Nuns speak to each other in front of the Supreme Court yesterday before the justices heard oral arguments in Zubik v. Burwell, an appeal brought by Christian groups demanding full exemption from the requirement they provide insurance covering contraception under the Affordable Care Act. (Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

THE BIG IDEA:

Good morning from Waukesha, Wisconsin. The fight over whether Merrick Garland should be confirmed to the Supreme Court is not playing out in the Senate Judiciary Committee but in suburbs like this one.

Following around Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson yesterday, a Republican battling to get reelected in a tough year for his party, underscored why so few have defected from the GOP leadership’s refusal to even grant a hearing for President Barack Obama’s pick to replace Antonin Scalia.

Despite Democratic organizing efforts, right-leaning activists care more about the Supreme Court vacancy right now than liberals do. In the current climate, most conservatives – even in blue states – have no appetite for compromise.

Richard Diercksmeier, a retired electrical engineer who lives in the vote-rich Milwaukee suburbs, said he heard a news report that Johnson “might be taking a moderate position or a flexible position” on confirming Garland. So he drove to a manufacturing facility here, where the senator was accepting the endorsement of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to ask him for clarification.

Johnson was adamant: he will not vote for Garland—saying that elevating the judge would threaten “your Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms,” “the right to free speech” and “freedom of religion.”

“We’ll withhold our consent,” the first-term senator said. “A lot of people say, ‘Do your job.’ You know what? I’m doing my job! … We need somebody that can replace Scalia… We do not want it to flip from a 5-4 conservative majority to a 5-4 super-legislator, activist judge majority. That would be very bad for America, very bad for our freedoms.”

Diercksmeier, 73, described himself as very pleased by Johnson’s answer. “Supreme Court appointees are almost more important than the presidency because they last so much longer,” he said after the event. “I didn’t realize until this election cycle how important it is to get that right.”

I asked the senator during an interview whether he thinks conservatives are more amped up about the SCOTUS fight than liberals. “Yes, sure, yes,” he replied. “The people I’m talking to say, ‘You’re going to hold tight, aren’t you? You’re going to hold firm? You’re not going to squish out on this one?’

“No, don’t worry about it,” the senator says he tells them.  

“Let’s face it,” he added during the interview. “There are very few things that motivate, and quite honestly anger, our conservative supporters more than judges that we thought were conservative that all of a sudden … don’t call the balls and strikes but change the strike zone. You know, John Roberts and Justice (Anthony) Kennedy.”

Johnson noted that he voted to confirm Loretta Lynch as Attorney General because he believed she’d be better than Eric Holder. “That was not real popular with some of my supporters,” he recalled, “but I think they’re starting to understand.”

-- The conventional wisdom in Washington holds that GOP incumbents up for reelection in blue states like Wisconsin, which hasn’t gone Republican in a presidential race since 1984, will distance themselves from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

That reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of American politics in 2016. With the exception of Illinois, where Sen. Mark Kirk has already been privately written off by almost all of his Republican colleagues, members in states like New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Ohio are making plain they won’t ultimately confirm Garland (even if they agree to sit down with him for a photo opp). Though their electorates overall may lean Democratic, each believes their priority – especially at this point in the cycle – must be keeping the base ginned up.

To be sure, every poll shows that majorities of Wisconsinites and Americans want Garland to get a hearing and an up-or-down vote. But these don’t capture the intensity gap that’s apparent on the ground. A Marquette University law school poll conducted last month, before Obama named Garland, found that 51 percent of Wisconsin voters thought the Senate should hold hearings and vote, while 40 percent say Congress should hold off until 2017. But two-thirds of Johnson’s supporters supported inaction, while 28 percent said there should be hearings and a vote.

-- Even before Scalia’s unexpected death, the National Rifle Association planned to make Supreme Court nominations a central focus of its 2016 messaging. The vacancy will feature prominently in paid media this fall, but for now the group has been sending action alerts to its members urging them to call Johnson’s office and attend his town halls. Officials say they’re putting pressure on senators in both parties but stress that they’re willing to put pressure on any Republican who wavers.

The NRA’s Chris Cox argues that “the future of gun ownership hangs in the balance”: “From upholding a federal registry of law-abiding gun owners derived from the instant-background-check system created by the Brady Bill to siding with the District government by voting for a do-over in a decision that invalidated the D.C. handgun ban — exactly what the Supreme Court rightfully struck down in Heller — Garland has proved, the NRA believes, he does not support the Second Amendment,” Cox wrote in an op-ed for The Post.

Judge Merrick Garland (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

-- Some top Democrats privately complain that Obama has thrown away a golden opportunity that could have helped them retake control of the Senate and elect Hillary Clinton. By opting for a mild-mannered white man who has been careful not to leave a paper trail – and by all accounts is more of a technocrat than an ideologue – Obama made a choice that makes it less likely his own base will fight for his nominee. If he had picked an African American, a Latino or even an Asian candidate – and especially a woman – he could have helped energize the coalition that got him reelected in 2012 and arguably pushed his nominee onto the court.

