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Mulvaney says he expects to stick around until 2020

Jill Colvin
Associated Press
In this March 22, 2018 file photo, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney speaks in the Brady press briefing room at the White House in Washington.

Washington – Playing the role of happy warrior, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said Tuesday that he expects to stay on in his current role through the 2020 election. And he said he isn’t expecting many major staff changes in the months ahead, despite the administration’s history of record turnover.

In an interview on stage at the Milken Institute’s annual conference in California, Mulvaney, who said he was suffering from kidney stones – a notoriously painful condition – nonetheless put on a happy face, insisting that he loves his job and has no plans of jumping ship.

“This is the last job I want in the administration,” he said. “I’m having a great time.”

That’s long been the message from Mulvaney, a former South Carolina congressman-turned budget director who is now serving as Trump’s third chief of staff. While Mulvaney’s predecessor, John Kelly, grated on Trump by trying to limit access to the Oval Office and managing up, Mulvaney sees the job differently, focusing instead on letting Trump do as he wishes and boosting staff morale.

Tuesday’s discussion came as Trump was holding a closed-door meeting with Democratic lawmakers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, to try to hash out the beginnings of an infrastructure deal that could serve as a rare bipartisan victory, even as Democrats continue to investigate Trump’s campaign and business dealings.

But Mulvaney was sour on the prospects, snipping that he’d had “a fun night” dealing with his medical issue, “but it’s better than going to the meeting with Chuck and Nancy at the White House.”

Asked by Fox Business Network host Maria Bartiromo whether he thought an infrastructure deal was realistic in 2019, Mulvaney expressed doubt, explaining that Trump is not interested in spending money without new regulatory rollbacks and sees little benefit in financing projects that won’t be completed until he’s out of office.

“He’s not interested in spending $1 trillion now for something that’s not going to get built until 2029,” Mulvaney said, throwing cold water on a meeting that was already underway and, by all accounts, went positively, with Trump and Democratic leaders agreeing to work together on a $2 trillion infrastructure package, but putting off the thorny question of how to pay for it.

It was a performance reminiscent of his boss, who during the government shutdown repeatedly undermined aides, including Vice President Mike Pence, insisting that meetings would produce no results even as they were taking place.

Instead, Mulvaney said he thought there was a better chance of Congress ratifying the new United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, even as he threw cold water on Democratic efforts to make changes to the deal.

“Once we send it to Congress, that’s it,” he said, adding that their only choice would be to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no.’

Yet Mulvaney also said it would be difficult for Trump to work with Democrats, given the flurry of investigations they’ve launched, including demands for tax returns and business records that Trump has sued to block.

“To have an impeachment hearing on Monday, say, and then to think you’re going to talk infrastructure on Tuesday, that’s not how the world works, let alone Washington, D.C.,” he said, adding that: “The mantra we use around the office is they either have to legislate or litigate. You can’t have it both ways.”

As for Trump, Mulvaney said that, after installing new leadership at the departments of state, defense and justice, Trump seems largely happy with his Cabinet. And at the White House, he said Trump had “the right team on the field,” but they “just need to be managed a different way.”

While he did not speak about his predecessor at length, he said the difference between him and John Kelly is that Kelly “openly let everybody know who worked for him that he hated his job,” which Mulvaney says badly hurt staff morale.

“That was a mistake,” he said. “And once you fix that, and I think we’ve been able to fix that, things have gotten dramatically better very, very quickly. I think people like working in the White House. They love working for this president. And we’re having some success. So it’s a fun place to work.”

He also brushed off the fact that he still retains the “acting” title, even though he’s now been on the job for months.

“The boss doesn’t care. I don’t care. And the people who work for us don’t care,” he said. “I am the chief of staff. I perform those functions … You’re only there at the pleasure of the president.”