Outgoing White House chief of staff John Kelly tried and failed to bring a military discipline to the West Wing. Mick Mulvaney doesn’t plan to try.
Mulvaney will approach the job far differently than Kelly, according to six sources close to the Trump aide and Republicans close to the White House. Most notably, he intends to give Trump more leeway to act as he chooses — a recognition that trying to control Trump is a futile approach.
Story Continued Below
Mulvaney will adopt a much larger role in politics and messaging, and plans to take a more laissez faire approach to some quirks of the Trump White House that irked Kelly — like non-essential staffers attending meetings, or the president frequently reaching out to longtime friends, Republican lawmakers and advisers for advice or dinners in the White House residence.
At one point, Mulvaney told to an ally he thought Kelly did a disservice to the president by constantly saying “no.” “I did not take that as a sign that Mick would never push back, but he definitely had a feeling that Kelly pushed back too often and did not help the president fulfill his agenda,” said the source close to Mulvaney.
The result could be an even more freewheeling White House.
Already, Mulvaney has spent the last few days at the White House, shadowing Kelly as he goes about his day and meeting behind closed doors with top communications staff like Sarah Huckabee Sanders. And Mulvaney is expected to travel to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort to be with the president for a few days over the holidays.
“My agenda is simple — utilize the same strategy that has brought success at the two other agencies I’ve run for President Trump: quiet competence,” Mulvaney said in a statement to POLITICO. “All of my energies as Acting Chief of Staff will be spent to assist the President as he makes — and keeps — America great.”
To back him up when he begins in January, Mulvaney plans to bring with him to the White House four staffers from the Office of Management and Budget, which he’s overseen for the past two years, including his well-liked chief of staff, Emma Doyle, and deputy chief of staff, Daniel Hanlon, according to an internal OMB email obtained by POLITICO. Doyle is expected to serve as deputy chief of staff, though no formal announcement has been made.
His scheduler and body man will also accompany him to the West Wing.
“Emma helped Mick staff and run two agencies, and Dan has been with him for eight years. They’re going to the West Wing to help translate Mick’s style to the staff and vice versa, not to invade the place and start firing people,” said a source familiar with Mulvaney’s plans.
Initially, Kelly tried to reign in Trump’s long-standing habits and make sure conversations, calls and appointments ran through him during his first few months in the White House, though Kelly insisted he wasn’t trying to constrain the president. Eventually, Kelly backed down from trying to instill such military-style discipline in a White House that has largely resisted it.
“My guess is that Mulvaney will be slightly more tolerant of people coming to meetings when they should not be there,” said one Republican close to the White House. “He is a less of a disciplinarian than Kelly.”
That applies, too, to the Trump kids, including senior aides Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. The president’s daughter and son-in-law frequently clashed with Kelly, who reportedly derided them as two New Yorkers “playing government.” One source close to Mulvaney stressed that he would likely not stand in the kids’ way and viewed part of his new job as acting chief of staff as trying to help other aides accomplish what they’d like to get done.
A former administration official scoffed when asked about that approach: “Everyone gets along with the kids in the beginning.”
On messaging, aides expect Mulvaney to play a much more public role than Kelly. The four-star general shied away from media appearances and tended to only wade into policy on discrete matters like immigration or military affairs. But as a former House member, Mulvaney feels comfortable in front of the camera and interacting with reporters. He will likely appear more frequently on Sunday news programs and even show up at the White House press podium, as he did during the brief government shutdown last winter.
“Mulvaney definitely has conservative credentials, but he also brings close knowledge of the Hill and its politics. He can also clearly communicate the administration’s message to the public. That will all be important for Trump,” said Paul Winfree, former deputy assistant to the president for domestic policy and the director of budget policy at the White House, whose time in the administration overlapped with Mulvaney’s.
The White House press office did not respond to a request for comment.
Mulvaney entered the Trump orbit during the presidential transition, recommended by House Speaker Paul Ryan, Trump’s first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and the conservative Heritage Foundation for the slot at the OMB. The first time Mulvaney met Trump personally was in Trump Tower during the transition for a 15-minute interview, said another source close to Mulvaney.
Trump did most of the talking at that session, and Mulvaney landed the job.
Eliana Johnson contributed to this report.