Trump talks with journalists after signing tax reform legislation in the Oval Office yesterday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Top White House officials tell us they anticipate 2018 will be a legislative and accomplishments grind, exacerbated by the very realistic prospects of losing their congressional majorities.

  • Complicating matters, President Trump faces a wave of staff departures, with thin pickings for replacements.
  • During Year 1, Trump had a ready supply of executive orders that he could sign while Congress dithered. But we're told there's not a big cupboard of new ones for next year: The most feasible ones have been done.
  • In this most improvisational of presidencies, there isn't a clear answer to what domestic topic to tackle next. "It's tough to look out on the horizon and see another sure or easy victory," one official said.

What's ahead: Earlier this month, economic staffers got a calendar invite for a Jan. 3 meeting with Gary Cohn to begin a push on infrastructure.

  • The top targets include reform of a permit quagmire that can last decades for a major project, and funding for what the White House calls "transformational technologies" — infrastructure for self-driving vehicles, and a boost for "tunneling" to make way for underground high-speed rail.
  • That could get some Democratic votes. But fiscal conservatives in the Republican base are never going to be wild about spending on public works.
  • A source close to the White House said that in a midterm year, "Do you really want a bipartisan issue? What is going to mobilize people to go to the polls and say. 'I have to vote for a Republican?"

At the same time, the White House will begin promoting welfare reform, with a job-training element to try to attract Democrats:

  • Speaker Paul Ryan is all for this. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell coolly choked the idea during an Axios News Shapers conservation with me this week: The measure would need 60 votes, and he doesn't see it attracting a single Democrat, making it a mathematical dead end.
  • There are other possibilities. At the Axios event, McConnell said for the first time that a bipartisan banking reform bill will get "early consideration" on the Senate floor in 2018, calling it "an important thing to do." But that really isn't a base-motivator, either.
  • AP's Alan Fram points out in a lookahead story for Congress: "Since Republicans will have just a 51-49 Senate majority next year — well shy of the 60 votes needed to pass most bills — Democrats will have leverage for most things, including a deal to prevent a politically jolting January federal shutdown."

Be smart: Most people ignore midterm elections and don't bother voting. Next year feels different: The Trump show has grabbed a sustained audience and Democrats, especially women, want it canceled ASAP. This will further galvanize Democrats and polarize the two parties.

  • Sleeper issue: Still lots of rumblings of another Supreme Court retirement. Nothing would light up D.C. like the chance for a Trump Court to rule the land for a generation.

Go deeper

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. EST: 32,135,220 — Total deaths: 981,660 — Total recoveries: 22,149,441Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m EST: 6,975,980 — Total deaths: 202,738 — Total recoveries: 2,710,183 — Total tests: 98,481,026Map.
  3. Politics: House Democrats prepare new $2.4 trillion coronavirus relief package.
  4. Health: Cases are surging again in 22 states — New York will conduct its own review of coronavirus vaccine.
  5. Business: America is closing out its strongest quarter of economic growth.
  6. Technology: 2020 tech solutions may be sapping our resolve to beat the pandemic.
  7. Sports: Pac-12 will play this fall despite ongoing pandemic — Here's what college basketball will look like this season.
  8. Science: Global coronavirus vaccine initiative launches without U.S. or China — During COVID-19 shutdown, a common sparrow changed its song.
8 hours ago - Sports

Pac-12 will play football this fall, reversing course

A view of Levi's Stadium during the 2019 Pac-12 Championship football game. Photo: Alika Jenner/Getty Images

The Pac-12, which includes universities in Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon, Utah and Washington state, will play football starting Nov. 6, reversing its earlier decision to postpone the season because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Why it matters: The conference's about-face follows a similar move by the Big Ten last week and comes as President Trump has publicly pressured sports to resume despite the ongoing pandemic. The Pac-12 will play a seven-game conference football season, according to ESPN.

Dave Lawler, author of World
9 hours ago - World

Global coronavirus vaccine initiative launches without U.S. or China

Data: Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance; Map: Naema Ahmed/Axios

A global initiative to ensure equitable distribution of coronavirus vaccines now includes most of the world — but not the U.S., China or Russia.

Why it matters: Assuming one or more vaccines ultimately gain approval, there will be a period of months or even years in which supply lags far behind global demand. The COVAX initiative is an attempt to ensure doses go where they're most needed, rather than simply to countries that can produce or buy them at scale.

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