White House overhauls staff ahead of midterm year

White House overhauls staff ahead of midterm year
© Getty Images

The White House is preparing to overhaul its senior staff next month, ahead of what could be a tumultuous midterm election in 2018. 

The expected changes come at a turning point for the administration, after President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from the Democratic debate As Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Leading Democrats largely pull punches at debate MORE wrapped up a hectic first year in office with a major legislative victory in the Republican tax bill. 

One imminent change will reportedly include tapping Johnny DeStefano, a White House aide who worked for former House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFormer Speaker Boehner's official portrait unveiled Key Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock From learning on his feet to policy director MORE (R-Ohio), to help manage the West Wing’s political outreach. 


Under the plan, which was reported by multiple media outlets, DeStefano would temporarily oversee the Office of Public Liaison, the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and the Office of Political Affairs in addition to his current role as White House personnel chief. 

A White House official said the move has not yet been finalized and it remains unclear what DeStefano’s new title would be. 

In another change, White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE is expected to name Jim Carroll as his top deputy. 

The move, which was first reported in November, is expected to be announced after the new year, according to the White House official. 

Carroll, the top lawyer at the Office of Management and Budget, would fill a key vacancy left by Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenHillicon Valley: Google to limit political ad targeting | Senators scrutinize self-driving car safety | Trump to 'look at' Apple tariff exemption | Progressive lawmakers call for surveillance reforms | House panel advances telecom bills Minority lawmakers call out Google for hiring former Trump DHS official White House backs Stephen Miller amid white nationalist allegations MORE, a close Kelly ally whom Trump chose to lead the Department of Homeland Security.

The changes are being overseen by Kelly, who has made it his mission to bring order and stability to a White House that was wracked by chaos for many of the months before his ascension last summer.

The retired Marine Corps general is trying to ensure that any tumult caused by an expected wave of departures doesn’t derail the White House heading into next year. 

Trump and the GOP are expected to face political headwinds in next year’s elections, when forecasters believe the party is in danger of losing control of Congress. 

In recent days, Trump has signaled a desire to win over Democrats behind bipartisan legislation — something that could be difficult given the electoral winds. Some of the staff changes appear intended to increase Trump’s chances.

The revolving door of senior officials is virtually unprecedented for modern White Houses, according to an analysis published by The Wall Street Journal

Figures compiled by the Brookings Institution and shared with the paper showed 34 percent of senior Trump officials have resigned, been fired or left their roles in Year 1. 

The administration with the next-highest first-year turnover rate was Ronald Reagan’s, which was 17 percent. 

Speaking to reporters before Christmas, a senior administration official said the turnover is not a result of hiring mistakes made by Trump.

“No, the president didn't make a mistake. Why would you think that?” the official asked a reporter.  

“I know we love to learn the more generic points of palace intrigue than the finer points of policy sometimes, but we have a really good team here.  And we have a team that is very well managed by the chief of staff,” the official said. 

DeStefano will be expected to fill the vacuum left by the departure of deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn, who had a wide portfolio that included overseeing the White House political operation, public outreach and legislative affairs. 

The White House will likely assign other staffers to run the offices under DeStefano’s watch, according to Axios, which first reported the moves. 

DeStefano is seen as a competent adviser who is well-liked by people within the various factions inside the West Wing, according to current and former White House officials. 

“Johnny gets it. He has a good one-on-one relationship with the president, too,” said one official.

The aide could bolster the White House political shop, which has come under fire following the Alabama Senate race, in which the GOP candidate Trump endorsed lost amid allegations of sexual misconduct. 

Bill Stepien, the White House political director, has faced sharp criticism from some Trump allies who say the result in Alabama shows he is not capable of leading the operation heading into the 2018 elections. 

But Stepien’s defenders say he is astute and a hard worker who is not fully empowered to carry out his duties. 

Nonetheless, current and former officials say DeStefano has strong political instincts and has ties to top officials at the Republican National Committee (RNC) that could help the White House form a cohesive plan to handle the midterms. 

Before joining the White House, DeStefano led a company that provided data services to the RNC. He also worked as a top official at the House Republicans' campaign arm in 2010, when the party took back the majority. 

DeStefano could also give new power to the Office of Public Liaison, which is tasked with coordinating with outside interest groups. The office has largely been leaderless this year and its communications director, Omarosa Manigault NewmanOmarosa Onee Manigault NewmanAuthor of anonymous 'resistance' NYT op-ed to publish book Juan Williams: Black Republicans call out Trump — finally — on race Michael Cohen denies Omarosa advising him in prison MORE, recently resigned from her role.

Marc Short, the White House legislative affairs director, is expected to report directly to Kelly, according to media reports. 

But as someone with ties to Capitol Hill, DeStefano could possibly offer advice and guidance to the legislative operation in the new year. 

While vacationing in Florida, Trump spoke about his desire to pass a bipartisan health-care bill, an infrastructure package and a measure to address young immigrants who benefit from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that he scrapped. 

“Now, in my opinion, they should come to me on infrastructure,” he said of Democrats during an impromptu interview with The New York Times. “They should come to me, which they have come to me, on DACA … And they should definitely come to me on health care.” 

That effort would stand in sharp contrast to the White House’s approach in 2017, when Trump and the GOP tried to pass major legislation on ObamaCare and taxes along party lines. 

Trump claimed his administration reached across the aisle on those issues but insisted he did not hear back from Democratic lawmakers, a claim the Democrats deny. 

“You know, we hear bullshit from the Democrats,” the president said. 

Meanwhile, the holiday vacation Trump is currently taking has showed the limits of his staff's ability to control the president and set a direction for the administration.  

While spending time at his Mar-a-Lago club and on the golf course without his usual coterie of aides, Trump has sent provocative tweets about the Russia investigation, global warming and Amazon. 

Trump also accused China of illegally selling oil to North Korea, which would be a violation of international sanctions on Pyongyang. China has denied such sales.

The Times interview was conducted unbeknownst to aides.