Apr 2, 2017

Axios Sneak Peek

By Jonathan Swan
Jonathan Swan

Welcome to Sneak Peek, our weekly lookahead for both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. I'd love your tips and feedback: jonathan@axios.com. And please urge your friends and colleagues to join the conversation by signing up for Sneak Peek. See you all week in the Axios STREAM.

1 big thing: Trump's landmines

After the healthcare failure wrecked Trump's first 100 days, Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus — all neophytes at pushing legislation through Congress — are surveying the next phase more guardedly.

If they fail again on the scale of healthcare, at least one, and maybe even two, of this troika would be terminated. (Hint: It's not Jared.) A source who the President trusts tells me Trump is "over" Reince and it wouldn't take much more than a hiccup for Trump to fire him.

Five landmines in their near future:

  1. Healthcare: Trump insists Trumpcare isn't dead. He played golf today with Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and the man who most enthusiastically trashed Trumpcare the first time around — Sen. Rand Paul. But the moderate Tuesday Group and the conservative House Freedom Caucus remain divided on policy, and distrust each other. As for Democrats: Trump will soon learn, if he hasn't already, that Nancy Pelosi won't help him.
  2. Tax reform: Paul Ryan loves the border adjustment tax, and so does Steve Bannon, but most House conservatives and the vast majority of Republican senators don't. The Speaker says he needs the $1 trillion in revenue the BAT would raise to pay for transformational tax cuts; so if he can't get it, then how does he proceed? There's still no agreement on what the cuts look like or even whether they need to be paid for.
  3. The CR: The government runs out of money on April 29, with the expiration of the continuing resolution. House conservatives don't want to fund Planned Parenthood and the Obamacare insurance company subsidies. Democrats, meanwhile, will fight to block funding for Trump's border wall. And Trump wants $18 billion in cuts below current government funding levels, which neither Ryan nor the Senate can deliver on. Those disputes could easily shut down the government.
  4. Debt ceiling: Conservatives spent their six years in the majority demanding Obama deliver dollar-for-dollar cuts for any debt ceiling increase. They got sequestration in the first round, and not much else, but that doesn't mean they'll lay down for a Republican president on a clean debt ceiling increase. Expect another showdown pitting the House Freedom Caucus against Trump and Ryan.
  5. Spending all over again in October: However Republicans untangle government funding at the end of April, they've got to do this all over again in the fall. If Congress can manage a continuing resolution in April that doesn't cut Planned Parenthood and health insurer subsidies, conservatives will spend the next five months planning for the next showdown. Again, there are no good answers, and no Republican unity in sight.
2. Trump's big week on the world stage

President Trump has his most important foreign policy week, meeting the Egyptian President, the Jordanian King, and later in the week the big one — China's President Xi Jinping. These follow Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's well-received visit to NATO HQ in Brussels.

On China: CNN's "State of the Union" host Jake Tapper colorfully introduced Trump's meeting with Xi at Mar-a-Lago. "Awkward," Tapper said, "to suggest a round of golf with a man whose country you just accused of raping America."

  • Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the chief architect of the administration's trade policies, signaled to Tapper — without specifically naming China — that the administration won't be kind to China's practice of dumping products (read: steel) into the U.S. at "unfairly low prices."

The Financial Times this afternoon popped a meaty interview with Trump. Four takeaways:

  • Trump said the U.S. will act unilaterally if China does not pressure Pyongyang: "Well if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. That is all I am telling you."
  • Asked whether he could cut a deal with Xi at Mar-a-Lago, Trump said: "I would not be at all surprised if we did something that would be very dramatic and good for both countries and I hope so."
  • Asked how you bring China's trade surplus down quickly: "By telling China that we cannot continue to trade if we are going to have an unfair deal like we have right now. This is an unfair deal."
  • Asked if he is going to equalize tariffs: "I don't want to talk about tariffs yet, perhaps the next time we meet. So I don't want to talk about tariffs yet. But you used the word equalise. That is a very good word because they are not equalized."
3. Behind closed doors

White House legislative-affairs officials Marc Short and Joyce Meyer met Wednesday with Paul Ryan's chief of staff Jonathan Burks and the Speaker's policy director, Austin Smythe. The purpose of the meeting was for Team Ryan to brief the administration on leadership's efforts to craft a bill to keep the government funded at the end of April.

It was a cordial conversation, but there remain plenty of obstacles to passing a bill. Trump's legislative-affairs team still thinks it can pass the spending bill through the House with the support of Republicans. House leadership doesn't think it's realistic that the House Freedom Caucus would vote for a spending bill; so it's more advanced towards grabbing Democratic votes.

Context: Appropriators are writing a bill to fund the rest of fiscal year 2017. They need Democrats to get to 60 votes so lots of the controversial (read: conservative) stuff is being thrown overboard. The White House felt like the plans — at least where they stood last week — could've been drafted by Obama.

Sticking point: The White House wants money for the wall in the bill, and Senate Democrats have made it very clear they will filibuster that. Smart congressional staff are trying to figure out an alternative solution in that space that Democrats could live with.

4. D-Day for SCOTUS

Judge Neil Gorsuch will be confirmed to the Supreme Court by the end of the week, one way or another, Mitch McConnell told "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer told Chuck Todd of "Meet the Press" it's "highly, highly unlikely that he'll get 60," votes, meaning McConnell will become the first Senate leader to use the nuclear option to break a deadlock for the highest court.

Key Republican Senate leadership staff and senior White House staff are assuming they won't get to 60, according to a source involved in Gorsuch's confirmation effort.

  • But National Right to Life and the NRA are scoring the cloture vote, the vote on the nuclear option if it comes to that, and the final vote, the source added. This should get the red-state Dems thinking, and it may explain why Sen. Joe Donnelly announced today that he will vote for Gorsuch's confirmation.
  • "I am feeling very good this weekend and will be pulling out a great burgundy for Sunday lunch," the source told me Saturday. "And since the moderate Democrats have made themselves sitting ducks in all this, I'll be preparing duck confit salad."
1 joyful thing: brain pickings

One of my favorite websites is "Brain Pickings" — lovingly curated wisdom from dead writers and artists (and some alive ones, too.) The site also does self-help.

Here are "10 learnings from 10 years of Brain Pickings":

  1. "Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind."
  2. "Do nothing for prestige or status or money or approval alone."
  3. "Be generous with your time and your resources and with giving credit and, especially, with your words."
  4. "Build pockets of stillness into your life ... Without this essential stage of unconscious processing, the entire flow of the creative process is broken."
  5. "When people try to tell you who you are, don't believe them ... You are the only custodian of your own integrity."
  6. "Presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity."
  7. "Expect anything worthwhile to take a long time ...The myth of the overnight success is just that — a myth — as well as a reminder that our present definition of success needs serious retuning."
  8. "Seek out what magnifies your spirit."
  9. "Don't be afraid to be an idealist."
  10. "Don't just resist cynicism — fight it actively."
Jonathan Swan