Welcome to Sneak Peek, our weekly lookahead for both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. I'd love your tips and feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org. And please urge your friends and colleagues to join the conversation by signing up for Sneak Peek.
The most challenging task in Washington, these days, is finding somebody who'll enthusiastically endorse Rex Tillerson. In just nine months, the Secretary of State has managed to alienate nearly every constituency that matters:
So how did Tillerson get into this mess? We've spoken to 17 sources inside the White House, on Capitol Hill, in the State Department and among leaders of the foreign policy community. Go deeper here.
Forget DACA or tax reform. One topic consumes the vast majority of President Trump's inner circle: North Korea. Contrary to the president's breezy tweet this morning, in which he refers to Kim Jong-un as "Rocket Man," top administration officials have a dark view of how this plays out. They believe the confrontation with Pyongyang's portly dictator will define Trump's first term in office.
The consensus view among Trump, Mattis and McMaster, according to several officials briefed on their thinking, is that this conflict is heading towards two options, both with high risks: escalated confrontation with China and the military option.
1. Direct pressure on China:
2. The military option(s):
Note of caution: Trump hasn't yet concluded that he needs to take extreme measures against China. The national security team still believes there's room to bring more pressure to bear on North Korea and the clients supporting the state before launching a full-scale economic confrontation against China.
Alaska's Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan, whose state is likely within Kim Jong-un's missile range already, told me he believes Congress should invest more heavily in missile defense and work on legislation to approve "a preventive ground war by the U.S. on the Korean Peninsula."
Sullivan said missile defense is the other crucial component of the North Korea policy, "not just in the region but our own homeland." He said the new National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) — the law specifying the Defense Department's policy priorities — that should pass either Monday or Tuesday, "has real big plus-ups for missile defense for the homeland."
"Alaska has the element of being on the front lines but also protecting the rest of the nation," due to its missile defense, Sullivan said. "If [Kim Jong-un] knows there's no way he's going to get it through, even a madman won't do it."
Foreign policy and national security overwhelm everything this week, at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. President Trump and his top officials will join world leaders in New York for the UN General Assembly — a gathering Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace called "the super bowl of diplomacy." North Korea will dominate the conversations.
Burgess Everett and Josh Dawsey of Politico report this afternoon "Obamacare repeal is on the brink of coming back from the dead," and that Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is hustling to get a new bill on the floor "before the GOP's power to pass health care legislation through a party-line vote in the Senate expires on Sept. 30."
The politics of the bill: Axios' David Nather emails: "This has been building up for a while. Definitely worth keeping an eye on it, but still hard to see where they get the 50th vote. It's not impossible that they get McCain. For everything he's said about 'regular order,' he's still friends with Lindsey Graham. But Rand Paul has been tweeting nasty stuff — it's Obamacare Lite, etc. So unless you flip Collins or Murkowski, hard to see it happening."
The policy: Axios' Health Care Reporter Caitlin Owens emails: "It redistributes money pretty drastically from Medicaid expansion states to non-expansion states. It also cuts off all federal funding for premium subsidies and Medicaid expansion after 2026, which would wreak havoc." Caitlin also notes that the bill keeps a lot of the Affordable Care Act taxes, and she wonders how conservative senators will feel about that.
Bottom line: Sure, don't dismiss this health care push. Have it on your radar. But don't go nuts.
Jamie Weinstein, the conservative commentator and host of the excellent podcast "The Jamie Weinstein Show," emails a few minutes before deadline to say that his interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson just went live.
The highlights, per Jamie: