By Roberta Rampton and Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Nick Ayers, Donald Trump’s top choice to be his next chief of staff, is no longer in the running and the U.S. president is now considering other candidates, sources familiar with the matter said on Sunday, the latest sign of a chaotic White House staff shake-up.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Republican Representative Mark Meadows, chairman of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, are among the possible contenders to replace current White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, one source told Reuters.
Ayers, 36, chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence and known as a skilled Republican political tactician, had been in discussions for months about taking the job, but was unable to agree to terms with Trump, another source said.
Ayers tweeted that he would instead be leaving the White House soon, apparently to return to his home state of Georgia. One of the sources said Ayers would return to “America First Policies,” a combative group that he helped found before joining Pence in the White House.
“I will be departing at the end of the year but will work with the #MAGA team to advance the cause,” he wrote on Twitter, in a reference to Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
One source said Trump had sought a two-year commitment from Ayers but that he was unable to agree to that. Ayers, the father of young triplets, was willing to serve only until the spring of 2019 for family reasons, an administration official said earlier.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Trump will decide on his new chief of staff by the end of the year, the sources said. The president said on Saturday that Kelly would leave the post by year’s end.
Trump brought Kelly in last year to restore order to his White House, but has clashed repeatedly with the retired Marine Corps general in recent months. The two men were no longer on speaking terms, according to one source with direct knowledge of the situation.
The constant staff upheaval at all levels has left his White House grappling to try to advance his policies. Many of the resignations have come under pressure.
With Ayers out of the running, it is unclear who will take over the top administrative post in the West Wing at a time Trump has been weakened by Democrats winning control of the House of Representatives in congressional elections last month.
Trump now faces House probes into his businesses and most contentious policies, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating possible collusion between Trump’s election campaign team and Russian officials in 2016. Trump, who has denied collusion, calls the probe a “witch hunt.”
Ayers has advised a series of high-profile Republican governors and as Pence’s chief of staff, has run one of the most effective political teams in Washington.
But critics questioned whether the young operative had the kind of experience needed to deal with the internal strife that has often engulfed the Trump White House.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Steve Holland; Writing by Matt Spetalnick and Susan Cornwell, Editing by Peter Cooney)