As a retired Marine, Kelly understands that commander-in-chief Donald Trump has the final say. However, the new chief of staff is also not shy about voicing disagreement if necessary, a former Kelly aide told DW.
DW: John Kelly has had a distinguished career in the military, but like many in the Trump administration, little political or governing experience. Why do you think he is still the right man to run the White House?
Blain Rethmeier: During his military tenure Kelly had a tour as the legislative liaison on Capitol Hill. And throughout that process he developed many deep relationships with members of Congress. He also worked directly for two defense secretaries, Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary Robert Gates. And through that process he definitely knows his way around Washington. When you are in the military, you are obviously not political, but given his exposure and the roles he had, nobody understands Washington and its moving parts better than John Kelly.
Two key problems plaguing this White House have been an inability to establish discipline and also an inability to listen to advice and, if warranted, correct course. While many trust the former marine John Kelly to install discipline, is he also open to advice and ready to correct mistakes?
Quite definitely. While I think General Kelly will definitely install a new level of discipline and cohesion in the White House, he also has much respect for the institution and an enormous love for his country. And he understands that there is a style and a substance to being persuasive. And while he demands respect, he also gives it in return. So it is two-way street with General Kelly.
And while he understands that the president is the commander-in-chief, and at the end of the day he will follow an order, he is also not shy about expressing his opinion if he disagrees. This has been something throughout the course of his career he found to be effective.
Why do you believe that John Kelly can do what others who have tried to do have failed at, namely, to not just establish order among the White House staff, but also rein in President Trump?
As we saw from day one, General Kelly is someone who has little tolerance for insubordination or people who are not focused on the mission. And I think given his leadership, if anybody in Washington can bring a little discipline and order to this White House it is General Kelly.
How would John Kelly react if he gets the impression that he cannot fulfill the role of chief of staff the way he sees it?
General Kelly has shown an amazing ability to turn around the Department of Homeland Security in a brief period of time in an environment with quite a bit of controversy. He has shown he can be effective operating in those kinds of environments. So I see his new role as White House chief of staff as just another leadership challenge in his long career. He is a true patriot and somebody who has devoted his life to his country. All of that combined will make him successful in his new role. I think we will know more in the near future. But indications are that he is already making a dramatic impact on this White House.
After the exit of Anthony Scaramucci, should we expect the shake-up of the White House staff to continue under John Kelly?
I think that remains to be seen and depends on if people fall in line or not.
Blain Rethmeier was the Trump transition team's sherpa tasked with guiding designated Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly through his Senate confirmation process earlier this year. Previously Rethmeier served as a White House spokesman with a focus on homeland security issues under President George W. Bush.