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Essential Politics: Help wanted — a chief of staff for America's president

Essential Politics: Help wanted — a chief of staff for America's president
Essential Politics (LAT)

Few jobs in American politics have been more prestigious or powerful in modern history than White House chief of staff. But as the week begins, it’s hard to know who, if anyone, really wants to be the third person to hold the position under President Trump.

IN SEARCH OF A CHIEF

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As with so many brief but blustery chapters of the Trump presidency, the weekend saw a rapid-fire progression of storylines reported from Washington.

First, and perhaps most importantly, John Kelly will leave the White House within a matter of weeks.

Though Trump and Kelly reportedly are no longer on speaking terms, the president called the retired four-star Marine general “a great guy” on Saturday and said, “I appreciate his service very much.”

But no faster had speculation centered on Nick Ayers, the chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, then Ayers made it clear: He’s not taking the job. The young Georgia politico tweeted his thanks to Trump on Sunday afternoon.

A number of other names were floating across social media as the weekend came to an end. For his part, the president fell back on a familiar response of blaming the press for any suggestion that the process is going less than smoothly.

“I am in the process of interviewing some really great people for the position of White House Chief of Staff,” he tweeted on Sunday. “Fake News has been saying with certainty it was Nick Ayers, a spectacular person who will always be with our #MAGA agenda. I will be making a decision soon!”

NATIONAL LIGHTNING ROUND

-- The “I” word made its way through the Sunday talk shows after last week’s developments in the investigation being led by special counsel Robert Mueller III. Democrats said, yes, impeachment of Trump may be warranted — but they cautioned, too, it was still premature to consider it.

-- Trump announced Saturday that he’s picked a battle-hardened commander who oversaw troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to be the nation’s next top military adviser.

-- Wisconsin’s Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers said Sunday he’s not optimistic that outgoing Gov. Scott Walker will veto bills approved by the state’s Republican-dominated Legislature that would limit the new governor’s power.

-- People in Canton, Miss. have said for years they've heard of election campaigns buying votes with cash or beer. But it wasn't until the past few days when the former police chief, a former fire chief and others were arrested on election fraud charges that locals realized the depth of the problem.

UNTIL ALL THE VOTES ARE COUNTED

California’s secretary of state will officially certify the tally from the Nov. 6 election this week, the kind of event that used to come a few weeks after the ballots had all been counted in the state’s 58 counties.

But that’s been gradually changing. This fall, we saw 43% of the state’s ballots still to be sorted and counted once the sun rose the morning after election day.

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Michael Finnegan and Ryan Menezes took a closer look at how those ballots dramatically shifted the outcome of a number of races, none more so than the seven congressional seats Republicans lost to Democrats.

AND THEN MILLIONS OF “UNDER-VOTES”

Also worth noting from the election that’s now in the history books is what happened in the races where there was no clear partisan distinction between the two candidates that advanced to November.

A lot of voters skipped it.

Three races, I noted in my Sunday column, had no Democrat-versus-Republican contrast for voters. And those races saw significantly fewer votes cast — what’s known as an “under-vote” when that part of the ballot is left blank.

In short, Californians have said they like the top-two primary, the system that removed a guaranteed spot for each party on the fall ballot. But when that primary results in a single party’s candidates moving forward, a sizable number of voters decide they’re no longer interested.

TODAY’S ESSENTIALS

-- Days after Democrat Tom Umberg took the oath of office as the winner of the state’s 34th Senate District seat, Orange County elections officials said Friday that former Republican incumbent Janet Nguyen’s camp has asked for a partial recount.

-- Five former political directors of the California Republican Party are calling on state GOP leadership to renounce nationalist speech used by President Trump as well as candidates who embrace “messages of hatred, division and rhetoric that divides us by race.”

-- State officials on Friday moved ahead with a plan to allow marijuana deliveries to homes throughout California, including in cities that have outlawed pot shops.

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-- Groups seeking a change in the law or California’s Constitution will find it significantly harder — and more costly — to qualify ballot measures beginning next year, following high voter turnout for the Nov. 6 statewide election.

LOGISTICS

Essential Politics is published Monday and Friday.

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