With Breanne Deppisch
THE BIG IDEA: When you don’t tell the truth about little things, you cannot be trusted to tell the truth about big things.
As a candidate, Donald Trump attacked Barack Obama dozens of times for playing too much golf. "I'm going to be working for you,” Trump told supporters at a rally last year. “I'm not going to have time to go play golf.”
Since taking office four weeks ago, Trump has made six trips to the golf course. Sensitive to charges of hypocrisy on this issue, the White House has maneuvered to minimize coverage of these outings and to downplay how much time the president spends on the links.
A White House spokeswoman told multiple reporters on Sunday that Trump had played just “a couple of holes.” Then his partner, Rory McIlroy, told a golfing publication that they’d done a full round of 18. And there were pictures. The spokeswoman then acknowledged that she had misinformed the press corps. Trump, she said, had “intended” to golf just a couple of holes.
-- H.R. McMaster, whom Trump named yesterday as his new national security adviser, understands how corrosive even half-truths can become. After graduating from West Point and fighting with distinction in Desert Storm, he went to the University of North Carolina to earn a doctorate in history. Using declassified documents and interviews to trace the origins of the quagmire in Vietnam, McMaster became convinced that the generals of that time caved to political pressure and supported a war strategy they knew could never prevail. He turned his dissertation into a book called “Dereliction of Duty,” which came out in 1997, when he was a major.
It has developed a cult following among young officers, and it merits a closer study as he takes on one of the most important jobs in the government.
McMaster’s narrative focused on a handful of key decisions that were made from 1963 to 1965. “The war in Vietnam was not lost in the field,” he concluded. “It was lost in Washington, D.C., even before Americans … realized the country was at war. … The disaster in Vietnam was not the result of impersonal forces but a uniquely human failure, the responsibility for which was shared by President [Lyndon] Johnson and his principal military and civilian advisers. The failings were many and reinforcing: arrogance, weakness, lying in the pursuit of self-interest, and, above all, the abdication of responsibility to the American people.”
Johnson was focused on winning a full term in 1964 and didn’t want to do anything that would jeopardize his chances. After beating Barry Goldwater in a landslide, he feared that a public debate about Vietnam would undermine his Great Society agenda at home. “The president and the secretary of defense deliberately obscured the nature of decisions made and left undefined the limits that they envisioned on the use of force,” McMaster argued.
The book lamented that “the president’s fixation of short-term political goals” prevented the administration from dealing adequately with the complexities of the situation. “LBJ’s advisory system was structured to achieve consensus and to prevent leaks,” he wrote. “Profoundly insecure and distrustful of anyone but his closest civilian advisers, the president viewed [the Joint Chiefs of Staff] with suspicion. When the situation in Vietnam seemed to demand military action, Johnson did not turn to his military advisers to determine how to solve the problem. He turned instead to his civilian advisers to determine how to postpone a decision.”
McMaster portrays Robert McNamara, a former president of the Ford Motor Company who had become secretary of defense, as foolish. He said that he viewed Vietnam “as another business management problem” and “forged ahead oblivious to the human and psychological complexities of war.” “McNamara and his assistants in the Department of Defense were arrogant,” McMaster wrote. “They disparaged military advice because they thought that their intelligence and analytical methods could compensate for their lack of military experience and education. Indeed military experience seemed to them a liability because military officers took too narrow a view and based their advice on antiquated notions of war.”
The man in charge on the ground in Vietnam also comes across as far too pliant: Gen. William “Westmoreland’s ‘strategy’ of attrition in South Vietnam was, in essence, the absence of a strategy. The result was military activity (bombing North Vietnam and killing the enemy in South Vietnam) that did not aim to achieve a clearly defined objective,” he argues.
His book goes deep in the weeds on process. McMaster, two decades ago, described National Security Council meetings under Johnson as “pro forma affairs in which the president endeavored to build consensus for decisions already made.” Johnson, in fact, made many of his most fateful choices at Tuesday lunch meetings with three of his civilian advisers. The military brass weren’t invited, which led to communication problems.
McMaster referred to the Joint Chiefs during Vietnam as “the five silent men” because they did not challenge the president or alert congressional leaders when Johnson was not being forthcoming about what the escalation in Southeast Asia would actually entail. The chiefs recognized that the Johnson approach was fundamentally flawed, but then they failed to effectively articulate their objections or alternatives. Part of the problem was rivalry between the branches, McMaster explained. The admiral in charge of the Navy used his leverage with the White House to make sure his service retained control of Pacific Command, for example.
A watershed moment came in July 1965. McMaster documented how Johnson had misrepresented the mission of U.S. forces, understated the number of troops that the military had requested and misled Congress about the cost of actions that had already been approved. “The president was lying, and he expected the Chiefs to lie as well or, at least, to withhold the whole truth,” McMaster wrote. “Although the president should not have placed the Chiefs in that position, the flag officers should not have tolerated it when he had.” But tolerate it they did. (You can download the full book on Amazon for $3.)
-- McMaster, now 54 and a three-star general, is wading into a very messy situation. He was not Trump’s first choice to replace Michael Flynn. Retired Navy Vice Adm. Robert Harward turned down the president last week.
What he has going for him is that he’s widely respected as smart, intense and fiercely outspoken. John Wagner, Missy Ryan and Greg Jaffe sketch out some biographical details:
- “From his earliest moments as an officer, McMaster stood out among his peers. He earned a Silver Star for valor in the 1991 Gulf War when his armor company destroyed a much larger Iraqi formation in one of the opening battles. The Army’s official history of the conflict opened with a vivid description of his tank crew in action that day…
- “In the Iraq War, McMaster commanded a 3,500-soldier brigade in the northern city of Tal Afar, which was being torn apart in 2005 by Iraq’s civil war. He largely jettisoned the Bush administration’s official approach at the time of pulling back from cities and training Iraqi forces to take over the fight so U.S. troops could go home. McMaster pushed his troops deep into Tal Afar, establishing 29 small American-manned command outposts. Instead of focusing on training the Iraqis, McMaster and his troops worked to stop the killing in the city and replace the local mayor and security forces. ‘It’s unclear to me how a higher degree of passivity would advance our mission,’ he said at the time in response to criticism.
