Mike Pence attends a swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol yesterday for Luther Strange, who was appointed to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions as Alabama's senator. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

With Breanne Deppisch

THE BIG IDEA: Either the national security adviser misled the vice president, or the vice president knowingly misled the American people.

That’s one takeaway from a fresh scoop by three of my colleagues: Contrary to repeated and categorical denials by Trump officials, Michael Flynn privately discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with that country’s ambassador to the United States during the month before President Trump took office.

Their sourcing is solid: Nine current and former officials, who were in senior positions at multiple agencies at the time of the calls.

“Flynn’s communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak were interpreted by some senior U.S. officials as an inappropriate and potentially illegal signal to the Kremlin that it could expect a reprieve from sanctions that were being imposed by the Obama administration in late December to punish Russia for its alleged interference in the 2016 election,” Greg Miller, Adam Entous and Ellen Nakashima report. “Officials said this week that the FBI is continuing to examine Flynn’s communications with Kislyak.” 

Selective amnesia: On Wednesday, Flynn denied that he had discussed sanctions with Kislyak. Asked in an interview whether he had ever done so, he twice said, “No.” On Thursday, Flynn backed away from the denial. A spokesman said: “While he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”

What makes the earlier denials so weird: “Federal officials who have read the transcript of the call were surprised by Mr. Flynn’s comments, since he would have known that American eavesdroppers closely monitor such calls,” notes the New York Times, which confirmed The Post’s reporting.

Several top administration officials went to the mat last month to back up Flynn, but none more so than Mike Pence. “They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia,” the vice president said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Jan. 15. “What I can confirm, having spoken to him about it, is that those conversations that happened to occur around the time that the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions.” Pence then made the more sweeping assertion that there had been no contact between members of Trump’s team and Russia during the campaign.

“Neither of those assertions is consistent with the fuller account of Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak provided by officials who had access to reports from U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies that routinely monitor the communications of Russian diplomats,” Greg, Adam and Ellen write. “All (nine) of those officials said Flynn’s references to the election-related sanctions were explicit. Two of those officials went further, saying that Flynn urged Russia not to overreact to the penalties being imposed by [Obama] … A third official put it more bluntly, saying that either Flynn had misled Pence or that Pence misspoke.”

An administration official reiterated last night after the story posted that Pence made his comments based on a conversation with Flynn.

You might recall the Republican outrage when Susan Rice, as the U.N. ambassador, used Sunday show appearances in 2012 to falsely blame a YouTube video for the attack on our consulate in Benghazi. Rice said she was only repeating what she’d been told by the intelligence community, but that didn’t stop many prominent Republicans from accusing her of participating in a cover-up. The episode cost her the chance to be secretary of state, since Obama knew she could not get confirmed.

-- Flynn has cozied up to the Russians for years now, arguing that a longtime adversary can be a partner in defeating Islamic terrorism. Before he was pushed out as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014, amid concerns about his management, he visited Moscow. “Flynn has frequently boasted that he was the first DIA director to be invited into the headquarters of Russia’s military intelligence directorate, known as the GRU, although at least one of his predecessors was granted similar access,” Greg, Adam and Ellen report. “U.S. intelligence agencies say they have tied the GRU to Russia’s theft of troves of email messages from Democratic Party computer networks and accuse Moscow of then delivering those materials to WikiLeaks.” In 2015, Flynn flew back to Moscow to sit next to Putin at a party in Moscow for the Kremlin-controlled RT television network.

Reince Priebus, Mike Pence, Steve Bannon, Sean Spicer and Michael Flynn listen as President Trump speaks by phone with Vladimir Putin in the Oval Office on Jan. 28. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

-- What Trump doesn’t know can hurt him. Reuters reported yesterday that, during a Jan. 28 call with Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader raised the possibility of talks on a number of issues, including the New START treaty limiting nuclear weapons deployments. The news agency said Trump paused to ask aides what the 2011 treaty was, and then denounced it as favoring Russia. Press secretary Sean Spicer would not comment on some details of the call. But he denied that Trump didn’t know what the treaty was, saying the president had merely sought an opinion from an adviser during the conversation.

-- Suffering from a growing credibility gap, the Trump team is stepping up efforts to go after leakers. Embarrassing revelations have now emerged about the president’s calls with the leaders of Australia, Mexico and Russia. Karen DeYoung and Philip Rucker report that a White House probe is underway. Spicer said Trump is “very concerned” about the details getting out, which he said represent breaches of protocol and potential illegality.

-- Happening this morning: I am interviewing Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) about the Democratic strategy to resist Trump. We’ll cover a lot from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., from health care to foreign policy. Watch the livestream here.

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

The Senate has a roll call vote in the 2 a.m. hour.

-- Tom Price was confirmed 52-47 as Health and Human Services secretary around 2:30 a.m. Amy Goldstein and Sean Sullivan report: “The Georgia congressman did not draw a single vote from Senate Democrats, who argued that the intersection of the nominee’s personal investments and legislative behavior warranted deeper scrutiny of his ethics. Lacking the votes to defeat his confirmation, Democrats instead marshaled a war of words. They used the hours leading to the 2 a.m. roll call to read testimonials from Americans with severe, expensive-to-treat illnesses and gratitude to the ACA, Medicare or Medicaid — cornerstones of federal health policy that the Democrats accused the nominee of wanting to undermine.”

Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping (EPA)

-- Backing away from a fight: Trump told Chinese President Xi Jinping that he will honor the “One China” policy, reversing his earlier rhetoric on the longstanding policy during a phone call last night. Simon Denyer and Philip Rucker: In a statement, White House officials said the two countries agreed to engage in “discussions and negotiations on various issues of mutual interest,” and extended invitations to meet in their various countries.

-- The 9th Circuit, in a 3-0 decision, maintained the freeze on Trump’s immigration order, meaning previously barred refugees and citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries can continue entering the United States. From Matt Zapotosky: “In a unanimous 29-page opinion, three judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit flatly rejected the government’s argument that suspension of the order should be lifted immediately for national security reasons, and they forcefully asserted their ability to serve as a check on the president’s power. The judges wrote that any suggestion that they could not ‘runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.’ The judges did not declare outright that the ban was meant to disfavor Muslims … But their ruling is undeniably a blow to the government and means the travel ban will remain off for the foreseeable future.”

Trump reacted angrily: “We have a situation where the security of our country is at stake, and it’s a very, very serious situation, so we look forward ... to seeing them in court,” he told reporters at the White House. (Click the picture above for the audio.) The president also tweeted this:

So what’s next? “The Justice Department could now ask the Supreme Court — which often defers to the president on matters of immigration and national security — to intervene," per Zapotosky. "The Supreme Court, though, remains one justice short, and many see it as ideologically split 4 to 4. A tie would keep in place whatever the appeals court decides. The Justice Department could also ask the full 9th Circuit to consider the matter.”

Running out the clock: Don’t forget that Trump’s ban on refugees lasts only 120 days, and his ban on visitors from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen lasts only 90 days.

Judges Clifton, Canby and Friedland of the 9th Circuit. (Court photo via AFP/Getty Images)

-- Matt, one of our DOJ beat reporters, flags three more takeaways from the opinion:

The judges said the government has not offered any substantive evidence to support its need for the ban: “The Government has pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the Order has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United States. Rather than present evidence to explain the need for the Executive Order, the Government has taken the position that we must not review its decision at all.”

The court isn’t sure — at this stage — whether there is proof that the executive order discriminates against Muslims: “The States’ claims raise serious allegations and present significant constitutional questions. In light of the sensitive interests involved, the pace of the current emergency proceedings, and our conclusion that the Government has not met its burden of showing likelihood of success on appeal on its arguments with respect to the due process claim, we reserve consideration of these claims until the merits of this appeal have been fully briefed.”

The government now says green-card holders aren’t impacted by the order anymore because of guidance from the White House counsel. The court says it can’t take that to the bank: “The White House counsel is not the President, and he is not known to be in the chain of command for any of the Executive Departments. Moreover, in light of the Government’s shifting interpretations of the Executive Order, we cannot say that the current interpretation by White House counsel, even if authoritative and binding, will persist past the immediate stage of these proceedings.” (Read all 29 pages for yourself.)

-- In Damascus, meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar Assad told Yahoo News that Trump’s immigration order is an “American issue" but tried to give the president some cover by saying that some of the refugees fleeing his country are “definitely terrorists.” The Butcher of Damascus, who has committed heinous war crimes against his people, said that he could not estimate how many there might be but “you don’t need a significant number to commit atrocities.” He noted that the 9/11 attacks were pulled off by fewer than 20 terrorists “out of maybe millions of immigrants in the United States. So it’s not about the number, it’s about the quality, it’s about the intentions.”

Nik Wallenda walks over Niagara Falls on a tightrope. (AP/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn)

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Five members of the famed Wallenda acrobat troupe were injured after falling from a human pyramid stack – and the high-wire rope they were suspended on nearly 30 feet in the air. The family had been attempting to break a new height record before they tumbled out of the stunt, officials said – and in keeping with Wallenda tradition, there was no safety net to cushion their fall. (Katie Mettler)
  2. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delayed listing the rusty patched bumble bee as endangered – staving off protections for the species, whose numbers have declined by 87 percent. The news comes following a regulatory freeze put in place by the Trump administration on his first day in office. (Juliet Eilperin)
  3. A Michigan university said it is investigating a distressing anti-Semitic Valentine’s Day card that invoked Hitler and was reportedly distributed at the meeting of a Republican group on campus. The student group immediately apologized and denied association with the card, but its distressing message – “my love 4 u burns like 6,000 jews” – quickly prompted alarm on campus. (Lindsey Bever)
  4. A Russian airstrike killed three Turkish soldiers and wounded eleven others in northern Syria. While both countries have described the attack as an accident, it highlights the tenuous coordination between the two countries in the fight against ISIS. (Andrew Roth and Liz Sly)
  5. Angela Merkel agreed to create several so-called “exit centers” in Germany, moving to ramp up the speed at which the country can deport rejected asylum seekers. (AP)
  6. A Kenyan judge ruled against a government plan to shutter the world’s largest refugee camp. The move is a major blow to authorities, who say that the camp -- which houses more than a quarter of a million Somali refugees – is a foothold and recruiting ground for Islamist militants. (Rael Ombour)
  7. The British government announced it will limit the number of lone child refugees brought into Europe under a so-called “Dubs Amendment,” drastically reducing the number of entrants down to just 350, instead of the 3,000 that campaigners had sought. (Karla Adam and James McAuley)
  8. A French olive farmer gained notoriety after he was charged with shepherding migrants across the border and housing them, among the picholines, at his hidden hillside farm. But while the good Samaritan stirred hearts with his passionate court testimony (“I am a Frenchman,” he said, when why he had provided aid), authorities say his actions could land him up to five years in prison. (James McAuley)
  9. An Arizona mother has filed a lawsuit after her son with Asperger’s Syndrome was shot and killed by local police. She says officers were well acquainted with the 24-year-old, who posted an inspiring viral video with his service dog in 2015 – and is calling his death “nonsensical.” (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)
  10. Owners of late-model sedans have reported an increasingly common phenomenon: sometimes, a stranger will open their door, plop into the backseat, and request a ride to the airport. They’re getting confused for Uber drivers with similar vehicles, prompting a host of bizarre and sometimes-awkward exchanges with confused travelers. “I said, ‘I’m not an Uber driver,’ and they were really confused,” a driver recounted. “Then the woman said, ‘Well, we really need to go here, can you take us anyway? We’ll pay you.'” (Wall Street Journal

