In Washington, it has long been said if you want a news story to die, release it on a Friday afternoon. In no shape or form is that true with the Trump Administration. In one of the most turbulent weeks in any presidential administration, Friday’s stunning announcement that DHS Secretary John Kelly would be the new White House Chief of Staff caught an already shell-shocked weary Washington by surprise.
The writing may have been on the wall in terms of Reince Priebus’ time as White House Chief of Staff, but Kelly’s elevation to that spot – into what is an even tougher job – bringing some semblance of order to a chaotic Trump White House is even more Herculean task.
As much as I am disappointed to see Sec. Kelly leave DHS, in his short time there he cast a deep shadow. He made no illusion to anyone that he had the backs of the Department’s workforce and was more than willing to confront its armchair critics.
As a career public servant with 30-plus years in the U.S. Marine Corps, Kelly carries none of the political or ideological baggage that others in the White House Chief of Staff position have previously brought with them. In short, he’s a focused mission guy. As his career has demonstrated, Kelly makes sure his people are trained, equipped and ready to do battle, and with no hesitation, he’s more than willing to jump into the trench with them at any time and any place. That’s a big reason why I hate to see him leave the Department.
In a Department where morale has been anything but stellar, having an accomplished and inspirational leader like Kelly at the helm who publicly and privately fought for his people and their mission roles, it’s a loss. Lord knows the White House needs someone like him to bring some semblance of order to the daily internal clashes and power struggles. And if he’s given real authority and the means to bring that order and discipline, the President, the Trump Administration and the country will be better off. That’s still a tall order for anyone but if anyone can do it, John Kelly can.
In terms of successors, fortunately for the nation and DHS, Elaine Duke will serve as Acting Secretary until a new one is nominated by the President. Her addition to the Trump DHS team was resoundingly greeted with cheers and applause internally and externally of DHS when she was nominated earlier this year. She not only knows all of the Department’s functions and operations, given her being a part of the Department on its first day, but her team-building demeanor will allow her to continue some of the morale rebuilding efforts that Kelly brought with him.
But in terms of enhancing the nation’s homeland security, having John Kelly at the White House is probably what the nation really needs right now. No one could look at the turbulence of this past week or any of the preceding weeks and see any sense of security, order, discipline and mission focus on display. That’s been largely non-existent for a variety of factors, but my hopes (and prayers) that having the right person with the demonstrated skill, capacity and character can make the difference – then John Kelly is indeed the right person for the job. He’s made a career of it.