- “Eventually his strategy, dubbed ‘clear, hold and build,’ became a model for the broader [surge] campaign, led by Gen. David H. Petraeus, to stabilize Iraq in 2007 and 2008.
- “McMaster’s passion, intensity and high tolerance for risk sometimes put him at odds with his superiors. He was twice passed over for promotion to general before finally earning one-star rank. The panel that promoted him was led by Petraeus, one of his staunchest backers in the Army…
- “In recent years McMaster oversaw an anti-corruption task force in Afghanistan for Petraeus that produced mixed results. Of late, he has focused on Army doctrine and modernization, relative backwaters within the service.”
-- Tom Cotton played a key role in getting Trump to elevate McMaster. The New York Times reports that the Arkansas senator was a protégé of McMaster as a young officer in Iraq and nearly resigned his commission in 2007 when it looked as though McMaster might be forced out: “After Mr. Flynn’s resignation, Mr. Cotton reached out to [Mike] Pence, [Steve] Bannon and Reince Priebus … about General McMaster and forwarded his résumé and personal phone number, according to several officials involved in the process.”
-- No Trump pick has received as much instant praise from across the ideological spectrum as McMaster: John McCain, who was otherwise critical of Trump at the Munich security conference this weekend, praised McMaster as “an outstanding choice.” “I could not imagine a better, more capable national security team than the one we have right now,” the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee added. (His staff director lobbied the White House to go with McMaster.)
- National Review’s David French calls McMaster “the Neil Gorsuch of generals.”
- Newsweek’s Jeff Stein says he’s “a soldier’s soldier.”
- Slate’s Fred Kaplan describes McMaster as “the Army’s smartest officer.”
- The Houston Chronicle says he’s “known for brains and combat brawn.”
The editor at large of the Weekly Standard:
I say this honestly and non-snarkily: I can't imagine anyone better prepared for the challenges of being Trump's NSA than H.R. McMaster.— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) February 20, 2017
An alumnus of Bush 43’s National Security Council (another Never Trumper):
LTG HR McMaster: an inspiring leader, solid historian, honorable soldier & thoughtful strategist. Wish him luck, because he will need it.— Eliot A Cohen (@EliotACohen) February 20, 2017
The president of Brookings:
McMaster has a stellar reputation. With Tillerson, Mattis, & superb Intel Community - with POTUS's support - he can help get back on track. https://t.co/jOIxt6HprD— Strobe Talbott (@strobetalbott) February 20, 2017
-- Many Democrats spoke positively.
The top Democrat of the House Intelligence Committee:
McMaster is solid choice, bright & strategic. Wrote the book on importance of standing up to POTUS. May need to show same independence here. https://t.co/iGL2xjZDwG— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) February 20, 2017
The former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee:
I worked w/ Gen.McMaster on how we educate our troops. He's a brilliant,reasoned leader who understands both hard & soft power. Good pick!— (((Steve Israel))) (@RepSteveIsrael) February 20, 2017
Andrew Exum, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East in the Obama administration, has known McMaster for more than a decade. He calls the selection “unambiguously good news” in the Atlantic: “The United States, and the world, are safer for his decision. McMaster is one of the most talented officers the U.S. Army has ever produced. That sounds like hyperbole but isn’t. … Like Ben Bernanke, a student of the Great Depression brought in to lead the Federal Reserve immediately prior to the Great Recession, McMaster comes to his job having carefully studied and criticized the national-security decision-making process for which he will now be responsible.”
Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, wished him “every success”:
Hope you will be able to choose your team, have direct reporting and daily access to POTUS, and can eliminate Strategic Initiatives Group. https://t.co/QK6SE0KlY0— Susan Rice (@AmbassadorRice) February 21, 2017
Please trust, empower, support the extraordinary professional, largely career NSC staff. They won't let you down. https://t.co/rHKqiMfdaY— Susan Rice (@AmbassadorRice) February 21, 2017
-- Rice’s tweets get at some of the challenges facing McMaster as he starts his new job:
1. How much autonomy will he have? One reason Harward reportedly turned down this job is that he would not have full control of his staff. He worried that he’d be stuck with a bunch of people Flynn hired whom he was uncomfortable with.
A White House spokeswoman said yesterday that Trump “gave full authority for McMaster to hire whatever staff he sees fit.”
Watch, though, to see if K.T. McFarland remains as deputy national security adviser and what role Bannon continues to have on the council. Trump also announced yesterday that retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, who has been serving as acting national security adviser, will return to his role as the NSC chief of staff.
There has been continuing tumult inside the NSC. A senior aide was abruptly fired on Friday after word got back to the White House that he has spoken critically of the president, Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon during an off-the-record discussion with scholars. Craig Deare, a Trump appointee who had come from National Defense University, was senior director for Western Hemisphere Affairs. He had complained at a session sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson Center that senior national security aides do not have access to the president — and gave a detailed and embarrassing readout of Trump's call with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, according to Politico’s Eliana Johnson.
“The atmosphere has grown so toxic that some council staff members have said they feared they were being surveilled,” the Times reports. “Several security council aides said Monday that they learned about General McMaster’s selection the same way the public did and expressed concern that Mr. Flynn’s associates, derisively called the Flynnstones, would stick around.”
Trump interviewed John Bolton over the weekend for the job and suggested yesterday afternoon that he may still wind up with a role in the administration. Trump told reporters at Mar-a-Lago that the former United Nations ambassador will be asked “to work with us in a somewhat different capacity.” “We had some really good meetings with him,” the president said. “Knows a lot.” Keep in mind that a deputy secretary of state has still not been named, but Bolton would have an exceptionally hard time making it through the Senate. Rand Paul, a swing vote on Foreign Relations, has previously promised to oppose him.
2. Will McMaster’s relative lack of Washington experience hobble him? He’s never had long deployments at the Pentagon or in Washington, so the learning curve may be steeper.
