Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has privately urged President Trump not to fire his chief of staff, whose fate was left hanging in the balance last week after the White House struggled to respond to allegations of spousal abuse against ousted staff secretary Rob Porter.
A source familiar with the discussion told the Washington Examiner late Wednesday that McConnell advised Trump during a recent phone call to avoid making any significant changes to his senior-level staff, including firing John Kelly, who replaced chief of staff Reince Priebus last July.
The Kentucky Republican later told associates that because of Trump's mercurial nature, he's unsure whether the president will listen him and others who are advocating for Kelly to stay put.
McConnell spokesman David Popp declined to confirm whether the majority leader has spoken to Trump since the Porter news erupted. Instead, he pointed to a New York Times story from last month in which White House counsel Don McGahn was described as having told "McConnell and others that he likes Mr. Kelly and would stay if he remains."
Trump has floated several potential replacements for Kelly in conversations with close friends since Porter departed the West Wing last Wednesday. While some White House staffers are encouraging the president to ditch his chief of staff, sources close to Trump have said he remains torn over the situation.
Kelly came under fire last week after he released a statement defending Porter, who resigned immediately after his two ex-wives publicly accused him of verbal, emotional, and physical abuse. The retired Marine general later released a follow-up statement after the Daily Mail released photographic evidence of the alleged abuse, claiming he was "shocked" but standing by his previous description of Porter as someone with "true integrity and honor."
Kelly has since drawn criticism from colleagues who anonymously complained to various media outlets last week that he sought to push a false narrative about the timeline of Porter's exit.
Though the White House has repeatedly denied the existence of discussions about personnel changes in the wake of the Porter scandal, sources close to the president have said Trump is weighing his options.
According to one former Trump campaign official, the president has told some people he's thinking of replacing Kelly with his longtime pal Tom Barrack and others he's leaning toward House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
"As far as Barrack goes, they're lifelong friends and he's very smart, but he has financial issues," the official said, noting that Barrack previously employed Rick Gates, who was charged with money laundering, tax fraud, and illegal foreign lobbying as part of the ongoing special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Meanwhile, McCarthy has pushed back on reports that he's in the running for chief of staff.
"Look, there is no opening. I think Gen. Kelly is an amazing person. I watched what he's been able to do with this White House, put structure to it, and I think those hypotheticals are not healthy in any shape or form," he told reporters on Wednesday.