Instead, he picked a former prosecutor known for siding with the government on criminal justice issues more than his Democratic counterparts – something that appears to be deterring the Black Lives Matter movement from going all-in. Now Democrats are divided about whether or not they’d be okay with Garland being confirmed during a lame-duck session or if Clinton should get to choose, with some liberals calling on Obama to withdraw his pick if Hillary wins and the White House insisting he’d do no such thing.

-- The coalition pushing the #DoYourJob message over the Senate’s two-week recess put out an advisory for a protest to take place last night outside a conservative confab that Johnson spoke at (two hours after the Chamber event). It was cold and rainy, but just two guys showed up. Scott Foval of People for the American Way, who lives in Madison, noted that they turned out bigger crowds earlier in the week, including 60 people to Milwaukee City Hall on Monday. “We understand that it gins them up,” Foval said of conservatives. “We find it ironic that they talk about how important the Constitution is until it comes to something the president wants. Then not so much.”

-- Inside the packed (and toasty) ballroom, hundreds of right-wing activists were abuzz about the high court. Johnson offering a personal “guarantee” that he’ll only vote to confirm a strict constructionist drew probably the biggest cheers during his half-hour on stage. “We absolutely will not allow the Supreme Court to flip,” he told the audience, which included many state legislators. (He referred to Garland as “Judge Merrick.”) Well, he was asked by Milwaukee radio host Charlie Sykes, what about a moderate judge? “There’s no such thing,” Johnson replied. “This is black and white.”

Asked about the fall election, without prompting, Kathy Kiernan – the chair of the GOP in this congressional district – began talking about her opposition to Garland. “The Supreme Court is really important to me. Really, really, really important,” she said. “That’s in the back of everyone’s mind.”

“They cannot cave on this,” added Kiernan, who a few hours earlier had helped build a crowd of women for a Heidi Cruz luncheon. “If conservatives see the senators cave, they’re all done!

Her friend Jennie Frederick, who like Kiernan retired from AT&T after working there for decades, was adamant that Democrats would do the exact same thing if they were in this position. “Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer blocked judges when George W. Bush was president,” she said. “So stop saying it’s unprecedented!”

-- Ask yourself: Whose opinion do you think Johnson cares about more? The two protestors outside or Kathy and Jennie?

The president and vice president introduce Garland eight days ago. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

-- Today Joe Biden will deliver a much-ballyhooed speech at Georgetown law school to try salvaging momentum for the pick. Early excerpts shared by the White House suggest that the vice president won’t trod new ground. He will explain that there was never any “Biden rule” about not considering nominees in an election year. “In my time as the ranking Democrat or as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I was responsible for eight nominees to the Supreme Court—some I supported, others I voted against,” he plans to say. “And in all that time: Every nominee was greeted by committee members. Every nominee got a committee hearing. Every nominee got out of the committee to the Senate floor. And every nominee, including Justice Kennedy—in an election year—got an up or down vote by the Senate. Not much of the time. Not most of the time. Every single time!”

“Dysfunction and partisanship are bad enough on Capitol Hill,” Biden will say. “But we can’t let the Senate spread this dysfunction to the Supreme Court.”

That line of attack might wind up being most effective for Democrats. If they can paint GOP obstruction as a data point in a broader narrative about the GOP’s inability to govern and get anything done, independents might care more.

Russ Feingold concedes to Johnson in 2010. Now he is running to get his old seat back. (AP Photo/Joe Koshollek, File)

-- That’s the tack that former Sen. Russ Feingold, Johnson’s challenger, emphasizes at every appearance he makes. His campaign says he constantly gets asked about Johnson’s obstinacy. Echoing Biden, he said in a statement: “We already have a Congress that's deadlocked. We don't need another branch of government deadlocked too. … We already had our first 4-4 decision by the court, and we don't need any more of those.”

-- One way to visualize the intensity gap. Our analytics partners at Zignal Labs find that Ted Cruz Tweeters are far more concerned about the Supreme Court than those who tweet about other candidates. Over the past 30 days, more than 75,000 tweets mentioning @TedCruz also mentioned the fight over Scalia’s. That’s more than 1.1 percent of all Cruz tweets. (That percentage is five times higher than among those who tweeted about Donald Trump.) Among Democrats, Clinton Tweeters were almost twice as likely as Bernie Sanders Tweeters to mention the Supreme Court. But, overall, only 0.4 percent of all @HillaryClinton tweets over the last month mentioned the court. We can see the Supreme Court showing up on the top ten issues for Cruz (No. 3) and Clinton (No. 7), but it fails to crack the top ten for Sanders or Trump:

Welcome to the Daily 202, PowerPost's morning newsletter.
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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING --

Dennis Hastert arrives at the federal courthouse in Chicago last June for his arraignment. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

-- "A man leveling new allegations that he was sexually abused by former U.S. House speaker J. Dennis Hastert will be allowed to speak at Hastert’s sentencing next month — setting up the possibility that the disgraced Republican leader will face a significant public shaming before a federal judge determines what penalty he deserves for paying millions to cover up decades-old misconduct," Matt Zapotosky reports. "The man’s identity and his precise allegations remain unclear, although he seems to be at least the third person to claim that Hastert abused him. The new allegations emerged in a transcript of a hearing that court officials released Wednesday." 

