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With Ayers out, chief-of-staff selection is a ‘free for all’

President Trump announced on Saturday that John Kelly would be stepping down from his position as chief of staff at the end of the year. Though the vice president’s counterpart, Nick Ayers, was considered a leading candidate to be Kelly’s replacement, he declined the position over the weekend. Yamiche Alcindor joins Judy Woodruff for more on who might now be the president's pick for the job.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We turn now to the White House and swirling speculation about who will replace retired General John Kelly as chief of staff to President Trump at the end of the year.

    Yamiche Alcindor joins me now with the latest.

    So, Yamiche, hello.

    And remind us, why is John Kelly leaving? He's President Trump's second chief of staff.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, the revolving door at the White House just keeps spinning, Judy.

    There's this idea that John Kelly was brought in to have order and brought in to have this kind of hierarchy, this sense of responsibility that generals have. President Trump wanted to have generals around him.

    And what President Trump found was that he didn't like the fact that there was order being placed there. He likes the freewheelingness of the White House. He likes the idea that the White House wants to function much like Trump Tower. He wants Ivanka and Jared to be able to walk into his office. That, of course, is his daughter and his son-in-law.

    So what we really have is a president that just grew tired of General Kelly's rules, and as a result made this announcement on Saturday. Reports are that they were supposed to make this announcement on Monday, but the president went with his own timing, as he often does.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, there have been several names floated, and a couple of them have publicly appeared to have turned it down.

    So who is he talking to, or who is he thinking about at this point?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, we're really back at "The Apprentice."

    The president has a big job, and he has lots of names. The first name that he had was Nick Ayers. He is the vice president's chief of staff. He is someone that was a leading candidate for the job. But both him and Nick could not get together and come up with an agreement on how long he would keep the job.

    Reports are that President Trump wanted him to serve in this position for two years, and Nick Ayers would not do that. And, as a result, Nick Ayers this weekend announced that he was going to be going to a super PAC dedicated to electing President Trump.

    Because Nick is now out of the running, you have a free-for-all. I'm going to list a whole bunch of names for you, but let's just start.

    The first one is David Bossie. Now, he is someone — Bossie — I'm sorry — David Bossie, he is someone who is a former Trump 2016 deputy campaign manager. Now, he's a loyalist to President Trump. He might gel well with the president.

    The next person up is Randy Levine. He's president of the New York Yankees. Yes, I said that, president of the New York Yankees. He told FOX News…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Baseball team.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Yes.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    He told FOX News: "I have spoken to nobody about the chief of staff of job. I have great respect for President Trump, but I'm very happy being president of the Yankees."

    You have Robert Lighthizer. He is U.S. trade representative. He told CBS News that no one had talked to him about it and that he's focused on trying to do the job that he has and that it's difficult enough.

    And the other person is Representative Mark Meadows. He's a North Carolina Republican who's the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. He said — quote — "Serving as chief of staff would be an incredible honor."

    He's one of the few people on this list who actually sound like they want the job, Judy. You also have Steve Mnuchin, who is currently the treasury secretary and a former Goldman Sachs executive. And you have Mick Mulvaney, who's director of the Office of Budget — of Management and Budget.

    Both of these men have signaled to people close to them that they don't want the job. And then you have Matt Whitaker, who's acting attorney general. On Friday, Whitaker met with Jared Kushner, who, of course, is the president's son-in-law, who's a White House adviser.

    Some see that as a conflict of interests, because Matt Whitaker is likely overseeing the Russia investigation. And Jared Kushner is someone who could be part of that investigation. So, not looking good for that meeting there.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you had to have a long list to keep track of all the people whose names are being — are being mentioned.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And it's not as if this is a White House going into a two-year period with no challenges. I mean, there's a lot going on right now.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The next chief of staff is going to have a number of challenges, both messaging-wise and legally.

    So we have to think first on the legal side. House Democrats now have control of the House. So they have subpoena power. They're going to be looking at the president's finances, possibly looking at his hiring of Ivanka Trump, his daughter, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

    Then you're going to have basically a chief of staff that is trying to keep the train going with all this legal issue. Then you have Robert Mueller, who could be releasing a report detailing kind of what the findings are of the Russia investigation. That's going to be another thing where people around the White House are going to be focused on this.

    But this chief of staff is going to be focused on trying to get people to govern, trying to get the White House to just — to just really function as a — as a good body for this country.

    Add to that the fact that there's going to be a 2020 campaign to look out for, and the president is going to be running for reelection. So this chief of staff is going to have the job of trying to get staffers to somehow, not coordinate precisely with the campaign, but really have some sort of synergy there.

    So it's going to be a big role, and there's going to be a challenge there that this chief of staff is going to have that other chief of staffs didn't have.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, as you said, the president himself likes to make decisions on his own.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Yes.

    So, it could be today or next week.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Ear to the ground every minute. We're not going to let you sleep.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yamiche Alcindor, thank you.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Thanks.

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