab­o­taged the best ef­forts of his se­nior aides — has shown no will­ing­ness to be tamed.

“Kelly is an in­cred­i­bly dis­ci­plined per­son who could bring or­der to the process if the an­i­mals in the zoo be­have,” said John E. McLaugh­lin, a for­mer act­ing di­rec­tor of the CIA who served in seven ad­min­is­tra­tions. “The dan­ger he has is that Trump will be Trump.”

Kelly got a quick in­tro­duc­tion to his new life on Satur­day: an an­gry tweet storm from Trump in which he told Se­nate Repub­li­cans to “Get smart!” and change cham­ber rules to make it eas­ier to pass his pri­or­i­ties, say­ing that the sen­a­tors “look like fools.”

If Kelly has been re­cruited to bring or­der to a tur­bu­lent White House, the first de­ci­sion he must make is where to con­cen­trate his en­er­gies.

There is not a sin­gle model for White House chiefs of staff, as all are de­riv­a­tive of the pres­i­dent’s style and pref­er­ences. But broadly, chiefs of staff can be viewed as ei­ther man­ag­ing the pres­i­dent or man­ag­ing the govern­ment, man­ag­ing up or man­ag­ing down and out.

In Trump’s White House, given the per­son­al­ity of the pres­i­dent and the clash­ing world views among the se­nior staff, Kelly might be forced to do both.

“It will be a chal­lenge for some­one who has demon­strated great dis­ci­pline, Gen­eral Kelly, to be able to in­tro­duce Pres­i­dent Trump to some of the dis­ci­pline he should have in the Oval Of­fice,” said An­drew H. Card, who was Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s first White House chief of staff. “Great gen­er­als do not al­low im­pulse to dic­tate how they are go­ing to in­spire other peo­ple to do their jobs. Gen­er­als ap­pre­ci­ate the con­se­quence of de­ci­sions.”

No one dis­putes that Trump’s White House lacks dis­ci­pline. This dy­namic was not an ac­ci­dent. It was de­signed that way by the pres­i­dent-elect dur­ing the tran­si­tion. Ex­perts on govern­ment man­age­ment knew from the minute Trump named Priebus as his first chief of staff and anointed Stephen K. Ban­non as chief strate­gist with vir­tual co­equal stand­ing that this was go­ing to be a White House with com­pet­ing power cen­ters.

These days, there are three camps in the Trump White House, fac­tions that some­times meld: fam­ily, rep­re­sented by daugh­ter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kush­ner; Trump cam­paign loy­al­ists, in­clud­ing Ban­non and coun­selor Kellyanne Con­way; and GOP es­tab­lish­ment fig­ures, such as Vice Pres­i­dent Pence and other se­nior aides.

Kelly, who comes from none of those camps, is be­ing grafted onto the ex­ist­ing body. He is well liked by all three fac­tions and has forged a par­tic­u­larly close bond with two mem­bers of the Cabi­net: Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son and De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis. The three men have formed a rap­port as older, calmer pres­ences in Trump’s or­bit nav­i­gat­ing tricky pol­icy di­rec­tives that fre­quently over­lap.

In the White House, Kelly could form a nat­u­ral al­liance with na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser H.R. McMaster, a three-star Army gen­eral who has strug­gled to take full con­trol over the na­tional se­cu­rity process.

As some ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials texted and called each other Satur­day to dis­cuss Kelly, there was wide­spread angst, since few of them were fa­mil­iar with his lead­er­ship style.

To get a grasp of his per­son­al­ity, peo­ple fa­mil­iar with Kelly urged White House aides and agency lead­ers to read books by con­ser­va­tive writer Bing West, a re­tired Ma­rine, who has ex­ten­sively chron­i­cled Kelly’s mil­i­tary ten­ure in ti­tles such as “The Strong­est Tribe” and “The March Up.”

One par­tic­u­lar scene in “The March Up” was passed around by sev­eral Trump as­so­ciates as a sign of how Kelly op­er­ates: tersely and with lit­tle tol­er­ance for com­sanc­tions. plaints.

Af­ter Kelly saw the bod­ies of Iraqi civil­ians along­side a road, West writes, he warned his com­man­ders that so many civil­ian ca­su­al­ties was not ac­cept­able — a point that prompted a de­fen­sive re­sponse from the com­man­ders about how they were just try­ing to pro­tect their troops.

“‘Don’t go there with me,’ [Kelly] shot back, cut­ting off de­bate,” West writes. “He had been in the in­fantry thirty years and knew the range of ev­ery weapon.”

Trump ad­vis­ers also checked in with friends at the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity, ask­ing what they had gleaned from Kelly’s time there. They shared two im­me­di­ate take­aways: first, that Kelly had not been directed with a heavy hand from the White House on whom to hire as his deputies, and sec­ond, that he is driven by duty and a pas­sion for en­forc­ing the law rather than by ide­ol­ogy.

Through­out his life, Trump has ven­er­ated mil­i­tary valor, and he re­cruited sev­eral gen­er­als into his ad­min­is­tra­tion, in­clud­ing Kelly. He ad­mired Kelly’s de­ci­sive moves to crack down on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion and bor­der crime and first sought him out for the chief of staff role in mid-May. Trump was re­buffed mul­ti­ple times un­til Kelly agreed this past week to take the job.

Even as con­fi­dants sug­gested other op­tions for chief of staff, Trump kept com­ing back to Kelly. The col­lapse this week of the Repub­li­can health-care bill sped up the pres­i­dent’s timetable to re­place Priebus, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the move.

Kelly comes into the post as more of an equal to the pres­i­dent than Priebus, both gen­er­a­tionally — Kelly is 67 and Trump is 71, whereas Priebus is 45 — and in stature.

