It’s a most remarkable turn for the 60-year old Meadows, who in the eyes of his detractors has few qualifications for the post besides a talent for disruption, obstruction and obfuscation. Yet for the Republicans he’s fighting for — the House Freedom Caucus, of which he was a founder, and Trump — there’s no better advocate or strategist to have on your side.
The ascension to White House chief of staff is the culmination of a head-snapping rise for Meadows, who announced in December that he was retiring at the end of this term in Congress. Meadows was first elected in 2012, formed the Freedom Caucus with Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) in 2014 and was the man who went to the floor to seek to remove John Boehner from the speakership in the summer of 2015.
“Mark Meadows is smart, loyal, a true patriot. He’s a good man and my best friend,” Jordan said on Twitter following Trump’s announcement. “Couldn’t have picked anyone better for the job.”
“Mark Meadows has been a strong advocate for the president and the ‘America First’ agenda from the start,” added House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). “Congrats, Mark!”
Trump referenced Meadows’ new job in a speech to donors on Friday night in Florida and spoke highly of him, according to two attendees. The president told the audience that Meadows could be “my James Baker.”
There was widespread speculation that Meadows would be tapped to replace Mulvaney following the North Carolina Republican’s announcement that he wouldn’t be running for reelection. But Meadows denied at the time he had his eye on the top White House staff job.
Trump, however, has been considering replacing Mulvaney during the last several months, and started discussing the move seriously in the last several days, including consulting allies on Capitol Hill about whether to oust Mulvaney and replace him with Meadows, according to GOP lawmakers and aides.
In reality, Mulvaney had been largely sidelined during much of the bitter impeachment fight. To many Republicans, Jared Kushner — a senior presidential adviser and Trump’s son-in-law — has emerged as the second most powerful figure in the White House behind Trump.
Lately, White House staffers had wondered privately about Mulvaney’s career plans, since he had been doing an extensive amount of travel and had not been seen around the West Wing as frequently. Another telltale sign of his diminished status was his assigned seat at the recent wedding of White House aides Stephen and Katie Miller: Mulvaney was not seated at the same table as Trump, a fact noted by the large cadre of White House aides in attendance.
Trump speaks to Meadows several times per day, consulting with him on a wide range of issues. For instance, Meadows attended a meeting with House and Senate GOP leaders earlier this week in the Oval Office to discuss reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
And during Trump’s impeachment saga, Meadows was one of his most ardent defenders on TV, which is a huge plus for a president who prizes TV-camera-readiness above nearly all other traits.
Although they had no relationship before his run for the White House, when Trump was elected to office in 2016, Meadows became his chief advocate and strategist, a man who tried to channel his populist instincts into legislation. He oftentimes presented himself to the president as former Speaker Paul Ryan’s foil.
At the end of 2018, when Ryan tried to convince Trump to avoid a government shutdown over funding for the wall on the border with Mexico, Meadows urged him to stand strong.
“It’s who’s going to decide what happens in the next two years under this administration. So it’s bigger than the wall,” Meadows said about the shutdown in an interview for “The Hill to Die On,” a book by Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer about Congress in the era of Trump. “If Nancy wins, she controls the next two years, and she knows it. And if Nancy wins and she controls the next two years, the president knows that. … We’re trying to figure out who’s going to be the most powerful person in Washington, D.C., and bottom line is, it’s either going to be Nancy Pelosi or it’s going to be Donald J. Trump. And that’s what this comes down to.”
In many ways, Meadows is a pitch perfect selection for the president. Every chief of staff tried to redirect the president’s impulses or change his ways. Meadows will, in some ways, be like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — an aide who tries to understand what the president wants, and looks to help him achieve it through any means possible.
During his nearly yearlong tenure in the West Wing, Mulvaney tried to bring continuity to a staff roiled by frequent personnel changes. He attempted to boost morale by installing a popcorn machine in his office suite, and he made sure to give Ivanka Trump and Kushner much greater leeway in the administration than his predecessor, Gen. John Kelly, had.
But even this laissez faire attitude of ‘Let Trump be Trump’ was not enough to keep him in his job in the long-term.
The president eventually tired of Mulvaney just as he had with Kelly and his first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, all of whom espoused very different management styles.
Mulvaney was particularly sidelined during the impeachment process as Trump leaned instead on other White House aides and outside allies to drive his offensive against the Democrats’ inquiry. It was clear by the end of December 2019 that Mulvaney would likely leave the White House once the Senate impeachment trial finished and the intense scrutiny on the West Wing subsided.
Mulvaney arrived in the West Wing in Dec. 2019 as the ‘acting’ chief of staff, Trump’s fourth choice for the job. Trump had previously considered for the position Nick Ayers, Vice President Mike Pence’s former chief of staff, Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, and Meadows.
Trump ended up offering the job impromptu to Mulvaney during a late Friday afternoon meeting in the White House residence, when the two were scheduled to go over budget issues including funding for the border wall. Mulvaney accepted the job but never was able to drop the ‘acting’ from his title.
Although he managed to enact some conservative policy wins at the margins of White House policy and bring several conservatively-minded aides into the White House, he also made a few serious missteps during his tenure including advocating for the longest government shutdown in history and giving a disastrous press briefing on the Ukraine scandal, which only provided fodder for the Democrats’ investigations.
Prior to his chief of staff job, Mulvaney served as both the director of Office of Management and Budget and the acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He joined the Trump team in December 2016 as Trump’s pick for budget director, even though he had not been a vocal proponent of Trump during the 2016 election.
Meadows’ resignation from the House will open up his western North Carolina House seat just months before this year’s election. His retirement last December — just days before the filing deadline to run for the seat — roiled the state’s GOP political scene, with some Republicans speculating he may have timed his announcement to preclude state lawmakers from running and benefit his desired replacement, a charge Meadows disputed.
Meridith McGraw, Alex Isenstadt, Steven Shepard and Ally Mutnick contributed to this story.