White House chief of staff John Kelly has lost the goodwill of the aides he oversees — and the president he serves — but he’s still seen as unlikely to leave.
The retired U.S. Marine Corps general’s reputation has steadily declined since going to work for President Donald Trump, as Kelly has defended Confederate generals and an alleged wife beater who served on his staff, reported Axios.
The chief of staff reportedly knew several weeks ago that several White House aides — including staff secretary Rob Porter — would be denied full security clearances by the FBI, but he had not fired any of them before reports surfaced that Porter had beaten his two ex-wives and an ex-girlfriend.
Kelly has also drawn criticism for his false claims against Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL), historically inaccurate claims about the Civil War and slurring undocumented immigrants as “lazy.”
That hasn’t necessarily hurt Kelly in Trump’s eyes, but the president abhors aides getting bad press — and that could ultimately prove fatal for the chief of staff.
Trump also resents that Kelly told Fox News last month that he was helping the president evolve on immigration issues, and one friend told Axios the president complained about the interview.
“Who does this guy think he is?” Trump said, according to the friend. “I’ve evolved? I’ve been the same on this issue for 30 years. I knew about it before anybody did. I talked about it before anybody else did on the campaign. The only reason anybody talked about immigration was because of Trump.”
Trump has reportedly called former chief of staff Reince Priebus to complain about the aide who replaced him, but sources told Axios the president may find it hard to force out a man who never wanted the job but feels duty-bound to stay.
“Trump is not going to fire him,” said source close to the president. “And does Trump have the stomach to do what he normally does when he’s fed up with them? He usually makes their lives miserable, publicly humiliates them. But now he’s up against somebody who doesn’t care and would happily leave.”
“It’s like Russia and the United States in the Cold War,” the source said. “‘What are you going to do, blow me up?’ They’re pointing guns at each other and nothing ever happens.”
Kelly won’t grovel to save his job, Axios reported, but other administration officials say he intends to stay on because he believes his presence is necessary to ensure proper functions in the Oval Office.
“With Kelly, from day one, the tone has been, ‘We have a duty to the country to be here despite how screwed up this place is,’” one administration official said.