Welcome to Sneak Peek, our weekly lookahead for both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, plus my best scoops. I'd love your tips and feedback: email@example.com. And please urge your friends and colleagues to join the conversation by signing up for Sneak Peek.
There's a reason Trump said hardly anything about Republican candidate Rick Saccone during a rally in Pennsylvania on Saturday night that was supposed to promote his candidacy. The reason: Trump thinks Saccone is a terrible, "weak" candidate, according to four sources who've spoken to the president about him.
Trump held that opinion of Saccone before leaving for the rally, and I've not been able to establish whether his time on the ground with the candidate changed his mind.
I spoke on Saturday to Corry Bliss, who runs the outside groups linked to Paul Ryan and may have as much as $140 million to spend on the midterm elections.
The election is on Tuesday.
Why this matters: Forecaster Nate Silver tweeted today: "Stating the hopefully-obvious, but the fact that PA-18 is competitive is a really bad sign for Republicans. It voted for Trump by 20 points and Romney by 17. The previous Republican incumbent there (Tim Murphy) didn't even have a Democratic challenger in 2014 or 2016 & won by 28 points the last time he did, in 2012."
Bottom line: Cook Political Report's Amy Walter emailed me this quick analysis: "My short answer is that one should never read too much into any one race but this is more than Saccone. This is a red congressional district that should go for the generic Republican. But the environment today is much worse than 'normal' for Republicans. That’s not because of Saccone or Lamb, but because of Trump."
Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images
It took a few weeks to land on his radar, but President Trump now views Veterans Affairs Sec. David Shulkin as a major problem. Trump has been telling associates he doesn't know what's happened at the VA, but he doesn't like what he's hearing and he may have to fire Shulkin if the situation further deteriorates.
The short version: After the VA's inspector general reported that 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.
Behind the scenes last week, chief of staff John Kelly met with Shulkin at the White House on Monday afternoon. Shulkin brought along his deputy Tom Bowman and his chief of staff Peter O'Rourke, according to three sources with direct knowledge.
Right after his meeting with Kelly, Shulkin was brought into the Oval Office to talk to Trump. The conversation quickly turned to discussing important legislation to reform the VA health care system.
What came next shocked Kelly: After visiting the White House, Shulkin spoke to The New York Times. He declared victory, announced he had the power to can insubordinate political appointees, and said he had the White House’s full support.
From the WH's perspective: They agreed to work with Shulkin on fixing his staff problems, but he went directly to the media and declared victory.
Go deeper: Read my full report.
Trump signs his tariff proclamations. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
His staff have whiplash, but Donald Trump is having the time of his life. He had one of his most joyous weeks of his presidency last week.
While senior officials and cabinet secretaries were struggling to keep up — and many eventually threw up their hands when they realized they couldn't keep track of what was going on with tariffs and North Korea — Trump was careening around the building, acting as his own chief of staff, chief strategist, cable news producer, and communications director all rolled into one.
Sources who've spoken with the president in the past few days describe him as "giddy" — a man who has finally fully indulged his itch to break free of John Kelly's restraints.
Trump is playing out the Corey Lewandowski campaign version of his presidency: "Let Trump Be Trump."
What's next? We have no earthly idea. And nor do Trump's closest confidants, senior staff, Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, or, we strongly suspect, Trump himself.
President Trump told Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu last Monday at the White House that he won't show flexibility in negotiations with France, Germany and the U.K. on amending the Iran nuclear deal, my colleague Barak Ravid scooped today for Axios and Israel's Channel 10 News.
Barak also reported today that Netanyahu has informed his cabinet that Trump does not currently have a concrete Middle East peace plan:
"There is no concrete U.S. peace plan on the table at the moment. I am not saying there couldn't be one in the future, but right now there is none."— Netanyahu to his cabinet.
The Senate expects to vote this week on: legislation rolling back some of the regulations in the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, and the nomination of Kevin McAleenan to be Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The House expects to vote Tuesday on its version of "Right to Try" legislation. The bill, per the WSJ, "would enable a terminally ill patient to use an unproven, investigational drug in an effort to save that person’s life." The Senate has already passed its version of the bill and Trump backed the legislation in his State of the Union address
President Trump's schedule, per White House officials:
Johnson in 1961. Photo: Bettmann / Getty
I've been re-reading David Halberstam's "The Best and the Brightest" and his description of Lyndon B. Johnson's view of loyalty sounds exactly how White House aides describe Donald J. Trump's views on the subject.
Here's Halberstam on LBJ:
"He was a relentless man who pushed himself and all others with the same severity, and demanded, above all other qualities, total loyalty, not loyalty in the traditional sense, not positive loyalty as John Foster Dulles had demanded, but total loyalty, not just to office or party or concept, but loyalty first and foremost to Lyndon Johnson... One reason for the long and intimate friendship between Johnson and Abe Fortas was the fact that despite the Johnson inner circle's doubts about the political acumen of Fortas, he was one of the few major Democratic doyens of Washington who was loyal to no other major Washington figure. He was Lyndon's man. Lyndon of course liked to personalize things: his people, his staff, his boys, his bombers...
"He was ill at ease with abstract loyalty, loyalty to issue, to concept, to cause..."
Why this matters: One reason Trump will never forgive Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself is because he will never respect that the AG says his ultimate loyalty lies with institutions and norms, not Trump. The president wants everyone who works "for him" — including members of what he calls the "Trump Justice Department" — to be loyal to him personally, above all else.