WASHINGTON, March 6, 2020 — President Donald Trump announced that Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) will be his new White House chief of staff Friday night. His predecessor, Mick Mulvaney, will become special envoy to northern Ireland.
The decision isn’t wholly out of the blue — Meadows decided not to run for reelection back in December, hinting that he’d serve the President in a “different capacity.”
Meadows, a conservative North Carolina Republican who helped overthrow one Republican speaker, considered getting rid of another and pushed Trump into a disastrous government shutdown over funding his border wall, will be Trump’s fourth chief of staff in just over three years in office.
Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff for the last 14 months, will become envoy to Northern Ireland. It’s a most remarkable turn for the 60-year old Meadows, who in the eyes of his detractors has few qualifications for the post besides a talent for disruption, obstruction and obfuscation. Yet for the Republicans he’s fighting for — the House Freedom Caucus, of which he was a founder, and Trump — there’s no better advocate or strategist to have on your side.
The ascension to White House chief of staff is the culmination of a head-snapping rise for Meadows, who announced in December that he was retiring at the end of this term in Congress. Meadows was first elected in 2012, formed the Freedom Caucus with Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) in 2014 and was the man who went to the floor to seek to remove John Boehner from the speakership in the summer of 2015.
“Mark Meadows is smart, loyal, a true patriot. He’s a good man and my best friend,” Jordan said on Twitter following Trump’s announcement. “Couldn’t have picked anyone better for the job.”
“Mark Meadows has been a strong advocate for the president and the ‘America First’ agenda from the start,” added House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). “Congrats, Mark!”
Trump referenced Meadows’ new job in a speech to donors on Friday night in Florida and spoke highly of him, according to two attendees. The president told the audience that Meadows could be “my James Baker.”
There was widespread speculation that Meadows would be tapped to replace Mulvaney following the North Carolina Republican’s announcement that he wouldn’t be running for reelection. But Meadows denied at the time he had his eye on the top White House staff job.
Trump, however, has been considering replacing Mulvaney during the last several months and started discussing the move seriously in the last several days, including consulting allies on Capitol Hill about whether to oust Mulvaney and replace him with Meadows, according to GOP lawmakers and aides.
In reality, Mulvaney had been largely sidelined during much of the bitter impeachment fight. To many Republicans, Jared Kushner — a senior presidential adviser and Trump’s son-in-law — has emerged as the second most powerful figure in the White House behind Trump.
Lately, White House staffers had wondered privately about Mulvaney’s career plans, since he had been doing an extensive amount of travel and had not been seen around the West Wing as frequently. Another telltale sign of his diminished status was his assigned seat at the recent wedding of White House aides Stephen and Katie Miller: Mulvaney was not seated at the same table as Trump, a fact noted by the large cadre of White House aides in attendance.
Trump speaks to Meadows several times per day, consulting with him on a wide range of issues. For instance, Meadows attended a meeting with House and Senate GOP leaders earlier this week in the Oval Office to discuss reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
And during Trump’s impeachment saga, Meadows was one of his most ardent defenders on TV, which is a huge plus for a president who prizes TV-camera-readiness above nearly all other traits.
Although they had no relationship before his run for the White House, when Trump was elected to office in 2016, Meadows became his chief advocate and strategist, a man who tried to channel his populist instincts into legislation. He oftentimes presented himself to the president as former Speaker Paul Ryan’s foil.
At the end of 2018, when Ryan tried to convince Trump to avoid a government shutdown over funding for the wall on the border with Mexico, Meadows urged him to stand strong.