  • "Hastert, 74, pleaded guilty last year to violating federal banking laws, admitting in a deal with prosecutors that he withdrew money from banks in increments low enough to avoid mandatory reporting requirements and that he paid someone to keep decades-old misconduct a secret."
  • "A federal law enforcement official has said that the person Hastert paid off was a former male student of Hastert’s who alleged that the former speaker molested him years ago. He is a different person from the man who now might speak at Hastert’s sentencing. Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Block said prosecutors learned about that man 'relatively recently' and asked U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin to delay Hastert’s sentencing so the man could attend. Over the objection of defense attorneys, Durkin agreed to move the hearing from April 8 to April 27 and asserted that the man, identified in the transcript only as 'Individual D,' would be able to detail what he claims happened to him."

-- Two pieces of debris recently discovered along the coast of Mozambique are “highly likely” to have come from missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Officials who analyzed the debris found it conformed to the dimensions, materials, and construction of the missing plane. Flight 370 disappeared in March 2014 with 239 people on board. It is believed to have crashed somewhere in a remote stretch of the southern Indian Ocean some 4,000 miles east of Mozambique. There’s still a lot that is not known. The discovery gives credence to theories that the plane went down somewhere in the Indian Ocean. But given the vast distances involved, the variability of winds and the time that has elapsed since the crash, chances that the debris will offer any new clues into where the plane crashed or why are slim. (AP)

Broken windows at the Brussels airport. (Reuters/Yorick Jansens/Pool)

THE LATEST FROM BRUSSELS

-- A fourth suspect, whose airport bomb failed to detonate, is still at large. (Airport surveillance footage shows the unidentified man walking beside the two others.)

-- There are connections between the attackers in Brussels and Paris. “Recent raids have uncovered a web of connections between the suspects in the Brussels attacks and those who helped carry out the November attacks in Paris. Officials are seeking additional suspects in relation to both the Brussels and Paris attacks … One suspect, Mohamed Abrini, was spotted with Salah Abdeslam who was believed to be the last surviving direct participant in the Paris attack.”

-- Religion isn’t always the prime motivating factor among the new generation of Islamic State recruits. Joby Warrick and Greg Miller explain that the new ISIS recruits have deep criminal roots: “The Islamic State appears to be finding a fruitful recruiting ground among Europe’s street gangs and petty criminals, drawing to itself legions of troubled young men and women from predominantly poor Muslim neighborhoods … Some recruits have scant knowledge of Islam but, attracted by the group’s violent ideology, they become skilled and eager accomplices in carrying out acts of extraordinary cruelty. The ‘thuggish pedigree’ of the most recent Islamic State attackers was brought to light as the histories of suicide bombers Ibrahim and Khalid el-Bakraoui were revealed … The two had spent time in Belgian prisons for violent offenses including armed robbery and carjacking … European officials say the perpetrators in the most recent attacks appear to be part of a new wave of recruits that are not ‘radical Islamists’ but rather ‘Islamized radicals’ — people from society’s outer margins who feel at home with a terrorist organization noted for beheading hostages and executing unarmed civilians."

