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President Trump shakes hands with Robert Wilkie after nominating him to be the next Veterans Affairs Secretary. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Before President Trump made his surprise announcement that Robert Wilkie would be his pick to run the government's second-largest agency, Trump consulted two of his key advisers on Veterans Affairs: Marvel Entertainment CEO Ike Perlmutter and Fox and Friends host Pete Hegseth.

Behind the scenes: A source familiar with their interactions said that before making his decision, Trump called Hegseth — an Iraq war veteran whom Trump had considered for VA Secretary — to ask his opinion of Wilkie. 

  • Hegseth initially told Trump that he had never met Wilkie but had heard good things. 
  • The source said Hegseth checked in with Wilkie and after talking to him was impressed and recommended him highly to Trump.

Wilkie made another politically smart move that may have sealed the deal on his nomination, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. Wilkie and VA Chief of Staff Peter O'Rourke recently flew to West Palm Beach to meet with Perlmutter. 

When Axios shared this reporting with Veteran Affairs Press Secretary, Curt Cashour, he did not weigh in and referred us to the White House for comment. The White House did not respond to requests for comment, nor did Hegseth.

  • Perlmutter, a member at Trump's Mar-a-Lago club, has been the leader of a group of Palm Beach friends who have been advising Trump on veterans issues since the transition. He initially recommended David Shulkin for VA Sec., though two sources familiar with Perlmutter's thinking said he came to regret ever speaking up for Shulkin.
  • Still, Perlmutter's blessing means a lot in Trumpworld, and we're told Wilkie got it.
  • Per the source familiar with their interaction: "Ike loved him [Wilkie]. Ike was very very high on him."

The backstory: Wilkie was already in good standing at the White House. Senior officials there have long thought highly of him, and some were advocating for Wilkie to replace Shulkin as VA Secretary before Trump made his shocking — and to many in the White House, misguided — decision to appoint the White House physician Ronny Jackson to the role.

Go deeper

24 mins ago - Health

CDC prepares tougher testing rules for international travelers

Travelers with their luggage arrive at a COVID-19 testing location at the airport in Los Angeles, Calif., on Nov. 23, 2021. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday night that it is working to impose stricter testing requirements for international travelers due to the spread of the new Omicron variant.

The big picture: The new rules would require all international travelers, regardless of vaccination status, to show a negative test taken a day before their flight to the U.S. Currently, the CDC says fully vaccinated travelers are allowed to show a test taken no more than three days before their departure, AP reports.

Republicans threaten to shut down government over vaccine mandates

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in the Capitol in November 2020. Photo: Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

Conservative Republicans in the House and Senate are planning to force a government shutdown Friday to deny funding needed to enforce the Biden administration's vaccine mandates on the private sector, according to Politico.

Why it matters: Congress has until the end of the week to pass a stopgap measure to extend funding into 2022, though objection from a small group of Republicans could shut down the government.

Electric car prices could go up before they come down

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The secret to affordable electric vehicles is cheaper batteries. But after years of falling prices, battery costs are now headed in the wrong direction.

Why it matters: Costlier batteries could drive up the price of electric vehicles — threatening the auto industry's transition away from fossil fuels, and, in turn, society's fight against climate change.