In this case, though, there is video. Fierstein went on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in disguise in 1990 and spent six minutes on national television recounting her experience for an episode about “High Class Battered Women.” She said she called the police on Puzder and that he “vowed revenge.” Politico’s Marianne LeVine, who obtained the tape, reports that Fierstein said he told her, “I will see you in the gutter. This will never be over. You will pay for this.”
The National Women’s Law Center had opposed Puzder’s nomination because of what it called “sexist” advertising run by Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s — two of his restaurants — and reports of harassment from employees working for the chains.
-- But the Republican senators who torpedoed the fast-food CEO’s nomination to run the Department of Labor cited immigration as the primary reason. John Thune, the third-ranking Senate Republican, told reporters that he wanted to know more about why Puzder employed an undocumented housekeeper and how he paid her. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) cited the same concerns to reporters. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), a member of the Senate Health Committee, also said that revelations about Puzder’s personal employment practices gave him “serious concerns” that he had conveyed to Senate leaders, according to Ed O'Keefe and Jonnelle Marte.
The National Review published an editorial yesterday morning calling on senators to oppose Puzder because of his past support for increased levels of legal immigration for highly skilled and seasonal workers, not anything else. “He has long been one of corporate America’s most high-profile advocates of Gang of Eight-style ‘comprehensive immigration reform,’” the editors wrote. “We understand the impulse of the White House and the Senate to try to bulldog through rather than to give obstructionist Democrats a scalp. Yet … the country, and the administration, can weather a re-do on this one.” (While a prominent Never Trump voice on the right during the GOP primaries, the National Review's position on immigration tracks closely with Trump’s. And the magazine retains influence among a lot of movement conservatives in the conference.)
-- With at least a dozen Republicans withholding support, Sen. Mitch McConnell personally told the White House that Puzder didn’t have the votes to survive. It was tough for the Senate majority leader because he personally likes the CEO and had defended him to the end. “We’re always looking for nominees who have never made a mistake,” the Kentuckian said last week. “Frequently, it’s impossible to find nominees who have never made a mistake.”
With irony clearly not intended, a “source very close to Puzder” told CBS News that the CEO was dropping out because “he’s very tired of the abuse."
-- Protests organized by unions did not necessarily sway any Republicans, but they should not be discounted because they successfully prevented any Democratic defections. Employees marched outside Puzder’s restaurants and came to the Capitol to share grievances with lawmakers. Critics also highlighted the nominee’s opposition to improving overtime benefits and increasing the minimum wage. (David Wiegel has more on labor’s victory lap.)
-- A confirmation hearing scheduled for today would have been brutal for Puzder, with incoming from both sides. It had already been delayed four times because of problems related to his background check, ethics agreement and the disentanglement of his assets. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Al Franken, Chris Murphy and Patty Murray were are all prepared to interrogate Puzder in the HELP committee.
-- Bigger picture: Puzder’s failure is just the latest illustration of the terrible job that Trump’s transition team did at vetting nominees before they were announced. Remember that Vincent Viola previously dropped out as Army secretary. If McConnell was not such an effective majority leader, and Republicans didn’t have 52 seats, a few other Trump picks may have gone down by now because of stuff that came out during the confirmation fights, from Wilbur Ross at Commerce to Betsy DeVos at Education. Just as I wrote after Monica Crowley lost her National Security Council slot because of plagiarism, even in the Trump era some of the old rules of politics still apply. Michael Flynn is another data point for that, too.
-- Another lesson: Appointing donors with no political or government experience to the Cabinet is risky. DeVos barely made it through as education secretary, requiring Mike Pence to cast a tiebreaking vote. Puzder, a major Trump donor, would have been the first labor secretary since the Reagan administration to have no experience in public service.
-- Trump’s decision to not release a statement about Puzder’s withdrawal says a lot about his leadership style. He always wants to wash his hands of things that reflect poorly on him. He didn’t even tweet out well wishes. He just pretended like it didn’t happen.
-- Who will the president put up to replace Puzder? Bloomberg quotes a White House official as saying that possible replacements are former National Labor Relations Board members Peter Kirsanow and R. Alexander Acosta; Joseph Guzman, an assistant professor at Michigan State University; and Catherine Templeton, former head of the South Carolina Labor Department. Also keep an eye on Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), who had been on Trump’s initial shortlist.
-- Will anyone else have trouble getting confirmed?
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she will vote against the confirmation of Scott Pruitt to run the Environmental Protection Agency, saying the two have “fundamentally different views about the role and mission” of the agency. She said Pruitt has left her with “considerable doubts” about “whether his vision for the EPA is consistent with the Agency’s critical mission to protect human health and the environment.” GOP sources think he’ll be fine, though. (Brady Dennis)
John McCain yesterday came out against Mick Mulvaney to lead the Office of Management and Budget, citing his support for military spending cuts. But the South Carolina congressman is nonetheless expected to get confirmed today.
Agriculture pick Sonny Perdue has grown nervous about his own prospects in light of Puzder’s troubles, according to Politico, “unable to get access to Priebus for reassurances that the former Georgia governor’s nomination is still backed by the administration.”
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- Malaysian police arrested a second woman in connection with the assassination of Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean leader’s exiled half-brother. Anna Fifield reports: “The woman was identified as Siti Aishah, a 25-year-old Indonesian.... One woman was already in custody, arrested Wednesday morning as she tried to fly out of Kuala Lumpur, and is scheduled to appear in court here Thursday. The first woman to have been arrested — she was traveling on a Vietnamese passport that identified her as 29-year-old Doan Thi Huong — told police she was tricked into attacking Kim Jong Nam, saying she thought she was just playing a prank on the man. ... She also said she was abandoned by the other woman and four men who were involved in the attack. They had all been staying at a hotel not far from the airport, but the other five left her, she told police, leading to her decision to try to fly to Vietnam from the terminal where the attack took place.”
Other wild details continue to emerge, via Fifield: “The nearby Starbucks was full of people camped out waiting for their flights, and the noise was so loud that the workers at the cafe selling Malaysian soup and noodles did not notice anything amiss just a few yards away. There, near a counter in the check-in area, the man was suddenly set upon by two attractive young women who looked like any other travelers heading off on vacation. One was wearing a white sweater emblazoned with 'LOL' and a short flowery skirt, her lips painted dark red and her hair cut in a femme-fatale bob. What followed was an assassination that, complete with a honey trap and a public poisoning, has focused new attention on Kim Jong Un … suggesting [the North Korean leader] will stop at nothing to keep power. One of the women grabbed the man as the other sprayed liquid on his face and held a cloth over it for about 10 seconds. [And in] the hullabaloo of the check-in area, no one even seemed to notice."
South Korea’s intelligence chief has put the blame for the attack squarely on Kim Jong Un, saying that the young leader was trying to eliminate potential rivals. “Their spy agency had consistently been preparing for the killing, and it just turned out to have been accomplished this time,” he said. This was not the first attempt on Kim Jong Nam’s life — one 2012 attempt prompted him to send a letter to Kim Jong Un pleading with him to “spare me and my family.”
-- The FBI released a 389-page file of interviews and other material used by the Justice Department in its 1970s racial bias housing case against Trump and his father, Fred. Michael Kranish reports: "One affidavit from a former Trump Management employee, who said that he had been fired, said that Fred Trump told him ‘it was absolutely against the law to discriminate” but later told him ‘he also wanted to get rid of the blacks that were in the building.’ Trump and his father settled the case in 1975 without admitting wrongdoing, but they were required to take out advertisements saying they welcomed renters of all races.”
GET SMART FAST:
- A U.S. attorney is conducting an “ongoing” criminal investigation into Fox News and whether the company settled sexual harassment claims brought against ousted CEO Roger Ailes without reporting them to shareholders. An attorney for a former Fox host says he has received a subpoena from federal prosecutors, and a company spokesperson acknowledged “months of conversations” with the U.S. Attorney's Office. (The Hollywood Reporter)
- A cease-fire agreement brokered by Russia and Turkey is beginning to fracture along Syria’s southern border as rebel fighters launched their largest offensive in more than a year. The news comes after four days of sustained fighting between opposition and pro-government forces in the city of Daraa, leaving at least 25 people dead and prompting thousands of residents to flee the area. (Louisa Loveluck)
- The Pentagon may propose sending ground troops into Syria for the first time to speed up the fight against ISIS. "It's possible that you may see conventional forces hit the ground in Syria for some period of time," one defense official said. But any decision on the matter ultimately rests with Trump, who has ordered his defense secretary to come up with a proposal to combat ISIS before the end of the month. (CNN)
- Jared Kushner’s family members said they will back out of a reported “handshake agreement” to purchase the Miami Marlins if the team’s current owner, Jeffrey Loria, is tapped to be ambassador to France, seeking to avoid the appearance of any possible quid pro quo involving the administration. The move comes after reports that Loria is being “pushed” by another senior White House official for the diplomatic posting. (Des Bieler)
- Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski has reportedly been bragging about having access to Trump’s Twitter account, using it as a selling point in pitch meetings with at least two different prospective clients that visited his new lobbying and consulting firm. Officials said it is unclear whether Lewandowski was saying he actually has access to the account, or just that he has Trump’s ear. (BuzzFeed)
- A college student was suspended for an entire semester for recording his professor’s anti-Trump rant — in which she told students that Trump was a white supremacist whose victory was “an act of terrorism” — after the footage went viral and led to violent threats against the instructor. He has also been ordered to apologize and submit an essay about “why [he] decided to share the video.” The student is appealing the decision. (Avi Selk and Peter Holley)
- Boeing’s South Carolina plant will remain non-union after thousands of workers rejected a referendum on whether to organize the plant. The vote caps years of bitter campaigning that ultimately failed to sway employees in a state that is deeply hostile to organized labor. (Max Ehrenfreund)
- Verizon is seeking a 5 percent discount in its purchase of Yahoo, seeking to slash the sale price after a string of massive data breaches. Analysts have long predicted the telecom giant would seek to renegotiate the terms of the deal — or even walk away completely — following the damaging reports. (Brian Fung)
- The doctor you see in the emergency room could put you on a path to long-term opioid addiction. A recent study found that patients seen by an ER physician who prescribes opioids are 30 percent more likely to take them for at least six months over the ensuing year — and carry an additional risk of ending up as long-term users. (Lenny Bernstein)
- Scientists have detected a decline in the amount of dissolved oxygen in oceans around the world, according to new research in the journal Nature. It’s a long-predicted result of climate change, and one that could have severe consequences for marine organisms. (Chris Mooney)
- Survival rates for extremely premature infants have improved slightly, and those who survive are also somewhat less likely to suffer from neuro-developmental impairments. Researchers cite better health care — as well as the use of steroids for women at risk of preterm birth — as factors in the improvement. (Jia Naqvi)
- India just launched a record-breaking 104 micro-satellites atop a single rocket, carefully executing a complicated maneuver that one space analyst likened to dropping children off at different bus stops. It’s the latest success for the Indian Space Research Organization, which has rapidly gained international prominence for its effective and low-cost missions. (Annie Gowen)
- The UAE appeared at the World Government Summit this week to unveil plans for an ambitious new city-planning project — on Mars. Slated for completion in the year 2117, developers presented a concept city the size of Chicago and touted it as the “first” to be developed on the Red Planet. It could be a little early to tell... (Adam Taylor)
- Seattle Mayor Ed Murray will deliver his State of the City address next week at a mosque. A press release says he’s giving the annual speech at Idris Mosque to show solidarity with the Muslim community “in their house of worship as we fight state sanctioned discrimination by the Trump Administration.”
