WASHINGTON (AP) — In the midst of one of the most daunting crises of his administration, United States (US) President Donald Trump announced he had made a major staff overhaul, replacing his acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney with Republican Rep Mark Meadows.
While much of the country was focussed on the spreading coronavirus, Trump announced the surprise reshuffle by Friday night tweet, saying Mulvaney would become the US special envoy for Northern Ireland.
“I have long known and worked with Mark, and the relationship is a very good one,” he wrote, thanking Mulvaney — who never shook his “acting” title — “for having served the Administration so well.”
The long-rumoured move comes as Trump has been pulling together a team of loyalists and allies ahead of what is expected to be a bitter reelection fight. But the timing — as his administration was already facing criticism over its handling of the outbreak — threatened to exacerbate concerns about the government’s ability to protect the nation from a virus that has now infected more than 100,000 people worldwide. Meadows will be Trump’s fourth chief of staff in as many years.
Mulvaney had been leading the administration’s interagency response to the virus until Trump designated Vice President Mike Pence to lead the whole-of-government effort more than a week ago.
It was just one of a long series of downgrades for Mulvaney, whose relationship with Trump began to sour not long after he was named to the position in December 2018. Indeed, Trump had been eyeing the change for many months, according to people familiar with his thinking, but wanted to wait until after the impeachment saga was over to make his move.
Meadows, the onetime leader of the House Freedom Caucus, is a longtime Trump confidant and sounding board, whose political instincts Trump respects. He announced last year that he would not be seeking reelection for his North Carolina House seat, and said he expected to join Trump’s team in some capacity, though it was not clear in what role.
He was officially offered the job on Thursday, according to one of the people familiar with the matter, who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the changes publicly. Mulvaney was informed on Friday.
Some outside advisers had cautioned Trump that making such a high-profile switch during the coronavirus crisis would rattle markets craving stability, and his decision to make the announcement after Wall Street had closed on Friday was partly informed by those concerns, the people said.
First elected in the post-Tea Party wave of 2012, Meadows quickly established himself as a leader of a new generation of conservative Republicans on Capitol Hill. He served as chairman of the unyielding Freedom Caucus, and his antics in the House helped spur Speaker John Boehner’s sudden retirement.
As Trump ascended in 2016, Meadows switched from his earlier backing of Texas Senator Ted Cruz and — urged on by his wife — joined the Trump train. Since then he has proven himself an unwavering Trump ally.