Just because McMaster was a great field general does not necessarily mean he will be a good national security adviser. The Economist notes that only a few have excelled at the perniciously difficult job: “And they — led by Brent Scowcroft, who advised Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, and Stephen Hadley, who steered George W. Bush — tended to be best known for their tact and scrupulous impartiality. Mr. McMaster is better known as a straight talker and a risk-taker, albeit by the conformist standards of his profession. Mr. Trump, who is as prickly and ignorant of global affairs as he is admiring of generals, might not find him easy to work with. Intellectually rigorous and widely esteemed, Mr. McMaster is indeed so different from Mr. Flynn it is tempting to wonder about the criteria on which Mr. Trump appoints his national security advisers. Even so, at the second attempt, he has picked well.”
3. Will McMaster be willing to speak truth to power on Russia? He has been a Russia hard-liner whose eyes are wide open to the threat that Vladimir Putin represents. After Vladimir Putin’s incursion into Ukraine, McMaster prepared a detailed study about how the U.S. Army must modernize to keep up with Russian innovation. (Politico looked at the project last April.)
4. How will it work out having current or retired generals in so many top jobs? McMaster will not retire from the military but remain a three-star general, as Colin Powell did when he was Ronald Reagan’s national security adviser. This means that McMaster, who wore his uniform for yesterday’s announcement, will join two retired generals — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly — in Trump’s high inner circle.
5. How will McMaster fare in a White House that lacks the kind of military discipline and clear lines of command that he is so accustomed to? Conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin ponders the question: “In his role as national security adviser, he is supposed to be an honest broker, a presenter of information and formulator of choices for the president. … His straightforward, non-bullying approach will be a welcome change at the National Security Council from Flynn, who lost the job before last [running the DIA], in part, due to management deficits and rotten treatment of his staff. Not all military men succeed, however, at being national security adviser (e.g., Gen. James Jones). His success will depend on the ability to make alliances … manage a paper process, prevent freelancing aides and officials from working around the policymaking process, and forge consensus among his peers. In this administration in particular, it’s no easy job.”
As Tom Ricks puts it in Foreign Policy, “McMaster once wrote that the American war plans for Afghanistan and Iraq were ‘at times … essentially narcissistic.’ … McMaster may learn a lot more about narcissism in the coming months.”
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WHAT EVERYONE IS TALKING ABOUT:
-- A longtime CIA analyst who decided to leave the agency after more than a decade because of concerns about the Trump administration speaks out about his decision in a Post op-ed: “Despite working proudly for Republican and Democratic presidents, I reluctantly concluded that I cannot in good faith serve this administration as an intelligence professional,” wrote ex-analyst Edward Price. “To be clear, my decision had nothing to do with politics, and I would have been proud to again work under a Republican administration open to intelligence analysis. I served with conviction under President George W. Bush … and I took part in programs that the Obama administration criticized and ended. As intelligence professionals, we’re taught to tune out politics. The river separating CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., from Washington might as well be a political moat. But this administration has flipped that dynamic on its head: The politicians are the ones tuning out the intelligence professionals.”
GET SMART FAST:
- The FBI is investigating 11 new threats made against Jewish community centers in several states on Monday, bringing the total to 60 of threats against 60 Jewish centers nationally since January. The FBI said it is probing possible civil rights allegations related to the threats. (ABC News)
- Meanwhile, more than 170 headstones were destroyed at a Jewish cemetery near St. Louis this weekend, overturned and otherwise vandalized in what officials called a “horrific” act of cowardice. The cemetery houses an estimated 20,000 people, officials said, and was founded in the late 1800s as a nonprofit to aid all Jews, whether or not they could afford a burial. (Fred Barbash)
- A charter flight departing Melbourne, Australia, suffered “catastrophic engine failure” shortly after takeoff on Monday, crashing into a shopping mall and killing four Americans onboard. Another unidentified passenger also perished in the crash. (ABC News)
- Far-right populist and French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen is gaining in the polls. The National Front leader now leads a pool of first-round contenders, 27 to 20 percent. And she’s narrowed her gap in a runoff with front-runner Emmanuel Macron — in the last two weeks, his lead has been sliced in half. (Bloomberg)
- The Pentagon is deploying U.S. troops closer to the front lines in Iraq, joining Iraqi military forces in an attempt to wrest back control of Mosul from the Islamic State. U.S. advisers in the area are said to number about 450 and this is the first time the U.S. military has acknowledged how close Americans are to the front-lines in that country. (Dan Lamothe)
- Pakistani forces continued cross-border shelling with Afghanistan, ramping up tensions as the government targets an Islamic State affiliate responsible for a blitz of deadly bombings. U.S. officials have asked Pakistani military leaders to cooperate with Afghanistan in going after the militants, but Pakistan has threatened to take further unilateral action. (Pamela Constable)
- Parts of war-ravaged south Sudan are officially suffering from famine, putting some 100,000 at risk of starvation. Local officials said the famine is “man made,” blaming the civil war raging there for more than three years. (Rael Ombuor)
- Teen suicide attempts in the United States have declined since same-sex marriage became legal, according to a new study, with the biggest impact reported among gay, lesbian, and bisexual teens. While the results do not prove causation, researchers are urging lawmakers to be cognizant of the changes' potential benefits to young people — suicide is currently the second-leading cause of death for all U.S. teens, and is even more common among the young LBGT community. (CBS News)
- Uber hired Eric Holder to conduct an independent probe of sexual harassment and discrimination claims made by four former female employee in a highly circulated blog post over the weekend. (Steven Overly)
- Virginia Democrats are planning to challenge 45 GOP incumbents in the deep-red House of Delegates in November, seeking to capitalize on a wave of progressive activism that began after Trump’s election. GOP lawmakers hold 66 of the 100 seats in the House, and GOP leaders say many districts — including those won last year by Hillary Clinton — remain Republican strongholds at the state level. (Patricia Sullivan)
- A Utah Republican Party official resigned this week after suggesting in a twice-published letter that men should continue to get paid more than women. Even “simple economics” support the case for the gender gap, he reasoned: If women had the incentive of equal pay, “more and more Mothers” would enter the workforce — thus raising the bar for competition “even for men’s jobs.” (Kristine Guerra)
- A man and woman in Ohio have been charged after their 8-year-old son apparently overdosed on heroin. Officials said there were at least 46 fatal overdoses in January alone from such drugs. (Amy B Wang)
- Hitler’s “weapon of mass destruction” — or rather, the red rotary telephone he traveled with for years and presumably used to order millions of people to their deaths — was auctioned off this weekend after being hidden for decades. It was sold for $243,000, and is believed to be the only instrument or artifact left that is engraved with his full name. (Peter Holley)
- Canada has its very own Walter White. Er, not exactly, but a middle-school drama teacher in Ontario was suspended after sending home a class of eighth-grade students with “incredibly detailed instructions” on how to make and inject methamphetamine. The school board is conducting an investigation. (Esquire)
- A University of Houston graduate student made the discovery of a lifetime after stumbling upon a previously unknown novel written by Walt Whitman. Believed to have been penned some 165 years ago, the novel will be published both online and in book form — great news for Whitman fans, since there is currently only one copy in existence. (Iowa City Press-Citizen)
- Scientists think they’ve discovered an eighth continent. It’s a vast, bizarre land where pigeons feed on cabbage trees, peanut worms scurry about, and whales have beaks. It’s also nestled next to the coast of Australia and has been hiding in plain sight — although the fact that it’s partially underwater makes it difficult to see. (Avi Selk)
-- Trump is preparing executive orders aimed at rolling back Obama’s climate and water pollution rules, which could be announced as early as this week. Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson report: “While both directives will take time to implement, they will send an unmistakable signal that the new administration is determined to promote fossil-fuel production and economic activity even when those activities collide with some environmental safeguards. One executive order — which the Trump administration will couch as reducing U.S. dependence on other countries for energy — will instruct the [EPA] to begin rewriting the 2015 regulation that limits greenhouse-gas emissions from existing electric utilities.… A second order will instruct the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to revamp a 2015 rule … that applies to 60 percent of the water bodies in the country."
