White House Infighting Spills Into Public View
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
The changes at the White House keep coming. President Trump tweeted this afternoon that he has named a new chief of staff. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly now takes that job.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
That means Reince Priebus is stepping aside. He didn't sound too disappointed about that in an interview tonight on CNN.
(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)
REINCE PRIEBUS: He has the best political instincts. He's - well, hang on a second.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yeah.
PRIEBUS: He knows, I think, intuitively when things need to change. I've seen it now for a year and a half on this wild ride with the president that I loved being a part of. But he intuitively determined that it was time to do something differently. And I think he's right.
MCEVERS: NPR's Geoff Bennett is with us now to talk about this. Hey, Geoff.
GEOFF BENNETT, BYLINE: Hey, Kelly.
MCEVERS: So the news that John Kelly is in and Reince Priebus is out comes just after a stunning takedown of Priebus yesterday by the newly hired White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci. And again, this news was revealed, as many things are, on Twitter. What did the president say?
BENNETT: Well, he tweeted. He said, I'm pleased to inform you that I have just named General Secretary John F. Kelly as White House chief of staff. He's a great American and a great leader. John has also done a spectacular job at Homeland Security. He's been a true star of my administration. And then in a third tweet the president writes, I would like to thank Reince Priebus for his service and dedication to his country. We accomplished a lot together, and I am proud of him.
But I would add that, you know, from the moment that President Trump took office, Reince Priebus was really the source of almost constant speculation about how long he would last in this White House that has just really been, you know, driven by these warring power centers. And then it all came to a head, as you said, this past week with Anthony Scaramucci openly accusing Reince Priebus of being the source of White House leaks. And then there was that stunning takedown of him in that expletive-laden interview he gave to The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza.
And so, you know, to this point, the president had done or said nothing to indicate that what Scaramucci had done in such a public way was not in keeping with what the president wanted. The White House press secretary would not explicitly say that the White House or the president, for that matter, had confidence in Reince Priebus. And we know that the president was looking at General Kelly.
MCEVERS: What is your sense from your sources and what you're hearing about whether John Kelly will have a better chance in this job than Priebus did?
BENNETT: You know, as a general, John Kelly comes from a chain-of-command structure. What we know about this president is that he prefers more of a spokes-in-the-wheel structure where everyone has access to him and he's the keeper of all the information. A traditional chief of staff is really a gatekeeper who determines who is and isn't allowed to get on the president's calendar, who strategizes about how to push the president's agenda.
I did not have the sense - and by many accounts, lots of people didn't have the sense - that Reince Priebus was ever really able to fill that role, that the president really never just - never allowed him to fill that traditional role. I'm interested to see if John Kelly is able to fill the more traditional role that a White House chief of staff has played and, frankly, having more of a say about staffing issues, the messaging and then bringing some sense of decorum and discipline to the White House.
MCEVERS: And Priebus wasn't the only one taking hits from the new White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci. He also was targeting Steve Bannon.
BENNETT: Yeah, in that - in that interview, he had some choice four-letter words for Steve Bannon. The backstory here is that Scaramucci had been eyeing a position in the White House, we understand, for the last six months. And it felt like Priebus blocked him from that, Priebus and to a lesser degree Steve Bannon. And so that was really the core of his issue with the two of them.
Now, we know that Sean Spicer, the former - or outgoing, rather - press secretary, also had some issues with Scaramucci. He and Priebus didn't feel like he had the temperament to really work in the White House in that - in a key role. We know how the story with Sean Spicer ended. He resigned. And here you have Reince Priebus on his way out as well.
MCEVERS: NPR's Geoff Bennett, thank you.
BENNETT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.