Apr 15, 2018

Scoop: Trump tried to block Pence national security appointment

Vice President Pence listens to President Trump discuss the spending bill at the White House last month. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The White House kept it quiet until now, but on Friday the President nearly blocked the Vice President from getting his chosen national security adviser.

Why this matters: It's a highly unusual event, as Trump typically gives Pence a long leash on personnel appointments. This is the first time the President has tried to block Pence from filling a senior staff position. The scene also highlights — once again — the extraordinary importance Trump places on personal loyalty.

Inside the West Wing: Trump was furious when he learned Pence was bringing on Nikki Haley's deputy Jon Lerner, according to three sources familiar with the events. The President believed Lerner was a card-carrying member of the "Never Trump" movement because Lerner crafted brutal attack ads for Club for Growth's multimillion-dollar anti-Trump blitz during the Republican primaries.

  • "Why would Mike do that?" Trump wondered aloud about Pence's decision, according to two sources briefed on the President's private conversations.

Behind the scenes: Trump told Kelly to get rid of Lerner. On Friday, as turmoil unfolded, Pence's team was on the plane to Peru for the Summit of the Americas. Pence's team got wind of what was happening, and when Pence landed he called the President and talked him around on Lerner, according to administration officials familiar with the situation. Trump was in the Oval when Pence called.

  • Senior officials, including White House Counsel Don McGahn, were concerned about the logistics of Lerner dividing his time between Haley and Pence. The story in the Washington Post that broke the news of Lerner's appointment took White House officials by surprise.
  • Other officials question Lerner’s qualifications, describing him to Axios as a politico and a pollster, with little foreign policy experience. Pence's team argued internally that he'd done a great job for the past year working for Haley, has previously advised members of Congress on foreign policy and would be well-supported in Pence's office by subject matter experts.
  • The sources said Kelly told colleagues that Pence's chief of staff Nick Ayers, who orchestrated the appointment, had not "fully informed" him of Lerner's anti-Trump history. Ayers and Lerner have worked together in the past for Haley, among other campaigns.

The pushback: Ayers has told associates, however, that he briefed Kelly on Lerner and also looped in other senior officials including Haley, John Bolton and Mike Pompeo. Lerner's been serving as Haley's deputy and was in the room for a sensitive Syria briefing in the Situation Room on Thursday.

What's next: Pence and his team appear to have averted what would've been the VP's first personnel crisis. In the Pence team's eyes, it was a "minor confusion" that never should've escalated to the President and could've been resolved almost instantly had the Pence team not been on a plane when the drama was unfolding.

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Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 5:30 p.m. ET: 5,375,648 — Total deaths: 343,721 — Total recoveries — 2,149,412Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 5:30 p.m. ET: 1,639,872 — Total deaths: 97,599 — Total recoveries: 361,239 — Total tested: 13,784,786Map.
  3. World: White House announces travel restrictions on Brazil, coronavirus hotspot in Southern Hemisphere Over 100 coronavirus cases in Germany tied to single day of church services — Boris Johnson backs top aide amid reports that he broke U.K. lockdown while exhibiting symptoms.
  4. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks headed into Memorial Day weekend Report finds "little evidence" coronavirus under control in most statesHurricanes, wildfires, the flu could strain COVID-19 response
  5. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Public employees brace for layoffs.
  6. Federal government: Trump attacks a Columbia University study that suggests earlier lockdown could have saved 36,000 American lives.
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Updated 47 mins ago - Politics & Policy

White House announces new coronavirus travel restrictions on Brazil

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro with Trump, March 19, 2019. Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo-Pool via Getty Images

The White House announced that beginning at 11:59 pm ET on Thursday, President Trump would suspend entry of non-U.S. citizens who have been in Brazil in the past 14 days in an effort to stop the imported spread of the coronavirus.

Why it matters: Brazil has reported nearly 350,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus — the second-most in the world behind the U.S. — and has emerged as a Southern Hemisphere hotspot as other heavily affected countries in Asia and Europe have managed to get their outbreaks under control.

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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Mandel Ngan/AFP

Trump's advisers relish the contrast between his public appearances and Joe Biden's lack thereof. The former vice president, following the guidance of public experts, has eschewed public events and stayed home for months now. Trump, meanwhile, is out and about — masks be damned.

What we're hearing: Watch for plenty more mask-free outings from Trump, hyping the reopening of the economy and avoiding discussions of social distancing and death counts.