Chief of Staff Kelly takes the podium

Reporting by John Roberts

John Kelly was the latest subject of palace intrigue stories with some reports suggesting he wasn’t long for the job. Like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did a week ago, Kelly himself came out to say—you got it wrong.

It was a surprise move in the daily briefing—White House Chief of Staff John Kelly meeting the White House press corps on the record for the first time to say reports of his demise are greatly exaggerated.

“I’m not quitting today,” Kelly told the room. “I don’t believe—and I just talked to the president, I don’t think I’m being fired today. And I am not so frustrated in this job that I’m thinking of leaving.”

Kelly, long known in military circles as a no-BS, straight shooter, acknowledged that chief of staff is the hardest job he has ever had, but disputed the notion that certain aspects of the job are getting to him.

“I’m not frustrated. This is really, really hard working running the United States of America. I don’t run it, but I’m working for someone who is dedicated to serving the country in the way he’s talked about for a number of years. There are incredible challenges…I don’t mean any criticism to Mr. Trump’s predecessors, but there was an awful lot of things that were, in my view, kicked down the road that have come home to roost pretty much right now that have to be dealt with.”

Kelly did admit to being frustrated by news reports he said had little or no basis in reality, and had some advice for some members of the media.

The White House went out of its way to indicate Kelly is safe in his job. At an event to officially nominate Kelly’s Deputy Chief of Staff Kirsten Nielsen as the new DHS Secretary President Trump gave Kelly a shout out and singled him out for high praise.

“We are deeply fortunate that he [Kelly]  is now here at the White House as our chief of staff.”

Nielsen, who was also Kelly’s chief of staff at DHS, would become the 6th secretary and also the first former staffer to lead the department.

If confirmed, Nielsen would inherit the federal response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. President Trump drew fire for a tweet about Puerto Rico Thursday when he wrote: “We cannot keep FEMA , the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!”

Democrats portrayed the tweet as heartless, but the chief of staff was quick to cover, saying “FEMA and the military can’t be there forever. We hope the military soon can withdraw and will show they are in the process of rebuilding.”

President Trump also drew fire Thursday for his plans to expand access to healthcare for small businesses and individuals in an executive order, directing his lieutenants at Treasury, Labor and HHS to allow small employers to band together and buy health insurance across state lines.

The plan would also give more people access to Short Term Limited Insurance (STDLI) and allow employers more flexibility with health reimbursement arrangements to pay for employees medical needs.

Democrats pointed out short term plans are exempt from Obamacare coverage protections. In a statement, Senator Chuck Schumer wrote: “This order couldn’t be further from the ‘great health care’ the president promised. It will send costs soaring for older Americans and those with preexisting conditions, and add further chaos to the markets.”

President Trump fired back at his critics saying it’s the Democrats who broke health care seven years ago and continue to block his efforts to fix it. The president also promised today more executive actions to chip away at Obamacare a piece at a time until he mounts another attempt to repeal it in the new year.