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Rep. Mark Meadows. Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
Over the past 24 hours, President Trump has been privately asking many people who they think should be his new chief of staff, according to three sources with direct knowledge.
The reality: Trump is nowhere on this. He hadn't thought far beyond his first choice, the VP's chief of staff Nick Ayers, with whom Trump had been secretly discussing the job for months.
Between the lines: Ayers told Trump he'd only commit to taking the job until next spring — as chief caretaker until Trump finds a permanent solution. Trump had privately asked for a two-year commitment, and he didn't appreciate that Ayers wanted to announce an end date.
Behind the scenes: On Friday night, the most senior White House staff and their spouses, around 50 in all, sat around a long table for Christmas dinner in the State Dining Room of the Executive Residence. Christmas trees lined the walls and waiters served squash soup, fish and chocolate cake. A military choir sang Christmas carols, "Silent Night" and "Joy to the World," and a military band played.
Last Saturday night, after his dinner with China's President Xi Jinping in Buenos Aires, President Trump rode to the airport in his armored limousine.
Behind the scenes: On Monday, John Kelly emailed staff saying Robert Lighthizer would head the China talks. Some speculated that hawkish Lighthizer is warring against moderates Larry Kudlow and Mnuchin. The reality, though, is that this is Trump’s show.
What's next: While the last week of market mayhem might've seemed crazy, we haven't reached peak uncertainty. That could come in February or March when three of Trump's most audacious trade battles simultaneously crescendo.
Bottom line: Just one of these trade wars would be enough to consume a normal president. One senior adviser told me he worries Trump has bitten off more than he can chew. Trump's obsession with the stock market makes all this even more fraught. Sources close to Trump tell me he knows these trade conflagrations could make last week's stock market volatility the new normal. We'll soon learn whether this molds any of these high-stakes decisions.
Photo: Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images
Here we go again. On Tuesday at 11:30 am, President Trump plans to meet with Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to see if they can cut a deal to keep the government open.
Bottom line: The problem is simple: Trump wants $5 billion for his border wall, and Pelosi and Schumer don't want to give it to him.
The two likeliest scenarios, according to these sources:
A senior Democratic Senate aide summed up the week ahead: "Democrats aren't going to move on the $1.6 billion in the Homeland Security bill. A shutdown around the holiday makes no sense for the Republicans. And we have the backstop of Speaker Pelosi passing a continuing resolution [short-term funding extension] as her first act, putting Republicans in a terrible spot."
Between the lines: Notice how quiet Republicans have been about the shutdown fight? It's because they don't want to deal with this right now; they want to go home for Christmas. They are united in their enthusiasm about getting out of town ASAP — and that leaves Trump with little leverage.
Behind the scenes: You'll hear Democrats say — and some Republicans, too, privately — that Trump should be happy with $1.6 billion for border security because that's what he asked for in his 2019 budget. But here's an anecdote that illuminates the reality:
The most important meeting this week happens Tuesday at 11:30 am — the Trump-Pelosi-Schumer huddle I mention above, to figure out whether they can cut a deal to prevent a government shutdown.
President Trump's schedule, per a White House official:
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
When Argentine President Mauricio Macri hosted Trump at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires last week, Trump said he'd "been friends with Mauricio for a long time, many years."
The Trump-Macri encounter at the G20 reminded some sources of a highly unusual conversation between Macri and then-Secretary of State John Kerry a few months before the 2016 election.
Behind the scenes: Macri hosted Kerry and a number of senior U.S. officials at the presidential mansion, the Casa Rosada, in Buenos Aires. It was August of 2016, shortly after Democratic convention, and Hillary Clinton was soaring in the polls. The people there talked about Trump like he was a comical sideshow.
And Macri told a story everyone in the room found hilarious. Here it is, as recalled by one source in the room and confirmed, in broad detail, by another source in the room and a third source briefed on the conversation:
The response: The White House did not comment. A representative for the Argentine government said, "The Public Communications Secretariat of the Argentine Government denies that this conversation took place."
Postscript: The conversation certainly did take place; it's not conceivable that our three sources could have colluded to make this up.