Reince Priebus

Last updated on 28 May 2017

Reinhold Richard "Reince" Priebus (/ˈraɪns ˈpriːbəs/ RYNS PREE-bəs; born March 18, 1972) is an American lawyer, politician, and the current White House Chief of Staff for U.S. President Donald Trump, serving since January 20, 2017. Priebus previously served as the Republican National Committee chairman, RNC general counsel, and chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin.

Priebus has drawn controversy for his management style as Chief of Staff.

Reince Priebus CPAC 2017 by Michael Vadon.jpg
Reince Priebus CPAC 2017 by Michael Vadon.jpg

Early life and legal career

Priebus was born on March 18, 1972, in Dover, New Jersey, and lived in Netcong, New Jersey, until his family moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin, when he was seven years old. His father is a former union electrician and his mother a real estate agent. Some sources, including his biography on the Republican Party website, identify his parents' names as "Richard and Dimitra". His father is of German and English descent and his Sudanese-born mother is of Greek descent.

At the age of 16, he volunteered for his first political campaign. He attended Tremper High School in Kenosha, Wisconsin, graduating in 1990. After graduating from Tremper, he attended the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater, where he majored in English and political science, and joined the Delta Chi fraternity. He graduated cum laude in 1994 and prior to that had been elected to serve as student body president.

After graduation from Whitewater, Priebus served as a clerk for the Wisconsin State Assembly Education Committee. He then enrolled at the University of Miami School of Law in Coral Gables, Florida. While studying for his law degree, he worked as a clerk for the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, and interned at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in California.

In 1998, he graduated with a J.D. degree cum laude from the University of Miami after serving as president of the law school student body. He moved back to Wisconsin and became a member of the state bar. Subsequently, he joined Wisconsin law firm Michael Best & Friedrich LLP, where he became a partner in 2006, practicing in the firm's litigation and corporate practice groups.

Political career

Early political career

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Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus, his wife, and Congressman Paul Ryan (right), 2008

Priebus ran for election to the Wisconsin State Senate in 2004 but lost 52–48 to the Democratic incumbent, Robert Wirch. In 2007, following a successful campaign, he was elected chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party, the youngest person to have held that role to date. Two years later, in 2009, he also became the general counsel for the Republican National Committee.

As chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party, Priebus led the party to success in the November 2010 elections in Wisconsin, which was previously a state held by the Democratic Party. The party won control of the State Senate and Assembly, and a Republican candidate was elected Governor. He worked to bring Wisconsin's Tea Party movement together with the mainstream Republican party organization, and avoid conflict between the two.

Priebus continued as Wisconsin party chairman and general counsel to the RNC until 2010, when he stepped down as general counsel to run for election to chairman of the committee.

2011 RNC chairmanship election

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Priebus at the Western Republican Leadership Conference in October 2011 in Las Vegas.

On December 5, 2010, Priebus stepped down as general counsel for the Republican National Committee (RNC). The next day he sent a letter to all 168 voting members of the RNC announcing his candidacy for chairman. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker supported Priebus's bid from the beginning, attributing the party's victories in Wisconsin to "Priebus' leadership and involvement in the grassroots Tea Party movement that swept the state and the nation". Priebus told delegates in his letter: "I will keep expenses low. I will put in strong and serious controls. We will raise the necessary funds to make sure we are successful. We will work to regain the confidence of our donor base and I will personally call our major donors to ask them to rejoin our efforts at the RNC."

On January 14, 2011, after seven rounds of voting, Priebus was elected chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Candidate Round 1 Round 2 Round 3 Round 4 Round 5 Round 6 Round 7
Reince Priebus 45 52 54 58 67 80 97
Saul Anuzis 24 22 21 24 32 37 43
Maria Cino 32 30 28 29 40 34 28
Ann Wagner 23 27 32 28 28 17 Withdrew
Michael Steele 44 37 33 28 Withdrew
     Candidate secured a majority of votes in the round
     Candidate won plurality of votes in the round
     Candidate withdrew

RNC chairmanship

First term

At the start of his first term as chairman of the RNC in January 2011, Priebus had inherited a $23 million debt from his predecessor Michael Steele, as well as severely strained relationships with "major donors". Priebus stated that his goals for his leadership were to reduce the debt, rebuild the organization's finances and improve relationships with major donors and party leaders, as well as aiding Republican efforts in the 2012 presidential elections. In particular, he aimed to develop a strong voter mobilization program, including improved voter registration and absentee ballot programs to identify unregistered voters and those who had not returned their ballots, using funds raised through his initial outreach to major donors.

By the end of 2011, Priebus had raised more than $88 million and cut the RNC's debt to $11.8 million.

In the 2012 presidential election, Priebus was actively engaged in pointing out what he considered errors and shortcomings in the work of Obama and Democratic leaders. In 2012 Priebus appeared on such political talk shows as Meet the Press, Face the Nation, Fox News Sunday, and State of the Union with Candy Crowley. Also in 2012, he continued to focus on rebuilding the RNC's finances by reaching out to donors, and at the end of the year the organization reported no debt.

