WASHINGTON: Donald Trump installed retired Marine Corps general John Kelly as his new chief of staff on Monday, hoping to bring order and discipline to a White House beset by scandal, infighting, low approval ratings and legislative defeats.
Trump confidently predicted the 67-year-old combat veteran – who impressed with a no-nonsense six-month stint at the Department of Homeland Security – would do a “spectacular job.”
“What he has done in terms of homeland security is record-shattering, if you look at the border, if you look at the tremendous results we’ve had,” Trump said.
“I predict that General Kelly will go down as, in terms of the position of chief of staff, one of the great(est) ever.”
Kelly inherits the day-to-day running of a White House staff that — far from marching in lockstep — looks like a regiment pinned down by heavy fire, getting mixed messages from its commander and arguing over the way forward.
Kelly replaces Reince Priebus, a longtime Republican Party operative who was forced out last week after the spectacular failure of Trump’s bid to repeal Obamacare and as an ugly in-house feud spilled into the open.
The chief of staff traditionally manages the president’s schedule and is the highest ranking White House employee, deciding who has access to the US leader.
But many question whether anyone can rein in the mercurial, Twitter-happy Trump, who has appeared to encourage the infighting among various factions vying for influence in his administration.
Trump – determined to project success – insisted Monday that there was no “chaos” at the White House, which was instead running as a finely tuned machine.
“I think we’re doing incredibly well. The economy is doing incredibly well, and many other things. So we’re starting from a really good base,” he said.
“We have the highest stock market in history,” Trump said, adding that US economic growth in the last quarter stood at 2.6 percent and was approaching the three percent target he once set.
“Unemployment is the lowest it’s been in 17 years. Business enthusiasm is about as high as they’ve ever seen it.”
But aside from the economy, there has been little reason for Trump to cheer.
Under pressure from a widening probe into his campaign’s contacts with Russia last year, Trump last week attacked his own attorney general Jeff Sessions for disloyalty, alarming his conservative base, before turning on Priebus.
In another tweet Monday, Trump hinted that Congress’s own health insurance plan should be replaced for its failure to repeal Obamacare, his predecessor’s signature reform of the US health care system.
“If Obamacare is hurting people & it is, why shouldn’t it hurt the insurance companies and why should Congress not be paying what public pays?”
Since taking office six months ago, Trump’s tumultuous administration has seen a succession of negative headlines and brewing scandals.
Fueling the fire, the billionaire Republican has parted with a number of top officials including his national security advisor, deputy national security advisor and FBI director, among others — an unparalleled turnover for such a young presidency.
On the global stage, Trump faces the stark challenge of a North Korea that could be on the verge of marrying nuclear and ballistic missile technology.
“We’ll handle North Korea. We’re going to be able to handle them. It will be handled. We handle everything. Thank you very much,” Trump said.