Meadows joins White House in crisis mode
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) is poised to enter the White House as President Trump’s new chief of staff at a time when the administration faces its most dire crisis yet with the rapidly spreading coronavirus pandemic.
Meadows will be closely watched to see if he can transform from a political animal to a White House official who can help quarterback the administration’s response to an outbreak that has killed thousands in America.
The former House Freedom Caucus chairman, who gained a reputation for engaging in political gamesmanship in the lower chamber, now faces the challenge of effectively handling a national emergency as the White House hopes to project preparedness and competence.
The job is a difficult one, even without the coronavirus or an election just months away, but Meadows’s former House colleagues and staffers say he is up to the task of implementing the president’s vision.
“Mark is the right person to be Chief of Staff in these difficult times,” Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) told The Hill in a statement. “He comes in with a strong personal relationship with the President and with Mark’s management style and his business experience, he is being well received by the staff all throughout the organization.”
One Republican who worked closely with Meadows in the House remarked how quickly the North Carolina Republican made a name for himself before landing the influential White House job.
“I think Mark is a survivor,” the Republican said. “That’s a meteoric rise. You have to have a really good skillset to be able to do that.”
Meadows is expected to start at the White House this week, shortly after resigning from Congress.
Meadows will be filling the position of outgoing acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, a former House colleague and Freedom Caucus member who is said to have waning influence with Trump.
Meadows, a fierce Trump defender who is in frequent communication with the president, will be coming in fresh with a vital asset: the president’s ear.
Meadows’s strong congressional relationships could make his role in the White House increasingly more important if the administration wants to enact additional legislation to address the coronavirus and its devastating effect on the economy.
“That is a great quality to anyone, but certainly a tremendous asset when you are chief of staff to the president,” said Meadows’s close friend, Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.
Still, his flamethrower approach has alienated some colleagues throughout his five terms in office. But Republicans argue that even during standoffs with GOP leaders, he never burned any bridges.
Capitol Hill allies often point to how the once frosty relationship between Meadows and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has since thawed.
Meadows was a key figure when the House Freedom Caucus flexed its political muscle in 2015 after the hard-line conservative group forced then-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to resign. The group then blocked McCarthy from succeeding Boehner as Speaker.
But those battles have faded in the Trump era. Recently, McCarthy essentially blessed Meadows’s move to be the next ranking member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee — a position he has long sought, but one he served in fleetingly after Trump announced Meadows as his next chief of staff.
When he starts at the White House, Meadows will be working with administration officials he has built relationships with over the past three years. Those officials include advisers like Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, sources tell The Hill.
As a member of the Oversight panel, Meadows also got to know Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin from their work on postal reform, according to one former administration official who worked closely with Mnuchin.
Mnuchin is one of the few remaining original Cabinet members under Trump, and one who is playing a key role advising Trump on the economic impact of the coronavirus. He helped lead negotiations with Congress on legislative packages to address the coronavirus pandemic, including the $2 trillion emergency relief passage approved by both chambers and signed by Trump last week.
Amid the negotiations between the White House and Senate leaders, Meadows became more visible, making repeated visits to the White House and even appearing on video behind the president during a press briefing about the coronavirus.
Mulvaney, in contrast, has remained in self-isolation since mid-March, after coming in contact with an individual who tested positive for the coronavirus.
In addition to his White House and congressional ties, allies say Meadows brings communication skills that will serve him well in the administration.
“At a time when a cohesive message and response to the virus is key, Mark Meadows’s talent for communications and strategy will be an immense value” to the president, said one former staffer.
Other Republicans who know Meadows well say he will likely try to present contrary or conflicting viewpoints to Trump and then allow him to decide, all without infringing on the president’s operating style.
“I feel that he will avoid any of the problem areas and that he will not interfere with the president’s operating style, which is important,” Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s personal attorneys, told NPR.
Morgan Chalfant and Scott Wong contributed.