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In an Oval Office meeting earlier this month, President Trump gave his top trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, an Art of the Deal-style coaching session on how to negotiate with the South Koreans.
Trump's impromptu coaching came in the middle of a pivotal conversation with top officials about whether or not to withdraw from the U.S.-Korean trade deal. Sources familiar with the conversation paraphrased the exchange for Axios, and the White House did not dispute this account.
A number of senior officials and cabinet secretaries were present for the conversation, including Defense Secretary Mattis, Agriculture Secretary Perdue, and Secretary of State Tillerson. At issue was whether the U.S. would withdraw from the Korean trade deal — an action Trump threatened but still hasn't taken.
"You've got 30 days, and if you don't get concessions then I'm pulling out," Trump told Lighthizer.
"Ok, well I'll tell the Koreans they've got 30 days," Lighthizer replied.
"No, no, no," Trump interjected. "That's not how you negotiate. You don't tell them they've got 30 days. You tell them, 'This guy's so crazy he could pull out any minute."'
"That's what you tell them: Any minute," Trump continued. "And by the way, I might. You guys all need to know I might. You don't tell them 30 days. If they take 30 days they'll stretch this out."
"You tell them if they don't give the concessions now, this crazy guy will pull out of the deal."
Why this matters: Plenty of world leaders think the president is crazy — and he seems to view that madman reputation as an asset. The downsides are obvious: the rhetoric can unnerve allies and has the potential to provoke enemies into needless, unintended war. But Trump keeps using the tactic, with varying degrees of success:
Trump's comments today belong to a pattern that fits the "madman" or "he might just be crazy enough to do that" theory of international relations:
Republican Sen. Bob Corker, who announced last week that he won't seek re-election in 2018, made a comment to Chuck Todd today that will echo into the coming weeks as Republicans chase their most urgent legislative priority: tax reform.
Corker told the host of NBC's "Meet the Press": "If it looks like to me, Chuck, we're adding one penny to the deficit, I am not going to be for it, OK. I'm sorry. It [national debt] is the greatest threat to our nation..."
Why this matters: Corker will be a pivotal figure in the Senate for the next 15 months, and his vote could be one of a few that decides whether the tax reform bill passes. Plenty of Corker's colleagues would be happy to blow an even bigger hole in the deficit in order to get massive tax cuts, but Corker, who is now a free agent on account of his impending retirement, has laid down a marker. He plans to finish his career as a hardcore deficit hawk.
Watch the full Corker interview here.
Republicans on Capitol Hill are focused on one thing this week: the budget. The House and Senate need to pass budgets — and sign off on a single product in conference — in order to get a bill ready to pass tax reform.
House GOP leaders have the votes needed to pass their budget this week, according to sources throughout the conference.
The Senate will have a tougher time with its Budget, which is being marked up in committee this week. Senators Bob Corker and Pat Toomey struck a budget deal that pleasantly surprised tax reform advocates – but with 52 Republicans every vote is on a razor's edge. Republicans are paying close attention to the perennially-challenging senators: John McCain, Susan Collins, and Rand Paul.
Within hours of Trump firing Health and Human Services Secretary, Tom Price, the Washington speculation machine whirred into action. The NYT floated as possible replacements:
Another name to keep an eye on: Sen. John Barrasso, who chairs the Senate Republican Policy Committee. Sources close to the selection process tell me Trump thinks very highly of Barrasso and has told associates many times that he believes he's been one of the strongest and most effective advocates for the repeal and replace of Obamacare. But administration officials know it'd be tough to convince Barrasso to give up his post on Senate leadership.
Sunday highlight reel, with officials responding to the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Puerto Rico:
President Trump plans to visit Puerto Rico on Tuesday, according to White House officials.
Paul Manafort experienced a different kind of legal trouble last week.
Alex Leary, Washington Bureau Chief at the Tampa Bay Times, tweeted: "Paul Manafort walked into our DC office building about 1:10 pm looking for law office. Security guy said he was at wrong address."