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John Minchillo / AP

On Thursday evening, the President's top trade officials previewed two executive actions that are coming Friday and intended to signal to foreign countries that Trump intends to follow through on his nationalist campaign rhetoric:

  • Investigation into causes of America's trade deficits: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and the US Trade Representative are initiating a comprehensive study of the ways foreign countries are fleecing America on trade. They'll report back to the President in 90 days with findings on everything from unbalanced free trade deals to lax enforcement to unfair WTO constraints. Ross said no country in particular is being targeted — and he emphasized not all trade deficits are evidence of evil-doing — but he listed China, Japan and Germany as countries with the biggest trade advantages over the US.
  • Anti-dumping order: Peter Navarro, the director of Trump's National Trade Council, said too many countries are getting away with dumping artificially cheap goods into U.S. markets. The executive order directs the Homeland Security Secretary, in consultation with the Treasury Secretary, the Commerce Secretary, and the Trade Rep to write a plan to ensure these countries play by the rules.

Why this matters: These orders are directions to write a study and a plan, so critics could safely describe them as toothless. But our sources have been telling us for weeks that Trump is ready to exorcise his trade demons, so expect these plans to give birth to hardline policies. Ross said the administration wouldn't necessarily wait for these reports to come out before taking action against trade abusers, and there'll very likely be some "interim" activity during the 90 days.

The giant panda in the room: Navarro said tonight's announcement isn't about China ― but it kinda is. The example of unfair trade practice that Ross highlighted was the dumping of artificially cheap, state-subsidized steel into the American market. And which country might be doing that? Hmmm... Trump could have a rather contentious meeting next week at Mar-a-Lago with President Xi.

Go deeper

Right-wingers making McCarthy sweat for future Speaker post

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stands with his Republican colleagues outside the House on Nov. 17. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Right-wing elements in the Republican Party are complicating House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's attempts to become the next speaker of the House should the GOP take back the majority in 2022.

Why it matters: While McCarthy has worked carefully to build trust among the conservatives who tanked his chances at clinching the speakership in 2015, they're still circling ahead of the next Speaker vote in January 2023.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Congress sprints to meet crush of deadlines

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Congressional leaders have been pushing off vital action for months — and a lot of it will catch up with them in December, which begins Wednesday.

Driving the news: Funding for the federal government is set to expire at midnight on Friday. There are also consequential deadlines related to the debt limit, President Biden's agenda and annual actions like voting on the National Defense Authorization Act.

2 hours ago - World

U.S. fears Iran won’t scale back to 2015 nuclear deal

Officials gather in Vienna on Sept. 29 for the first day of renewed nuclear talks with Iran. Photo: EU Vienna Delegation/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

U.S. officials have extremely low expectations as world powers resume negotiations with Iran to curb its nuclear program, believing the Iranians aren't yet ready to negotiate seriously, Axios is told.

Driving the news: Senior officials in the U.S. intelligence community have assessed the new Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, thinks of his predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, as a weak accommodationist who negotiated a bad deal with the U.S. and other world powers in 2015.