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Mick Mulvaney and Mark Meadows share a laugh at the White House last month. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney was in Las Vegas on an annual trip with his brother and friends on Thursday when President Trump decided the time had come to replace him with Mark Meadows.

Between the lines: Mulvaney tells Axios that he and the president had been talking since November about making the change, that Meadows is his longtime friend and that the transition is happening with his blessing. But like so many Trump personnel moves, its execution sent mixed signals and spawned alternative explanations.

  • Trump had vented about Mulvaney being out of town during the coronavirus crisis, according to two sources familiar with the discussions.
  • One White House official said the president used Mulvaney's absence to pull the trigger on a change he had long been contemplating but had resisted.
  • "Anybody who knows Donald Trump knows that if you're on a slippery slope you shouldn't leave town," said a source familiar with the situation.
  • But one senior White House official disputed any connection between the timing and coronavirus.
  • Mulvaney and the president spoke by phone Thursday and Friday, and Mulvaney told his family and his staff about the change ahead of the president's announcement Friday.

"Meadows and I are friends, and I am excited for him," Mulvaney told Axios' Margaret Talev.

Mulvaney also said he'd told the president more than a year ago about his interest in serving as as special envoy to Northern Ireland. He drew a distinction between this and the president's decision to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. "I did not find out via tweet. I knew this was coming. It's not a surprise."

Behind the scenes: There were plenty of signs that Trump was itchy for a staff overhaul. He brought back former staff he views as staunch loyalists, including his 29- year-old former body man John McEntee and former communications director Hope Hicks.

  • Trump had basically made up his mind he was ready to switch to Meadows before his recent trip to India, one source said.
  • The president views April 1 as transition to the "real" re-election season, said a senior White House official, and wanted key staff changes in place by then.

Don't forget: Last October, Mulvaney's defense of the administration's approach to Ukraine turned up the heat on the president amid the impeachment inquiry.

Mulvaney had been doing his own traveling — including a recent trip to Oxford that resulted in unfortunate headlines, such as him saying Republicans under Trump were hypocrites for no longer caring about debt and deficits.

  • On the same trip, he also traveled to Ireland, which caused him to renew his conversations with the president about the vacancy for the position of special envoy to Northern Ireland.
  • Trump announced on Friday evening, on Twitter, that Meadows would be his chief of staff and that Mulvaney would be special envoy to Northern Ireland.
  • Meadows has been one of Trump's go-to allies on the Hill but has never served in the executive branch.
  • Mulvaney led the Office of Management and Budget and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau before serving 14 months as acting chief of staff.

What's next: Meadows and Mulvaney are expected to work together during a transition period through the end of this month.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to remove the reference to former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and how he learned of his replacement for the role.

Go deeper

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.

Updated 33 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker
Updated 2 hours ago - Economy & Business

Janet Yellen co-opts Reaganomics phrase for new Davos speech

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen at a speech this week. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The U.S. needs to focus on increasing its productive potential, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told world leaders Friday, calling for what she terms "modern supply side economics."

Why it matters: She co-opted a phrase traditionally used by political conservatives to describe low-tax and deregulatory policies — and framed the Biden administration's initiatives as the best path forward to achieve greater national prosperity.