Mick Mulvaney, a former South Carolina congressman who now serves as President Donald Trump's budget director, is a leading contender to replace White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, according to two people familiar with the situation.
Mulvaney, who was recently named to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on an interim basis, is the top choice if Trump dismisses Kelly over his handling of domestic abuse allegations involving one of his closest aides, according to one of the people.
Mulvaney has become one of the White House’s most effective messengers for a president who values telegenic qualities in his administration officials. He is scheduled to appear Sunday on “Face the Nation,” the day before the Office of Management and Budget is scheduled to release its fiscal 2019 budget blueprint.
“I think it makes a whole heck of a lot of sense given Trump’s affinity for Mulvaney and Mulvaney’s strong capability, not to mention his ties to the Hill and knowledge of what motivates the Hill,” said a third person familiar with the situation.
That third person said that news Mulvaney was under consideration for the chief of staff post was spreading Friday among Republican and donor circles in North Carolina, a stone’s throw from the ex-lawmaker’s old Congressional district that sits right on the South Carolina border. Several Republicans in North Carolina said that Mulvaney’s selection would make sense given the close relationship he has fostered with the president in just a short amount of time.
Others who are being considered for Kelly’s job are House Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican; House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California; Gary Cohn, Trump’s economic adviser, and David Urban, a veteran Washington lobbyist who worked on the president’s campaign. Trump is also interested in Tom Barrack, former executive chairman of his inaugural committee, but Barrack is not willing to take the job.
Kelly has reportedly has offered Trump his resigntion after allowing Rob Porter to remain at the White House as staff secretary even after Porter’s ex-wives accused him of domestic abuse. Porter, who also had yet to receive a permanent security clearance, resigned earlier this week. A second staffer, speechwriter David Sorensen, resigned Friday after his ex-wife accused him of abuse.
Some have started calling for Kelly’s resignation.
“Faced with mounting pressure, General Kelly is beginning to see the writing on the wall,” Latino Victory Project president Cristóbal Alex. said. “We urge him to follow through on his instincts.”
White House spokesman Raj Shah said Thursday that Kelly still has the confidence of the president and it’s unclear when or if Kelly will leave. Kelly succeeded Trump's first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, who was fired in July.
If Mulvaney is eventually appointed chief of staff, it would be the latest stop in the South Carolinian’s meteoric rise — from rank-and-file congressman to senior official in the Trump administration in just one year.
Mulvaney was elected to Congress in the Tea Party wave of 2010 and quickly became one of the House GOP leadership’s biggest crusaders for fiscal restraint and ideological purity. He helped lead the government shutdown in the fall of 2013 and, two years later, was part of the revolt that resulted in then-Speaker John Boehner’s ouster. He also co-founded the House Freedom Caucus, an influential, three dozen-member voting bloc of fiscal conservatives.
He was a polarizing figure for his hardline positions, blunt demeanor and refusal to back down in his beliefs, but colleagues came to appreciate Mulvaney as a straight shooter and honest broker.
That trust among Republicans on Capitol Hill would go a long way were Trump to pick Mulvaney as his next chief of staff. But Mulvaney could also fall into some of the same traps that have plagued him as Office of Management and Budget director.
Congressional conservatives have routinely rolled their eyes at Mulvaney’s efforts to get them to go along with some of Trump’s legislative priorities, specifically ones that spend enormous amounts of money without offsets. Members have said both publicly and privately the Mick Mulvaney they used to serve with would never have agreed to support many of these proposals.
Should Mulvaney take the reins in the next three weeks, he also would find himself in a tense negotiating position on immigration as the deadline for codifying the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programs nears.
As a member of Congress, Mulvaney once held a Spanish-language town hall in his conservative district, telling Latino constituents he personally supported a pathway to legal status for certain undocumented immigrants. His history on the issue could put him at odds with conservatives who don’t want an expansive immigration deal. At the same time, he would offer a fresh start to those on both sides of the aisle who chafed at Kelly’s suggestion that some DACA recipients were “too lazy to get off their assess” and apply for protections under the program.
Ultimately, Mulvaney’s responsibilities as chief of staff would be less about policy than about helping a notoriously volatile and unpredictable president navigate the logistical and political minefields of his office. Mulvaney would, though, likely continue to be dispatched to the Hill to pitch policies to his old colleagues, and to remain a regular fixture on the television news circuit, helping sell the president’s message to the masses.
Franco Ordoñez of the McClatchy Washington bureau contributed to this report.