-- “Bobbleheads, yes. Official tweets, no. Federal workers wonder where the lines are in the Trump era,” by Lisa Rein: "A Veterans Affairs employee is confused about whether he can display a bobblehead doll of President Trump on his desk. A Federal Aviation Administration staffer wonders whether parking a car with a blue ‘Bernie’ bumper sticker is allowed in the agency lot. Another federal worker is demanding that a colleague who called Trump a ‘70-year-old blond playboy’ in the office be disciplined for misconduct. These are just some of the pointed questions federal employees are asking in the era of Trump, when just about everything seems politicized and civil servants on both sides of the partisan divide want to know just how far they can take their opinions … in what is not just any ordinary workplace, but the president’s own back yard. Their questions are flooding the phone lines and email inbox of the Office of Special Counsel, an obscure, independent federal agency that acts as a watchdog for civil service protections and monitors political activity in the federal workforce."
-- “Trump energizes the anti-vaccine movement in Texas,” by Lena H. Sun: “The group of 40 people gathered … in San Antonio listened eagerly to the latest news about the anti-vaccine fight taking place in the Texas legislature. Some mothers in the group had stopped immunizing their young children because of doubts about vaccine safety. Heads nodded as the woman giving the statehouse update warned that vaccine advocates wanted to ‘chip away’ at parents’ right to choose. But she also had encouraging news. ‘We have 30 champions in that statehouse,’ boasted [Jackie Schlegel, of Texans for Vaccine Choice]. ‘Last session, we had two.’ Now they also have one in the White House. [Trump’s] embrace of discredited theories linking vaccines to autism has energized the anti-vaccine movement. Once fringe, the movement is becoming more popular, raising doubts about basic childhood health care among politically and geographically diverse groups. [And] public health experts warn that this growing movement is threatening one of the most successful medical innovations of modern times."
THE RUSSIA CONNECTION:
-- In Moscow, Kremlin staffers and retired Russian diplomats are compiling a dossier on Trump for President Vladimir Putin, who has requested insight into the president’s “psychological makeup," per NBC News. "The attempt to get inside the U.S. president's mind is aimed at helping Putin plan for his first meeting with America's new leader, the date for which is yet to be decided. Among its preliminary conclusions is that the new American leader is a risk-taker who can be naïve, according to a senior Kremlin adviser. ‘Very serious preparatory work is going on in the Kremlin, including a paper — seven pages — describing a psychological portrait of Trump, especially based on this last two to three months, and the last weeks,’” added one official, who said … the dossier was being revised “regularly.” News of the dossier comes as Moscow has grown increasingly concerned about Trump’s obstacles in Washington, including that he will not have the political clout to improve relations with Russia, or perhaps lift some U.S. sanctions.
-- Political strategist Paul Manafort stepped out of the spotlight and down from his post as Trump’s campaign manager last summer after his connections to pro-Russia tycoons drew controversy, the Wall Street Journal’s Michael Rothfeld and Craig Karmin report. “[But] within days, Mr. Manafort resumed advising Mr. Trump privately on navigating the Washington establishment and other questions, and in recent months he expressed interest in a potential business arrangement with a major Trump donor and fundraiser … Now the ties that drove Mr. Manafort from the campaign have become liabilities again, as he sits at the center of high-profile investigations into alleged links between Moscow and people in President Trump’s orbit. The Senate Intelligence Committee is looking into any possible collusion between Russia and people linked to Mr. Trump, top senators have said. The activities of Mr. Manafort and others are under scrutiny because of their ties to Russian interests.… Mr. Manafort’s conversations with Mr. Trump after he left the campaign included discussion of an opposition research dossier related to Russia that was published online in January, a person familiar with the matter said.” Among other things, the dossier contained allegations that Manafort and other Trump staffers coordinated with the Kremlin to help Trump win the White House.
-- President Trump’s personal lawyer and a former business associate met privately in New York City last month with a member of the Ukrainian parliament to discuss a peace plan for that country that could give Russia long-term control over territory it seized in 2014 and lead to the lifting of sanctions against Moscow. The meeting involved Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and former business partner Felix Sater. “The occurrence of the meeting … suggests that some in the region aligned with Russia have been seeking to use Trump business associates as an informal conduit to a new president who has signaled a desire to forge warmer relations with Russia,” Tom Hamburger and Rosalind S. Helderman report.
