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Why John Kelly's Exit From The White House Is No A Surprise


White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is leaving his post before the end of the year. President Trump hasn't yet named a replacement. As NPR's Tamara Keith reports, Kelly's departure is not a surprise.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Marine One was whirring in the background as President Trump stopped to tell a group of gathered reporters that he was making a personnel change.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: John Kelly will be leaving toward the end of the year, at the end of the year. And I appreciate his service very much.

KEITH: Perhaps it is fitting that Kelly would leave the job of chief of staff much as he arrived - with a seemingly spontaneous presidential announcement.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: He has just announced a major staff change in his White House, tweeting just seconds ago, I am pleased to inform you that I have just named General/Secretary John F. Kelly - that is the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security - as White House chief of staff. He is a great American - dot, dot, dot.

KEITH: Two and a half months later, Kelly was already batting down reports that he was on his way out.


JOHN KELLY: Although I read it all the time pretty consistently, I'm not quitting today.


KELLY: I don't believe - and I just talked to the president. I don't think I'm being fired today.


KELLY: And I am not so frustrated in this job that I'm thinking of leaving.

KEITH: It would be an understatement to describe Kelly as long-suffering. This was him back in October 2017.


KELLY: This is, in my view, the most important job I ever had. I would offer, though, it is not the best job I ever had.

KEITH: Kelly, who had a long and distinguished military career, often said the best job was as an enlisted Marine sergeant infantryman. And he sought to bring that military discipline to a chaotic White House while also making it clear he saw himself as there to be the chief of the staff, not to control the president. Even so, it didn't take long for the chaos to carry the day. In May, Kelly sat down with NPR's John Burnett.


KELLY: Working in the White House is the hardest thing I've ever done in my life - bar none.

KEITH: Kelly told Burnett that he had a good relationship with Trump, that he could give him his opinion on everything but that Trump didn't always take his advice.


JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Have you seriously considered leaving?

KELLY: No. I mean, there's times...

BURNETT: Any moment...

KELLY: There's times of great frustration, mostly because of the stories I read about myself or others that I think the world of, which is just about everyone that works at the complex, and wonder if it's worth it to be subjected to that. But then I grow up and suck it up.

KEITH: Kelly was often described as one of the grown-ups in the Trump administration. But he also made a series of missteps of his own - vouching for a top aide accused of domestic abuse and a press conference where he falsely attacked a congresswoman. His remarks that day seemed to wish for a bygone era.


KELLY: You know, when I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor. That's, obviously, not the case anymore as we see from recent cases. Life - the dignity of life was sacred. That's gone. Religion - that seems to be gone as well.

KEITH: Through controversy and a waning sphere of influence and more rumors of his departure than one could count, Kelly stayed on. Last month at his post-midterm press conference, President Trump was asked about Kelly.


TRUMP: People leave. I haven't heard about John Kelly. But no, people leave. They come in. They're here. It's a very exhausting job.

KEITH: And finally, after just 16 months on the job, the reports of Kelly's departure were no longer premature. Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.