TRUMP, INC.:

-- Sean Spicer said Kellyanne Conway has been “counseled” after using a television appearance from the West Wing to promote Ivanka Trump’s clothing and jewelry line. From Drew Harwell, Tom Hamburger and Rosalind S. Helderman: “I’m going to give it a free commercial here,” Conway said of the first daughter’s fashion line during an appearance on Fox. “Go buy it today!" Her endorsement quickly raised alarm for its apparent violation of federal ethics rules, which bar government employees from using their public office to endorse products. “This is jaw-dropping to me,” said Don W. Fox, former acting director of the Office of Government Ethics. “This rule has been promulgated by the federal Office of Government Ethics as part of the Standards of Conduct for all executive branch employees and it applies to all members of the armed forces, as well.”

-- House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) issued an unusually sharp rebuke, calling Conway’s comments “absolutely wrong, wrong, wrong,” and “clearly over the line.” He joined ranking committee Democrat Elijah Cummings in penning a letter to the Office of Government Ethics calling her comments “unacceptable.” The letter asked the agency to recommend discipline given that Trump, who is Conway’s “agency head,” holds an “inherent conflict of interest” due to the involvement of his daughter’s business.

-- The AP reports that Trump “took issue” with Spicer’s comments about Conway at the briefing. The president told staff that he believes it was unfair to say Conway got “counseled” because it made it sound like she was in trouble, a person with direct knowledge of his comments told Julie Pace and Julie Bykowicz. “A White House spokeswoman said that while Trump didn’t see Conway’s television comments urging people to buy Ivanka Trump’s products, he believed she was ‘merely sticking up’ for his daughter after Nordstrom dropped her fashion line.”

Conway herself tweeted the story from the two Julies this morning:

-- In related news: The chances of Conway’s husband becoming the next solicitor general just shot way up, as well. Kellyanne has apparently won a power struggle with Jeff Sessions, according to Politico’s Eliana Johnson and Tara Palmeri: “Chuck Cooper, the conservative Supreme Court litigator, is withdrawing his name from consideration to be the next solicitor general, opening the door for (George Conway) to be appointed to the role. Cooper, a onetime clerk for the late Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist, is a confidant of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and helped prepare him for his confirmation hearings. He was one of two finalists for the position. … Conway has been reported as the other finalist. … The White House was divided between the two candidates, with Kellyanne Conway and others advocating for her husband and another camp, led by Sessions, making the case for Cooper.”

Eric Trump and members of his Secret Service detail walk outside a beachfront restaurant during a private business trip last month to Uruguay. (Cristian Cordoba)

-- The Trump Organization could be reviving a failed development project in the Dominican Republic that has not seen action in a decade. The news comes after Eric Trump visited the property earlier this month and met with owners – and calls into question Trump’s pledge not to launch new foreign deals while he is in the White House. Joshua Partlow reports: “A [Trump Organization lawyer] told the AP that efforts to re-engage in a project that began years ago but failed were very preliminary. He said that the deal was never dead, even though the project had seen no new building in a decade.” The project was thrown into disarray by the 2008 financial crisis, and Trump sued the resort in 2012 for $14 million. 

-- A Saudi Arabian lobbying firm paid for a room at Trump’s Washington hotel after Inauguration Day. It marks the first publicly-known payment on behalf of a foreign government to a Trump property since he assumed the White House. (Politico)

-- A senior House Democrat is dusting off a little-used legislative tool to either force a committee debate or floor vote on Trump’s Russia ties. Mike DeBonis reports: “Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) filed a ‘resolution of inquiry’ Thursday, a relatively obscure parliamentary tactic used to force presidents and executive-branch agencies to share records with Congress. Under House practice, such a resolution must be debated and acted upon in committee or else it can be discharged to the House floor for consideration. Besides Trump, the resolution asks for records from any investigation into [Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Carter Page and Roger Stone]. All four men have come under scrutiny over alleged ties to [Russia]. Resolutions of inquiry have been introduced by Congress hundreds of times since 1947, according to the Congressional Research Service … but few have targeted the president as personally as Nadler’s does.”

Trump signs one of three executive orders related to reducing crime in the Oval Office yesterday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

MORE WEST WING INTRIGUE:

-- Trump lives a surprisingly solitary existence. From the AP’s Julie Pace and Jonathan Lemire: “Around 6:30 each evening, Secret Service agents gather in the dim hallways of the West Wing to escort [Trump] home. With his wife and youngest son living in New York … Trump's first evenings have been spent largely alone, tethered to the outside world only by his phone and his television. The dramatic change of scenery has left the 70-year-old president, a known creature of habit, a little adrift in the evenings."

