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WASHINGTON — Facing a West Wing in near-constant crisis, and with little progress so far on most of his legislative priorities, President Donald Trump is actively seeking advice about a shakeup that could envelop his chief of staff, Reince Priebus.
Multiple sources close to the administration told NBC News the president has been sounding off about staff changes, although no final decisions have been made. Another administration source flatly denies Priebus is at risk.
But people close to Trump point to two names that have emerged in the conversations: David Urban, who oversaw the Pennsylvania operation for the Trump campaign, and Gary Cohn, the president’s top economic adviser and former Goldman Sachs executive.
Urban is perceived as a Trump loyalist who helped deliver Pennsylvania, a crucial prize to the president, on election night. His connections to Capitol Hill could be an asset to a White House hoping to bolster those relationships, but, like other top advisers currently serving Trump, he doesn't bring prior White House experience to the table. And signs point to Trump appearing to cool on Urban in recent days as a potential future chief of staff.
While Cohn’s name has long been rumored to be in the mix for the chief of staff position, those close to him say he’s skittish about bringing on campaign loyalists like Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie. Both Lewandowski and Bossie visited the White House this weekend and may take on bigger crisis management roles as the Congressional and FBI Russia investigations ramp up. Bossie, the former deputy campaign manager, has told people that he is “leaning against” joining the staff, though no final decision has been made.
There’s also concern inside some White House factions that bringing in the “old gang” may derail the president's agenda by triggering defections inside the West Wing. Cohn has extensive business relationships outside the White House and an affinity for driving policy discussions around tax reform and economic development, both of which could be assets. But internally, he's eyed warily by other factions inside the West Wing; his rise would likely be seen as a threat to the Trump loyalists.
Both Urban and Cohn are said to have cordial, if not overly close, relationships with the president’s powerful son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who has been directed to “lay low” in the wake of new Russia reporting and is less likely to exert the kind of unchecked influence he has had under the next chief of staff.
And amid the swirl of speculation surrounding staff changes, there’s only one true constant: The caveat, reiterated by those close to the president, that ultimately it's Trump — and only Trump — who will do what he wants when he wants it.