Linda McMahon is stepping down as head of Small Business Administration to chair the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action, according to three people familiar with the move.
Trump allies have spent weeks searching for someone to chair the super PAC, which officials view as a key plank in the president’s reelection campaign. The president’s top aides believe they will need to raise around $1 billion, and say the super PAC will be a major part of the effort. Brian Walsh, America First Action’s president, declined to comment.
The president is expected to huddle with major donors on Saturday evening at Mar-a-Lago, according to two people familiar with the plans.
Trump confirmed McMahon’s departure, which was first reported by POLITICO, during a press conference Friday afternoon at Mar-a-Lago. "She has been a superstar," he said.
"She’s going to go and help us with a very, very important year and a half that we have coming up," he added. "And the re-election as they call it. And we look forward to that."
In a separate statement, McMahon said her last day at the Small Business Administration is April 12, adding that she planned to return to the private sector.
Trump administration officials had long seen McMahon as a leading contender to replace Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who has repeatedly angered the president, when he eventually steps down. Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney has also been eyeing the Commerce job and McMahon’s exit better positions him to replace Ross.
A longtime professional wrestling executive and former Republican Senate candidate, McMahon is an original member of Trump’s Cabinet, having been confirmed for the job in February 2017. She’s also one of just five women in the president’s Cabinet.
McMahon and her husband Vince built the company that would go on to become World Wrestling Entertainment, a large multinational corporation best known for creating a universe of brand name professional wrestlers who face off in tightly scripted televised events.
McMahon, who has known Trump for years, has kept a relatively low profile at SBA. Unlike other Trump administration Cabinet officials, she has not been dogged by scandal. Inside the White House, she’s seen as a loyal foot soldier. She regularly travels around the country to promote the president’s agenda, including recent trips to promote the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal.
For the PAC job, senior Republicans had been looking for someone with deep connections to the world of GOP donors — a profile fit by McMahon, who raised millions as a two-time Connecticut Senate candidate.
McMahon is expected to fill the vacancy created when Tommy Hicks Jr., a businessman and close ally of the Trump family, left the super PAC to become Republican National Committee co-chairman.
It’s unclear who will replace McMahon at the SBA. One possible candidate, according to administration officials, is Pradeep Belur, the agency’s chief of staff, who has taken on a broader portfolio in recent months. One administration official said Belur has left the impression among some Trump aides that he’s interested in the job.
Trump has often praised McMahon’s business prowess, calling her "one of the country’s top female executives" when he announced her nomination to lead the Small Business Administration in December 2016.
McMahon stepped down as CEO of WWE in 2009 to run for Senate in Connecticut. She lost to Richard Blumenthal. She ran again in 2012, but was bested by Chris Murphy.
McMahon was a major booster of Trump’s bid for president, donating millions to a pro-Trump outside group after originally supporting former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. McMahon and her husband also gave millions to the Donald J. Trump Foundation long before he announced his most recent run for president.
But McMahon has also criticized Trump in the past. During a 2016 interview with Yahoo! News, McMahon chastised Trump and then-candidate Ted Cruz for going after each other in personal terms.
“I think the rhetoric has really gone over the top. Some of the comments that have been made, I think, are quite deplorable,” she said. “I would like to see our candidates focus on the issues.”
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