Feb 18, 2018

The facts on Kelly's future

Kelly testifies before Congress in July. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Anyone who claims to have gnostic wisdom about John Kelly's future in the White House should prepare to be embarrassed. Not even Donald Trump knows what will happen.

That said, I've chatted with people close to every part of this saga. And I've learned four facts that I hope will help you make sense of all the messy reporting, gossip, innuendo, and Beltway speculation about the president’s chief of staff.

1. Privately, Trump is always looking for excuses to bash Kelly. Trump has long chafed at Kelly's efforts to control him. He genuinely resented Kelly's claim to Fox News’ Bret Baier that Trump had “evolved” on immigration. So Kelly's bungling of the Rob Porter disaster just cemented a view the president would have held regardless.

  • "If he's so good, if he knows all this stuff, well how come the first time he gets a problem like this he doesn't know what to do?” Trump told one associate of Kelly. “He wants to handle me, but doesn't know how to handle problems like this."

2. Trump hasn’t made an ask. People very close to Kevin McCarthy, Gary Cohn and Mick Mulvaney — the top three contenders to replace Kelly — tell me definitively that the president has not broached the subject with them. There's a sense among their allies that the president may want themto come to him and ask for the job, which would be in character for Trump. However, I doubt any of them would do so, because if they did they'd have to take the job on Trump's terms.

  • Trump has been asking third parties about these men: "What do you think about Kevin?", "What do you think about Mick?", "What should we do about Gary?" Trump values the advice of all three men. He views Cohn as "a total killer" who's "done it all on Wall Street" even though he's a "globalist." Trump regularly asks Mulvaney for his thoughts on matters ranging far beyond his Budget portfolio, including immigration, healthcare, and what he thinks of certain White House officials. Same with McCarthy.

3. Kelly has lots of enemies in the building. Many White House staff feel Kelly walked in the door with a condescending "daddy's here now" attitude. Based on leaks I've received from inside the building, the chief of staff has lost the support of a good number of his subordinates. Several senior staff have privately questioned his honesty. Several officials told me they believe he lied about how he handled the Rob Porter disaster (His story directly contradicts the story the White House press shop told the media in real time.)

Bottom line: Trump resents Kelly, and no longer gives him the benefit of the doubt. But he hasn’t decided what to do about that.

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  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9 a.m. ET: 1,134,418 — Total deaths: 60,115 — Total recoveries: 233,689Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 9 a.m. ET: 278,458 — Total deaths: 7,159 — Total recoveries: 9,897Map.
  3. Public health latest: The CDC is recommending Americans wear face coverings in public to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. The federal government will cover the costs of COVID-19 treatment for the uninsured, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said.
  4. 2020 latest: "I think a lot of people cheat with mail-in voting," President Trump said of the 2020 election, as more states hold primaries by mail. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said Friday that every county in the state opted to expand mail-in voting for the state's June 2 primary.
  5. Business updates: America's small business bailout is off to a bad start. The DOT is urging airlines to refund passengers due to canceled or rescheduled flights, but won't take action against airlines that provide vouchers or credits.
  6. Oil latest: The amount of gas American drivers are consuming dropped to levels not seen in more than 25 years, government data shows. Trump is calling on the Energy Department to find more places to store oil.
  7. Tech updates: Twitter will allow ads containing references to the coronavirus under certain use cases.
  8. U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt: Senators call for independent investigation into firing of Navy captain.
  9. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  10. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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