Reince Priebus is making an early return to the White House after traveling with President Trump on his first overseas trip, fueling speculation that the administration is in a crisis and that his position as chief of staff could be in peril.
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The White House confirmed to FOX Business that Priebus would be heading back to Washington D.C. after the stop in Saudi Arabia, part of the president’s visit to the Middle East, and insisted this was always part of the administration’s plan.
Natalie Strom, assistant press secretary at the White House, told FOX Business, “It has always been planned for Reince to return to Washington following the Saudi Arabia portion of the trip. It's a big week in D.C. for the president's agenda with our budget release coming soon and discussions continuing on tax reform, so he's needed back at home for that.”
When asked which other officials would be coming home, Strom said, “Only a few senior administration officials are staying on for the whole trip, which is typical for these kinds of trips. They're attending the stops that most pertain to their responsibilities. Off the top of my head I know that Secretary [of State] Tillerson and General McMaster won't be on for the entirety."
Still, the timing of Priebus’s departure is questionable due to the speculation surrounding the job security of his own post, as well as other White House officials including Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
As FOX Business reported Friday, Priebus’s position in the White House is once again in jeopardy as National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney are a few of the candidates under consideration to replace him if the president decides to go that route, according to sources close to the situation.
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On Friday, the White House did not deny the possibility that Priebus could be replaced.
“The rumor has been going on for months and it hasn’t happened yet,” Strom told FOX Business.
While the administration may believe it’s typical for some officials to stay and others to head home, according to experts outside the White House, it’s unusual for a chief of staff to head home early on such an important trip.
“It is not common for a chief of staff to be sent home for a trip like this because the chief of staff is meant to be the most important person sitting next to the president on such trips,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic political consultant.
Sheinkopf also noted that the job security of everyone in the administration is under scrutiny and added that “rumors about Priebus’s tenure would increase dramatically were he to come home.”
Richard Painter, chief White House ethics lawyer under former President George W. Bush, agreed that it’s uncommon for a chief of staff to head home in the middle of a trip, and that he could be returning to handle the issues coming out of the Trump administration.
“It’s not the usual pattern,” Painter said. “People either go on the trip and stay or they don’t go at all. Now there may be trouble with the White House staff and that’s probably the reason he’s heading home. I think there is a lot of disorder … within the White House and we can’t have the chief of staff out of the White House if there’s so much disorder.”
Trump will travel to Israel next where he plans to visit Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.