House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi speaks yesterday afternoon during the House Democratic Caucus "Issues Conference" in Baltimore. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

With Breanne Deppisch

THE BIG IDEA:

BALTIMORE—Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare could help Democrats do what they have been unable to for seven years: sell the American people on the benefits of the health law.

Poll numbers are moving in their direction. Grassroots organizing – from protests to town halls – is en fuego. For years, the national and local media focused on the problems with the rollout of the law. But reporters have begun writing much more, instead, about the people who stand to lose benefits they’ve obtained.

-- House Democrats are using their retreat here, which started yesterday and continues through tomorrow, to strategize about how they can capitalize on Republican divisions related to the replacement of the Affordable Care Act.

“This is one of those issues where, as time goes on, it gets better for us,” said Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “We’re going to keep up stoking the fires. … I think we have tremendous leverage.”

Rep. Richard E. Neal, the top Democrat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, expects that hospitals and some companies in the private sector will give Democrats cover by publicly warning about the potential harms of repeal. “Medicaid expansion has now become a middle class benefit,” said Neal (Mass.).

Rep. Bobby Scott (Va.), the top Democrat on the Committee on Education and the Workforce, said it would have been harder to mobilize opposition to the Republican repeal drive if Speaker Paul Ryan had moved more swiftly. “We don’t want to let anyone forget what the situation was before the Affordable Care Act passed,” he said, emphasizing that women paid more for coverage than men and people with preexisting conditions couldn’t get coverage.

-- “The Obamacare repeal effort was already in unstable condition. Now its status must be downgraded to critical — and completely unserious,” Dana Milbank notes in his column today. “For seven years, opponents of the Affordable Care Act vowed to make its repeal their top concern, warning that the law would turn America overnight into a socialist dystopia. Now these opponents have unfettered control of the government and they aren’t even talking about repealing.”

  • In his weekend interview with Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly, Trump said that “maybe it’ll take till sometime into next year” for his administration to unveil a new health-care plan. It is, the president said, “very complicated.”
  • From Capitol Hill comes new word that Republicans aren’t even talking about a plan. “To be honest, there’s not any real discussion taking place right now,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told reporters Tuesday at the Capitol. Corker, according to the Huffington Post, said he has “no idea” when Republicans might start drafting an alternative to Obamacare, adding, “I don’t see any congealing around ideas yet.”

-- Many Republican politicians are speaking pretty openly about the political danger of scaling back coverage. Lawmakers are getting  nervous about facing the kind of contentious town halls that their Democratic counterparts faced in 2009. Several members have already faced  big crowds of angry activists back home. “I’m not sure you’re going to have anyone in Washington with the courage to repeal the ACA,” Maine Gov. Paul LePage said at a town hall meeting last week. “I do not believe for a minute that now that we have exchanges they will take them away.”

-- The tenor of press coverage has shifted dramatically since the election toward emphasizing plusses, rather than minuses, of the law. Check out these 10 headlines from just the past few days:

-- A coalition is using a bus tour as one vehicle to drive more local coverage like this. The “Save My Care” Tour has been going for three weeks now, leaving positive clips in its wake from Pennsylvania to Indiana,  Missouri, Kentucky and Colorado. Today the bus stops in Las Vegas.

Other organized activities have generated favorable local coverage, as well, including a protest of cancer patients outside Senate health committee chairman Lamar Alexander’s  Knoxville office last month. A similar event in Nevada targeted Dean Heller, the most vulnerable GOP senator up for reelection in 2018.

-- Finally, there has been a subtle shift in some of the polling. Fox News has been asking routinely in its polling for seven years what should happen to the law. The percentage who want to “repeal it entirely” is at an all-time low of 23 percent in the network’s most recent survey, compared to 33 percent in 2015 and 39 percent in 2013. One-third in the new poll want to “repeal parts of the law,” while 28 percent support “expanding it” and 13 percent want to “leave it as is.”

The most recent Kaiser Health Tracking Poll found that only 20 percent of Americans support repeal alone, while 47 percent oppose repeal altogether and another 28 percent want to wait to repeal the law until the replacement plan’s details are known. The researchers behind the nonpartisan survey relay that a surprising number of people shift their opinions when they hear counter-arguments: “For example, after hearing pro-repeal arguments about the law’s costs to individuals and the government, the share of the public supporting repeal grows as large as 60 percent, while anti-repeal arguments about people losing coverage and the impact on people with pre-existing conditions decreases support for repeal to as low as 27 percent.”

The fluidity of those numbers underscores how impactful the coming debate over repeal could be on public opinion.

Democrats think some shared principles will work to their advantage during the coming fight over the law. The newest Quinnipiac University survey, for instance, found that 96 percent of Americans, including 91 percent of Republicans, say it is "very important" or "somewhat important" that health insurance be affordable for all Americans.

