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Trump urged to consider a young White House insider as he struggles to find a new chief of staff

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As he looks to replace Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, second from left, President Trump is being urged to consider Johnny DeStefano, third from left, a trusted White House aide.
(Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

President Trump is being urged to consider a young White House aide for his chief of staff, according to two people familiar with ongoing conversations, after his top choice and other men turned down the job in recent days.

Several people close to the president are promoting Johnny DeStefano, who was a political aide to former House Speaker John A. Boehner before joining the administration as Trump’s director of personnel. He since has seen his portfolio expand and often travels with the president.

The president told reporters on Thursday afternoon that he is interviewing five “terrific people.” David Bossie, another potential candidate and a longtime Republican political warrior who was Trump’s deputy campaign chairman in 2016, was seen entering the West Wing on Thursday afternoon.

Asked in a Fox News interview what he’s looking for in his next chief of staff, Trump said, “I want somebody that’s strong but I want somebody that thinks like me.”

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Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders did not rule out media reports that Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a senior advisor, was being considered. “I’m not aware that he’s under consideration,” she told White House reporters, but she added, “He will be great in any role that the president chooses to put him in.”

DeStefano, 39, played a key role in the White House political shop during the midterm elections campaign while also supervising the Office of Public Liaison. He is generally well-liked within an administration beset by warring factions and is trusted by Trump, who has clashed with older, more established figures like John F. Kelly, the retired Marine general who is leaving as chief of staff at the end of the year.

DeStefano’s political experience, a trait shared by some others who’ve been on Trump’s radar, suggests that the president wants to shift more fully onto a campaign footing as 2020 approaches and to rely on loyal aides for looming fights with Democrats and investigators.

With Democrats taking over the House in January and likely to launch a number of investigations, Trump will lean heavily on lawyers and top aides.

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While DeStefano is less well-known than some Cabinet members and lawmakers whose names have been floated, the affable aide is known inside the White House as a diligent worker and someone whose appointment wouldn’t be unsettling to any West Wing faction.

He is slightly older than Nick Ayers, the chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence who was Trump’s first choice but who balked over the president’s request for a two-year commitment. Others subsequently declined as well, including Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the head of the conservative House Freedom Caucus; Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin; and New York Yankees President Randy Levine.

Still believed to be under consideration are Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who visited the White House on Wednesday, fanning speculation that he could be a dark horse candidate.

“He’s being pretty methodical in trying to think through replacing Gen. Kelly,” Gingrich said Thursday. “When Ayers decided not to do it, he slowed down and decided he really had to rethink what he’s looking for and how to do it.”

That opened the door to friends and allies offering suggestions. Eric Bolling, a former Fox host, said in an interview that he spent a half hour in the Oval Office on Wednesday and made the case for Bill Shine, a former Fox executive who is now communications director. Bolling said that Trump nodded but did not respond.

The latest from Washington »

eli.stokols@latimes.com

Twitter: @EliStokols

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