Welcome to Sneak Peek, our weekly lookahead for both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, plus my best scoops. I'd love your tips and feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org. And please urge your friends and colleagues to join the conversation by signing up for Sneak Peek.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Trump at the White House in March. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
In a phone call last year with Bibi Netanyahu, President Trump said something that shocked some of the people who helped prepare his briefing materials for the conversations. According to three sources familiar with the call, Trump asked Bibi bluntly if he actually cares about peace or not.
Trump was pressing Bibi on the importance of striking a "deal" for Mideast peace. He'd read news reports about Bibi planning to build additional settlements to please his conservative base in Israel. Trump thought Bibi was unnecessarily angering the Palestinians. So, in the course of a longer conversation that was mostly friendly and complimentary, he bluntly asked Bibi whether or not he genuinely wants peace.
Between the lines: According to a host of sources familiar with the president’s thinking, Trump views foreign policy as a question of relationships. The way he crafts American foreign policy is almost entirely dependent on his personal rapport with world leaders. The UK is the perfect example: Though Trump has great affection for Britain (he has golf courses there, appreciates the special relationship, and has referred to himself as “Mr. Brexit”), he and Theresa May have a fraught relationship. He hits the roof when he reads that she's criticized him. So he has yet to visit America's closest ally, even after last year's terrorist bombings in Manchester, though a source privy to private discussions tells me that it's "quite likely" that Trump visits the UK before the summer.
Why this matters: Trump's foreign leader interactions — often improvised, often hot and cold, often disregarding diplomatic conventions and basic briefing materials — have confounded much of the administration's national security staff.
A Trump briefing is completely different from those of his predecessors. He doesn't want briefing books or long speeches about policy. Besides the news of the day, he almost always asks the following questions before most foreign leader meetings:
One hard lesson Trump's staff learned: Always find out whether the leader he's meeting with has said mean things about him.
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Senior administration officials and senators from both parties on the Veterans Affairs committee are growing increasingly concerned about Ronny Jackson's prospects to be confirmed as Trump's Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
Between the lines: Sources with direct knowledge of the private deliberations on Capitol Hill and inside the White House tell me the White House is well aware of these widespread concerns about Jackson.
Why this matters: Jackson has his confirmation hearing this week, and expects to testify before the Veterans Affairs' committee on Wednesday afternoon. Senators from both parties share the skepticism — and that includes some Republicans on the VA committee.
Veterans groups have mostly declined to give Jackson ringing endorsements; and the White House is also aware of specific concerns about Jackson's professional conduct in the Navy that have been taken to Jon Tester in his capacity as ranking member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee.
Behind the scenes: While these concerns about Jackson metastasize on the Hill, administration officials are trying to intensely prepare Jackson for his hearing. They're doing murder board sessions this weekend in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building beside the White House, and sources briefed on these sessions tell me they have been going on pretty aggressively for the last couple of weeks.
Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Kellyanne Conway has never actually wanted the job of White House communications director, according to sources who've discussed it with her, but Axios has learned that she left many in the White House communications team this week with the impression that she'd be leading the team in some capacity.
Behind the scenes: Senior White House communications official Mercedes Schlapp convened an off-site team-building and planning retreat last week for the White House comms team. They held the session on Thursday at the General Services Administration building a couple blocks from the WH (the same building that once housed the transition). About 40 people were in the room, and according to sources who were there:
One suggestion that most in the room agreed with: that Trump should do more local and regional media, which increases his chances of getting more favorable coverage than he's getting in the national media.
Other tidbits: The group, which has been beset by leaks and media reports of infighting, ran team-building exercises on large notepads. One of the questions posed to the group: If somebody was making a documentary about the White House communications team in five years, what would they say?
Next steps: Kirk Marshall will lead one-on-one interviews with communications staff, soliciting suggestions on how to better improve the White House team and will encourage staff to offer a more candid perspective than they might have in a large group. They then plan to hold another planning retreat.
On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee expects to report out a bill that would protect Bob Mueller from being fired by President Trump. This is the same bill that Mitch McConnell said he’d never bring to the floor for a vote, but Judiciary Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley is doing it anyway.
Why this matters: Grassley is sending a blunt signal to the President that neither party on Capitol Hill will tolerate him firing Mueller.
What the bipartisan bill does, per Sen. Tom Tillis (R-NC) — one of the cosponsors along with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chris Coons (D-DE), and Cory Booker (D-NJ):
"The Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act:
Between the lines, per a source close to Grassley:
Photos: Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images; Cuneyt Karadag/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
This week in Washington will be dominated by two foreign visitors:
What we're hearing: Macron hopes to persuade Trump to work with the Europeans to fix the Iran nuclear deal rather than to follow his instincts and tear up the deal next month by reimposing American sanctions on Iran.
Behind the scenes: Trump's ambassador-to-Germany-in-waiting, Ric Grenell, was seen at Mar-a-Lago on Saturday night talking to Trump. Grenell, who was there for dinner, was being introduced around the room by Terry Allen Kramer, a long-term Palm Beach resident and Broadway producer, and by the president's friend Chris Ruddy.
The White House and (almost all) Senate Republicans hope to confirm Mike Pompeo this week as Trump's new Secretary of State. But, according to multiple sources involved in the vote counting, Pompeo's fate is still not entirely certain with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee set to consider his nomination on Monday afternoon.
What we're hearing: Rand Paul remains a hard no, though White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short told me he thinks Paul's vote on Pompeo is still gettable, and refuses to give up trying. Short told me: "I still think it's hard for Rand Paul to explain to Kentucky voters how he voted 'yes' for John Kerry for Secretary of State and 'no' for Mike Pompeo."
Bottom line: The Pompeo confirmation process has been revealing — and has shown the White House how difficult it will be for Trump to get anybody confirmed should he fire any more cabinet secretaries. It was only a little over a year ago that the Senate voted 66-32 to confirm Pompeo as CIA chief; and now his vote is down to the wire.
The House expects to vote on a five-year reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration, a leadership source tells me. Included in the FAA reauthorization are reforms to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The Senate: Beyond Pompeo's confirmation and the Senate Judiciary bill to protect Mueller, the Senate will consider another circuit court judge.
President Trump's schedule, per a White House official: