Sep 8, 2019

Axios Sneak Peek

By Jonathan Swan
Jonathan Swan

Welcome to Sneak Peek, our weekly lookahead for both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, plus our best scoops.

  • Hello, I'm Alayna Treene, an Axios White House reporter. Jonathan Swan is off getting married, so I'll be steering the ship tonight.
  • Please encourage your friends and colleagues to sign up, and I'd love it if you sent me your feedback: alayna@axios.com.

Tonight's newsletter is 1,321 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: The Trump-Pelosi mind meld on drug costs

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Striking a big, bipartisan deal on drug prices is one of President Trump’s last opportunities before the election to make good on a sweeping campaign promise — and Trump himself is the biggest x-factor, Axios' Sam Baker and I report.

The big picture: On policy, Trump and Democrats are aligned — but the Dems may not want to make a deal just before the election.

  • On politics, Trump and Republicans are in agreement — but the drug industry is working overtime to pull rank-and-file Republicans back into line.

Driving the news: Speaker Pelosi will release a drug-pricing plan shortly after Congress returns to work this week, a House Democratic aide confirmed. And Democrats will try to keep the issue on the front burner for the rest of the year.

  • How it works: Pelosi’s proposal would direct the federal government to negotiate the price of certain expensive drugs with little or no competition — and, crucially, that would also become the price in the private market, not just the Medicare drug coverage price, according to Democratic aides and lobbyists working on the issue.
  • That’s awfully close to what Trump has endorsed before, but Democrats aren’t eager to share the issue ahead of 2020.
  • People following the legislative debate suspect that normal partisan politics will likely take control over this particular plan — “except if the president is for it. That will change everything,” an industry lobbyist told Sam.

There are signs it’s working, but congressional and administration sources are deeply skeptical that anything will happen.

  • The intrigue: If something happens on drug prices, it’s unlikely to be in a standalone bill, lobbyists said, but rather wrapped up in a broader year-end package that would include a host of other domestic priorities.

Read the full story.

2. Dems' 2020 Trump war room

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The DNC research team has mined thousands of lawsuits from 50 states as part of a massive new research trove on President Trump that will be weaponized through pols and reporters in key states, Axios' Alexi McCammond reports.

  • As an example of the nuggets the team has assembled, the DNC's new research includes every time then-candidate Trump told supporters at his 2016 campaign rallies that Mexico would pay for the wall.

Why it matters: This new plan shows what Democrats think Trump's biggest vulnerabilities will be. And unlike in 2016, Trump now has a policy record.

A source said this document will likely find its way to local reporters in battleground states as Trump diverts funds from the military to fund the wall.

  • The DNC has examples of what farmers and truckers say they feel about Trump's tariffs, the way he's "trashed American wheat," and how the GOP tax law hurt truckers more than Trump promised.
  • They've also filed "thousands" of Freedom of Information requests.

What we're hearing: At a meeting last week with about 20 operatives and strategists, DNC chair Tom Perez said he plans to focus the party's messaging on Trump's performance, not "awfulness," according to a source in the room: "Prosecute the case that he is bad at his job and it is hurting people in real ways."

3. Taliban advice for Trump

Now that President Trump has called off a secret Camp David meeting with the Taliban and Afghan leaders, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is urging Trump to get the upper hand by negotiating a free trade agreement with Pakistan.

  • Graham, a close Trump ally, said in a phone interview with Axios' Margaret Talev on Saturday night: "I would open negotiations with Pakistan immediately for a free trade agreement ... requiring security guarantees to deny the Taliban future safe haven in Pakistan."
  • "This would give us great leverage again the Taliban."

Graham said the new leadership in Pakistan "understands the benefit of integrating the Pakistan economy with the American economy to put pressure on the Taliban."

