In a tweet on Friday afternoon, President Donald Trump named former General John Kelly chief of staff, replacing beleaguered former Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. It's unclear whether of not Priebus was informed of his replacement ahead of time, as the announcement was abruptly made public on social media, without any warning.
Kelly, 67, until Friday served as the head of the Department of Homeland Security, meaning Trump's decision will also force a reshuffle at the top of the DHS. There are no indications as of yet who Trump might tap to fill Kelly's old position.
Kelly served in the United States Marines Corps. for decades, ultimately ascended to the rank of general, and served as the commander of the United States Southern Command under President Barack Obama from 2012 to 2016. He was selected by Trump to head up the Department of Homeland Security in December 2016, during the presidential transition period, and he entered the office on Jan. 20, 2017, meaning his tenure there lasted just barely longer than six months. The secretary of homeland security position requires Senate confirmation, meaning whoever Trump picks as a replacement will have to go through the process.
In a tweet following the Kelly announcement, Trump thanked the outgoing Priebus for his "service and dedication to his country," and said he and the now-jobless career Republican official "accomplished a lot together."
The news of Priebus' dismissal came just after freshly minted White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci went on an overt crusade against him in the press, including in a wildly aggressive and off-color conversation with Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker on Wednesday. Specifically, omitting some of the obscenities, Scaramucci called the Priebus a "paranoid schizophrenic," accused the 45-year-old political operative of blocking him from getting a White House job back in January, and said he would "be asked to resign very shortly." In light of Friday's events, it sounds as if Scaramucci knew what he was talking about.
Kelly will be the first former general to serve as White House chief of staff since Alexander Haig did so during the Nixon and Ford administrations. According to ABC News, Trump praised Kelly during a speech to law enforcement officers in Long Island, New York, on Friday afternoon, shortly before the announcement was made, and commented on the move as he disembarked from Air Force One in Maryland:
Reince is a good man. John Kelly will do a fantastic job. General Kelly has been a star. Done an incredible job thus far. Respected by everybody. A great, great American. Reince Priebus, a good man.
In short, while the internal machinations behind this decision are not yet clear, Friday's events fall in line with what recent reporting suggested was been going on behind the scenes at the White House. With Scaramucci's ascension prompting the resignation of former Press Secretary Sean Spicer, a longtime friend and close associate of Priebus, followed by his incendiary attacks on Priebus in the press (which, according to the Daily Beast, Trump reportedly green-lit), this news isn't exactly surprising.
But it is unique, and somewhat unprecedented. It's never happened before that a sitting president has plucked the head of the DHS to replace their chief of staff this way. The decision will necessitate a transition period for the country's homeland security agency, although for the time being, former deputy DHS secretary Elaine Duke will take over as acting secretary.
Though the circumstances of Kelly's career change are unique, this isn't the first time in recent memory that a president's DHS secretary has left the job sooner than one might expect. Since the position was first established in 2003, former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have both gone through three different DHS secretaries ― two confirmed for the top job, and one acting. Trump is currently on his second, although assuming he nominates someone new to replace Duke in the top job, he'll reach his third in relatively short order.