Welcome to Sneak Peek, our weekly lookahead for both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. I'd love your tips and feedback: email@example.com. And please urge your friends and colleagues to join the conversation by signing up for Sneak Peek.
It's hard to overstate how concerned free-traders on Capitol Hill are about the current state of the Trump administration's negotiations on two consequential trade deals: the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the U.S.-Korean trade deal (KORUS.)
"We're all on collapse-watch," one knowledgable source told me. Capitol Hill aides who work on trade are asking "when" not "if" Trump sends a withdrawal notice for NAFTA.
Trump's top trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, is playing such extreme hardball with the Canadians and Mexicans in his NAFTA negotiations, that sources close to the process say there's no chance of a compromise solution unless he changes tactics.
Administration sources don't deny Trump and Lighthizer have been discussing the six-month withdrawal notice, and other methods of gaining leverage over their negotiating partners. But they caution us that just because Trump often discusses withdrawing from these deals — and sometimes with burning urgency in Oval Office meetings — that doesn't mean he's nanoseconds away from doing so.
Why this matters: Between NAFTA and KORUS you're talking more than $1 trillion in annual trade in goods and services. Withdrawal would do far more than simply roil the U.S. markets; it would profoundly alter U.S. alliances, test a crucial national security partnership in Asia, and could result in the election of a hard core leftist (and no friend to the USA) in Mexico.
The big picture: A former longtime Hill aide emailed after Trump's Iran speech with the subject line "deal breaker in chief?" ... "Despite claiming to be a great deal maker, I can't think of a single deal President Trump has concluded," he writes. Trump has exited deals (Paris and TPP); chipped away at them (Iran); and unilaterally signed a lot of EOs. "He has endorsed bills (like ACA repeal) or outlines (like tax reform) without himself negotiating details. And he suggested a Chuck & Nancy deal on DACA, but pulled back as soon as it was criticized."
What's next? The next couple months will be crucial because Trump's patience — and Lighthizer's uncompromising asks — have struck immovable objects in Mexico, Canada, and South Korea. Something's gotta give.
They swear he's not joking. Sources who've spoken to the president about the Supreme Court say he tells them he thinks he'll have appointed four justices by the end of his first term.
"It's all about the numbers for him," one source said.
Asked how he comes to that jaw-dropping number, Trump mentions the obvious: he's already replaced Antonin Scalia with Neil Gorsuch, and there are rumors Anthony Kennedy will retire.
"Ok," one source told Trump, "so that's two. Who are the others?"
"Ginsburg," Trump replied. "What does she weigh? 60 pounds?"
"Who's the fourth?" the source asked.
"Sotomayor," Trump said, referring to the relatively recently-appointed Obama justice, whose name is rarely, if ever, mentioned in speculation about the next justice to be replaced. "Her health," Trump explained. "No good. Diabetes."
Sotomayor has opened up about her struggles with type-1 diabetes, but she's managed it successfully since childhood.
The White House and spokespeople for the Supreme Court didn't respond to requests for comment.
A lot of people were surprised on Wednesday when word got out that President Trump would appoint Kirstjen Nielsen as the new Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Those surprised included just about the entire leadership of the department, including the Acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke.
Duke emailed senior DHS staff around noon on Wednesday and told them she wanted to do a conference call because General Kelly had just informed her that the president had picked a new DHS Secretary. There was silence on the call when she told them it was Nielsen.
Nielsen is not a beloved figure at DHS; just as she wasn't inside the White House. She has a very sharp-elbowed approach to doing business and doesn't command anywhere near the respect that her predecessor, Kelly, did, according to more than half a dozen sources who've worked with her.
Read the backstory in the Axios stream.
President Trump's schedule:
The House is on recess.
The Senate's week will be consumed by trying to pass the Budget — the essential first step to passing tax reform. Here's how the week is expected to play out:
Jake Tapper had a striking interview with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson this morning on CNN's "State of the Union."
Sunday show highlight reel, with national security threats left and right, and a good deal of intrigue:
Holding court at the dining table at the Breitbart Embassy on Capitol Hill, Steve Bannon is having some colorful conversations as he searches for candidates to upset Republican leaders in the 2018 elections.
Bannon's strangest candidate interview so far: Former New York congressman Michael Grimm, who was a moderate when he served in the House and who recently spent time in prison for tax evasion. (He also famously threatened to throw a reporter "off this f-----g balcony" and when the reporter asked another question, Grimm replied: "I'll break you in half. Like a boy.")
I digress. The fact of Bannon's meeting with Grimm is well-known, given Grimm proudly tweeted a picture of the two together. But I can share the moment from the meeting in which Bannon seemed to connect with Grimm.
A source familiar with the meeting told me that when the subject of Grimm's less-than-conservative voting record came up, Grimm said, "I know there were some votes I took that were bad. I was trying to please some people but now I've got no one to answer to. If I'm elected you'll get the real deal Michael Grimm. I don't give a f---."