-- The terrorists likely used an explosive nicknamed “‘the mother of Satan,’ or a peroxide-based explosive known as TATP … The materials were found in the apartment of one of the suspected bombers,” reports Thomas Gibbons-Neff. “The devices are rarely seen in warzones, and have become a terrorist staple because of its easily obtained ingredients.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. A task force appointed by Rick Snyder to investigate Flint’s water crisis has laid blame squarely on state officials, issuing a blistering report that faults both Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality and Snyder’s own administration for “failing in fundamental responsibilities” and potentially exposing more than 95,000 residents to lead-tainted water. The 116-page report also faults the federal EPA for inaction that “prolonged the calamity.” (Brady Dennis)
  2. An Israeli company that provides mobile forensic software is helping the FBI try to unlock the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone. If the third-party company is successful, the FBI will no longer need Apple’s help. (Reuters)
  3. A Chinese businessman pleaded guilty to helping two Chinese military hackers carry out thefts of sensitive military secrets from U.S. contractors, including plans for transport and fighter jets. (Ellen Nakashima)
  4. North Carolina lawmakers passed a bill that blocks cities from allowing transgender individuals to use the public bathrooms of their identified sex. The law was passed in a special session and has drawn widespread condemnation from the LBGT community, which called the measure “blatantly discriminatory.” (Sandhya Somashekhar)
  5. Synagogues in Belgium have canceled annual Purim celebrations after the attacks in Brussels, saying that asking hundreds of Jews to leave their homes for the Wednesday night holiday would be “too much of a risk.” (Julie Zauzmer)
  6. U.S. marshals nabbed more than 8,000 fugitives in a six-week blitz to take the most dangerous criminals off the streets. Dubbed “Operation Violence Reduction 12,” the effort targeted the most serious criminals – with warrants for murder, sex offenses, and kidnapping – in a dozen cities across the country that have seen high upticks in crime. (Matt Zapotosky)
  7. A New Mexico city agreed to a $3 million settlement in a case involving a high school police intern who was sexually assaulted by an officer during a ride-along. The victim sued the city after the officer’s conviction in 2014, saying the department “allowed for a culture of sexism and inappropriate behavior,” and failed to discipline the offending officer for his history of misconduct. (AP)
  8. A former staffer to U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) has been sentenced to five years in federal prison for receiving illicit images of children. The 54-year-old former deputy district director has allegedly been downloading such material online as far back as 2004. (Matt Zapotosky)
  9. Paul Allen announced he will give $100 million over the next 10 years to fund scientific endeavors at the “frontiers of bioscience.” The Microsoft co-founder’s efforts will fund “discovery centers” at Stanford and Tufts to encourage innovative approaches to projects in tissue regeneration, antibiotic resistance and the development of brain circuitry. (Ariana Eunjung Cha)
  10. A Florida mother who was shot by her four-year-old son after bragging about his shooting prowess could face up to 180 days in jail. Local authorities have asked that the mother, who reportedly left the gun unlocked and easily accessible to her son, be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor. (Peter Holley)
  11. Navy officials confirmed they have found the remains of the USS Conestoga, a 56-passenger tugboat that mysteriously disappeared nearly a century ago on its way to Pearl Harbor. The ship’s remains were discovered by an underwater robot just miles off the San Francisco coast. (Michael E. Ruane)
  12. Military members submit debt collector complaints at twice the rate of civilians, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Though the higher correlation could be caused by lengthy deployments or frequent moves that accompany military life, agencies are calling for service members to diligently check credit reports and protect sensitive files when traveling. (Joe Davidson)
  13. The Pentagon is investigating allegations made by a former United Launch Alliance executive that the government “bent over backwards” when it came to awarding them launch contracts. (Christian Davenport)
President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama dance the tango during a State Dinner in Buenos Aires last night. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

-- Obama traveled to Argentina, where he participated in a wreath-laying at a Buenos Aires cathedral, hosted a town hall to meet with youth, and held a news conference with President Mauricio Macri. The visit was initially aimed at highlighting Argentina’s more “U.S.-friendly” government, but the attacks in Brussels detracted from the message of the visit. At a news conference alongside Macri, Obama declared that defeating ISIS remains his top priority while forcefully dismissing calls to alter his strategy in doing so. “The speech echoed similar remarks made by Obama after last year’s attacks in Paris and San Bernardino,” write Juliet Eilperin and David Nakamura. “Obama insisted that his strategy on the battlefield against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is showing slow but steady gains, and he cautioned against an overreaction to the attacks in Brussels.” The president again said the Islamic State was not an “existential threat,” and refused to take approaches he called “counterproductive,” such as carpet-bombing. “Simply blowing something up,” said Obama, “is not a military strategy.” In Washington, Vice President Biden visited the Belgian Embassy, offering condolences and pledging full U.S. support.

-- Paul Ryan repudiated the tone of American politics but steered clear of directly criticizing individual presidential candidates during a speech in the Ways and Means Committee hearing room. The House speaker bemoaned the “ugliness” of the race and while not naming Trump argued Republicans can not “insult voters into agreement.”: “The address was an unmistakable attempt to set up a buffer for congressional Republicans from the divisive remarks and proposals from Trump,” said Paul Kane, “while at the same time avoiding a direct clash with Trump to avoid both his wrath and upsetting supporters of his that GOP candidates might need in the general elections.” This follows an all-too-familiar pattern for Ryan, who will be the co-chair his party convention in July, and could be called upon to officiate delegate disputes. Ryan has also had to beat down loud whispers from friends and supporters who view him as the perfect unity candidate at a disputed convention to win the backing of a large majority of delegates.

-- The big speech landed with a big thud. The clips are pretty brutal. And his remarks are being pretty widely portrayed as a self-serving cop-out:

  • "Ryan, quite frankly, sounded like he was pleading for a change he wasn't willing to take a stand for,” writes The Fix's Amber Phillips. “He mentioned Trump exactly zero times ... While we get that Ryan is doing his best to stay neutral since he's the guy who presides over the nominating convention, his optimistic words about unity sound out of tune with the desperation many in his party are feeling right now … It almost sounded like he had given up trying to shift its inevitable march to disaster this presidential election — and was laying the groundwork for the next. Possibly even his own.”
  • Dana Milbank opines that the Speaker has made "a corrupt bargain": "Ryan, I believe, is a decent man. His aides tell me he’s in a tight spot, and it’s true: As chairman of the Republican convention, he will be the enforcer of rules if Trump’s claim to the nomination is challenged — hence Ryan’s desire, as he puts it, “to be Switzerland, to be neutral and dispassionate.” Also, he clearly would, despite his demurrals, like to be the consensus nominee. But to preserve his neutrality, and his presidential prospects, Ryan is making a corrupt bargain. There is no neutrality between good and evil."
  • The Post's Editorial Board slams Ryan as "a not-so-innocent bystander": "It is more than a wonder — it is a shame — that Mr. Ryan has not repudiated Mr. Trump and promised to oppose him. Doing so would have made clear that Mr. Ryan puts the principles he advanced before partisan loyalty and political calculation, where they firmly belong. Instead, Mr. Ryan continues to be another not-so-innocent bystander as his party slides toward Trumpism."

