Vice President Pence administers the oath of office to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, accompanied by his wife, Betty, on Feb. 10. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

With Breanne Deppisch

THE BIG IDEA:

ROSWELL, Ga. — National Democrats are deploying resources to Georgia in hopes that the special election to replace Tom Price becomes a referendum on President Trump.

Mitt Romney won Price’s House district, which spans the affluent and highly educated suburbs north of Atlanta, with 61 percent in 2012. Donald Trump pulled just 48 percent in November, running neck-and-neck with Hillary Clinton. That was one of the biggest swings of any congressional district in the country.

Now Price has resigned to become the secretary of health and human services, and Democrats see an opportunity to pick up his seat, which was once held by Newt Gingrich.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is paying to put nine staffers on the ground. In a lower-turnout contest, this field program will identify and register voters who have never been targeted in previous elections.

Price never won reelection with less than 62 percent of the vote, but this is the kind of district that Democrats will need to find a way to flip if they are going to seize the House majority in November 2018.

While 11 Republicans have jumped into the race and are already duking it out, Democrats have mostly coalesced behind a former congressional aide named Jon Ossoff. It’s a jungle primary, which means that all the candidates are going to appear on the same ballot on April 18. The top two finishers will then face off in a June 20 runoff. Democrats hope the contenders in the crowded GOP field beat each other up and try to outdo one another in pledging loyalty to Trump.

Democrat Jon Ossoff campaigns for former Rep. Tom Price's seat outside Atlanta. (John Bazemore/AP)

Ossoff just turned 30. He worked as a staffer for Rep. Hank Johnson, who represents a majority African American district in Atlanta, off and on from 2006 to 2012. He speaks French, did his undergraduate studies at Georgetown and earned a master’s from the London School of Economics. He runs a firm that makes documentary films about corruption.

He faces a tricky balancing act: capitalize on the surge of anti-Trump energy on the left that has led to mass protests and a fresh wave of activism while also presenting himself to voters in a right-leaning district as a pragmatic moderate. The liberal Daily Kos website has helped him raise almost $1 million online, a wild amount of grassroots support for an unknown House candidate, and the campaign says more than 3,500 Georgians have signed up to volunteer.

Ossoff is pretty open that he wants the race to be all about Trump. “I think people are embarrassed by him,” he said during a lunchtime interview at Fellini’s Pizza in Decatur. “People are concerned he’s dishonest and not competent.”

The first-time candidate downplayed his partisanship, spoke very cautiously and relentlessly stuck to his moderate message during our conversation. “I will carry myself with respect and humility and talk about solutions, rather than name-calling,” he said, stressing that he believes in strong oversight of the president regardless of which party is in power.

It’s hard to forecast what the political environment will be like in four months. Many GOP congressional candidates successfully distanced themselves from Trump on the trail last year, when conventional wisdom was that he wouldn’t win and his brand was perceived as distinct from the GOP’s. In the midterms, when his presidency is no longer a hypothetical, will voters tie the party’s congressional candidates to Trump? We’ll get an early indication of that here in Georgia.

President Trump sits down with staff, including Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, during a luncheon to talk about the federal budget at the White House on Wednesday. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Over two days, I traveled to every corner of the 6th District and chatted with more than three dozen voters about Trump. He is deeply polarizing: Everyone who agreed to talk with me had strong feelings. There was a stark generational divide: Older people tended to be enthusiastic, while younger people expressed fear and unease. No matter what they think of him, it was striking how closely everyone is following what Trump has been up to during his first month. People talked in surprising specifics about the Cabinet picks, his 77-minute news conference and Michael Flynn’s resignation.

I encountered a lot of people under 45 who said they have never voted in the midterms before, let alone a special election, but what’s happening in Washington might prompt them to. Mark and Meagan Bruno, both 31, were college sweethearts. They each cast their first ballot for George W. Bush but neither even considered voting for Trump last November. Their community of Alpharetta overwhelmingly voted for Trump, they said, but primarily because people hated Hillary Clinton. One of their neighbors carved a pumpkin for Halloween that depicted the Democratic nominee as a prisoner behind bars. “A lot of people have buyer's remorse now,” Mark said.

Meagan is a pregnant stay-at-home mom. As her 2-year-old son nibbled Chick-fil-A nuggets for dinner the other night, she leaned over to whisper her honest assessment of the president: “I think he’s kind of a douche, for lack of a better word. He seems clownish, and his tweets are ridiculous. Say what you will about our other presidents, but they weren’t [jerks]. They’ve all been decent people.”

Mark sells health-care software, and he says business is hard right now because of all the uncertainty surrounding whether Obamacare will be repealed and what it might be replaced with. “Major spending decisions are being put on hold because companies want to see how things shake out,” he lamented. “It’s anybody’s guess what happens with Medicare reimbursements.”

Donald Trump and Mitt Romney eat dinner in November. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

But, but, but: The highest-propensity voters in special elections, senior citizens, also happen to be the most enthusiastic about Trump. While some moderates express discomfort with the 70-year-old, and the district’s demographics are not a great fit for him, the president has plenty of hardcore supporters who promise to support anyone who supports his agenda. Reflecting Trump’s popularity with the base, none of the Republicans running in the special election have publicly broken with him or meaningfully distanced themselves.

“He’s pissing off enough people that I’m happy,” said Martin Yannario, 76, a Republican who spent his career at IBM. “I didn’t care for Romney because he was so weak-kneed. Trump is gutsy. … I don’t know if he’ll get anything done, but at least he’s stirring it up. Everyone in Washington is just afraid of their gravy train getting cut off, which is why they oppose him.”

“I know he says stuff he shouldn’t, but I think he’s going to ultimately get the job done,” added his wife, Lorraine, 78, a retired bank teller. “The silent majority has spoken. They want him to keep doing what he’s doing, no matter what the papers say. They’re going to give the guy a chance. He just has to ignore all of the paid protesters.”

Dorothy Zierer, 75, who used to work at Verizon as a technical writer, talks every night with her daughter, a practicing attorney, about whatever Trump did that day. “We’re loving it,” she gushed. “The more he can get done, the better! … I’ve known a lot of men like him from working at corporations. They’re the kind of people who get things done. … My stocks are doing really well!” She said he “flubbed” the immigration order, but his heart is in the right place. “He’s not a politician,” Zierer explained. “All of my friends love that, especially people in my age group.”

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) hangs out with Supreme Court justice nominee Neil Gorsuch in his office. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Maria Sepulveda, 49, is strongly anti-abortion and said Trump’s selection of Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court validated her decision to vote for him last fall. “He’s fulfilling his promises, and that is the most important quality in a president,” she said, as she brought her 11-year-old son to get a book at the Roswell library. “I see his personality as a plus. He shouldn’t care what others think.”

A 66-year-old retiree who said she is good friends with Tom and Betty Price did not want to be quoted on the record saying that she couldn’t bear to support Trump or Clinton last November. She left that part of her ballot blank. She had voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and Romney in 2012. She said she actually agrees with most of Trump’s policies, but his “arrogance” repels her. “For someone in my generation, Twitter doesn’t work at all,” said the woman, who lives in Roswell. “It doesn’t work for him either. It’s too off the cuff. He needs to cut it out.” She plans to study the congressional candidates closely. 

Georgia Democratic Reps. Hank Johnson and John Lewis, who both support Ossoff, protest at the Atlanta airport last month. (Kent D. Johnson/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

-- To be sure: Democrats, long accustomed to being in the minority here, are inflamed and newly emboldened. “I thought I could give the guy a chance, but I’m not happy with a single thing he’s done so far,” said David Sanders, 64, a nurse anesthetist, as he shopped at a mall in Dunwoody. “I get so frustrated when I hear really intelligent people, like the doctors I work with, making excuses for Trump. They know darn well that some of his nominees are just plain stupid. … I see it as a wake-up call. If we don’t get involved, things will go backwards to the good ole boys, instead of toward inclusion, which is the direction we had been heading.”

Dave Woody, 71, who installs and assembles furniture, considers himself extremely liberal but he volunteered that Democrats need to rally behind a centrist to win in a district like Price’s. “A good candidate is a moderate who can get elected,” he said. “Not like me! I could never get elected!” Told that Ossoff has the support of John Lewis, who represents an adjacent district, he replied: “Anybody Lewis is in favor of, I’d support automatically. But that might mean he’s too liberal then.”

His daughter Morgan, 24, a barista at Starbucks, supported Bernie Sanders last year. “I’m just as liberal as my dad, but I too really think it will take a moderate,” she said. “The country is just so divided right now, and we really need someone who can bring both sides together.”

Indeed, feelings remain very raw four months after the election. Gideon Lanstra, 18, said everyone in her family voted for Trump but she supported Clinton. She said it’s very hard to be friends with anyone who supports the president. At Kennesaw State, where she attended classes last semester, her roommate backed Trump. “I got silent angry,” she recalled. “That means I’m not going to punch you or yell at you, but gosh I’m upset.” Now she’s trying to find an apartment with someone else.

Scott Walker speaks at CPAC Thursday morning. (Susan Walsh/AP)

-- Tomorrow at 9:45 a.m. – “The 202 Live” with Scott Walker: Friday morning I'll sit down for a live, onstage conversation with the Wisconsin governor at The Post's headquarters. Walker chairs the Republican Governors Association. We'll talk about how governors can move the needle on national issues like health care and welfare reform, what a Republican-led Washington can learn from state policy and how Republicans can maintain their stronghold in upcoming gubernatorial races. RSVP or watch live here.

Welcome to the Daily 202, PowerPost's morning newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter.

 

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Astronomers have discovered a new solar system just 39 light-years from our own. Scientists say it contains seven “Earthlike” planets orbiting a single star. Researchers say the system is an ideal laboratory for studying distant worlds and could be the best place in the galaxy to search for life beyond Earth. (Sarah Kaplan)
  2. The Supreme Court said race-based testimony discriminated against the sentencing hearing of a black inmate on death row, voting 6-to-2 to reopen proceedings after ruling that the case was infected with a “particularly noxious strain of racial prejudice” that may have unfairly tainted a jury’s decision. (Robert Barnes)
  3. A British suicide bomber who blew himself up near Mosul this week was identified as a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, prompting questions about the handling of his case, after lawmakers and the media lobbied hard for his release. (Karla Adam)
  4. The U.S.-backed Iraqi coalition fought its way into a sprawling military base outside of Mosul and onto the grounds of the city’s airport, wresting control of the runway amid fierce fire exchange with Islamic State militants. The two-part offensive comes as part of a major assault to push militants from the western half of Mosul. (AP)
  5. One of Antarctica’s most rapidly melting glaciers has shed yet another large block of ice. The event was captured by a NASA satellite and has prompted new concerns from scientists. The glacier, if melted, has the potential to raise global sea levels by an estimated two feet. (Chelsea Harvey)
  6. Ole Miss announced it has imposed a one-year postseason ban on itself, hoping to avoid a possibly harsher penalty after receiving a revised notice of allegations about its football program from the NCAA. (Des Bieler
  7. United and American Airlines have jumped into the “basic economy” market, announcing — within hours of each other — lower fares that allow travelers to fly on a budget. While the cheaper fares come with caveats (boarding last, no seat pre-selection options), it’s an attempt to go after the success of upstart low-fare companies such as Spirit and Frontier airlines. (Thomas Heath)
  8. A wrought-iron gate that was stolen from a Nazi concentration camp was returned years after being mysteriously stolen. The gate bears the chilling inscription “Work sets you free." Its disappearance has long befuddled employees at the memorial site, who note that it weighs more than 200 pounds and that culprits would have had to scale another gate to obtain access to it. (Sarah Larimer)

-- Correction: An item yesterday referred to a bull as a “she.” Bulls are of course, by definition, male.

