WASHINGTON -- Donald Trump has for weeks been privately testing the idea of replacing his chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, who's swiftly fallen out of favor with some of the president's allies after high-profile stumbles handling the House impeachment inquiry.
About a month ago, Trump said to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in front of a roomful of staff: You have such great ideas, why don't you be my chief? He has made similar remarks about Chris Liddell, a deputy chief of staff at the White House, according to people familiar with the matter. He's also asked advisers whether his counselor Kellyanne Conway would be a good chief of staff, other people said.
Some White House aides say this is nothing new, and that Trump often tests similar ideas in conversation or makes such remarks to flatter his aides and keep others on their toes.
Mnuchin is not under formal consideration for chief of staff, one person familiar with the matter said. He is one of Trump's most loyal aides, but his removal from the Treasury Department could disturb markets, where investors have come to regard him as a source of stability in an otherwise volatile political environment.
But Trump's musings about replacing Mulvaney are a sign of the president's growing discontent with his performance. For almost a year, Mulvaney has served as "acting" chief of staff because Trump has withheld the permanent title from him.
Mulvaney's standing with his boss has become unsteady after the White House's flat-footed response to the impeachment inquiry, which some Trump allies have blamed on the chief of staff. Mulvaney further damaged himself with a news conference last week in which he admitted that aid to Ukraine was held up to pressure the country to investigate the president's political rivals -- the question at the heart of the impeachment debate.
Previous staff shake-ups have begun with Trump asking aides and associates whether this person or that should be replaced. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, for instance, endured extended public speculation about his departure, fueled by Trump himself. Mulvaney is the president's third chief of staff, appointed by tweet in December to replace John Kelly, who himself was appointed by tweet to replace Reince Priebus.
Trump didn't respond on Monday when he was asked during a Cabinet meeting whether Mulvaney would remain in his job. One aide said that the president's silence was a signal that Trump is considering a change.
Mulvaney's departure isn't seen as imminent. But some of Trump's closest associates have assembled a roster of possible replacements if the president decides to replace Mulvaney, Bloomberg News reported Sunday. Among those said to be on the list are former acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and veteran political operative Wayne Berman, now a senior managing director for government relations at the Blackstone Group Inc.
Some senior White House staff have rallied around Mulvaney. On Monday, Mulvaney admitted during a senior staff meeting that he had erred somewhat in the news conference, according to two people familiar with the matter. Other officials responded with support and a round of applause.