-- Elsewhere in the Capitol, a House Appropriations subcommittee approved its first spending bill of the year -- but it is a largely symbolic move amidst a budget standoff that has divided Republican leaders. The governing wing is determined to pass a budget. Tea partiers insist the spending gap remains too high. (Kelsey Snell)

-- Just across the street, the Supreme Court faced a possible 4-4 split on birth control coverage: The case, which asks the justices to decide whether religiously-affiliated organizations, such as hospitals and charities, must cover contraceptives in employee health plans, appeared to divide the court down the middle. Anthony Kennedy, who would likely act as the deciding vote in the case, appeared to align more closely with the conservative justices, Robert Barnes reports.

WAPO HIGHLIGHTS:

Trump (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

-- “The GOP — and its big funders — scramble to insulate Congress from Trump,” by Matea Gold and Paul Kane: “Republican leaders and big-money allies are rushing to build a multi-state defense system to protect Senate and House candidates, fearing the party could lose its hold [with] Trump at the top of the ticket in November. The efforts are driven by major players such as the Koch brothers’ network, which is considering abandoning Trump as a nominee and focusing resources on behalf of congressional candidates … ‘Loud footsteps upstairs in the presidential race could easily shake the races below,’ said analyst Charlie Cook, adding that if the GOP loses the [presidency] by a large margin, ‘hanging onto the Senate [is] a long shot at best.’ Strategists hope these efforts can inoculate congressional candidates from association with Trump’s incendiary remarks … ‘If there are crosscurrents that are potentially harmful, the most important thing to do is aggressively localize the race — the things that matter back home, the problems you’re solving,’ said Steven Law of American Crossroads PAC.”

-- “The Trump Network sought to make people rich, but left behind disappointment,” by Ana Swanson: “Salespeople at Ideal Health were thrilled when they learned Trump would become the new face of their company; rebranded as the Trump Network. ‘Oh, my god, people cried when they heard it was him,’ says Jenna Knudsen, [a former saleswoman]. ‘They said, ‘We’re going to be millionaires!’ Trump says he was not involved in company operations … which sold vitamins in a controversial multi-level marketing business model … But statements by him and company representatives gave impressions of a partnership certain to lift thousands into prosperity. ‘When I did ‘The Apprentice,’ it was a long shot … This is not a long shot,” Trump told a Trump Network convention of 5,000 people in 2009. ‘This will be something really amazing … it’s going to be our company, as a group,’ he said. People saw the Trump Network as an opportunity to be associated with [the billionaire] … ‘They tried to use people’s hopes and dreams to empty their wallets,’ said one complaint.”

-- “Why the rise of Trump has even Wall Street worried,” by Renae Merle in New York: “Sandwiched between the NYSE and the Federal Reserve, Trump’s 70-story skyscraper put the developer in the center of the financial world. Shuffling out of the Trump Building, Robert Austin, who spent years putting together multibillion-dollar bond deals, glances at the name on the building, then shrugs. ‘Just because he’s here doesn’t make him one of us,’ he says. Trump’s relationship with Wall Street is complicated by decades of name-calling, lawsuits and debts. Bankers and executives [described] him as unpredictable and combative. Insiders questioned whether decades in real estate gives him skills to lead the country during market volatility, when some of the world’s largest economies are slowing. Bankers crave predictability, whether from a Republicans or Democrats, and it is not clear that Trump could -- or wants to -- deliver that. Throughout the financial world, worried executives are grasping for clues into Trump’s thinking.  ‘I can’t find connective tissue between the financial sector and Trump,’ said one industry official.”

MORE ON THE DONALD: 

-- Trump foreign policy adviser Walid Phares said he signed on to Trump’s campaign hoping to persuade the GOP front-runner not to carry through on some of his most contentious campaign promises. From NPR: “Phares defended Trump's repeated statements on torture as not an actual policy but as ‘a reaction to a very complex and difficult and challenging situation.’ ‘Trump is calling for torture ‘because we are in a political season,’ he said, but in the White House ‘he's going to be tasking experts to answer that question … I'm not sure that the experts are going to recommend any form of torture.’"

-- Speaking of NPR: The radio station is offering “Trump Training” seminars to its reporters in order to handle safety threats and otherwise hostile environments at campaign events. The seminars come just days after three journalists were roughed up while covering Trump and after Trump himself speculated about upcoming riots in Cleveland. (Paul Farhi)

-- RNC chief operating officer Sean Cairncross held a series of private meetings yesterday to talk about the process of an open convention with conservatives who want to deny Trump the nomination in Cleveland. From Politico: “The off-the-record gathering brought together voices such as the Club for Growth, Family Research Council, and the Heritage Foundation. Cairncross’ reportedly spent much of the time detailing the process of an open convention and state-by-state rules for allocating delegates. The gatherings were the Conservative Action Project breakfast, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist’s Wednesday meeting, and what's known as the Paul Weyrich lunch, named after the late conservative activist.”