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

Neil Gorsuch meets with Richard Blumenthal in his office yesterday. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

-- Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch denounced Trump’s days-long crusade against the federal judiciary, "very emotionally" telling Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) that the president’s attacks on judges were both “disheartening” and “demoralizing.” Abby Phillip, Robert Barnes and Ed O'Keefe report: Blumenthal said Gorsuch made the comments during their private meeting on Wednesday, and the account was confirmed by Ron Bonjean, who is tasked with helping guide the judge through his confirmation process. “I told him how abhorrent Donald Trump’s invective and insults are towards the judiciary. And he said to me that he found them ‘disheartening’ and ‘demoralizing’ — his words,” Blumenthal recalled in an interview. Gorsuch “stated very emotionally and strongly his belief in his fellow judges’ integrity and the principle of judicial independence,” he added.

Trump declared earlier in the day that the 9th Circuit hearing regarding his controversial immigration executive order was “disgraceful," and he said the judges were more concerned about politics than following the law. The remarks followed earlier tweets from Trump disparaging “the so-called judge” who issued a nationwide halt to the travel ban. Trump said the ruling “put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system.

The contretemps added another layer to the roiling nature of Trump’s young presidency: "Some historians wondered whether Supreme Court nominees had ever separated themselves in such a way from the president who nominated them; others tried to recall whether a president had ever given a nominee reason to do so."

Gorsuch would not have been able to get to 60 votes without distancing himself from Trump's attacks on the judiciary, which is why most smart liberals on the Hill believe that his comments were nothing more than a calculated move designed to help him win over eight moderates.

But some prominent Trump boosters on the right nonetheless took him seriously enough to lash out:

The president himself attacked Blumenthal this morning:

-- The Senate confirmed Jeff Sessions as attorney general on a 52-47 vote, with every Democrat but Joe Manchin voting against him. (Sean Sullivan and Kelsey Snell)

The former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke celebrated:

-- Earlier in the day, defending the rebuke of Elizabeth Warren for making a speech critical of Sessions, Ted Cruz accused the Democratic Party of being rooted in racism: “The Democrats are the party of the Ku Klux Klan,” the Texas senator said on Fox News. “You look at the most racist — you look at the Dixiecrats, they were Democrats who imposed segregation, imposed Jim Crow laws, who founded the Klan. The Klan was founded by a great many Democrats.” (Kristine Guerra)

-- Meanwhile, The King Center in Atlanta released a statement from Bernice King: “The profound voice and leadership of Coretta Scott King ... still resonates today. Her letter regarding Senator Jeff Sessions, written 30 years ago … should propel us all toward a commitment to eradicating all systemic injustices. … I firmly believe that my mother would consider it an affront to women and humanity that Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced and prevented from reading her letter, while male members of the Senate were permitted to read that same letter. These actions on our Senate floor reflect the continual blight of a patriarchal order in our nation and world.”

Matthew Ezekiel Stager

-- A wanted sex offender who disappeared after leaving a federal prison in Virginia was caught last night near the Judiciary Square Metro Station in the District. Matthew Ezekiel Stager, 45, was released from federal prison in Petersburg, Va., last week and was supposed to fly to a transitional center in Texas that day, but he never showed up. (Justin Wm. Moyer)

Boris Johnson arrives at 10 Downing Street on Tuesday. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images)

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson has renounced his U.S. citizenship, joining more than 5,000 others who in 2016 decided to formally sever ties to America. The New York-born, pro-Brexit politician declined to say why he made the abrupt move, though some speculate it was to avoid hefty tax costs. (Adam Taylor)
  2. A U.S. District judge blocked a $54 billion insurance merger deal between Anthem and Cigna, saying the proposed deal would ramp up prices and have other anticompetitive effects. The ruling comes after a January decision that last month blocked a similar deal between Aetna and Humana. (Carolyn Y. Johnson)
  3. Human rights groups representing villages in the West Bank petitioned Israel to block a contentious new law that would allow the country to seize private Palestinian land and award them to Jewish settlers. The first round of legal challenges come amid widespread condemnation of the bill, with Israel’s own attorney general warning that it violated international law and was likely to be blocked by the high court. (William Booth)
  4. A three-judge panel in North Carolina paused a controversial law seeking to dial back the power of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s authorities. Among other things, the measure would strip him of the ability to name his cabinet without legislative consent. (Amber Phillips)
  5. Six Red Cross staffers were killed and two others are missing in Kabul after their convoy was ambushed by unidentified gunmen in northern Afghanistan, the humanitarian agency said. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, the though local officials blamed the Islamic State, which is known to have militants operating in the area. (Sayed Salahuddin)
  6. Former Knicks star Charles Oakley was arrested during a game between New York and the Los Angeles Clippers after allegedly getting into an altercation with security at the arena. The burly ex-forward was reportedly arguing with Knicks owner James Dolan before engaging physically with security staff. He was dragged from his courtside seat out of the arena, officials said. (Des Bieler)
  7. The Wounded Warrior Project has been cleared of “spending lavishly,” according to a new report, capping a months-long investigation into one of the nation’s largest veterans’ charities after executives were found to have spent millions in donor dollars on swanky conventions and other luxurious perks. (Emily Wax-Thibodeaux)
  8. Facebook announced it is cracking down on discriminatory ads, rolling out several key changes to a function that previously allowed users to be targeted by their race or other personal attributes. (Hayley Tsukayama)
  9. Police are investigating the death of a 19-year-old Penn State student at a fraternity party. He tumbled down a basement stairwell and remained there for nearly 12 hours before police were called. Authorities said fellow attendees were aware of his fall. (Sarah Larimer)
Ivanka Trump greets visitors to the White House last Friday before a strategy and policy forum. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

