The Slatest

Trump Picks Mark Meadows, Who Had Talked About Sending Obama “Back to Kenya,” as New Chief of Staff

Mick Mulvaney and Rep. Mark Meadows talk as they wait for President Donald Trump to speak to the media.
Mick Mulvaney and Rep. Mark Meadows talk as they wait for President Donald Trump to speak to the media. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The long-awaited ouster finally arrived. President Donald Trump announced Friday that Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina would be his new White House chief of staff, a dramatic shake-up at the top of his administration at a time of a growing health crisis in an election year. Meadows will be Trump’s fourth chief of staff in just over three years. By tapping Meadows, Trump selected one of his most loyal congressional allies to take the key spot and made clear what had been whispered about in Washington for months—his relationship with acting White House chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney had become untenable. Mulvaney never managed to drop the “acting” from his title despite being on the job for 14 months and is now being appointed special envoy for Northern Ireland, a move the New York Times describes as a “consolation prize.”

Some advisers had reportedly warned Trump not to make such a high-profile change during the coronavirus crisis because it would further rattle markets. And Trump’s decision to make the announcement after the markets had closed Friday was partly an effort to minimize the damage that could come from the decision. But it seems Trump had enough and wasn’t willing to wait any longer. The president had reportedly wanted to get rid of Mulvaney for months but did not want to make such a key change in the middle of the impeachment battle.

Trump and Mulvaney have had a tense relationship for months and that sometimes spilled into public view. After all, who can forget when the president kicked Mulvaney out of the room when he began coughing during an interview with ABC News? “If you’re going to cough, please leave the room,” Trump said on-camera. “You just can’t, you just can’t cough.” Many were also surprised when Mulvaney was not seated with Trump at the wedding between Stephen Miller, an adviser to the president, and Katie Waldman, Vice President Mike Pence’s spokeswoman. The final indignity for Mulvaney came Friday, when he found out that he was out of a job a day after Trump called Meadows to offer him the job.

With his choice, Trump tapped a lawmaker who was first elected in the post-Tea Party wave of 2012 and served as chairman of the Freedom Caucus. Meadows has been a key Trump ally since 2016 and the two reportedly talk frequently. During the impeachment battle, Trump and Meadows, who was instrumental in designing the president’s defense, talked several times a day.

Meadows also shares something else with the president, a past questioning of former President Barack Obama’s nationality. While campaigning in 2012, Meadows was asked if he would pursue an investigation to find out if Obama really is a citizen. “Yes,” Meadows responded. “If we do our job from a grassroots standpoint, we won’t have to worry about it. We’ll send him back home to Kenya or wherever it is.” He later disavowed those remarks. “I don’t even remember that quote,” Meadows said in 2015. “Obviously I distance myself from that.” Last year, Rep. Rashida Tlaib and Meadows took part in a heated discussion, with the lawmaker from Michigan calling him out for what she described as a “racist act.”