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Meadows joins White House facing reelection challenges

Meadows joins White House facing reelection challenges
© Bonnie Cash

President TrumpDonald John TrumpGiuliani goes off on Fox Business host after she compares him to Christopher Steele Trump looks to shore up support in Nebraska NYT: Trump had 7 million in debt mostly tied to Chicago project forgiven MORE has installed Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsWhite House science office says Trump ended COVID-19 pandemic as US hits record cases Obama rips Trump's pandemic response: 'He's jealous of COVID's media coverage' The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Justice Barrett joins court; one week until Election Day MORE, one of his fiercest allies on Capitol Hill, as his fourth chief of staff, ushering in new leadership at the White House in the heat of the 2020 race that’s being overshadowed by coronavirus.

Meadows faces a major test as he takes on the role of chief of staff amid a growing public health crisis and Trump’s burgeoning reelection fight.

The North Carolina Republican, who was set to retire from Congress at the end of the year, will leave Capitol Hill early to replace Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyGaffes put spotlight on Meadows at tough time for Trump Trump says he may lower corporate tax rate to 20 percent if reelected Is Social Security safe from the courts? MORE as Trump’s chief of staff. Meadows is expected to work with Mulvaney to ensure a “smooth transition in the coming weeks,” said White House press secretary Stephanie GrishamStephanie GrishamMelania Trump cancels campaign appearance over 'lingering cough' The Memo: Trump grapples with credibility gap in crisis President Trump, Melania Trump test positive for COVID-19 MORE.

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A former chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, Meadows has been an influential conservative voice in Congress during his eight years in office. He is also known for having relationships across the aisle, something that is likely to be an asset as he assumes his new post.

Some Republicans view Meadows’s appointment as an encouraging sign after weeks of whispers that Mulvaney was on shaky ground with Trump.

“A lot of people in the West Wing report to the chief of staff, so I think having somebody who Trump has empowered will change things,” said GOP strategist Alex Conant, who worked on Republican campaigns and as a spokesman during the George W. Bush administration.

“It was clear Mulvaney was on his way out for a long time, which means that he wasn’t in charge of much,” Conant said. “I think there has been a bit of a leadership vacuum in the West Wing that Meadows will hopefully fill.”

One source close to the White House disputed the notion that Mulvaney had been sidelined at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., arguing that his tenure as chief of staff had simply “run its course.”

Trump on Friday night announced that Meadows would serve as his chief of staff and tapped Mulvaney as U.S. special envoy to Northern Ireland.

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“From what I understand, this has been in the works for a while,” the person said, noting people close to Mulvaney were aware of the personnel change.

The source described Meadows as having “a strategic mind, he can work across the aisle, and his relationships on Capitol Hill are good and he’s a good negotiator.”

Still, there are doubts that Meadows’s tenure will be any different than his predecessors’. Each entered the role in high standing with Trump only to see their influence decline.

“I think Mark will be at the mercy of the same dynamics as his predecessors. Thinking that will be different would be like the laws of physics suddenly not applying,” said one former White House official who worked under Trump.

Another former White House official predicted Meadows’s tenure “will not go well,” citing the dynamic of infighting and push for power that has become commonplace in the West Wing.

Meadows will be Trump’s fourth chief of staff in just over three years, each one taking a different approach from the last. Reince PriebusReinhold (Reince) Richard PriebusTrump adviser says president will give Biden 'a little bit more room to explain himself' at next debate Priebus expecting Trump win in election that will go 'down to the wire' Sunday shows preview: Coronavirus cases surge in the Midwest; Trump hits campaign trail after COVID-19 MORE, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, first took on the role at the start of the Trump administration and was jettisoned six months later.

John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE, a retired four-star Marine general and Trump’s former secretary of Homeland Security, served in the post for a year and a half and struggled to bring order to the White House, stepping down from the role at the end of 2018.

Mulvaney came from the White House Office of Management and Budget and attained the role in an acting capacity, serving for just more than a year. He was widely viewed as someone who did little to control the president’s impulsive behavior, drawing a sharp contrast to Kelly.

