Vice President Pence shook up his staff Thursday, announcing that Nick Ayers — the hard-charging Republican operative who served as campaign chairman for Pence's 2016 vice presidential bid — will become his new chief of staff, starting in August.
Ayers will replace Pence's current chief of staff, Josh Pitcock, who worked for Pence for 12 years, following him from the House to the Indiana governor's mansion and finally to the vice presidency.
The change comes amid continued White House turmoil, some of which has sucked Pence into its swirling maw. First, former national security adviser Michael Flynn misled the vice president about his contacts with the Russians — a fact Pence first learned about from a report in The Washington Post. More recently, President Trump publicly contradicted Pence about the reasons for the firing of James B. Comey as FBI director.
Pitcock is a Pence loyalist and well-liked, but there was growing unease among some in the vice president's orbit about whether the soft-spoken chief of staff could best serve as the strategic attack dog they believe Pence needs to help insulate him from some of the tumult enveloping the White House.
“Josh Pitcock's more than 12 years of service have played an invaluable role throughout my public career,” Pence said in a statement. “His professionalism and integrity are unmatched and he will be missed. I will always be grateful for the foundation Josh laid in the office of the vice president and wish him every success in his future endeavors. Whatever the future holds for Josh and his family, he will remain one of my most trusted advisers and cherished friends.”
Pence's team began discussing the shake-up a month ago, finalized the details a week-and-a-half ago, and officially announced on Thursday, two people with knowledge of the conversations said.
Pitcock will remain in the post through the end of July, to help Ayers with the transition. He is planning to move to the private sector, but will remain an informal adviser to the vice president.
Ayers, who currently sits on the board of America First Policies — the pro-Trump outside group that recently stoked controversy by attacking Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) for not supporting the Senate Republican health-care bill — as well as serves as chairman for a Pence leadership PAC, needs time to unwind himself from these outside groups and eliminate any other conflicts from his own businesses.
Ayers, who briefly flirted with a bid for the governorship of Georgia, where he lives, is expected to move to Washington for the job.
“I have such deep respect and admiration for the Pences and believe so deeply in the policies the vice president and the president are fighting for,” Ayers said in a statement. “Leaving Georgia — albeit temporarily — was only possible because of how important my wife and I believe this mission is. I am honored with the trust the vice president has in me and excited to serve in this capacity.”
Pitcock is leaving Friday for a long beach weekend to celebrate his anniversary with his wife and plans to take a longer vacation in August.