Mulvaney faces uncertain future after public gaffes

Acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyOne year in, Democrats frustrated by fight for Trump tax returns Meadows joins White House in crisis mode Meadows resigns from Congress, heads to White House MORE is finding himself on shaky ground following a pair of public appearances that produced more problems than solutions for his boss, President TrumpDonald John TrumpCDC updates website to remove dosage guidance on drug touted by Trump Trump says he'd like economy to reopen 'with a big bang' but acknowledges it may be limited Graham backs Trump, vows no money for WHO in next funding bill MORE.

The former South Carolina congressman’s ouster is not imminent, according to those familiar with his standing with the president, but he has drawn the ire of Trump’s allies.

ADVERTISEMENT

Trump did not respond to shouted questions about his chief of staff’s fate during a Cabinet meeting on Monday. But Mulvaney got a warm reception during a senior staff meeting on Monday morning and sources say many inside the White House are still satisfied with him.

"Mick Mulvaney’s standing in the White House has not changed. He is still the Acting Chief of Staff and has the President’s confidence,"  White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said in an email.

One source familiar with the mood internally said, "A lot of folks are still really happy with Mick."

But frustration has swelled over some of his public statements that put the White House and its Republican allies in a difficult position in recent days. 

Mulvaney and White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who is leading the administration’s legal defense against impeachment, are also said to be feuding. 

The firestorm began Thursday when Mulvaney took to the White House briefing room to announce Trump National Doral would host the Group of Seven (G-7) summit next year. He then took questions from reporters about the ongoing impeachment inquiry focused on the president’s request for Ukraine to investigate Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump shakes up WH communications team The Hill's Campaign Report: Wisconsin votes despite coronavirus pandemic The Intercept's Ryan Grim says Cuomo is winning over critics MORE.

Mulvaney said security aid to Ukraine was dependent partly on the country investigating a conspiracy theory undermining the conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. 

Given multiple chances to clarify, he instead repeated that there were three reasons for holding up the aid while insisting that the Bidens were not involved.

 “I have news for everybody: Get over it,” Mulvaney said. “There's going to be political influence in foreign policy.”

Within a few hours, Mulvaney issued a statement claiming he had not said what he told reporters and denying the existence of any quid pro quo with Ukraine.

Trump then reversed his decision to host the G-7 at Doral late Saturday, undermining the main reason his chief of staff had faced the press in the first place.

Mulvaney attempted to do damage control with an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” but struggled to clean up his remarks without causing new headaches. 

Mulvaney said Trump “still considers himself to be in the hospitality business,” a comment that raised eyebrows considering the widespread skepticism about the president’s connections to his business.

Mulvaney described two conditions for holding up aid after he had listed three during the press briefing. Anchor Chris WallaceChristopher (Chris) WallacePublic health officials warn of grim days ahead: 'This next week is going to look bad' Whitmer: Lack of national coronavirus strategy 'creating a more porous situation' Bill Gates: Coronavirus numbers will likely plateau by month's end if we quarantine 'well enough' MORE played video clips that contradicted Mulvaney’s defenses of his Ukraine remarks, undercutting his attempted defenses at times. 

Asked if he had offered to resign over last week’s briefing, Mulvaney said he had not.

“Absolutely, positively not. I’m very happy working there. Did I have the perfect press conference? No,” Mulvaney said. 

Trump has seemed to shy away from questions about his chief of staff in recent days. Trump said he had confidence in Mulvaney shortly after his press conference Thursday, and he told reporters Friday that Mulvaney had “clarified” the issue before pivoting to a discussion about his recent trip to Texas and Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. 

There has been little public support for Mulvaney from Trump allies and other members of the administration. 

“I think it’s probably somebody who didn’t know what they were talking about,” Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyPresident tightens grip on federal watchdogs Officials sound alarm over virus relief check scams Trump takes heat for firing intel watchdog during pandemic MORE (R-Iowa) said Monday.

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoUS to label white supremacist group as terrorist organization for first time Trump administration eyes Afghan security forces funding for aid cut: report Trump says 40,000 Americans have been repatriated who were stranded abroad MORE opted not to come to Mulvaney’s defense during his own television appearance on Sunday.

“I will leave to the chief of staff to explain what it is he said and what he intended,” Pompeo said on ABC’s “This Week.”

The Justice Department and Trump’s lawyer Jay SekulowJay Alan SekulowMeadows joins White House in crisis mode What the impeachment vote looked like from inside the chamber Senate votes to acquit Trump on articles of impeachment MORE also sought to distance themselves from Mulvaney’s remarks last week. 

Fox News host Sean HannitySean Patrick HannityTrump says he'd like economy to reopen 'with a big bang' but acknowledges it may be limited Trump hits Biden for suggesting virus may force Democrats to hold virtual convention Trump lashes out at NYT, WaPost amid criticism of coronavirus response MORE called Mulvaney “dumb,” and Steve BannonStephen (Steve) Kevin BannonSunday shows preview: As coronavirus spreads in the U.S., officials from each sector of public life weigh in Trump team fiercely debates how long coronavirus restrictions should stay in place Sunday shows preview: State governors and top medical officials prepare for next week of COVID-19 response MORE, Trump’s former chief strategist, told the New York Post he didn’t feel “comfortable” when he saw Mulvaney and lamented the lack of coordination among those in the White House on impeachment messaging.

Mulvaney has served as chief of staff for 10 months without having the “acting” qualifier removed from his title, and there have been rumors of friction with Trump at times during his tenure.

But there is skepticism that his latest public gaffes will lead to his firing in the immediate future.

Mulvaney has some built-in advantages toward keeping his job, including his closeness to the president and the dearth of replacement candidates willing to take on the job.

Mulvaney is one of a handful of close confidantes Trump has in the top echelons of his White House staff. He has been part of the Cabinet since early 2017, first as director of the Office of Management and Budget and now as acting chief of staff.

The president tapped him for the role last December following a search to replace John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE that yielded several candidates who publicly turned down the job. It’s unlikely that any of those candidates — Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsTrump shakes up WH communications team Kayleigh McEnany to take over as White House press secretary Grisham leaves role as White House press secretary MORE (R-N.C.), former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or Nick Ayers, a former aide to Vice President Pence — would be interested this time around either.

Both of Mulvaney’s predecessors — Kelly and former Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince PriebusReinhold (Reince) Richard PriebusMeadows joins White House facing reelection challenges Trump names Mark Meadows as new chief of staff Mick Mulvaney's job security looks strong following impeachment MORE — exited after tumultuous tenures in the Trump White House.

 “Being chief of staff is a very difficult position, and I don’t think you want to be in the business of having four chiefs of staff in less than three years,” said Sam Nunberg, a former Trump campaign adviser. “At this point the president is his own chief of staff anyway.”

Mulvaney’s departure would further complicate an already ineffective White House strategy of blocking current and former administration officials from cooperating with House Democrats in their impeachment inquiry.

The White House would have a difficult time claiming executive privilege over Mulvaney’s testimony if he were fired. As one of the president’s closest aides and someone involved in the Ukraine dealings, Mulvaney would prove a damaging witness.

“I’m sure he has his own detractors for whatever reason and those people love to pile on,” Nunberg said. “This is not the time to pile and have a public fight and dispute. This impeachment inquiry is not going anywhere. You will only make it worse.”

Jordain Carney contributed