Students in California protest Trump's decision to scrap Obama's transgender directive. (Tim Dominick/AP) 

THE TRUMP TAKEOVER:

-- The Trump administration last night formally revoked federal guidelines specifying that transgender students have the right to use public school restrooms that match their gender identity. The Education and Justice departments notified the Supreme Court that the administration is ordering the nation’s schools to disregard memos the Obama administration issued during the past two years regarding transgender student rights. Those memos said that prohibiting transgender students from using facilities that align with their gender identity violates federal anti-discrimination laws.

-- This is a big win for Jeff Sessions over Betsy DeVos. The two have been engaged in an inter-departmental turf war. From Sandhya Somashekhar, Emma Brown and Moriah Balingit: “The administration’s letter was the source of some disagreement between the two issuing departments, with (the AG) eager to rescind the Obama administration’s guidance as court proceedings in related cases approached, and (the secretary of education) keen to leave it in place. Unlike Arne Duncan, Obama’s education secretary for seven years, DeVos does not have a close personal relationship with the president she serves; she also lacks the experience and political capital Sessions garnered as a Republican senator. Sessions is widely known to oppose expanding gay and transgender rights, and DeVos’s friends say she personally supports those rights.”

-- Jackie Evancho, the teenage classical singer who sang the national anthem at Trump’s inauguration, has asked for a meeting with the president to discuss transgender rights. She has a transgender sister and expressed dismay:

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt looks at his watch after speaking to his staff on Tuesday. (Susan Walsh/AP)

-- Thousands of newly-released emails detail EPA head’s close ties to fossil fuel industry. From Brady Dennis and Steven Mufson: “In his previous role as Oklahoma’s attorney general, the new administrator regularly huddled with fossil fuel firms and electric utilities about how to combat federal environmental regulations and spoke to conservative political groups about what they called government ‘overreach,’ according to thousands of pages of emails made public Wednesday. The emails highlight an often-chummy relationship between Pruitt’s office and Devon Energy, a major oil and gas exploration and production company based in Oklahoma City. The correspondence makes clear that top officials at the company met often with Pruitt or people who worked for him. Devon representatives also helped draft — and redraft — letters for Pruitt to sign and send to federal officials in an effort to stave off new regulations. 'Any suggestions?' a deputy solicitor general in Pruitt’s office wrote to a Devon executive in 2013, including a draft of a letter the office was planning to send to the EPA. (He replied with a series of proposed edits.)"

-- The world’s biggest automakers have already asked Pruitt to overturn a recent decision to lock in strict fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks to be produced in model years 2022 to 2025. Juliet Eilperin and Steven Overly report: “The requests by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers to relax the standards, which the Obama administration finalized Jan. 13, could provide the first indication of how the Trump administration will reshape the government’s approach to addressing climate change. Under President Barack Obama, the EPA used its authority to set the first fuel economy standards to regulate carbon emissions from the auto industry.”

-- “[Trump], who has vowed to stop U.S. manufacturing from disappearing overseas, will seek job-creation advice on Thursday from at least five companies that are laying off thousands of workers as they shift production abroad.” Reuters reports: “Caterpillar Inc., United Technologies Corp, Dana Inc, 3M Co., and General Electric Co., are offshoring work to Mexico, China, India and other countries, according to a Reuters review of U.S. Labor Department records. Executives from the five companies are among a group of business leaders due to meet with Trump on Thursday to discuss how to help the president deliver on his promise to increase factory employment, according to the White House. About 2,300 U.S. workers at these five companies stand to lose their jobs within the next two years as a result of offshoring.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin waits for Trump to arrive in the Roosevelt Room yesterday. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

-- SO NAÏVE: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin thinks an overhaul of the tax code might be done and signed into law “by August” recess. The Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Ballhaus and Nick Timiraos report: “Mr. Mnuchin, in his first interview since his confirmation last week as Treasury secretary, said slower economic growth since the financial crisis had primarily been an anomaly and a result of Obama administration policies that can be reversed. He said the Trump administration is aiming for a sustained 3% or higher annual growth rate, a projection not widely shared by other forecasters. ‘We think it’s critical that we get back to more normalized economic growth. More normalized economic growth is 3% or higher,’ Mr. Mnuchin said. Mr. Mnuchin said the administration was working with House and Senate Republicans to smooth over differences among them on tax policy, with the aim of passing major legislation before Congress leaves for its August recess. He added, ‘That’s an ambitious timeline. It could slip to later in the year.’”

Rex Tillerson arrives in Mexico City. (Reuters/Carlos Jasso)

WHO IS IN CONTROL?

-- “The Trump administration in its first month has largely benched the State Department from its long-standing role as the pre­eminent voice of U.S. foreign policy, curtailing public engagement and official travel and relegating [Rex Tillerson] to a mostly offstage role," Carol Morello and Anne Gearan report. “Decisions on hiring, policy and scheduling are being driven by a White House often wary of the foreign policy establishment and struggling to set priorities and write policy on the fly. The most visible change at the State Department is the month-long lack of daily press briefings, a fixture since John Foster Dulles was secretary of state in the 1950s. Tillerson has also been notably absent from White House meetings with foreign leaders." 

Foreign policy is being largely run out of the White House: Steve Bannon attends national security meetings and recently spoke with the German ambassador, and Jared Kushner has been given a major role in getting Israeli-Palestinian talks on track, a job usually the preserve of the State Department. "When asked about foreign policy developments, State Department officials often have referred reporters to the White House," Carol and Anne report.

-- Trump’s new national security adviser may reorganize his foreign policy team again, the New York Times’ Peter Baker reports: “Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster … is considering a reorganization of the White House foreign policy team that would give him control of Homeland Security and guarantee full access to the military and intelligence agencies. Just days after arriving at the White House, Mr. McMaster is weighing changes to an organization chart that generated consternation when it was issued last month. One proposal under discussion would restore the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to full membership in a cabinet-level committee Another likely change would reincorporate the Homeland Security Council under the National Security Council, the way it was during the administration of [Obama]. … The decision to separate the Homeland Security staff, they said, was primarily a way to diminish the power of [predecessor Michael T. Flynn], who resigned last week. Now that Mr. Flynn is out and Mr. McMaster is in, both councils may report to him.”

