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The next month is arguably the most important since Trump took office. Steve Bannon reckons January will define his former boss's presidency — and that it's his last, best chance to make good on his most controversial campaign promises.
"It's trade, DACA, and the wall — but it's much beyond that," Bannon tells me. "This is the run-up, the last 20 days before the first anniversary of his inauguration, and it's all coming to a head: a spending bill of epic proportions, the test of a veto or a government shutdown, the China confrontation and Korea, all the immigration issues, infrastructure funding and welfare reform. All on the table, with their direction uncertain."
Bannon says January is make-or-break for three big issues:
The DACA fight may be the ugliest. Bannon is teaming up with the Freedom Caucus to demand that Trump refuse to protect DACA unless Congress ends so-called family migration (which lets green card holders bring their immediate family members to the U.S.). That trade-off appears dead on arrival, but Breitbart is already insisting it's the only way Trump can keep his campaign trail promise to end Obama's "executive amnesty."
Gary Cohn and Steven Mnuchin successfully kept President Trump from making any disruptive trade actions during the tax reform fight. Now that tax reform is done — and Trump remains hell-bent on tariffs — they're making new arguments to try to mellow his hardwired trade-warrior impulses.
Cohn and Mnuchin are now appealing to Trump's obsession with the record-breaking run of the stock market under his presidency, according to four sources with direct knowledge.
Behind Trump's thinking: He and his hawkish trade advisers, Peter Navarro and Bob Lighthizer, are deeply skeptical of the World Trade Organization's ability to resolve complaints between nations. They want to resurrect arcane laws — sections 232 and 301 of Trade laws from the 1960s and 70s — to circumvent the WTO and unilaterally retaliate against exploitive trade practices, especially from the Chinese.
It's quite likely Trump will use 301 authority — in January, we're told — to put tariffs on Chinese consumer electronics as retaliation against the country's widespread theft of American companies' intellectual property. Though Cohn and Mnuchin don't like tariffs, they're comparatively comfortable with targeted actions against truly bad actors, as in this case.
What you need to know:
Bottom line: As we've repeatedly written — but can't stress enough — Trump believes this stuff to his core. Perhaps the only policy position he has consistently held for more than 30 years is that foreign countries are taking advantage of America, and that America needs to fight back. At the start of his presidency, he told President Xi that he would be gentler on trade if Xi took a harder line on North Korea's nuclear program. But in the months since, Trump has concluded that China won't play its part. So he's ready to begin the second year of his presidency with a big trade bang.
Over the past few weeks — especially since Roy Moore's defeat — sources close to Trump say he's finally recognizing a harsh reality: If Republicans lose the House in 2018, it will pose an existential threat to his presidency, with endless investigations, legislative obstruction and a likely move toward impeachment.
"Oh, he gets it," a source who's recently spoke to Trump told me.
At a recent lunch with Trump, former chief of staff Reince Priebus said 2018 is as serious as a heart attack— and that Republicans will only keep control of the House if everything goes perfectly.
Senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said she thinks the GOP can keep the Congress in Republican hands, but that a to-be-determined liability is if more and more House Republicans retire. She noted that most presidents — including Clinton and Obama — face midterm massacres but then win re-elections.
Conway said she remains optimistic because she believes Democrats "have nothing positive or concrete to run on and wasted the year talking about Russia instead of America, and holding up a stop sign screaming 'resist and obstruct'."
The Senate is back in session this week. The House remains on recess:
President Trump's schedule:
Early this year, President Trump invited Mark Halperin to dinner in the White House residence. Seated around the table were Trump's inner circle, including Jared Kushner, Hope Hicks, Stephen Miller, Kellyanne Conway, Steve Bannon, and Sean Spicer.
But Halperin has since been thrown off the book project — Penguin backed out and HBO cancelled the movie version — after a number of women went public with stories about him sexually harassing them in the workplace. That leaves the treasure trove in the hands of Heilemann, and creates a complicated situation. While Halperin and Heilemann co-conducted nearly all of the Clinton campaign interviews and some Trump campaign interviews, it was Halperin's access that unlocked the highest level of Trumpworld. I'm also told there's plenty of juicy reporting — from both men — on the Clinton side.
Will Heilemann will do the book on his own or not? I'm told it's TBD. He's made clear publicly that he wants the reporting to see the light of day; but untangling his business partnership with Halperin is complicated.
So it's literally a multi-million dollar question: What happens to this treasure trove?