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Illustration: Sam Jayne/Axios

President Trump wants a grand bargain with China. And hardliners in the Trump administration worry Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is leading him down an accommodationist path that — in their minds — would betray the President's economic agenda and capitulate to Beijing.

The intrigue: Trump inflamed those internal fears today with this tweet that signaled he's willing to give away significant things for a deal: "President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast. Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!"

Why it matters: Trump campaigned on an aggressive anti-China, economic nationalist platform. But his most bellicose threats — which include tariffs on $150 billion worth of Chinese products — may never eventuate, as his chief economic advisor Larry Kudlow signaled when he took over from Gary Cohn. (I originally wrote to take Kudlow's assurances with a grain of salt. But they've aged better than my expectation of a trade war.)

  • Trump is making a potentially stunning concession with ZTE. The Chinese telecommunications giant is fighting for its life. It’s been sanctioned for doing business with Iran and North Korea, and the U.S. Commerce Department banned American companies from selling it their products.

Between the lines: Senior Treasury and National Economic Council officials — including Mnuchin and Larry Kudlow, who recently returned from Beijing — are optimistic that Trump may cut a deal with China in the coming weeks.

  • Sources familiar with Mnuchin's thinking tell me he wants a deal that would have the Chinese buy billions of dollars worth of U.S. products. The idea would be to cut the trade deficit — something Trump is obsessed with — but trade experts say that purchasing products isn't the way to deal with profound structural imbalances.
  • In exchange, the U.S. would drop the section 301 tariffs designed to stop China from stealing American intellectual property and getting its hands on U.S. technology for nefarious purposes.

What's next: Vice Premier Liu He, who has been leading China's trade talks with the Trump administration, plans to visit Washington this week or next. His team has been in town the past two days preparing for the meeting.

  • The administration hasn't planned for Liu He to meet with President Trump, but two sources familiar with the talks speculate that Trump may not be able to help himself — he'll likely want to take over the negotiations and meet with Liu He in the Oval.

Go deeper

Capitol review panel recommends more police, mobile fencing

Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

A panel appointed by Congress to review security measures at the Capitol is recommending several changes, including mobile fencing and a bigger Capitol police force, to safeguard the area after a riotous mob breached the building on Jan 6.

Why it matters: Law enforcement officials have warned there could be new plots to attack the area and target lawmakers, including during a speech President Biden is expected to give to a joint session of Congress.

Financial fallout from the Texas deep freeze

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Texas has thawed out after an Arctic freeze last month threw the state into a power crisis. But the financial turmoil from power grid shock is just starting to take shape.

Why it matters: In total, electricity companies are billions of dollars short on the post-storm payments they now owe to the state's grid operator. There's no clear path for how they will pay — something being watched closely across the country as extreme weather events become more common.

U.S. Chamber decides against political ban for Capitol insurrection

A pedestrian passes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters as it undergoes renovation. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce revealed Friday it won't withhold political donations from lawmakers who simply voted against certifying the presidential election results and instead decide on a case-by-case basis.

Why it matters: The Chamber is the marquee entity representing businesses and their interests in Washington. Its memo, obtained exclusively by Axios, could set the tone for businesses debating how to handle their candidate and PAC spending following the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.