- A 1,100-pound woman left her house for the first time in 25 years on Wednesday, boarding a flight to India to undergo a risky but potentially life-saving surgery. Her travel required months of preparation and government intervention on her behalf. (Amy B Wang)
- The late Little Caesars founder and Detroit Tigers owner Mike Ilitch was known most widely for his impact in the restaurant world — but he also changed the life of Rosa Parks. After learning the civil-rights icon was robbed in her home at the age of 81, he worked to find her a new, safer apartment — and quietly paid her rent for more than a decade. (CNN)
- The youngest person ever to win the lottery in Britain wants to sue after discovering an uncomfortable age-old adage: money doesn’t buy happiness. “I thought it would make it 10 times better but it’s made it 10 times worse,” she said recently. One of her biggest challenges? Finding a romantic partner who isn’t just using her for money. (Peter Holley)
- A South Carolina woman who was chained in a metal container by a real-estate agent and suspected serial killer — who killed her boyfriend, and is believed to be connected to at least six other murders — has spoken publicly for the first time since her traumatizing ordeal. “I’ll recover from this,” she told Dr. Phil. “He cannot destroy who I am. And I won.” (Sarah Larimer)
- A popular German grocery chain, Lidl, is readying to make its American debut. The chain is slated to open 20 stores across the United States this summer — and while the grocer will likely be a major boon for consumers, experts say it could disrupt the markets. (Sarah Halzack)
- Want to be neighbors with the Obamas, Ivanka Trump and Jeff Bezos, but don’t want to be saddled with the pesky upkeep of maintaining a historic home? You’re in luck — if you’re willing to spare a cool $5.6 million. The French Embassy is selling off part of the land its ambassador lives on — the first time in decades that a parcel of land with no home on it has been for sale in the elegant Washington neighborhood. (Kathy Orton)
FLYNN FALLOUT CONTINUES:
-- U.S. intelligence officials have withheld sensitive intelligence from Trump because they are concerned it could be “leaked or compromised,” according to the Wall Street Journal’s Shane Harris and Carol E. Lee: “The officials’ decision to keep information from Mr. Trump underscores the deep mistrust that has developed between the intelligence community and the president over his team’s contacts with the Russian government, as well as the enmity he has shown toward U.S. spy agencies. On Wednesday, Mr. Trump accused the agencies of leaking information to undermine him. In some of these cases of withheld information, officials have decided not to show Mr. Trump the sources and methods that the intelligence agencies use to collect information.…Those sources and methods could include, for instance, the means that an agency uses to spy on a foreign government….
“Mr. Trump doesn’t immerse himself in intelligence information, and it isn’t clear that he has expressed a desire to know sources and methods," the Journal notes. "The intelligence agencies have been told to dramatically pare down the president’s daily intelligence briefing, both the number of topics and how much information is described under each topic, an official said. Compared with his immediate predecessors, Mr. Trump so far has chosen to rely less on the daily briefing than they did.”
-- Trump plans to tap New York billionaire Stephen Feinberg to conduct a broad review of U.S. intelligence agencies — an effort that members of the intelligence community fear could curtail independence and reduce the information flow that contradicts the president’s worldview. The New York Times’ James Risen and Matthew Rosenberg report: “There has been no announcement of Mr. Feinberg’s job, which would be based in the White House, but he recently told his company’s shareholders that he is in discussions to join the Trump administration. Bringing Mr. Feinberg into the administration to conduct the review is seen as a way of injecting a Trump loyalist into a world the White House views with suspicion. But top intelligence officials fear that Mr. Feinberg is being groomed for a high position in one of the intelligence agencies.
“Mr. Bannon and Mr. Kushner … had at one point considered Mr. Feinberg for either director of national intelligence or chief of the Central Intelligence Agency’s clandestine service, a role that is normally reserved for career intelligence officers, not friends of the president," the story notes. "Mr. Feinberg’s only experience with national security matters is his firm’s stakes in a private security company and two gun makers.”
-- War on whistleblowers: House Republican leaders are pressing the Justice Department inspector general to probe whether officials “mishandled” classified information, including leaked communication between members of the Russian government and the Trump administration that brought about Flynn’s resignation. Karoun Demirjian reports: “In a letter to the inspector general, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz and House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte demanded an ‘immediate investigation’ into whether the leaks broke protocol. They cited 'serious concerns about the potential inadequate protection of classified information.' ... The letter is the latest effort from the GOP to focus on the fact that information about Flynn’s contacts was leaked as the chief problem — as opposed to the substance of those conversations, which indicated that Flynn lied to [Mike Pence] about discussing sanctions with the Russian ambassador.”
-- The president directly criticized his own intelligence community, and the media, for the reports that ultimately led to Flynn’s ouster. Ashley Parker reports: “I think he’s been treated very, very unfairly by the media — as I call it, the ‘fake media,’ in many cases — and I think it’s really a sad thing that he was treated so badly,” Trump said at a news conference. “I think in addition to that, from intelligence, papers are being leaked, things are being leaked.” Trump added that the leaks were a “criminal action, criminal act.” The remarks came during a response to the a question from a Christian Broadcasting Network reporter, who asked whether the reports concerning Russia and Flynn’s actions could undermine the goal of preventing a nuclear Iran. Trump's response, in which he defended Flynn as a “wonderful man,” added confusion to the White House’s account of Flynn’s dismissal and conflicted with Sean Spicer’s assertion that Trump fired Flynn. Trump’s ire over the insider tips to journalists also contrasted with his indirect praise of the disclosure of leaked internal emails from the Clinton campaign made public by WikiLeaks during the election. “People are trying to cover up for a terrible loss that the Democrats had under Hillary Clinton,” he said yesterday of the Flynn coverage.
-- Trump continued the drumbeat this morning on Twitter:
-- Flynn’s departure is shifting the balance of power between the White House and Congress. Sean Sullivan and Karoun Demirjian report: “Republican senators are vowing to more aggressively exercise oversight of the new administration and Democrats are seizing an opportunity to ask pointed questions about Trump’s ties to Russia. On Wednesday, Senate Democrats convened an emergency meeting to plan their next steps in probing the circumstances that led to Flynn’s departure. ‘It is now readily apparent that General Flynn’s resignation is not the end of the story. It is merely a beginning of a much longer story,’ said [Chuck Schumer]. … Amid reports of contacts between Trump aides and Russian officials during the election, congressional leaders are reasserting their authority.”
