By Fin Gomez, Ed O'Keefe, Sara Cook and Kathryn Watson CBS News December 9, 2018, 6:46 PM Trump mulling several names for new White House chief of staff
Last Updated Dec 10, 2018 1:10 PM EST
OMB director Mike Mulvaney and longtime GOP operative Wayne Berman are among the contenders for the job of White House chief of staff, as President Trump considers five people to replace John Kelly, according to a senior white House official.
The need for a new chief of staff arose after Mr. Trump abruptly announced Saturday Kelly will be leaving the administration "at the end of the year," a move he made without mentioning it once at a dinner with senior staff the night before, according to a senior administration official.
The person who had been expected to replace Kelly, Nick Ayers, has decided not to take the job, and so an announcement that was set to happen this week has been delayed. That announcement is now expected to come by the end of the year. Mr. Trump has considered Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney in recent weeks, CBS News chief White House correspondent Major Garrett reported last month.
One named that surfaced on Monday was Berman, according to a person familiar with the ongoing process. Berman, head of global government affairs for the investment firm Blackstone, served as chairman of Sen. Marco Rubio's 2016 presidential campaign, a senior adviser to the Romney-Ryan 2012 Republican presidential campaign, and was national finance chairman for Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential bid. He once served as an assistant secretary of commerce during George H.W. Bush's administration.
In the world of Trump personnel moves, Berman perhaps best fits into the "often mentioned, never picked" category. He has no direct personal or professional connection to Trump, seen as critical for taking on such an important role. But during the 2016 presidential transition, he was mentioned for potential Cabinet or senior government positions, and Berman was mentioned as a potential successor to Reince Priebus when reports about his eventual departure ass chief of staff began in 2017.
Meanwhile, Mulvaney, the OMB director, has made clear to the president that he wants the job on a full-time basis, not as a placeholder. "Talks broke down last night when Trump talked with him about interim [chief of staff] not full time and he doesn't want the interim title," said someone who spoke with Mulvaney on Monday morning.
Rep. Mark Meadows, who has been serving as the House Freedom Caucus chairman and already has a strong relationship with the president, told Politico Playbook he would be honored to serve as chief of staff, if offered the job.
"Serving as chief of staff would be an incredible honor," Meadows said. "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."
Another person close to several administration officials who is keeping close tabs on the process from outside the White House described the ongoing search as "chaos." "The problem is Trump is chief of staff and over his head," said the person, who was granted anonymity to speak frankly about ongoing deliberations. Ultimately, the White House is looking for "a caretaker or a person that can manage the Cabinet, etc."
In a late tweet Sunday night, Mr. Trump said, "I am in the process of interviewing some really great people" for the chief of staff role and he "will be making a decision soon!"
Ayers, who had been considered the favorite to take over as White House chief of staff, will not be taking the job, after failing to reach an agreement with Mr. Trump, multiple senior White House officials told CBS News. Ayers, currently Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff, is leaving the administration and will take a job at a pro-Trump super PAC.
Mr. Trump and Ayers, as CBS News has reported, had been negotiating possible terms for the job. Sources said Ayers offered to serve as interim chief of staff, but Mr. Trump wanted him to commit to serving for least two years, which Ayers declined. The 36-year-old father of three young triplets will instead move back to his native Georgia, as he had long planned before the chief of staff job opened up.
"Thank you @realDonaldTrump, @VP, and my great colleagues for the honor to serve our Nation at The White House," Ayers tweeted. "I will be departing at the end of the year but will work with the #MAGA team to advance the cause. #Georgia."