Feb 1, 2019

3. Trump hits his own wall

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Over the first two years, President Trump could get away with largely extending his campaign bluster: Build a "big, beautiful wall" and get Mexico to pay for it, withdraw from foreign entanglements, deliver "incredible" healthcare, slash drug prices and fundamentally change the U.S.-China relationship.

Between the lines: Now he faces a new reality that's driven by Democrats in Congress and the need to deliver on his lofty promises.

Trump’s dawning reality:

The only path to a wall is by taking executive action, probably by declaring a national emergency, and finding himself caught up in yet another court fight.

Nobody at a senior level in the White House thinks they’ll get any legislating done in a Congress now dominated by a newly-elected anti-Trump, and unapologetically progressive, House Democratic majority.

Trump has thrown China off balance with harsh tariffs and deserves credit for highlighting Beijing’s abuses more than any recent president. Congress and the business community are surprisingly receptive to Trump’s tough line on China.

  • But he now needs to deliver the structural changes he promised — fundamentally changing China’s behavior. If all this results in is a bribe — China goes on a short-term U.S. shopping spree in exchange for Trump leaving them alone — then all the bluster will be worthless.

The American healthcare system remains an unaffordable mess.

  • Trump is using executive powers to make some reforms to drug pricing, which have angered the pharmaceutical lobby. But the chances of Congress passing something substantial this year are minimal.

After declaring — unequivocally, as always — that he was getting U.S. troops out of Syria, Trump’s administration is now grinding through a complicated and unclear process.

  • Republicans are pushing back and many, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, are pushing Trump toward retaining a skeletal U.S. presence in Syria as part of a long-term "stabilization" mission.
  • The bottom line: It’s still unclear when or even if the U.S. military will fully withdraw from Syria. It's even more unclear in Afghanistan, though Trump says he’s optimistic about the ongoing talks with the Taliban.

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A U.S. public health official confirms more than 40 Americans on the Diamond Princess cruise ship off Japan have coronavirus, while the remaining U.S. citizens without symptoms are being evacuated.

The big picture: COVID-19 has now killed at least 1,770 people and infected almost 70,000 others. Most cases and all but five of the deaths have occurred in mainland China. Taiwan confirmed its first death on Sunday, per multiple reports, in a 61-year-old man with underlying health conditions. Health officials were investigating how he became ill.

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Scoop: Inside the Trump campaign's big hedge on Facebook

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The Trump campaign has invested most of its advertising budget to date on Facebook, testing thousands of versions of ads per day to maximize its spending.

But behind the scenes, a source familiar with the campaign tells Axios, the thinking has shifted: "As everyone can see, we still have strong spending on Facebook, but the percentage of our total media budget [on Facebook] is shrinking."

Trump's revenge tour has the House in its sights

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Saul Loeb/Getty Contributor

In the lead-up to the 2018 midterm elections — buoyed by Republican control of both chambers — President Trump viewed campaigning for the House as a lower-tier priority and instead poured his energy into rallying for the Senate.

But after the GOP reckoning in 2018, and experiencing firsthand how damaging a Democratic-led House has been to him, Trump is now personally invested in helping Republicans regain the majority in November, several people familiar with his thinking tell Axios.