4. September lookahead

Photo: Stefan Zaklin/Getty Images

The House and Senate are back from August recess this week. Here are the 5 big items that will shape the fall on the Hill:

  1. Guns: Few in the White House want Trump to pursue gun legislation, and internal polling conducted by some of his aides shows that any measure would play poorly with Trump's base, the New York Times first reported and I have confirmed.
  2. "Red flag" laws: There is still a shot that Trump backs a smaller measure like red flag laws to "save face," as one administration official described it. But White House and Hill officials involved in the talks tell me not to expect any meaningful legislation to pass.
  3. Budget: With the $2.7 trillion bipartisan budget deal signed into law, the Senate will begin processing appropriations bills shortly, per a GOP leadership aide. Congress is expected to pass a smaller spending bill by the end of September to fund some agencies and tie the rest into a continuing resolution that buys Congress more time to negotiate.
  4. USMCA: Right now the ball is in Pelosi's court. After weeks of negotiations between her and U.S. trade representative Bob Lighthizer, Pelosi still has concerns about enforcement mechanisms. Officials involved in the negotiations say not to expect any real movement on this until after September.
  5. Drug pricing: See 1 big thing above.

Meanwhile, McConnell has made it abundantly clear over the last several weeks that he does not plan to bring any bills to the floor that don't have a chance of becoming law.

  • The Senate majority leader's main focus this month will be on confirming Trump's judicial and executive branch nominees, per a Republican leadership aide.
5. Sneak Peek diary

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The House Judiciary Committee will mark up a series of bills this week aimed at curbing gun violence, per a senior Democratic aide. They include legislation that would ban high capacity ammunition magazines and prohibit those convicted of misdemeanor hate crimes from possessing firearms, among other bills. See the full summary of the measures here.

  • Monday: House and Senate Democrats will demand the Senate hold a vote on the House-passed, bipartisan Background Checks Act.
  • Wednesday: House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler is expected to schedule a vote to authorize ground rules for launching impeachment proceedings against Trump, committee aides tell me.
  • The House Oversight Committee will also hold a hearing on the Trump administration's apparent revocation of medical deferred action for critically ill migrant children.
  • The House's Gun Violence Prevention task force will hold a forum Wednesday pressuring the Senate to take up the House-passed gun bills.

The Senate will have a cloture vote on Kelly Craft for U.S. ambassador to the UN on Monday, per a Republican leadership aide.

President Trump's schedule:

  • Monday: Trump will participate in the presentation of the Medal of Valor and Heroic Commendations. He'll then fly to Fayetteville, North Carolina, for a political rally.
  • Tuesday: Trump has lunch with Vice President Pence. He'll also deliver remarks at the 2019 National Historically Black Colleges and Universities Week Conference and participate in the swearing in ceremony for Kelly Craft.
  • Wednesday: Trump will participate in a moment of silence in remembrance of Sept. 11. He will also participate in the Pentagon Observance Ceremony.
  • Thursday: Trump has lunch with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Later, he will deliver remarks at the 2019 House Republican Conference Member Retreat Dinner in Baltimore.

Worth noting: ABC hosts the third Democratic debate in Houston on Thursday.

6. Exclusive excerpt: Neil Gorsuch hid from press in Lincoln Bedroom

Justice Gorsuch. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Not quite 2½ years after being sworn in, Justice Neil Gorsuch reveals that he holed up in the White House's Lincoln Bedroom the day that President Trump announced he was nominating him to the high court.

What he's saying: In "A Republic, If You Can Keep It," out Tuesday from Crown Forum Publishers, Gorsuch says he and his wife, Louise, snuck into the White House residence through the kitchen entrance:

"Earlier in the day, the President tweeted: 'Getting ready to deliver a VERY IMPORTANT DECISION! 8:00 P.M.' The media knew the decision concerned the Supreme Court pick but had no idea who the nominee would be. Television commentators speculated all day. Meanwhile, I sat quietly in the Lincoln Bedroom working on my remarks for the evening’s announcement.
The President had offered me that historic spot as an office for the day. Knowing that Louise was born and raised in England, he gave her the use of the bedroom across the hall typically reserved for Queen Elizabeth and once occupied by Winston Churchill."

Read the full excerpt.

  • Bonus: Photos of Gorsuch throughout his life, from childhood to nomination.
Jonathan Swan