-- The New Yorker, “Can a free mind live in Trump’s White House?” by George Packer: “The President’s pick for national-security adviser is among the best the military has to offer, but it’s unclear if he’ll be able to say what he really thinks.”

Sebastian Gorka speaks in German in 2015. (Eric Steen/U.S. Army)

-- Trump national security aide Sebastian Gorka is “widely disdained" by most experts in his field and seen as a particularly petty person, Business Insider’s Pamela Engel reports: “It was May 2016 and Sebastian Gorka, a former editor at Breitbart News who is now a senior official in the White House, had been invited to speak at a Defense Intelligence Agency conference. Gorka was joined on a panel by two well-respected counterterrorism and national-security experts — Georgia State University professor Mia Bloom and Foreign Policy Research Institute fellow Clint Watts. But he showed up unprepared, Bloom and Watts said, refusing to answer the questions that had been provided to the panelists weeks in advance. ... Both recounted that Gorka tried to use the panel as a platform to sell his book and carried a copy around." When asked for comment, Gorka wrote back that the publication should not write about the event because it was private. "I call him the Simon Cowell of counterterrorism," said Watts.

Bloom, the Georgia State terrorism expert who was on the DIA panel, has clashed with Gorka: "She says it started with a segment on Fox News in December 2015 during which she appeared with Gorka. She rolled her eyes while he was being introduced, not knowing that the cameras were already showing her on-screen. She said she got several emails from Gorka the next day demanding an apology. ‘If you are so thin-skinned that someone questions your bona fides and you fold like a house of cards, I mean, grow up,’ Bloom said. Gorka confirmed that he ‘requested an apology for [Bloom's] markedly unprofessional behavior’ on the Fox segment. … Gorka did attack her in a tweet last year, calling her ‘disgusting.’”

“Michael S. Smith II, a terrorism analyst who has advised members of Congress and White House officials (and says he voted for Trump), said … (Gorka) has the level of expertise ‘one would expect from a Congressional intern.’ … In recent weeks, Smith has been going after Gorka on Twitter, questioning his qualifications and using the hashtag #FakeTerrorismExpert to refer to him. On Tuesday evening, Smith said, Gorka called him to express concern about Smith's ‘animus’ toward him and threatened to bring his tweets to the attention of the White House legal counsel. ... Smith said Gorka was ‘berating him’ and nearly yelling on the call." 

Gorka acknowledges making the call but disputes that characterization: "Mr. Smith has been sending disparaging emails to [US government] officials about me and my work and I indicated that I may have to consult with legal staff at the [White House] about what he is doing," he emailed Business Insider. "However I ended the discussion by inviting him to meet at the [Eisenhower Executive Office Building] for a coffee to discuss why exactly he feels the need to constantly be tweeting about me."

White House staffer Omarosa Manigault (L) takes selfie with other staff members last week. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

-- “Trump’s open door Oval Office,” by Politico's Annie Karni: "When Omarosa Manigault, the former 'Celebrity Apprentice' antihero-turned-White House adviser, needs to talk to [Trump], she simply strolls into the Oval Office. As assistant to the President and [a] director of communications … Manigault enjoys what Trump aides refer to as walk-in privileges - meaning she doesn't need an appointment or permission to pop her head in and consult with the leader of the free world. Her level of easy access marks a break from the previous administration, where President Barack Obama and his gatekeeper chiefs of staff kept at bay the number of aides, even senior officials, who simply walked in without an appointment. In contrast, Trump may have set up the most accessible Oval Office in modern history. Even lower-level White House staff who don’t visit the president’s office regularly said they can get permission to go in from his assistant in circumstances when they need it. As one White House staffer put it, ‘I’ve never been told no.’”

Chris Christie and his wife, Mary Pat, watch Trump signs a bill in the Oval Office last week. (Evan Vucci/AP)

-- After making Chris Christie eat meatloaf during lunch at the White House last week, Trump asked him if he wanted to be secretary of labor. The New Jersey governor said no. “Christie has told Trump he is not interested and instead plans to join the private sector after he leaves Trenton next year,” Politico reports. Christie is also on a list of candidates being considered to host a sports talk radio show during the afternoon rush hour, according to NorthJersey.com.

-- The White House’s Chief Digital Officer, Gerrit Lansing, was dismissed from his post last week after being unable to pass an FBI background check, Politico reports. Lansing was among six White House staffers who were ousted after being unable to pass the strict vetting process, and reportedly failed on issues involving his investments. 

Susan Collins exits the Senate floor earlier this month. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

THE RUSSIAN CONNECTION:

-- Susan Collins, a Republican member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she is open to requesting Trump’s tax returns as part of a continued probe of the Kremlin's interference into the 2016 election. Karoun Demirjian reports: “The Maine senator made the remark to a local radio program on Wednesday in which she stated that ‘many of the members’ on the Intelligence panel will formally request that ousted national security adviser Michael T. Flynn testify before the committee. While she declined to say whether she expected Flynn to testify openly or behind closed doors – the committee conducts much of its business in private – she stressed that there should be 'some public hearings' as part of the process. And she noted that the committee could ultimately subpoena Trump’s tax returns to examine any potential business dealings with Russia: 'If it’s necessary to get to the answers then I suspect we would,' Collins said – adding that she currently has 'no idea' whether such a demand would be necessary." 

DJT gives a thumbs up during his RNC walk through, as Paul Manafort and Ivanka Trump look on. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)

-- A purported cyber hack of the daughter of political consultant Paul Manafort suggests that he was the victim of a blackmail attempt while managing Trump’s presidential campaign, according to Politico’s Kenneth P. Vogel, David Stern and Josh Meyer: “The undated communications, which are allegedly from the iPhone of Manafort’s daughter, include a text that appears to come from a Ukrainian parliamentarian named Serhiy Leshchenko, seeking to reach her father, in which he claims to have politically damaging information about both Manafort and Trump. Attached to the text is a note to Paul Manafort referring to ‘bulletproof’ evidence related to Manafort’s financial arrangement with Ukraine’s former president, the pro-Russian strongman Viktor Yanukovych, as well as an alleged 2012 meeting between Trump and a close Yanukovych associate named Serhiy Tulub.

