Pundits overlook John Kelly's extreme record, instead speculate that he could save Trump

Media figures and political strategists flocked to the Sunday shows to speculate that Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly will promote “discipline” and reduce “chaos” as White House chief of staff, and that Trump will listen to him because he “respects” military officers. What their analyses left out is Kelly’s extreme policy position on immigration and his defense of Trump’s chaotic Muslim travel ban implementation.

Media figures speculate that Kelly will bring “discipline,” to the White House and note Trump’s “respect” for military officers

Wash. Post’s Ruth Marcus: Kelly “could impose some order and discipline.” Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus acknowledged the possibility that Trump doesn’t want to change but speculated that “Kelly could impose some order and discipline,” adding that “it can’t get any worse, right?” From the July 30 edition of CBS’ Face The Nation:

RUTH MARCUS: David puts his finger on the really important thing, which is, General Kelly could impose some order and discipline. It can't get any worse, right? As we saw this week on this crazy chaotic White House. But can he get President Trump to change? Does President Trump want to change? Is President Trump capable of changing? Talked to a lot of former White House chiefs of staff yesterday. Heard the word “patch” a lot. You can patch this, but you can't necessarily fix it. [CBS, Face The Nation, 7/30/17]

The Federalists Ben Domenech: The appointment of Kelly is “potentially a turning point in the early stages of this administration.” The Federalist publisher Ben Domenech called the move “potentially a turning point in the early stages of this administration” and a “pivot away from perhaps loyalty” to the GOP establishment. From the July 30 edition of CBS’ Face The Nation:

JOHN DICKERSON (HOST): What's the remedy here? White Houses are allowed to stumble, so what do you do to fix it?

BEN DOMENECH: Well, I think that this is a significant step. It's potentially a turning point in the early stages of this administration, a pivot away from perhaps loyalty to a GOP establishment which had been injected into this White House after a campaign in which they were very often at odds. [CBS, Face The Nation, 7/30/17]

Republican strategist Michael Caputo claimed Trump’s supposed respect of military officers will bring order to the White House. Michael Caputo claimed that officers are a group Trump is “very respectful of” to predict that “we're going to see some good things” in discussing Kelly’s appointment. From the July 30 edition of CNN’s State of the Union with Jake Tapper:

JAKE TAPPER (HOST): Do you really think that General Kelly, Secretary Kelly, White House chief of staff Kelly, whatever you want to call him, will be able to go into the president's office, the Oval Office and say, “Mr. President, please stop tweeting. Or, If you're going to tweet, let's have a discussion before you do it. Because it is an official message, and it is undermining what we are trying to do.”

MICHAEL CAPUTO: Well, I've known the president for quite a while now, several years. And I know that he responds very, very well to flag officers. It's a group of people that he's very respectful of. I think that if he and General Kelly sat down, he certainly had a conversation like Mike said, and I trust that the president is going to stand by whatever commitments he made to the general. This White House could use a Marine officer in charge. We all agree about this. I think we're going to see some good things. [CNN, State of the Union, 7/30/17]

Others remember that Kelly oversaw immigration policies at DHS that many Americans opposed, but which nativists celebrated

The Nation: “John Kelly’s promotion is a disaster for immigrants.” The Nation published a list of Kelly’s actions as DHS head, including “redefining who a ‘criminal alien’ is,” calling for the revival of a program that deputized local police to act as immigration agents, ending Deferred Action for Parents and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), and “weighing the expanded use of expedited removal” of undocumented immigrants. The author concluded “if Kelly’s short tenure is any indication, his elevated role as White House chief of staff will be a disaster for immigrants, never mind who replaces him at Homeland Security, a process in which he will undoubtedly play a large part.” [The Nation, 7/28/17]

Vox: The appointment of Kelly “is a sign that the Trump administration is rededicating itself” to a campaign of fear against immigrants and people of color. Vox’s Dara Lind wrote that while Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been the brains of Trump’s immigration agenda, Kelly is “the face … and to Trump, that’s even more important” and argued that, in recent months especially, Kelly has begun sounding a lot like Trump in his “apocalyptic rhetoric of an America under siege.” From the July 29 article:

Kelly wasn’t the brains behind the Trump immigration agenda. Most of it was designed by then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (before he became Attorney General and got shut out of Trump’s inner circle) and former Sessions staffers now highly placed in the White House, Department of Justice, and Department of Homeland Security.