  • He often dials up associates in the middle of the night or early morning – and recently reached Paul Ryan in the middle of an early-morning workout. 
  • While aides continue to try to curb his cable news consumption during the workday, there are no limits when he returns to the residence: “During one recent telephone conversation, Trump briefly put down the phone so he could turn up the volume on a CNN report. When he returned to the call, he was complaining about ‘fake news.’”

-- How Trump is changing Washington, via Abha Bhattarai: “In the three weeks since the Trump administration moved into town, business at Bullfeathers, a Capitol Hill watering hole popular among Republican staffers, has climbed 55 percent. Old Ebbitt Grill, across from the White House, has reported an uptick in sales of Fireball whisky shots. And at Luigi Parasmo Salon and Spa in Georgetown, a steady stream of recently relocated New Yorkers has been calling to schedule weekly blowouts … The newcomers are ‘somewhat trendier’ than the salon’s usual lineup of Washingtonians, owner Luigi Parasmo said. (He also has some ideas to jazz up the president’s hairdo, if called upon.) ‘As soon as there’s a Republican president, I know business is going to pick up,’ said Tattersall, owner of Grand Ole Potomac Fly Fishing Guides. ‘There’s lots of good activity on the books for the spring.’ It’s a tide that turns every four — or eight — years in Washington as one presidential administration gives way to the next … [and] throughout Washington, business owners say it’s clear that the Trump administration has arrived.”

Ken Starr watches Baylor play Iowa State during a women's NCAA basketball game last month. (Tony Gutierrez/AP)

-- Ken Starr, who was ousted at president of Baylor University amid the football program’s ongoing sexual-assault scandal but who is best known for his role in the Monica Lewinsky investigation, is reportedly close to joining the Trump administration. He is among a “handful” of candidates to be named ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom at the State Department, Des Bieler reports. “It’s my understanding that it’s his job if he wants it,” said one source. The job entails monitoring the persecution of religious minorities, and under Trump, it is expected to focus on Christians who are under duress in majority-Muslim countries.

Trump talks with IBM CEO Ginny Rometty, left, and son-in-law Jared Kushner before a meeting in the State Dining Room last Friday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

TRUMP'S WORLD:

-- “Jared Kushner, a shadow diplomat, pulls the strings on U.S.-Mexico talks,” by Philip Rucker, Ashley Parker and Joshua Partlow: “Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray had come to the White House on Jan. 25 for a full day of private meetings, but it was Kushner who gave him a heads-up that Trump would deliver a speech that afternoon at the Department of Homeland Security where he would sign an executive order on his signature border wall. And it was Kushner who led Videgaray into the Oval Office for an unscheduled audience with the president, where together they made their case to Trump for a more measured discussion of Mexico. Kushner, 36, has no traditional foreign policy experience yet has become the primary point of contact for presidents, ministers and ambassadors from more than two dozen countries … ‘Everyone is trying to get to know Jared Kushner,’ said the ambassador from one U.S. ally … Many ambassadors were loath to put even their positive thoughts about Kushner on the record for fear of jeopardizing what has become their most important contact in Trump’s Washington."

  • In another sign of Kushner’s growing importance, Rex Tillerson invited him into his meeting with Videgaray, which for the first half hour was just the three men before they were joined by additional aides. (The secretary of state will fly to Mexico City to meet with Videgaray next Wednesday.)
  • The diplomatic community is taking note: “Senior officials from several other countries have already reached out to their Mexican counterparts, hoping to glean insights about the new president, the changing geopolitical dynamics in Washington and the quiet, dimpled man behind it all — Kushner.”

-- Speaking of Jared: His family is in talks to purchase the Miami Marlins baseball team. The bid is being pushed by his brother, Joshua Kushner, and brother-in-law Joseph Meyer. (New York Times)

-- A secret government report estimates the wall will cost more than Trump, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell say: An internal DHS report says the president’s proposal would actually be a series of fences and walls that would cost up to $21.6 billion, Reuters reports. The amount is well above the $12 billion figure cited by Trump in his campaign, and $15 billion estimates offered publicly by the House Speaker and Senate Majority Leader. The report will be presented to DHS Secretary John Kelly in coming days.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie Abe arrive at Joint Base Andrews. (Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

-- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will meet with Trump at the White House today, seeking to forge a personal bond with the newly-minted president before the two head to Mar-a-Lago for the weekend. 

Abe has moved to embrace the new president – breaking with foreign leaders who have roiled and recalibrated amid Trump’s bullish remarks on the world stage. David Nakamura and Anna Fifield report: “Like most foreign capitals, Tokyo was shocked at Trump’s upset victory and scrambled to make sense of the outcome. But Japanese diplomats had been studying Trump — reading books, news articles and even psychoanalytical essays about the New York business mogul — and trying to get to know his top deputies. On a congratulatory phone call in November, Abe invited himself to Trump Tower — and, after stopping in New York on a trip to Peru, presented Trump, an avid golfer, with a $3,755 gold-colored driver."

Japanese officials say that Abe's goal in the next few days is to reassure Trump that the U.S.-Japan security alliance is a "win-win" relationship: To some degree, he has spied an opening to further his own security agenda with Trump’s rise. "Trump is like the gift from heaven to Abe to push forward more on his security agenda," said one professor. "Abe’s goal on the security side is to show Trump that Japan is doing more."