-- Meanwhile, a turf war has broken out in the Senate as lawmakers remain divided over who should investigate Russia’s connections to the Trump campaign. Paul Kane reports: “With new details coming almost daily, frustration has grown on Capitol Hill with the slow pace of the Intelligence Committee’s work, under its chairman, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.). And that has sparked new interest in whether other committees should get a piece of the action — or whether a select committee should be created that would pull in the top members of all the relevant committees. After a pair of bipartisan, closed-door huddles, Burr still had the lead role on the investigation. But doubt was creeping in. ‘I guess the question is, is that the best way to have a fulsome look, 360, at everything that’s been going on? And I don’t know,’ said Sen. Bob Corker.
Burr insists he’s doing “just fine”: “But while other senators, both Republicans and Democrats, have called for Flynn to testify about his discussions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.… Burr also acknowledged that his panel has not decided whether to do so. ‘We don’t even know what to ask Mr. Flynn,’ Burr said.”
-- While some drag their feet about getting to the bottom of what happened last year, Vladimir Putin continues to test us. He is poking and prodding to see how far Trump will let him go. The latest provocation: A Russian spy ship is off the coast of Connecticut, near a U.S. Navy submarine base. From Fox News: “The Viktor Leonov (is) not far from a Navy submarine base in Connecticut. The ship was spotted 30 miles south of Groton, Conn., but it remained in international waters. (The U.S. territorial boundary extends 12 miles from the coast.) The Russian spy ship was currently ‘loitering’ in the water, a U.S. official said. … The spy ship is armed with surface-to-air missiles, but its main function is to intercept communications and collect data on U.S. Navy sonar capability. … The Pentagon expects the Russian spy ship to sail south along the East Coast and return to the Caribbean.”
-- “Deutsche Bank examined Trump's account for Russia links,” from The Guardian: “The scandal-hit bank that loaned hundreds of millions of dollars to [Trump] has conducted a close internal examination of the US president’s personal account to gauge whether there are any suspicious connections to Russia … Deutsche Bank, which is under investigation by the [DOJ] and is facing intense regulatory scrutiny, was looking for evidence of whether recent loans to Trump, which were struck in highly unusual circumstances, may have been underpinned by financial guarantees from Moscow. The internal review found no evidence of any Russia link, but Deutsche Bank is coming under pressure to appoint an external and independent auditor to review its business relationship with Trump. [Bill Pascrell Jr., a Democratic member of the House Ways and Means Committee], said the bank was under federal investigation for aiding Russian money-laundering -- a ‘troubling potential conflict.’ He said he would encourage Deutsche to ‘shine a bright light’ on its lending to the president to ‘eliminate any speculation of wrongdoing.’”
-- How POTUS operates: “Trump's F-35 Calls Came With a Surprise: Rival CEO Was Listening,” by Bloomberg’s Anthony Capaccio: “Days before taking office, [Trump] made two surprise calls to the Air Force general managing the Pentagon’s largest weapons program, the Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35 jet. Listening in on one of those calls was Dennis Muilenburg -- the CEO of Lockheed’s chief rival, Boeing Co. Trump, who has repeatedly criticized the $379 billion F-35 program as ‘out of control,’ made the highly unusual calls to Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan on Jan. 9 and Jan. 17 ... Muilenburg, whose company makes a fighter jet Trump has suggested might replace one F-35 model, was in the president-elect’s New York office for a meeting during the second call. He appeared caught off-guard but heard at least Trump’s end of the call … After speaking with Trump, Bogdan wrote two three-page memos … They outlined Trump’s questions about the capabilities of Boeing’s Super Hornet fighter and how it might compete against Lockheed’s F-35C, said the people. But Trump’s calls to a uniformed program manager to discuss a contract that was completed 16 years ago were unprecedented and potentially disruptive, said a defense analyst.”
TRUMP MAKES HIS MARK ON FOREIGN POLICY:
-- The president said the U.S. will no longer insist on a two-state solution as part of a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians, potentially signaling the death of a fundamental strategy and breaking with two decades of diplomatic orthodoxy. Anne Gearan and Ruth Eglash report: “Trump appeared to open the negotiations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their news conference at the White House, directly calling for Israel to curtail Jewish home-building in the West Bank. In his most extensive remarks as president about the chances for peace in the Middle East, Trump said he 'could live with' either a separate Palestinian state or a unitary state as a peaceful outcome. “I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit,” Trump said as he welcomed Netanyahu.
-- Trump confidently predicted that he will "soon" broker an end to one of the thorniest conflicts in the world: “I would like to see a deal be made. I think a deal will be made,” he said, giving no timetable for the effort but suggesting that it could be “soon.” “I’m looking at two-state and one-state (formulations). I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one. ... We’ll work something out."
-- “Palestinians warn Trump not to abandon their dream of independent state,” by William Booth: “Palestinian officials pleaded with the White House on Wednesday not to abandon the two-state solution for a possible peace deal with Israel. ... The Palestinian leadership appeared stunned ... Saeb Erekat, a top Palestinian official and former peace negotiator, said: 'We believe undermining the two state solution is not a joke. It’s a disaster and a tragedy for Israelis and Palestinians.' Erekat, a veteran of seven U.S.-brokered peace talks with Israel, said the Palestinian Authority remains committed to the two-state goals. U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, speaking in Cairo on Wednesday, warned, 'There is no alternative solution for the situation between the Palestinians and Israelis, other than the solution of establishing two states, and we should do all that can be done to maintain this.'"
-- In another notable moment from his presser with Bibi, Trump refrained from criticizing anti-Semitism. Asked about a “sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents across the United States,” Trump instead gave an answer about his win in the electoral college. “I just want to say that we are very honored by the victory that we had. Three-hundred six electoral college votes,” he said. “We were not supposed to crack 220.” Trump then noted that Ivanka Trump and husband Jared Kushner are Jewish. “You’re going to see a lot of love” over the next four or eight years, he said. (Elise Viebeck)
-- James Mattis issued an ultimatum to our NATO allies, warning that if they do not boost their defense spending to goals set by the alliance, the U.S. may “alter its relationship” with them. Dan Lamothe and Michael Birnbaum report: “I owe it to you all to give you clarity on the political reality in the United States and to state the fair demand from my country’s people in concrete terms,” the secretary of defense said, speaking during a closed-doors meeting with defense ministers from other NATO countries in Brussels. “America will meet its responsibilities, but if your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to the alliance, each of your capitals needs to show its support for our common defense.” His comments come as an escalation of long-running frustration in Washington that many NATO countries do not meet pledged contributions to the alliance.
The money quote from Mattis: “No longer can the American taxpayer carry a disproportionate share of the defense of Western values. Americans cannot care more for your children’s security than you do. Disregard for military readiness demonstrates a lack of respect for ourselves, for the alliance and for the freedoms we inherited, which are now clearly threatened.”
-- Trump called on Venezuela to release prominent political prisoner Leopoldo López last night, after hosting Marco Rubio and López's wife at the White House. Abby Phillip reports: “López was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2015 for allegedly inciting violence at antigovernment protests. He is a U.S.-educated economist who has led the opposition to Venezuela's socialist government and founded the Popular Will party. López's trial and sentence were condemned by the United Nations as well as the United States.” Trump tweeted the declaration of support along with a photo of the group, urging for López to be released “immediately":
-- House Republican leaders intend to unveil plans today to repeal and largely replace portions of the Affordable Care Act. Kelsey Snell, David Weigel and Mike DeBonis have a preview: "House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters Wednesday that committee leaders will brief GOP lawmakers on some specific proposals at a closed-door meeting scheduled for Thursday morning. McCarthy did not say which elements of the plan would be detailed at the meeting. But House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady said he plans to discuss both repealing the law and ways to give states greater control over health-care decisions. A senior GOP aide said that lawmakers would be presented with a menu of replacement items such as tax credits for purchasing insurance, health savings accounts, ‘high-risk pools’ for the chronically sick, and major Medicaid reforms, as well as potential ways those elements could be passed into law."
-- “The Trump administration is taking its first steps to put its imprint on the Affordable Care Act, reversing plans to withhold tax refunds this year from Americans who flout an insurance requirement in the law while proposing a series of rule changes to encourage insurers to remain in ACA marketplaces,” Amy Goldstein reports. “The [IRS] has revoked an Obama-era instruction to taxpayers that was taking effect during the current filing season as a way to further compliance with the ACA’s requirement that most Americans carry health insurance or pay a tax penalty. Under the instruction, the IRS had announced that it would no longer process tax returns for people who fail to send a notice with their returns that they have insurance, are exempt from the requirement or are paying the fine. Instead, the agency said … tax returns will be processed as always, even for individuals who do not provide the required information.” The IRS said the decision was in line with an executive order that Trump signed on Inauguration Day, giving agencies broad authority to lighten the burden of federal rules under the ACA.”
-- Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini said Obamacare markets are in a “death spiral.” Carolyn Y. Johnson reports: "His remarks came a day after the official end of his company's proposed merger with health giant Humana — a divorce that will cost Aetna $1 billion. It also came one day after Humana announced that it would pull out of all its remaining ACA exchanges for 2018, saying the risk pool was 'unbalanced' because not enough healthy people were enrolling in insurance compared with the number of sick people. 'That logic shows just how much the risk pool is deteriorating in the ACA and how poorly structured the funding mechanism and premium model is,' Bertolini said ... 'I think you will see a lot more withdrawals this year of plans.' He also said Aetna's heaviest utilizers of health care — the top 1 percent to 5 percent — are driving half of the costs in the exchanges. 'My anticipation would be that in '18, we’ll see a lot of markets without any coverage at all,' Bertolini said."
A NATION OF IMMIGRANTS:
-- Immigrants across the country are participating in a “Day Without Immigrants” boycott today, seeking to highlight the positive effects immigrants have in the country on a daily basis. The boycott calls for immigrants not to attend work, open businesses, spend money or even send their children to school. In Washington, a spate of restaurants and small businesses will be shut down or operating short-staffed, and least one charter school has announced it will be closed because of the protest. (Perry Stein)
-- Trump is Making INDIA Great Again: India’s richest man says that the restrictive new immigration policies being pushed by the White House will make it much easier for the subcontinent to retain the best and brightest tech talent that would otherwise emigrate to the United States. “It will help Indian talent and Indian IT industry to focus on solving problems in India,” Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani said at a conference in Mumbai. In a similar vein, the incoming chairman of Tata Sons said the Indian IT industry is reimagining itself. "I think every time there is a regulation change or a perceived challenge, whether it is H-1B or an increase in visa fee, people talk about the IT industry being in trouble. I want to categorically say it is the most exciting industry to be in," said N Chandrasekaran. (Times of India)
-- One of nine U.S. organizations that work with the U.N. to help settle refugees announced it will lay off 140 staff members and close five offices, which have resettled more than 25,000 refugees. In a statement, officials said the move is a “direct result of the recent decision by the Trump administration,” citing the executive order that reduced the number of refugees the United States will admit. Meanwhile, several other resettlement agencies have launched multimillion-dollar fundraisers, seeking to cover unexpected losses. (Sarah Pulliam Bailey)
-- “’We don’t know what we are going to do’: Yemeni students, unable to return home, face uncertain status in America,” by Emma Brown: “They left their families in Yemen nearly three years ago through an exchange program that aimed to introduce Muslim high school students from overseas to America. But when civil war broke out at home, they couldn’t return, and what was supposed to be a 10-month visit turned into an indefinite stay. Now the State Department — which sponsored the program and has supported these two dozen students since they arrived in 2014 — has notified them that they’ll be on their own in a few months. For these Yemeni students, most of them thousands of miles away from their nearest relatives, that means no more housing or living stipends, and no more community-college tuition aid. Perhaps most important, it also means no more student visas. 'I don’t only have to look for a place to stay and a way to pay for myself … but now I also have to worry about racism and legal status,' said Taima Aliriani, 17, who [attends college in Virginia]. 'I applied for asylum, but right now I feel like I’m probably not going to get it.'"
