WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – President Donald Trump announced Friday that he has selected outgoing Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., as his next White House chief of staff, tapping one of his most stalwart congressional allies to run the White House as he navigates a global health crisis amid a reelection year.
“I have long known and worked with Mark, and the relationship is a very good one,” Trump tweeted shortly after arriving at his southern Florida resort, where he is spending the weekend.
Meadows replaces acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who is being appointed the U.S. special envoy for Northern Ireland, Trump said in a follow-up tweet. The president thanked Mulvaney for “having served the administration so well.” The envoy position has been vacant under the Trump presidency.
Mulvaney was tapped in an acting capacity as the top White House aide in December 2018 and officially stepped into the role in early January 2019 following the departure of John Kelly. Meadows will be Trump’s fourth White House chief of staff, following Mulvaney, Kelly and Reince Priebus.
A four-term lawmaker, Meadows announced in December that he would not run for reelection and hinted in his farewell statement that he would join either the administration or Trump’s 2020 campaign.
The former leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus made his mark on Capitol Hill being a frequent thorn in the side of former GOP House speakers, while developing a close relationship with the president as he became one of his most fervent defenders.
Trump often calls Meadows early in the morning and late at night, after he grew distrustful of House Republican leadership and began to appreciate Meadows’s appearances on cable television.
Mulvaney was given advance notice of the tweet, a senior White House official said, but did not learn until the president had already offered Meadows the job.
His departure is likely to mean widespread changes in the West Wing. Mulvaney, who was also a member of Congress and the Freedom Caucus before joining the administration, had installed a number of die-hard loyalists and conservatives to government posts, who often bragged about getting things done under the radar.
Some of those aides, particularly his deputy Emma Doyle, have already seen their responsibilities shrink in recent months. Meadows has developed close ties with senior adviser Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, who has advocated for putting him in the post.
Mulvaney had also served as the director of the Office of Management and Budget and the interim leader of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Russ Vought is currently serving as the acting OMB chief and may potentially be nominated for the permanent post, according to two White House officials.
Trump sees Meadows as a fierce political animal, going into a stretch where he will likely be on the road at least three, and perhaps more, days per week.
The president recently had dinner with Meadows and his wife at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, a White House aide said. And at the recent nuptials of White House aides Stephen Miller and Katie Waldman, Meadows sat next to Trump at the head table, attendees said, although Mulvaney did not.
Meadows thanked Trump in a statement Friday night. “It’s an honor to be selected by President Trump to serve alongside him and his team,” he said. “This President and his administration have a long list of incredible victories they’ve delivered to the country during this first term. With the best yet to come – and I look forward to helping build on that success and staying in the fight for the forgotten men and women of America.”
He has recently been at the White House nearly every day, advisers say, meeting with the president and others, particularly Kushner. He was spotted last week having lunch with Marc Short, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, in the White House mess.
Aides had rumored of the two men having a deal for several months, and Trump began telling people on Thursday evening and Friday morning that he was going to tap Meadows, a person familiar with the choice said.
Meadows was instrumental to Trump’s impeachment defense, sometimes talking to him four or five times a day, other advisers say. Trump did not have the kind of volcanic fallout with Mulvaney, but he never fully trusted him and never took his acting title away.
Like Mulvaney, Meadows is unlikely to prove a stiff disciplinarian as Kelly, who encouraged the president when leaving to find someone who would challenge him or else he would find himself impeached.
One longtime Trump adviser said it was a questionable choice to install Meadows, given he has no experience leading such a large operation.
“The president, and I’ve heard him say this, sees Mark as very good politically,” said the person who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. “But the president is a political animal. He needs someone who will actually take care of the store for him while he’s out running for reelection. And there’s a question in my mind whether Mark can do that.”
Meanwhile, Mulvaney often seemed out of the loop, and sometimes even blissful about it.
He regularly traveled on the weekends away from the president. When Trump clashed with then-national security adviser John Bolton last year and fired him, Mulvaney was in North Carolina, politicking for congressmen.
At times in recent months, one close Trump adviser said, the president would say there was no need to loop Mulvaney into a particular discussion.
Mulvaney did not accompany the president on Friday as he traveled to Tennessee to survey storm damage and then onto Atlanta to visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and southern Florida for the weekend.
At a White House meeting with Trump, Pence and chief executives of major airlines earlier this week, Mulvaney stood off to the side, even as other senior administration officials sat at the table. Trump has been displeased generally with the administration’s handling of coronavirus and has grown angry with Mulvaney on several occasions, aides said.
In a recent talk at the Oxford Union, Mulvaney seemed at peace with the idea that his days could be numbered.
“Generally speaking, this job does not last that long. Who knows how much longer I’m going to last?” Mulvaney said, during the February remarks.
Meadows prizes himself on being an operator in Washington. He is often at some of the city’s swankiest parties and galas, including the Meridian Ball, the British Embassy and other black-tie fetes. He has also retained close relationships with key congressional Democrats, such as the late representative Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the former chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
He keeps a place in North Carolina but has spent much of his time in Washington in recent years.
“Mark is a really savvy strategist. You love him or hate him but anyone who knows him knows he thinks three-dimensionally at all times,” a senior administration official said. “That’ll be his biggest value add to the White House. He thinks of angles and approaches that others won’t and thinks steps ahead. He’ll be crucial in helping get out of the cycle of being totally reactive.”
Some in the president’s orbit, though, worry he is duplicitous. During the health-care negotiations in 2017, several staffers said they felt Meadows was telling the president one thing – but working against them behind the scenes.
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Dawsey reported from Washington. The Washington Post’s Jeff Stein and Philip Rucker in Washington contributed to this report.