By Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he has 10 to 12 candidates he is considering for the post of new White House chief of staff and although he could move quickly to fill the job, he was in no particular rush.
Trump’s current chief of staff, retired General John Kelly, is leaving at the beginning of the new year. Smiling broadly, Kelly trailed Trump into the Oval Office briefly as the president began a half-hour interview with Reuters.
While some potential candidates like Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have offered polite no-thank-yous, Trump said he was having no trouble recruiting people for one of the most powerful jobs in Washington.
“I have at least 10, 12 – 12 people that want it badly. I’m making a decision. Great people,” he said. “I could do it immediately. I’m in no rush. A lot of people want it.”
Trump said one candidate, North Carolina Republican Representative Mark Meadows, “is a great guy,” as is former campaign adviser Dave Bossie, who is also on the list – “friend of mine.” But he gave no indication who he was leaning towards.
“Everybody wants it. Who doesn’t want to be one of the top few people in Washington, D.C.,” Trump said, gesturing to the three reporters interviewing him. “I mean, you three guys would take it.”
“I have so many people, I cannot interview them all,” he said. Turning to senior communications adviser Bill Shine, Trump asked: “Is that a correct statement?”
Trump, who is in search of his third chief of staff after Kelly and Reince Priebus, said he is looking for “somebody that I can really get along with well.”
“Somebody whose ideas are similar to my ideas. Somebody that will take my ideas and go with them. That doesn’t mean they can’t be questioned. I like being questioned. I think it’s good to be questioned,” he said.
“You know people would be surprised to hear that. But I do like to be questioned. And somebody that loves our country,” he added.
Kelly, with whom Trump clashed at times, took the job in July 2017 to instill order to a sometimes chaotic White House after Priebus left the post.
Trump was left without a clear replacement for Kelly after Nick Ayers, currently chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, declined the job and said on Sunday he was returning to Georgia with his family at the end of the year.
The opening comes as the White House braces for an onslaught of political and legal challenges in the coming year in the face of the Russia investigation, multiple lawsuits and Trump’s efforts to win re-election in 2020.
Besides Meadows and Bossie, Trump has also been considering former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.
Mnuchin and White House budget director Mick Mulvaney have said they are not interested, sources said.
Bossie, who is a contributor for Fox News, said on Tuesday he was meeting with Trump on Friday but did not expect to be offered the job.
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Sonya Hepinstall)