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White House Says No More Immediate Personnel Changes Coming

Mar 16, 2018
Originally published on March 16, 2018 4:20 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The White House is trying to tamp down speculation that another staff shakeup is in the works. In a week that saw Secretary of State Rex Tillerson fired by tweet, there is renewed speculation that national security adviser H.R. McMaster or other members of the Cabinet may be on their way out. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins me now from the White House. Hi, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Let's start with McMaster. What is the latest on his status?

KEITH: So NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman reports that McMaster will likely leave, although there is no timetable on when that might happen. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders last night tweeted out that she had spoken with the president when a story emerged in The Washington Post saying that Trump had decided that he was going to remove McMaster. And Trump told her that that was not accurate, that he has no intention of making a change there at this time and that the two of them have a great working relationship.

Now, randomly there have been a lot of H.R. McMaster sightings around the White House today, which doesn't always happen. A bunch of us reporters were walking through the West Wing in areas where we're allowed to walk. And what do you know? There was H.R. McMaster standing there sort of near the Oval Office.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Right.

KEITH: And then an ABC News correspondent tweeted that she caught up with him outside of the West Wing. And she said that he told her that Sarah Sanders had set things straight. And then he added, everybody has got to leave the White House at some point. Then she says she asked whether he was leaving sooner rather than later. And he said, I'm doing my job and walked away.

SHAPIRO: You know, people are sometimes criticized for focusing on palace intrigue.

KEITH: Yes.

SHAPIRO: And there has been a lot of turnover at this White House. But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and national security adviser H.R. McMaster are two vital positions, and a change in both or either of them means a big change in the way American policy is determined and executed.

KEITH: Right. And just think about the timing on this. This is right after President Trump has accepted this offer to meet with the North Korean dictator, though there isn't a lot of clarity on where and when exactly that will happen. You know, the national security adviser position is a very important position in terms of sort of figuring out how the dialogue works within the White House and externally and sort of managing the White House foreign policy.

SHAPIRO: When you have a White House with this much turnover and speculation about future turnover, how does that affect people doing their everyday jobs? I mean, how does it affect morale?

KEITH: Well, can you imagine if this was happening in our office every day?

SHAPIRO: No.

KEITH: It would be terrible. You know, Sarah Sanders said that today, chief of staff John Kelly actually sat down a bunch of senior staffers this morning and told them that - you know, tried to reassure them. And here's how she described that conversation.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Reassuring them that there were no immediate personnel changes at this time and that people shouldn't be concerned. We should do exactly what we do every day, and that's come to work and then do the very best job that we can.

KEITH: No immediate personnel changes at this time is neither reassuring nor particularly conclusive, especially when you have the president himself saying just this week, there will always be change, and I think you want to see change.

SHAPIRO: There has been controversy surrounding several other Cabinet secretaries recently and speculation that any of them might be replaced. Can you run through who they are and what the White House is saying about them?

KEITH: I - we don't have time for me to go through all of them.

SHAPIRO: Because it's such a long list, OK (laughter).

KEITH: It is a very long list, and people sort of rotate on and off. But Sarah Sanders today was specifically asked about VA Secretary Shulkin, who was on the receiving end of a very critical inspector general's report - also HUD Secretary Ben Carson, who is still trying to get his story straight about a $31,000 dining room set that was ordered for his office. That order has been canceled. She was asked whether the president offered the same assurances to them that he offered to H.R. McMaster, and she simply repeated, we don't have any personnel changes at this time.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Tamara Keith at the White House. Thanks, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.