WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is looking for a fresh start with a new White House chief of staff. But he’s still clinging to an old battle, refusing to give up on health care.
Weighed down by a stalled legislative agenda, a cabal of infighting West Wing aides and a stack of investigations, Trump is hoping that retired Gen. John Kelly can bring some order as his next chief of staff. Trump tapped Kelly, his Homeland Security secretary, last week to take over for Reince Priebus, who he ultimately viewed as ineffective.
Starting Monday, Kelly must try to exert control over a chaotic White House, but his ability to do so will depend on how much authority he is granted and whether Trump’s dueling aides will put aside their rivalries to work together. Also unclear is whether a new chief of staff will influence the president’s social media histrionics or his struggle to keep his focus on policy.
A battle-hardened commander, Kelly is entering a West Wing battered by crisis. Over the past week, Trump’s new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, attacked Priebus in a profanity-laden tirade, Trump drew criticism for his public attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the latest effort by Senate Republicans to overhaul the nation’s health care law bombed.
Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney praised Priebus, but said Trump “wants a little bit more discipline, a little more structure in there. You know that he enjoys working with generals.”
Former Trump campaign manager Cory Lewandowski, who was ousted from the campaign in 2016, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he expected Kelly would “restore order to the staff” but also stressed that Trump was unlikely to change his style.
“I say you have to let Trump be Trump. That is what has made him successful over the last 30 years. That is what the American people voted for,” Lewandowski said. “And anybody who thinks they’re going to change Donald Trump doesn’t know Donald Trump.”
Kelly starts his new job as tensions escalate with North Korea. The United States flew two supersonic bombers over the Korean Peninsula on Sunday in a show of force against North Korea, following the country’s latest intercontinental ballistic missile test. The U.S. also said it conducted a successful test of a missile defense system located in Alaska.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday that she hopes Kelly can “be effective,” and “begin some very serious negotiation with the North and stop this program.”
But even with a new incoming chief of staff, Trump continued to push Republicans senators on health care over the weekend after their latest effort to pass legislation to overhaul “Obamacare” collapsed. On Twitter Sunday, Trump said: Don’t give up Republican Senators, the World is watching: Repeal & Replace.”
The protracted health care fight has slowed Trump’s other policy goals, including a tax overhaul and infrastructure investment. But Trump aides made clear that the president still wanted to see action on health care. Mulvaney argued against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s statement that it is time to move on, saying on CNN that senators “need to stay, they need to work, they need to pass something.”
Asked if it was White House policy that nothing should be voted on in Congress until the Senate votes again on health care, Mulvaney said: “well, think — yes. And I think what you’re seeing there is the president simply reflecting the mood of the people.”
On Saturday Trump tweeted that if “a new HealthCare Bill is not approved quickly, BAILOUTS for Insurance Companies and BAILOUTS for Members of Congress will end very soon!”
Trump has only guaranteed required payments to insurance companies through July. The payments reduce deductibles and co-payments for consumers with modest incomes. Analysts have said that without the payments, more insurers might drop out of the system, limiting options for consumers and clearing the way for the insurers who stay to charge more for coverage.
Asked about the payments going forward, Health Secretary Tom Price said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that no decision has been made. He declined further comment, citing a lawsuit brought by House Republicans over whether the Affordable Care Act specifically included a congressional appropriation for the money, as required under the Constitution.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said on “Fox News Sunday” that Trump would make a decision on the payments this week.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who opposed the efforts to move a health bill forward this week, said on CNN that cutting the payments would “be detrimental to some of the most vulnerable citizens” and that the threat has “contributed to the instability in the insurance market.”