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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
One night in Buenos Aires could define Donald Trump's presidency. Within a few hours, Trump telegraphed ambivalence about the two issues that have defined his time in politics: China and the wall.
Why it matters: Trump's comments mean the next three months may define his presidency. His first term is slipping away from him. On the trail, he promised to build a wall. But almost two years into his presidency, he's barely built anything. He also promised to force China to end its abuse of American businesses. But China hasn't changed in any meaningful way.
In the coming weeks and months, Trump must decide what means he will use to force these two seemingly impossible outcomes: getting Democrats to pay for his wall and getting China to stop stealing from American companies.
Behind the scenes: China hawks may have more reason to be concerned given that stock futures are way up on the G20 news. In the wake of Buenos Aires, I spoke to two sources familiar with Trump's thinking on China, and both said they worry he's too concerned about keeping the stock market buoyant to risk tanking it by hitting China with new tariffs. A stock market boost on Monday could reinforce Trump’s instincts. (Which would suit free traders Larry Kudlow and Steven Mnuchin just fine.)
The bottom line: "Elections have consequences," the source added. "The defeat in November leads to compromises in December on the wall and trade — and we haven't yet begun '19."
Sen. Chuck Grassley. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images
A fresh example of the political hurricane about to hit Trump's hardline trade agenda: Incoming Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) told Axios' Caitlin Owens he may try to make it harder for the president to impose new tariffs.
Why it matters: Grassley's frankness about supporting this type of effort will cheer free traders. The concept of constraining Section 232 power isn't new, but Republicans thus far have been loath to defy Trump.
Between the lines: Grassley, a farmer himself, is among farm country's staunchest congressional advocates. The Chinese and other countries have targeted American farmers with penalties in retaliation for Trump's tariffs.
Defying Trump will never be easy for Republicans, especially as Trump will likely say any congressional push to limit his trade agenda favors the Chinese over Americans.
The bottom line: While the administration has eased some Republican members' concerns by reaching an updated trade deal with Mexico and China, many farm-state members say they still worry about how the rest of Trump's trade disputes will play out.
Photo: Ralf Hirschberger/picture alliance via Getty Images
Until George H.W. Bush's death on Friday, most of my GOP leadership and White House sources expected the government to partially shut down on Dec. 7, as Democrats won't give Trump the $5 billion he wants for his border wall.
Behind the scenes: House Republican leadership has privately discussed a "Plan B": sending a dead-on-arrival bill to the Senate that would satisfy Trump's border wall demands, according to sources with direct knowledge. That plan: "Watch it die, and hope that that then generates the discussion that needs to happen," one source said.
What's next? Trump is expected to meet with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer on Tuesday morning, according to two sources briefed on the plans. Until last week, White House officials and Republican leaders sounded cautiously optimistic about cutting a deal with Schumer to give Trump close to the $5 billion he demands.
The question swirling in GOP circles: If Trump lets the government shut down because Congress won’t fund his wall, how would he negotiate its re-opening — especially given his scant leverage over Democrats?
My Axios colleagues Khorri Atkinson and Marisa Fernandez saved you time by watching the Sunday shows; here are their highlights in the Axios stream:
Congress will pause this week to pay tribute to the life of George H.W. Bush. The 41st president's remains will lie in state in the U.S. Capitol from Monday to Wednesday, and the House and Senate will suspend legislative business during that time.
The House and Senate are expected to resume business Thursday and Friday, during which time the Senate could consider more Trump nominations.
The White House is not releasing President Trump's schedule, though he has already said he will attend Bush's funeral.
Alan Dershowitz. Photo: John Lamparski/Getty Images for Hulu
Alan Dershowitz still provides legal advice to serial pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, he confirmed to Axios.
Background: Dershowitz helped Epstein get a sweetheart plea deal from then-U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta (now Donald Trump's labor secretary and a rumored long-shot contender for attorney general).
Dozens of women alleged that Epstein molested and raped them when they were underaged using a sophisticated human trafficking network. A civil trial is scheduled to begin on Tuesday in Palm Beach County that may finally let these women tell their stories in court.
Behind the scenes: While he was allegedly raping teenage girls, Epstein cultivated cozy relationships with America's elites.
Dershowitz confirmed to me that he received a massage at Epstein's Palm Beach home, adding that the woman who provided it was of legal age.
One of Epstein's accusers, Virginia Roberts, has claimed Dershowitz had sex with her when she was underage. Dershowitz has denied the allegation and told the Miami Herald "the story was 100 percent flatly categorically made-up" so "she could get money."