-- Mike Pence said he “fully supported” Flynn’s ouster as national security adviser last week, speaking carefully as he made his first public comments about the retired Army general, who told untruths about his contacts with Moscow. Michael Birnbaum and Ashley Parker report: “I was disappointed to learn that the facts that have been conveyed to me by General Flynn were inaccurate,” Pence told reporters during a visit to NATO headquarters. He praised his “close working relationship” with Trump during his remarks, but also declined to endorse his boss’s recent characterization of the media as “the enemy of the American People.” “Rest assured, both the president and I strongly support a free and independent press,” Pence said. “But you can anticipate that the president and all of us will continue to call out the media when they play fast and loose with the facts.”
-- “The More That Is Said, the More Questions Are Raised in Flynn Firing,” by Walter Pincus on the Cipher Brief: “White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, during three Sunday television interview programs, gave different and sometimes confusing stories about what activities led to Trump’s firing of Flynn, and what still may be going on about that situation. … What are the conflicts of interest involved with the White House talking with ‘FBI leadership’ about whether a senior White House official ‘misled’ or ‘lied’ to agents? If Flynn lied to FBI agents, that could be a felony. Who from the White House talked to whom at the FBI and about what? … One simple way for the White House to have found out [if Flynn lied to Pence] was to get transcripts from the FBI intercepts of the Russian embassy phone conversations. But asked by Todd, ‘Did you read those transcripts yourself?’ Priebus answered, ‘I can't answer that question, but I can assure you that I am fully aware of the situation.’”
-- Four Russian servicemen were killed by a roadside bomb in western Syria. It’s the latest example of the growing toll that Syria’s conflict has wrought on Moscow’s military as it continues to prop up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. (Louisa Loveluck)
-- The longtime Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, died suddenly in New York yesterday after falling ill at work. He was 64. Additional details surrounding his death were not immediately available. From our obituary: "Mr. Churkin, with his flawless English and unflappable demeanor, was regarded as a pinstriped survivor who had scaled the Foreign Ministry ladder over a turbulent 40-year period in his country, in part by asserting Russia’s diplomatic relevance after the Cold War. ... Raised as a true believer in communism, he was ideologically flexible enough to traverse the massive political and economic changes under Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and the collapse of the Soviet Union."
IN TRUMP'S WHITE HOUSE, BREITBART CLAWS ITS WAY TO INFLUENCE:
-- “For a Trump adviser, an odyssey from the fringes of Washington to the center of power,” by Greg Jaffe: “For years, [Sebastian] Gorka had labored on the fringes of Washington and the far edge of acceptable debate … [But] today, the former national security editor for the conservative Breitbart News outlet occupies a senior job in the White House and his controversial ideas — especially about Islam — drive Trump’s populist approach to counterterrorism and national security. For Gorka and his allies … [it comes as] a radical break with the approach that Republicans and Democrats have taken over the past 16 years to counterterrorism and the Muslim world. Anybody who downplays the role of religious ideology … they are deleting reality to fit their own world,” he said. For him, the terror threat is rooted in Islam and “martial” parts of the Koran that he says predispose some Muslims to acts of terror. Most counterterrorism experts dismiss Gorka’s ideas as a dangerous oversimplification that could alienate Muslim allies and boost support for terrorist groups.
Religious scholars are equally withering: “I can’t overstate how profoundly dangerous this is,” said one professor of Middle Eastern studies. “This is music to the ears of [ISIS]."
-- Bannon is the man who molded Breitbart into the far-right “sledgehammer” it is today — which raises the question, how will that force be wielded in the Trump era? Manuel Roig-Franzia and Paul Farhi report: “Bannon’s new White House prominence, including his recent appointment to the National Security Council’s principals' committee, makes him one of the country’s most powerful men. But it also uniquely positions his former website as a potential force in the Trump era, a media juggernaut emphatically stamped with Bannon’s imprimatur. Already there have been indications that Bannon’s former organization might enjoy something akin to most-favored media status, even as the White House wages a very public verbal war with mainstream media outlets. The site’s editorial thrust reflects Bannon’s nationalist, immigration-restrictionist beliefs and trumpets Breitbart’s continuing grievance and outrage against those who trespass against its worldview. And so, from Capitol Hill to the lobby shops on K Street, a single question is being asked about Breitbart in varying incarnations, and in tones ranging from glee to sheer terror: ‘Do they weaponize Breitbart to go after anyone who opposes Trump?’”
-- Organizers of this week’s CPAC conference rescinded their booking of Breitbart editor and conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, after newly resurfaced videos show him criticizing age-of-consent laws and joking about a sexual encounter he had with a Catholic priest. Dave Weigel and Robert Costa report: “'Due to the revelation of an offensive video in the past 24 hours condoning pedophilia, the American Conservative Union has decided to rescind the invitation,’ the group’s chairman, Matt Schlapp, said in a statement. By late Monday afternoon, there were ongoing discussions at Breitbart about Yiannopoulos’s future at the company.... Inside the newsroom, several staffers made clear to senior leadership that they felt uncomfortable and may decide to leave if he stays, the people said. There was also an aggressive liberal campaign to get advertisers to quit Breitbart News. Also Monday, the publisher Simon & Schuster announced that it was dropping a book by Yiannopoulos.”
“[Meanwhile], Yiannapolous took to Facebook on Sunday night and again on Monday to defend himself as a number of conservative activists criticized him and the ACU for its invitation. ‘I do not support pedophilia. Period,” Yiannopoulos wrote. “It is a vile and disgusting crime, perhaps the very worst. There are selectively edited videos doing the rounds, as part of a co-ordinated effort to discredit me from establishment Republicans.…’” On Monday, a more conciliatory Yiannapolous admitted he was “partly” to blame, if only for the way some have interpreted his comments. Late Monday, after reports that Simon & Schuster was dropping his book, Yiannapolous again posted on Facebook: 'I’ve gone through worse. This will not defeat me.'"
-- Reaction was withering, especially from conservatives: “The invitation to speak at CPAC tells you all you need to know about the state of American conservatism and why it was so easily co-opted by Trumpism,” says the Daily Beast’s Matt Lewis: "Yiannopoulos, like Trump, is a paradox. On one hand, he brings a certain cosmopolitan flair to a group of people accustomed to being thought of as unsophisticated; on the other hand, he reinforces every negative stereotype imaginable. Once arguably too wonky and prudish, today’s conservatism, judging by CPAC’s invited speakers, is increasingly crude, vulgar, and lowbrow.
