Home / World / Trump enlists Kelly to enforce order, but can the 'animals in the zoo' be tamed? – Chicago Tribune

Trump enlists Kelly to enforce order, but can the 'animals in the zoo' be tamed? – Chicago Tribune

President Donald Trump is trying to take command of his floundering administration by enlisting a retired four-star Marine general as his White House chief of staff, empowering a no-nonsense disciplinarian to transform a dysfunctional West Wing into the “fine-tuned machine” the president has bragged of running but has not yet to materialized.

John Kelly will be sworn in Monday at the nadir of Trump’s presidency, with historically low approval ratings, a stalled legislative agenda and an escalating Russia investigation that casts a dark cloud.

Trump envisions Kelly executing his orders with military precision and steely gravitas, and without tending to outside political motivations or fretting about palace intrigue, according to Trump confidants. The president replaced Reince Priebus with Kelly, who had what Trump considers a star run as homeland security secretary, in the hope of projecting overall toughness and of inspiring the respect – and even fear – that has eluded him on Capitol Hill, where fellow Republicans last week defied the White House on health care and Russian sanctions.

But no matter how decisive his leadership, Kelly alone cannot turn Trump’s vision into reality. Warring internal factions that have stirred chaos, stoked suspicions and freelanced policies for six straight months may not easily submit to Kelly’s rule. And the president – whose rash impulses routinely have sabotaged the best efforts of his senior aides – has shown no willingness to be tamed.

Although Kelly does not bring legislative experience, Trump sees him as part of the solution to his administration’s legislative woes, according to people familiar with the decision to bring Kelly to the White House. Instead of hiring an insider who would ingratiate himself or herself on Capitol Hill, Trump wanted someone who adds stature and commands respect from congressional leaders, the people said.

Over recent months, Trump concluded that Priebus’s close relationship with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., became a hindrance, giving Ryan leverage and insight into the workings of the White House. He resented the suggestion that Priebus was a “Trump whisperer” who had to explain Trump to Ryan and other GOP leaders, these people said.

So far, most of the administration’s accomplishments have been overturning or reversing Obama-era policies. But Kumar said Kelly could help reorient the White House around a “positive policy agenda.”

When Kelly made the rounds on Capitol Hill before his nomination hearings in January, he did not know Trump very well and asked people there to share stories about the president-elect. He wanted to know how Trump made decisions. Told that Trump relished competing power centers around him, Kelly grimaced and said nothing.

Those who knew Trump before he became president knew that his management approach, short attention span and general lack of discipline were a recipe for trouble. Trump’s early transition planners envisioned a White House table of organization that started with a strong chief of staff and that included clear lines of authority and limited direct access to the president.

But Trump got what he wanted: a White House in which the power and influence of individuals ebbed and flowed, with status affected by Trump’s aims of the moment, his limited loyalty toward any of those in his employ and the backstabbing that has been a constant feature almost from Day 1.

Trump’s transition documents included a lengthy memo about White House structure, based on past administrations. “They didn’t follow the product at all,” said a person with direct knowledge of what transpired as Trump was setting up his administration. “They did it instinctively . . . The president-elect didn’t want to say no to anybody.”

The result was the White House that now exists, populated by advisers with competing ideologies that reflect an administration that is an amalgam of populist nationalists, hard-line conservatives and establishment Republicans – and a few Democrats. Trump saw this group as his winning coalition in the presidential campaign and as encompassing his disparate views on the issues, but it has added greatly to the lack of coherence once he took office.

“The only way a chief of staff can be successful is if he is empowered by the president, and I never had any feeling that Reince Priebus was fully empowered by the president,” said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa. “The success of Kelly will be significantly dependent upon how much authority President Trump grants him.”

The environment is poised to change in the Kelly era. The new chief of staff is expected to have full control over the Oval Office and schedule, officials said. Trusted aides such as Hope Hicks, Dan Scavino and Keith Schiller – as well as senior advisers such as Kushner, Bannon and Conway – will continue to have casual access to the president.

But Kelly is expected to have a far tighter grip than Priebus was able to exercise on who participates in meetings and the process by which policy decisions are made.

“The vast majority of people who work in the White House are quite competent and quite self-confident,” Card said. As chief of staff, he added, “You want to make sure that they recognize that their competence is needed, but their self-confidence should be managed.”

One possibility mentioned by Kelly associates as a deputy chief of staff is Christian Marrone, a Republican who served in President Barack Obama’s administration as chief of staff to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. Marrone declined to comment.

Many of Trump’s top aides chafed at taking instructions from Priebus. When Anthony Scaramucci was hired as communications director this month, he received an assurance from Trump that he would report to the president, not to the chief of staff.

Chris Whipple, author of “The Gatekeepers,” a history of White House chiefs of staff, said Kelly’s task will be “mission impossible” if his control is not absolute.

“If Scaramucci reports directly to President Trump, therein lies disaster,” Whipple said. “You can’t have a loose cannon rolling on the deck. Kelly has to make sure he’s in charge of the White House staff, in charge of the information flow to the president, and in charge of executing policy. And fundamentally, he’s got to be able to go in, close the door, and tell Trump what he does not want to hear.”

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