Cruz arrives in Pewaukee, Wisc., last night. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

MORE ON THE REPUBLICAN RACE

-- Cruz’s campaign has hit the ground running in Wisconsin, a state that many see as a last-ditch effort to thwart Trump. 

The Badger State "has become the Masada of the ‘Stop Trump’ movement," David Weigel writes. "In the coming days, it will absorb millions in anti-Trump ads, including $2 million from the Club for Growth, which has endorsed Cruz. ... At a glance, Wisconsin looks like the first genuine three-way race of the primary. It’s also a region that has basically split between Cruz, Trump and Kasich. That offers Cruz the chance to surprise, and reset the campaign narrative, in what superficially looks like enemy terrain. Even a narrow win would give Cruz a shot at all 42 of the state’s delegates [in] Wisconsin’s delegate-picking system — winner-take-all statewide, then winner-take-all by district. ‘Cruz will win Wisconsin,’ said Rep. Jim Steineke. ‘[And] whoever wins Wisconsin is the likely nominee.’"

Kasich, campaigning in the state yesterday before going back to Ohio for four days, said Trump would win if he drops out of the race. Without him on the ballot, Kasich said Trump would “absolutely” win eastern states such as Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Connecticut. “I don’t believe Cruz can come out to the east and win,” said Kasich, who spoke of his relative success in Ohio, Massachusetts, and Michigan. (David Weigel)

Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.) hinted that he might endorse Cruz, saying the Texas senator is the only non-Trump candidate who “has a chance.” Walker may or may not make an endorsement before Wisconsin’s April 5 primary and said a decision could come as early as this week. (David Weigel)

But, but, but: “Don’t mistake the establishment’s rallying behind Cruz as genuine support – for the man, or for his ideas,” writes Chris Cillizza. “There is a zero percent chance that Jeb thinks Cruz is a great pick to be the Republican nominee. He doesn't. Neither does Romney [or] Lindsey Graham. The lining-up behind Cruz is solely aimed at trying to stop Trump from getting to 1,237 delegates before the convention … What the establishment hopes then is not that Cruz will become nominee -- remember, they still don't like him -- but that the Texas Republican will be replaced by a more palatable alternative.

FACING BLOWBACK FOR MUSLIM COMMENTS, CRUZ WON'T BACK DOWN:

-- President Obama, during his news conference in Argentina, ripped Cruz for his comments urging police to “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods." He compared the Texas senator’s approach to surveillance tactics used in Cuba. “I just left a country that engages in that kind of neighborhood surveillance,” Obama said.

Deputy U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates added: “The Muslim community is one of our greatest partners in our fight against terrorism, and public safety generally … so no, we do not believe that we need to step up patrols of Muslim communities.”

-- Libertarian leaders are seething. “Cato Institute Vice President David Boaz said he was ‘troubled’ by the remarks. ‘It certainly sounds more intrusive – more big government, less effective than policies I’d like to see,’ he said. Katie Zezima and Sean Sullivan calls this a reminder that Cruz is attempting to thread a VERY delicate needle in his role as a “unity candidate,” appealing to both hawkish and dovish factions of the GOP. Straddling this divide is difficult.

-- Interviewed by the same conservative radio host in Pewaukee last night who had interview Sen. Johnson earlier in the evening, Cruz defended his statement"What I called for yesterday, and what everybody was reacting to, was increased law enforcement, increased military effort and increased police presence. You know, if you look at Europe, one of the tragic causes of this attack is that Europe's immigration policy has badly failed. They have allowed vast numbers of Islamic terrorists to infiltrate Europe. And they live in isolated communities where radicalism festers. We need to be using proactive policing, we need to be using proactive law enforcement, and intelligence and national security resources to prevent radicalism."

-- Hillary piled on. In a speech at Stanford University, the former secretary of State denounced both Cruz and Trump. "Slogans aren’t a strategy," Clinton said. "Loose cannons tend to misfire." Abby Phillip relays that "Clinton sought to direct a scrutiny to Cruz that she has in the past typically reserved solely for Trump.”

-- In a taste of how nasty the general election will be, Rudy Giuliani called Hillary “a founding member of ISIS" on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News show last night. Full quote from the former New York City mayor: “She helped create ISIS. I mean, Hillary Clinton could be considered a founding member of ISIS. … By being part of an administration that withdrew from Iraq. By being part of an administration that let Maliki run Iraq into the ground. So you forced the Shiites to make a choice, by not intervening in Syria at the proper time.” (Media Matters posted the video here.)

NATIONAL POLLS SHOW SOME MOVEMENT TOWARDS CRUZ: A Fox News survey of Republicans puts Trump at 41 percent, Cruz at 38 percent and Kasich at 17 percent.

