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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

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Here come Earmarks 2.0

DeLauro at a hearing in May 2020. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The House Appropriations Committee is preparing to restore a limited version of earmarks, which give lawmakers power to direct spending to their districts to pay for special projects.

Why it matters: A series of scandals involving members in both parties prompted a moratorium on earmarks in 2011. But Democrats argue it's worth the risk to bring them back because earmarks would increase their leverage to pass critical legislation with a narrow majority, especially infrastructure and spending bills.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
2 hours ago - Energy & Environment

UN says Paris carbon-cutting plans fall far short

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Nations' formal emissions-cutting pledges are collectively way too weak to put the world on track to meet the Paris climate deal's temperature-limiting target, a United Nations tally shows.

Driving the news: This morning the UN released an analysis of the most recent nationally determined contributions (NDCs) — that is, countries' medium-term emissions targets submitted under the 2015 pact.

Biden condemns Russian aggression on 7th anniversary of Crimea annexation

Putin giving a speech in Sevastapol, Crimea, in 2020. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

President Biden reaffirmed U.S. support for the people of Ukraine and vowed to hold Russia accountable for its aggression in a statement on Friday, the 7th anniversary of Russia's 2014 invasion of Crimea.

Why it matters: The statement reflects the aggressive approach Biden is taking to Russia, which he classified on the campaign trail as an "opponent" and "the biggest threat" to U.S. security and alliances.