-- Bigger picture: Diplomats around the globe say the new U.S. foreign policy is a “guessing game” – and with key State Department openings still unfilled, they are frozen in a “wait-and-see mode” as they attempt to navigate a flurry of mixed messages. CNN’s Nicole Gaouette, Elise Labott and Michelle Kosinski report: "Our people are trying to understand who is dealing with what," said one source within Russia's Foreign Ministry. “Half of the top management of the State Department has gone.” The policy murkiness is compounded by the fact that the administration didn't seem ready to immediately take on the duties of running the State Department. “The result, said one European diplomat, is that ‘the system doesn't work. The President is in the White House, but the rest of the system doesn't work.’”

Tom Price testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

THE FUTURE OF HEALTH CARE:

-- Tom Price belongs to a fringe, conservative group of doctors known for its unorthodox health care views – and its bashing of the department he now leads. Amy Goldstein reports: “The group, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), holds positions that are at wide variance with basics of federal health policy. It opposes Medicare … [and offers] extensive training to doctors on how to opt out of the program. It also opposes mandatory vaccination as ‘equivalent to human experimentation,’ a stance contrary to requirements in every state and recommendations of major medical organizations and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Such positions are part of an underlying credo, which Price has long espoused, that doctors should be autonomous in treating their patients — with far fewer government rules, medical quality standards, insurance coverage limits and legal penalties when they make mistakes. The congressman’s ardent hostility toward the Affordable Care Act, before its passage in 2010 and ever since, springs from that credo’s anti-government sentiment."

-- “Republicans in Idaho tried to design a better plan than Obamacare — and failed,” by Robert Samuels: Jamie Gluch lumbered into the kitchen and pulled from the freezer a bag of corn, the only affordable analgesic he had for his swollen face. ‘You going to be okay?’ asked his wife, 44-year-old Chelle Gluch. [His] … tooth had rotted weeks before, but seeing a dentist was an unthinkable expense after car trouble sucked up the family’s savings. The Gluchs had hoped it wouldn’t come to this — a car or a tooth — when former [Obama] announced his health-care plan years ago. But then Idaho chose not to expand Medicaid, as the law allowed, and then Idahoans chose not to come up with their own plan … [Now], what’s happening in Washington, where there is a will to repeal but no plan to replace, feels familiar to those in Idaho. In the meantime, some of those the in-between have stopped working because it is a better deal to get Medicaid. Others forgo medical care and innovate on their own. ... 'It feels like we’re watching the macro version in Washington of what’s been happening here,' said policy analyst Liz Woodruff."

John McCain chairs a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

TRUMP VS. MCCAIN:

-- Trump personally attacked John McCain for describing that the recent raid in Yemen failed. A day earlier Sean Spicer had said anyone who questions the success of the mission that led to the death of a Navy SEAL was doing a disservice to the SEAL's memory. Even McCain, Spicer said when a reporter asked.

-- McCain’s brutal rejoinder is an instant-classic: “Many years ago when I was imprisoned in North Vietnam, there was an attempt to rescue the POWs,” the Arizona senator told NBC News. “Unfortunately, the prison had been evacuated. But the brave men who took on that mission and risked their lives in an effort to rescue us prisoners of war were genuine American heroes. Because the mission failed did not in any way diminish their courage and willingness to help their fellow Americans who were held captive. Mr. Spicer should know that story.” McCain then walked away, punctuating the comment. (Aaron Blake has more.)

Watch:

-- Meghan McCain is fed up with Trump's attacks on her war-hero dad:

-- Additionally, there are many examples of Trump doing exactly what he and Spicer attacked McCain for doing. Here is one recent mission he called a failure:

JOE MANCHIN VS. SEAN SPICER:

-- During a private lunch with senators, immigration came up. But there is a dispute about what was said. According to West Virginia’s senior senator, a Democrat, Trump said he was open to reviewing details of the 2013 immigration bill written by a bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators. “He’s open to reviewing the piece of legislation,” Manchin told reporters after. “He says, ‘Well, you’ve got to start working on it again,’ and I says, ‘Absolutely we will.’ And that was encouraging.”

-- White House press secretary Sean Spicer claimed that Trump told the senators, “If you guys want to get together to work on a solution, I’m glad to listen.” He said that Trump’s comments on immigration were “not specific to the ‘Gang of Eight,'” and that Trump opposes the 2013 bill. He also said Trump announced during the lunch that he thinks that legislation included “amnesty,” which he does not support.

-- That version of events is disputed by Manchin, Ed O’Keefe notes. “According to the West Virginia Democrat, when Trump noted that there is no current immigration legislation under consideration on Capitol Hill, another senator in attendance, Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), mentioned the 2013 bill. Alexander also noted that the 2013 bill had passed with 68 votes, Manchin recalled. ‘Well, that sounds like something good and you all agreed, 68? What happened to it?’ Trump said, according to Manchin…

“‘I’ll tell you exactly what happened, Mr. President,’ Manchin said he told Trump. ‘It went to the House and [Majority Leader] Eric Cantor gets defeated. They’re crying ‘Amnesty, amnesty, amnesty’ and [House Speaker] John Boehner could not bring it back up on the floor and get a vote — that’s exactly what happened.’ At that point, Trump said, ‘I want to see it,’ Manchin said. ‘So he was very anxious to see it. He says, ‘I know what amnesty is.’ And I said, ‘Sir, I don’t think you’re going to find this [is] amnesty at all.’”

TRUMP VS. BLUMENTHAL:

-- In a private session with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) on Wednesday, Neil Gorsuch called Trump’s criticism of federal judges “disheartening” and “demoralizing.” Trump then disputed Blumenthal’s account, even after it was confirmed by Gorsuch’s team, and attacked the senator.

“What you should do is ask Senator Blumenthal about his Vietnam record that didn’t exist after years of saying it did,” the president told reporters at the White House. “So ask Senator Blumenthal about his Vietnam record. He misrepresented that just like he misrepresented Judge Gorsuch.”

-- The backstory: Blumenthal came under sharp criticism during his 2010 Senate campaign for repeated remarks over the years that he had ‘served’ in Vietnam, even though he did his full Marine service in the United States," Sean Sullivan and Robert Costa note. “Blumenthal obtained several deferments between 1965 and 1970 and then joined the Marine Corps Reserve but did not serve in Vietnam. He later said he misspoke and intended to say that he was in the Marine Reserve during the Vietnam conflict. Trump received five deferments from the draft during the Vietnam War, four while he was a student and a fifth for bone spurs in his heels, records show.”

-- Blumenthal stood by his account in an interview with The Post. “If the president has any doubts about Gorsuch's comments, “his own White House staff was in the room, so I think he just needs to talk to them,” he said. As for Trump's attack on Blumenthal's fabricated history of military service in Vietnam, the senator said: “The issue is really not about me. It's about the independence of the American judiciary. There is a fundamental core democratic principle at stake. Judge Gorsuch needs to stand up to this bullying, and I believe he has to publicly condemn it.”

-- Chuck Grassley said that he is considering holding Gorsuch’s confirmation hearings sooner than he had planned. “The fact that we see all of these stalling shenanigans could impact the necessity of moving it forward,” said the Judiciary Committee chairman. “If we’re going to have the same game played on Gorsuch, that’ll be taken into consideration.” Grassley said early to mid-March is now under consideration as a time frame, whereas he had been looking at mid- to late March a few weeks ago.

MAYBE TRUMP SUPPORTERS SHOULD HAVE TAKEN HIM LITERALLY, NOT JUST SERIOUSLY:

-- “California Farmers Backed Trump, but Now Fear Losing Field Workers,” by the New York Times’ Caitlin Dickerson and Jennifer Medina: “Jeff Marchini and others in the Central Valley here bet their farms on the election of [Trump]. His message of reducing regulations and taxes appealed to this Republican stronghold, one of Mr. Trump’s strongest bases of support in the state. As for his promises about cracking down on illegal immigrants, many assumed Mr. Trump’s pledges were mostly just talk. But two weeks into his administration, Mr. Trump has [already] signed executive orders. … Now, farmers here are deeply alarmed about what the new policies could mean for their workers, most of whom are unauthorized, and the businesses that depend on them. With 6.5 million people living in the valley, the fields in this state bring in $35 billion a year and provide more of the nation’s food than any other state. [And] approximately 70 percent of all farmworkers here are living in the United States illegally … ‘If you only have legal labor, certain parts of this industry and this region will not exist,’” said fourth-generation farmer Harold McClarty. “If we sent all these people back, it would be a total disaster.”

-- Trump met with airline and airport executives at the White House, calling America’s airports and roads “obsolete” and telling attendees he is interested in privatizing the national air traffic control system. “Trump also promised to roll back government regulations and said he will announce a plan in the next three weeks to reduce taxes on businesses,” the AP reports. “But he sounded skeptical about raising fees that airline passengers pay to fund airport improvements … Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly told Trump the best way to help airlines would be to ‘modernize the air traffic control system.’ He complained that money spent on the system has not improved it. ‘I hear we’re spending billions and billions of dollars, it’s a system that’s totally out of whack,’ Trump said.”

Nancy Pelosi confers with Steny Hoyer during the House Democratic caucus "Issues Conference" in Baltimore. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

THE DEMOCRATIC CIVIL WAR – Two more dispatches from the House Dem retreat in Baltimore:

-- While House D’s are in agreement that Trump opposition might be the most unifying force they’ve seen in a generation, it alone will not return them to power. And figuring out a compelling alternative to that opposition is easier said than done. Mike DeBonis reports: Party leaders said Thursday that they had confidence in the essence of the Democratic message … and that the challenge for Democrats isn’t overhauling their policies but refining their communications … ‘We just didn’t have the emotional connection,’ [Nancy Pelosi] said. ‘He had the emotional connection, and that always is an advantage in the campaign.’ But other members expressed concern that in the wake of Trump’s victory and with the GOP in control of both houses of Congress, the problems go deeper than messaging. The mood inside the Hyatt Regency, by all accounts, remained civil, but it prompted discussion and debate over what direction the party should take — toward a big tent that encompasses an increasingly less relevant moderate wing or a more faithful adherence to progressive ideals, particularly on economic issues.”

