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President Trump is searching for a new chief of staff, his third in under two years. Candidates are not exactly lining up for job interviews. Some whose names were floated for the position say they're not interested in running Trump's White House. As NPR's Scott Horsley reports, a job that's challenging in the best of times may be even more stressful now.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Trump's White House has seen an unprecedented level of staff turnover, and that extends to the corner office of the chief of staff. It was only last summer President Trump said he wanted John Kelly to remain in that post through the 2020 election. But Trump unceremoniously announced the departure of the retired Marine general on Saturday before boarding his helicopter for the Army-Navy football game.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: John Kelly will be leaving at the end of the year. We'll be announcing who will be taking John's place. It might be on an interim basis. I'll be announcing that over the next day or two.
HORSLEY: But it may be a little longer than that before Trump is able to name Kelly's replacement. The man who was thought to be the front-runner for the job, Vice President Pence's chief of staff, Nick Ayers, took himself out of the running over the weekend. And he's not the only candidate to drop out. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told CBS' "Face The Nation" he's already got his hands full trying to broker a trade deal with China within a tight 90-day time limit.
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ROBERT LIGHTHIZER: I'm flattered that the president wants me to be United States trade representative. Working closely with him, I hope to accomplish the goals that he's set out for me in that job.
HORSLEY: Several other potential job applicants have also reportedly passed on the high-profile position.
CHRIS WHIPPLE: You have to wonder who would want to take this job as White House chief of staff to Donald Trump.
HORSLEY: Chris Whipple interviewed 17 former chiefs of staff for his book about the position, "The Gatekeepers." That includes James Baker, who held the post for both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
WHIPPLE: James A. Baker III used to tell chiefs who called him for advice, congratulations, you've got the worst blanking job in government. That's under the best of circumstances. And these are not the best of times.
HORSLEY: Trump's new chief of staff will have to deal with newly empowered Democrats who will soon control the House of Representatives and an aggressive special counsel's investigation that adds potential legal liability to every private conversation with the boss.
WHIPPLE: You really have to, if you're going into that job, seriously think about lawyering up. And of course the worst-case scenario is you become H.R. Haldeman, who went to jail for 18 months after participating in Richard Nixon's cover-ups.
HORSLEY: And then there's the longstanding challenge of trying to build an orderly system around an impulsive and unpredictable president. Trump chafed under Kelly's effort to instill military discipline, making for what Kathryn Dunn Tenpas of the Brookings Institution calls a tumultuous 17 months.
KATHRYN DUNN TENPAS: And I say tumultuous because this period was punctuated by threats of him wanting to leave and leaving or claims that people in the White House wanted him out.
HORSLEY: As hard as it may be to find a willing and qualified chief of staff to replace Kelly, Whipple says Trump desperately needs one. He says simply letting Trump be Trump, as some of the president's supporters have suggested, is a recipe for failure.
WHIPPLE: You cannot govern effectively without empowering a White House chief to execute your agenda and tell you hard truths. You can't run the White House like the 26th floor of Trump Tower and expect to get anything done.
HORSLEY: Once upon a time, Trump himself seemed to acknowledge that. Back in 2012, Trump tweeted that then-President Obama was struggling to pass his agenda in part because he churned through three chiefs of staff in three years, a turnover record that Trump is about to beat by 13 months. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.
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