But over the course of Kelly’s six months at the head of DHS, he became the face of the Trump immigration agenda. And to Trump, that’s even more important.

It’s not just that Kelly looked the part, or that his appearances on Sunday shows gave off the air of an upstanding military man who was a little uncomfortable doing a media appearance when there were wars to be fought. It’s the fact that Kelly spoke — and to all appearances believed — as if the Trump administration was a constant war against the forces of lawlessness and disorder.


Trump, easily distracted, hadn’t often returned as president to the apocalyptic rhetoric of an America under siege that he used at the most important moments on the campaign trail. Kelly did.

In a speech at George Washington University in May — a mission statement about Kelly’s priorities as secretary, delivered to an audience of Washington elites — Kelly was shockingly martial. “Make no mistake — we are a nation under attack. We are under attack from criminals who think their greed justifies raping young girls at knifepoint, dealing poison to our youth, or killing just for fun.”

It wasn’t the Kelly that many had expected when he was nominated — the regional Latin America expert who hated politics and would think a wall was total bunk. It sounded, well, a lot like Donald Trump, at a time when Trump wasn’t spending much time sounding like his old self.

Now, though, that passage from Kelly’s speech might sound familiar. It’s awfully close to the rhetoric Trump used on Friday, during a speech in Long Island that was ostensibly about MS-13 but really about how important it was for ICE to be rough on immigrant “criminals.” [Vox, 7/29/17]

Kelly defended the implementation of Trump’s first travel ban, despite widely-reported chaos and confusion surrounding the ban, as well as the policy itself. After the initial implementation of Trump’s first Muslim ban, which caused confusion for travelers and officials at airports across the country, Kelly said “there was no such chaos” and “defended the order as necessary for national security.” (Parts of that order have since been ruled unconstitutional by federal courts). From the January 31 CBS News article:

Mr. Trump’s order and the immediate implementation of it caused confusion at airports, particularly when it came to travelers affected by the order who were already in the air when it was signed. Some travelers from the seven affected countries -- Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen -- were detained for hours upon arrival at U.S. airports until a judge granted a stay on their deportations Saturday night.

But Kelly said there was no such chaos at U.S. Customs, suggesting that the “chaos” at airports was from protests outside of immigration checkpoints.

“Our officers who are at the counter so to speak, the only chaos they saw was what was taking place in other parts of the airport,” Kelly said. “They knew what they were doing as immigrants or not immigrants but foreign nationals presented themselves.”

Kelly also defended the order as necessary for national security, saying it is a “temporary pause” and shouldn’t be characterized as a “travel ban” or a “Muslim ban.”

“This is not, I repeat, not a ban on Muslims,” Kelly said. “The Homeland Security mission is to safeguard the American people, our homeland, our values -- and religious liberty is one of our most fundamental and treasured values. It is important to understand that there are terrorists and other bad actors that are seeking to infiltrate our homeland every single day.”

He said the various executive orders Mr. Trump have signed are a “matter of national security,” and said he has directed DHS to implement the immigration-related order “professionally, humanely and in accordance with the law.” [CBS News, 1/31/17; Media Matters, 6/14/17]

FAIR’s Dan Stein: Kelly’s plan to implement Trump’s immigration executive orders is like “Christmas In February.” In February 2017, DHS released two memos, both signed by Kelly, intended to provide guidelines for the implementation of Trump’s executive orders on immigration. The Washington Post reported that their implementation could increase deportations and “considerably broaden the pool of undocumented immigrants prioritized for removal.” In response, Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) -- an organization the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as a “hate group” and part of the “nativist lobby” -- celebrated the rollout of the DHS memos by saying it was like “Christmas in February:”

The memos fulfill Trump's campaign promises to crack down on illegal immigration. Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates for lower levels of legal and illegal immigration, said the memos capture many recommendations his group has been making for years.

“It's Christmas in February,” Stein said. “What (Homeland Security Secretary John) Kelly has done is lay out a broad road map of regaining control of a process that's spun out of control.” [USA Today, 2/21/17; The Washington Post, 2/21/17; Media Matters, 2/22/17]