Washington wonders: Who will get axed next?

Washington wonders: Who will get axed next?
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpFlorida GOP lawmaker says he's 'thinking' about impeachment Democrats introduce 'THUG Act' to block funding for G-7 at Trump resort Kurdish group PKK pens open letter rebuking Trump's comparison to ISIS MORE’s abrupt firing of secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonTrump sends nomination for Russia ambassador to Senate Democrats eye Pompeo testimony On The Money: IMF estimates US-China trade war to shave 0.8 percent from global economy | NY prosecutors urge appeals court not to block Trump tax subpoena | Turkish bank linked to Giuliani client charged with fraud, money laundering 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 SessionsTrump attacks Sessions: A 'total disaster' and 'an embarrassment to the great state of Alabama' Ocasio-Cortez fires back at Washington Times after story on her 'high-dollar hairdo' Trump's tirades, taunts and threats are damaging our democracy MORE, Veterans Affairs Secretary David ShulkinDavid Jonathon ShulkinVA under pressure to ease medical marijuana rules Press: Acosta, latest to walk the plank Senior Trump administration official to leave post next week MORE and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonTrump officials say aid to Puerto Rico was knowingly stalled after Hurricane Maria Yes, President Trump, we do have a homelessness crisis and you're making it harder for us to address New HUD rule would eliminate housing stability for thousands of students MORE — wondering if they’re next.

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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 PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoEx-Watergate prosecutor says evidence in impeachment inquiry 'clearly' points to Trump Pompeo rejects idea that the United States abandoned Kurds Mike Pompeo's Faustian bargain 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) Swan MuellerFox News legal analyst says Trump call with Ukraine leader could be 'more serious' than what Mueller 'dragged up' Lewandowski says Mueller report was 'very clear' in proving 'there was no obstruction,' despite having 'never' read it Fox's Cavuto roasts Trump over criticism of network 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 Charlotte HicksTrump: 'Top shows' on Fox News, cable are 'Fair (or great)' to me Trump criticizes Fox, which 'isn't working for us anymore' Sarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor 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.”