Major staff reshuffle expected in White House


WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump is reported to be preparing a reshuffle at the White House — fueled by fallings out between his wife and senior staff — after a week of angry brooding over midterm elections that weakened his grip on Congress.

The start to the second half of Trump’s first term is enveloped in gloom as the president surveys the damage from the midterms, tension with some of America’s closest allies, and now turmoil inside the administration.

The biggest name on the chopping block, according to multiple US media reports, is chief of staff John Kelly.

A retired Marine Corps general, he has often been nicknamed “the adult in the room” during Trump’s drama-prone administration, even if critics say he has done little to temper the president’s most damaging outbursts.

Now Kelly’s days are numbered, according to the unconfirmed but mounting leaks to US media.

His position, tenuous for months, has been undermined further by First Lady Melania Trump’s anger that Kelly refused to promote some of her aides, US media reports say.

Nick Ayers, a 36-year-old chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence and renowned political consultant, is reportedly high on Trump’s list as a replacement.

Another expected reshuffle casualty is Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, a Kelly ally who oversees the politically sensitive task of carrying out Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration.

Among her critics has been National Security Adviser John Bolton, who last month was widely reported to have had a shouting match with Kelly right outside the Oval Office over Nielsen’s performance.

While speculation swirled around Melania Trump’s dislike for Kelly, she has been fully open in a rare, protocol-busting demand for the firing of another staffer — Bolton’s deputy Mira Ricardel.

Ricardel “no longer deserves the honor,” Melania Trump’s spokesperson announced Tuesday, amid a falling out that press leaks say is partly linked to a dispute over seating arrangements on the plane that took the first lady for a tour of African countries in October.

Ricardel remained in her post Wednesday, but it seemed unlikely she could last much longer.

Trump has been in a funk since last week’s midterms which saw the Democrats seize control of the House of Representatives, ending the Republicans’ dominance of both chambers of Congress.

While the Republicans held onto their Senate majority, the Democrats scored heavy gains to take over the House, confronting the president for the first time with the prospect of an opposition that has teeth.

Democrats vow to use their control of powerful oversight committees to go after Trump’s nebulous personal finances and to protect an explosive probe into whether his 2016 election campaign colluded with Russian agents.

Pressure is mounting from the probe, as the special counsel Robert Mueller digs ever more deeply into the president’s inner circle.

When Trump suddenly replaced his attorney general Jeff Sessions last week with a fierce critic of the Russia investigation, Matthew Whitaker, critics accused him of violating the constitution.

The Department of Justice ruled on Wednesday that Whitaker’s appointment is, in fact, constitutional, but this will do little to calm claims that Trump’s real goal is to defang the Russia probe, which he describes as “a witch hunt.”

Abroad, there’s no respite for the real estate billionaire either.

A weekend trip to Paris for World War I commemorations was marred by a row with President Emmanuel Macron — which saw Trump mockingly refer to Germany’s invasions of France during the two world wars, while also berating America’s European allies in NATO over their defence spending.

The other main takeaway from Trump’s trip — the round criticism of a decision to scrap a visit to an American military cemetery due to the rain — has reportedly left the president incensed, and the prospect of a White House shakeup all the greater.