“True conservatism has been replaced by a fetish for fighting political correctness. Along with a penchant for showmanship, this seems to be Yiannopoulos’s entire shtick ― and it’s a good one. The enemy of your enemy is your friend, and since Yiannopoulos says horrible things about radical feminists and other annoying leftists, he is, ergo, a conservative hero. [But] it is one thing to defend someone’s right to say something vile; it is another thing to reward him for it."
-- British lawmakers are continuing to debate whether or not to rescind the offer of a state visit for Trump, after a petition urging cancelation of such a visit garnered more than 1.8 million signatures. Karla Adam reports: "The debate … was opened by Paul Flynn, a lawmaker for the opposition Labour Party. Like many in attendance, Flynn argued that the offer of a full state visit to Trump — whom he called a ‘petulant child’ — should be watered down to a mere official visit. A state visit, he said, ‘would be terribly wrong because it would appear that British Parliament, the British nation … is approving of the acts of [Trump].' Others said the offer was extended far too quickly, noting that President Obama waited nearly 700 days before receiving an invite. One Liberal Democrat contended that [Prime Minister Theresa] May got it 'catastrophically wrong' by offering the state visit so early, and asked what they might offer Trump the next time the U.K. wants a favorable response from the U.S. 'The crown jewels?' he mused."
Meanwhile, thousands of protesters gathered outside the British Parliament to oppose a Trumpvisit. Their chants were so loud that they could be heard inside the chamber during deliberations.
-- Thousands of demonstrators turned out Monday across the United States to challenge Trump in a Presidents' Day protest dubbed Not My President’s Day. The AP reports: “The protests on the federal holiday didn’t draw nearly as many people as the million-plus who thronged the streets following the Republican president’s inauguration a month earlier, but the message was similar. Thousands of flag-waving protesters lined up outside Central Park in Manhattan. Many in the crowd chanted “No ban, no wall. The Trump regime has got to fall.” In Chicago, several hundred rallied across the river from the Trump Tower, shouting “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Donald Trump has got to go.” A rally in downtown Los Angeles also drew thousands. Rebecca Wolfram of Chicago, who’s in her 60s, said concerns about climate change and immigrant rights under Trump prompted her to start attending rallies. 'I’m trying to demonstrate as much as possible until I figure out what else to do,' said Wolfram, who held a sign that said 'Old white ladies are really displeased.'"
-- John Kasich is tentatively slated to meet with Trump at the White House on Friday. White House officials billed the meeting as a “private sitdown” between the Ohio governor, Trump and Reince Priebus, and described it as an engagement that is “long overdue.” News of Kasich’s potential visit comes as the former presidential rivals have yet to smooth over lingering tensions from the campaign, in which Kasich emerged as a vocal Trump critic and Trump sought to oust a Kasich ally from his leadership position at the Ohio Republican Party. (CNN)
A TALE OF TWO SCOTUS NOMINEES (WITH VERY DIFFERENT FATES), via the New York Times:
-- “Liberals Are Still Angry, but Merrick Garland Has Reached Acceptance,” by Sarah Lyall: “You might think it would take a toll on a person, being nominated for the Supreme Court and then having to wait around for eight months in a public state of suspended preparation.… But by all accounts, Judge Merrick B. Garland, thwarted nominee and high-profile casualty of Washington’s extreme political dysfunction, is doing fine, considering. The situation was highly unusual and possibly unprecedented. But Judge Garland proceeded as if it were a normal situation and he were a normal nominee”: His team spent weeks holding mock sessions to prepare him for hearings that never took place. He prepared such thorough responses to a Judiciary Committee questionnaire that it grew to several thousand pages, and was delivered to senators in bankers boxes. And all the while, Garland continued life as usual: tutoring children, performing duties at the appeals court, and finally — after the election — taking a bit of time off. Several friends said in interviews that when they called to offer support, he ended up comforting them: “He did not react with anger or self-pity, and that reinforced for me the character and decency of Judge Garland,” said one former clerk. “In many ways, it made me feel worse.”
-- “Gorsuch, Like Previous Supreme Court Nominees, Keeps Views Hidden,” by Carl Hulse: “As he met with [Neil Gorsuch] in the Capitol last week, [Sen. Richard Durbin] posed to the Supreme Court nominee what he considered a fairly basic question on the relationship between the executive and judicial branches. ‘He really backed away from it,’ recalled Mr. Durbin.… ‘Even in the most general constitutional terms.… From where I am sitting I don’t think there is a more important question in light of this president.’ Democrats preparing for hearings next month on [Trump’s Supreme Court nominee] say it is not a matter of getting the answers they want from Judge Gorsuch; it is a matter of getting any pertinent answers at all. The test of wills promises to provide friction at hearings … as Democrats try to pin down [Gorsuch] on what he sees as the role of an independent judiciary in constraining the executive branch, given their rising fears about Mr. Trump. It is also the latest match in the longstanding tug-of-war over how far judicial nominees should or should not go in responding to questions from lawmakers.…”
-- “Mar-a-Lago 3, Camp David 0. With Trump as president, is the rustic Maryland retreat doomed?” by Michael S. Rosenwald: “Dwayne Snurr, a janitor and lifelong resident of this rural, working-class town … was eating chicken wings in a cafe off Main Street last week when he began chewing over a locally important subject: [Trump’s] taste in vacations. ‘I guess he’s got that place down in Florida,’ Snurr said … ‘When you have a place like that, I have to assume you prefer the beach and nice weather.’ Trump’s Florida compound … [has] been top of mind lately in Thurmont, where just a few miles up a winding mountain road presidents have vacationed and cajoled world leaders at Camp David … For Thurmont residents, Camp David has been a source of pride, putting the town on the world map, attracting foreign journalists and diplomatic staff with expense accounts. ‘Camp David is very rustic, it’s nice, you’d like it,’ Trump [has] said.… ‘You know how long you’d like it? For about 30 minutes.’”
