Conservative Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina became the first person to express interest publicly in the White House chief of staff job Monday, saying he would be honored if President Trump chose him to replace the departing John F. Kelly.
A day after vice presidential aide Nick Ayers took himself out of the running for the high-pressure post, Mr. Meadows, chairman of the influential House Freedom Caucus, raised his hand. Several sources said he is on Mr. Trump’s short list.
“Serving as chief of staff would be an incredible honor,” Mr. Meadows said in a statement. “The president has a long list of qualified candidates and I know he’ll make the best selection for his administration and for the country.”
Mr. Trump announced that Mr. Kelly will depart at the end of the month from the job he has held since July 2017. Mr. Ayers, chief of staff for Vice President Mike Pence, said he will leave the government at the end of the year to work at a pro-Trump super PAC in Georgia.
Amid the search, Mr. Pence had a regularly scheduled lunch with the president at the White House on Monday, a meeting usually attended by Mr. Ayers and Mr. Kelly.
Mr. Meadows has been a staunch defender of the president on TV and works closely with the White House. His allies say he’s very familiar with congressional oversight and understands the timeline of allegations surrounding special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, Florida Republican and a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said Mr. Meadows also could help the White House fend off attacks by people such as former FBI Director James B. Comey, whom Mr. Gaetz believes will be working aggressively against Mr. Trump’s re-election.
“It’s one of the reasons I think President Trump needs to pick Mark Meadows to be his chief of staff, because Mark fully understands the facts and the timeline, and will make sure the White House is prepared to go toe-to-toe with a far more politically engaged James Comey,” Mr. Gaetz said on Fox News. “I think the president and Mark Meadows have a good relationship. Mark spends a lot of time over at the White House already, so I think it would be pretty seamless.”
He said it would be “a really big mistake to bring someone in as chief of staff who’s a good manager but who hasn’t lived the timeline and the facts and the details the way Meadows has.”
“He’ll be able to deploy counter-measures to protect the institution of the presidency against what I believe is a very illegitimate attack from the left and elements of the FBI and the Department of Justice,” he said.
Mr. Comey urged voters Sunday night to end Mr. Trump’s presidency with a “landslide” victory for the yet-to-be determined Democratic nominee in 2020.
“All of us should use every breath we have to make sure the lies stop on January 20, 2021,” Mr. Comey told an audience in New York City. “I understand the Democrats have important debates now over who their candidate should be, but they have to win. They have to win.”
Other names being floated for the chief of staff job include White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, acting Attorney General Matthew G. Whitaker, Trump 2016 deputy campaign manager David Bossie and U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer. Mr. Lighthizer said Sunday he hadn’t spoken to anyone about the job and that his current position is “difficult enough.”
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also is a “strong option,” CNN reported Monday night.
New York Yankees President Randy Levine shot down rumors that he was under consideration, saying he respects the president but hasn’t spoken to anyone about the job and is happy in the Bronx.
Mr. Meadows’ term as chairman of the Freedom Caucus ends next month, and Republicans will be in the House minority next year. His North Carolina district also could become more Democratic in 2020 because of a redistricting lawsuit headed for the state Supreme Court, where Democrats hold the majority.
As a leader of the Freedom Caucus, Mr. Meadows has worked regularly with the White House to represent conservatives’ positions on health care, spending, immigration and other issues. Former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci said Mr. Meadows has been “unbelievably helpful to the president’s agenda inside the Congress.”
In November, the House ethics committee sanctioned Mr. Meadows, saying he mishandled harassment allegations against his chief of staff. The committee said he broke House rules by mishandling the allegations against staffer Kenny West, and the panel ordered him to refund more than $40,000 in salary it said was wrongly paid to the aide.
After female staffers accused Mr. West of harassment, Mr. Meadows sought an independent investigation but ignored the findings to keep Mr. West on his staff. He eventually reassigned him to another job at the same salary, but investigators said they couldn’t find evidence that Mr. West’s new position merited the salary.
Mr. Scaramucci, who was ousted from the White House by Mr. Kelly in July 2017 after 11 days on the job, said on CNN that the next White House chief of staff should be “somebody who really likes the president.”
“Enough of ‘I’m serving the country, but I don’t really like the president,’ ” he said in reference to Mr. Kelly, a retired four-star Marine Corps general. “Let’s have somebody that really likes the president, recognizes that the president’s the boss. Don’t be a sycophant, you’ve got to talk to the president honestly but recognize he’s got the ball. You’re just giving him some offensive coordination and defensive coordination, but he’s the head coach and the quarterback.”