The former South Carolina congressman’s tenure became shrouded in controversy last year when an admission during an on-camera press conference undermined a key White House argument on Trump’s interactions with Ukraine regarding the House impeachment inquiry. Mulvaney later sought to walk the remark back.

His ouster was viewed by some as inevitable, and Meadows has long been viewed as a top candidate to replace him. Meadows has been spotted on Air Force One, campaigning with the president and at many White House events, demonstrating a close relationship with Trump.

His appointment to the role also comes amid other staff changes at the White House: Former communications director Hope HicksHope Charlotte HicksDocuments show Trump campaign ignored coronavirus guidelines at Duluth rally: report Trump aide won't get into whether Trump has done debate prep Trump seeks to change race with final debate MORE is returning as a senior adviser and John McEnteeJohn (Johnny) David McEnteeFormer Trump campaign adviser named to senior role at CIA: report Ben Carson notes reveal he's 'not happy' with White House official: report OPM chief abruptly resigns MORE, the president’s former body man, has taken over the personnel office.

Meadows has had Trump’s ear since early in his presidency, often overshadowing members of Republican leadership in terms of influence. He was considered for the chief of staff role in December 2018, ultimately turning it down before it went to Mulvaney.

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Meadows was among one of the handful of GOP lawmakers selected to work with Trump’s defense team during the Senate impeachment trial.

His long-standing relationship with the president underscores Trump’s broader effort to rid his government of those deemed insufficiently loyal or unwilling to enact his agenda.

“We have a long way to go,” Trump tweeted Monday. “There are still some very bad, sick people in our government - people who do not love our Country (In fact, they hate our Country!).”

Meadows could set in motion new staff changes in the White House, though Trump is said to have a good relationship with Mulvaney’s deputy, Emma Doyle, indicating she may be likely to stay on.

“I’m sure Mark should be able to bring in people he is confident in,” said the source close to the White House. “I do know that the president has a good relationship with Mick’s staff.”

The chief of staff position traditionally blends the roles of gatekeeper and adviser and requires a degree of relationship building to implement the president’s agenda.

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Meadows has demonstrated ties on both sides of the political aisle that could benefit Trump should he need to work with Congress to pass further legislation aimed at combating the coronavirus.

On Monday evening, a spokesman for Meadows said the congressman "was advised this weekend that he may have come in contact with" an attendee at the Conservative Political Action Conference in late February who later tested positive for the virus.

"Out of an abundance of caution, Meadows received testing which came back negative," his spokesman said. "While he’s experiencing zero symptoms, under doctors’ standard precautionary recommendations, he'll remain at home until the 14 day period expires this Wednesday."

While Meadows often butted heads with Republican leadership — he was a driving force in the effort to oust former Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBottom line Pelosi and Trump go a full year without speaking Jordan vows to back McCarthy as leader even if House loses more GOP seats MORE (R-Ohio) before Trump was elected — he was recently tapped to become the top Republican on the House Oversight and Reform Committee by the House GOP’s Steering Committee.

Meadows was a friend of the late Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene Cummings'Kamala' and 'Kobe' surge in popularity among baby names Women of color flex political might Black GOP candidate accuses Behar of wearing black face in heated interview MORE (D-Md.), offering a passionate and tear-filled eulogy at the former House Oversight chairman’s funeral in October.

But critics say those qualities matter less in the Trump era, where policy is often made by tweet and the president has shown a distaste for conventional governing practices.

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“He checks the box that he gets along with Trump. And the other box is that he presumably has more political savvy than a John Kelly, for example,” said Chris Whipple, author of “The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency.”

“The fact that he has relationships on Capitol Hill would help if he were working for a president who is interested in governing. Donald Trump has not gone through four White House chiefs of staff because he’s figuring out how to govern. He’s gone through four because he’s not interested in governing,” Whipple said.

Brett Samuels and Juliegrace Brufke contributed.