Meadows puts his fingerprints on Trump White House
New White House chief of staff Mark Meadows has executed a makeover of President Trump’s communications team and shepherded a $484 billion coronavirus relief package through Congress in his first few weeks on the job.
He’s done so while keeping a decidedly low profile, a shift from his cable news-heavy appearances as a conservative leader in the House, all while the White House is battling a global pandemic.
Many see Meadows as a good fit in his role at this time, given Trump’s impending reelection battle and the former congressman’s political instincts and relationships on Capitol Hill.
“I think most people believe that Meadows is a much better fit than his predecessors in that he is very unlike the previous three chiefs of staff,” said a source close to the White House. “Mark Meadows has a real feel for politics and is pretty savvy politically, which in an election year is an important function of chief of staff.”
Trump officially tapped Meadows to replace his then-chief of staff Mick Mulvaney — a move that had been rumored for months — at the beginning of March. Less than a month later, Meadows was working regularly out of the West Wing.
His presence was immediately felt.
Meadows presided over a shake-up that saw press secretary Stephanie Grisham replaced with Kayleigh McEnany, a top Trump campaign spokeswoman.
The remake of the press operation has been viewed positively by Republicans and those around the White House. The source close to the White House said that Republican strategists and those on Capitol Hill had long viewed the press operation as a weakness and that Meadows’s arrival was a catalyst for a change that had been sought by others in the administration.
A senior administration official said Meadows’s goal was to “reestablish more of a culture of engagement of press staff, both internally and externally.”
Meadows’s arrival has been followed by other staffing changes, including Emma Doyle, Mulvaney’s former deputy, moving to the East Wing to work as first lady Melania Trump’s chief of staff for policy. Dan Scavino was promoted to become Trump’s deputy chief of staff for communications earlier this week.
The personnel moves were nothing new for a White House that regularly undergoes staffing disruptions. And the developments have stoked talk about the potential for further departures, including rumors that White House Domestic Policy Council Director Joe Grogan, a Mulvaney ally, may soon leave.
The senior administration official pushed back on the prospect of forthcoming staff changes and noted that Grogan was doing a good job in his role.
Meadows, a longtime Trump ally on Capitol Hill, is described as well liked within the White House and the Trump campaign operation. He entered the new role with both a strong bond with Trump and previously established relationships with officials such as Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, something that sources say helped ease the transition.
Still, former administration officials note that the chief of staff faces an uphill battle regardless of their initial standing with Trump. They pointed to the president’s tendency to be his own chief of staff and spokesperson, the prominence of Kushner in the operation, and the difficulty of navigating different factions in the West Wing. Some officials were said to be frustrated by Grisham’s abrupt dismissal.
Meadows may already be finding the limits of his sway over the president as Trump continues to deliver daily press briefings that some of his allies view as politically damaging, said Chris Whipple, author of “The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency.”
“I think the most important thing in the middle of a national crisis like this is that the chief of staff has got to be the honest broker of information to the president and to some extent to the country as well,” Whipple said. “On that count, Meadows has clearly already failed because Trump continues to parade these untruths before a national audience every day.”
Whipple referred to Meadows as the “invisible man” in his first weeks on the job — a sharp contrast to his near constant presence in the media while leading the House Freedom Caucus.
Meadows observed one coronavirus briefing last weekend from the seats next to the podium but has otherwise maintained a low profile at a time when the president is holding fewer open press events due to the coronavirus and most of the communication is focused on public health.
“It’s a different world, but he understands that a different job calls for a different approach at least immediately, but when the time comes, he will be right out front defending the president,” the senior administration official said.
While Meadows’s new role has been less public, it has not come without scrutiny.
Meadows found himself at the center of attention last weekend after The New York Times reported he had cried twice in front of staffers since joining the White House and that his tendency to wear his emotions on his sleeve was not as well received as it had been on Capitol Hill.
Multiple sources who spoke to The Hill said the story had significantly overstated one of the episodes cited by the Times involving Meadows and an unnamed West Wing aide.
Trump also zeroed in on the story during a press briefing intended to focus on the coronavirus, excoriating the story and its author and suggesting the details had been misrepresented.
“I think he was crying probably — really, for the wrong reason they had it down. But he’s not a crier. And if he was — I know criers. I could tell you people that you know that are very famous. They cry, and that’s OK too,” Trump told reporters during a briefing last Saturday. “But it was a nasty story in so many ways. It was fake news.”
Meadows has been at the center of the White House efforts to address the novel coronavirus, which at times have been studded by confusion.
He was in charge of setting up an economic task force composed of administration officials to focus on reviving the U.S. economy before Trump abruptly tabled the idea. Trump opted instead to convene a council of more than 200 business and thought leaders and a separate group of nearly 100 House and Senate lawmakers to advise the administration on reopening, holding phone calls with them last week.
Meadows had more success as a central figure in hammering out the details of legislation to replenish the Paycheck Protection Program, even earning recognition from Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
“I want to thank someone I didn’t know very well — Chief of Staff Meadows — who is very good at making sure an agreement can come to fruition even in the wee hours of the morning,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.
Meadows’s role in securing the $484 billion bill had shades of irony, given his reputation in Congress for railing against bloated budget bills that raised the national debt.
Trump’s signing of the legislation Friday had already been preceded by divided discussion of another coronavirus relief measure, an endeavor likely to further test Meadows. Still, the new chief of staff will be helped by his years on Capitol Hill and penchant for negotiating, something that has bonded him and Trump from the beginning.
“One of the primary building blocks of the president’s relationship with Meadows is they are both negotiators,” the senior administration official said. “Meadows is able to bring the best out of the administration on that.”