After the Republican loss in the 2012 presidential election, Priebus called for Republicans to embrace comprehensive immigration reform that would afford illegal immigrants in the U.S. legal status. He also ordered reviews of RNC operations, including the party's messaging to young people, women, and Hispanics. The analysis of the election cycle would include gathering feedback from numerous volunteers and staffers who were involved at various levels. He began development of a political plan including a long-term strategy to reach demographic groups that had voted mainly Democratic in the November 2012 elections. The plan was labeled "The Growth and Opportunity Project".

On January 25, 2013, Priebus was elected to serve another term. He was being challenged for the nomination by Maine's National Committeeman Mark Willis.

Second term

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Priebus at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

For Priebus's second term he set the goal of "transforming the party – to be a force from coast to coast." In his re-election speech he stated that the party would no longer approach electoral politics from a "red and blue state" perspective.

On March 18, 2013, Priebus presented the completed Growth and Opportunity Project report developed from a listening tour and four-month analysis carried out by Priebus and Republican strategists including Ari Fleischer, Henry Barbour, Sally Bradshaw, Zori Fonalledas and Glenn McCall. The report outlined a comprehensive plan for the party to overhaul its operations. Specific plans outlined in the report included: improving the Republican Party's digital and research capabilities; a $10 million outreach effort to minority communities; supporting immigration reform; and reducing the length of the presidential primary season.

In September 2013, Priebus was successful in persuading both CNN and NBC to cancel planned biopics of Hillary Clinton, which had been criticized as "free campaigning on Clinton's behalf", according to columnist Jennifer Rubin. Priebus stated that the networks would not be allowed to moderate a Republican primary debate if the films went ahead.

The following year, Politico reported that Priebus had made progress with efforts to make the RNC a year-round operation, particularly through investment into digital technology and field staff.

In a March 2014 CNN op-ed, Priebus said that the RNC had established a data management and predictive analytics initiative called Para Bellum Labs, with an office in Silicon Valley. Continuing Priebus's aim to create an initiative to rival the voter mobilization efforts of the 2012 Obama campaign, in May 2014, the RNC launched the Victory 365 program. The program focuses on communicating with and encouraging the efforts of volunteers across the U.S. to reach others in their communities.

Priebus also worked to reduce the length of the presidential primary calendar, generating support for a RNC rules change to make the primary calendar shorter by up to three months and bringing the national convention forward to late June at the earliest. The rules change was passed almost unanimously in January 2014.

Also following the Growth and Opportunity Project report (also called "the autopsy" and "the post-mortem"), Priebus led efforts to reach out to black, Latino and Asian American voters. In July 2014, he spoke at the National Association of Black Journalists convention, where he said that to support these efforts the Republican Party was spending approximately $8.5 million per month and had established offices in 15 states.

In a speech on October 2, 2014, Priebus laid out the RNC's "Principles for American Renewal", covering 11 goals of the Republican party in the lead up to the 2016 presidential election. The principles include three economy-related proposals for the Senate to move forward: approval of construction on the Keystone XL Pipeline; federal healthcare law reform; and a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. constitution. Other goals included in the principles include job creation, care of veterans, immigration reform and reducing government spending. Following the speech, the Democratic National Committee issued a statement criticizing Priebus, calling Republicans "out of step with the American public".

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus speaks at 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).jpg
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus speaks at 2015 CPAC

On January 16, 2015, Priebus was re-elected to a third term on a near-unanimous vote, making him the first chairman to lead the RNC for three consecutive terms with a Democratic president in the White House.

Third term

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Priebus speaking at the 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C.

On October 30, 2015, after the third Republican presidential debate in Boulder, Colorado, in which there were clashes between the Republican candidates and the debate moderators, the RNC announced that NBC News would no longer host the February 26, 2016, debate in Houston. Priebus showed concerns that an NBC-hosted debate could result in a "repeat" of the CNBC debate, as both are divisions of NBCUniversal, although NBC News is editorially separate from CNBC. Priebus explained that CNBC had conducted the October 28 debate in "bad faith", arguing that "while debates are meant to include tough questions and contrast candidates' visions and policies for the future of America, CNBC's moderators engaged in a series of 'gotcha' questions, petty and mean-spirited in tone, and designed to embarrass our candidates. What took place Wednesday night was not an attempt to give the American people a greater understanding of our candidates' policies and ideas."

On April 22, 2016, Priebus appealed for party unity, regardless of who would become the Republican Party's nominee. After Donald Trump became the presumptive nominee, Priebus said in mid-May that a third-party candidate would be tantamount to a suicide mission.

After Trump won the Republican nomination, Priebus went on to forge a positive relationship with Trump and was personally involved in quashing efforts by anti-Trump delegates to prevent Trump's nomination. On October 4, 2016, Priebus called Trump a role model. "You know, I think everyone's a role model in different ways. When you look at someone who has built businesses, lost businesses, came back, lived the American dream, a person who sets goals, he's a winner."

