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Illustration: Sam Jayne/Axios
President Trump wants a grand bargain with China. And hardliners in the Trump administration worry Trump could be led down an accommodationist path that — in their minds — would betray the President's economic agenda and capitulate to Beijing.
Why this matters: Trump campaigned on an aggressive anti-China, economic nationalist platform. But his most bellicose threats — which include tariffs on $150 billion worth of Chinese products — may never eventuate, as his chief economic advisor Larry Kudlow signaled when he took over from Gary Cohn. (I originally wrote to take Kudlow's assurances with a grain of salt. But they've aged better than my expectation of a trade war.)
Between the lines: Senior Treasury and National Economic Council officials — including Mnuchin and Larry Kudlow, who recently returned from Beijing — are optimistic that Trump may cut a deal with China in the coming weeks.
What's next: Vice Premier Liu He, who has been leading China's trade talks with the Trump administration, plans to visit Washington this week or next. His team has been in town the past two days preparing for the meeting.
The Trump team is bitterly divided over what's happening with China. Mnuchin and Kudlow want a deal like I describe in item 1 above. But while hardliners Peter Navarro and Bob Lighthizer have been publicly silent, people familiar with their thinking say that they believe it would betray Trump’s economic agenda, missing a once-in-a-generation opportunity to force China to change its industrial practices.
Be smart: "Whatever deal they might make will be temporary," says Richard McGregor, a senior fellow at Sydney's Lowy Institute, who is well-sourced in Beijing. "The Chinese expect the U.S. to pocket whatever concessions they might make and then come back for more in a few months."
This White House leaks like there’s no tomorrow.
Why does this White House leak like it’s going out of style? I reached out to some of the Trump administration’s most prolific leakers — people who have been wonderful sources to me (and, I assume, plenty of other reporters) — to get them to explain the draw.
A former senior White House official who turned leaking into an art form made a slightly more nuanced defense of the practice. "Leaking is information warfare; it's strategic and tactical — strategic to drive narrative, tactical to settle scores,” the source said.
Be smart: To any would-be leakers who are considering the practice, I'm also told leaking is pretty fun. Give me a call if you'd like to try it out.
Multiple officials from foreign governments who deal with the White House have all made the same observation to me recently: this administration is stretched too thin.
There is barely enough top flight talent confirmed across the government to manage the basic day-to-day, let alone the dizzying array of foreign policy battlefronts Trump has opened up — especially when it comes to trade.
Trump has taken on over half a dozen epic fights at the same time, all with overlapping interests and problems:
There are barely enough Trump administration officials to handle all of this. And I haven't even mentioned just the regular day-to-day work at the World Trade Organization (and sanctions and trade remedies) — which is also very busy!
"Even if you just look at the trade component of this, it is overload in terms of the amount of work that needs to be done, the stakes of things, and the complexity of these negotiations,” said one source close to the White House who has discussed the overcapacity problem with senior officials there.
The pushback: USTR spokeswoman Emily Davis noted that the situation has recently improved with the Senate finally confirming their nominated deputies in March.
The House expects to reauthorize the VA "Choice Program" and pass the Farm Bill, a senior Republican aide tells me.
The Senate will confirm the remaining judges in their current tranche (for a total of six in nine days.) They'll also likely consider additional judicial nominees.
President Trump's week ahead, per a White House official:
Me and mum.
I hope everyone is having a happy and fun-filled Mother's Day — especially my mum, back in Australia. (As a good Aussie, she'd kill me if I spelled it "mom.")
I'm lucky to have such a caring, smart, big-hearted mother. And she's a loyal Sneak Peek reader to boot! Love you, Mum!