WASHINGTON, Aug 1 – Foul-mouthed spin doctor Anthony Scaramucci was fired as White House communications director Monday, just 10 days after being named to the post and hours after Donald Trump’s new chief of staff was sworn in. The 53-year-old New Yorker – whose vitriolic rant against colleagues gained him global notoriety – got the boot shortly after retired Marine Corps general John Kelly took the oath in the Oval Office.
Kelly – a former four-star general and Trump’s secretary of homeland security – was tapped to bring order and discipline to a White House beset by scandal, infighting, low approval ratings and legislative defeats. The contrasting fates of Kelly and Scaramucci are the latest in a series of personal shifts that have made Trump’s White House feel more like a soap opera than a presidential administration.
After an Oval Office swearing-in ceremony, Trump confidently predicted Kelly, a 67-year-old combat veteran, would do a “spectacular job”. White House officials would not say whether it was Trump or Kelly who precipitated Scaramucci’s departure or when it was decided.
Scaramucci was seen in the Oval Office earlier Monday shortly after Kelly was sworn in. “Mr Scaramucci felt it was best to give Chief of Staff John Kelly a clean slate and the ability to build his own team. We wish him all the best,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a terse statement.
Scaramucci had courted controversy with an expletive-laden attack on then chief of staff Reince Priebus, who was forced out last week, and chief White House strategist Steve Bannon. It was not immediately clear who would replace Scaramucci. Former spokesman Sean Spicer, who resigned a little over a week ago, refused to comment on whether he will now remain in the White House beyond his planned August departure.
Kelly inherits the day-to-day running of a White House staff that – far from marching in lockstep – look like a regiment pinned down by heavy fire, getting conflicting orders from their commander and squabbling over the way forward. “I predict that General Kelly will go down as, in terms of the position of chief of staff, one of the great(est) ever,” Trump said.
“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.” Kelly replaces Priebus, a Republican Party operative who was ousted last week after the spectacular failure of Trump’s bid to repeal Obamacare and as his ugly feud with Scaramucci spilled into the open.
The chief of staff is the highest ranking White House employee – a chief operating officer who organises staff, manages the president’s schedule and decides who gets access to him and when. That is no small mission in Trump’s White House, where a rotating cast of family and staff with unclear roles and opaque job titles walk into the Oval Office seemingly at will.
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 will remain Trump, and the various denizens of the White House are unlikely to treat Kelly with much more deference than they treat one another,” Eliot Cohen, a former State Department official once tipped to join the Trump White House, wrote in the Atlantic magazine.
Trump – ever determined to project success – insisted Monday that there was no “chaos” at the White House, which he said was 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 told a cabinet meeting.
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?” he wrote.
Since taking office six months ago, Trump’s tumultuous administration has seen a succession of negative headlines and brewing scandals. Fuelling the fire, the billionaire Republican has parted ways with a number of top officials beyond Priebus and Scaramucci, 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. — AFP