- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 30, 2017

John F. Kelly was just 12 weeks into his tenure as head of Homeland Security, and the carping from Capitol Hill had already swirled out of control. Berated by lawmakers who said President Trump’s travel ban was racist and his deportation agents were out of control, he fired back.

He said all he had done was empower his agents to follow the laws written by Congress, and if they had a problem with that, then they should rewrite the laws.

“Otherwise, they should shut up and support the men and women on the front lines,” Mr. Kelly said.

Mr. Trump’s new chief of staff is a no-drama, politically incorrect retired Marine general who has a habit of speaking his mind — and getting things done.

Plucked from Homeland Security, Mr. Kelly will be sworn in Monday and join the inner circle of people charged with stabilizing a White House beset by chaos, infighting and message-canceling leaks. He takes over for Reince Priebus.

The president on Friday announced the switch via Twitter, and the White House quickly followed up with a statement praising Mr. Priebus for his loyalty and Mr. Kelly for being universally respected.

The move also shows that Mr. Trump’s love affair with military leaders continues. In addition to Mr. Kelly, the national security adviser is an Army lieutenant general, and the Pentagon is led by retired Marine Gen. James Mattis.

Those who have watched Mr. Kelly make the transition from retired military officer to Homeland Security secretary say he is probably the antidote to some of what plagues the White House.

“He’s no-drama,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director at the Center for Immigration Studies.

Mr. Kelly is coming to a White House riven with internal power struggles and a lack of discipline, said a Republican with intimate knowledge of West Wing operations.

“There is something charming about the almost casual nature in which business is carried out in this White House,” this source said. “It does speak of a willingness to be a little more open — it’s a little less structured. But they’ve gone over the line from casual-yet-respectful to a complete lack of decorum. That is unsettling. It’s the White House.”

Mr. Kelly will have to contend with Mr. Trump’s family, especially daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, both of whom are influential advisers to the president.

“The supreme power in the White House is Ivanka, period,” the Republican source said. “She and Jared are the ultimate power, and she is where the buck stops. This White House is geared toward one end — the elevation of Ivanka and Jared, period. Everything that happens in there is about those two kids.”

A West Wing source said the influence wielded by Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump is unsustainable.

“Those two are unfireable,” the source said. “They have no accountability, they can do whatever they want. Everybody else gets crowded out.”

He said the president made a key staffing error by not hiring a strong chief of staff from the start.

“The fact that the president didn’t go and empower one person, whoever that person is, to run the place, I think that’s going to haunt him,” the source said.

Mr. Trump is now on his second chief of staff, his second national security adviser, his second press secretary and his third communications director, with Anthony Scaramucci taking the job earlier in July and immediately making a mark with a Trumpian shoot-first approach to the press and his fellow White House colleagues.

Mr. Krikorian said Mr. Kelly’s approach has been decidedly “not Scaramucci style.”

He has been firm but not abrasive. He won praise from Congress for his willingness to speak his mind, to be available to lawmakers and to make his department more responsive to their requests for information.

Mr. Kelly has lamented the intrusion of political correctness into U.S. politics, saying on the very day his nomination was announced in December that he was joining Mr. Trump to stop all that.

“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,” he said at the time.

In subsequent testimony to Congress, he has said that the bickering and stalemates that prevail in Washington are foreign to the U.S. military, which takes orders and gets things done.

He has said Congress needs to work out a permanent solution to longtime illegal immigrants and to Dreamers, the young adult illegal immigrants considered the most sympathetic cases in the immigration debate.

But after top senators introduced such a bill earlier in July, which would grant Dreamers citizenship rights, Mr. Kelly did not leap to support it — drawing fire from some Democrats who said he was sending mixed signals.

As newly minted secretary, Mr. Kelly oversaw implementation of Mr. Trump’s original travel ban, then handled the stand-down as courts stepped in to block it. He apologized for the rocky rollout but defended the policy as justified.

“I’ve never had a problem speaking truth to power,” Mr. Kelly said in his confirmation hearing in January. “I believe those in power deserve full candor. I also value people that work for me speaking truth to power.”

That helped earn him an overwhelming 88-11 vote of support from senators, who said they expected him to be a grown-up inside the Trump administration.

“In a sense, they’re getting what they want because he’ll be running even more of it,” Mr. Krikorian said.

Immigrant rights advocates, though, were distraught at the prospect that Mr. Kelly will be even more central to Mr. Trump’s decision-making.

“John Kelly may look and sound reasonable, but his actions have been anything but,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice. “He’s a good soldier in [White House adviser] Steve Bannon’s crusade. But an ‘adult in the room’ who can impose order on West Wing chaos? Stand up to Trump and the Mooch? Take the president’s phone from him to stop the mad tweeting? Steer the White House towards decency? No way.”

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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