Axios Sneak Peek
April 30, 2017
Welcome to Sneak Peek, our weekly lookahead for both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. I'd love your tips and feedback: [email protected]. And please urge your friends and colleagues to join the conversation by signing up for Sneak Peek. See you all week in the Axios STREAM.
1 big thing: accomplishment week
Famous last words but our sources at the highest levels in the White House and on Capitol Hill genuinely believe two things could happen this week:
- A healthcare bill passes the House.
- Successful passage of a government funding bill. (I asked a top source on Sunday afternoon what the final outstanding items were on the bill and instead of listing items, as the source usually would, the source kept saying "we're very close" and was confident congress would pass it before the 1-week temporary spending bill expires.)
GOP leadership is nervous about jinxing either of these events, and nobody wants to make bold proclamations about healthcare in particular (given how burned they've been in the past), but the optimism is genuine. We're hearing from folks who've been cynical all along that they really think this could happen for the first time since version 1.0 failed.
What you need to know:
- It's unlikely there'll be any significant changes to the amended healthcare text as it currently stands.
- House leadership is desperate to just get healthcare out of the House. They want it to become the Senate's problem for a while.
- Mark Meadows is getting good reviews. Even Republicans in leadership who loathe the Freedom Caucus leader admit he's delivered. He's got the big name, most intractable conservatives like Jim Jordan to "yes" and it's a huge help that the most truculent conservative outside groups are now supportive.
- Members are still digesting the amendment. Some of them went home Friday to see their kids graduate, so have been a bit slow on the uptake. They've been talking to the whip team throughout the weekend and there'll be more meetings on Monday.
- Moderates are still worried about higher costs for people with pre-existing conditions. They're still irritated they weren't consulted enough in the process. And they know the bill is going to get transformed in the Senate, so they aren't happy about taking a tough vote for something that'll never see the light of day.
What the White House thinks: Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus both genuinely believe a vote is imminent. It's widely acknowledged within the West Wing that they made a mistake the first time around by outsourcing the process to Paul Ryan and HHS Secretary Tom Price.
2. Corey's compliance
A hot topic of conversation the past 48 hours among sources close to President Trump: Corey Lewandowski's decision not to register as a lobbyist. Lewandowski, who runs a political consulting firm that advertises its proximity to the White House, talks to the president regularly, including visits to the West Wing. But he insists he's doing no lobbying for his clients, whatsoever.
This situation is fast developing into a major PR problem for Trump's former campaign manager. I'm told multiple media outlets, including the New York Times, are investigating Lewandowski's firm. Politico's Ken Vogel and Josh Dawsey published a deeply-reported story a couple of days ago that says a second firm Lewandowski co-founded appears to have offered access to the President.
The key paragraph:
A document provided to an Eastern European politician by an international consulting firm that Lewandowski co-founded this year promises to arrange "meetings with well-established figures," including Trump, Pence, "key members of the U.S. Administration" and outside Trump allies. [Barry] Bennett...[Lewandowski's business partner]... said that he hadn't seen the Washington East West Political Strategies document. He acknowledged, though, that he and Lewandowski started the firm.
I asked Lewandowski on Sunday about his decision not to register as a lobbyist. He wouldn't explain himself, but instead kept telling me to contact his clients. Lewandowski then sent me a statement from his firm's lawyer John Mino, which said the firm and its employees "take their compliance obligation seriously," and are fully compliant with lobbying disclosure laws.
3. Trump's 100-day interview
President Trump had a testy sit-down to mark his first 100 days with John Dickerson, host of CBS' "Face the Nation" (or, as Trump called the program to Dickerson's face: "Deface the Nation.")
Highlights that will echo into the week:
- Trump is dead serious about telling the Chinese they'll get a better trade deal if they help with North Korea. China experts have called this strategy a folly — some worry President Xi will play Trump for a sucker — but Trump told Dickerson: "if China can help us with North Korea and can solve that problem, that's worth making not as good a trade deal for the United States ... right?"
- The President believes his superior trade-negotiation skills will help solve the deficit problems caused by his massive tax cuts: "It's going to be made up by better trade deals. It's going to be made up ... by many different, reciprocal tax. As an example, we have countries where if we make a product and we send it to that country, they charge us 100% tax. If they make the same product and send it to us, we charge them nothing. You think that's smart? It's not."
- Note for tax wonks: Trump has always liked the idea of a border tax. It's just that the White House has concluded the Republican leadership's "border adjustment tax" — a hike on import taxes to raise $1 trillion over 10 years — is politically dead. Targeted tariffs, outside of the tax reform process, seem much more likely.
- Despite the dreams of fiscal conservatives, Trump ain't reforming Medicare: "let me more clear. I'm not going to touch it, because I said it."
4. Sunday highlight reel
VP Mike Pence, to Chuck Todd on NBC's "Meet the Press":
- Acknowledged the Trump tax plan could add to the deficit: "Well maybe in the short term. But the truth is if we don't get this economy growing at three percent, or more as the president believes we can, we're never gonna meet the obligations that we've made today."
Reince Priebus, White House chief-of-staff, to Jonathan Karl on ABC's "This Week":
- On the carried interest tax loophole (for hedge fund managers): "The president wants to get rid of carried interest. So that balloon's not going to stay inflated very long. I can assure you of that."
- On Trump inviting the Philippines' brutal president, Rodrigo Duterte, to the White House: "I'm not so sure it's a matter of honoring this president or any of the facts that you've laid out there, it's really a matter of a potential for nuclear and massive destruction in Asia [with North Korea]...this is a different level of problem that we need cooperation among our partners in Southeast Asia."
5. 1 fun thing: West Wing leak guessing
The West Wing is a paranoid place, and officials there are constantly trying to root out the leakers. At the highest level in the White House, everyone (and I do mean everyone) talks to reporters off-the-record or on background. It's just that different high-level officials have their own favored reporters.
One simple leak-decoding tactic that some officials use: scan reporters' Twitter feeds to see who publicly defends or says sympathetic things about certain officials. Then keep that official's name in mind as the scoops roll in for that reporter.