THE TRUMP BRAND:

-- The president lashed out at Nordstrom for its decision to stop carrying Ivanka Trump products, slamming the retailer for “unfair” treatment -- even as store officials insisted the move was prompted by lagging sales rather than politics and that Ivanka was personally notified in early January. Trump’s remarks again raise ethical questions about how the family’s sprawling network of business interests are colliding with his new White House gig – and exemplify uncharted territory for Corporate America to navigate in the era of Trump. (Sarah Halzack)

White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that Trump’s remarks were not about businesses but rather about an “attack” on his daughter: “For people to take out their concern about his actions, or his executive orders, on members of his family, he has every right to stand up for his family."

Trump’s tirade could portend potential behavior toward an entire host of companies, as their relationships with the Trump brand change. The New York Times reports that at least three other major national retailers -- T. J. Maxx, Marshalls, and Neiman Marcus – have recently moved away from their ties to Ivanka-brand products.

-- Melania Trump faces mounting scrutiny after her lawyers said in a court filing that she could use her perch as first lady to cultivate "multimillion dollar business relationships." But she is not the first White House wife to face scrutiny for a marketing ploy: Eleanor Roosevelt, for example, pitched hot dog buns“The tall, regal first lady was a magnet for marketers — and she happily signed on," Krissah Thompson and Emily Heil report. "During her years in the White House, she became a paid pitchwoman for hot dog buns, mattresses and air travel. Many Americans were aghast at the sight of the president’s wife lending her name and face to hawk products in commercial advertising; Congress launched an investigation. But the controversy died down when Eleanor Roosevelt disclosed that she had donated most of her earnings to charity.” 

Former Obama ethics lawyer Norm Eisen: “The Trumps are using the White House like the Kardashians used reality TV." 

-- Melania Trump has named Washington event planner Anna Cristina Niceta Lloyd as her social secretary, tapping a woman with two decades of experience coordinating events in the area, including Trump’s inaugural festivities. (New York Times)   

Pope Francis speaks out against the border wall yesterday in Vatican City. (Tony Gentile/Reuters)

CHRISTIAN LEADERS SPEAK OUT:

-- Pope Francis doubled down on his critique of Trump's wall: “In the social and civil context as well, I appeal not to create walls but to build bridges,” he said, according to the AP. “To not respond to evil with evil. To defeat evil with good, the offense with forgiveness. A Christian would never say ‘you will pay for that.’ Never. That is not a Christian gesture. An offense you overcome with forgiveness. To live in peace with everyone.” He made the comments during an address that coincided with the “International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking.” (Lindsey Bever)

-- Several of the most prominent conservative evangelicals in America took out a full-page advertisement in The Washington Post to denounce Trump’s travel ban, making a rare foray into the political sphere as they sought to outline their “deep concerns” about the executive order. The ad includes the signatures of evangelicals considered to be more conservative and represent large churches, including New York City Pastor Tim Keller (!), Southern Baptists Ed Stetzer and Daniel Akin and popular author Max Lucado. (Sarah Pulliam Bailey)

Iran's Revolutionary Guard troops march in a military parade. (AP/Ebrahim Noroozi)

TRUMP'S WORLD:

-- Senior defense and intelligence officials warned the White House that a proposal to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization could endanger U.S. troops in Iraq and the overall fight against ISIS. Karen DeYoung reports: “Created by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini after the 1979 Islamic revolution … the Revolutionary Guard is both the guardian of internal security and a conventional fighting force that has been deployed overseas, including in Iraq and Syria. Designating the Revolutionary Guard — a force of more than 100,000 that fields an army, navy and air force, in addition to wielding significant economic power — would mark the first time the Foreign Terrorist Organizations law has been applied to an official government institution. One official said designating the Revolutionary Guard was comparable in scale and complication to a foreign power declaring the military of another country a terrorist organization. [And the move] would have far broader impact on the ability of Iranians to travel and access the international financial system.”

-- Human Rights Watch outlined how Trump could freeze out Muslims in America if it adds the Muslim Brotherhood to its list of designated foreign terrorist organizations – another move being considered by Trump officials. Abigail Hauslohner explains: “[Experts] have warned that adding the brotherhood to a terrorist list would set a dangerous precedent — by appearing to target a group for its ideology, rather than its actions — and could easily be used to go after American Muslim organizations and individuals. How would that work? [Human Rights Watch lawyer] Laura Pitter … pointed to a George W. Bush-era executive order that could be applied broadly to freeze the assets of anyone found to be supporting or associating with the organization. Pitter said the U.S. government would also, presumably, be able to freeze the assets of American citizens who are suspected of support or association, or charge them with material support to a foreign terrorist organization. It can be exceedingly difficult to challenge, starting with the logistical difficulty of hiring a lawyer without having access to any cash.”

