Czarek Sokolowski / AP

Marc Short, the White House director of legislative affairs, says the Trump administration has clear expectations for the fall: "We get tax reform and we also complete funding of the government which includes rebuilding of the military and securing our border." (Read: the wall.)

Sources inside and close to Republican Hill leadership, however, are privately less sanguine:

  • Some say there's a good chance of a government shutdown before the end of the year because of deep rifts over spending priorities.
  • No one sees Trump's wall getting much more than a symbolic nod, which is sure to anger Trump and the Bannon faction, and could lead to a shutdown.
  • Tax reform in this calendar year seems increasingly unlikely. A bill and big debate? Yes. Something signed into law? Very hard given the points above and persistently deep disagreements over which loopholes to keep and how to pay for the tax cuts.

What happens next: Congress must pass bills to raise the debt ceiling and fund the government before the end of September. Top Hill sources believe the most likely scenario is that a coalition of Republican leaders, Republican moderates and Democrats cobble together a bill that extends government funding for three months, reauthorizes the Children's Health Insurance Program and raises the debt limit.

  • Hill leaders have discussed ways to get Trump "enough" on border security so he feels they're making enough progress to sign their funding bills. This could mean modest funding for the wall or other border security measures that moderates could live with, and/or other avenues to add funding to fight international crime gangs like MS-13.
  • But sources close to Trump say he's dead serious about building an impressive wall and will go crazy when he realizes Congress has no plans to pay for it.
  • Even if Paul Ryan can work magic, the bill still needs 60 votes in the Senate to pass. That means leadership will have to work with a messy coalition of Republican moderates and centrist-Democrats — sure to enrage Tea Party types and fuel even more anti-Ryan vitriol.

Bottom line: The wall is no metaphor to Trump. He will accept no substitutes to a huge, long, physical wall, which he believes his voters viscerally want. He told GOP Hill leaders in June he wants it to be 40 to 50 feet high and covered with solar panels. Hill Republicans privately mocked that idea, but some of those same people now recognize that Trump's big, beautiful — and in their minds, ridiculous — wall could be the thing that brings the U.S. government to its knees.

Go deeper

Deadly Hurricane Zeta slams U.S. Gulf Coast

A satellite image of Hurricane Zeta. Photo: National Hurricane Center/NOAA

Hurricane Zeta has killed at least one person after a 55-year-old man was "electrocuted by a downed power line" in Louisiana as the storm caused widespread power outages Wednesday night, per AP.

What's happening: Zeta made landfall south of New Orleans as a Category 2 hurricane earlier Wednesday before weakening to Category 1. But it was still "battering southeastern Louisiana and southern Mississippi with life-threatening storm surge, high winds, and heavy rain" late Wednesday, per the National Hurricane Center.

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Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci, testifies during a September Senate hearing on COVID-19 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Graeme Jennings/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

NIAID director Anthony Fauci told the Journal of the American Medical Association on Wednesday he doesn't expect a COVID-19 vaccine to be ready until January 2021 or later.

What he's saying: Fauci said during the interview that the U.S. was in a "bad position" after failing to keep case numbers down post-summer. "We should have been way down in baseline and daily cases and we’re not," he said.

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