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The Trump deadline effect

President Trump boards Marine One en route to Camp David.
President Trump boards Marine One en route to Camp David. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

One of the under-reported ways Donald Trump has changed Washington: Deadlines suddenly matter. We saw it last week when Trump hit allies — the European Union, Mexico and Canada — with steep steel and aluminum tariffs.

Why it matters: Trump had announced these tariffs back in March, but exempted some key trading partners. Trade lawyers and lobbyists following the situation told me they expected Trump to extend the deadlines when they expired on June 1, rather than throw these key relationships into further turmoil.

  • But Trump didn't do that. He enforced the deadline, as he'd done previously when he terminated the Iran deal.
  • And now, many on Capitol Hill worry that later this year he’ll use another key deadline — the September government funding bill — to play chicken with funding for the wall.

John Stipicevic, a lobbyist with the pulse of the House Republican conference (formerly Kevin McCarthy's floor director), told me this trend became so stark to him that he sent a note to clients on Friday warning them about it.

  • "There's been an attitude around this town for a long time that deadlines and expiration dates don't really matter," Stipicevic told me. "As deadlines and expiration dates are approaching there's this kind of casual attitude of 'Oh, time for another extension. No big deal. Time for another CR [short-term government funding extension].'"
  • "With this administration there needs to be a re-evaluation of that approach," Stipicevic added. "Clearly, deadlines and expiration dates are going to be used as leverage in this administration."
  • "I don't think he's going to accept a bad deal because it's just easier to do a clean extension."

What's next: At the end of September, government funding is set to expire and Congress will ask Trump to sign another deal. Hill Republicans want Trump to sign a short-term funding bill, rather than shut down the government so close to the midterms. But nobody I've spoken to is 100% confident he’ll do that.

  • A senior administration official told me that a number of Republicans Trump respects have privately told the president it would not be in his political interests to shutter the government so close to the midterm elections. The source said Trump appeared to be receptive to that argument.
  • The real deadline, the source added, is likely shortly after the midterms. Based on private conversations, there’s no reason to think Trump will keep the government open if he doesn’t get wall funding.

The bottom line: A source close to Trump told me the line "but you said..." is one of the most powerful lines you can use with the president when he's considering going down a different policy path than the one he previously promised. "If I'm talking to him later in the year when they're talking about this, I'd be saying 'but you said...'"