-- White House enthusiasm for the directives was high at the end of last week, and officials had plans to release both of them as soon as Tuesday. But since then, national security agencies -- still smarting from the White House’s failure to vet the immigration order with them before Trump signed it -- have been concerned about a repeat of the criticism and chaos that ensued.

-- Trump reached out to Chinese President Xi Jinping in a letter, making contact with the foreign leader for the first time since taking office. White House officials said Trump wished Xi a “prosperous year of the Rooster” – 11 days after the country celebrated its Lunar New Year’s festival – and thanked him for a congratulatory note he had sent on the U.S. president’s inauguration. Still, the belated diplomatic move is something of a shift from Trump, and comes as he promised a “constructive relationship” with the nation he has previously described as a foe. (Simon Denyer)

-- Residents in SWEDEN are deeply bothered by Trump’s impulsive, braggadocios communication style,  Anne Applebaum reports: “The Swedes do have specific, parochial concerns, and one of them is Russia. [Still]. The real problem is deeper: “Sweden’s economic and political model depends on Pax Americana, the set of American-written and American-backed rules that have governed transatlantic commerce and politics for 70 years — and they fear Trump will bring Pax Americana crashing down. Nor are they alone: Variations of this conversation are taking place in every European capital and many Asian capitals too. For the past several years, Russia has played games with their air force and navy, buzzing Swedish air space and sending submarines along the coast. Once, Swedish neutrality was a useful fiction, both for them and for the United States, because it gave Sweden a role as a negotiator. Now, Swedish support for joining NATO is at an all-time high. But they seem to be late to the party. If the U.S. president feels lukewarm about NATO, then what is the point?”

TRUMP'S CABINET:

-- Betsy DeVos delivered her first public message to Education Department staff on Wednesday after narrowly winning Senate confirmation, pledging to challenge the department to examine its policies – but also vowing to listen to her new colleagues. “[For] many, the events of the last few weeks have likely raised more questions and spawned more confusion than they have brought light and clarity,” she said. “So, for starters, please know, I’m a ‘door open’ type of person who listens more than speaks.” Seeking to make light of her rocky confirmation battle, she told attendees that the process “has been kind of a bear.” (Emma Brown)

-- A confirmation hearing for labor nominee Andy Puzder has been set for next week, following multiple delays that came as the fast food CEO struggled to extricate himself from business conflicts. Puzder now says he would divest from more than 200 investments if confirmed for the role. The cover story in BusinessWeek is about him, as well. (Jonnelle Marte and Steven Mufson)

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis speaks in Tokyo. (Toru Yamanka/Getty)

-- Retired general James Mattis has been thrust into a new role in the Trump administration: turning down the temperature on the hot-headed commander-in-chief. Missy Ryan reports: “Mattis, wrapping up a visit to Japan and South Korean last week, carried a message of constancy and restraint on many of the foreign policy issues whose fate has generated anxiety since Trump’s election. He also acted to stanch speculation that the United States, as White House officials suggested, might act precipitously against perceived threats from China and Iran, saying that military steps were not required. While he has been held up by Trump critics as a bulwark against the president’s whims … it’s not yet clear ... what sway Mattis will ultimately hold in shaping major decisions. But Mattis, who has already shown himself willing to disagree with the president’s preferences, now occupies a key position in the Cabinet of a man with little foreign policy experience."

The president’s apparent support for Mattis’s military judgment may enhance the new secretary’s standing in internal discussions and with allies: “Secretary Mattis has found a way to reaffirm alliances without disagreeing explicitly with his commander in chief,” said Brookings Institution scholar Michael O’Hanlon. “That is enormously important.”

-- Three advocacy groups filed a sweeping lawsuit against Trump’s “two-for-one” executive order requiring two federal regulations be repealed for every new one added, saying that this usurps Congress’s powers to enact laws to protect public health, safety and the environment. (Chris Mooney)

-- At least two people have turned down the job of White House communications director because they see it as an impossible job. Reince Priebus is spearheading a “robust” effort to fill the post, but his overtures to several Republican communications professionals were rebuffed. (Politico’s Eliana Johnson)

-- On three occasions in two days, Sean Spicer rattled off examples of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil while seeking to defend Trump’s travel ban. But what was puzzling, however, were the cities he invoked to prove the point. Katie Mettler reports: “Spicer mentioned San Bernardino, Calif., and Boston, both places where the attacks were carried out by people who had self-radicalized in the United States but had foreign ties. Then he threw in Atlanta, a city whose only terrorist attack were bombings orchestrated by a Florida-born domestic terrorist with no foreign ties. They happened in the 1990s, including one during the 1996 Olympics. The head scratching commenced. Then nearly 24 hours [later] … Spicer offered an explanation via email to ABC News: when he referenced the Atlanta terror attack, he ‘clearly meant Orlando.’ Orlando, a city located 450 miles south of Atlanta in an entirely different state, is a popular Florida tourist destination and home to Mickey Mouse. It was also, on June 12 of last year.”

-- Spicer also continued to insist Trump’s operation in Yemen was “a huge success,” saying yesterday that anyone who says otherwise — including John McCain -- does “a disservice” to the Navy SEAL who lost his life in the hostilities. John Wagner reports: “He fought knowing what was at stake in that mission,” Spicer said, speaking to a group of reporters Wednesday. “And anybody who would suggest otherwise doesn't fully appreciate how successful that mission was, what the information that they were able to retrieve was and how that will help prevent future terrorist attacks.” His remarks come as Yemeni officials said 15 women and children were killed in the firefight.

-- “How White House advisor Stephen Miller went from pestering Hispanic students to designing Trump's immigration policy,” by Univision’s Fernando Peinado: “Stephen Miller and Jason Islas grew up in sunny southern California in the late 1990s, united by their passion for Star Trek. But Miller stopped talking to his friend as they prepared to jump from Lincoln Middle School to Santa Monica High School. Miller only returned Islas' phone calls at the end of the summer, to coldly explain the reason for his estrangement. ‘I can't be your friend any more because you are Latino,’ Islas remembers him saying. Islas recalled that Miller mentioned other reasons, which he considered ‘childish.’ But that was his first sign of the change Miller would undergo when he was 14 years old: a political radicalization that defines his life even now as a senior White House adviser with direct access to [Trump].” In local newspaper op-eds, 16-year-old Miller complained about the use of Spanish in the United States, saying such accommodations are a “crutch” that “[make] a mockery of the American ideal of personal accomplishment.” 

Kim Butler is chair of the Polk County chapter of the Wisconsin Democratic Party. (David Weigel/The Washington Post)

DISPATCHES FROM A DIVIDED AMERICA:

-- “Rural Americans felt abandoned by Democrats in 2016. Can the party win them back?” by David Weigel: “Since their shocking loss to [Trump], Democrats have watched protest movements grow in the cities that had rejected his campaign. ... Democrats also knew that those voters didn’t make up the balance of power, or a path back to control of Congress. That was up to rural voters, especially the ones who’d voted twice for Barack Obama then given Trump his margins in the Rust Belt. In a dozen conversations, Sawyer County voters who had abandoned Democrats in 2016 said they did not necessarily embrace the Republican platform. They viewed the Democratic Party, especially its 2016 iteration, as lost and elitist. [They] described a party that had gone to sleep on them..."

-- “In Trump’s capital, undocumented immigrants live and work in the shadow of the White House,” by Theresa Vargas and Steve Hendrix: “There are 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country and while many are watching from [afar] as their fates are decided in the nation’s capital, there are others who share streets, sidewalks and Metro trains with the very people making those decisions. They are taxi drivers who find politicians in their back seats. They are child-care workers who get calls from Justice Department employees who are running late. They are scholars who find themselves standing in the shadow of the White House, where a pen stroke could undo all they have been working toward. … As he does seven mornings a week, Enrique cruised around the Washington Beltway, the U.S. Capitol gleaming on his right. He knows the laws made there could devastate his family. He also knows the people who work there, including members of Congress, eat his food. “They must see that we do something good for this country too, right?” he asked of the people beneath the Capitol dome. “This is a country made by immigrants, right?”

-- The New York Times, “She Showed Up Yearly to Meet Immigration Agents. Now They’re Deporting Her,” by Fernanda Santos: “For eight years, Guadalupe García de Rayos had checked in at the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement office here, a requirement since she was caught using a fake Social Security number during a raid in 2008 at a water park where she worked. Every year since then, she has walked in and out of the meetings after a brief review of her case and some questions. But not this year. On Wednesday, immigration agents arrested Ms. Rayos, 35, and began procedures to send her back to Mexico, a country she has not seen since she left it 21 years ago. Ms. Rayos was arrested just days after the Trump administration broadened the definition of ‘criminal alien,’ a move that immigrants’ rights advocates say could easily apply to a majority of undocumented immigrants in the United States. … By midnight on Thursday, her husband said he was not sure where she was. A vehicle had just left the building under police escort, and he said he suspected she may have been inside.”

-- Phoenix police said they have arrested several protests who were reportedly attempting to block an enforcement van from leaving a local U.S. immigration office, fearing that Rayos – a wife and mother of two – is on her way out of the country. (AP)

-- Trump’s ongoing war against the media has recast Washington’s annual White House Correspondents Dinner as a “radioactive hot potato” that few Hollywood stars or media outlets want to touch. The Hollywood Reporter’s Marisa Guthrie writes:Trump is expected to attend the April 29 event at the Washington Hilton. But others are bailing on the festivities this year. Sources tell THR the casts of the D.C.-set House of Cards, Veep and Scandal likely will not attend (all have had a presence during the Obama years), while the WHCA has yet to secure a comedian headliner, as is customary by February. It's unclear whether MSNBC will host its traditional afterparty, an event known for anchor and amateur mixologist Rachel Maddow tending the bar. Also unknown is whether Funny or Die will host its Friday night kickoff party. Already, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker — both of whose editors have been critical of Trump — have pulled out of the festivities. As for the celebrity host, multiple sources say there is considerable aversion among performers.”

-- An ex-New York Post sports reporter is suing his ex-employer after he was fired for posting a tweet that compared Trump’s inauguration to Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 terror attacks. He’s claiming that the tweet – posted outside of work and on his own time – is considered a “legal recreational activity” and should not be grounds for termination. (Des Bieler)

-- Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank described Trump as “an asset for the country” on CNBC. One of the company’s most highly paid ambassadors, NBA star Steph Curry, expressed concern about whether Plank sent the right message about being “inclusive.” Of Trump being called an “asset,” Curry told the San Jose Mercury News, “I agree with that description, if you remove the ‘et.’” The Golden State Warriors guard’s comments came during an interview with Marcus Thompson II of the San Jose Mercury News. Curry said he had “spent all day” on the phone Tuesday with Under Armour officials and others, “trying to understand what was going on and where everybody stood on the issue” of the company’s stance toward Trump.

-- “The Farm Belt is hurtling toward a milestone: Soon there will be fewer than two million farms in America for the first time since pioneers moved westward after the Louisiana Purchase.” The Wall Street Journal’s Jesse Newman and Patrick McGroarty report: “Across the heartland, a multiyear slump in prices for corn, wheat and other farm commodities brought on by a glut of grain world-wide is pushing many farmers further into debt. Some are shutting down, raising concerns that the next few years could bring the biggest wave of farm closures since the 1980s … From his father’s porch, [56-year-old Craig Scott, a fifth-generation farmer in Western Kansas], can see the windswept spot where his great-grandparents’ sod house stood in 1902 when they planted the first of the 1,200 acres on which his family farms alfalfa, sorghum and wheat today. Even after harvesting one of their best wheat crops ever last year … Mr. Scott isn’t sure how long they can afford to keep farming that ground. [And] after 30 years farming, [he says] this crop could be his last: ‘Do I go work at Wal-Mart as a greeter or as a parts man at the mechanics shop?’”

Larry Hogan visits the Chesapeake Brewing Company in Annapolis last week. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

2018 TAKING SHAPE:

-- Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s office has blocked 450 people from his Facebook page since he took office two years ago and has deleted an untold number of critical comments from his page. The news comes after a deluge of Maryland residents took to his Facebook page last week asking him to denounce Trump’s controversial travel ban -- later discovering their comments had been deleted and they were unable to access his page. “All I did was ask my governor to speak out, and I was blacklisted,” said one resident. (Ovetta Wiggins and Fenit Nirappil)

-- Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina said she is considering challenging Tim Kaine for his Senate seat. “I’m certainly looking at that opportunity,” she said in a local radio interview when asked about a potential 2018 bid. “It’s a little early to be making that decision.” In the months since she suspended her presidential bid, Fiorina has sought to maintain a political presence – briefly joining Ted Cruz as his vice-presidential pick and stumping for Virginia Republicans. (Jenna Portnoy)

-- Speaking of Kaine: During a hit on “Hardball” last night, he reflected on losing last year’s election. “You know, it seems kind of surreal,” he told Chris Matthews. I wake up some mornings and it seems like the campaign was a dream and I wake up other mornings and thinking I might be living through some alternate reality now.”

-- Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), who stoked controversy after meeting with Assad (the Butcher of Damascus) during her recent trip to Syria, reportedly failed to comply with House ethics rules detailing who paid for her trip and her activity during her stay. The Daily Beast’s Tim Mak reports: “The Hawaii Democrat is required to show, in detail, where the money came from to pay for her trip, but her travel disclosures are missing the document which describes this. Gabbard lists as her sponsor a little-known group called AACCESS-Ohio, which has been in and out of existence since 1991 and does not have a functional webpage; its resources are unclear, at best. … Her disclosures are also missing the required agenda that would show her schedule during the trip, which would list the various individuals she met while in Syria. Both of these documents were due in December, although Monday was the deadline for publicizing them.”

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) speaks yesterday in Baltimore. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

THE DEMOCRATIC CIVIL WAR—

-- Some liberal House members and their allies at outside groups complained that Third Way was invited to speak at the retreat here in Baltimore. Jim Kessler, Third Way’s senior vice president for policy and a former aide to Chuck Schumer, made the case during a half-hour session last night that the Democratic Party needs to grow geographically, demographically and ideologically — not move decisively to the left — to regain power.

But several outside groups from the Warren Wing of the party attacked House leadership for even inviting the moderates. “For House Democrats to seek advice from a Wall Street-funded think tank that preaches timidity, that shows them learning the exactly wrong lesson in the Trump era,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “Basically you’re deciding we’re going to figure out our path forward with a bunch of losers,” said Charles Chamberlain of Democracy for America, another activist group. Erica Payne, founder of the Agenda Project, called it “illogical to the point of absurdity” to believe that Third Way could lead Democrats out of their electoral abyss and compared it to Republicans calling on Jeb Bush for advice.

