In another staff shakeup, President Trump late Friday named Homeland Security Secretary Gen. John F. Kelly as White House chief of staff, forcing out the beleaguered Reince Priebus after only six months on the job.
“I am pleased to inform you that I have just named General/Secretary John F Kelly as White House Chief of Staff,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “He is a Great American and a Great Leader.”
The stunning move came after a week of rising speculation that Mr. Trump was seeking the resignation of Mr. Priebus, the former Republican National Committee chairman who had come under a series of relentless attacks by new White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci.
Mr. Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, has been praised by the president for his job performance at Homeland Security in securing the nation’s borders and helping to reduce illegal immigration by about two-thirds this year.
“John has also done a spectacular job at Homeland Security. He has been a true star of my Administration,” the president said.
Mr. Kelly will be sworn in Monday at the White House in time for a Cabinet meeting.
“He has helped seal the border and reduced illegal immigration by 70 percent,” said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. “He is respected by everyone, especially the people at the Department of Homeland Security. The entire administration loves him and no one is comparable.”
She said the president has been talking to Mr. Kelly for “a while” about the move.
“The conversations about this started with the president and Reince about two weeks ago,” Mrs. Sanders said.
Mr. Priebus said it was “one of the greatest honors of my life to serve this president and our country.”
“I want to thank the president for giving me this very special opportunity,” Mr. Priebus said. “I will continue to serve as a strong supporter of the president’s agenda and policies. I can’t think of a better person than General John Kelly to succeed me and I wish him God’s blessings and great success.”
Mr. Kelly, who used to run Southern Command for the military but clashed with the Obama administration, has overseen a massive culture change at Homeland Security, and particularly the immigration services.
He unshackled deportation agents to begin arresting more illegal immigrants, vowed to slash sacred-cow programs that couldn’t prove their worth, and repeatedly sparred with members of Congress who complained about his approach — including telling them to either rewrite the laws or “shut up.”
He has made no bones about his politically incorrect approach to his job.
“The American people voted in this election to stop terrorism, take back sovereignty at our borders, and put a stop to political correctness that for too long has dictated our approach to national security,” Mr. Kelly said when Mr. Trump first nominated him for the Homeland Security post last year.
The newly minted secretary was confirmed on an 88-11 vote in January, and has overseen one of the most obvious successes of the Trump administration, with illegal immigration across the border down significantly in the first six months.
It was the second major staff shakeup in Mr. Trump’s inner circle within one week. Last Friday, the president hired former hedge-fund manager Mr. Scaramucci, prompting the resignation of press secretary Sean Spicer. Mrs. Sanders was named the new press secretary.
The move to replace Mr. Priebus also came less than 24 hours after the president suffered a major setback in the Senate with the defeat of a Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, one of Mr. Trump’s biggest legislative priorities.
“Priebus is a good man but served as a weak chief of staff who did not have the mandate or authority to be effective in that position,” said a Republican with close ties to the White House. “This will be perceived as a move caused by the failure of the health care bill and overall lack of progress with legislative accomplishments that were promised during the campaign.”
Mrs. Sanders said the president and Mr. Priebus “accomplished a lot together.”
“He was loyal in his dedication to the president,” she said. “The president thanks him and his family for his great service to the country, and he will always be a member of the Trump Team.”
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, said Mr. Priebus “has left it all out on the field, for our party and our country. “Here is a guy from Kenosha, Wisconsin who revitalized the Republican National Committee and became White House chief of staff,” Mr. Ryan said in a statement. “He has served the president and the American people capably and passionately. He has achieved so much, and he has done it all with class. I could not be more proud to call Reince a dear friend.
He said he looked forward to working with Mr. Kelly to advance the GOP’s agenda.
Sources confirmed a report by CNN that Mr. Priebus actually submitted his resignation on Thursday, the same day that Mr. Scaramucci was quoted in an interview calling the chief of staff a “f—-ing paranoid schizophrenic” and predicting that he would resign shortly.
Mr. Priebus and Mr. Scaramucci accompanied the president on Air Force One Friday afternoon on a trip to Long Island, New York, where Mr. Trump gave a speech on combating gang violence. The president apparently tweeted out the news of the staff shakeup while Mr. Priebus was still on board the plane during the return flight to Washington.
After the presidential plane landed at Andrews Air Force base in Maryland, Mr. Priebus was seen getting into a car that pulled out of the president’s motorcade in the rain.
Rep. Peter King, New York Republican, also was a passenger on Air Force One for the trip and said Mr. Priebus gave no indication of the pending move as they chatted on the flights to and from Washington.
“We didn’t even know it,” Mr. King said. “We were sitting right across from him and he kept a poker face. Good poker face, showed nothing.”
The president praised Mr. Priebus on Twitter.
“I would like to thank Reince Priebus for his service and dedication to his country. We accomplished a lot together and I am proud of him!” Mr. Trump said.
As Mr. Trump emerged from Air Force One on the return flight, he told reporters that Mr. Priebus “is a good man.”
“John Kelly will do a fantastic job,” the president added. “General Kelly has been a star, done an incredible job thus far, respected by everybody. He’s a great, great American.”
The hiring of Mr. Scaramucci was widely viewed inside and outside the administration as an ominous sign for Mr. Priebus’ job security. The president allowed Mr. Scaramucci to report directly to him rather than to the chief of staff, an unusual arrangement in the White House.
Mr. Scaramucci promptly began threatening to fire leakers in the West Wing, and strongly suggested that Mr. Priebus was among them.
Asked about the impact of Mr. Priebus’ departure on the White House’s relationship with the Republican Party, Mrs. Sanders replied, “We’ve got a good relationship. We’re going to continue working with the party and we’re going to continue doing what we came here to do.”
RNC Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel praised Mr. Priebus for “his service and dedication to the country.”
“Reince is a great leader in the Republican Party and his innovations and investments were instrumental in delivering sweeping electoral victories for our party,” she said in a statement. “Congratulations to Secretary Kelly, he will make an excellent chief of staff and the RNC looks forward to supporting him and the White House to further President Trump’s agenda to Make America Great Again.”
The president’s decision also adds even more military experience to his inner circle. In February, Mr. Trump named Army Gen. H.R. McMaster as his White House national security adviser.
The shuffle would leave Deputy Secretary Elaine Duke as acting director in charge of the Department of Homeland Security.
Ms. Duke is a former undersecretary of management at the department and spent years managing the budgets and procurement for the department. She served under both President George W. Bush and President Obama.
Ms. Duke was sworn in as the deputy secretary in April, marking a return to civil service after her departure from the agency in 2010.
Mr. Kelly’s 29-year-old son, First Lt. Robert Kelly, was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2010. His other son is a major in the Marines.
• Andrea Noble and Stephen Dinan contributed to this story.