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White House Chief of Staff John Kelly stands in the Oval Office. Photo: Mark Wilson / Getty Images

Here’s the picture I’ve formed of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, based on dozens of conversations over the past weeks with senior officials in the Trump administration.

Why it matters: In his 5 months as chief of staff, Kelly has successfully brought a measure of control to the West Wing but has failed to build deep alliances among much of the senior staff. Last night’s interview on Fox News — where he publicly undercut Trump — provoked the president’s first open break with his chief. 

  • He's universally admired for his service and was bestowed a level of deference and singular power that former chief of staff Reince Priebus could’ve only dreamed of.
  • He dramatically cut down everyone’s access to President Trump. This irritated and alienated not only some key staffers but, increasingly, Trump himself. Trump loves — and thrives on — constant interaction and feedback. He’s always informally polling people, asking whoever is in his company what they think of the issue of the day, whether it be a policy decision, or more frequently, whatever topic is dominating cable TV. 
  • Kelly can be short-tempered and is ruthless about keeping aides in their policy lane. National security advisers must stick to advising Trump about national security. Economic advisers shouldn’t opine on anything beyond their specific remit. That’s created a far more streamlined and orderly process.
  • But it’s not how Trump likes to operate. This is a president who consulted his Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke — a former SEAL — about what his Afghanistan war strategy should look like. This is a president who had economic advisers Gary Cohn, Steven Mnuchin, and Wilbur Ross in the room — and asked all of them for their opinion — when he was planning his Syrian missile strike. 
  • A number of administration officials believe Kelly has woeful political instincts; they say he has disdain for political tactics, contempt for members of Congress, and overestimates his own ability to — as Kelly puts it to them — “work the Hill.”
  • “He’s maintained control and support because Trump empowered him, but also because people were deferential to an American hero," a senior administration official told me.
  • "But ultimately this workplace, like any, depends on building relationships and alliances to succeed. And Kelly has not built strong personal alliances with much of the senior staff.”

Go deeper

Scoop: FDA chief called to West Wing

Stephen Hahn. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has summoned FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn to the West Wing for a 9:30am meeting Tuesday to explain why he hasn't moved faster to approve the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, two senior administration officials told Axios.

Why it matters: The meeting is shaping up to be tense, with Hahn using what the White House will likely view as kamikaze language in a preemptive statement to Axios: "Let me be clear — our career scientists have to make the decision and they will take the time that’s needed to make the right call on this important decision."

Scoop: Schumer's regrets

Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images   

Chuck Schumer told party donors during recent calls that the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the fact that Cal Cunningham "couldn't keep his zipper up" crushed Democrats' chances of regaining the Senate, sources with direct knowledge of the conversations tell Axios.

Why it matters: Democrats are hoping for a 50-50 split by winning two upcoming special elections in Georgia. But their best chance for an outright Senate majority ended when Cunningham lost in North Carolina and Sen. Susan Collins won in Maine.

Trump's coronavirus adviser Scott Atlas resigns

Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty

Scott Atlas, a controversial member of the White House coronavirus task force, handed in his resignation on Monday, according to three administration officials who discussed Atlas' resignation with Axios.

Why it matters: President Trump brought in Atlas as a counterpoint to NIAID director Anthony Fauci, whose warnings about the pandemic were dismissed by the Trump administration. With Trump now fixated on election fraud conspiracy theories, Atlas' detail comes to a natural end.