President Trump confirmed Saturday that White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly will leave by the end of the year, capping the retired Marine general’s rocky tenure as the president’s top aide.
White House officials had previously indicated Kelly would serve as his chief of staff through 2020 at Trump’s request, but the clashes between the two men were an open secret. Nick Ayers, who currently serves as Vice President Pence’s chief of staff, is widely expected to be Kelly’s replacement.
As he left for Philadelphia Saturday, Trump told reporters that he would announce the new chief of staff in the “next day or two” and noted that Kelly has been with him for nearly two years. Kelly has served as the White House chief of staff since July 2017, although before that position, he was Trump’s homeland security secretary, confirmed the day Trump was inaugurated.
“John Kelly will be leaving — I don’t know if I can say ‘retiring.’ But, he’s a great guy,” Trump said on the South Lawn of the White House. “John Kelly will be leaving toward the end of the year, at the end of the year.”
Trump has already engaged in talks with Ayers about assuming the chief of staff role, according to his advisers. In private, Trump has often commented on Kelly’s lack of political skills — a potential liability from Trump’s standpoint as the president gears up for his 2020 reelection campaign and braces for an onslaught of political fights over his agenda and oversight investigations with a newly empowered Democratic-led House.
Trump has also chafed at Kelly’s management style and resisted some of his moves to instill discipline in the West Wing and contain chaos. In recent months, the chief of staff’s power has ebbed, and administration decisions have been guided more by Trump’s gut instincts than by Kelly’s processes.
The two men have also split on personnel decisions. For instance, Trump and Kelly have repeatedly clashed over the fate of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, a close Kelly ally who has drawn the president’s ire for her perceived lackluster performance on immigration enforcement. Kelly had been fighting Nielsen’s potential ouster from the administration, even as his own future in the West Wing remained murky.
But despite the private battles between Trump, 72, and Kelly, 68, the two men are generational peers, and Trump has long admired the retired four-star Marine general’s military experience.
The end of Kelly’s tenure has been speculated about for months, even with his pledge to stay on through Trump’s reelection campaign. But chatter about his exit ramped up again this week, as multiple news outlets reported that Kelly’s departure from the White House was imminent.
The chief of staff was not at work Friday morning, though a person close to him said Kelly was just taking the day off. He did attend a dinner later that evening with Trump, first lady Melania Trump and other senior White House officials.