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The Challenges John Kelly Faces As Trump's New Chief Of Staff


In January of 2012, then-private citizen Donald J. Trump suggested on Twitter, of course, that part of the reason President Obama couldn't pass his agenda was because he had had three chiefs of staff in less than three years. Fast forward to now, when President Donald Trump has just appointed his second chief of staff in just over six months. Today is John Kelly's first day on the job. He's a former United States Marine Corps general. And he was the secretary of Homeland Security until Friday. He replaces Reince Priebus, the former chairman of the RNC.

To talk about this changing of the guard and what it might mean for the administration, I'm joined in the studio by Michael Allen. He served as a special assistant to President George W. Bush for seven years. Thanks so much for coming in this morning.

MICHAEL ALLEN: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Everyone agrees this is a tough job - being chief of staff - no matter who the president is - for this president in particular. Is John Kelly well-suited to this?

ALLEN: I think so. He has had interagency experience, especially over at the Pentagon, where he was the senior military assistant. He's honorable, and he's decent. Many of his staff think of him still as the man who enlisted in the Marines when he was 19 years old. And, certainly, after last week, you know, accepting times of natural disaster and tremendous loss of life - last week was the worst week in modern American presidential history. And so to end on the note that he's becoming chief of staff was certainly a ray of hope.

MARTIN: I want to listen now to how Reince Priebus described his job, the job he was forced out of. This is how he described it last week on CNN.


REINCE PRIEBUS: Keeping things organized, keeping everyone in their lane, controlling flow of information in and out of the Oval Office - those are all challenges to a chief of staff. And I think he's going to do a wonderful job.

MARTIN: Interesting there he notes keeping everyone in their lane. How do you do that when, until now, key players in this administration have had their own direct lines to the president? - Kellyanne Conway, Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, most notably Anthony Scaramucci, who was just appointed communications director - who caused all those waves last week.

ALLEN: It's going to require some maturity on the part of the president to cede authority to the chief of staff and say, listen, you are in charge of such things as access to my calendar, how I'm deployed across via the Congress or through messaging and the rest. And so I think that's something that's going to be very important. Andy Card, who was chief of staff - President Bush's first chief of staff - used to say, listen. There are people who need to see the president and people who want to see the president. He is going to have to be able to enforce that level of authority and rigor and discipline on an unruly, tribal White House process.

MARTIN: John Kelly is well-respected around Washington circles. But he has no domestic political or policy experience. It is the job of the chief of staff to wrangle lawmakers on behalf of the president's agenda. You've spent time not only in the White House but on the Hill. Can John Kelly do that?

ALLEN: I think. So he did spend some time as the commandant of the Marine Corps' chief legislative liaison. He certainly, through his time in the Pentagon and at DHS, has had an occasion to deal with the Congress and the rest. But, look, I think that's the main challenge for him. First, of course, is to get President Trump behind him - but second also to sort of deepen his bench and understanding of some of the domestic issues that are key here, including taxes, health care, the regulatory agenda and the rest.

MARTIN: So how does he do all that? When he could wake up any morning - he gets up early because he's a former Marine Corps general. But he could get up, and the president could have already tweeted out changes in policy that he had no idea that were coming down the pike.

ALLEN: I think he's going to have to make a fundamental deal with the president that says, if you want this presidency to succeed, you're going to have to cede some authority to me. You can continue to call the tune for this administration, but I have got to be able to conduct the orchestra so that you might be able to succeed. And so it's not a foregone conclusion that, despite his honorable characteristics, that he will be successful because it's going to require the president to exercise some discipline and to cede some authority to him so that he may be able to impose order.

MARTIN: Do you see that happening? I mean, have you seen this president do that with anyone else?

ALLEN: I haven't. I have not seen him be able to grow yet into the job - as we're used to it as a domestic matter here and as a foreign policy matter. Some of the policy processes are certainly - have gone off the rails. Certainly, the transgender announcement last week was a gross subversion of the policy process. So we have a lot to see.

MARTIN: Michael Allen is a former adviser to President George W. Bush and a managing director at Beacon Global Strategies. Thanks so much for coming in this morning.

ALLEN: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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