May 14, 2017

Scoop: Trump, irked at cabinet and staff, mulls sweeping shake-up

Andrew Harnik / AP

At the urging of longtime friends and outside advisers, most of whom he consults after dark, President Trump is considering a "huge reboot" that could take out everyone from Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon, to counsel Don McGahn and press secretary Sean Spicer, White House sources tell me.

Trump is also irritated with several Cabinet members, the sources said.

"He's frustrated, and angry at everyone," said one of the confidants.

The conversations intensified this week as the aftermath of the Comey firing pushed the White House from chaos into crisis. Trump's friends are telling him that many of his top aides don't know how to work with him, and point out that his approval ratings aren't rising, but the leaks are.

"The advice he's getting is to go big — that he has nothing to lose," the confidant said. "The question now is how big and how bold. I'm not sure he knows the answer to that yet."

If Trump follows through, his innermost White House circle would shrink from a loop to a straight line of mid-30s family members with scant governing experience: Jared and Ivanka. So while the fighting and leaking might ease, the problems may not because it's the president, not the staff, calling the shots.

One note of caution: Trump often talks about firing people when things go south and does not follow through on it. So it's possible these conversations are his way of venting, and seeking reassurance.

And it all could take a while: Trump heads out on his first international trip at the end of the week. Also, there's an internal argument for minimizing drama by cutting people out of the information flow rather than firing them. So the existing structure may get "one more college try," a trusted adviser said.,

Friends say that if Trump goes with a grand shakeup, his implicit message would be: "I get it. I'm moving on. I get that I can do a better job." A top aide added: "He's never going to say he did a bad job."

The sources say Trump feels ill-served by not just his staff but also by several of his Cabinet officials. Trump has two complaints about Cabinet members: Either they're tooting their own horns too much, or they're insufficiently effusive in praising him as a brilliant diplomat, etc. Among the cross-currents:

  • His friend Wilbur Ross at Commerce this week took what was perceived as a victory lap on a China trade announcement that does little new in actuality.
  • Attorney General Jeff Sessions made a big announcement about increasing prison sentences, at the same time that Jared is working on criminal-justice reform.
  • HHS Secretary Tom Price shares the blame for the glacial pace of health-care legislation.

No Cabinet member is expected to go this soon, but a West Wing shuffle looks likely. One obstacle to recruiting new top aides is finding people who would have real clout with a president not prone to enforced order.

One of the few top officials winning Trump's praise is SecState Rex Tillerson, who's on "Meet The Press" this morning (taped yesterday in Texas) defending his boss.

This story was first published in Axios AM, our early morning guide to important news in business, politics, tech and media. Sign up here.

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