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus speaks at the final Republican Party Presidential Candidate debate before the 2016 Iowa caucuses.jpg
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus speaks at the final Republican Party Presidential Candidate debate before the 2016 Iowa caucuses

In December 2015, Priebus publicly criticized then Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's proposal to temporarily suspend Muslim immigration in response to terrorist attacks. "I don't agree", Priebus told The Washington Examiner. Following Trump's controversial remarks about Mexican illegal immigrants in early 2015, Priebus reportedly delivered a "stern 40-minute lecture" to Trump.

In May 2016, Priebus again publicly criticized Trump, saying Trump was not the head of the Republican Party and that Trump must "change his tone."

On August 1, 2016, after Trump criticized the Gold Star family of Captain Humayun Khan, a Muslim soldier who was killed in Iraq and whose father criticized Trump, Priebus yet again criticized Trump publicly, stating "I think this family should be off limits, and we love them and I can't imagine being the father of a little girl and boy going through the unbelievable grief of them not coming home one day in battle."

A December 8, 2016 New York magazine article by Gabriel Sherman reported that "some Trump advisers are dismayed by Priebus's influence because they question the Washington insider's loyalty to the president-elect ... Three sources told me that shortly after the Access Hollywood tape leaked in early October, Priebus went to Trump's penthouse and advised the candidate to get out of the race," Sherman reported. This article contains no named sources aside from two members of the current Trump administration, both of whom were cited to clear discrepancies in the otherwise unsourced article. Priebus announced days afterward in October that the RNC would continue to support Trump.

Trump administration

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Chief of Staff Reince Priebus looks into the Oval Office as President Donald Trump reads over his notes, Friday, March 10, 2017

On November 13, 2016, Trump announced his choice of Priebus for White House Chief of Staff. As White House chief of staff, Priebus has held nearly singular control over who is and is not able to enter the Oval Office. In one instance, after homeland security advisor Tom Bossert entered the office at Trump's request, "deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh spotted him entering the Oval Office and sprinted down the hallway to alert her boss, Mr. Priebus, according to a person familiar with the events. Mr. Priebus subsequently dashed into the office, where he reprimanded Mr. Bossert—in front of President Trump—for trying to meet with the president without him," The Wall Street Journal reported on February 14, 2017.

On February 19, 2017, Priebus said intelligence officials had cleared the Trump campaign of having any contact with Russian spies, contrary to anonymously sourced reports made the previous week by The New York Times, part of what the White House has referred to as "fake news". According to a Politico article dated March 17, 2017, a request by Priebus that the FBI refute allegations of contact by Trump associates with Russian intelligence "appears to have violated the White House's policy restricting political interference in pending investigations".

Criticisms

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and WH Chief Strategist Steve Bannon at 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).jpg
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and WH Chief Strategist Steve Bannon at 2017 CPAC

A January 17, 2017 New York Times article on Priebus described him as "a political survivor from Kenosha, Wisconsin who has never held a major government post before. He has instead accrued his power by courting wealthy donors on behalf of Republican candidates, tending to the gripes of the RNC's 168 committee members, closely monitoring his own Wikipedia page and mostly staying on the good side of the capricious Mr. Trump, his ambivalent patron."

On February 12, 2017, Christopher Ruddy, CEO of Newsmax Media and a longtime Trump friend, told The Washington Post that Priebus "is the problem. I think on paper Reince looked good as the chief of staff — and Donald trusted him — but it's pretty clear the guy is in way over his head. He's not knowledgeable of how federal agencies work, how the communications operations work. He botched this whole immigration rollout. This should've been a win for Donald, not two or three weeks of negative publicity."

Also on February 12, 2017, Politico reported that "Several Trump campaign aides have begun to draft lists of possible Priebus replacements, with senior White House aides Kellyanne Conway and Rick Dearborn and lobbyist David Urban among those mentioned. Gary Cohn, a Trump economic adviser who is close with senior adviser Jared Kushner, has also been the subject of chatter."

On February 14, 2017, Trump's longest-standing political advisor Roger Stone told The Wall Street Journal that "Trump loyalists are fed up with Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer whose loyalties are to the Republican National Committee, and not to the president."

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President Trump, Priebus and members of the U.S. delegation with King Salman of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh, May 20, 2017

On February 20, 2017, in a Washington Post column, conservative writer Jennifer Rubin criticized Priebus as "small and unimpressive... bitter and whiny." Priebus "isn't doing his job very well," she wrote. Rubin quoted conservative foreign policy expert Eliot A. Cohen, who said Priebus reminded him "of the colorless, beliefless, spineless functionaries of 20th century totalitarians."

In interviews with more than a dozen (unidentified) Trump aides, "administration officials increasingly put the blame on one person: Reince Priebus," Politico reported on March 6, 2017. Priebus is described as "a micromanager who sprints from one West Wing meeting to another, inserting himself into conversations big and small and leaving many staffers with the impression that he's trying to block their access to Trump. They vented about his determination to fill the administration with his personal political allies."

Personal life

In 1999, Priebus married Sally L. Sherrow, whom he met in church when they were teenagers. They have two children. Priebus is a member of the Greek Orthodox Church.

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