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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
President Trump chastised his new chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, over his handling of shutdown talks, creating an awkward scene in front of congressional leaders of both parties, according to two sources who were present.
Behind the scenes: The encounter came near the end of a meeting in the White House Situation Room on Jan. 4, these sources said. Trump had spent the meeting restating his demand for $5.7 billion for his wall. (Vice President Pence, at Trump's behest, had previously asked the Democrats for just $2.5 billion.)
Between the lines: A fourth source, who was not in the room but has observed Mulvaney and Trump's interactions during previous congressional talks, told me Trump has long been irritated that Mulvaney's initial 2019 budget only requested $1.6 billion for the wall. Democrats relish pointing this out, asking the White House why they're not happy getting the money they originally asked for.
Why it matters: Trump’s willingness to humiliate his top staffer in front of Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi is another reminder — beyond Democratic unwillingness to fund a barrier — of why shutdown talks have made zero progress: Trump exhibits little regard for the credibility of his own deputies.
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
Of all the disagreements that drove President Trump and then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis apart, one of the most perilous had to do with blowing up Iranian boats.
Acting on an obsession that went back to the campaign, Trump repeatedly asked his national security team for plans to blow up Iranian "fast boats" in the Persian Gulf during the first year of his presidency, according to two sources who directly heard Trump's requests and three other former senior officials briefed on them.
There was just one problem:
The U.S. previously responded to Iranian naval provocations by attacking their ships and speedboats during the end of the Iran-Iraq War in the late 1980s.
Why it matters: The episode, first referenced last year by the Washington Post, shows Trump's often-contradictory national security impulses. While Trump has been eager to withdraw U.S. troops from their stations in the Middle East and Asia, he's also, at times, proposed military actions that could draw the U.S. further in.
Mattis, who took pride in resisting Trump's errant instincts, never provided the plans to blow up the Iranian fast boats, according to three former officials involved in the deliberations. Former national security adviser H.R. McMaster had to try to pacify the boss.
As his presidency wore on, Trump became less interested in the boats.
The bottom line: Close observers of the Iranian military caution against reading too much into this narrow retreat from Tehran.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and President Trump in the Cabinet Room, October 2018. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images
Former Defense Secretary James Mattis had "deep concerns" about a request late last year from national security adviser John Bolton for options to attack inside Iran, according to a source close to Mattis.
Behind the scenes: Mattis thought that attacking inside Iran risked escalating a conflict with an Iranian proxy into war with a nation state — the Iranian regime. The source told me that despite Mattis' concerns, the Pentagon provided the White House with options to counterattack against Iran.
I've spent the weekend calling Trump administration and congressional sources to get a read on what's going to happen with the government shutdown. Nobody could confidently describe the exit ramp, and it seems there's no immediate end in sight.
The bottom line: The only thing everyone agreed on was that Trump is so far dug in that there's little if any chance he'll reopen the government without a concession from Democrats.
Behind the scenes: Senior administration officials have discussed inviting rank-and-file Democrats to the White House, hoping they may be willing to negotiate over funding for a barrier, according to two sources privy to the private discussions. They're planning to target freshman Democratic House members from districts Trump won in 2016.
What's next? Trump has so far held off on declaring a national emergency, in an effort to tap the Pentagon, and other sources, to pay for his wall. And several senior Republican members are urging Trump, publicly and privately, not to do it.
Sen. Chuck Grassley. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images
Powerful Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, who as Finance Committee chairman will oversee Trump's trade agenda, sat down with Caitlin Owens and me on Friday to discuss this fraught moment in international trade.
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?"
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."
Photo: Al Drago/Getty Images
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will miss this week's oral arguments — a reminder of just how high the stakes are in America's quietest but most functional branch of government, my colleague Sam Baker writes.
Why it matters: Ginsburg is the court's oldest justice and one of just four liberal-leaning justices on a court that is already pulling harder toward the right.
The court has largely been able to avoid politically charged cases during its current term, and that may continue.
The House, now controlled by Democrats, has no votes scheduled this week but will consider a $12 billion emergency disaster assistance package "to provide relief and recovery assistance for Americans affected by recent hurricanes, typhoons, wildfires and other natural disasters," according to a leadership aide. That package includes new money for Puerto Rico. (As we've previously reported, Trump wants to cut off relief money to Puerto Rico.)
In the Senate, Republicans will hold their annual "Issues Conference" on Thursday, per a leadership aide.
President Trump's schedule, per a White House official:
The Chinese government has detained more than 1 million Uyghur Muslims in re-education camps. Beijing has put Uyghur children into dozens of orphanages while their parents are incarcerated for their faith and culture. It's one of the world's most shamefully overlooked atrocities, and some members of Congress plan to step up efforts to pressure the administration to hold China accountable.
Key elements of the legislation, per a source involved:
Why it matters: These reports would be important because they could build a case that will meet a legal threshold to impose sanctions against the Communist Party of China.