White House advisers believe that chief of staff John Kelly could depart at any moment and that President Donald Trump may replace him with the vice president’s top aide, Nick Ayers.
Trump has made it known that he will not force Kelly out but is prepared to let him leave in his own time, people familiar with the situation said. Some think Kelly’s departure may come quickly, though it could also slip until after the holidays, these people said. Kelly wasn’t seen at the White House during the day on Friday, but did attend a senior staff dinner in the evening, one of the people said.
All of the people asked not to be identified discussing a sensitive internal White House matter. Axios and CNN reported earlier that White House officials expect Kelly to resign soon.
Ayers, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, has emerged as the clear favorite to replace Kelly. Trump has taken the unusual step of inviting Ayers to recently accompany him on Air Force One, even without Pence present, the people said.
Ayers, 36, is considered more politically attuned than Kelly, a retired general who is 68. The president’s team is simultaneously girding to deal with a Democratic-led House of Representatives, a bruising 2020 re-election campaign and political warfare over the coming report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
But Ayers’s appointment isn’t a certainty. He has many detractors within the White House, where some people consider him brash and presumptuous. He’s also regarded skeptically in some quarters for an earlier career as a political consultant in which he attained considerable wealth.
But reports that Kelly and Trump are no longer speaking are overblown, the people said. Kelly took part in at least four Oval Office meetings with Trump on Thursday. It is true that there is little chemistry remaining between the two men, the people said — even though Trump only months ago asked Kelly to stay on through 2020, and the general agreed.
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