Democratic aides involved with the planning of the retreat noted that there are numerous other panels that feature progressive-minded speakers, including Center for American Progress chief executive Neera Tanden, political strategist Cornell Belcher, analyst Mark Huelsman from the liberal think tank Demos and numerous leaders from labor unions and leftist activist groups. “It’s our belief you have to hear from everyone to chart the best path going forward,” one of the staffers said.

“Third Way, it should be noted, has hardly acted like Wall Street lobbyists or Trump accommodationists,” Mike DeBonis notes in his piece on the kerfuffle. “During the presidential campaign, the group was strongly anti-Trump, and it has advocated for tougher financial regulations and higher taxes on the wealthy. In recent days, their social media accounts expressed opposition to Trump’s efforts to roll back the Dodd-Frank financial reform law and Trump’s nomination of Betsy DeVos.”

Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) speaks during a Hillary Clinton event at Independence Mall the night before the election. (Matt Slocum/AP)

-- “Some Democrats push for an economic message that goes beyond trashing Trump,” by Paul Kane in Baltimore: “Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), barely into his third year in office, summed up the levels of grief House Democrats went through after their party lost every level of power: ‘Deep sadness, depression, then anger.’ Now, however, fear of Trump is forcing them to think bigger. ‘Donald Trump is a great unifier,’ he said. He is also a great trap — a magnet for attacks that some rank-and-file Democrats worry are appealing to liberal coastal elites but not to the dozens of inland congressional districts that Democrats need to win if they’re ever going to take back the House majority. Boyle was part of the loose collection of antagonists who after the election pleaded with Democratic leaders for more economic issues on the agenda. That uprising culminated with a third of the caucus voting in leadership elections for a backbench Democrat, Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, instead of Nancy Pelosi.”

Pelosi met earlier this week with a large group of those Democrats who have been agitating for agenda items that appeal beyond the liberal base: “Their goal is an economic message that can appeal to the more than 40 percent of voters in union households who voted for Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton — the largest percentage in a presidential race since 1988. On Wednesday, at a press conference kicking off the retreat, Pelosi cited several economic issues that came out of her meeting with the group of mostly Rust Belt Democrats, including Trump’s campaign pledges to promote a massive infrastructure bill and to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. … Several forums on the retreat slate are focused on economics, including one titled ‘Taking a Stand for Working Americans’ and moderated by Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.). They’re members of the newly formed Blue Collar Caucus, which Boyle, Ryan and others recently founded. All four hail from states that twice went for Obama but in 2016 went to Trump.”

WAPO HIGHLIGHTS:

Four years after escaping the Syrian city of Aleppo, Majid Tawouz and his children waited at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport through the night for an early plane journey Feb. 8 to the United States. (Zakaria Zakaria for The Washington Post)

-- The Post’s Zakaria Zakaria and Louisa Loveluck have an updated report on a Syrian father and his four young children, newly cleared for the final leg of a long journey to the United States. It’s the happiest story you’ll read today: “As judges deliberated President Trump’s travel ban, four children from the Syrian city of Aleppo were slipping and sliding across the floor of an airport in Turkey as the clock to their new life counted down. After years in a temporary apartment, 9-year-old Mohamed Tawouz imagined having his own room one day. His 6-year-old brother, Malik, just wanted a new teddy bear. ‘That last week felt like a year to us. But now I’m just so happy,’ sister Wajeeha, 11, said with a grin late Tuesday before their flight. ‘I haven’t done this before. Will it be scary on the plane?’ The Tawouz family’s bags were already packed Jan. 27 when they learned that Trump’s executive order had put a Feb. 1 flight to Buffalo out of reach. [Now], at [Istanbul’s] Ataturk Airport, those same $3 black bags were full again, crammed with baby clothes and jars of fiery red peppers from the city they had fled four years earlier.

“Thinking ahead to New York, Wajeeha said she wanted to become a pediatrician. Malik was intrigued by the role of the supermarket cashier. ‘I could pass products through the bar-code reader and listen to that beep,’ he said. And then it was time to go … Leaning across the check-in counter, an attendant asked Tawouz if he understood that the family had to relinquish their bags, and the life they contained, until they landed in New York on Wednesday. Placing his hand on the pile, he paused briefly and then, after days of frowning, gently smiled.  “We’re ready,” he said.

