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Who Is Reince Priebus, Trump's Newly Named Chief Of Staff?

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus after the presidential debate at Hofstra University in September.
Drew Angerer
Getty Images
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus after the presidential debate at Hofstra University in September.

Reince Priebus once joked about his job as chairman of the Republican National Committee that people assumed he must be miserable. But Priebus said he didn't see it that way. "I'm not pouring Bailey's in my cereal," he told CNN.

Now, as newly named chief of staff to President-elect Donald Trump, Priebus has his work cut out for him.

Priebus will have a large say in hiring West Wing staff, and will "be in charge of day to day operations," he told Fox News on Monday morning. He'll also have the president-elect's ear as a top adviser.

It's also the chief of staff's job to make sure there is time for the President to look at the big picture. That's what Josh Bolten advises. Bolten was Chief of staff during the final three years of the George W. Bush White House "The biggest challenge that anyone in the chief of staff's role faces," Bolten says,"is to make sure that the urgent does not drive out the important."

As head of the RNC, Priebus saw that the party's apparatus and organization were in place to shore up the bare-bones Trump campaign. And while Trump clashed with many in the GOP establishment, he remained on good terms with the party chairman, and in his victory speech early Wednesday called Priebus "a superstar."

The appointment of Priebus, an insider, was announced at the same time as Trump named as senior adviser Steve Bannon, chairman of the far right Breitbart website that has been sharply critical of establishment figures like Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

Bolten says it could be a problem if Priebus and Bannon don't have distinct roles in the White House. "The announcement made it sound like they were co equals," Bolten says. "That will not work well in any White House that I know of, to have ambiguity about who is in charge."

Bolten says its good for the President to have the views of many advisers, but that only one person can be seen as directing the activities of the White House and the rest of the staff.

As chief of staff, Priebus is expected to play a role in managing President-elect Trumps legislative priorities. Priebus, who grew up in Kenosha Wis., shares a home state and a close relationship with Speaker Ryan, who today said Priebus brings to the table "hard work, determination and trust" from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Priebus, 44, has been the longest-serving RNC chairman, winning the job in 2011 after serving as its general counsel. He unseated his boss, Michael Steele, and took over a party that was some $24 million in debt.

Priebus led the famous "autopsy" of the GOP after its loss in the 2012 election, which recommended shortening the primary season and endorsing immigration reform as a way of reaching out to Latino voters.

Priebus made an unsuccessful run for the Wisconsin state senate and in 2007 became chairman of the state GOP. In 2010, he helped elect Republican Scott Walker as governor and a GOP majority in the state Legislature, and it was clear his star was on the rise.

In a statement Sunday, Priebus said, "I am very grateful to the president-elect for this opportunity to serve him and this nation as we work to create an economy that works for everyone, secure our borders, repeal and replace Obamacare and destroy radical Islamic terrorism. He will be a great president for all Americans."

Oh, and the name? Reince is short for Reinhold.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.