Welcome to Sneak Peek, our weekly lookahead for both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, plus my best scoops. Please encourage your friends and colleagues to sign up.
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
Shortly after becoming President Trump's acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney conveyed a blunt message to several Cabinet secretaries. According to a senior White House official with direct knowledge and another source briefed on the private conversations, Mulvaney told the Cabinet officials that their "highest priority" over the next year would be deregulation.
Why it matters: Trump relishes using the power of the presidency to do whatever he can without Congress.
This is the latest piece of a trend that may define the modern American presidency. Obama used executive power without apology when Congress blocked his agenda in the latter years of his presidency. And George W. Bush enthusiastically pushed the boundaries of presidential power.
Behind the scenes: More than half a dozen current and former White House officials told me that after they passed their big tax bill last Congress, a broad consensus emerged: Trump wouldn't get anything else big through Congress before his re-election.
The bottom line: This concentration of power in the executive branch is part of the reason Republicans have invested so much in confirming new judges. In a world of government by executive order, Congress loses its relevance and judges become the surest check on an overreaching executive.
Go deeper: Read this deeply reported 2016 New York Times story on Obama's embrace of executive power.
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
A senior government official who was involved in the spending negotiations over the past few weeks told me the experience taught them something disturbing.
Why it matters: The White House has just gotten through a spending fight that pushed Congress — and the federal workforce affected by the shutdown — to the brink. But even uglier skirmishes are imminent, including whether to raise the federal government's debt limit and break Congress' self-imposed budget caps.
What's next? In a phone conversation this morning, I asked a senior White House official if he thought the shutdown had any benefit for the Trump administration.
I also asked the senior official if he would dispute that characterization that this administration will "go to the edge on everything" — especially on impending battles over 2020 spending levels and raising the debt limit.
White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Before a recent Cabinet meeting, Mulvaney and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin chatted about the debt ceiling, per a senior White House official. According to that official and another source briefed on the chat, Mnuchin said, "Democrats will give us a clean debt ceiling."
Between the lines: The next trillion-dollar fight concerns the debt ceiling. Global markets freak out any time members of Congress or White House officials float anything other than a drama-free debt-ceiling hike.
So what's debt prioritization? Before the Tea Party, Congress routinely raised the debt ceiling (the limit on how much the Treasury can borrow) with every annual budget. But after 2010, House conservatives argued that this shouldn't happen without concessions to the right, such as cuts in how much the government spends. To make that happen, they advocated for debt prioritization, the idea that the U.S. government could pay creditors on time (e.g., interest on the national debt) but delay paying other bills. It's a type of brinkmanship.
Behind the scenes: Mnuchin is expected to make it clear — as he did the last time the Trump administration bumped into the debt ceiling — that he won't mess around with the full faith and credit of the U.S. government. He calmed markets last time by saying he wanted Congress to pass a clean debt ceiling increase and that he thought prioritizing debt payments "doesn't make much sense."
Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Last week, some senior members of the White House staff had a conversation about leverage. Specifically, what leverage they might have for the congressional fights ahead. According to a senior official familiar with the conversation, Mulvaney told colleagues that part of the challenge the White House had in this most recent negotiation was they "didn't have much leverage."
Between the lines: If Congress doesn't cut a 2020 spending deal by Oct. 1 then more than $70 billion will be automatically cut from the Pentagon's budget and more than $50 billion will be cut from non-defense spending. For the military, and many members of Congress and the people dependent on the affected government programs, that would be a crisis.
Ironically, Mulvaney, who used to be a vocal opponent of the OCO slush fund, now supports the idea of using it to circumvent mandatory spending levels, according to a source who's discussed it with him.
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Today is the deadline for the Commerce Department to send the White House its auto tariffs report.
Why it matters: The report will recommend whether Trump should follow through on his threat to use a "national security" law to impose massive tariffs — Trump likes the round number of 25% — on imports of cars and car parts.
Behind the scenes: Most of Trump's senior economic advisers — with the notable exception of Peter Navarro — think imposing car tariffs is a terrible idea. But Trump tells everyone who'll listen that the threat of car tariffs is his best source of leverage in negotiations with foreign leaders.
The bottom line: A senior Republican Senate aide familiar with the strategy described it this way: "Mostly that they don't want to make it public so that the president can keep it in his back pocket as a threat (no matter what it says about cars and national security)."
The House and Senate are on recess.
President Trump's schedule, per a White House official: