Chief of Staff John Kelly was supposed to be the adult in the room. But he's proven to be no better than the man he was meant to supervise.
When John Kelly moved from Department of Homeland Security head to White House Chief of Staff, there was hopeful speculation that he would function as the “adult” in the room, there to rein in Donald Trump’s worst excesses and temper flare-ups.
Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker went so far as to declare that Kelly, alongside Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis, was there to “separate this country from chaos.”
But that hasn’t panned out, as Kelly has shown himself to harbor no stronger character than Trump when put to the test.
From his racist, ahistorical notions regarding the Civil War and Confederate monuments to white supremacy to his weeks-long campaign of lies against a Democratic representative and a grieving Gold Star widow, Kelly has shown his true colors to a nation that hoped for one person in the White House with something resembling a conscience.
And for many Latino Democratic lawmakers, this painful realization has come about in the fight for immigration reform and protection of undocumented youth.
As the Washington Post notes, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus hoped that Kelly would be someone they could work with on these issues, unlike the immigrant-bashing Trump with his racist border wall.
“We all thought, we hoped we were going to get somebody who was going to be reasonable, rational, looking at the facts,” said California Rep. Nanette Barragán.
But instead, “We’ve seen more and more come out about who he really is.”
And those revelations harken back to Kelly’s tenure as Homeland Security chief, when his attitude toward Hispanic lawmakers was “patronizing, disingenuous,” and disinterested in solving the problem of immigration officials abusing their power.
And even though these were members of Congress with whom Kelly was dealing, he seemed to blanch at not being acquiesced to.
“You could tell it was unusual for him to be challenged by people,” noted Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro.
Kelly’s one-track mind with regard to immigration policy was made clear during his confirmation hearings, even if they were put into slightly less vulgar words than those of Trump.
And ever since then, as the Post reports, in hearings and meetings with Hispanic lawmakers, Kelly has continued to be brusque when faced with the slightly challenge to his worldview.
“It’s offensive when a secretary sits in front of you and lies to you,” Barragán told the Post, such as when Kelly insisted to Caucus members that he would be “the best friend and best protection that DREAMers have,” in the words of California Rep. Linda Sánchez.
Despite that lofty promise, Kelly offered a galling response when asked to follow through on it.
Caucus members said they had spoken with Kelly previously about two bipartisan bills that would grant legal protections to dreamers.
During the meeting, Kelly said that dreamers were “good kids, I support them,” Barragán recalled. But when she asked if he would support their legislation, “He stood there in complete silence,” she said, before telling the group, “I’m unaware of any such legislation.”
Democrats in the room gasped — some laughed out loud in disbelief — and at least one member shouted, “Are you serious?” according to people in attendance. They promised to send him more details, but within days Kelly was headed to his new position at the White House. They never heard back.
That kind of two-faced dealing with lawmakers is disturbingly reminiscent of his boss, and sheds new light on why Trump may have been eager to bring Kelly on as his new chief of staff despite observers essentially labeling him as Trump’s babysitter.
And it also made Kelly’s crass treatment of Rep. Frederica Wilson dishearteningly familiar to Latino lawmakers.
“We warned people,” Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego noted. “We people of color usually catch on to this stuff before anyone else.”
Perhaps the next time outside observers leap to place the savior label on anyone in Trump’s orbit who has more public decorum than he does — which is a rather low bar — they will remember the rapid atrophy of Kelly’s reputation, and withhold praise until it has been duly earned.