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Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

Powerful Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, who as Finance Committee chairman will oversee Trump's trade agenda, sat down with Axios on Friday to discuss this fraught moment in international trade.

Behind the scenes: Trump's principal trade negotiator Robert Lighthizer had just left Grassley's office as we entered, a Grassley aide told us, and we began the trade discussion by asking Grassley what he learned from that conversation with Lighthizer. Grassley said they discussed the ongoing China negotiations, the early moves toward a U.S.-Japan bilateral trade deal, and the USMCA (Trump's re-negotiated NAFTA, which Congress has yet to approve).

Highlights from our conversation:

On China negotiations: "I think I would make my comment based upon what I've read in the paper, which isn't a whole lot different than what maybe he [Lighthizer] told us. Progress made on a lot of little things, but on the structural things that we want progress made on, there hasn't been much progress made. ... And a conclusion I've drawn, that doesn't necessarily come from his conversation, is so China makes an agreement. How are you going to police it?"

  • Why it matters: Trump has been touting the progress he's been making with China, but China hawks are worried he's going to let Beijing off the hook by effectively letting them purchase away their problems.
  • The risk: Instead of stopping their bad behavior — including theft of U.S. intellectual property — the Chinese government would go on a short-term shopping spree, buying U.S. products. Such a deal might temporarily stimulate the U.S. economy, and therefore be politically tempting for Trump, but it wouldn't solve any of the major long-term problems with China.

On the USMCA: Grassley reiterated that Trump should "pull out" of NAFTA if the Democrat-controlled House doesn't ratify the deal signed by the U.S., Mexico and Canada last November.

On re-engaging with Asia: Grassley said it "was a mistake" for Trump to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal with 11 other countries. He said the first step to repairing Asian trading relationships would be to "start with Japan. ... If we get a good bilateral agreement with Japan ... I'll bet it'll make up 90% of the bad things that resulted because we pulled out of TPP."

On Trump's hawkish trade adviser Peter Navarro: "He's a professor. Professors often aren't practical. ... His way, I think the practical effect would be to move forward ideologically without any concern about impact on the economy."

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Updated 16 seconds ago - World

HRW: Over 100 former Afghan security members dead or missing under Taliban rule

Members of the Taliban movement patrol Kabul's airport in September. Photo: Valery Sharifulin/TASS via Getty Images

The Taliban have "killed or forcibly disappeared" over 100 former members of Afghanistan's security forces since the group took power in August, a Human Rights Watch report published Tuesday found.

Why it matters: It means former military members and officials from the ousted government, activists and other Taliban critics are facing peril amid executions driven by revenge — despite Taliban promises of an "amnesty" with no retributions, notes the New York Times, which first reported the news.

3 hours ago - World

Barbados becomes a republic, replacing U.K. queen with president

Combination images of Dame Sandra Mason, president of Barbados, and Britain's Prince Charles at her swearing-in ceremony in Bridgetown, Barbados, late Monday.

Barbados officially became a republic at midnight local time after Dame Sandra Mason was sworn in as the Caribbean nation's first president in a ceremony attended by the United Kingdom's Prince Charles.

Why it matters: Mason replaced Britain's Queen Elizabeth as head of state Tuesday — removing the country's final remaining colonial tie to the U.K. almost 400 years after the first British ships arrived in Barbados.

Right-wingers making McCarthy sweat for future Speaker post

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stands with his Republican colleagues outside the House on Nov. 17. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Right-wing elements in the Republican Party are complicating House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's attempts to become the next speaker of the House should the GOP take back the majority in 2022.

Why it matters: While McCarthy has worked carefully to build trust among the conservatives who tanked his chances at clinching the speakership in 2015, they're still circling ahead of the next Speaker vote in January 2023.