-- Rep. Sean Maloney, tasked with leading an independent autopsy of the House Democrats’ disappointing performance in the 2016 elections, had both good and bad news for attendees, Paul Kane reports: “He means that there are House districts that Democrats have competed in, or even represented for a long time, that have moved so sharply away from Democrats that they need to reassess whether to compete there ever again. Yet there is also an emerging set of districts that have long been held by Republicans that are now bending toward Democrats faster than even the most optimistic strategists envisioned. [Now] on the table? Longtime Republican districts that are becoming more demographically diverse. Off the table may be rural districts with little diversity, the very places where [Trump] did well in 2016. …

“A lawyer, Maloney is a bit obsessed with data, and he said he believes there are 350 unique characteristics that can be applied to every House race that will indicate which direction it will go. Maloney also wants to abandon the longtime party metric used by operatives known as the Democratic Performance Index … Instead, he said, the three biggest predictors of the partisan bent of a House district are the percentage of it that is rural, how much of its population has received college degrees and how diverse it is.”

Chuck Schumer boards a bus at the Capitol to a Democratic retreat. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

-- Time Magazine cover story, “Inside Chuck Schumer’s Plan to Take On President Trump,” by Sam Frizell: “Put Chuck Schumer and Donald Trump in a room together and you can't miss the connection. They are the leaders of rival parties, sharp opponents on Twitter and in the press, but they live by the same words, as big and bold as the city that made them. ‘Beautiful!’ they will say, though at different times and about different things. ‘Wonderful!’ ‘Horrible!’ ‘So, so great!’ It is the vernacular of outer-borough kids who, in different ways, scraped their way to the big time. They are two local grandees who boast, yarn, insult and rib each other like they are still on the streets of New York City. For all the chaos and plot twists of the coming weeks, the one sure thing to watch is how these two men go at it …Though they know each other and share both experience and instincts, they cannot anticipate each other's every move. In many respects, both the success of the Trump agenda and the power of the Democratic Party … depend on how well Schumer plays his cards.”

Demonstrators cheer at Dulles International Airport to protest Trump's travel ban. (Mike Theiler/Reuters)

PUNDIT CORNER:

-- Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer calls Trump’s immigration order “lousy policy” designed for “the sole purpose of fulfilling an ill-designed campaign promise”: “Vetting standards could easily have been revised and tightened without the moratorium and its attendant disruptions, stupidities, random cruelties and well-deserved bad press,” he writes. Instead, “the moratorium turned into a distillation of the worst aspects of our current airport-security system, which everyone knows to be 95 percent pantomime. Similarly, during the brief Trump moratorium, a cavalcade of innocent and indeed sympathetic characters — graduate students, separated family members, returning doctors and scientists — were denied entry. You saw this and said to yourself: We are protecting ourselves from these? … In the end, what was meant to be a piece of promise-keeping, tough-on-terror symbolism has become an oxygen-consuming distraction. At a time when it should be pushing and promoting deregulation, tax reform and health-care transformation, [the Trump administration] has steered itself into a pointless cul-de-sac — where even winning is losing.”

-- Former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson considers whether the Trump-style of communication is sustainable – and wonders if spontaneity can see us through a national tragedy: "Is Trump’s off-the-cuff, Twitter-fueled style of communication in the same category of revolutionary change as the political pamphlet (see Thomas Paine) or the barn-burning stump speech (see William Jennings Bryan)? And more importantly – could these bullish, spontaneous remarks soothe the nation times of tragedy? Moments such as these usually require both thought and craft. There is no evidence that Trump is capable of this kind of communication; there is much evidence he is not … [Another] caveat is that we don’t know the ending of Trump’s story. His style of communication is attractive now because it helped him overcome nearly impossible political odds. But in, say, the fourth and final year of a failed presidency, Trump’s tone and approach — his insults, his self-centeredness, his strange inability to discern appropriateness — may appear in a different light. A virus produces antibodies. Americans may become exhausted with his shtick. The decency of the country may be deeper than the Trump phenomenon.”

-- “If you could give Trump the gift of a single trait to help his presidency, what would it be?” asks New York Times columnist David Brooks: My first thought was that prudence was the most important gift one could give him. But the more I thought about it the more I realized prudence might not be the most important trait Trump needs. He seems intent on destroying the postwar world order … At the heart of Trumpism is the perception that the world is a dark, savage place, and therefore ruthlessness, selfishness and callousness are required to survive in it. It’s not clear if Trump is combative because he sees the world as dangerous or if he sees the world as dangerous because it justifies his combativeness. Either way, Trumpism is a posture that leads to the now familiar cycle of threat perception, insult, enemy-making, aggrievement, self-pity, assault and counterassault. So, upon reflection, the gift I would give Trump would be an emotional gift, the gift of fraternity. I’d give him the gift of some crisis he absolutely could not handle on his own. The only way to survive would be to fall back entirely on others, and then to experience what it feels like to have them hold him up.Out of that, I hope, would come an ability to depend on others, to trust other people, to receive grace, and eventually a desire for companionship.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Hillary Clinton tweeted this reaction to the 9th Circuit's ruling against the travel ban:

Kellyanne Conway's response:

The cover of next week's Economist:

Trump's "see you in court" line is the new “you’re fired.” It quickly spawned a meme. How can you go to court if you're already there?

From the Buzzfeed news editor:

And what would send others to court:

From a Tonight Show writer:

From the executive producer of Samantha Bee's Full Frontal:

From Obama's former speechwriter:

Stephen Colbert took issue with Trump's grammar:

Some conservatives also skewered Trump:

And others said it was an appropriate path for the president:

The actress wondered about Kellyanne Conway and who "counseled" her after touting Ivanka's Trump's products:

Don Willett -- the Tweeter Laureate of Texas (who was earlier on Trump's SCOTUS short list) -- had some chocolate cake after the decision came out:

The Republican team working to get Gorsuch confirmed really, really, really wants you to know the judge loves dogs:

Ru Paul went shopping at Nordstroms:

Sen. Tim Scott hung out with Mike Pence:

Betsy DeVos made her first public appearance as Education Secretary: At Howard University.

