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White House Chief of Staff John Kelly watches as President Donald Trump speaks. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

After months of indecision and private negotiations, President Trump has announced his chief of staff John Kelly will be leaving at the end of the year. As we've previously reported, Trump has wanted to replace Kelly with Vice President Mike Pence’s 36-year-old chief Nick Ayers, but the two have been wrangling over the terms of the arrangement, and as we've learned, nothing is certain until Trump announces it. (And even then...)

Between the lines: The most important phrase Trump said in his brief remarks to reporters today was that Kelly's replacement "might be on an interim basis." Sources briefed on Trump's deliberations tell Axios he wants a two-year commitment from a chief and Ayers hasn't been able to commit to that timeframe.

"He has three kids under the age of six and long planned to leave in December," a source familiar with Ayers' planning told Axios. The source said Ayers told Trump he would stay through the spring but Trump wants a chief to commit to serving out his first term. (The New York Times first reported the spring timeframe.)

  • It's possible that Ayers serves for a short caretaker period, sources close to the situation have told Axios. It's equally possible that he begins with the title "acting" but migrates into a permanent chief if it works out. A rent-before-you-buy arrangement.

Over the past few months, Trump has heard from a number of people, inside and out of the White House, who oppose Ayers and who have been telling him his appointment wouldn't work. Those concerns are unlikely to disappear, and being "interim" chief of staff would allow Trump to try out Ayers. But White House sources told Axios they worry that won't be the best starting point to establish internal authority.

Behind the scenes: Until recently, Trump was publicly claiming he was happy with Kelly and was denying media reports that he was searching for a replacement.

  • But privately, Trump has been fed up with Kelly for months. Since early this year, he’s been talking to Ayers about the job. They’ve met in the White House residence and had many conversations out of earshot of Kelly and the general’s allies in the West Wing.
  • Senior White House staff have been forced to read the tea leaves. They gossiped and speculated after they saw Ayers talking privately with Trump on midterm election night. And a number of these detractors of Ayers tried to get the message to Trump that he’d be making a big mistake.

Ayers’ backers, which include Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, have told the president he needs a politically-astute chief to rearrange his White House staff and cabinet, and to prepare his political operation for 2020. One of Trump’s main criticisms of Kelly is that he has lousy political instincts, according to sources who’ve heard Trump complain about Kelly.

Go deeper

SoCalGas agrees to $1.8 billion settlement for 2015 gas blowout

An evacuee with a Save Porter Ranch sign outside Southern California Gas Company's Aliso Canyon gate in Porter Ranch in January 2016 as the gas leak continued. Photos: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Southern California Gas Company and its parent company announced Monday they've agreed to pay up to $1.8 billion in settlement claims over the 2015 Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility blowout.

Why it matters: Some 100,000 tons of methane, ethane and toxic chemicals poured into the air for 112 days, forcing over 8,000 families to evacuate from their Los Angeles-area homes and sickening many with headaches, nausea and nosebleeds, per the L.A. Times.

Updated 4 hours ago - World

North Korea fires short-range missile to sea, slams "hostile" U.S. policy

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Photo: API/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said Tuesday that North Korea's military had fired a short-range missile toward its eastern sea, per AP.

Why it matters: North Korea's ambassador to the United Nations defended the latest launch in remarks to the UN General Assembly, demanding the U.S. and South Korea end their "hostile policy" against the country.

Arizona Judge: Adding mask mandates ban to budget bill unconstitutional

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) Photo: Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

An Arizona judge ruled Monday that the state's ban on mask mandates in schools, and other measures put into the state budget by Republicans, are unconstitutional, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The sweeping ruling voids a ban on vaccine requirements for public universities, community colleges and local governments, and strikes down some non-COVID-related measures like a ban on teaching critical race theory in classrooms and anti-fraud measures for ballots.