“The screenshots of hacked texts to Manafort’s daughter do not include any information indicating the date on which they were sent. But Manafort said that the first of the texts arrived shortly before The New York Times published an August expose revealing that the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine had obtained documents — which have since come under scrutiny — that appeared to show $12.7 million in cash payments earmarked for Manafort.”

Sean Hannity welcomes Kellyanne Conway to his show, being broadcast during the opening day of the Conservative Political Action Conference, at National Harbor. (Mike Theiler/Reuters)

THE CREDIBILITY GAP:

-- Kellyanne Conway was pulled off the airwaves for a week after repeatedly making statements that were “at odds with the administration’s official stance,” White House officials told CNN. Her last interview before being sidelined was on Fox News, in which she claimed Flynn had offered to resign, even though Sean Spicer said Trump had asked Flynn for his resignation. “She was off message,” White House officials said. Last night, Conway went on Sean Hannity's show and said she hasn't been on TV because she's been with her children. 

-- MANAGING UP: Six former Trump campaign staffers said that, in an effort to keep the president's Twitter habits under control, they made sure he was showered with praise and saw positive coverage about himself. Politico’s Tara Palmeri reports: “The key (according to the six campaign alums) is to ensure that his personal media consumption includes a steady stream of praise. And when no such praise was to be found, staff would turn to friendly outlets to drum some up — and make sure it made its way to Trump’s desk. 'If candidate Trump was upset about unfair coverage, it was productive to show him that he was getting fair coverage from outlets that were persuadable,' said former communications director Sam Nunberg. 'The same media that our base digests and prefers is going to be the base for his support. I would assume the president would like to see positive and preferential treatment from those outlets and that would help the operation overall.' Staff members had one advantage as they aimed to manage candidate Trump’s media diet: He rarely reads anything online, instead preferring print newspapers … and reading material his staff brought to his desk.”

THE WORLD ADJUSTS TO TRUMP:

-- Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly arrived in Mexico yesterday for talks with President Enrique Peña ­Nieto, primarily aimed at cooling tensions that threaten to derail trade and other agreements nearly a month after a heated volley of tweets between the two world leaders. Antonio Olivo writes: “The Twitter fight sparked concerns about a trade war between the countries after a Trump administration official implied that a 20 percent tax on goods from Mexico would be one way to force the country to pay for the wall. And this week, tensions intensified after Trump signed an executive order that would dramatically expand the pool of undocumented immigrants who would be deported to Mexico. Against that backdrop, the two sides plan to discuss Thursday how to move forward in day-to-day relations, which include $1.5 billion in daily commerce.”

  • Mexico’s foreign minister said his country will fight Trump’s immigration order: “I want to say clearly and emphatically that the government of Mexico and the Mexican people do not have to accept provisions that one government unilaterally wants to impose," Luis Videgaray said. “We will not accept it, because there’s no reason why we should and because it is not in the interests of Mexico.”
  • Sean Spicer, trying to play down the deepening rift, called the relationship between the two countries “phenomenal.”

-- Paul Ryan, leading a delegation of House Republicans on a six-hour tour of the U.S.-Mexico border, took helicopters, horses, and boats in an attempt to see the security challenges of keeping out undocumented immigrants. It was the Speaker's first trip to the border. Lisa Rein reports: “Ryan said that U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents on the ground need ‘more tools and more support … for them to do their jobs effectively.’ He said Congress ‘is committed to securing the border and enforcing our laws’ and pledged cooperation with the Trump administration. ‘When you see with your own eyes the many challenges facing our law enforcement professionals along the border, it gives you even greater respect for the work that they do day in and day out,’ Ryan said.” Still, he refrained from commenting directly on the controversial border wall, which worries Republicans committed to reining in government spending will not find billions of dollars for a huge construction project.”

-- Trump’s developing plan to defeat ISIS may significantly alter the Syria strategy that he inherited from Obama, including a “reduction or elimination of both long-standing U.S. support for moderate opposition forces” and the use of Syrian Kurdish fighters as the main U.S. proxy force against the militants. Karen DeYoung previews: “A memorandum signed late last month by Trump ordered the Pentagon and other national security agencies to draft a new proposal by late February. Trump has made clear in public statements both before and since his inauguration that he is eager to increase U.S. firepower against the militants, and willing to add more troops beyond about 500 U.S. Special Operations troops currently on the ground in Syria. In addition to calling for “new coalition partners,” possibly to include operational coordination with Russia, Trump also ordered recommendations to change any existing military rules of engagement that are more stringent than what is required by international law. The most prominent of these are a series of restrictions … designed to limit the number of civilian casualties caused by U.S. air attacks.”

-- "John McCain Makes Secret Trip to Syria in Midst of U.S. Assessment,” by the Wall Street Journal's Dion Nissenbaum: “Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) secretly traveled to northern Syria last weekend to speak with American military officials and Kurdish fighters at the forefront of the push to drive Islamic State out of their de facto capital of Raqqa, according to U.S. officials. The unusual visit, which officials said was organized with the help of the U.S. military, came as the Trump administration is debating plans for an accelerated military campaign against Islamic State … U.S. officials familiar with Mr. McCain’s trip said that the senator traveled to Kobani, the Syrian town on the Turkey border controlled by Kurdish forces since 2012. After traveling to Syria, Mr. McCain met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Turkish capital. Mr. Erdogan is pushing the Trump administration to sideline the Kurdish fighters that U.S. military leaders view as a vital ally in the fight against Islamic State. It is rare for U.S. politicians to travel to Syria … Mr. McCain is believed to be the first U.S. lawmaker to travel to the Kurdish-controlled area of northeastern Syria since it became a hub for American special-operations forces who are aiding local forces in the fight against Islamic State.”