Arianna Huffington posted this TBT:

Kevin McCarthy at 16:

A funny scene from a Roll Call story:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- In 2005, Steve Bannon tried to make a documentary-style film about the eugenics movement, Hitler, “blood purity,” contraception, Darwinism, mutants and cloning. He wanted to cast Mel Gibson. From The Daily Beast’s Asawin Suebsaeng: “The 11-page outline for Bannon’s unmade movie … bears the ominous title The Singularity: Resistance Is Futile. (The project’s alternate working title: The Harvest of the Damned.) A heady, incomplete mix of science, history, religion, and politics, it sketches out a story in which mankind’s unquenchable thirst for knowledge and scientific advancement has led to horrific, fascist atrocities and forced sterilization, drawing a direct line between those atrocities and modern bio-technology. 'The acceleration of technological progress is the central feature of the 20th /21st century,' the chapter titled 'The Religion of Technology' begins. 'We are on the edge of change brought about by Man’s ability to create… Man, the toolmaker, is on the verge of creating greater-than-human intelligence.'"

-- The New Yorker, “A photographer’s view of the battle to destroy ISIS,” by Victor J. Blue: “It’s a strange thing to become friends with guys whose job it is to fight. It’s an intense environment—things are happening, there’s excitement, and then boom: they are gone. It seems obvious, in retrospect, that men who are fighting in war should die. But, when they did, two things happened to me. First, I wanted to know the exact circumstances, as if, in reporting it, I’d come to the conclusion that it didn’t really happen. Then, I wanted to find them in a picture, as if seeing them right away would keep their memory from fading away.

-- New York Times, “Feeling ‘Pressure All the Time’ on Europe’s Treadmill of Temporary Work,” by Liz Alderman: “After graduating with degrees in accounting and finance from a university in Finland, Ville Markus Kieloniemi thought he would at least find an entry-level job in his field. He studied potential employers, tailoring his applications accordingly. He wound up churning through eight temporary jobs over the next three years … Meet the new generation of permatemps in Europe. While the region’s economy is finally recovering, more than half of all new jobs created in the European Union since 2010 have been through temporary contracts … For those stuck in this employment netherworld, life is a cycle of constant job searches. Confidence can give way to doubt as career prospects seem to fade. Young people talk of delaying marriage and families indefinitely. And though many were grateful for any workplace experience, they were also cynical about companies that treated them like disposable labor.”

DAYBOOK:

At the White House: Trump will meet with Mitch McConnell, and host Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe at the White House for a bilateral meeting and press conference. Later in the day, they will be joined by their wives and depart for Mar-a-Lago.

Vice President Mike Pence will meet with Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Tarō Asō and join meetings with Abe. Later in the day, he will speak with Ford CEO Mark Fields by phone.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, an outspoken Trump critic, ended his company’s fourth quarter earnings call by making a wish. “Hopefully we will all be alive to see the end of next year," he said. After a pause, he added: "Thank you." Then the call ended. (CNN)

 

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

-- Another day of chilly whiplash to close out a roller-coaster week of weather. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “It’s still chilly, but calmer. A sunny morning commute is possible, yet clouds should battle sunshine fairly effectively by afternoon. Don’t be surprised by a quick sprinkle, shower, flurry, sleet spurt, or snow shower. Especially afternoon hours. We have a tumultuous atmosphere overhead, even if quieter at the surface. Breezes may try to stay around or below 10 mph out of the west and west-southwest. High temperatures struggle but eventually range from the mid-30s to around 40 by late afternoon.”

-- Maryland’s Republican senators knew they didn’t have the votes to block a resolution that would give Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) more power to sue the Trump administration. So they tried for a delay. When the motion failed, nine of the 14 Republicans stormed out in protest — a rare sign of unrest in a majority Democratic chamber where longtime Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) emphasizes civility and decorum. The Defense Act stems from a provision in the Maryland Constitution that requires the attorney general to obtain permission from the General Assembly or the governor to file certain cases. It would essentially give Frosh blanket authority from the legislature to challenge the federal government on any legal issue. (Ovetta Wiggins and Josh Hicks)

-- The Capitals beat the Red Wings 6-3.

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) got a frosty reception at a town hall in his home state last night. Angry constituents packed a high school auditorium, grilling the high-ranking congressman with questions and peppering him with boos and chants while protesters amassed outside:

See Trump impersonator Alec Baldwin's 1st SNL monologue:

Jimmy Kimmel portrays "Drunk Donald Trump:"

He also interviewed "Betsy DeVos:"

Marco Rubio, who joked about the size of Trump's "hands" during his failed presidential campaign, now makes a plea for civility in our political discourse:

The Post video team looks at how Kellyanne Conway operates as Trump's spin-meister:

A primer on what it takes for a refugee to be admitted to the U.S.:

New Zealanders are desperately trying to save hundreds of beached pilot whales. Many died overnight before rescuers reached the stranded pod, and more than 100 have been sent back to sea in an attempt to mitigate the country's worst mass stranding in decades: