With Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus bounced from the Trump orbit, Republican lawmakers in Washington are left hanging, wondering who they can address, in order to make in-roads with the president.
Priebus had the contacts from his time as Republican National Committee chairman, and Bannon from his time as CEO of Breitbart. They built relationships and members of Congress obviously felt they had lines of influence within the Trump White House.
Several GOP lawmakers told The Hill they don’t personally know Kelly, and there are questions on the right about whether he’ll be a champion for conservative causes as he tries to restore stability to a White House mired in turmoil.
“There is great respect for John Kelly but no real belief that anyone else can effectively carry out the Trump agenda until Kelly replaces Bannon with a conservative leader,” one House GOP lawmaker told The Hill.
Another House Republican added: “Kelly is definitely a huge force, but I don’t know him.”
The buzz that has risen since the great cleansing of originals from the White House is that Trump is now under the sole influence of the liberal Democrats who surround him: his daughter, Ivanka, Jared Kushner, and Gary Cohn.
Steve Bannon was said to have a huge influence on Trump, so now the chatter becomes centered on who will take his place.
Some names being discussed as possible Bannon replacements include former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.); former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who in May was ousted as president of the Heritage Foundation; and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who served as chairman of both the Freedom Caucus and Republican Study Committee (RSC).
A White House spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment. However, one White House source said it’s unlikely Bannon’s job would get filled, predicting that Kellyanne Conway, a former Trump campaign manager and key member of the president’s inner circle, would begin to step up her outreach to conservatives in Bannon’s absence.
But does Conway have the same reach as Bannon or Priebus?
And while Republican lawmakers are looking for an ally to intercede with the president, the president has decided to make the GOP seems like enemy combatants. It’s hard to get a legislative agenda together and pushed through when every move you make is put on blast through social media, and you’re forced to walk on eggshells with everything you say and do.
While they’re searching for allies, they consider Vice President Pence, but given his schedule, they’re reluctant to go to him with everything.
I honestly don’t think Pence has that much influence with Trump (although, I think it’s wise to keep him informed).
In addition to Conway, conservative lawmakers say they often reach out to Mick Mulvaney or Paul Teller.
Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director, is also a former House lawmaker who co-founded the Freedom Caucus; Teller, the White House’s liaison to House and Senate conservatives, previously served as the RSC’s executive director and chief of staff to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), co-chairman of the “Tuesday Group” of GOP moderates, said his point person at the White House is Ben Howard, whom Dent praised as responsive and “very good.” Both Howard and Teller serve on the White House’s legislative affairs team.
But again, the question turns to influence.
How much do any of them have with Trump? Can any of them be a guiding influence and get him on the same page as GOP lawmakers?
John Kelly seeks to reach out to Democrats to get things done – but how does he make that case when he’s asking bitter ideologues to put aside their rancor over their 2016 losses, in order to push a highly unpopular Republican president’s agenda through?
Some compromises will have to be made. That’s going to anger more than a few people.