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When John Kelly publicly announced this summer that President Trump had asked him to stay on as White House chief of staff until 2020, the most common reactions in Trump's inner circle were bemusement and, in some cases, laughter — no one thought it was real. And they were right.

What's happening: Trump has long been casting about for a replacement and has, on several occasions, made what in any normal world would be taken as an official job offer to Mike Pence's chief of staff, Nick Ayers, 36. But when Trump offers you a job, it's not always as it seems. He has discussed the job with Ayers sporadically for months. Sources close to Pence's chief tell me that in recent weeks, Ayers has privately expressed a "Who knows?" attitude: It could happen tomorrow, or in several months, or maybe never.

The case for Ayers, according to his boosters: He has sharp political instincts and business acumen — and that's what some believe Trump needs in his chief job heading into the 2020 presidential election.

  • Ayers' supporters say Pence's office is one of the few well-functioning and low-drama parts of the building.
  • Jared and Ivanka are major supporters — and maybe that's all Ayers needs to overcome his internal enemies.
  • But the opposition to Ayers is substantial inside the administration. His internal opponents attack him as too slick by half and ruthlessly ambitious.
  • Some have been circulating a Huffington Post piece, "Mike Pence's Man in the Swamp," that digs into how Ayers made a fortune in political consulting.

At the White House’s election night gathering, Trump huddled with Ayers over to the side of the room towards the end of the evening, according to a source who was there.

  • Some of Ayers' colleagues at the party assumed the two were discussing the chief job. And by the next day internal opposition to the idea revved up again.
  • Ayers declined to comment for this story.

The other official who was considered a main contender for the chief job, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, appears to be out of consideration.

  • A source close to Mulvaney texted me: "Regarding the banter about the chief of staff job. ... Before this goes any further you should know that he is no longer interested in the cos role. He would be far more interested in another cabinet position if anything."
  • I responded that the aide seemed to be acknowledging that Mulvaney was once interested in the job. (And indeed, Mulvaney had dinner with Trump several months ago to discuss it.) So what changed? And what cabinet positions would he be interested in?
  • The source close to Mulvaney replied: "Who wouldn't be interested, it was flattering to be even considered. ... Other roles? As someone who has run several large organizations important to this White House, that answer is TBD."

The bottom line: We still don't know when, or even if, Kelly is getting replaced. That's why Axios hasn't written a single story saying he's gone.

  • At this point, I'd need both Kelly's and Trump's tongues notarized before writing a "Kelly is out" story.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - World

Mexican President López Obrador tests positive for coronavirus

Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador during a press conference at National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico, on Wednesday. Photo: Ismael Rosas/Eyepix Group/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced Sunday evening that he's tested positive for COVID-19.

Driving the news: López Obrador tweeted that he has mild symptoms and is receiving medical treatment. "As always, I am optimistic," he added. "We will all move forward."

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Sarah Huckabee Sanders to run for governor of Arkansas

Sarah Huckabee Sanders at FOX News' studios in New York City in 2019. Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders will announce Monday that she's running for governor of Arkansas.

The big picture: Sanders was touted as a contender after it was announced she was leaving the Trump administration in June 2019. Then-President Trump tweeted he hoped she would run for governor, adding "she would be fantastic." Sanders is "seen as leader in the polls" in the Republican state, notes the Washington Post's Josh Dawsey, who first reported the news.

Coronavirus has inflamed global inequality

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

History will likely remember the pandemic as the "first time since records began that inequality rose in virtually every country on earth at the same time." That's the verdict from Oxfam's inequality report covering the year 2020 — a terrible year that hit the poorest, hardest across the planet.

Why it matters: The world's poorest were already in a race against time, facing down an existential risk in the form of global climate change. The coronavirus pandemic could set global poverty reduction back as much as a full decade, according to the World Bank.