Jun 17, 2018

Axios Sneak Peek

Mike Allen

Howdy from Axios; hope you had a great Father's Day. Jonathan Swan was in a wedding this weekend, so he has given me the Sneak keys just for a day — I'll try not to mess it up. Complain to mike@axios.com. Tell your friends to Sneak onto our list free here.

1 big thing ... Fly on the wall: When POTUS goes off-script

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

President Trump stunned his staff back on March 29 when he said spontaneously during an infrastructure event in Ohio: “We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon.” 

  • That was big (but short-lived) news — within five days, Trump had backed off any insistence on an immediate withdrawal.

Turns out there’s an incredible backstory, and Sneak Peek has it exclusively, pieced together by Swan and me.

We’re told by someone who heard the remarks directly that just before Trump took the podium at 2 p.m. at a union training site in Richfield, Ohio, there was this fascinating exchange back in the West Wing: 

  • White House chief of staff John Kelly was watching walk-up TV coverage in the outer office of his suite.
  • Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin sidled across the hall and stood in the doorway.
  • Indicating the president, Kelly said: “He swore to me that he wouldn’t announce anything on Syria.”
  • Hagin replied: “Well, we’ve heard promises like that before. We really won’t know till he’s done talking.”
  • Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general, said: “I think he knows he can’t fuck us on this.”
  • Hagin cocked his head — he'd heard that before. 

Why it matters: The exchange (which Kelly and Hagin denied through a White House aide, but which was recounted for us by an impeccable source) illustrates the challenges for the staff of a president who relishes going off-script.

One source close to the White House explains the dynamic:

  • "The people who thrive in Trumpworld are the ones who commit to following his lead, even if that means turning on a dime."
  • "All any adviser can do is give their recommendation, then let the boss call the play."
  • "Trump recoils from overly structured decision-making on someone else's timeline. He relies heavily on his gut and sometimes makes snap decisions in the moment, when everything suddenly clicks for him. That can even take place while he's giving remarks and feeling the energy of the crowd."
  • "It's part of the reason he's so dialed into [his base's] mood, ... when everyone else seems to miss it until after the fact."

The White House aide, denying such a conversation, said Trump's remarks that day were consistent with his previous statements about defeating ISIS — and that his non-traditional approach is part of his strength.

2. The immigration votes aren’t going well

The House plans to vote on two immigration bills this week: one written by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte and favored by conservatives, and a compromise bill with buy-in from both conservatives and moderates, Axios' Caitlin Owens reports:

  • Between the lines: GOP moderates will get the votes they wanted, but that doesn’t mean anything’s going to pass. Leadership agreed to do this to avoid the worst-case scenario of moderates filing a discharge petition — a way of forcing votes on bills they don’t like — which could have resulted in passage of the Democrats’ preferred immigration bill.
  • But at a minimum, moderates will get to say they forced votes on protection for Dreamers – something some have grown to see as key to making their case to voters back home.

Consider the Goodlatte bill dead — it’s never had the votes to pass. But conservatives are happy to get a vote on it.

  • The compromise bill is more moderate than the Goodlatte one and includes a provision to address the separation of immigrant children from their parents.
  • Even the optimists say that the compromise bill’s chance of passage is probably in Trump’s hands: He alone has the power to pressure reluctant House Republicans into voting for it. (Democrats are unlikely to support it.)
  • Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said: “I think if he leans in on it hard, he can make a huge difference.”

What we’re watching: Congressional Republicans acknowledge that if both bills fail, something will still have to be done sooner rather than later to address immigrant children being separated from their parents.

3. A new way for D.C. to focus on America's poorest communities

An infrastructure bill to invest in America's poorest communities, introduced in the House last week, could be a template for bridging the gap between the extremes of the two parties, Axios' Alexi McCammond reports:

  • Why it matters: The bill's co-sponsors are a coalition of members from the Freedom Caucus and Congressional Black Caucus who rarely work together.
  • And lobbyists say it can be a roadmap to expand cooperation to other areas, like pharmaceuticals, telecom, health care and climate change.
4. Sunday best

Photo: William B. Plowman/NBC

Kellyanne Conway, appearing with Chuck Todd on NBC's "Meet the Press" for the first time since the "alternative facts" interview in January 2017, took on the issue of the separation of children and their parents at the border:

  • "As a mother, as a Catholic, as somebody who has got a conscience, ... I will tell you that nobody likes this policy. You saw the president [say] on camera that he wants this to end, but ... Congress has to act."

