When White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Thursday that Kelly "is not going anywhere," it appears she meant it. Because less than a day after CBS speculated that Kelly could be the next senior White House staffer to be pushed out, the Wall Street Journal reported that President Donald Trump and Kelly have reached an (uneasy) truce.
While Kelly's relationship with the president had deteriorated markedly by mid-week, the two men had a "productive" meeting on Thursday, and apparently ended it with an understanding that Kelly would remain on board - for now, at least.
Jarred by the treatment of former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whom the president fired by tweet on Tuesday morning, Mr. Kelly suggested to colleagues that he may be the next to be pushed out of the White House. Mr. Kelly’s cryptic comments left several White House staffers with the impression that Mr. Kelly would force the issue with the president, and that they should start looking for new jobs, too.
The internal drama heightened when Mr. Kelly flew with the president to California on Tuesday, but returned alone and was working in his West Wing office on Wednesday morning. Mr. Kelly’s allies in the White House, however, said the chief of staff had always planned on flying the 4,500-mile round-trip between Washington and San Diego in less than a day.
This dance culminated on Thursday when "Trump and Kelly had a productive meeting that left both men reassured." Trump told advisers afterward that Kelly was “100% safe.” Kelly, according to the WSJ, told his associates that, at least for the moment, he and the president had patched things up. “I’m in,” Mr. Kelly told staff.
But how long the peace lasts is anyone's guess:
The back-and-forth between Mr. Trump and the chief of staff suggested that the easing of tensions may be more of a temporary detente than a ironclad peace agreement. The president and Mr. Kelly are well known around the White House for engaging in tense arguments, and Mr. Trump has made repeated public comments that manage to both underscore his satisfaction with Mr. Kelly, while also raising doubts about how long the two will continue to work together.
“He likes what you do better than what he does,” Mr. Trump told a group of Marines in San Diego about Mr. Kelly, a former four-star general in the Marines. “But he’s doing a great job. He misses you.”
The exchange between the retired four-star general and the prime-time TV star-turned president was just one storyline playing out in a particularly tumultuous week. The president has often said he encourages conflict among his staff, and has spoken favorably about the internal skirmishing. “They’re fighting over who loves me the most,” he said about his staff last summer.
WSJ also reaffirmed that Trump told his allies that he's planning on firing McMaster despite vehement denial from the White House. The only question is timing: "one official saying it could happen “imminently” and another saying it could be weeks, even months."
Gen. McMaster had told associates earlier in the week that he believed he was safe, and that the president urged him to remain in the job until after the midterm elections in November.
Gen. McMaster attended a White House event Thursday evening honoring the Irish prime minister and joked with reporters there, including responding to one question that appeared to touch on his future by asking: “Have you heard anything?”
All this happens as Trump warned a group of reporters that he's preparing to clean house, and that there are more high-profile firings to come (in an administration that has lost one senior figure, on average, every 17 days).
Meanwhile, in what may be the day's biggest news - if confirmed - Fox Business reporter Charlie Gasparino tweeted that the firings are mostly a smokescreen for Trump to safely get rid of his true target: Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
firings of tillerson and then probably mcmaster and kelly may not disrupt the mkts but one firing has the potential and that's sessions which people near @POTUS say is coming. the reason: its an indicator that trump is truly worried about the mueller probe in an existential way— Charles Gasparino (@CGasparino) March 16, 2018
yes this is the speculation--its all a prelude to getting rid of sessions which opens up the flood gates: ouster of rosenstein and then mueller. ballsy stuff if thats where this is going and it will be a wild ride https://t.co/cU9GR1CzS5— Charles Gasparino (@CGasparino) March 16, 2018