Meadows joins White House facing reelection challenges

Meadows joins White House facing reelection challenges
© Bonnie Cash

President TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump pitches Goya Foods products on Twitter Sessions defends recusal: 'I leave elected office with my integrity intact' Former White House physician Ronny Jackson wins Texas runoff MORE has installed Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Argentum - California a coronavirus cautionary tale as it retrenches to stave off infections The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Signs of a Trump, Fauci rift on display Meadows trying to root out suspected White House leakers by feeding them info: Axios 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 MulvaneyLong waits for test results spark new COVID-19 fears Trump's former chief of staff hits coronavirus efforts: 'We still have a testing problem' Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Chris Christie 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 posts video of herself wearing mask during stop at women's center Melania Trump's spokeswoman slams 'inappropriate and insensitive comments' about Barron Trump Melania Trump is 'behind-the-scenes' but 'unbelievably influential': book MORE.

ADVERTISEMENT

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.

ADVERTISEMENT

“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 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, 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 HicksCuomo turned down Trump invitation to participate in April press briefing: report Trump shakes up White House communications team Meadows joins White House facing reelection challenges MORE is returning as a senior adviser and John McEnteeJohn (Johnny) David McEnteeOPM chief abruptly resigns Meadows joins White House facing reelection challenges Trump administration hires another college senior for key role 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.

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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 BoehnerLott says lobbying firm cut ties to prevent him from taking clients Lobbying firm cuts ties to Trent Lott amid national anti-racism protests Bush, Romney won't support Trump reelection: NYT 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 CummingsFacial recognition tools under fresh scrutiny amid police protests The sad spectacle of Trump's enablers Democrat Kweisi Mfume wins House primary in Maryland 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

“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.