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

A sign of the times:

The previous White House photographer has been re-posting photos to show how many more women advised Obama than Trump:

Elizabeth Warren unleashed a tweetstorm after Sessions was formally confirmed:

Republicans had a much different take:

POTUS was happy too:

There were lots of responses to Trump attacking Nordstrom for dropping his daughter's clothing line:

Some reminded us that Harry Truman was pretty mad about a poor review from The Washington Post of his daughter's piano recital (see the letter here):

To which Walter Shapiro replied:

Hillary Clinton weighed in on Warren being silenced by the Senate:

And Democratic senators continued to compare Warren's silencing to other historic female figures:

See Jeff Merkley read some of Coretta Scott King's letter from the Senate floor:

Bernie Sanders called on McConnell to apologize:

Former Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley made an important phone call:

Chuck Grassley met with Trump's nominee to be Agriculture secretary:

See part of Ted Cruz's CNN debate with Bernie Sanders on Obamacare:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- Business Insider, “Inside the crash of Fling, the startup whose founder partied on an island while his company burned through $21 million,” by Sam Shead: “Marco Nardone, the 28-year-old CEO and founder of social media app Fling, had called an emergency meeting. … The atmosphere was tense and Nardone was furious, three former employees said, because his COO, Emerson Osmond, had gone behind his back. Specifically, he was angry because Osmond had told Nardone's assistant not to order tents for the office that would allow staff to sleep by their desks and work around the clock … At this point, Nardone's Italian father, Remo Nardone — a man in his eighties and Fling's biggest investor — stepped in to try and cool the situation down, one of the employees said. But his son didn't react well. He swore at his father before hurling a Pret a Manger baguette in his direction.” "The ego took over," said one employee. Others recounted an incident where he hurled a cup of miso soup at his head of design in front of the entire office, and likened himself to Elon Musk.

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Muslim U.S. Olympian Ibtihaj Muhammad says she was held by U.S. Customs,” from USA Today: “Fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first female Muslim American to medal for the United States in the Olympics, said Tuesday she was recently detained at U.S. Customs for two hours without explanation. Muhammad, who is a native of Maplewood, N.J., said she didn’t know if she was held as a result of the Trump administration’s travel ban but is sure the move was a result of her ethnicity. "I don't know why," she [said during an interview] in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. "I can't tell you why it happened to me, but I know that I'm Muslim. I have an Arabic name. And even though I represent Team USA and I have that Olympic hardware, it doesn't change how you look and how people perceive you.’ Muhammad, who graduated from Duke, won bronze in team sabre at the Rio Olympics last year. She was also the first American to compete in an Olympics wearing a hijab.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“A visitor from Saturn might be puzzled by the crusade against DeVos, since none of the things that liberals profess to fear the most about a Trump era revolve around education policy,” writes New York Times columnist Ross Douthat. “If Trump is planning to surrender Eastern Europe to the Russians or start a world war with the Chinese, perhaps his secretary of state nominee deserved an all-night talkathon of opposition. If the biggest problem is that Trump will nominate allies who are unqualified … then the choice of Ben Carson [as HUD secretary] seems like an obvious place to draw a line. But somehow it was DeVos who became, in the parlance of cable-news crawls, Trump’s ‘most controversial nominee.’ Against her and (so far) only her, Democrats went to the barricades … So why did they fight so hard? Because in this particular case, the rules of normal pre-Trump politics still apply: Never mind that Trump’s logorrheic nationalism barely has time for education. Never mind that Republican views on education policy are much closer to the expert consensus than they are on, say, climate change. Familiarity has its comforts. And a debate this predictable, this pre-Trumpian, came as something of a relief.”

 

DAYBOOK:

At the White House: Trump will host a listening session with airline industry officials, participate in the swearing-in ceremony of Jeff Sessions, and speak with both Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Qatar leader Amir Tamim bin Ham separately by phone. Later, he will attend a SCOTUS listening session and lunch before holding a second round of calls with Amir Tamim bin Ham of Kuwait and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

On Capitol Hill: Lawmakers will meet at 10:00 a.m. to resume consideration of Tom Price as Secretary of Health and Human Services, post-cloture. The final confirmation vote is slated to be held on Friday afternoon. 

-- Happening tomorrow: I interview Chris Murphy for “The 202 Live” at 9:30 a.m. at The Post’s headquarters. Register to attend here.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

"I was a good student. I understand things. I comprehend very well, better than I think almost anybody." – President Trump

 

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

-- Yesterday, it was 70. Today, we’ll see snow. The Capital Weather Gang has the latest dispatch from Washington’s week-long forecasting frenzy: “The back edge of the precipitation has reached western Fairfax and western Montgomery County. We are seeing the rain mix with and change to snow north and west of the Beltway and even a report of a coating on the grass around Damascus and Mt. Airy. But, aside from our far northern suburbs, any snow should melt on contact and be very short-lived. We’re still expecting precipitation to taper off over the next hour or so from west to east.”

-- The Wizards beat the Nets 114-110.

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Stephen Colbert spent 10 minutes on his show last night ripping Trump for going after Nordstrom. “This is crazy!” Colbert said on his show last night. “This is insane. You cannot use the power of the office of the president to protect a family business, all right?!”

Check out Sean Spicer's "Alternative ABCs:"

The White House wanted more coverage of Trump’s other executive orders. Seth Meyers obliged:

-- The Senate Republican Conference posted glossy, un-narrated b-roll of Judge Gorsuch that's probably intended for super PACs and other outside groups to use in future ads attacking Democrats for not supporting him. Many senators, including Mitch McConnell, do this when they're in cycle:

Funny or Die labels Trump a "cry baby:"