-- “In Britain’s working-class heartland, a populist wave threatens to smash the traditional order,” by Griff Witte: “For hundreds of years, this small-scale city in England’s industrial north has been synonymous with pottery — colorful plates, bowls and tiles fired by workers in the heat of the local kilns and sold in fine ceramics shops the world over. But come Thursday, Stoke-on-Trent could be known less for shaping crockery than for smashing it. The British political order, virtually unchanged for a century as the Conservative and Labour parties have traded control, is under threat of a populist-infused realignment as the U.K. Independence Party seeks to capitalize on its success in last year’s Brexit campaign.Having helped to push Britain toward the departure lounge of the European Union, the anti-immigration UKIP is now seeking to displace Labour as the country’s natural home for working-class voters. And a Thursday election here to fill a vacant parliamentary seat, while minor in the overall calculus of British power, could be a telling indicator of just how far the country’s politics have shifted in Brexit’s wake.”

Congressman David Brat speaks at a town hall meeting. (Timothy C. Wright/For the Washington Post.)

IN TRUMP'S AMERICA, ANXIETY DOMINATES:

 -- “At a town hall in Trump country, an America that’s pleading to be heard,” by Dan Zak and Terence Samuel: “There was the Clinton supporter who had breast surgery six weeks ago and drove an hour and 25 minutes, during rush hour, to be heard. There was the Trump supporter who stuck around despite the cane in his hand and the cancer in his body. There were the teenagers wearing Planned Parenthood shirts, the Republicans who are aghast at the 45th president, and the mothers carrying signs that say ‘Women for Dave Brat,’ the Virginia Republican who was scheduled for a town hall at 7 p.m. in this placid town of 3,500, a few hours — and a world away — from Washington. During visits to their home districts this month, lawmakers have hosted dozens of town halls — and felt the wrath of liberals (and of some conservatives) who are terrified of Trump’s divisive rhetoric and swift executive actions.

The scene in Blackstone on Tuesday featured an America that’s peaceful but pleading to be heard, that promises not to relent.  “Basically this guy says women are in his grill, and I wanted to be in his grill,” said retired nurse practitioner Judy Howell, 68, who drove the 90 minutes from Richmond. “I hope [Brat] gets an earful to make him realize that not everyone is gung-ho for Trump.”

-- “Anxiety over Trump stems flood of Mexican shoppers to El Paso,” by Tracy Jan: “Stroll down South El Paso Street on a Friday evening past shops named “House of Blouse” and “Best Choice Fashion” hawking three pairs of pants for $9.99 and you will find sidewalks teeming with shoppers as cumbia music blares from store speakers. Each day, tens of thousands of people cross the three bridges between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, visiting friends and family, going to school and work, or simply to shop, contributing hundreds of millions of dollars to El Paso's economy each year. The parking lots of shopping malls here are normally crowded with cars sporting Mexican license plates. Fifty-two cents out of every dollar spent at Cielo Vista Mall in El Paso is traced back to Mexican nationals. But that flow of commerce has shown signs of slowing as anxieties grow over President Trump's immigration and economic policies ...” “This president, he’s making people go crazy,” one shopper said,: referring to Trump. “All these people who are racist now feel like they have a shield. He’s dividing two great countries instead of making bridges.” 

-- A Connecticut couple whose garage door was vandalized with a racial slur is refusing to conceal or remove it until the city step up its investigation efforts – thus incurring a $100 daily fee for blight. But ACLU officials say the couple’s decision could be protected by the First Amendment. (The Greenwich Times)

These members of the Lababidi family were the first Syrian refugees to resettle in Indianapolis. (James Brosher for The Washington Post)

-- “As Indiana governor, Pence failed to exclude Syrian refugees. Now the federal administration he serves is trying nationally,” by Katie Zezima: “When the Trump administration unveiled an executive order trying to bar Syrian refugees from coming to the United States, many who have resettled here in the American heartland felt a familiar sense of dread: Mike Pence is trying to ban us. Again. Fadi Lababidi was shocked. He and his family arrived here in October 2014, greeted with a banner at the airport and kindness from strangers. Lababidi and his wife have made a life for themselves in Indiana, where they work at a hospital cafeteria. Their older children attend public schools and speak fluent English to their 1-month-old sister, a U.S. citizen named Selena. [But] the national ban has a familiar feel to Lababidi. It was a little more than a year after he and his family arrived in the United States that a terrorist attack in Paris spurred Pence — then Indiana’s governor — to direct state agencies to stop the resettlement of Syrian migrants in the state. A federal appeals court ruled that Pence’s law was discriminatory, and it was overturned. But now he is vice president, and the apprehension and fear Lababidi felt in 2015 is back at levels he never imagined.”

-- Mike Pence stopped Wednesday at the Jewish cemetery in Missouri where nearly 200 gravestones were toppled this weekend – praising Missourians for rallying around the Jewish community and condemning the act of anti-Semitic violence. John Wagner reports: “‘From the heart, there’s no place in America for hatred or acts of prejudice or violence or anti-Semitism,’ Pence said from the bed of a pickup truck, speaking through a bullhorn at an event organized to clean up the damage. ‘I must tell you, the people of Missouri are inspiring the nation by your love and care for this place, for the Jewish community in Missouri, and I want to thank you for that inspiration, for showing the world what America is really about.’ ‘We condemn this vile act of vandalism and those who perpetrated it in the strongest possible terms,’” he added.

Elizabeth Warren pats Bernie Sanders on the back after a joint news conference last week to talk about Social Security. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

THE RESISTANCE:

-- Wall Street Journal, “Bernie Sanders Loyalists Are Taking Over the Democratic Party One County Office at a Time,” by Reid J. Epstein and Janet Hook: “In Washington, Democrats are grappling with what it means to be a minority party in the age of Donald Trump. In the rest of the country, populist followers of Sen. Bernie Sanders are mounting a sustained effort to answer the question from the bottom up. Sanders acolytes have seized control of state parties in Hawaii and Nebraska and won posts throughout the party structure from coast to coast. 'Is the Bernie Sanders-Elizabeth Warren wing of the party going to push us too far to the left?' asked former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell … ‘Only if they start going after incumbent moderate Democrats in primaries like the tea party did.’ For now, the strategy of Mr. Sanders’s followers is to infiltrate and transform the Democratic Party’s power structure, starting with the lowest-level state and county committee posts that typically draw scant attention. 'This is a nationwide push to try and better understand and map out how the party works,' former Sanders staffer Jon Culver said. 'Before, people were reliant on local resources being good and up-to-date.'"

-- “Trump is turning to Wall Street for top jobs. Democrats hope to use that against him," by John Wagner and Renae Merle: “As a candidate, [Trump] lumped Wall Street in with Washington as part of a ‘corrupt’ system he pledged to fight against on behalf of everyday Americans. But as president, he has plucked Wall Street executives for top administration jobs and launched a rollback of regulations considered onerous by the industry. Now Democrats are trying to seize on the contradiction in hopes of winning back working-class voters whose allegiance to Trump caught the party flat-footed in last year’s elections. A fresh salvo from a group that grew out of the presidential campaign of [Bernie Sanders] features a new website that proclaims, ‘Trump has nominated enough Wall Street executives to field an entire baseball team.’ That argument has become central to Democratic messaging as the party tries to regroup ahead of the 2018 and 2020 elections."

Trump boosters say the argument is not likely to resonate with the people who elected him: "No one in Youngstown, Ohio, cares whether the economic policy director is from Goldman Sachs or First National Bank in their home town," said Barry Bennett. "All they want is jobs."

Tom Perez hugs Keith Ellison during a DNC forum last month in Phoenix. (David Wallace/The Arizona Republic via AP)

THE DNC RACE:

-- As Democrats head to Atlanta this weekend to pick a new party chair, the contest remains tight, with Rep. Keith Ellison and former Labor secretary Tom Perez battling to lead the DNC. “Perez … has emerged as the apparent front-runner, with independent Democratic strategists tracking him at about 205 votes,” the AP reports. “But it's not yet clear whether Perez or Ellison — or one of six other long-shot candidates — is positioned to capture the required majority of the 447-member national party committee. The race could easily tip to either Perez or Ellison; a third possibility is that the committee ends up in deadlocked with the two current leaders short of a majority. That could open up the door for [less-competitive candidates] to rally more support in later rounds of voting … There's also the chance that any of the three trailing hopefuls could drop out and endorse Perez or Ellison.” "Nobody really knows what's going to happen on Saturday," said Texas Democratic Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa.

-- Ellison called for impeachment investigations of Trump last night, suggesting that Trump has violated the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. "I think that Donald Trump has already done a number of things which legitimately raise the question of impeachment," he said on Wednesday night, speaking at CNN’s Democratic debate in Atlanta. He added that such impeachment discussions also help “protect the integrity” of the presidency: "We need to begin investigations not to go after Donald Trump but protect the presidency of the United States to make sure nobody can monetize the presidency and make profit off it for his own game,” he added. (The Independent)

-- But as Democrats gear up to pick their next party chair, former DNC press secretary Mark Paustenbach says candidates are failing to discuss one critical aspect of the role: fundraising. “The role of the DNC Chair has largely been to raise money and invest in party-building and infrastructure,” he wrote in a Medium post. “Organizing doesn’t pay for itself. Some see fundraising as a dirty business but it’s an even more important skill now that the party has to compete for the attention of donors who are being courted by an expanding number of energized Democratically-aligned but external groups — and without an ally in the White House. … [And] the frontrunners in the current race for Chair all face questions on this front.”

Trump addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2015. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

DISPATCH FROM CPAC:

-- How times change –> The Boston Globe’s Annie Linskey looks back at Trump’s first CPAC appearance in 2011 ahead of his return Friday: “When Trump arrived … it was at the late invitation of a group supporting gay conservatives. He drew laughs mixed with applause when he strutted out to the song ‘Money,’ and boos at another point. But a last-minute write-in campaign for Trump in the group’s influential straw poll for Republican presidential nominees was a flop — he didn’t register at all in the results. … That first appearance was at the invitation of a group called GOProud, a group supporting gay conservatives, and it sparked some uncomfortable questions. ‘Is Donald Trump gay?’ asked Reason magazine’s Michael Moynihan when interviewing Jimmy LaSalvia, the founder of GOProud ... (LaSalvia deflected and alluded to Trump’s reputation as a ladies man: ‘Well, I think his record is out there on his sexual orientation. I’ll just put it that way.’)…

  • In his 2011 speech, Trump embraced birtherism. “Our current president came out of nowhere. Came out of nowhere,” he said of Obama. “I’ll go a step further — the people that went to school with him, they never saw him, they don’t know who he is. It’s crazy.”
  • In 2013, Trump told CPAC: “We have to … make America great again.”
  • In 2014, he referred “the late, great, Jimmy Carter" and suggested that he didn't think the former president was still alive.

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Ivanka Trump had her day in court:

Reaction to Trump's decision to roll back gender protections for students:

One take on this week's town halls:

And another:

From a Louisiana town hall:

From the NYT TV critic:

Some GOP lawmakers may be thinking twice about having town halls. Dean Heller is the most vulnerable Republican senator up for reelection next year:

Heller might not want to talk for another reason:

Some good perspective on the polls from Neil Newhouse, who was Mitt Romney's pollster in 2012:

Paul Ryan visited the U.S.-Mexico border with other Republican lawmakers:

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) and Mike Pence helped to clean vandalized graves at a Jewish cemetery:

The Senate Democratic leader made a point about segregation:

Politics is in the family for the Moore Capitos:

Tim Kaine met the Pope:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- New York Times, “Inside Uber’s Aggressive, Unrestrained Workplace Culture,” by Mike Isaac: “When new employees join Uber, they are asked to subscribe to 14 core company values, including making bold bets, being ‘obsessed’ with the customer, and ‘always be hustlin’ … even if it means stepping on toes to get there. Yet the focus on pushing for the best result has also fueled what current and former Uber employees describe as a Hobbesian environment at the company, in which workers are sometimes pitted against one another and where a blind eye is turned to infractions from top performers. Among the most egregious accusations from employees, who either witnessed or were subject to incidents and who asked to remain anonymous because of confidentiality agreements and fear of retaliation: One Uber manager groped female co-workers' breasts at a company retreat in Las Vegas. A director shouted a homophobic slur at a subordinate during a heated confrontation in a meeting. Another manager threatened to beat an underperforming employee's head in with a baseball bat."

-- Wall Street Journal, “How the Hit Team Came Together to Kill Kim Jong Nam,” by Ben Otto: “The hit squad assembled here quickly from three countries and practiced at least twice at posh shopping malls before executing their brazen assault at the airport. Such emerging details are feeding suspicions here and in South Korea that the killing last week of Kim Jong Nam … was a well-orchestrated plot directed from Pyongyang. On the day of Mr. Kim’s death, the group reassembled at the airport terminal. Four North Korean male suspects sat with Ms. Huong in a cafe, chatting in a mix of Malay and English … Several associates moved around nearby, including Ms. Aisyah, who sat with a young Malaysian caterer who police said was her boyfriend, this person said. Just before 9 a.m., Mr. Kim arrived to catch a 10:50 a.m. AirAsia flight to Macau. Ms. Huong and Ms. Aisyah applied a toxic cream or liquid to their bare hands, police said, and moved into position.” Malaysia’s Inspector General has rejected claims by two women, now in custody, who said they “thought they were playing a prank” for a hidden-camera TV show.

-- The New Yorker, “Europe’s child-refugee crisis,” by Lauren Collins: “They walked for “nights and nights” in the desert of Iran, then took a fifty-hour bus ride to Urmia, a city famed for its otherworldly salt lake. [They] travelled through Turkey, and [were dropped off by a smuggler] to continue overland, by themselves … on a route that has been described by refugees as ‘the pathway to hell itself.’ Unaccompanied minors are the de-facto vanguard of the greatest migration since the Second World War—its innovators and its guinea pigs. As the journalist Patrick Kingsley observes in his new book … ‘It takes young, mobile risk-takers to trailblaze a new route.’ Minors have some of the best chances of making it where they want to go but some of the worst experiences getting there. Homeless and parentless, they live on the extreme edge of the refugee experience.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“An Iowa Republican wants universities to ask prospective professors: How would you vote?” from Sarah Larimer: “A Republican lawmaker in Iowa wants public universities in the state to take into account the political party affiliations of prospective professors and instructors when hiring, in an attempt to establish a ‘partisan balance’ among higher education faculty members. … Under the bill, a candidate would not be hired as a professor or instructor if their political party affiliation on their hire date would ‘cause the percentage of the faculty belonging to one political party to exceed by ten percent the percentage of the faculty belonging to the other political party’ it states. In an interview with NBC affiliate WHO, [state Sen. Herman Quirmbach, a Democrat], called the bill ‘one of the worst ideas I’ve heard in 15 years here.’”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Hundreds of campuses encourage students to turn in fellow students for offensive speech,” from the Washington Examiner: “Universities are the cradle of free speech, where ideologies and ideas clash, where academics and activists can agree, disagree, or be disagreeable. This is particularly true in the United States, where the First Amendment zealously guards against government surveillance and intrusion into free speech. Yet at hundreds of campuses across the country, administrators encourage students to report one another, or their professors, for speech protected by the First Amendment, or even mere political disagreements. The so-called ‘Bias Response Teams’ reviewing these (often anonymous) reports typically include police officers, student conduct administrators and public relations staff who scrutinize the speech of activists and academics …”

 

DAYBOOK:

At the White House, Trump will host a listening session with manufacturing CEOs. Later, Trump will speak by phone with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau before leading a listening session on domestic and international human trafficking. In the evening, he will attend a dinner with The Business Council. Pence will join Trump for the meeting with manufacturing CEOs. In the evening, he will deliver remarks at CPAC.

Congress is on recess.

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

"Look, I'm not against obstruction if you have a purpose. And I've from time to time been involved in that myself," Mitch McConnell said in Kentucky yesterday, as he criticized Democrats for slowing down Trump’s cabinet nominees. "Obstruction with a purpose is different from futile gestures."

 

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

-- Spring is in the air, and so are near-record levels of warmth. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Commuters take care, because some patchy fog is possible in the low-lying areas this morning. The sun should burn it all away by mid-morning, helped by light south winds. Highs shoot up to the low- to mid-70s, barely preserving the current records of 78 at Reagan National and BWI. The record of 73 at Dulles could be a goner. The warmth could spur a pop-up shower or two late in the day but nothing to break our dry spell.”

-- The Capitals beat the Flyers 4-1.

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

A woman who said the Affordable Care Act allows her to care for her terminally-ill husband lashed out at Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) during a town hall event last night:

During the same town hall, a 7-year-old boy told Cotton that “Donald Trump makes Mexicans not important to people who are in Arkansas who like Mexicans.”

CNN commentator Kayleigh McEnany posed a simple question to Steven Goldstein, the Anne Frank Center's executive director, during a CNN panel on Tuesday night: “You think the president does not like Jews and is prejudiced against Jews?” Goldstein's response was unequivocal: “You bet.” So began an intense exchange that escalated when McEnany suggested that Trump cannot be anti-Semitic because his daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism when she married Jared Kushner. “Does he hate his daughter?” McEnany asked. “Does he hate his son-in-law?" Read Callum Borcher's write-up here, and click below to watch the full five-minute back-and-forth:

Jimmy Fallon went into costume as Trump and pretended to launch his own cable network to battle "fake news":

Seth Myers takes a closer look at Trump's immigration policies:

Stephen Colbert takes a look at how Trump honored some prominent African Americans:

Joe Scarborough, sitting down with Colbert, talked about why "Morning Joe" blacklisted Kellyanne Conway. “It got to a point where Kellyanne would keep coming out and everything she said was disproven like five minutes later,” Scarborough said. “And it wasn't disproven by a fact-checker — it was somebody else in the administration that would come out and actually say well, actually no, that's not true.” “There's a quicker way to say that entire sentence,” Colbert replied. “She just lied.”

At CPAC, Conway talked about why she hates the word "feminist":