Welcome to Sneak Peek, our weekly lookahead for both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, plus our best scoops.
Tonight's newsletter is 2,187 words, 8 minutes.
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios
When President Trump tweeted in January that he wanted to cut off disaster aid for California's forest fires, other White House aides might have ignored his forest punditry and hoped he forgot about it — but not the leadership team at the Office of Management and Budget.
The big picture: OMB acting director Russell Vought and general counsel Mark Paoletta made it their mission to find lateral ways to accomplish Trump's goals, David Nather and I report.
Case in point: It was Vought — who took over the agency from acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney — and his team who came up with the way to help Trump build his border wall by declaring a national emergency that allowed him to use military funds.
"The nature of the bureaucracy is that if it isn't status quo, it must be impossible," Vought said. "However, most of the time, when we actually dig into the ways to do what the president wants, we find a way to accomplish it."
Behind the scenes: Some officials treat Trump's frequent venting sessions as a storm that just needs to blow over — or in some cases, be contained. Think Gary Cohn, the president's former top economic adviser, stealing a document off Trump's desk that, if signed, would have ended the United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement.
Between the lines: Throughout his nearly three years as president, aides say Trump has often complained about his White House lawyers being too "conservative" and always telling him "no" when he asks for things. In that context, the budget office has become an island of "yes." They've also netted plenty of enemies and critics from both parties and at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Go deeper: Read our full story about President Trump's budget office in the Axios stream.
Chuck Schumer. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images
Tonight, Chuck Schumer makes his opening bid to Mitch McConnell in the two leaders' negotiations over the Senate impeachment trial.
The big picture: Schumer has sent a letter to McConnell in which he asks the Republican leader to call four witnesses who refused to testify before the House impeachment committees.
The witnesses all have direct knowledge of Trump administration decisions concerning the holdup of aid to Ukraine and the requests for investigations of the Bidens and of the origins of the Russia investigation.
Between the lines: Schumer offers other suggestions to McConnell, such as the amount of time he believes should be allocated for arguments and counter-arguments. But it's his requests for witnesses that will be most controversial.
Trump stands with McConnell during a campaign rally Lexington, Kentucky, Nov. 4. Photo: Bryan Woolston/Getty Images)
The Senate trial is poised to be short — perhaps two weeks — and to involve no new witnesses, and Trump has largely come around on this plan, according to two sources familiar with the discussions.
That would represent a significant evolution in the president’s posture, after a flurry of private and public urging by McConnell and Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham. Sources caution that nothing has been decided yet.
The backstory: Initially, POTUS "genuinely wanted a long trial with all the witnesses to push back," said a source who's discussed the matter with Trump.
Between the lines: Sources familiar with the internal discussions say they expect White House counsel Pat Cipollone to lead Trump's defense in the Senate, but they caution that the president hasn't made his final call on the composition of his legal team.
The paperwork documenting the House Judiciary Committee member vote, Dec. 13. Photo: Astrid Riecken for the Washington Post via Getty Images
Most Democratic members and committee staffers who have spoken to Axios expect around four to six moderate Democrats will break ranks and vote against impeaching President Trump on Wednesday, Alayna Treene reports.
Behind the scenes: Most centrist Democrats have publicly avoided committing to how they'll vote — expertly dodging reporters in the halls. Instead they said they plan to make their decision over the weekend after thoroughly reviewing the final articles.
Nancy Pelosi and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal during a news conference on the USMCA trade agreement, Dec.10. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Democrats have a "tentative plan" to vote Thursday on the trade deal President Trump negotiated with Mexico and Canada to replace NAFTA, per a senior House Democratic aide, but Mexican officials are complicating those plans.
Driving the news: "Mexico's top trade negotiator plans to return to Washington ... to express his outrage over language in the U.S. bill to implement the new North American trade agreement," Politico's Sabrina Rodriguez reports.
The big picture: Mexico has already ratified these changes to the deal. The nightmare scenario for Trump and Democratic leadership is that domestic pressures force the Mexican government to take drastic action, like saying they'll block U.S. inspectors from Mexican factories. That would severely complicate a deal that was set to easily pass Congress.
Between the lines: The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) will probably still fly through the House at the end of this week. Trump has crafted a deal that no traditional Republican would have supported in the pre-Trump era, and Nancy Pelosi is keenly aware of that. She has jettisoned the promised process to ram the deal through before the end of the year.
The bottom line: Democrats who've worked on trade deals for decades say they doubt that any other Republican president in the foreseeable future would support a deal like the USMCA. The USMCA is a deal tailor-made for organized labor and protectionist Democrats. That Republicans are willing to vote for it is a testament to the awesome power Trump wields over his party.
In a fair and unsparing interview with "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace, former FBI director James Comey admits he "was wrong" to assure the American public that the FBI properly handled its surveillance of Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
Photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images
The House is expected to vote on appropriations bills to fund the government on Tuesday. Some members, both Democrat and Republican, are optimistic they can pass a long-term bill to fund the government rather than a short-term continuing resolution, but they are running out of time, Alayna reports.
The Senate will vote Monday on the National Defense Authorization Act, per a Republican leadership aide.
President Trump's schedule, per a White House official:
Trump speaks to the troops during a surprise Thanksgiving day visit at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan, Nov. 28. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images
On Dec. 11, President Trump gave Congress his legally required update on the wars and counterterrorism missions the American military is engaged in throughout the world.
Over the past six months, the U.S. military has deployments in the following countries covered by the War Powers law, per the president's letter:
Between the lines: We think of "wars" as hot combat, but the law requires that presidents keep Congress informed about the places where troops equipped for combat have been deployed, says Charlie Stevenson, the acting associate director of the American Foreign Policy Program at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.
Go deeper: Read the letter.