  • Cruz and Kasich each win hypothetical, head-to-head matchups against Clinton. The Ohio governor leads the former secretary of State by double digits (51-40) while Cruz is preferred by 3 (47-44). Clinton keeps Trump at bay with an 11 point lead (49-38). Kasich, who does well with independents, has long been slated to win in a hypothetical matchup with Clinton. But the new numbers reflect the degree to which some Republicans would be willing to coalesce behind Cruz.
  • The majority of Republicans would feel “enthusiastic” or “pleased” if Cruz wins (57 percent) or Trump wins (51 percent) the nomination. Voters would also be slightly more satisfied with a Cruz-Clinton matchup than they would be with a Clinton-Trump contest. (Fox)
  • Should it be a Clinton-Trump matchup in November, more than four in 10 current Cruz supporters said they will seriously consider voting for a third party candidate (34 percent) or stay home completely (10 percent.)
  • Half of voters (49 percent) would be “scared” if Trump assumed the White House, while 33 percent would be afraid by a Clinton presidency.

A fresh poll of Pennsylvania from Franklin & Marshall College Poll:

  • Trump leads (as he has since October) with 33 percent, but Kasich comes in a close second with 30 percent. Trump’s fav/unfav is 46/41 among Pennsylvania Republicans, and Cruz’s is 48/32.
  • The Democratic presidential primary race in the Keystone State has changed little since January: Clinton has kept her sizable lead over Sanders, 53-28, consistent with her leads in January and February.

-- Those numbers might give added credence to an editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal, which argues that "it isn’t clear Cruz can beat Trump if Kasich leaves the race”: “Mr. Cruz says Mr. Kasich should drop out so he can take on Mr. Trump one-on-one. The Texas Senator has won nine states and is now picking up endorsements from GOP elites. [But] Mr. Cruz’s problem is that it isn’t clear he can beat Mr. Trump one-on-one, especially in the Pacific coast and Northeast states still to be contested … The Texan’s victories have come in the South, the Plains states and low-turnout caucuses … and the states coming up include Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, and Maryland. Mr. Trump wins the nomination if he wins most of those states. The case for Mr. Kasich staying in the race is that he has a better chance than Mr. Cruz of stealing moderately conservative voters from Mr. Trump in the more moderate states. In the states that allocate delegates proportionally, the Ohio Governor can reduce Mr. Trump’s margins. The risk is that he and Mr. Cruz will divide the anti-Trump vote in winner-take-all states. But that only matters if Mr. Cruz could win those states on his own.”

Supporters of Bernie Sanders wait in line at a concession stand before a rally in San Diego. (Reuters/Mike Blake)

ON THE DEMOCRATIC RACE—

-- Wall Street Journal, “Sanders Now Needs Landslides to Gain Ground on Clinton,” by Peter Nicholas and Colleen McCain Nelson: “The trio of elections Tuesday demonstrated just how difficult it is for Bernie Sanders to wrest the nomination from Clinton. In isolation, Mr. Sanders had a good night. But in the end, Mr. Sanders came away with 18 more pledged delegates than his rival. … He will have to win far more consistently if he is to erase Mrs. Clinton’s lead of more than 300 pledged delegates.”

-- The founder of the liberal blog Daily Kos, Markos Moulitsas, says it is time for Sanders to bow out: “In short, while there is still a mathematical path to victory for Sanders, it’s not a realistic one … [and] the Sanders campaign is now making the same argument it was decrying just a few months ago — that Democratic superdelegates should subvert the choice of the Democratic electorate to hand the nomination to the primary loser.”

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

IN ALABAMA: 

-- Gov. Robert Bentley admitted to making “sexually explicit” remarks to former spokeswoman and policy adviser Rebekah Mason, but continued to deny they had a physical affair, even after explicit recordings of him were made public. From The Birmingham News: “The two-term governor, who said the remarks were made years ago, apologized in a news conference. ‘I can assure the people I never had a physical affair with Ms. Mason,’ he maintained. ‘I am truly sorry, and I accept full responsibility.’” (AL)

-- The admission came just hours after recently-ousted Law Enforcement Secretary Spencer Collier held a news conference in which he launched a series of allegations against his boss a day after being fired, saying he witnessed a “history of improper conduct between Bentley and his staffer.” Collier claimed that Bentley himself had acknowledged the affair, which “appeared to be continuing as recently as last month,” and accused the governor of inappropriate use of resources.

-- A clip of the explicit audio was played before Bentley at the conference. The governor was asked how that did not speak to a physical relationship. "Well, what I'm saying is there was no sexual activity,” Bentley responded, but did not elaborate further.  Mason did not address her relationship with the governor in a statement, instead saying she was “proud of what she accomplished in her political career.

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

President Obama danced the tango in Buenos Aires:

Trump accused Cruz of stealing lines from Michael Douglas after Cruz quoted "The American President":

Proving that nothing is off limits, including spouses, the front-runner continued to attack Heidi Cruz last night, retweeting a supporter who posted an unflattering picture of the senator's wife:

Mrs. Cruz brushed off the attacks while campaigning in Wisconsin. And Sen. Cruz  called Trump's Twitter attack a "new low."

