WASHINGTON — A senior Trump administration official told reporters on Friday that the president had decided to give his new pick for chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, an interim title.
The official spoke to reporters minutes after President Trump announced on Twitter that Mulvaney, his current budget director, would be the new “acting White House chief of staff.” Despite the “acting” designation, Mulvaney’s appointment is not limited in scope and will include all of the responsibilities of a position that is widely considered one of the most powerful in the White House, the official said.
“There’s no time limit. He’s the acting chief of staff, which means he’s the chief of staff,” the official said. “He got picked because the president liked him. They get along.”
The official also cited Mulvaney’s experience as a former congressman who “knows Capitol Hill” as a reason Trump chose him for the job, while also praising Mulvaney as “fiscally responsible.”
In a White House that has seen a record amount of turnover, Mulvaney will be Trump’s third chief of staff, following John Kelly and, earlier, Reince Priebus. On Dec. 8, Trump announced that Kelly, a former Marine Corps general who was Trump’s first secretary of homeland security, would be leaving his post at the end of the year. Kelly’s departure came after widespread reports of tensions with Trump.
The official who discussed Mulvaney’s selection with reporters said Kelly was pleased with the decision.
“The current chief is happy. The current chief is fine. The current chief will stay till the end of the year,” the official said.
The official was pressed on why Mulvaney’s title was “acting chief of staff” and replied, “Because that’s what the president wants.”
Another senior administration official then piped in to discuss the distinction.
“We’ll see,” the other official said of the importance of the word “acting.” “It’s what the president wants right now, and if we have anything else we’ll let you know.”
Both officials declined to speak on record.
Trump has previously given a temporary title to another senior staffer who later was upgraded to a permanent position. In August 2017, the president’s longtime aide Hope Hicks was named interim communications director following the abrupt departure of Anthony Scaramucci. The White House announced that Hicks would have the position on a permanent basis the following month. Hicks held the communications director post for six months before resigning in February.
Mulvaney has served multiple positions in the Trump administration. In February 2017, he was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the director of the Office of Management and Budget. He took over as the acting head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in November 2017, leading to a legal battle with opponents of his selection. Mulvaney has scaled back the activities of the financial watchdog agency, which was renamed the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection under his leadership.
Mulvaney served as one of South Carolina’s representatives in the House from 2007 until 2017, when he was confirmed to lead the OMB.
The senior administration official said Mulvaney’s deputy, Russell Vought, would take over the helm of the OMB. In June, the White House announced that Trump planned to nominate Kathleen Kraninger to lead the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection. Kraninger, who worked under Mulvaney, had his endorsement, and she was sworn in after a tight Senate confirmation vote earlier this month.
Trump’s chief of staff announcement came after an arduous week of speculation about who would head the White House staff. After Nick Ayers, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, turned down an offer for the job, the White House scrambled to identify another candidate. Several people were reportedly under consideration, including former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the president’s son-in-law and top adviser Jared Kushner, and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. On Friday morning, White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley told reporters Trump was considering multiple options and could even ask Kelly to stay on.
“The president said yesterday he has about five names in the hopper. We expect him to make an announcement pretty quickly,” Gidley said, adding: “Obviously, if the president and the chief of staff make another deal and extend it, they can do that. It’s their prerogative to do so. Right now, currently, John Kelly is expected to leave at the first of the year. The president is also expected to make an announcement imminently. I’m not going to tell you who that’s going to be, and I definitely don’t have any tips for you.”
Trump’s tweet on Friday evening came less than an hour after the White House press office declared that the president would have no further public activities, and the announcement sent reporters sprinting through the White House. The senior official said that Mulvaney met with Trump “face to face” on Friday and that the new chief of staff “didn’t find out about it on Twitter.” Mulvaney did take to the social media site to react to the news.
“This is a tremendous honor. I look forward to working with the President and the entire team. It’s going to be a great 2019!” Mulvaney wrote.
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