Despite reports President Donald Trump was poised to fire cabinet members and other top officials as soon as Friday, the White House tamped down expectations and insisted the jobs of some thought to be on the chopping block were secure.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders insisted to reporters that chief of staff John Kelly and national security adviser H.R. McMaster were not at imminent risk of losing their jobs, counter to some headlines suggesting otherwise.
Sanders said Kelly reassured a number of staff members Friday morning that there would be no immediate personnel changes. “People shouldn’t be concerned,” Sanders said Kelly told staffers.
Regarding McMaster’s fate, Sanders referenced a tweet she sent last night that said she spoke to both the president and McMaster and that “contrary to reports they have a good working relationship and there are no changes at the NSC.” She also noted during the briefing that the president had asked her to relay to McMaster that his job was safe.
McMaster himself was cryptic when ABC caught him walking out of the White House West Wing Friday afternoon.
“Sarah set it straight yesterday. Everybody has got to leave the White House at some point,” he said. Asked whether he was leaving sooner or later, he responded, “I’m doing my job.”
During the briefing, Sanders also denied that the president himself has been fomenting rumors of a staff shake-up when making suggestive statements as he did Thursday, when he said, “There will always be change, and I think you want to see change,” and earlier this week, when asked about his firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and replacing him with CIA director Mike Pompeo, that he was “close” to having the cabinet he wanted.
“Taking two sentences out of the thousands of remarks that the president makes and making it look like that’s the entire focus of his administration…” Sanders said, before being reminded by a reporter that he was simply quoting what the president has said recently.
Sanders responded that the president was referring to the two people he had just nominated – Pompeo and his replacement, CIA deputy director Gina Haspel – not a broader changing of the guard.
Sanders did not answer directly when asked whether Trump has given similar assurances about job security to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and Veterans Affairs Secretary Dave Shulkin.
The White House tried to steer the staff shakeup narrative towards the lack of presidential nominees being confirmed, with legislative director Marc Short addressing reporters to talk about what he called Democrats’ record levels of obstruction. But when Sanders retook the podium, a reporter pointed out that the White House added to the backlog when Trump fired Tillerson and opened up two new cabinet positions.
Sanders said that was a matter of changing policy priorities.
“That’s not different for this administration as it has been for any other administration and we’re going to add new staff regularly,” she said.
ABC’s Tara Palmieri contributed to this report.