“The kinds of peo­ple that Trump par­tic­u­larly likes are peo­ple with bucks — money — and braids — the mil­i­tary,” said Martha Ku­mar, di­rec­tor of the White House Tran­si­tion Project.

Al­though Kelly does not bring leg­isla­tive ex­pe­ri­ence, Trump sees him as part of the so­lu­tion to his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s leg­isla­tive woes, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the de­ci­sion to bring Kelly to the White House. In­stead of hir­ing an in­sider who would in­gra­ti­ate him­self or her­self on Capi­tol Hill, Trump wanted some­one who adds stature and com­mands re­spect from con­gres­sional lead­ers, the peo­ple said.

Over re­cent months, Trump con­cluded that Priebus’s close re­la­tion­ship with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) be­came a hin­drance, giv­ing Ryan lever­age and in­sight into the work­ings of the White House. He re­sented the sug­ges­tion that Priebus was a “Trump whis­perer” who had to ex­plain Trump to Ryan and other GOP lead­ers, these peo­ple said.

So far, most of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ac­com­plish­ments have been over­turn­ing or re­vers­ing Obama-era poli­cies. But Ku­mar said Kelly could help re­ori­ent the White House around a “pos­i­tive pol­icy agenda.”

When Kelly made the rounds on Capi­tol Hill be­fore his nom­i­na­tion hear­ings in Jan­uary, he did not know Trump very well and asked peo­ple there to share sto­ries about the pres­i­dent-elect. He wanted to know how Trump made de­ci­sions. Told that Trump rel­ished com­pet­ing power cen­ters around him, Kelly gri­maced and said noth­ing.

Those who knew Trump be­fore he be­came pres­i­dent knew that his man­age­ment ap­proach, short at­ten­tion span and gen­eral lack of dis­ci­pline were a recipe for trou­ble. Trump’s early tran­si­tion plan­ners en­vi­sioned a White House ta­ble of or­ga­ni­za­tion that started with a strong chief of staff and that in­cluded clear lines of author­ity and lim­ited di­rect ac­cess to the pres­i­dent.

But Trump got what he wanted: a White House in which the power and in­flu­ence of in­di­vid­u­als ebbed and flowed, with sta­tus af­fected by Trump’s aims of the mo­ment, his lim­ited loy­alty to­ward any of those in his em­ploy and the back­stab­bing that has been a con­stant fea­ture al­most from Day 1.

Trump’s tran­si­tion doc­u­ments in­cluded a lengthy memo about White House struc­ture, based on past ad­min­is­tra­tions. “They didn’t fol­low the prod­uct at all,” said a per­son with di­rect knowl­edge of what tran­spired as Trump was set­ting up his ad­min­is­tra­tion. “They did it in­stinc­tively … The pres­i­dent-elect didn’t want to say no to any­body.”

The re­sult was the White House that now ex­ists, pop­u­lated by ad­vis­ers with com­pet­ing ide­olo­gies that re­flect an ad­min­is­tra­tion that is an amal­gam of pop­ulist na­tion­al­ists, hard-line con­ser­va­tives and es­tab­lish­ment Repub­li­cans — and a few Democrats. Trump saw this group­ing as his win­ning coali­tion in the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign and as en­com­pass­ing his dis­parate views on the is­sues, but it has added greatly to the lack of co­her­ence once he took of­fice.

“The only way a chief of staff can be suc­cess­ful is if he is em­pow­ered by the pres­i­dent, and I never had any feel­ing that Reince Priebus was fully em­pow­ered by the pres­i­dent,” said Rep. Char­lie Dent (R-Pa.). “The suc­cess of Kelly will be sig­nif­i­cantly de­pen­dent upon how much author­ity Pres­i­dent Trump grants him.”

The en­vi­ron­ment is poised to change in the Kelly era. The new chief of staff is ex­pected to have full con­trol over the Oval Of­fice and sched­ule, of­fi­cials said. Trusted aides such as Hope Hicks, Dan Scavino and Keith Schiller — as well as se­nior ad­vis­ers such as Kush­ner, Ban­non and Con­way — will con­tinue to have ca­sual ac­cess to the pres­i­dent.

But Kelly is ex­pected to have a far tighter grip than Priebus was able to ex­er­cise on who par­tic­i­pates in meet­ings and the process by which pol­icy de­ci­sions are made.

One pos­si­bil­ity men­tioned by Kelly as­so­ciates as a deputy chief of staff is Chris­tian Mar­rone, a Repub­li­can who served in Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion as chief of staff to Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Jeh John­son. Mar­rone de­clined to com­ment.

Many of Trump’s top aides chafed at tak­ing in­struc­tions from Priebus. When An­thony Scara­mucci was hired as com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor this month, he re­ceived an as­sur­ance from Trump that he would re­port to the pres­i­dent, not to the chief of staff.

Chris Whip­ple, au­thor of “The Gate­keep­ers,” a his­tory of White House chiefs of staff, said Kelly’s task will be “mis­sion im­pos­si­ble” if his con­trol is not ab­so­lute.

“If Scara­mucci re­ports di­rectly to Pres­i­dent Trump, therein lies dis­as­ter,” Whip­ple said. “You can’t have a loose can­non rolling on the deck. Kelly has to make sure he’s in charge of the White House staff, in charge of the in­for­ma­tion flow to the pres­i­dent, and in charge of ex­e­cut­ing pol­icy. And fun­da­men­tally, he’s got to be able to go in, close the door, and tell Trump what he does not want to hear.”


John F. Kelly is ex­pected to be sworn in Mon­day as White House chief of staff, re­plac­ing Reince Priebus, who was ousted Fri­day.

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