Trump names budget office head Mick Mulvaney as acting White House chief of staff

  • President’s announcement came after widespread speculation and a selection process some compared with a reality TV contest
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 December, 2018, 4:31pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 December, 2018, 11:03pm

This story is published in a content partnership with POLITICO. It was originally reported by Eliana Johnson on on December 14, 2018.

President Donald Trump announced on Twitter late Friday that Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, will become acting White House chief of staff.

Mulvaney will replace chief of staff John Kelly, who is leaving the White House at the end of the year. The president did not elaborate on how long Mulvaney would serve in the role.

“I look forward to working with [Mulvaney] in this new capacity as we continue to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” the president wrote in a tweet. “John will be staying until the end of the year. He is a GREAT PATRIOT and I want to personally thank him for his service!”

The president’s announcement was initially seen as a stopgap solution to the sweepstakes reality show that was underway for the position.

The decision comes hours after former New Jersey governor Chris Christie said that he does not want to be Trump’s next chief of staff, leaving the president with a dwindling list of candidates and underscoring the chaos of the search for the top West Wing aide.

Christie, an early Trump supporter who led the White House transition effort before being ousted, made the announcement just a day after he met the president to discuss possibly taking the role. Christie’s firm statement also came shortly after reports emerged that he was the front-runner for the job, showing how quickly contenders’ odds can rise and fall.

“It’s an honour to have the president consider me as he looks to choose a new White House chief of staff,” Christie wrote in a statement. “However, I’ve told the president that now is not the right time for me or my family to undertake this serious assignment. As a result, I have asked him to no longer keep me in any of his considerations of this post.”

Christie has had a tumultuous relationship with Trump and his family – even though he and the president have been friends for over 15 years. Christie tangled with Trump on the campaign trail before dropping out of the 2016 presidential race, and he has long had tension with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner for helping put Kushner’s father in prison more than a decade ago when he was a US attorney.

But he has recently enjoyed a closer relationship with Trump and the White House and has become one of the White House’s close advisers.

Chris Christie enjoyed a New Jersey beach closed to the public, and ‘didn’t get any sun’ - but he definitely got roasted

Christie and Trump met for roughly 90 minutes Thursday night at the White House and had a long, good conversation yet no commitments were made, said a source close to Christie.

At one point, Christie seemed to lean toward accepting the chief of staff job if Trump had offered it, and talked to allies and close White House advisers about the way he would structure the position and who he would recruit to fill vacant jobs in the West Wing.

A source close to Kushner said he was also generally supportive of Christie getting the job, despite their past friction.

However by the middle of the morning on Friday, Christie had decided to pull out of consideration for the job entirely. In recent weeks, he had spoken with several former and current White House officials, all of whom urged him not to accept the position, telling him he would ultimately regret taking it, said the source close to Christie. Current and former officials also told Christie he would quickly become frustrated if he tried to impose discipline or a team-oriented approach on a White House rife with back-biting.

It has been the inherent issue. The [Trump] family does not fit neatly into an org chart
Republican source

Christie was also cautioned by aides, current and present, that it is impossible to tell the Trump family what to do, which helps to cultivate the undisciplined atmosphere – one that would not fit with Christie’s style of management.

“The challenge for Chris has always been the elephant in the room for him – Jared. If you become chief of staff in this White House, you either have a scenario where Jared is not reporting to you, or he is quote ‘reporting’ to you. At this point in your life, really? Does Christie want that?” said one Republican close to the White House. “It has been the inherent issue. The family does not fit neatly into an org chart.”

Christie’s decision to drop out was in sharp contrast with the mood at the White House Christmas Party on Thursday night, where several close White House advisers and former campaign and transition officials were rooting for Christie to land and ultimately accept the job.

“He loves a big stage. I thought he would do it, but he made no commitments in his conversation with the president,” the source close to Christie added.

Christie is one of several likely replacements that have fallen out of the running, as what was once viewed as the top job in Washington has become a toxic position, largely charged with placating a mercurial president. Representative Mark Meadows (Republican-North Carolina), the House Freedom Caucus chair and another top contender for the job, fell out of the running on Wednesday, officially because Trump wanted him to remain in Congress.

Vice-President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, was seen as the primary contender to take the job as Trump announced last week that John Kelly would leave the post by the end of the month. But Ayers quickly withdrew himself from consideration, opting to return to Georgia and spend time with his family.

Even top White House aides have said they feel in the dark about who may get the job.

Trump, meanwhile, has argued that he has ample friends he could choose from for the job, but the Shakespearean shuffle for a new top White House staff suggests a far more scant pool.

How Donald Trump’s ‘disruption’ may ultimately be good for global trade

The president on Thursday teased out that the search was down to five candidates, but did not hint who was on the list. Other rumoured contenders have included David Bossie, a former Trump campaign deputy manager; US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer; and Republican fundraiser Wayne Berman. Both Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have been mentioned as well, though they have signalled to the White House that they are not interested in the job.

With no clear timetable for naming a replacement, the White House has hinted that Kelly may extend his tenure, despite the friction between the retired general and Trump.

“Obviously, if the president and the chief of staff make another deal and extend it, they can do that,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said on Friday. “It’s their prerogative to do so. Right now, currently, John Kelly is expected to leave at the first of the year. The president is also expected to make an announcement imminently. I’m not going to tell you who that’s going to be and I definitely don’t have any tips for you.”