For Mark Meadows, the Transition From Trump Confidant to Chief of Staff Is a Hard One

For Mark Meadows, the Transition From Trump Confidant to Chief of Staff Is a Hard One

Mark Meadows has officially been President Trump’s fourth White House chief of staff for less than three weeks.

In that time, he has shaken up the communications office, angering supporters of the press secretary he chose to replace. He has tried to put in place other speedy changes, hoping to succeed where his three predecessors failed. He has hunted aggressively for leaks.

But administration officials say he has been overwhelmed at times by a permanent culture at the White House that revolves around the president’s moods, his desire to present a veneer of strength and his need for a sense of control. It is why, no matter who serves as chief of staff, the lack of formal processes and the constant infighting are unavoidable facts of life for those working for Mr. Trump.

In the case of Mr. Meadows, it has not helped him with his White House colleagues that the former North Carolina congressman, who has a reputation for showing his emotions, cried while meeting with members of the White House staff on at least two occasions. One instance was in the presence of a young West Wing aide; another time was with the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

On both occasions, Mr. Meadows was discussing staffing changes, according to the people briefed on the events. A White House spokesman declined to comment on either meeting. A person close to Mr. Kushner said he denied that any such episode involving him ever took place.

Mr. Trump is said to have faith in Mr. Meadows and is sometimes responsive to suggestions from his new chief of staff. Unlike the president’s history with his three previous chiefs of staff, the two had a personal relationship before Mr. Meadows resigned from Congress to take the job in the White House. But administration officials said that Mr. Trump sees emotion as a sign of weakness.

Hogan Gidley, a White House spokesman, said, “The White House is fully focused on supporting the president’s mission of defeating the coronavirus, saving American lives, and getting the country back to work — and Mark Meadows has already proven to be a tremendous asset in that effort.”

This article is based on interviews with seven administration officials and others familiar with the events.

While in Congress, Mr. Meadows’s penchant for displaying emotion and showing a sense of his humanity was part of his appeal to some of his colleagues. As chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, composed of the most conservative members of Congress, he was often at war with Democrats and Republicans like John A. Boehner, the former Republican speaker of the House who the caucus deemed too moderate.

But he was also known for establishing constructive relationships with people with whom he clashed ideologically.

“Mark Meadows has a live intellect and emotional life,” said Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland, who had a good relationship with Mr. Meadows when he served as a congressman. “Again, I consider many of his ideological commitments just indigestible, but we try to find the humanity in our colleagues and he is someone with a mind and a heart, that’s just undeniable.”

But neither quality is necessarily an asset in the Trump White House, where the president likes to project strength at all moments.

A former businessman and real-estate developer, Mr. Meadows bonded with Mr. Trump early in the administration and helped push his agenda increasingly to the right. When Mr. Meadows announced that he would step down from Congress, it immediately prompted speculation that he would join the White House.

He was brought in by Mr. Trump as part of a staff shake-up just as the administration was finding itself overwhelmed by the fast spread of the coronavirus in the United States and struggling with equipment and testing shortages.

In the midst of the crisis, Mr. Meadows is trying to reorganize the White House staff. People close to him insisted Mr. Meadows’s nature was not to fire people willy-nilly, but they said that was what he was doing nevertheless.

He’s also talking about other changes, two people familiar with the planning said, such as reorganizing the speech writing team — currently a stand-alone office led by Stephen Miller — under the umbrella of the communications department. That discussion has met with some resistance.

At the same time, his grip on the White House is hardly tight. Mr. Meadows was caught off guard when the press office on Tuesday night blasted out a lengthy list of people who had been selected to be part of one of the groups advising Mr. Trump on reopening the country, according to two people briefed on the matter. That had happened at the direction of Mr. Kushner, who has played a leading role in the White House’s response to the virus, according to the people briefed on what took place.

The list turned into something of a debacle on Wednesday, with one corporate executive after another telling reporters they had learned they were on it when their names were announced. Some said they had never agreed to be a part of the effort.

Even Mr. Meadows’s allies have described him as reeling from the reality that working for the president is different than being Mr. Trump’s phone confidant.

But by all accounts, Mr. Meadows does have several fans in the White House, some of whom had seen the tenure of his predecessor, Mick Mulvaney, a former congressman from South Carolina who was also a member of the Freedom Caucus, as dysfunctional and irreparably damaged in Mr. Trump’s eyes during the impeachment inquiry.

During West Wing meetings, Mr. Meadows has been more willing to assert himself and convey a sense of command than Mr. Mulvaney had been over the last several months, three administration officials said. And they say that even though his personal style isn’t to come in and make wholesale changes, he is doing what the president wants.

But the way he handled one of the first changes he made in his new job — tapping Kayleigh McEnany to replace Stephanie Grisham as press secretary — angered some allies of Ms. Grisham who remained behind. They said that Mr. Meadows let staff members learn about the changes from press reports without explaining how he would bring in his own allies to serve in specific roles.

Ms. Grisham is now the chief of staff to Melania Trump, the first lady.

Former colleagues in Congress do not sound optimistic about Mr. Meadows’s chances for success in his new role.

“So far, Mark has been able to get along with people even when he strongly disagrees with them,” observed Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York, about Mr. Meadows’s lengthy career. He declined to elaborate on how that might work now.

“I can see why the president and his staff would be very drawn to Mark Meadows,” Mr. Raskin said. “My worry for Mark is that the president is drawn to him as a person of quality, but now that he has him, he may just chew him up and spit him out the way he has done with so many people he has brought in to work for him.”

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