Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on the day's biggest business stories

Subscribe to Axios Closer for insights into the day’s business news and trends and why they matter

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Stay on top of the latest market trends

Subscribe to Axios Markets for the latest market trends and economic insights. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Nashville news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Nashville newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Columbus news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Columbus newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Dallas news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Dallas newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios NW Arkansas

Stay up-to-date on the most important and interesting stories affecting NW Arkansas, authored by local reporters

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

When President Trump tweeted in January that he wanted to cut off disaster aid for California's forest fires, other White House aides might have ignored his forest punditry and hoped he forgot about it — but not the leadership team at the Office of Management and Budget.

The big picture: OMB acting director Russell Vought and general counsel Mark Paoletta made it their mission to find lateral ways to accomplish Trump's goals.

  • Their approach provides a window into how the Trump White House really works.
  • It's a valuable lesson about not just the typical bureaucratic battles that happen inside any White House, but about the specific battles that take place among administration officials with different views on how to treat Trump's demands.

Case in point: It was Vought — who took over the agency from acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney — and his team who came up with the way to help Trump build his border wall by declaring a national emergency that allowed him to use military funds.

  • The White House counsel's office originally objected to the idea, and the administration is now fighting off a court ruling against it. But it's the approach that won the day in the White House and allowed Trump to get what he wanted: the ability to move ahead without Congress..
  • The budget office is also discussing ways to channel Trump's anger about the California wildfires into a policy response — most likely by attaching conditions to disaster relief funding to encourage states to take more preventive steps against future wildfires, like conducting controlled burns to get rid of dead trees.

"The nature of the bureaucracy is that if it isn't status quo, it must be impossible," Vought said. "However, most of the time, when we actually dig into the ways to do what the president wants, we find a way to accomplish it."

Behind the scenes: Some officials treat Trump's frequent venting sessions as a storm that just needs to blow over — or in some cases, be contained. Think Gary Cohn, the president's former top economic adviser, stealing a document off Trump's desk that, if signed, would have ended the United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement.

  • Others, like Vought and his team, take the approach that Trump is the president and he has the right to get what he wants — if there's any legal way to get it done. And in their view, there usually is.

"We view ourselves as the president's Swiss army knife," said Vought. "How do you come up with options that work and then talk through the pros and cons?"

  • Paoletta, a former adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, said the agency has a clear mission: "We embrace the view that the president wants to do something, we're going to see if we can get it done for him. He's the president."

Between the lines: Throughout his nearly three years as president, aides say Trump has often complained about his White House lawyers being too "conservative" and always telling him "no" when he asks for things. In that context, the budget office has become an island of "yes" in Trump's government. They've also netted plenty of enemies and critics from both parties and at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other appropriators have publicly criticized acting Chief of Staff Mulvaney and his fiscally hawkish allies at OMB as impossible to work with.
  • Both Democratic and Republican appropriators say they prefer to negotiate with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin as the administration's representative — and that's what has happened in the recent government funding negotiations.

The OMB team has also had a big hand in helping Trump slow down the disbursement of hurricane aid to Puerto Rico.

  • OMB also moved money around in highly unusual ways, at the beginning of this year, in a bid to contain the political damage of the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.

The most famous recent example of the budget office's involvement is already well known — it held the Ukraine military aid that's now at the center of House Democrats' impeachment case against Trump.

  • But even here, Vought casts the holdup as no more than pushback against National Security Council and Defense Department officials who just wanted to spend the money — while he wanted to make sure "the president makes this call." (Here is the budget office's new legal memo defending its holdup of aid to Ukraine.

Yes, but: Key senior Trump administration officials have said they formed the view that Trump's freeze of the Ukrainian aid was directly linked to his stated desire, on his phone call with Ukraine's president, that Ukraine investigate the Bidens and the origins of the Russia investigation.

Go deeper

Anti-abortion activists' Supreme Court dreams are coming true

Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela. Photos: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

This is the moment the conservative legal movement has been building toward for decades: The solidly conservative Supreme Court is about to hear two major abortion cases within a month of each other.

Why it matters: All of this is likely to end with significant new restrictions on abortion and a clear path for Republican-led states to win the next big abortion cases, too — the culmination of a long and bitter fight for control of the judiciary.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
3 hours ago - Economy & Business

Trump's volatile return to the stock market

Expand chart
Data: YCharts; Chart: Axios Visuals 

Donald Trump this week became both a meme stock and a social-media entrepreneur at the same time, by announcing that a new company called Trump Media & Technology Group was going to merge with an existing company listed on the stock market.

Why it matters: The medium-term promise of Trump's media company is that it will replace Twitter for anybody wanting to keep track of Trump's messages. The short-term promise is that it can be a hot new speculative vehicle for people wanting to get rich quick in the stock market.

Updated 12 hours ago - World

U.S. airstrike kills senior al-Qaeda leader in Syria, DOD says

A displacement camp near the village of Qah in Syria's northwestern Idlib province. Photo: Ahmad Al-Atrash/AFP via Getty Images

A U.S. airstrike in northwest Syria on Friday killed senior al-Qaeda leader Abdul Hamid al-Matar, U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

Why it matters: Syria serves as a "safe haven" for the extremist group to plan external operations, according to U.S. Army Maj. John Rigsbee.

You’ve caught up. Now what?

Sign up for Mike Allen’s daily Axios AM and PM newsletters to get smarter, faster on the news that matters.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!