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT OVER THE HOLIDAY WEEKEND:
-- Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said the president is planning to issue a revised version of his executive order on immigration, telling attendees at the Munich Security Conference that Trump is contemplating a version that is “tighter” and more streamlined. Michael Birnbaum and Lena H. Sun report: “We will have this time the opportunity … of input on the rollout plan, in particular that no one’s caught in the system coming overseas to our airports,” Kelly said. “It’s a good assumption” that green-card holders will be exempt, he said, referring to legal permanent residents. The order would also allow travelers who were already on airplanes bound for the U.S. into the country, but would bar those who had not yet boarded — a provision ostensibly added to spare U.S. airports some of the chaos that ensued in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s first travel ban.
-- The U.S. Marshals Service is providing security for Betsy DeVos after she was prevented by a handful of protesters from entering a middle school. Danielle Douglas-Gabriel and Emma Brown report: The move is unusual for the Education Department, whose staffers are typically guarded by civil servants. A spokeswoman said that security reasons, she could not provide any information about the number of marshals assigned to DeVos or say whether they are providing round-the-clock protection. It is unclear how long the arrangement will last.
-- Trump attended a fundraiser at his Mar-a-Lago resort on Saturday night without telling reporters — giving his traveling press pool a “lid” (or cue to sign off for the night) before heading to the event at his Palm Beach resort. An estimated 800 people were in attendance at the event, White House officials later told reporters, with Trump talking to “quite a few of them.” “Although presidents often attend events that are closed to the media, it’s unusual for a president to attend an event that isn’t on his listed calendar and without reporters being informed about it at all,” Philip Bump writes. “Of course, it’s also unusual for a president to own a club that might be the site of a formal fundraiser.”
-- After working for Trump’s presidential campaign, British data firm Cambridge Analytica is attempting to ramp up its U.S. government business — pursuing contracts that could be driven by Trump’s policy agenda, Matea Gold and Frances Stead Sellers report. “The company, SCL Group … has in recent weeks pitched officials in key national security agencies on how its technology could be used to deter terrorism, bolster the military’s capacities as it prepares for a possible buildup and help assess attitudes about immigrants. SCL Group has ties to people in Trump’s inner circle, including White House chief strategist [Steve Bannon] who until recently was on the board of Cambridge Analytica. In addition, one of Cambridge’s main financiers is hedge fund magnate Robert L. Mercer, whose daughter Rebekah is one of the most influential donors in Trump’s orbit.…” Even as company executives deny they are exploiting ties to the White House, SCL’s move reflects how corporate interests connected to the administration see new opportunities in Trump’s Washington.
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Trump enjoyed a full round of golf:
To highlight his hypocrisy, NBC rounded up some of the times that Trump laced into Obama for golfing while president — just on Twitter:
Trump today made his 6th trip to the golf course in 30 days as president.— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) February 19, 2017
Here are his previous tweets about presidents and golf: pic.twitter.com/66361Bgk3b
Ivanka Trump, who converted to Orthodox Judaism after meeting her husband, defended the Jewish faith after a wave of threats to Jewish community centers. This is her most outspoken remark to date on an issue that her allies say she feels personally:
America is a nation built on the principle of religious tolerance. We must protect our houses of worship & religious centers. #JCC— Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump) February 20, 2017
From conservative writer David French:
Also horrible. This, combined with wave of online anti-Semitism in campaign, indicates something dark and dangerous is being unlocked. https://t.co/aBFOBMMUix— David French (@DavidAFrench) February 20, 2017
The most buzzed-about topic online yesterday was CPAC inviting — and then disinviting — Milo Yiannopoulos after a video resurfaced of him criticizing age-of-consent laws and joking about his teenage sexual encounter with a priest. Much of the naysaying was from intellectually honest conservatives:
40 years ago at CPAC: Reagan gives speech that lays groundwork for conservatism's success.— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) February 20, 2017
This year: Trump serves as warmup act for Milo.
Idea for @mschlapp: Replace the Trump & Milo CPAC sessions by one with Bannon. Why listen to the marionettes when you can get the puppeteer?— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) February 20, 2017
Saw Milo at Trump's election party after he won and he told me "the effect of Trump is that everything becomes permissible." Not quiiiite.— Benjy Sarlin (@BenjySarlin) February 20, 2017
From a columnist for The Resurgent and Daily Wire:
All true:— Josh Hammer (@josh_hammer) February 19, 2017
(1) Milo, like everyone else, deserves free speech protection
(2) Milo is a bad person
(3) Milo should not be keynoting CPAC
Frankly a little confused as to why all the anti-Milo pushback is happening NOW.— Josh Hammer (@josh_hammer) February 20, 2017
This information was all already out there. All of it.
From the assistant editor at the conservative Washington Free Beacon:
Milo's invitation to CPAC is evidence of deep moral corruption in the conservative movement. He is a bad man. Say it.— Blake Seitz (@BlakeSeitz) February 20, 2017
From a senior editor at Business Insider:
If Milo had been born in the US, he'd sooner or later become the Republican nominee for president.— Josh Barro (@jbarro) February 20, 2017
Conservatives: start using your own brain. Stop attaching yourselves to personalities. They will always lead you to dark and confused places— Matt Walsh (@MattWalshBlog) February 20, 2017
If Lena Dunham said what Milo said, verbatim, every conservative in the country would be calling for a police investigation— Matt Walsh (@MattWalshBlog) February 20, 2017
Twitter also took note of fact that Milo's book was also canceled yesterday:
Milo on FB just now confirms book cancellation pic.twitter.com/I9FLOoGb9E— Rosie Gray (@RosieGray) February 20, 2017
Reporters trolled the White House for admitting that Trump actually played more golf this weekend than they initially said:
I'd bet Trump has spent more time with professional golfers since becoming president than he has with most members of his Cabinet https://t.co/QhVt6ndn2u— John Bresnahan (@BresPolitico) February 20, 2017
So did a congressman:
Comedian Margaret Cho celebrated President's Day with this tweet:
Happy President's Day pic.twitter.com/2Dbd9FhtN6— Margaret Cho (@margaretcho) February 20, 2017
And singer Maxwell had a similar take:
And Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.):
Republicans felt differently (shocker!):
We'll likely be seeing lots of snaps from lawmakers at town halls this week, as Congress is on recess:
This is not fake news:
Meanwhile... pic.twitter.com/HtwllNo6Vf— Brandon Morse (@TheBrandonMorse) February 21, 2017
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- New York Times, “Deep in Brazil’s Amazon, Exploring the Ruins of Ford’s Fantasyland,” by Simon Romero: “In more than a decade of reporting from Latin America, I made dozens of trips to the Amazon, lured back time and again by its vast rivers, magnificent skies, boomtowns, lost civilizations and tales of hubris consumed by nature. But somehow I never got to Fordlândia. That finally changed when I boarded a riverboat this year in Santarém, an outpost at the confluence of the Amazon and Tapajós rivers, and made the six-hour trip to the place where [the industrialist Henry Ford], one of the world’s richest men, tried turning a colossal swath of Brazilian jungle into a Midwest fantasyland. Beyond producing rubber, Ford, an avowed teetotaler, anti-Semite and skeptic of the Jazz Age, clearly wanted life in the jungle to be more transformative. His American managers forbade consumption of alcohol, while promoting gardening, square dancing and readings of the poetry of Emerson and Longfellow. From the start, ineptitude and tragedy plagued the venture … [and] these days, the ruins of Fordlândia stand as testament to the folly of trying to bend the jungle to the will of man.”