-- Food for thought from The New Yorker --> “When immigrants are no longer considered Americans,” by Hua Hsu: “There is a beauty to the public expressions of difference we’ve seen in the past couple of weeks: the Yemeni bodega owners who prayed outside Borough Hall during a protest against the Trump Administration’s anti-Muslim travel ban, the protest signs proclaiming that it is immigrants who have made America great. It called to mind the Japanese internees who left signs in front of the homes they vacated: ‘I Am An American.’ When I think about my grandfather’s notes, what strikes me now isn’t the dutiful neatness of his transcriptions. It’s that thousands of prospective Americans were doing roughly the same thing at the same time. Some gave back, becoming part of the immigrant success story that flatters our system. Others didn’t. And others wondered why citizenship is a story often told through the language of debt and giving back—why it is always incumbent on the immigrant to prove himself or herself a good, productive, hyper-patriotic American. I’m not sure what remains once we surrender that naïve faith in community or an open-ended ‘we,’ when loyalty becomes a test administered only to our newest Americans."
PERSONNEL IS POLICY:
-- An influential conservative group with ties to the Trump administration and Betsy DeVos is urging the dismantling of the Education Department and “bringing God into American classrooms.” Emma Brown reports: “The five-page document produced by the Council for National Policy calls for a 'restoration of education in America' that would minimize the federal role, promote religious schools and home schooling and enshrine 'historic Judeo-Christian principles' as a basis for instruction. Names of the council’s members are closely held. But the Southern Poverty Law Center published a 2014 membership directory showing that [Steve Bannon] was a member and [Kellyanne Conway] served on the council’s executive committee. The council’s 'Education Reform Report' says it is intended to help DeVos and Trump map a path toward change. But Trump has given no sign since taking office that he aims to act on that idea, and DeVos embraced the mission of the department when she took office last week.”
-- CONFLICT? “Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife is organizing in support of [Trump’s] agenda. And it might make her husband’s life a little complicated,” The Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff reports. “In an email sent to a conservative listserv on Feb. 13 … Ginni Thomas asked an interesting question: How could she organize activists to push for Trump’s policies? ‘What is the best way to, with minimal costs, set up a daily text capacity for a ground up-grassroots army for pro-Trump daily action items to push back against the left’s resistance efforts who are trying to make America ungovernable?’ she wrote. It isn’t clear yet if the Justice Department lawyers defending Trump’s ban will appeal the 9th Circuit ruling to the Supreme Court. But if that happens, then Thomas’s activism could be an issue, according to legal experts. Heidi Li Feldman, a professor at Georgetown Law School and expert on legal ethics, [said] the email could be grounds for lawyers challenging Trump’s travel ban to ask Justice Thomas to recuse himself from the case—a move that could doom the executive order.”
-- A conservative organization seeking to help Neil Gorsuch win confirmation to the Supreme Court has launched its most direct attempt to pressure a centrist Democratic senator not to stand in the way of Trump’s nominee. Sean Sullivan reports: “The Judicial Crisis Network launched a new ad urging Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) not to oppose Gorsuch. The commercial begins by accusing the senator of being too liberal on immigration and health-care. 'Now Jon Tester is creating gridlock, threatening to obstruct Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch,' continues the narrator of the ad … ‘Tell Jon Tester: Stop the obstruction. Confirm Gorsuch,’ the narrator concludes.” Republicans need to find eight Democratic lawmakers to cross over to avoid going nuclear, so they're going after incumbents up in 2018 in states Trump won.
-- Trump will hold a campaign-style rally at a Florida airport hangar this weekend, returning to the trail for the first time since his thank you tour. (Politico)
MORE MOVES BY CONGRESS:
-- The Endangered Species Act may be heading for the threatened list. Darryl Fears reports: “A Senate hearing to ‘modernize the Endangered Species Act’ unfolded Wednesday just as supporters of the law had feared, with round after round of criticism from Republican lawmakers who said the federal effort to keep species from going extinct encroaches on states’ rights, is unfair to landowners and stymies efforts by mining companies to extract resources and create jobs. The two-hour meeting … was led by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who said last month that his focus in a bid to change the act would be ‘eliminating a lot of the red tape and the bureaucratic burdens that have been impacting our ability to create jobs.’ There was no discussion on the committee about the stability of species that were listed and recovered as a result of the act, and also no discussion of continued human expansion into the habitats of hundreds of species as their numbers dwindle.”
-- House Republicans are considering bringing back earmarks, re-opening a debate on the practice that was banned six years ago after becoming a target of ire among conservatives and tea party groups. CNN’s Tom LoBianco reports: The first step? Calling the earmarks by a different name. "For anyone to use the term earmarks, that would be at least a six-year-old term. The term that is used is congressionally-directed spending," House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions said. “Critics of the ban say that removing the ability to wheel and deal on items specific to individual lawmakers -- from parks to major projects -- has fed into the gridlock that has beset the Capitol in the last six years. It also gives more power to the executive branch to control where money is spent.”
-- “House Republicans promise new line of attack on D.C.’s assisted-suicide law,” by Jenna Portnoy, Mike DeBonis and Aaron C. Davis: “Republicans on Capitol Hill said Wednesday that Congress is unlikely to act in time to block the District’s assisted-suicide law before it takes effect Saturday, handing city officials an inadvertent victory against congressional intervention. ‘Very doubtful it can get to the finish line,’ said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the [House Oversight Committee], which voted Monday to strike down the D.C. law. ‘We’re just flat-out running out of time.’ But as the city prepares to implement the law, federal lawmakers are working on another line of attack: using the appropriations process to neutralize the law. Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) said that he was confident the assisted-suicide law could be effectively stifled through the appropriations process … [noting that] it is going to take District agencies several months to set up the required process before terminally ill residents can try to obtain life-ending drugs, and the city has to identify funds for that project.”
-- Conservative columnist George F. Will writes about Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee’s efforts to restrict Trump’s ability to start a trade war: “In theory, if only occasionally in fact, Congress plays a role when a president wants to initiate military hostilities. Lee thinks Congress should also have a say when a president wants to initiate a trade war. Lee is a constitutional, meaning an actual, conservative who is eager for Congress to retrieve some of the power it has improvidently, and sometimes unconstitutionally, delegated to presidents. As a step toward correcting Congress’s self-marginalization, he proposes the Global Trade Accountability Act. It is analogous to the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (Reins) Act, which has several times passed the House only to expire in Democratic-controlled Senates. Reins, which the House again passed Jan. 5, would require Congress to approve any major (at least $100 million cost) regulation. The theory is that if legislators’ fingerprints, rather than just those of unaccountable and secure bureaucrats, are going to be on such regulations, they will receive more exacting cost-benefit analyses …”
“Congress last passed a declaration of war many wars ago, on June 5, 1942, regarding Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. Since then, Congress has explicitly authorized certain uses of military force, but its ability to inhibit presidential discretion regarding war-making has atrophied. If Congress passes Lee’s measure, and Trump signs it, it will limit presidential discretion regarding trade wars and will crimp the modern presidency’s imperial swagger.”