Then he went after Bush, saying he drove him into "oblivion":

He will be "the best" at fighting terrorism, he said:

The New Yorker did some Trump palm-reading:

Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson caught flak for this misspelling:

A fun play on words from a GOP operative at Targeted Victory:

While conservatives went after this tweet from Valerie Jarrett:

The White House celebrated the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act:

Some male pundits still have not gotten the memo that you're not supposed to describe Clinton as "shouting":

Chuck Schumer ate hamantaschen for Purim:

Philosophy majors will love this one:

Lawmakers celebrated National Puppy Day:

The DSCC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also celebrated:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

HOT ON THE LEFT

“A Georgia driver’s license law aimed at undocumented immigrants disproportionately hits people of color,” from HuffPost: “The impact of Georgia laws aimed in part at keeping undocumented immigrants off the road … have disproportionately led to the arrests of black and Latino residents, including U.S. citizens. [Groups analyzed data across countries] and found in all three locations, blacks and Latinos were disproportionately affected by the laws, and that the high cost of penalties was exacerbating poverty in the struggling communities.”

 

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT

“Border Patrol expects surge of migrant children just in time for GOP convention,” from the Washington Examiner: “Border Patrol officials are bracing for another influx of unaccompanied children coming through the border this summer, a crisis that could diminish border security and would certainly affect 2016 elections …  The number of children who arrive this summer ‘may exceed’ the thousands who made the trip from Central America in 2014. ‘And it makes it more likely that security risks can take advantage of that situation and penetrate our border, simply riding the tide of the high volume of processing that has to occur,’  said Temple University Law’s Jan Ting.”

DAYBOOK:

On the campaign trail: Here's the rundown for today:

  • Clinton: Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Calif.
  • Sanders: Spokane, Yakima, Wash.
  • Cruz: Janesville, Dane, Wis.
  • Trump and Kasich have no scheduled public events.

At the White House: President Obama visits Parque de la Memoria in Buenos Aires, Argentina and delivers a statement to the pool. The first family visits Bariloche, Argentina, before returning to Buenos Aires and departing for Washington, D.C. Vice President Biden speaks at Georgetown Law School about Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. Later, the Bidens depart for Miami.

On Capitol Hill: The Senate will meet in pro forma session, with no business conducted. The House is out.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

"Donald Trump has had several foreign wives. It turns out that there really are jobs Americans won't do." -- Mitt Romney at a fundraiser for the National Republican Congressional Committee (The Hill)

NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:

-- “Exuberant spring warmth today, light showers arrive overnight.” The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Clouds are hard to come by and highs in the mid-to-upper 70s make it even better. Breezes are occasionally brisk, gusting over 20 mph, but manageable from the south.”

-- D.C. regulators greenlighted a $6.8 billion merger between Pepco Holdings and Exelon in a shocking vote of approval that effectively creates the largest public-held utility in the U.S. The voting committee said the deal was in “public interest,” noting its plans to spend millions on efficiency and conservation programs in the district. (Thomas Heath and Aaron C. Davis)

-- Washingtonians, rejoice! After nearly two years and 1,300 repaired cracks later, the unsightly scaffolding will finally be removed from the Capitol dome. (Elise Viebeck)

-- Two female students at George Mason University reported being raped on or near the school’s Fairfax campus, in separate events over the last week. University officials are investigating both incidents and have not made arrests in either case. (Justin Jouvenal)

-- A man who was found shot and set on fire in Forestville on Monday has been identified as 32-year-old Rashaad Garnett Tate from Southeast. Authorities are working to identify a suspect. (Dana Hedgpeth)

-- A former “serial prankster” and star of the MTV show “Catfish” was sentenced to 21 months in prison and mental-health treatment after making false terrorist threats against the Metro system. Jerez Nehemiah Stone-Coleman, or “Kidd Cole,” pleaded guilty to making 13 terrorist related threats and more than 300 calls to 911 over a six-month period. (Spencer S. Hsu)

-- Maryland state Sen. Jamie Raskin, the front-runner to succeed Chris Van Hollen, released his first set of television ads, touting his legislative record and seeking to cast himself as "the only true progressive” in a crowded nine-candidate Democratic primary. (Bill Turque)

-- The Maryland House approved Gov. Larry Hogan’s $42 billion budget, which was praised by both parties as bipartisan. (Josh Hicks and Ovetta Wiggins)

-- Trolling: "For more than two weeks, Rep. John Delaney has demanded to know whether Maryland’s Republican governor will back Trump if he captures the nomination. On Wednesday, the Maryland Democrat, who is running for reelection this year in a district that stretches from liberal Montgomery County to more conservative western Maryland, took his campaign to Hogan’s back yard." A mobile anti-Trump billboard circled the state house — directly behind the governor’s mansion in Annapolis — challenging Hogan to take a position." (Ovetta Wiggins)

(Photo by Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

One of the Racing Presidents had trouble at Reagan National Airport:

President Obama has been grooving in and out of the White House since he first took office in 2008. Here's a look at some of his best dance moves:

Watch Cory Booker enjoy a raucous Purim celebration in the early '90s (via @Yair_Rosenberg):

Check out the explosive the Brussels bombers may have used:

It's cherry blossom time in D.C.:

Charlie Rangel posted a message for Easter and Passover: