TRANSCRIPT

Priebus is out, Kelly is in at the White House

The 'Special Report' All-Star panel weighs in

 

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," July 28, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Let's bring in our panel here: Jason Riley, Wall Street Journal columnist, there he is; Amy Walter, national editor for the Cook Political Report; and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Charles.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, it's clear that Trump runs a very personal presidency. And he never had the personal relationship with Reince that he has with others. And it became rather chaotic -- that's the President's own style from when he ran his business but you really can't have that kind of chaos in the White House.

I think the really important question now and I think the importance of a military man is precisely what's needed because A, Trump respects generals, and B, he needs somebody with a sense of chain command and discipline. And I'm sure that Kelly negotiated a deal in which he really is in charge.

You know what I think is going to be the ultimate question that was raised in what you said a little earlier? Does Anthony Scaramucci go through Kelly or does he go directly to the White House -- to the President?

I think the answer to that question will determine, because it will reflect the authority of Kelly, it will determine the success of Kelly's tenure as chief of staff.

BAIER: You know, just an interesting piece of history here, when Richard Nixon was in trouble, he and his chief of staff had left, Haldeman, he turned to Alexander Haig, a general with experience to straighten things out inside the Oval Office.

It's interesting in a moment of what seems like from the outside, uncertainty and chaos on the inside, that he turns to a general to try to straighten out the Oval Office.

AMY WALTER, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: Look, the situation in the White House, we've seen this last week, was unsustainable. It could not continue like this. There needed to be a shakeup.

And the lack of success of the Obamacare repeal was just the latest on top of all this. So this needed to happen.

The question and I think Charles raises it quite correctly and Brit as well, when he said it's not so much that the structure is there, does President Trump want to live within the structure. Will he abide by a structure that Kelly can bring to it?

I don't have any doubt that the former -- now former DHS secretary could be very good at doing that where the military precision and the experience could be very important. But you have to have a president that's willing to do those things.

The next question is will we see this moving the agenda forward? What happens next on Obamacare? What happens on taxes? What happens with the debt ceiling?

There's a lot of frustration on Capitol Hill that has been brewing for some time. The President hasn't and the White House hasn't done a good enough job in putting forward a very clear agenda and then fighting for that agenda every single day.

Instead, what they saw this week, a very, very good week for legislative process was a President who spent as much time tweeting about his attorney general as he did about health care. That is the bigger problem right now. I don't know if the new chief of staff is going to change that.

BAIER: It definitely will have a different look in the Oval Office and in his interactions. We should point out the Department of Homeland Security wants to make sure that the secretary is still the secretary until Monday. And I think it's about a transition because it's such an important job at homeland security. I think that's another question is who is going to be the next DHS secretary?

JASON RILEY, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Yes, that's another question. I think this is a great move, if you thought that the central problem in the Trump White House was Reince Priebus. I'm skeptical.

I think the general is very capable. I don't think he would have taken the job if he didn't think he could do it. And if he wasn't guaranteed the authority he reportedly will have in taking the job.

He is a very capable person. The question again is, will Trump delegate? Amy is right, the status quo is unsustainable. You can't be at war with your Attorney General, at war you're your chief of staff and get anything done.

I mean Trump has a divided country, a divided Republican caucus and a divided White House. You can't get anything done with all these divisions. And you give Democrats all the fodder they need to be obstructionists.

So some change is certainly overdue here but the question is will Kelly be any more successful in disciplining President Trump than anyone else around him?

BAIER: Well, he does have a different perspective when it comes to generals and people in the military, it seems, on a respect level, the president does. It also seems at the beginning that the thought process was here is Reince Priebus, a very close friend of the House speaker, Paul Ryan, someone who played the inside game at the RNC, obviously was crucial to the campaign with money and data and everything else, and that that was the connection, the outsider with the insider's help.

No seeing health care go down, perhaps the thought was, you know what, this insider thing is not working out for us too well. Let's go with the all outsider team.

KRAUTHAMMER: I agree. I think this is a cleansing outing the insiders. Although if the report that Reince Priebus resigned yesterday, that he resigned before the McCain strike and before the health care revision went down, as of last night it looked as if there was a good chance that the health care reform might have gone ahead. It might have gone to conference, who knows what would have happened? But the timing here is a little odd because if Priebus was essentially out yesterday, it couldn't have been because of the failure of the health care bill. Look, I think --

BAIER: Sometimes timelines are adjusted --

KRAUTHAMMER: People readjust them all the time. Memories become more sharp and acute under pressure.

Jason is right. The key question is, this really is the president, it's not Priebus. Is the president willing to be disciplined or at least to have somebody at the front door who brings discipline? Kelly's job is to be the gatekeeper, the doorkeeper, or it the case of this White House, the bouncer. And we don't know yet whether he'll do it because it will depend on what Trump decides. If Trump gives him the authority, I think it could rein him in and could lead to good results. If he doesn't, it's going to Reince all over again.

BAIER: Oftentimes on this panel we say politicians sometimes forget that we have video because we play sound bites from the past that are hypocritical. But sometimes, now, with this president, they forget we have Twitter that goes back a few years. January, 2012, Donald Trump, then businessman, tweeted "Three chiefs of staff in less than three years of being president, part of the reason why Barack Obama can't manage to pass this agenda," from @RealDonaldTrump. So it does come back into play. Washington is a different place to manage than the campaign.

WALTER: It's a different place to manage than the campaign.

BAIER: Or than Trump Tower.

WALTER: That's what I was just going to say. It is not like running a business. Running a government is not running a business, and that has been very clear. Working with legislators is not like working with other business people. Negotiating is very different when you're working with Congress.

The real metric I think beyond just can the new White House chief of staff keep the president on track is can they get some wins on the board? The one that while that tweet reflected what was going on in 2012, the reality was when Barack Obama was president in 2009 and 2010, they did get some big wins on the board, including the health care bill.

So that chief of staff left, and that was Rahm Emanuel, of course, with some successes under his belt. Of course they went on to lose in 2010 a historic number of seats and lost the majority. But if the metric is, one, can he keep the president focused? And the second is, can you get some wins on the board?

For folks up in 2018 who are on Capitol Hill right now, their biggest fear is that they are going to go into an election with nothing, that they're going to have no legislative accomplishments despite having control all three branches. And part of the frustration is they feel as if, one, they have their own internal problems. There's Balkanization within that conference. That's on them. But there also, there's a frustration that there's not a leadership coming from the White House, that there's a distraction, the tweets, all of that, that's not helping.

BAIER: I get all of that, but in the prism of what we saw in the election, are we in Washington using a different scoreboard? Are the Trump supporters in the middle of the country looking at different things? That they like the shakeup, that this isn't Hillary Clinton, that they love Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, they love the executive orders that take the regulations off? And even if he doesn't have the traditional wins and legislative wins, that maybe the prism is different that they are looking through in judging this president.

RILEY: You are absolutely right, Bret. His base likes his in-your-face attitude I think first and foremost. That is what they have signed up for and that is what they are getting. And we have our own metrics in the press that covers the White House about what is successful, what's unsuccessful. We obsess over the polling and so forth.

But the fact of the matter is, however, that if Trump wants to get some of these big items done, I think he needs to be a little more popular than he is right now. When Ronald Reagan did tax reform in 1986, he was polling around 60 percent, and he needed to be, because that's a big deal that requires working with the other side of the aisle, getting the country on board, and so forth. And trump is not there yet. And he doesn't seem to be doing the things that would bring him there. He spent a lot of time this week attacking senators on the health care vote that he will need on a tax reform vote. He's not playing the long game here, and he needs to be.

BAIER: Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: I think the metric that counts in the end to win elections is the unemployment rate, the growth in jobs, and the increase in the GDP. Those are the metrics that really count, if people have a sense that the economy recovering. That is the most important thing. And they don't really care about scoreboards.

Now, in the individual house races, yes, I think scoreboards matter. Did you have a win, did you pass anything? And what did you do on your promise about Obamacare? But for the president in terms of his popularity and his ability to get an agenda through, I think it's the general state of the economy, and that, as yet, is undetermined. It looked reasonably good up until now if you throw in the stock market. We don't know where it will be in November, 2018. That I think is going to be quite decisive.

BAIER: I'm not downplaying the importance of the Washington measure, but because there are many lawmakers who say I need something.

WALTER: I do think, and this is separating the two of these things. I think if you go out and you talk to folks who supported the president, they say we like the way that he operates, to Jason's point. That's what we voted for. We didn't vote to do things the same way as usual. What we like about him is that he is different and that he's not going to play by the same rules. And so in that sense he's being successful.

But at the end of the day, the real question is, is he able to achieve as much as he was able to achieve for people who wanted to see jobs coming back to the country?

BAIER: Just moments ago, a statement from Secretary John Kelly. He said this, quote, "I have been fortunate to have served my country for more than 45 years, first as a marine and then as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. I am honored to be asked to serve as the chief of staff for the president of the United States. To the tremendous men and women of DHS, I thank you for the opportunity to serve as your secretary. When I left the marines, I never thought I would find as committed, as professional, as patriotic a group of individuals. I was wrong. You can accomplish great things every day defending our nation, and I know your exceptional work will continue." Again, that's General John Kelly, currently still the Department of Homeland Security secretary. He will be the new White House chief of staff as of Monday morning.

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