President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump takes shot at new GOP candidate in Ohio over Cleveland nickname GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default MORE’s abrupt firing of secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - Supreme Court lets Texas abortion law stand Trump-era ban on travel to North Korea extended Want to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump MORE and the conflicting signals coming from the White House about whether more staff moves are on the way has Washington on edge.
That has potential targets for the next round of dismissals — including chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE, national security adviser H.R. McMaster, Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOvernight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability Stanford professors ask DOJ to stop looking for Chinese spies at universities in US Overnight Energy & Environment — Democrats detail clean electricity program MORE, Veterans Affairs Secretary David ShulkinDavid Jonathon ShulkinBiden's nominee for VA secretary isn't a veteran — does it matter? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Congress slogs toward COVID-19 relief, omnibus deal A crisis that unites veterans MORE and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben CarsonBen CarsonRepublicans are the 21st-century Know-Nothing Party Sunday shows preview: Delta concerns prompt CDC mask update; bipartisan infrastructure bill to face challenges in Senate Government indoctrination, whether 'critical' or 'patriotic,' is wrong MORE — wondering if they’re next.
The president on Thursday blasted back at media reports suggesting that a wholesale overhaul of Cabinet members and senior advisers is in the works, singling out one report as “exaggerated and false.”
But Trump also didn’t rule out some form of personnel shake-up.
“There will always be change, and I think you want to see change,” Trump said.
Those remarks mirrored a statement the president made after removing Tillerson from State on Monday. Trump said he’s “getting very close” to having the Cabinet and advisers he wants.
At Thursday’s briefing, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was quizzed by reporters about the future of several senior administration officials, including McMaster, Carson and Shulkin.
Sanders’s response didn’t offer any comfort to any of the embattled Cabinet members or advisers believed to be on thin ice.
“As you move through an administration you have different priorities you’re focused on and different people that are going to lead those efforts and those priorities, so you may have changes from time to time,” Sanders said. “The president is committed, though, to making sure he has the right people in the right place at the right time.”
Speculation about a staff shake-up comes at a time of tremendous turnover that has extended from the West Wing to the agencies.
Conservatives have praised some of the moves, which they believe will be better for the administration in the long run.
Economist and television personality Larry Kudlow will replace national economic adviser Gary Cohn, who resigned amid a disagreement with Trump over tariffs.
Cohn is a Democrat, and never established a voice within the administration. Kudlow has universal support from fiscal conservatives and, while he also disagrees with Trump’s move to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, he has already proved more adept at navigating differences with the president.
“I want to also see different ideas," Trump said Thursday. "Larry Kudlow just came in a little while ago, and I think Larry is going to be outstanding as economic adviser.”
The White House is also enthusiastic about Tillerson’s firing.
The president has nominated CIA Director Mike PompeoMike PompeoPoll: Biden, Trump statistically tied in favorability Majority of voters disapprove of execution of Afghanistan withdrawal: poll Sunday shows preview: Coronavirus dominates as country struggles with delta variant MORE to replace Tillerson as the nation’s top diplomat. Trump is far more comfortable with Pompeo than he ever was with Tillerson, who preferred to work on his own and angered White House officials who felt he kept them out of the loop.
Some Democrats who supported Pompeo’s nomination for CIA director are saying they’re still considering whether they can support him for State. But the White House says it’s spoiling for the fight.
“I think it sounds like Democrats are trying to play political games with our national security and certainly with our diplomatic efforts, which would be a sad day and a disgrace to this country,” Sanders said.
And the Trump administration is equally defiant over its nomination of Pompeo’s replacement at the CIA, Gina Haspel, who could be the first woman to run the spy agency. Democrats are lining up in opposition to Haspel over her involvement in the CIA torture program during the George W. Bush administration.
“The president is incredibly proud of his nominee,” Sanders said. “She’s highly qualified, highly recommended, and highly respected from both sides of the aisle, particularly from the intelligence community.”
Still, the administration has been bitten by scandal in other areas, potentially forcing the administration to make tough personnel decisions.
Shulkin, the Veterans Affairs secretary, was the subject of a blistering inspector general report that found he misspent taxpayer money on lavish travel for himself and his wife. Shulkin has also been clashing with Trump’s political appointees, and many close to the White House believe it’s only a matter of time before he’s gone.
“The president has a large number of individuals that are working hard to make sure that the VA is helping veterans at the best level possible,” Sanders said Thursday. “We continue to review if there is anything we can do to improve on this. … I don't have any personnel announcements but we're looking for how to better the system every day. Whether it is through policy or personnel changes, not just at the top but across the board, we made a number of changes within the personnel and we’re making sure we're looking at how to best serve our nation's veterans.”
Carson has also been plagued by allegations of lavish spending, after his department ordered, then canceled, the purchase of a $31,000 dining set.
“This is something we're looking into,” Sanders said. “I don't have any updates on that front at this point.”
McMaster, the national security adviser, has never clicked with Trump and has long been believed to be on his way out.
And Trump has frequently vented his frustration about Sessions, blaming him for the existence of a special counsel. Firing Sessions could open a path for Trump to appoint a replacement who would fire special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE, since Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation.
And even Kelly, who was once viewed as untouchable, appears to have fallen out of grace with the president after a damaging scandal surrounding a senior aide who had access to sensitive information despite FBI warnings about past domestic violence allegations.
In the wake of that controversy, Kelly purged several staffers who failed background checks. Most recently, Johnny McEntee, Trump’s personal assistant and a popular West Wing figure, was escorted off White House grounds and reassigned to the campaign.
Several other aides, including communications director and Trump confidante Hope HicksHope HicksThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - US prepares vaccine booster plan House panel probing Jan. 6 attack seeks Trump records UPDATED: McEnany, Fox News talks on pause MORE, are leaving voluntarily.
On Thursday, the White House denied that the upheaval was the result of chaos that could lead to potential vulnerabilities abroad.
“I certainly don’t think there are any vulnerabilities here,” Sanders said. “The president wants to make sure he has the right people in the right places at the right time. As we move forward into this year, we’ve had an incredibly successful year, the results of the last year don’t lie. And as we look at new successes we’re focused on, the president wants to make sure he has the right people in those places.”