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John Kelly in the White House Briefing Room. Photo: Susan Walsh / AP

Upon his ascension to White House chief of staff, Gen. John Kelly was widely viewed as a moderating force for the Trump administration. But, like any good soldier, he stepped straight into the breach for President Trump in the culture wars this week, branding Robert E. Lee as "honorable" and refusing to apologize to a Gold Star widow in an interview with Fox News' Laura Ingraham.

What we're hearing: Credibility is currency, especially in Washington, and Kelly is already seeing his portrayal in the media change after he took a very public, partisan stance that undermined his authority as Trump's voice of reason.

Swan has the inside look from the White House:

"Several administration officials have told me, after the Laura Ingraham interview on Fox, that they worry Kelly is undermining his unique status. They say the more of these appearances he does — the more he fights polarizing culture wars — his public image will quickly morph into more of a sharp-elbowed right-wing operative than an above-the-fray four star general."

A taste of the shifting headlines on Kelly:

The New York Times: "Pitched as Calming Force, John Kelly Instead Mirrors Boss's Priorities"

  • "For all of the talk of Mr. Kelly as a moderating force and the so-called grown-up in the room, it turns out that he harbors strong feelings on patriotism, national security and immigration that mirror the hard-line views of his outspoken boss. With his attack on a congresswoman who had criticized Mr. Trump's condolence call to a slain soldier's widow last week, Mr. Kelly showed that he was willing to escalate a politically distracting, racially charged public fight even with false assertions."

AP: "The real John Kelly slowly revealing himself at White House"

  • "Much has been made of the imagery of Kelly silently lurking on the sidelines of presidential addresses, seeming to cringe when Trump gets out of line. But it may be wishful thinking by Trump's critics to believe that he's tugging the president in another direction."

The Washington Post: "Kelly was brought to the White House to impose order. Now he's stirring controversy."

  • "'He violated the first basic rule of the chief of staff, which is not to make yourself the news of the day,' said former defense secretary Leon E. Panetta, who worked with Kelly in the Pentagon and also served as White House chief of staff. 'I have no idea what he was trying to say because history is not on his side.'"

Commentary: "General Kelly's Disastrous Interview"

  • "John Kelly's decision to weigh in on cultural and political matters has been clarifying, but that clarity is not always so laudable. The comments he made on Fox range from bewildering to reprehensible."

Go deeper

Mike Pence calls Kamala Harris to offer congratulations and help

Mike Pence. Photo: Chip Somodevilla via Getty

Vice President Mike Pence called Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on Thursday to congratulate her and offer assistance in the transition, the New York Times first reported.

Why it matters: The belated conversation came six days before the inauguration after a contentious post-election stretch. President Trump has neither spoken with President-elect Joe Biden, nor explicitly conceded the 2020 election.

Updated 1 hour ago - Health

The coronavirus variants: What you need to know

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

New variants of the coronavirus circulating globally appear to increase transmission and are being closely monitored by scientists.

Driving the news: The highly contagious variant B.1.1.7 originally detected in the U.K. could become the dominant strain in the U.S. by March if no measures are taken to control the spread of the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

1 hour ago - World

Abbas announces first Palestinian elections in 15 years

Abbas is 85 and in the 15th year of a 4-year term. Abbas Momani/AFP via Getty

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas published a decree on Friday announcing the dates for parliamentary and presidential elections in the Palestinian Authority.

Why it matters: This is the first time in 15 years that such a decree has been published. The last presidential elections took place in 2005, with Abbas winning, and the last parliamentary elections took place in 2006, with Hamas winning.