WASHINGTON — Thrice rejected, President Donald Trump is still in search of a chief of staff.
It won't be Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor, who on Friday joined Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and Nick Ayers, the top aide to Vice President Mike Pence, in taking himself out of the running.
"I have told the president that now is not the right time for me or my family to undertake this serious assignment," Christie said in a statements. "As a result, I have asked him to no longer keep me in any of his considerations for this post."
On Thursday night, Christie, who campaigned for Trump in 2016 and was later pushed out as chief of his presidential transition team, had spent an hour discussing the job with the president at the White House residence, according to two sources familiar with the chief-of-staff-selection process.
The unusual spectacle of the president so publicly courting and being rebuffed by candidates for what is typically one of the most sought-after jobs in government comes at a time when Trump is battling special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, separate allegations that he conspired to break campaign finance laws and his party's loss of power in the House.
So, whoever accepts the job will be taking on a heavy caseload of political, legal and policy problems.
Mick Mulvaney, a former Republican congressman from South Carolina and the current director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, has emerged as a leading contender to step in, sources familiar with the process tell NBC News.
Trump's current top aide, John Kelly, is expected to leave the position at the end of the year, and the president said earlier this week that he had narrowed his short list to five candidates. "Really good ones," Trump said.
Kellyanne Conway, who serves as counselor to the president, told reporters at the White House Friday that she knows who the front-runner for the post is but declined to get out in front of Trump's announcement.
She also demurred when asked whether she was under consideration to run the White House staff. Rather than answer, Conway smiled and quickly took another question.
A woman has never held the chief of staff job, which was originated by John Steelman, who was the "assistant to the president" in Harry Truman's administration.
Another potential candidate, Citizens United President and Chairman David Bossie, who served as a top aide on Trump's campaign, met with the president for lunch at the White House on Friday, along with Corey Lewandowski, Bossie's book-writing partner and Trump's first campaign manager.
Despite reports that Trump is considering his son-in-law Jared Kushner for the job, Conway said Friday that the president isn't talking about him. "I haven't heard the president mention Jared Kushner," she said.
It's also possible that Kelly could remain in his role past the start of the new year. If Congress and Trump don't come to agreement to extend funding for several agencies by Dec. 21, part of the government will shut down.
The negotiations over either a stopgap measure or a long-term resolution to the funding dispute — which has been focused on whether lawmakers will provide significant funding for Trump's promised border wall — could easily spill into January, and Kelly has been intimately involved in that battle.
In an interview with Fox News this week, Conway left open the possibility that Kelly could be retained for longer than initially expecting, saying that the decision is up to Trump and Kelly.