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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told me that as recently as a couple of weeks ago Trump mused to him about the possibility of using military force in Venezuela, where the U.S. government is currently pushing for regime change using diplomatic and economic pressures.
"Trump's really hawkish" on Venezuela, the hawkish Graham added in a phone interview on Sunday afternoon, adding that Trump was even more hawkish than he was on Venezuela.
The big picture: The Trump administration's approach to foreign policy has quietly but fundamentally changed. Gone are those who often fiercely disagreed with Trump's instincts: Jim Mattis, Rex Tillerson, Gary Cohn and, at times, H.R. McMaster. Trump's new senior team — John Bolton, Mike Pompeo and Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan — backs his instincts on almost every issue. (Though, again, there are no signs they are pushing him toward a military action in Venezuela.)
Venezuela is another case study of the new speed of Trump's foreign policy. It's hard to say how the previous national security team would've reacted to January's events in Venezuela, but there were more voices of caution when the internal Venezuela debate raged in the first year of Trump's presidency.
The bottom line: Stymied at home, Trump is now moving faster than ever on foreign policy. Few, if any, in the White House believe Trump will accomplish much domestically in this Congress. But on foreign policy and national security — where he is most powerful — there are scant obstacles between what he wants and what he does.
President Donald Trump talks to the press as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell looks, Jan. 9. Photo: Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images
On Friday morning, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney convened a small group of aides in his office to discuss their options to end the government shutdown. There weren't many. The previous day, Trump had been embarrassed on the Republican-controlled Senate floor, where Chuck Schumer's bill to open the government got more votes than his.
In short: Trump saw a Republican Senate poised to abandon him. Better to cave on his own terms, and in his own words, than watch both parties hang him out to dry.
"I can tell you exactly what happened,” one Republican senator texted me. “The mood at Senate Republican lunch on Thursday resembled what the mood must've been on the Union lines at 4pm at First Bull Run. I'm amazed only six [Republicans] voted for Schumer's bill. The message from that lunch by VP, Shahira [Knight] and Mitch [McConnell] to POTUS was, it's over. They'll be 70 votes within 48 hours."
Behind the scenes: By the day of the vote — Thursday — Jared Kushner and the White House team had an accurate whip count and knew their proposal would go down, but colleagues were still stunned that Kushner was ever optimistic about Trump's offer of short-term relief for some undocumented immigrants in exchange for wall funding.
Between the two calls, there were Oval Office meetings involving Mike Pence, Mulvaney and Kushner. They gave the president several options, and he realized there was no easy way out of his self-imposed mess. That evening, he vacillated between reopening the government with a clean funding bill and declaring a national emergency.
The bottom line: What happened was predictable, and it's exactly what McConnell told Trump would happen. In a December conversation, before the shutdown, McConnell warned Trump that shutdowns never end well and never provide more leverage to their instigators, according to a source briefed on the conversation.
Go deeper: The NYT's Annie Karni and Maggie Haberman have a well-sourced piece on Jared Kushner's misplaced optimism about an immigration deal.
People look at US border patrol guards through the US-Mexico border fence. Photo: Guillermo Arias/AFP/Getty Images
Trump has set a Feb. 15 deadline for a deal to get his wall money, and he's signaled he'll declare a national emergency or use other executive powers if he can't get the money through Congress.
A congressional Republican aide, reflecting a widely shared view, texted this prediction: "Next three weeks will be just a messaging war. WH will use proxies to hammer why the border is a national emergency. Dems will use the time to take a victory lap. ... Most likely outcome — no wall money. POTUS uses it to justify a national emergency. Appropriations process blows up for many years."
Between the lines: By declaring a national emergency, Trump would trigger the ability for the White House to move money around that Congress controlled — including Army Corps civil works projects and military construction projects. Members regard these monies as lifelines for their districts or states; Congress protects them zealously.
Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images
A reminder to anyone declaring the end-times of the Trump presidency, on the back of the shutdown: "President Trump’s standing among Americans remained effectively unchanged even as he presided over the longest partial government shutdown in U.S. history, the latest example of how his unusual brand of politics has resonated with a strong core of supporters," reports the Wall Street Journal's Michael Bender.
Yes, but: We don't have good data yet on how Trump's cave on Friday will affect his support. "The latest survey was conducted over a four-day period that ended Jan. 23, two days before Mr. Trump backed off his demand for border wall funding in what was widely viewed as a victory for congressional Democrats," per the WSJ.
The House will vote on the Federal Civilian Workforce Pay Raise Fairness Act of 2019, according to a leadership aide. The bill "would bring the 2019 pay increase for civilian federal employees in line with the raise given to members of the military."
The Senate will have another vote to proceed on the US-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Bill, according to a leadership aide. Per DefenseNews, Senate Democrats had previously blocked the procedural motion, "arguing the chamber should not consider any bills until it votes on House-passed legislation to end the partial government shutdown."
The White House did not provide a schedule for President Trump.
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
On Wednesday night, top Goldman Sachs executives gathered business and political leaders for their big client dinner at the Central Sporthotel in Davos, Switzerland.
Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs president and former top White House economic adviser, addressed the group, telling them that globalization had caused "a lot of tension in the world." According to two sources in the room, Cohn turned to Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond and made a tongue-in-cheek offer.
"Chancellor," Cohn said, according to one of those sources, "you've got your issues and we've got our issues. But we do have this guy in America who's supposed to be the world's best negotiator. In fact he wrote the book 'The Art of the Deal.' Maybe if we sent him over to you it could help you, and it could be helpful for us too."
Cohn declined to comment for this item.