THE FOURTH ESTATE:
-- MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski said that she refuses to book Kellyanne Conway on “Morning Joe.” “We know for a fact she tries to book herself on this show,” Brzezinski said. “I won't do it, 'cuz I don't believe in fake news or information that is not true. And that is — every time I've ever seen her on television, something’s askew, off or incorrect.” Co-host Joe Scarborough claimed that Conway actually isn't in the know. “She's in none of the key meetings,” he said. “She goes out and books herself often. … I don't even think she's saying something that she knows to be untrue. She's just saying things, just to get in front of the TV set and prove her relevance because behind the scenes — behind the scenes, she's not in these meetings.” (Callum Borchers)
-- “Sean Spicer isn't finished,” by CNN Money's Dylan Byers: "Spicer has barely moved into his office. Three weeks after the inauguration, the only things adorning the White House press secretary's shelves are a framed picture of himself at the podium, a book on Naval Special Warfare (he's in the Reserve), and a Super Soaker commemorating the infamous ‘SNL’ skit. … Just beyond these walls … conclusions about Spicer's future have already been drawn. The prevailing wisdom is that the combative press secretary is not long for his office, destined to be thrown out in a matter of months or perhaps weeks for failing at what everyone describes as the hardest job in Washington: defending, and pleasing, [Trump]. [Where] is the narrative coming from? Five of these sources think the person behind the leaks is Kellyanne Conway. ‘She's clearly guiding a press narrative that he's not up for the job, and that they're reviewing other candidates,’ one GOP strategist said. ‘It's becoming abundantly clear that Kellyanne is making Sean's job impossible.’”
Quote du jour: Asked if he had any interest in repairing fraught relations between the White House and the press, Bannon replied: "I could care less."
-- “The world is on fire,” by Vice's Reid Cherlin: “In September of 2014 I went to Steve Bannon’s house for a party. I was on assignment from Rolling Stone to embed with the staff of Breitbart.com. It was supposed to be a way of illuminating the larger world of gonzo right-wing media. I didn’t recognize many people at the event, aside from [Jeff Sessions] … The evening’s guest of honor was a then-obscure British conservative named Nigel Farage. I took only cursory notes on Farage’s speech — enough to fill out the scene, I thought [but] it all seemed so irrelevant that I later deleted the audio. Obviously, I missed the story. And not just because Sessions is now attorney general, Brexit the new reality of Europe, and Bannon the surrogate president of the United States. My editors and I would never have predicted those things. What we should have realized was that the people supporting them hadn’t yet had their final say.”
-- “Journalists, Battered and Groggy, Find a Renewed Sense of Mission,” by The New York Times's Michael M. Grynbaum and Sydney Ember: “The news cycle begins at sunrise, as groggy reporters hear the ping of a presidential tweet, and ends sometime in the overnight hours, as newspaper editors tear up planned front pages scrambled by the latest revelation from Washington. In consequence and velocity, the political developments of the past four weeks — has it been only four weeks? — are jogging memories of momentous journalistic times. ‘There is this sense of urgency and energy that I feel now that reminds me of being 29 and in a very different situation: in the middle of a revolutionary situation in Russia,’ said David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, who was a correspondent for The Washington Post in Moscow during the collapse of the Soviet Union … ‘There is this sense that every day is going to bring something startling, if not calamitous,’ he added.”
-- Trump's Russia dealings could be worse than Watergate, Dan Rather writes on Facebook: “Watergate is the biggest political scandal of my lifetime, until maybe now,” said the former CBS news anchor (who covered the Nixon White House). “It was the closest we came to a debilitating Constitutional crisis, until maybe now. On a 10 scale of Armageddon for our form of government, I would put Watergate at a 9. This Russia scandal is currently somewhere around a 5 or 6, in my opinion, but it is cascading in intensity seemingly by the hour. And we may look back and see, in the end, that it is at least as big as Watergate. It may become the measure by which all future scandals are judged. It has all the necessary ingredients, and that is chilling.”
“The White House has no credibility on this issue. Their spigot of lies - can't we finally all agree to call them lies - long ago lost them any semblance of credibility," Rather adds. "We need an independent investigation. Damn the lies, full throttle forward on the truth. … It is real and it is serious. Deadly serious. We deserve answers and those who are complicit in this scandal need to feel the full force of justice.” (Read his full post.)
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Twitter looked to comedy to explain the surreal events in Washington. From a "Daily Show" writer:
Reporters called out Bannon for dubbing them the "opposition party" to their faces:
The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, couldn't believe that Trump answered a question about anti-Semitism by talking about his electoral victory:
Conservatives pushed back on "Morning Joe's" Mike Brzezinski saying she won't book Kellyanne Conway on the show:
Trump breaks another Obama tradition:
Supporters don't mind:
Ted Cruz joked about 2018:
Ivanka took this snap from Trump's press conference with Bibi:
Tim Scott met with Neil Gorsuch:
View this post on Instagram
This afternoon I had the pleasure of meeting with our Supreme Court Justice nominee Neil Gorsuch. It helped to further reinforce my deep belief and trust that he is more than suited to take on this demanding and important job. Aside from his impressive academic credentials and decades of experience in the legal profession, Judge Gorsuch continued to convey his commitment to interpret our Constitution as it was intended by our founding fathers. He demonstrated his belief in an independent judiciary, and that he will make decisions solely based on our nation’s laws and how they are written. At a time when our country is experiencing some uneasiness and concerns about trust, we need a Justice like Neil Gorsuch who will be fair, impartial, and consistent. He expressed his devotion to protecting the individual liberties that we are so blessed to have as Americans. I look forward to supporting Judge Gorsuch during his confirmation process.
