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Trump Scrambles to Find Chief of Staff 12/11 06:15

   President Donald Trump is scrambling to find a new chief of staff after his 
first choice to replace John Kelly bailed at the last minute and several other 
potential successors signaled they weren't interested in the job.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Wanted: Top aide to most powerful leader in world. Chief 
qualification: Willing to take the job. Must also be prepared to tolerate 
regular undermining by boss and risk of steep legal bills. Post-employment 
prospects: Uncertain.

   President Donald Trump is scrambling to find a new chief of staff after his 
first choice to replace John Kelly bailed at the last minute and several other 
potential successors signaled they weren't interested in the job.

   Back to square one, Trump is mulling over a list of at least four potential 
candidates after Nick Ayers, Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff, took 
himself out of the running Sunday and decided that he would instead be leaving 
the White House. The announcement surprised even senior staffers who believed 
that Ayers' ascension was a done deal.

   Trump is now soliciting input on a list of candidates that is said to 
include Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, Rep. Mark 
Meadows, R-N.C., the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, and 
former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. And allies are pitching Trump on even 
more contenders.

   But as quickly as names were being floated, candidates appeared to be 
pulling themselves from consideration, underscoring the challenges of working 
for a mercurial president who has acknowledged that he likes to surround 
himself with chaos and despises any suggestion he's being managed.

   "In the best of times, it is relentless," said Chris Whipple, an expert on 
chiefs of staff and author of "The Gatekeepers," a book on the subject. "It's 
24/7. It's thankless. You get all of the blame and none of the credit for 
everything that happens. And that's in the best of times. We are not in the 
best of times."

   Trump's administration has set records for staff turnover, and the president 
has often struggled to attract experienced political professionals, a challenge 
that has grown more difficult with the upcoming threat of costly Democratic 
oversight investigations and an uncertain political environment.

   Those who take high-level positions in the White House at this time open 
themselves up to potential legal exposure and pricey lawyer bills, said David 
B. Cohen, a political science professor at The University of Akron who co-wrote 
a book on chiefs of staff.

   Meadows said Monday he had not discussed the role with the president, but 
one congressional Republican said Meadows has told others he wants the job.

   "It's not been anything that I've been out advocating for," Meadows told Fox 
News, but he added that "my life changed" after Ayers decided to pull out of 
the job.

   Meanwhile, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, a potential 
contender, said he was "entirely focused" on his current position. A person 
familiar with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's thinking but not authorized 
to speak publicly made clear he, too, is happy in his current post.

   While some of the reactions may be strategic posturing, there is also ample 
reason for any aspiring chief of staff to give pause to the notion of taking 
the job.

   Trump has already burned through two chiefs of staff --- a former chairman 
of the Republican National Committee and a retired Marine four-star general --- 
subjecting them to regular humiliation and ridicule.

   Former RNC Chairman Reince Priebus's departure from the White House was 
unceremoniously announced by tweet. Nearly 18 months later, Trump stepped on an 
orderly succession plan for Kelly, making a surprise Saturday announcement on 
the White House lawn that the retired general would be leaving by year's end.

   Ayers' ascension and Kelly's departure looked like a done deal Friday night, 
according to multiple people in and close to the administration, with an 
announcement planned for Monday. Trump and Ayers had discussed the job for 
months, and the president had already been steering inquiries to the Pence 
staffer rather than Kelly. These people, like others, spoke on the condition of 
anonymity to discuss sensitive personnel matters.

   But Trump jumped the gun Saturday, and Ayers re-evaluated his decision. 
While a White House official said Ayers' decision was driven by a desire to 
return to Georgia to be closer to his family, people familiar with his thinking 
said he was also worried about scrutiny of his former political consulting 
business. He and Trump also could not reach agreement on Ayers' length of 
service. Ayers wanted to serve on an interim basis; Trump wanted a two-year 
commitment.

   Trump was stung by Ayers' decision to back out, according to people close to 
him. The embarrassment comes at a pivotal time for Trump, as he prepares for 
re-election while facing an expected onslaught of investigations from Democrats 
who will take control of the House and amid the ongoing Russia probe.

   When Trump appoints a replacement for Kelly, he will set a record for most 
chiefs of staff within the first 24 months of an administration, according to 
an analysis by Kathryn Dunn Tenpas of the Brookings Institution.

   Yet Trump once mocked his predecessor for chief of staff turnover.

   "3 Chief of Staffs in less than 3 years of being President: Part of the 
reason why @BarackObama can't manage to pass his agenda," Trump wrote in a 2012 
tweet.

   Trump had said Saturday that he would be announcing Kelly's replacement in 
the next day or two. But with Ayers no longer waiting in the wings, there is 
fear that Trump may not have someone in place in time for Kelly's departure or 
that he will pick the first person who comes to mind as he tries to counter 
perceptions that no one wants the position.

   Two Republicans close to the White House said Trump's son-in-law, Jared 
Kushner, and his daughter Ivanka Trump, who were among Ayers' top backers, were 
still trying to have an outsized hand in the restarted process, telling the 
president that the two of them, as family, would be the only ones Trump could 
count on to stay the course in the coming months. The Republicans spoke on 
condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly about 
private conversations.

   Trump has also told confidants that he is eager to bring on someone he gets 
along with as his third chief of staff. While he still had a measure of respect 
for Kelly, the men's personal relationship had long been frosty. This time, 
Trump has told allies, he wants someone he can chat with --- trading gossip and 
complaining about media coverage --- as well as someone more attuned 
politically.

   Meanwhile, the list of names floated for the job continued to grow, 
including mentions by people close to the administration of former Trump deputy 
campaign manager David Bossie, acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker --- 
even White House communications director Bill Shine and press secretary Sarah 
Huckabee Sanders. Many of them weren't being taken seriously, but the breadth 
of the list highlighted the uncertainty in Trump's political orbit over the job 
hunt.

   Trump has also told people around him that he misses the more freewheeling 
feel of the Oval Office under Priebus and would not let his new chief of staff 
set the kinds of limits he allowed Kelly to impose.


(KA)

 
 
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