Mar 17, 2018

John Kelly's day from hell

Photo: Win McNamee / Getty Images

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly started yesterday with prescient bravado.

What we’re hearing... The retired four-star Marine general told about 20 West Wing officials — including National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster — in the 8 a.m. senior staff meeting: This is on the record, since you’re all going to go out and tell the press, anyway.

On the Washington Post front page, above the fold, was the headline: "Trump plans to replace McMaster, maybe others."

Kelly stunned the room by declaring: We all read the same newspapers and watch the same shows. Contrary to what’s been reported, H.R. and I are still here.

  • Kelly then told the silent staffers: The press's worst day was when I came in. The press wants to take down the president. I stand between the press and the president. They have to take me down first.

Lindsay Reynolds, the first lady's chief of staff, broke the tension by joking: “We thought this was Black Friday — everybody gets fired.”

  • Economic adviser Gary Cohn topped her: “I can’t get fired. I already resigned.”
  • During senior staff meetings, the staff goes around the room, and General McMaster usually makes several orderly, numbered points.
  • Yesterday, he passed when his turn came.

All of this was before Kelly called in reporters for an off-the-record meeting (Axios didn't attend or make any agreement, so we're able to share the contents with you) where he acknowledged that Trump himself was probably responsible for a significant number of the stories about staffing chaos.

  • As we reported yesterday, and we told you in Axios PM, Kelly said it’s likely that Trump is talking to people outside the White House, who then talk to reporters.
  • Kelly also said that past cocaine use by Larry Kudlow, named this week to succeed Cohn, won’t be a problem for his security clearance, as it is public knowledge. Kelly joked that the 1990s were “a crazy time.”
  • Staffers were shocked that Kelly revealed to reporters that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, during a diplomatic swing through Africa, was suffering from a stomach bug and was using a toilet when Kelly told him to cut the trip short and return to Washington.

Be smart: Kelly defended McMaster at the senior staff meeting — even though the chief is widely known to be casting about for a replacement.

  • Now you'll better appreciate this bit in the WashPost story: "The mood inside the White House in recent days has verged on mania ... White House officials have begun betting about which staffer will be ousted next."

Go deeper ... "On Leadership" column in WashPost Sunday Business section, "Trump's 'cascade of chaos': When there's too much turnover at the top."

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U.S. coronavirus updates: Death toll tops 4,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The novel coronavirus has now killed more than 4,000 people in the U.S. — with over 1,000 deaths reported in New York City, per Johns Hopkins.

The state of play: President Trump said Tuesday it's "going to be a very painful two weeks," with projections indicating the virus could kill 100,000–240,000 Americans — even with strict social distancing guidelines in place.

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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

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  2. U.S.: Leads the world in confirmed cases. Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 189,633 — Total deaths: 4,081 — Total recoveries: 7,136.
  3. Business updates: Should you pay your rent or mortgage during the coronavirus pandemic? Find out if you are protected under the CARES Act.
  4. Public health updates: More than 400 long-term care facilities across the U.S. report patients with coronavirus — Older adults and people with underlying health conditions are more at risk, new data shows.
  5. Federal government latest: President Trump said the next two weeks would be "very painful," with projections indicating the virus could kill 100,000–240,000 Americans.
  6. Coronavirus in custody: Inmates in all U.S. federal prisons are set to enter a 14-day quarantine on April 1. A federal judge on Tuesday ordered U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release 10 detained immigrants who are at risk from COVID-19.
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  8. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

World coronavirus updates: UN warns of recession with "no parallel" to recent past

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

The novel coronavirus pandemic is the "greatest test" the world has faced together since the formation of the United Nations just after the Second World War ended in 1945, UN chief António Guterres said Tuesday.

The big picture: COVID-19 cases surged past 859,000 and the death toll exceeded 42,000 early Wednesday, per Johns Hopkins data. Italy reported more than 12,000 deaths.

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