Go deeper: What we're watching: The Sunday show debate over family separation.

5. What it was like to interview Trump in Singapore
Summit filing center, via Greta Van Susteren. (@greta)

Greta Van Susteren, Voice of America contributor and host of a VOA show on foreign policy called “Plugged In with Greta Van Susteren” did an interview with President Trump in Singapore that was translated into 45 languages, including Korean (which reaches into North Korea) and Farsi (aired in full in Iran).

I asked her what it was like:

  • With Trump headed to Air Force One, "our crew did not have enough time to set up inside the building and it was suggested by the White House we do the interview outside — in front of the flags ... It was very, very, very hot. The President came outside, got hit with the blistering Singapore sun and said, 'Greta, you are the only one who can get me outside in this heat.'"
  • "I also bumped into Secretary of State Pompeo and he quipped, 'I haven’t seen you since I was a lowly congressman and you would have me on your [Fox] show.'"
6. Sneak Peek diary

House ... In addition to the immigration votes:

  • On Wednesday, House Republicans will mark the six-month anniversary of the tax reform law, which Trump signed Dec. 22. Speaker Ryan, Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady and others will mark the milestone with the National Association of Manufacturers, saying the law has led to higher wages, more jobs, and higher business and consumer confidence.
  • Opioids: After passing 38 bills last week to combat opioid addiction, the House is expected to vote on at least 15 more this week, per a GOP aide. These bills are expected to be packaged together and sent to the Senate in one bill, HR6.

Senate: Three regular-order appropriations bills (Military Construction, Veterans Affairs Energy & Water, Legislative Branch) ... The farm bill is up next.


  • Tomorrow: Hosts meeting of the National Space Council ... Signs H.R. 3429, the “Safe Neighborhoods Grant Program Authorization Act of 2018.”
  • Tuesday: Receives his intelligence briefing ... Delivers remarks at the National Federation of Independent Businesses' 75th anniversary celebration ... Welcomes Their Majesties King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia of Spain to the White House ... Signs the 10 millionth U.S. patent ... Speaks on immigration to a special meeting of House Republicans.
  • Wednesday: Travels to Duluth, Minn.
  • Thursday: Hosts a Cabinet meeting ... Meets with the Secretary of Defense  ... Participates in the Congressional Picnic.
  • Friday: Receives his intelligence briefing.

Elsewhere, per AP:

  • Tomorrow: Jared Kushner, leads a Mideast negotiating team that plans to visit Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia this week to discuss the next stages of the peace effort ... Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Justice Department inspector general's report on the Hillary Clinton email investigation.
  • Wednesday: Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on responses to Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
  • Thursday: Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Lindsey Graham speak at the Center for a New American Security's annual conference.
7. 1 pic thing: What Trump saw on the North Lawn
Courtesy Fox's Steve Doocy

This is what President Trump saw during his 18-minute press gaggle near the networks' Pebble Beach camera positions.

  • On Fox's live shot, I saw "Fox & Friends" host Steve Doocy taking this picture with his iPhone after his own interview. Steve says he was just trying to get a good shot of his son, Peter Doocy, a Fox News correspondent.
  • Doocy, based in New York, was in Washington to cover the congressional baseball game.
  • Doocy initially was barred at the gate because of confusion about his pass, and “Fox & Friends” started without him.
  • Trump showed up after the White House offered a guest on trade and Fox said no.
  • “I was cramming for a test,” Doocy said. “I had 30-some minutes to come up with as many interesting questions about things in the news as I could.”
Courtesy Fox's Steve Doocy

And finally, for Father's Day ...

Fox News
Mike Allen

Thanks for reading despite Jonathan's absence. See you in the morning in Axios AM, and 24/7 in the Axios stream.