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The biggest, loudest, ugliest fights in President Donald Trump’s Oval Office have been about trade.
This culminated last week. But the war — between Peter Navarro’s economic nationalist camp and Gary Cohn’s free trader-cohort — has been roiling the White House for months.
Cohn and Porter argued on one side, and Navarro and Ross fought on the other. (This was an adhoc meeting so the other senior officials who are against Navarro and Ross — James Mattis, Rex Tillerson, and Steven Mnuchin — were not in the room.)
Cohn tried to argue that these tariffs would ruin Trump's record-setting stock market streak and wipe away benefits of tax reform. But Trump kept saying Cohn was a "globalist" while he himself was an economic nationalist.
Navarro argued that Trump needed to protect the domestic industry, promote American jobs and show the world we were going to be tough on trade and this was the best way to do it. Porter argued tariffs would hurt the manufacturing industries that use steel and aluminum as inputs, tax American consumers, roil global markets, alienate allies and lead to retaliation.
Trump sat and watched the fight. He occasionally interjected, saying things like "I need to take care of my base," "You can't have a country without steel," and "Peter, what do you say to that argument?" By the end, Trump told Porter he didn't realize he was such a "globalist."
In the end, Trump decided he needed more information about the economic effects of aluminum and steel tariffs, which wouldn’t be ready for a while. So the White House would focus on tariffs targeted at China.
In the interim, the Porter disaster happened, and Trump became more and more agitated with the direction of the White House. The day Hope Hicks announced her departure, he was hopping mad, raging at Jeff Sessions and furious about the avalanche of negative stories about Jared Kushner. Trump was angry, agitated, and fed up. So he cut “the globalists” out of the picture, told Ross and Navarro to bring him the tariffs he'd been demanding for months, and made the announcement.
Bottom line: Cohn’s move to the couch, and Porter's departure, foreshadowed their defeat. And now that the White House’s inner battle seems at a standstill, a trade war may be poised to start.
The chaos in the White House is overshadowing the chaos at Veterans Affairs — which is truly extraordinary, since what's happening at the VA right now is NUTS.
The short version: After the VA's inspector general reported that VA Secretary David Shulkin used taxpayer dollars to pay for his wife to go to Europe, the VA secretary has been telling anyone who will listen that Trump appointees in his agency are conspiring to undermine him. He started handling his own media relations because he doesn't trust the agency's communications staff. And he told Politico the White House gave him the green light to "purge" his agency (a senior White House official told me they did no such thing, and aren't letting Shulkin fire Trump appointees).
Senior White House officials are losing confidence in Shulkin. One told me it would be "an understatement" to describe Shulkin's position as precarious. "A small, little, tiny breeze would push him over the edge," the official said. "If there’s any hint of anything wrong" in the next inspector general's report, "I don’t imagine he hangs on."
The Daily Beast reported last week that another IG report may come out in the next few weeks that could also damage Shulkin. The White House will have little tolerance for even a whiff of further evidence that Shulkin has been improperly using taxpayer funds for personal activities.
Behind the scenes: Last Monday morning, some of Shulkin's allies who lead veteran service organizations visited the White House armed with arguments to defend the secretary. They met with Kelly in the Roosevelt Room.
Bottom line: The meeting ended with Kelly telling the veterans group leaders that the president still has confidence in Shulkin.
Why this matters: Of the federal agencies, only the Department of Defense is larger than Veterans Affairs.
What's next: Shulkin, his deputy and his new chief of staff are meeting Monday with Kelly. They will have plenty to talk about. I've yet to meet a senior White House official who genuinely believes Shulkin is long for this world.
Mueller testifies before Congress in 2013. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images
Axios has reviewed a Grand Jury subpoena that Robert Mueller's team sent to a witness last month.
What Mueller is asking for:
The subpoena asks for all communications from November 1, 2015, to the present. Notably, Trump announced his campaign for president five months earlier — on June 16, 2015.
Bottom line: In December, the president's lawyer Ty Cobb told me the White House would be free of the Mueller investigation "shortly after the first of the year absent some unforeseen delay." We know very little about what's keeping the investigators so busy, but the breadth of this subpoena means Mueller's team could easily stumble into goodies about Trump's inner circle given so many people are coughing up material. (Cobb didn't respond to a request for comment.)
On Friday night, President Trump entertained around 250 Republican donors in his Mar-a-Lago ballroom. Spotted in the audience: Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen, who recently admitted to paying $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels.
The most shocking moment of the evening came when Trump brought his old pal Rudy Giuliani onto the stage.
Giuliani told the crowd he had been down there for Trump's wedding. "Hillary was also here," he said, according to two sources in the room, "and she actually fit through the door.”
The crowd gasped. I'm told Giuliani's wife gave him a "most foul look."
Trump later told the audience: "I'm just glad I didn't say it."
Today, Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt and Ambassador Friedman checked in with Prime Minister Netanyahu at Blair House, a White House official told me. "They discussed the Administration's ongoing peace efforts and related matters in advance of the President's meeting with the Prime Minister tomorrow."
This week, the House will reauthorize the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for the first time since 1990.
The Senate will confirm three more district court judges on Monday. Mitch McConnell then pushes forward on legislation to relax some regulations on banks. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo sponsors the bill. (The House has already passed its version of the bill.)
President Trump's schedule, per a White House official: