The resignations of two White House allies of Chief of Staff Reince Priebus are being viewed as ominous signs for Mr. Priebus’ tenure in the pressure-packed job of managing day-to-day operations for President Trump.
With new White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci threatening a wave of firings over leaks — a policeman’s role that competes with the typical duties of the chief of staff — people familiar with Mr. Priebus’ thinking say he plainly sees the danger to his position.
“Reince has been sidelined, and he was further sidelined when Scaramucci was brought on,” said a West Wing source who requested anonymity.
Within the past week, Mr. Priebus has lost two trusted White House aides whom he brought with him in January from the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee. White House press secretary Sean Spicer resigned Friday rather than report to Mr. Scaramucci, and assistant press secretary Michael Short resigned Tuesday amid Mr. Scaramucci’s warnings that he would weed out leakers in the communications office.
Mr. Scaramucci, a friend of the president who was hired by Mr. Trump over the objections of Mr. Priebus and presidential strategist Stephen Bannon, said Wednesday that he will continue firing White House staffers if they are not serving Mr. Trump honorably.
“You have a one-in-a-million, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to serve the country and president of the United States, and you need to serve honorably,” he said on Fox News. “If you can’t do that, I have the stomach and backbone to fire you.”
He said he gave Mr. Short the opportunity to resign and that somebody of higher rank in the White House directed him to do so. Mr. Scaramucci also said he has offered to help Mr. Short find another job.
“I got rid of somebody inside the staff because somebody above my rank suggested that person needed to be fired,” Mr. Scaramucci said on CNN. “I didn’t want to fire him as much as we wanted to give him the opportunity to resign.”
Mr. Short has called the insinuation that he was a leaker “demonstrably false.”
Mr. Scaramucci reports directly to the president, and Mr. Spicer has found that chain of command objectionable.
A third former RNC ally of Mr. Priebus, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Katie Walsh, quit in March amid West Wing infighting and frustration over the initial failure of a House effort to repeal and replace Obamacare.
Outwardly, Mr. Priebus is showing no signs of a diminished role. He accompanied the president Tuesday evening on Mr. Trump’s trip to Ohio for a visit with veterans and a boisterous campaign-style rally in Youngstown.
Even the most successful chiefs of staff serve perhaps two years before burning out from enormous demands of the job, and Mr. Priebus’ supporters say he had a nearly impossible task before Mr. Scaramucci arrived. He was hired to manage a president who won’t be managed, whether it’s tweeting incendiary criticism of fellow Republicans at 6 a.m. or presenting a constantly moving target of his goals for health care reform.
“Trump was not willing to give it all to him. He was not willing to empower him as chief of staff the way that a chief of staff should be empowered,” said a source close to the White House.
On his first day on the job last week, Mr. Scaramucci said he was no threat to Mr. Priebus and that the two treat each other like competitive brothers.
“We rough each other up once in a while, which is totally normal for brothers,” Mr. Scaramucci said.
Mr. Priebus, who noted that Mr. Scaramucci offered him a job at his New York hedge fund a few years ago, said talk that he and Mr. Scaramucci don’t get along is a lie.
But three days after the president hired Mr. Scaramucci, Politico was reporting that he was already a candidate to become the next White House chief of staff.
The arrival of the communications director has heightened tensions and divisions among White House staffers, some of whom believe Mr. Scaramucci’s targeting of the communications office for leakers is misdirected. The atmosphere didn’t improve when Mr. Scaramucci told a news outlet that he planned to fire Mr. Short and then said it was unfair to Mr. Short to learn of the pending move from the media.
Added to that demoralizing mix were Mr. Trump’s series of tweets this week criticizing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a former Republican senator, as weak, venting continued disappointment at Mr. Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from any Russia investigations.
At the same time, Senate Republican leaders are struggling to approve a health care bill at the president’s urging. Observers in the White House and on Capitol Hill say it’s counterproductive to the president’s goal of repealing Obamacare to anger Mr. Sessions’ former Senate colleagues by having Mr. Trump publicly humiliate him on Twitter.
Mr. Priebus isn’t alone in trying to remind Mr. Trump of Mr. Sessions’ value to the administration as a vocal supporter of law enforcement and a key player in the crackdown against illegal immigration. Stephen Miller, Mr. Trump’s senior policy adviser, previously served as a top aide to Mr. Sessions, and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rick Dearborn worked as chief of staff for Mr. Sessions.
Further, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson is known to be frustrated with the White House about his overall mission while the foreign policy portfolio of presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner has grown. Mr. Tillerson decamped for Texas this week for a few days before returning to Washington on Wednesday.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert denied rumors about Mr. Tillerson. “The secretary has been very clear he intends to stay here at the State Department,” she said.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday dismissed reports of low morale in the West Wing and in the Cabinet. She said Mr. Trump “empowers us to do our jobs.”
“I don’t think it matters whether you’re a Cabinet secretary or a low-level staffer,” Mrs. Sanders said. “We’re here to do a job, he asks us to do it, and he expects us to get it done. I’ve spent a good bit of time with quite a few Cabinet secretaries over the last couple of days, and I think morale is high.”
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