John McCain met with Ashton Kutcher:
So did Chuck Grassley:
And members of Senate Foreign Relations:
Cory Booker explained his desire for a thorough Trump-Russia investigation:
View this post on Instagram
I'm asking everyone to join me and others in calling for aggressive, thorough, exhaustive Congressional investigations into what is going on with Russian influence in the Trump administration. ⠀ ⠀ We saw an unprecedented attack on our nation during our election with hacking, cyberattacks, propaganda and more from the Russians. The bedrock of a free nation is the ability to express yourself and your opinions, especially at the polls. Russia tried to undermine that and attacked our country. But there’s more.⠀ ⠀ According to news reports, at a time when Donald Trump seemed to be inexplicably cozying up to the Russians, multiple members of the Trump team and his associates were having direct conversations with high level Russian officials. ⠀ ⠀ In addition to that, during the transition, at a time when Barack Obama was stepping up sanctions on the Russians for their cyber hacking and attacks on our country, Michael Flynn was having conversations with high level Russian officials -- and eventually lied about it.⠀ ⠀ So now we have increasing evidence and unanswered questions into what happened and who was involved. America deserves answers. ⠀ ⠀ Join me and others who are calling for this to be thoroughly, aggressively and exhaustively investigated not just by law enforcement officials – but also by Congress. ⠀ ⠀ Call your Congressperson and let them know: #WeDemandAnswers
Blake Farenthold celebrates his anniversary:
The House GOP Women's Caucus had a Valentine's Day breakfast with Rep. Sam Johnson:
View this post on Instagram
The House GOP Women Members enjoyed a Valentine's Day Breakfast with our colleague and one of America's heroes @samjohnsontx03 - a big thank you to @repbarbaracomstock for organizing one of the best events of the year! Our Valentine's Day card is exactly right about how truly special Sam is! He surprised each one of us with a yellow rose of TX! ❤️🌹
Behold a natural wonder:
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“An Antivaxxer And Robert De Niro Just Announced A $100,000 “Challenge” Over Vaccine Safety,” from Buzzfeed: “Robert F. Kennedy Jr. moved forward on Wednesday with his latest attempt to garner attention for widely condemned anti-vaccine arguments — ones that have earned him a meeting with President Donald Trump — by announcing a $100,000 “challenge” to prove the safety of vaccines. ‘We need a debate,’ Kennedy declared at the news conference, claiming he has also spoken with White House staff several times in the last month to discuss the creation of a Trump administration panel to examine vaccine safety. Kennedy … gained notoriety with a 2014 book arguing that a mercury-based preservative called thimerosal, used only in some flu vaccines since 1999, was linked to autism. His claims have been denounced repeatedly by medical organizations and physicians. Last week … 350 medical organizations led by the American Academy of Pediatrics signed a 28-page letter to President Trump expressing ‘unequivocal support’ for the safety of vaccines.’”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“Elizabethtown College student group will wear white puzzle piece pins to think about 'white privilege'” from Lancaster Online: “A group of students at one local college is looking to raise awareness about what it means to live with ‘white privilege.’ The Elizabethtown College Democrats are launching a project Saturday in which they will ask students and others to wear a white puzzle piece pin every day to encourage them to think deeply about how racial identity affects their life, directly or indirectly. The project was borrowed and adapted from a Lutheran pastor’s similar effort in Wisconsin. Aileen Ida, president of the College Democrats, said she believes the conversation on white privilege is especially necessary in Lancaster County and Central Pennsylvania because of the demographics — predominantly white but with areas of ‘heightened diversity’ … ‘This project will encourage people to have conversations about race and how their inherent white privilege has a part in the systematic oppression of minorities — whether or not they purposefully participate in the system,’ she said.”
At the White House: Trump will participate in a congressional listening session in the morning and speak with President Beji Caid Essebsi of Tunisia. Later, Trump will meet with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, sign H.J. Res. 38, and tape his Weekly Address.
The vice president will host Netanyahu for a breakfast meeting at the Naval Observatory. In the afternoon, he accompany Trump to the congressional listening session and signing of H.J. Res. 38 before hosting an African American economic opportunity listening session.
On Capitol Hill: The Senate will convene at 10 a.m., where lawmakers will consider Mick Mulvaney to be director of the Office of Management and Budget.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“Who’s making the decisions in the White House?” John McCain asked reporters. “Is it the 31-year-old? Is it Mr. Bannon? Is it the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff? I don’t know! … They need to clean up their act.”
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- Today’s weather is a “brief reminder that it is still winter.” The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Sunny skies dominate with just a smattering of clouds at times. If only the winds weren’t pushing us with gusts from the northwest up to 30 mph. Highs only in the upper 30s to lower 40s give it a midwinter feel.”
-- Maryland’s General Assembly approved blanket legislation for the state’s attorney general to sue the federal government – underscoring the eagerness of Democratic lawmakers in the state to challenge the Trump administration on immigration, health care, and a raft of other issues. (Josh Hicks)
-- Kathleen Matthews will run to become chair of the Maryland Democratic Party. The former news anchor and Marriott executive, who is married to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, lost to Jamie Raskin in the open primary for Chris Van Hollen’s seat last year. Matthews said she was approached about the chair job by Steny Hoyer, Ben Cardin and Van Hollen. (Bill Turque)
-- Ten suspects have been identified in connection with the gang slaying of a 15-year-old Gaithersburg girl who was held against her will, assaulted, and slain at a park in Virginia. Officials said six juveniles and four adults, ages 15 to 21, are believed to be involved and will likely be charged in her death this week. (Justin Jouvenal and Michael E. Miller)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Long before President Trump's 31-year-old aide Stephen Miller was shaping policy in the White House and making questionable allegations about voter fraud, he was booed off the stage as a student during a speech to his classmates at Santa Monica High School. Rosalind Helderman, who broke the story, also obtained the video:
Stephen Colbert says Flynn's White House tenure is funny "cause it's treason":
Jimmy Kimmel depicts the Westminster dog show without dogs:
Watch Trump brag about winning the election, many times: