Hicks departure leaves void in White House

Hicks departure leaves void in White House
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The White House has a massive hole to fill as it seeks to replace communications director Hope HicksHope Charlotte HicksHicks almost left WH months before she announced her resignation: report Kelly tells White House staff no more personnel changes coming Trump told advisers Kelly's job is '100% safe': report MORE, whose departure is seen as a devastating blow to President TrumpDonald John TrumpLieu: There will be 'widespread civil unrest' if Trump fires Mueller Attorneys for Trump, Mueller hold face-to-face meeting to discuss potential interview topics: report Trump tariffs not helpful for nuclear talks, South Korea says MORE at a time when his administration is besieged by conflict.

Hicks has been by Trump’s side since the start of his campaign, and allies describe her as a steadying force with an unparalleled ability to connect with her boss.

Her departure immediately set off jockeying to replace her, although the president’s allies say that no one will be able to fill her unique role in Trump World.


Trump allies privately acknowledge that it will be difficult to draw top talent from the outside into the high-profile role given the White House’s reputation for chaos and the ongoing special counsel investigation that has required staffers to lawyer up.

“This is a blow to the president, not just because Hope was a trusted and loyal aide, and someone he liked, but she was also very competent and had dramatically improved the White House communications office,” Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy, who is friends with the president, told The Hill.

“Finding someone who has the same level of trust with the president, and at the same time can do the job in the office, is not an easy.”

Hicks has not set an end date and could stick around for several more months. Those who know her insist that the announced departure does not say anything about the state of affairs within the administration.

Rather, they say the New Yorker never felt comfortable in Washington and that the three-year grind of the campaign and the administration had taken its toll.

But Trump’s allies acknowledge that it’s impossible to separate Hicks’s departure from the events that have rocked the White House in recent weeks.

Chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE has been under fire for his defense of a senior aide who resigned after being accused of domestic abuse by both of his ex-wives.

That controversy spotlighted the White House’s security clearances process and led Kelly to downgrade senior adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerTrump adds to legal team after attacks on Mueller Overnight Finance: Congress races to finish .2T funding bill | What to look for in omnibus | AT&T merger trial kicks off | Stocks fall on tech troubles | Trump targets Venezuelan cryptocurrency | Record SEC whistleblower payout Email service: White House staffer was a 'password idiot' MORE’s access. That move has led to a deep chill between the chief of staff and Trump’s son-in-law, igniting the kind of leaking and backbiting that the administration had hoped to move beyond.

The Russia investigation continues to hang over the White House and could be the driving force behind several other departures as the staff grows weary of the mounting legal bills and interviews with the special prosecutor.

This week, Kushner’s longtime spokesman, Josh Raffel, announced he’d be leaving the White House. So too is Kushner’s longtime family friend Reed Cordish, who had been working with him on a government IT overhaul.

Trump’s allies are increasingly vocal in demanding that Kushner follow them out the door, saying the president would be better served with his son-in-law on the campaign or back to private life in New York. Kushner’s business deals have increasingly attracted scrutiny from the media and federal investigators.

Kelly is similarly under siege by his critics, like former communications director Anthony ScaramucciAnthony ScaramucciThe Hill's 12:30 Report Scaramucci signs book deal on 'The Blue Collar President': report NYT Opinion Twitter account mocks Trump for high turnover MORE, who blames the chief of staff for the turnover and scandals.

“The morale is terrible,” Scaramucci said Thursday on CNN, predicting more staff departures.

“I think it’s the chief of staff,” he said. “I think there’s a culture of fear inside the White House.”

Speaking on Thursday at an event marking the Department of Homeland Security’s 15th anniversary, Kelly, who once led the department, joked that he was forced into his current job as punishment from God.

“The last thing I wanted to do was walk away from one of the great honors of my life, being the secretary of Homeland Security, but I did something wrong and God punished me, I guess,” Kelly said.

Once Hicks leaves, some wonder who Trump will turn to, at least among nonstaff members, for counsel.

“It changes the entire dynamic at the White House in a snap of the fingers,” said one person close to the White House. “There was no one who understood Trump’s voice more than her. From a communications perspective, she’s irreplaceable. No one else on that team can reflect his voice and his needs the way Hope was able to. And now the larger issue is that yet another loyalist is gone and that could have long-term reverberations.”

Mercedes Schlapp, the White House director of strategic communications, has emerged as an early favorite to succeed Hicks. The Cuban-American is a former Fox News personality and veteran of the George W. Bush administration.

Schlapp’s husband, Matt Schlapp, the president of the American Conservative Union, said Thursday on MSNBC that she would likely take the job if it is offered to her.

“She's going to be very open to anything the president wants her to do,” Schlapp said.

But insiders sought to pump the brakes on speculation she is a lock for the role, saying the president does not know her very well. Some questioned whether she would have the support of the communications shop that she would be leading.

One source close to the White House said that former campaign communications director Jason Miller could have the job if he wants it. Miller is presently working at a prominent consulting firm where he likely makes more money than the White House could offer.

“If Jason wants in the White House, I think the president would be thrilled to have him back,” the source said. “There’s no one who can fill Hope’s roll, but Jason might be the closest you can get.”

Trump refers to Miller affectionately as “my Jas.” During the campaign, Miller would brief Trump before dawn on the day ahead in messaging and the media.

There is also speculation that press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders could get the job, which would effectively be a promotion and free her of the daily grind of the press briefings. That would require finding a new press secretary, a similarly tricky role to fill.

Bryan Lanza, the communications director for Trump's transition team, is under consideration. Lanza currently works for the Mercury, the political strategy firm, and is a contributor on CNN.

Insiders also mentioned two other names as potential replacements — Tony Sayegh, the assistant secretary for public affairs at the Treasury Department, and Jessica Ditto, the White House deputy director of communications.