WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, considered one of President Donald Trump’s top candidates for White House chief of staff, abruptly withdrew from consideration on Friday, saying now is not the right time for him to take the job.
The decision leaves the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer as two top possibilities for the position.
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney was also in the mix, as were other people, a knowledgeable source said. There was some talk of having Chris Liddell, deputy chief of staff for policy coordination, carry out certain functions of the job for a period of time, the source said.
Christie met Trump at the White House on Thursday night and immediately shot to the top of the president’s short list to fill an opening to be created when retired Marine General John Kelly steps down in early January.
“It’s an honor to have the president consider me as he looks to choose a new White House chief of staff,” Christie said in a statement. “However, I’ve told the president that now is not the right time for me or my family to undertake this serious assignment.”
“As a result, I have asked him to no longer keep me in any of his considerations for this post,” Christie said.
In 2016, Trump put Christie in charge of transitioning a team of close aides from the election campaign to the White House but demoted him after a few months.
Trump has no deadline for deciding on a replacement for Kelly, whose departure as chief of staff was announced last week, and, as always, he could change his mind, a source with knowledge of the search said on Friday.
The president often allows or encourages media speculation about filling top administration jobs before he announces a decision.
White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley told reporters it was possible Trump could ask Kelly to stay a bit beyond his scheduled departure in early January.
“The president said yesterday that he has about five names,” Gidley said. “We expect him to make an announcement pretty quickly.”
A brash politician and former federal prosecutor, Christie was a senior adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign after ending his own bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
The White House chief of staff job is considered one of the most important in Washington because its occupant carries out the president’s priorities and makes sure he has the information to make decisions.
Under Trump, the chief of staff has been heavily involved in damage control and trying to manage what has been a chaotic presidency. Kelly lasted nearly a year and a half, having succeeded Trump’s first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, who was dispatched after six months.
Trump has been hearing appeals from some advisers – in and out of the White House – to consider Kushner, who is married to his daughter, Ivanka Trump, two sources said.
Kushner has been involved in some of Trump’s victories, such as helping negotiate a trade agreement with Canada and Mexico and promoting prison reform legislation. He has also been involved in developing a Middle East peace plan that has yet to be released.
Lighthizer has been at the heart of Trump’s trade policy, executing one of his biggest campaign promises to overhaul foreign trade deals by using tariffs to try to open markets.
Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Alistair Bell