Rest easier, official Washington: President Donald Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, says he’s not going anywhere.
One of the men protecting the U.S. from “chaos,” in the provocative words of Republican Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, surprised reporters on Thursday by conducting the White House’s daily news briefing himself. His appearance followed recent reports that he’s unhappy in his job and has considered leaving.
Vanity Fair, for example, reported on Wednesday that Kelly is “miserable in his job and is remaining out of a sense of duty to keep Trump from making some sort of disastrous decision,” citing two Republican officials the magazine didn’t name.
Without naming any particular publication, Kelly led off by insisting that he has no plans to quit and doesn’t expect to be fired.
“I am not so frustrated in this job that I’m thinking of leaving,” he said, with the barest hint of a grin. “Unless things change, I’m not quitting, I’m not getting fired, and I don’t think I’ll fire anyone tomorrow.”
The first reporter Kelly called on naturally asked whether that meant he is at least somewhat frustrated.
“No, I’m not frustrated,” he said. “This is really, really hard work, running the United States of America. I don’t run it. But I’m working for someone who’s dedicated to serving the country in the way he’s talked about for a number of years.”
No ‘Iron Hand’
He also brushed aside reports suggesting he’s taken firmer control of the White House staff than his predecessor, Reince Priebus, and cut off freewheeling access to Trump and the Oval Office.
“Is this the iron hand that I brought to the staff?” the former Marine general said, with apparent sarcasm. “I just brought some organization to it.”
“It’s funny, you, I read in the paper, you all know you write it, that I have been a failure in controlling the president or a failure in controlling his tweeting and all that,” he continued. “Again, I was not brought to this job to control anything but the flow of information to our president so that he can make the best decisions.”
“I restrict no one, by the way, to go in to see him,” he said. “We go in now, rather than onesies and twosies, we go in and help him collectively what he needs to understand to make these vital decisions.”
He called the president “Mr. Trump” at least twice — a departure from White House custom in which staff members publicly refer to the office-holder as “The President”– and said previous presidents had left a number of problems for the White House to resolve.
“I don’t mean any criticism of Mr. Trump’s predecessors,” he said. “But there are an awful lot of things that in my view have been kicked down the road.”
He went on to take additional questions from reporters, avoiding those from wire services and major papers — intentionally or not — and addressing correspondents he didn’t know as “you.” Asked more about his frustrations, he instead described the president’s frustrations.
“One of his frustrations is you, all of you,” he said. “It is astounding to me how much is misreported. I will give you the benefit of the doubt that you’re operating off leaks, whatever you call them. Maybe develop some better sources.”
He said Trump has also been surprised and frustrated by Congress.
“Our government is designed to be slow, and it is. His sense, I think — as a man who was outside of the Washington arena, a businessman, much more of a man of action, his great — I would say, his great frustration is the process that he now finds himself, because in his view the solutions are obvious.”
He ticked off a list of issues — health care, taxes, infrastructure development and the military. “To him, these all seem like obvious things that need to be done to protect the American people, bring jobs back,” Kelly said.
Kelly concluded by calling on Raghubir Goyal, a reporter for an Indian publication who is known for his convoluted questions. After speaking about U.S.-Indian relations, he left to a chorus of shouting from reporters who’d been ignored during the briefing.
“I want to get paid next time,” he joked to reporters who thanked him after a ceremony announcing Trump’s Homeland Security secretary nominee later in the day.
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