-- LA Times, “Half the candidates in L.A.'s latest congressional race have their own immigrant story. With Trump, this contest is personal,” by Christine Mai-Due: “For many of the candidates in the crowded race to fill a rare open congressional seat in central Los Angeles, the stories of how they came to be in this country are strikingly similar [:]Of the 23 candidates who will appear on the ballot in the first congressional primary since the election of [Trump], two are immigrants and 11 are the children of immigrants. Whoever wins the seat previously held by state Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra will be serving under a president who has moved to block refugees, vowed to build a massive border wall and threatened to deport millions of immigrants who are in the country illegally. For them and many in this district, where two-thirds of residents are Latino and nearly half were born in other countries, the election is personal and expectations for the winner are high.”
-- Politico, “How Mike Pence used Obamacare to halt Indiana's HIV outbreak,” by Brianna Ehley: “When then-Gov. Mike Pence faced the worst public health crisis to hit Indiana in decades, he turned to Obamacare — a program he vilified and voted against. In 2015, as a rash of HIV infections spread through rural southern Indiana, state health officials parachuted into Scott County and enrolled scores of people into Obamacare's expanded Medicaid program so they could get medical care and substance abuse treatment. Many were addicted to opioids and had contracted HIV by sharing dirty needles. ‘These are good salt-of-the-earth folks who got caught up in a disaster. Not funding this would be like removing sandbags during a flood,’ said Blake Johnson, who helps [enroll residents in health coverage] …[Now], two years later, Pence is helping to lead the Republican effort to dismantle the program that helped him halt the deadly outbreak in an impoverished swathe of Indiana.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“These California teachers mocked students for skipping school on immigrant boycott day,” by Kristine Guerra: “Six high school employees in a predominantly Latino district in Southern California were placed on administrative leave after they posted social-media comments insulting students who skipped classes to participate in the ‘Day Without Immigrants’ protest. The employees — five teachers and one guidance coordinator — said classes were quieter and grades higher with the students gone. Words such as ‘lazy,’ ‘drunk’ and ‘failing’ were used to describe those who were absent … The images show that the Facebook conversation … appears to have been started by [a social science teacher] who wrote that his class size was cut by half on Thursday — ‘best school day ever.’ He said the reduction in class size ‘only served to SUPPORT Trump’s initiatives and prove how much better things might be without all this overcrowding.’”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“Woman Says No ‘Trump Supporters’ Roommate Ad Meant to Protect Her Home From ‘Bigots’” by LawNewz: “A 23-year-old woman who lives near Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. posted an advertisement for a roommate recently that specifically lists a number of house rules, including no pets and no meat products. However, it is the final ‘house rule’ that is receiving the most attention: no supporters of President Donald Trump. She is one of many people who have recently placed ads on websites like Craigslist with stipulations that specifically exclude any Trump supporters. Kian [said] … allowing a Trump supporter as a roommate would result in her home becoming a ‘hostile environment’ and a ‘political battlefield’ because she believes a Trump supporter is ‘by all means a bigot.’ The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex ... However, there is no prohibition on discriminating against someone’s politics. There have been a number of reports of similar clauses in college roommate advertisements since Trump won the GOP nomination.”
At the White House: Trump will visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture, before meeting for lunch with Tom Barrack. The president will then receive an NSC briefing. In the evening, Trump will have dinner with Pence.
Pence will meet with Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop before joining Trump for dinner.
Congress is on recess this week.
Fox News will have a town hall at 7 p.m. Eastern about immigration from Jacksonville, Florida. It will be moderated by Martha MacCallum.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“We’re not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil.” – James Mattis in Baghdad
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- Not quite as warm as yesterday, but still some sunny spring temps will head our way this afternoon. The Capital Weather Gang reports: “Early spring takes a day off thanks to the light breeze from the east, sweeping in cooler air from the Atlantic. Highs are mainly in the 50s but a few spots could touch 60 degrees. Skies are partly cloudy, which translates to a partly-dreary feeling on what is the first day back to work for most of us.”
-- Virginia House Speaker William J. Howell, a moderate Republican who has served in the leadership position for 14 years, announced he will not seek reelection in November. “I have really enjoyed serving in this esteemed body,” Howell said during an emotional speech, adding that he is leaving to spend more time with family. “It has truly been the greatest professional honor of my life.” Meanwhile, his plan to retire has already touched off a competition between two delegates to replace him at the end of his tenure in January. (Laura Vozzella and Gregory S. Schneider)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
John Oliver spent 20 minutes on the Trump-Putin relationship. He even enlisted a group of singing dancers to explain for the president that the Russian leader is a ruthless leader and master manipulator:
Jimmy Kimmel on Trump, Russia and The Walking Dead:
Seth Myers takes a closer look at Trump's press conference last week:
Stephen Colbert apologizes on behalf of all Steves, including Bannon:
Funny or Die spoofs Trump bullying the press:
Our video team made a three-minute summary of Trump's Saturday night rally in Florida:
John McCain said "this administration is in disarray" during his speech at the Munich Security Conference: