Trump concerns himself primarily with the performance aspects of politics, which is why he can rise to the occasion during events like the one last night. The open question of his presidency is who will control the substance. And last night’s speech offered some important clues.
The preparation of any State of the Union style-address always involves a lot of cooks in the kitchen, no matter who the president is. Everyone in the White House and every cabinet secretary wants shot-outs for their priorities and pet projects, which is why these speeches often grow so long and usually turn into unmemorable exercises in box-checking.
If you listened carefully as Trump spoke, you could hear the voices of a few of his top aides, but none more so than chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, as channeled by Stephen Miller, and Ivanka Trump.
-- The first daughter’s influence was seen with Trump’s talk of family leave and education. She has her own office in the West Wing, and her husband Jared Kushner is a senior adviser who shares her agenda.
The president mentioned “women” seven times in his speech. “My administration wants to work with members in both parties to make child care accessible and affordable, to help ensure new parents have paid family leave, to invest in women's health, and to promote clean air and clear water,” he said.
Trump also even plugged an initiative his daughter was closely involved in arranging. “With the help of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,” he said, “we have formed a council with our neighbors in Canada to help ensure that women entrepreneurs have access to the networks, markets and capital they need to start a business and live out their financial dreams.”
Most notable was what he did not mention. He rattled off a laundry list of achievements from his first five weeks, but he omitted even an allusion to his order rolling back protections for transgender students. This was pushed through by Attorney General Jeff Sessions despite concerns by more moderate forces in the administration.
Ivanka and Jared do not want Trump to be thought of as a hard-edged social conservative warrior. Last month, they scuttled an even farther-reaching draft executive order that would have overturned Obama-era enforcements of LGBT rights in the workplace.
-- The broader nationalist and populist frame that animated the speech was all Bannon.
Take Trump’s call for a $1 trillion infrastructure plan. People inside the administration have been candid in private that such a package has no chance of getting done this year. Republican leaders mostly don’t want it. Even those who support such a push acknowledge next year is their best bet. But Trump invoked Dwight Eisenhower and made the case anyway.
As Bannon told The Hollywood Reporter during the transition, "Like [Andrew] Jackson's populism, we're going to build an entirely new political movement. … The conservatives are going to go crazy. I'm the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. With negative interest rates throughout the world, it's the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Shipyards, ironworks, get them all jacked up. We're just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks. It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution — conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement."
When you consider that quote, it shouldn’t be surprising that Trump only referred to the debt once and never mentioned the huge deficit. Republicans would have been all over Barack Obama if he had made such a glaring omission.
Same with protectionism: Most Republicans remain uneasy with Trump’s views on trade, but he discussed them anyway. Trump reached all the way back to Abraham Lincoln for some intellectual cover: “He warned,” Trump said, “that the ‘abandonment of the protective policy by the American government [will] produce want and ruin among our people.’”
-- The Bannon wing in the White House beat out the new national security adviser bigly.
Several outlets have reported that H.R. McMaster, who replaced Michael Flynn, said at a National Security Council meeting last Thursday that Trump should not use the term “radical Islamic terrorism.” He argued that ISIS does not represent Islam and warned that using that language alienates our Muslim allies and makes it harder to defeat them.
Trump used the phrase in his speech anyway. CNN's Jeff Zeleny says McMaster directly urged Trump to drop the reference from the text of the speech, but the president kept it anyway despite their discussion.
Sebastian Gorka, the former national security editor for the conservative Breitbart News outlet and a close ally of Bannon, now occupies a senior job in the White House. During a Fox News hit on the night of the inauguration, he praised Trump for using the term “radical Islamic terrorism” in his speech. “When he used those three words today — radical Islamic terrorism — he put the marker down for the whole national security establishment,” Gorka said then. (Read Greg Jaffe’s Feb. 20 profile of him here.)
Reflecting the division in the White House, Gorka celebrated Trump’s decision to spurn McMaster on Twitter:
RIDDLED WITH FALSEHOODS:
-- "Trump’s maiden address to Congress was notable because it was filled with numerous inaccuracies," WaPo Fact Checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee report. "An address to Congress is such an important speech that presidents generally are careful not to stretch the truth. The '16 words' in George W. Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address that falsely claimed Iraq’s Saddam Hussein sought uranium from Africa led to significant turmoil in the administration, including the criminal conviction of a top aide."
-- Glenn and Michelle focus on 13 of his biggest doozies. Some highlights:
- Trump said drugs are pouring in across the border “at a now unprecedented rate.” In fact, the amount of marijuana seized at the border continues to decline. In fiscal 2016, 1.3 million pounds of marijuana were seized, down from 1.5 million the year before, and lower than the peak of nearly 4 million pounds in 2009, according to Customs and Border Patrol data. The amount of cocaine seized at the borders overall last year (5,473 pounds) was roughly half the amount seized the previous year (11,220 pounds).
- Illegal immigration flows across the Southern border in fiscal 2015 were actually at the lowest levels since 1972, except for in 2011.
- Trump took credit for several business decisions made before his election. He also again took credit for the lowered cost of the F-35 program. The Pentagon had announced cost reductions of roughly $600 million before Trump began meeting with Lockheed Martin’s chief executive. Sometimes Trump says he saved $600 million, other times $700 million.
- He wildly exaggerated how many jobs the Keystone XL pipeline will create and how many people are looking for jobs but cannot find them.
- He incorrectly claimed, as he often has, that the United States spent $6 trillion on the wars in the Middle East, and he uses it in a particularly misleading way. The wars in Iraq (in the Middle East) and Afghanistan (in South Asia) together cost about $1.6 trillion from 2001 to 2014.
- His five-year ban on lobbying is less than advertised. Trump has originally promised to extend the ban to congressional officials, but he did not. Moreover, the five-year ban applies only to lobbying one’s former agency — not becoming a lobbyist. Trump actually weakened some of the language from similar bans under Obama and George W. Bush, and reduced the level of transparency.
THE MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT:
-- From her seat next to the first daughter, Carryn Owens fought back tears. Grief visible in her face, the widow of William “Ryan” Owens, a Navy SEAL killed less than a month ago in the Trump administration’s first counterterrorism operation, wore a strained smile and applauded as Trump paid an extended tribute to her husband. “Ryan died as he lived: a warrior, and a hero, battling against terrorism and securing our nation,” Trump said, making reference to the Jan. 29 raid on an al-Qaeda stronghold in Yemen that resulted in Ryan Owens’s death.
-- “Trump knew what his best applause line of the night was — and he kept it going and going,” Jenna Johnson notes. “Nearly everyone in the chamber stood and joined the president in applauding, including Democrats who had sat in defiance for most of the evening and the stone-faced military leaders and Supreme Court justices who did not engage in most of the rounds of standing ovations. Owens tightly clasped her hands and took one deep breath after another.” Here’s a blow-by-blow of how Trump created such a dramatic moment:
- “After 30 seconds, Owens mouthed ‘thank you,’ and a few in the chamber tried to retake their seats while others cheered.
- “After a minute, Owens struggled to smile at the crowd through the tears that kept coming. The president kept clapping, staring up at her.
- “After 75 seconds, some looked to the president for a signal of when this might end. Trump considers standing ovations a measurement of support, similar to a poll, and he has been known to time their length. He kept clapping.
- “After one minute and 42 seconds, the president again spoke, and Owens was able to sit down. ‘And Ryan is looking down, right now, you know that,’ Trump said, pointing at Owens. ‘And he’s very happy because I think he just broke a record.’ Many in the chamber laughed.
“America bore witness to the raw pain of her loss,” Jenna concludes. “The president had once again harnessed the power of his audience to make his point.”
-- CNN's Van Jones, a frequent Trump critic, called Trump's tribute to Owens “one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics, period.” He added that it was the moment Trump “became president of the United States.” He also said it's the kind of thing that could make Trump a two-term president. (Aaron Blake)
-- The scene was even more notable because, in an interview that aired earlier in the day, Trump refused to take any personal responsibility for the mission. Instead, he blamed the generals. Speaking in a Fox News interview, Trump said the mission “was started before I got here,” and was something his generals “were looking at for a long time doing.” “This was something that was, you know, just — they wanted to do,” he said. “And they came to see me and they explained what they wanted to do, the generals, who are very respected. And they lost Ryan." (Abby Phillip)
-- “The raid, the first overseas operation approved in the Trump presidency, triggered a sustained storm of criticism,” Pentagon correspondent Missy Ryan notes. “Numerous elements of the operation went wrong, resulting in not only Owens’s death but also a score of likely civilian casualties and the destruction of a $75 million aircraft. To many national security experts, the new administration’s handling of the operation reflected a lack of proper caution and consideration. … Owens’s father, Bill Owens, refused to meet with Trump in February at Dover Air Force Base, where family members had gathered to receive Owens’s remains. The elder Owens questioned the necessity and the timing of the operation and demanded a full investigation. … Again on Tuesday night, Trump appeared to assign ownership of the raid to his defense secretary, Jim Mattis. Trump said he had spoken to Mattis, who told him the operation ‘generated large amounts of vital intelligence.’”
A ROUND-UP OF ANALYSIS:
-- Dan Balz, our chief correspondent, contrasts what we heard last night with Trump’s inaugural address 40 days before: “Some of the words were the same, but the tone was utterly different. Therein lies the contradiction — and — challenge of his presidency. Trump as president must attempt a perpetual juggling act, at once capitalizing on public insecurities and stoking anti-establishment anger among those who helped carry him to the White House while sounding broader notes of optimism and playing nice with establishment Republicans, whom he needs to help enact his agenda. It is no longer a question of which is the real Donald Trump but more the question of whether he can build a successful presidency out of this split political personality." (Read a transcript of the full speech here.)
-- Karen Tumulty argues that the message really hasn’t changed: “Though Trump’s rhetoric took him to a new and loftier plane, however, the goals he spelled out were the familiar and divisive ones that have left little room for compromise and conciliation … Nor did the president give his Republican allies in Congress what they had wanted to hear, which was a sense of clarity on how he plans to achieve the ambitious agenda he promised. There were few details offered and no nod to the complexity of the issues nor the fact that achieving his goals will require navigating deep fissures within his own party. The most concrete new proposal the president offered was to set up a new office in the Department of Homeland Security to serve victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants.”
-- House Republicans interpreted Trump’s comments about health care as an endorsement of several key parts of their own plan, even though he wasn’t explicit. An aide to Paul D. Ryan emailed reporters that Trump had “embraced” the House GOP plan to replace Obamacare and demonstrated that “the White House and Congress are coalescing around a particular approach” that includes individual health-savings plans and tax credits. (Paul Kane looks at the president’s hands-off approach this morning on this and other issues.)
-- The president consistently plays to whichever audience will give him the most love and loudest affirmation. “Trump has always been more of an entertainer than a politician, and he closely monitors the reactions of his crowds, throwing in a joke when they seem to be getting bored and joining their chants when they get really fired up,” writes Jenna Johnson, who followed him around the country for more than a year on the campaign trail. She watched his body language closely and relays these observations:
- “The president spent most of his hour-long speech tightly gripping the lectern, with his body turned sharply to the left, fully focused on the Republicans who cheered nearly every sentence that he spoke.
- "Occasionally, he would shift to the right, facing the Democrats who sat quietly for most of the evening — and who gasped when he called for a ‘Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement’ office, made thumbs-down gestures when he called for the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, and scoffed when he declared that ‘the time for trivial fights is behind us.’
- “Sometimes the president flashed a tight smile, but for much of the evening, he wore a serious frown. And he stuck mostly on script, although twice he could not help himself from changing ‘billions’ into ‘billions and billions.’
- “To receive applause in this chamber, the president just had to pause — there was no need for a punchline or an utterance of his favorite assurance, ‘Believe me.’ During these pauses, the president’s eyes would sometimes narrow as he glanced over his right shoulder at the Democrats, as if trying to see whether anyone had broken rank to applaud his ideas.”
-- The New York Post’s John Podhoretz says Trump’s speech was “beautifully modulated,” “spectacularly delivered,” and marked the “real start of his presidency”: “You might think it’s grading on a curve to say such a thing about a relatively conventional State of the Union-style speech, which this speech was. But the fact that it was a relatively conventional speech was itself a sign that Trump is surrendering to the logic and traditions of the job he now has. He spoke quietly, fluently and in a dignified manner … It seemed, stunningly, an implicit acknowledgment that many of the fights he has been conducting over the past 39 days have been trivial ones, and it is time to rise to the moment. The improvisatory campaign, which he has not seemed to be able to move beyond either emotionally or practically, is over. The formal presidency has begun. Rocking the boat was the way he got elected, but the president is supposed to put his hand on the tiller and steady the ship of state. And, at least for the night of Feb. 28, that’s what this speech did.”
-- “He gave a pretty good speech ... But if one of its main functions was to give confused congressional Republicans some clear direction on the big agenda items that are about to be fulfilled or squandered, it was a total washout," says New York Magazine’s’ Ed Kilgore. "The huge gaps of information in Trump’s speech are not just a matter of a refusal to give guidance to congressional Republicans who are all over the map on Obamacare and taxes and the budget, and cannot spare more than a few dissenting votes. He also failed to give Americans the details that separate bogus and magical promises from an actual, realizable agenda. Yes, it would be nice if Congress could fix health care and reform the tax code and set budget priorities without making tough choices. But that is simply not possible. And for all the rave reviews Trump received for delivering an upbeat message tonight, it was mainly upbeat because it dodged all the real questions.”
-- The New York Times’ Frank Bruni takes aim at Trump's hyperbolic -- and contradictory -- claims of military might: “Why do I get the sense that fighter jets are [Trump’s] biceps, warships are his pectorals and what he’s doing with his proposed $54 billion increase for the Pentagon is flexing? Maybe because that’s a strongman’s way … Or maybe because so little of his military talk adds up. [In his speech, Trump vowed to increase military might] … But he also lamented what he deemed our country’s military follies of recent decades, sowing confusion in a careful listener. If we were winding down, why were we building up? If caution was the order of the day, why did it require such lavish investment? ... He’s saying that we can and will go it alone, and while that attitude may be emotionally satisfying to many Americans ... I suspect that it’s emotionally satisfying to Trump most of all. He’s determined to cast himself as a figure of epic proportions and has to size everything around him accordingly. And hence his desire to upsize our armed forces[:] The military is one of his many mirrors. If it’s more muscular, so is he.”
-- The Fix’s Chris Cillizza calls it the best “big” speech Trump has delivered as president – or maybe even since he entered the race in June 2015: “Top to bottom, Trump delivered both a forceful defense of his nationalist worldview — ‘My job is not to represent the world. My job is to represent the United States of America,’ he said at one point — and a proof point that he can be, dare I say it, presidential when the moment demands it.”
-- "Whether this part of the shift marks a genuine pivot from an unpredictable president, or head fakes from a political figure who's made his name through distractions, remains to be seen," says ABC News political director Rick Klein. "Perhaps this is a president becoming presidential, or a businessman returning to his deal-making roots, or a political shape-shifter showing a new skin that won't last until daybreak. At bottom, however, this looks like new marketing around a familiar -– and still generally severe – agenda. If there's optimism in America, it’s still confined to a base that's channeled its hopes and expectations into a still-untested president.”
Former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear delivered the official Democratic response from a diner in Kentucky.
THE DEMOCRATIC REACTION:
-- How will Trump’s agenda fare in Congress? Just watch Democrats’ hands, where the applause – or lack thereof – is one of the most telltale signs. Mike DeBonis and Kelsey Snell watched closely: "On select issues, key Democratic lawmakers offered measured applause — and, occasionally, flat-out standing ovations — to Trump’s bully-pulpit pitches. A core group of Democratic senators from red and purple states routinely applauded many of Trump’s pronouncements, particularly on economic matters. Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) have obvious reasons to stay at least a little cozy with Trump, given that they all will be running for reelection next year in states he won handily. While virtually every other Democrat quickly scurried out of the House chamber after Trump finished his speech, Manchin took up residence on the aisle to greet the new president as he left — then made his way to the hordes of reporters in Statuary Hall to sing Trump's praises...
- "When Trump said he had ordered new pipelines to be built with American steel, Jeanne Shaheen applauded. When Trump talked about displaying Harley-Davidson motorcycles on the White House lawn, Tammy Baldwin cheered for a Wisconsin company. When Trump said he wanted to make it more difficult for companies to leave the country and take jobs and profits abroad, Debbie Stabenow stood up in recognition of the jobs her state has already lost.
- "The only enthusiasm on the Democratic side of the aisle for the dismantling of the ACA came from Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), who sat next to his gym buddy Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) and stuck out like a Make America Great Again hat at a Bernie Sanders rally every time he stood to applaud."
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- Barack and Michelle Obama signed book deals. The Financial Times, citing unnamed sources familiar with the auction that produced the deal, reported that Penguin Random House will pay more than $65 million for global rights to the two memoirs. Other news outlets, including the Associated Press, also reported that the deals are likely in the tens of millions of dollars. In a statement, the publisher said a “significant” portion of the proceeds will be donated to charity and announced plans to donate a million books in Obama’s name to a Washington-based nonprofit. (Katie Mettler)
TRUMP READIES FOR TRAVEL BAN, TAKE TWO:
-- The Trump administration is finalizing a revised travel ban that exempts current visa holders. From Matt Zapotosky: “The revision marks a significant departure from the now-frozen first executive order, which temporarily barred citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries and all refugees from entering the United States and resulted in the State Department revoking tens of thousands of visas. Justice Department lawyers hope the new order will be more likely to withstand legal challenges and will not leave any travelers detained at U.S. airports."
- The new order will remove an exception to the refugee prohibition for religious minorities, one person said. Critics of the order had said that that exception proved the order was meant to discriminate on the basis of religion, because it allowed only Christians into the country.
- There will be a period between when the order is signed and when it takes effect, in hopes of avoiding the problems that occurred when the last order was implemented.
-- The White House planned for Trump to sign the order today but has pushed the signing ceremony back so that it doesn’t step on coverage of last night’s speech. From CNN’s White House reporter:
-- Left unclear is how Trump’s travel ban will affect places who say they need refugees – such as the rust belt town of Erie, Pa., whose chance at a renaissance has come from afar. WSJ’s Miriam Jordan reports: “Refugees from Africa, Asia and the Middle East have filled apartment complexes, opened small businesses and frequented parks that locals have abandoned. Now, landlords, store owners and employers are worried that progress will stall if the U.S. shuts its doors to refugees, or their numbers dwindle. That is the case in Erie, a struggling northwestern Pennsylvania town of nearly 100,000 where refugees represent about 18% of the city’s population. … The arrivals have helped compensate for the exodus of Americans due to the demise of well-paying manufacturing jobs and the lure of opportunities in Sunbelt states. Now, landlords, store owners and employers are worried that progress will stall if the U.S. shuts its doors to refugees, or their numbers dwindle.’’
-- President Trump offered mixed signals yesterday about his bigger plans on immigration, suggesting privately that he is open to an overhaul bill that could provide a pathway to legal status — but not citizenship — for potentially millions of people who are in the United States illegally but have not committed serious crimes. Yet Trump made no mention of such a proposal during his address to Congress. From David Nakamura, Abby Phillip and Philip Rucker: “At a private White House luncheon with television news anchors ahead of his speech, Trump signaled an openness to a compromise that would represent a softening from the crackdown on all undocumented immigrants that he promised during his campaign and that his more hard-line supporters have long advocated. ‘The time is right for an immigration bill as long as there is compromise on both sides,’ Trump told the anchors. His comments, reported by several of the journalists present, were confirmed by an attendee of the luncheon. … At the meeting with television anchors, Trump suggested he is willing to address legal status for those who are in the country illegally but have not committed crimes. But he would not necessarily support a pathway to citizenship, except perhaps for ‘Dreamers,’ a group of nearly 2 million who were brought into the country illegally as children, according to a report by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and Jake Tapper, who attended the luncheon.”
GET SMART FAST:
- A Liberian nurse and Ebola survivor who was named Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” for her work fighting the insidious virus has died after she suffered complications from childbirth – and was subsequently refused medical treatment. Many locals remain highly skeptical of the deadly virus, and once notified that she was an Ebola survivor, medical staff “refused to touch her” or even give an injection that could have saved her life. (Max Bearak)
- Two people were injured in southwestern France after a sniper mistakenly fired his weapon during a speech by President François Hollande. Thankfully, neither victim was seriously injured. The shooter was part of an elite police protection platoon. (James McAuley)
- As the U.S. Air Force faces a potentially protracted air war against the Islamic State, officials are considering adopting a fleet of “light attack” propeller planes – a throwback aircraft that is both reminiscent of bygone operations and a current staple of South America and the Middle East. Officials say the light planes could supplement existing aircraft -- including drones – in regions where enemies are incapable of shooting down U.S. planes. (Dan Lamothe)
- The AFL-CIO confirmed Monday that it will dismiss “several dozens” of the roughly 400 staff and furlough others working at its headquarters in Washington. In December, the separate Service Employees International Union warned employees that it “must plan for a 30 percent reduction” in its budget. In addition to eroding membership, the labor federation faces government and court challenges to its ability to collect dues and new “right-to-work” laws in states that make organizing difficult. (Steven Mufson)
- A 26-year-old German man arrested on suspicions of plotting an Islamist-inspired attack has a pretty bizarre past: Until 2013, the suspected Islamic extremist may have been a neo-Nazi. While searching his home, authorities reportedly found chemicals and explosive-making devices -- as well as remnants of a YouTube channel in which he warns viewers against "the threat posed by Muslims.” (Adam Taylor)
- The FBI is finally investigating the shootings of two Indian men in Kansas last week as a hate crime – potentially letting prosecutors tack on federal charges in the attack that killed one man and left two others injured. (Mark Berman)
- Meanwhile, hundreds of mourning relatives gathered in India for the funeral rites of the slain Kansas engineer – joined by politicians and government officials for an event that was both somber and profoundly political. In one moment of raw grief, the victim’s mother could be heard begging her other son not to return to his home in the United States. “I cannot bear to lose another son,” she wailed. (Ashish Pandey and Paul Schemm)
- Residents in Flint, Mich., will begin paying full price for their water today – footing the bill for a formerly lead-addled water system even as many continue to rely on bottled water for nearly every purpose. Three years after the disaster, many residents say they are still wary about what’s coming out of their faucets – but state government officials, they say, they trust even less. (Brady Dennis)
- Uber CEO Travis Kalanick sent yet another apology last night to his staff after he was caught on camera arguing over ride fares with a driver. The footage quickly went viral, becoming the latest in a series of of PR nightmares for the company. In a statement, Kalanick acknowledged he needs to “grow up” and told employees he intends to get “leadership help.” (ABC News)
- A defiant North Korea has deployed a top official to Malaysia, attempting to secure the remains of Kim Jong Un’s half brother, after he was slain in a chemical weapons poisoning earlier this month. Malaysian police said they plan to press murder charges against the two women accused of carrying out the attack – with some local reports suggesting they will seek the death penalty. (Anna Fifield)
- A Singapore teen accidently jumped to his death at a mall this weekend while attempting to perform a daring stunt for social media. The 17-year-old scaled the shopping center’s stories-high railing before turning to his friend and saying, “Help me take a Snapchat video and I’ll jump.” Those would be his final words. (New York Post)
- Stock for the parent company of Kay and Jared jewelry stores took a nosedive, dropping nearly 13 percent after a bombshell report that more than 200 current or former employees had made claims of sexual harassment and discrimination at the company. (Drew Harwell)
- A new study found that colorectal cancer rates are rising sharply among young and middle-aged Americans but continuing to decrease among adults ages 55 and older – a startling trend that has prompted questions about whether screenings should start earlier for young people. Researchers are unsure what has caused the baffling shift, but have suggested increasingly sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy diets as a potential explanation. (Laurie McGinley)
- A Maryland mother has been sentenced to 50 years in prison after the brutal 2015 murder of her five-year-old son, whom she force-fed cough syrup and set on fire before staging a car wreck in hopes of masking her horrific deed. But even as details of the boy’s life and death were painstakingly recounted to members of the jury, they said they are haunted most by the one thing they don’t know: why in the world she did it. (Dan Morse)
- Baltimore police apprehended a 23-year-old man suspected of brutally killing someone’s pet turtle during a burglary last month. After stripping a home of its electronics, jewelry, and other valuables, authorities said, the thieving duo turned their attention to the home’s aquarium – needlessly yanking out poor “Donatella” and stabbing her with a knife-sharpener before fleeing the scene. (Justin Wm. Moyer)
THERE'S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- The former British spy who authored a controversial dossier on behalf of Trump’s political opponents alleging ties between Trump and Moscow had reached an agreement with the FBI a few weeks before the election for the bureau to pay him for his work. Tom Hamburger and Rosalind S. Helderman scoop: “The agreement to compensate former MI6 agent Christopher Steele came as U.S. intelligence agencies reached a consensus that the Russians had interfered in the presidential election by orchestrating hacks of Democratic Party email accounts.” While Trump derided the dossier as "fake news" – and the agreement eventually fell apart -- the FBI’s arrangement with Steele shows that bureau investigators considered him credible on Trump’s alleged Russia ties.
How it happened: At the time of the October agreement, FBI officials were probing Moscow's activities -- including possible communications with Trump's team -- and were "aware of the information" Steele had been gathering for the Democratic research firm. The firm was due to stop paying Steele in the final weeks before Election Day, but Steele said he felt like his work "was not done." Steele had previously been hired by the FBI and was known for both high work quality and the breadth of knowledge developed over nearly two decades working on Russian-related issues. Ultimately the FBI never paid Steele – and communications between the agency and the former spy were interrupted as the now-famous dossier became the subject of international headlines. Still, the revelations are likely to strain an already-tense relationship between the intelligence community and the White House. Steele is now in hiding.
Key quote: Steele at one point last year suggested that a Putin-orchestrated plan to help Trump may have been in the works for years. “Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years,” he wrote last June.
-- National intelligence director nominee Daniel Coats vowed during his confirmation hearing to work with lawmakers as they continue to probe allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Karoun Demirjian reports: “It’s our responsibility to provide you access” to sources and raw intelligence, Coats told Mark Warner, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s ranking Democrat. “The recently-retired Indiana Republican senator noted that Russia has ‘a long history’ of propaganda and trying to influence elections and that recent events suggest Kremlin officials ‘have stepped up their game.’”
While Coats vowed to follow the law when it comes to interrogation tactics used in the questioning of suspected terrorists, he also said he thinks it is “worth discussing” a scenario in which an attack is imminent and there is no time for the intelligence community to follow the process. Such a hypothetical situation motivated his vote against ending the CIA’s use of “enhanced” interrogation techniques in 2015, he told lawmakers. Trump has said he will defer questions on interrogation tactics such as waterboarding to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who opposes the practice.
-- Post columnist Dana Milbank notes: “Trump uttered some 5,000 words and spoke for 60 minutes, but not one of those words was ‘Russia,’ and not one of those minutes was devoted to the so-far successful effort by our geopolitical adversary to undermine American democracy."
A CAUTIOUS WORLD EYES TRUMP WARILY:
-- “‘It’s got bad karma’: Vancouver officials shun Trump-branded hotel grand opening,” by Amy Brittain and Jonathan O'Connell: “Kerry Jang, a council member in this picturesque Canadian city, recalls being in the crowd nearly four years ago to welcome [Trump] as he announced plans for a striking new skyscraper that would bring a luxurious hotel and condo development to the heart of downtown.” But when Trump’s sons appeared Tuesday for a lavish grand opening, Jang stayed far away. “The tensions … reflect the unavoidable connection between the Trump presidency and the family’s global real estate and branding empire[:] Trump-branded properties around the world are nevertheless becoming symbols of the U.S. president — and, in some cases, staging areas for locals to express their feelings about his views on immigration, trade and other matters.” In Vancouver, where more than 40 percent of residents are immigrants – Trump is getting the cold shoulder. While protesters gathered outside the building Tuesday, others – including the mayor -- ramped up calls to remove Trump’s name from the building. “Quite frankly, he’d be a hero in this town if he just changed the name,” Jang said.
-- “The vacuum in U.S. policy on Syria is being keenly felt at the latest round of peace talks aimed at negotiating a political solution to the Syrian war — talks that seem destined to wind down this week without meaningful progress,” Liz Sly reports. “These talks, known as Geneva IV … are taking place against the backdrop of a new regional balance of power in which Russia has the leading role in Syria. For the first time, the United States is not taking the initiative in pushing for a negotiated settlement. The rout of rebels from their stronghold in eastern Aleppo in December was a defeat for U.S. policy as well as for the Syrian opposition, and it effectively left a vacuum of U.S. decision-making on Syria that has yet to be filled by the new Trump administration. Although Russia has since sought to position itself as a mediating power … there are growing questions over how much pressure it is prepared to put on [President Assad] to make concessions."
The world remains desperate for America to lead, not turn inward: “We all desperately need the U.S. to engage in this and drive this forward with the Russians. The process is skewed in one direction. There is no other counterweight,” said one Western diplomat. “There is a vacuum here, and I am not sure the Russians have enough incentive to move forward to fill the vacuum.”
-- Nikki Haley, for her part, accused Russia and China of “outrageous and indefensible’ action yesterday after they vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have imposed new sanctions on Syria for using chemical weapons against its own citizens. Karen DeYoung reports: “In a sharply worded speech after the vote, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said the message the council was sending to the world was that ‘if you are allies with Russia and China, they will cover the backs of their friends who use chemical weapons to kill their own people.’ Her comments marked a rare administration criticism of Russia, which [Trump] has said could be a partner in counterterrorism operations in Syria." Russian envoy Vladimir Safronkov called Haley’s statement “outrageous” and said that “God shall judge” attempts by the West to discredit the legitimate Syrian government.
-- China’s most senior diplomat is in Washington for a two-day trip, aimed at finding a basis for what Obama previously called the “most important bilateral relationship of the 21st century.” Still, it won’t be an easy task. Simon Denyer reports: “Economic and business ties had long been the ballast that kept the relationship stable, but they have now become a source of conflict. Climate change had provided a narrative of cooperation rather than competition, but it has been taken off the table. Meanwhile tensions over the North Korea’s nuclear program, the disputed waters of the South China Sea and the status of Taiwan loom larger than ever. ’China is keen to find something to replace climate change as the notional glue to hold the relationship together,’ said [former CIA China analyst] Christopher Johnson. ‘But what really keeps the relationship from tipping into an adversarial one is the economic relationship. If that gets scratchy, the whole stability of the relationship becomes impacted.’”
-- A Trump administration proposal to slash funding for the State Department and foreign aid is very unlikely to be approved by Congress, lawmakers from both parties say. Anne Gearan reports: “The State Department and USAID’s current annual budget is $50.1 billion, slightly more than 1 percent of the total federal budget. A cut of 30 percent or more would force major cuts in diplomatic and development programs around the world, and (most senators on both sides) said it misunderstands the role that diplomacy and aid play in keeping Americans safe.”
- “It’s dead on arrival,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on NBC. “It’s not gonna happen. It would be a disaster. If you take soft power off the table then you’re never going to win the war. What’s most disturbing about the cut in the State Department’s budget is it shows a lack of understanding of what it takes to win the war.”
- “Democrats and Republicans are both going to run away” from the proposal, said top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer. “His proposals are falling apart everywhere.”
MORE ON THE TRUMP TAKEOVER AT HOME:
-- Trump questioned who was “really behind” a spate of recent anti-Semitic threats and incidents during a meeting with attorneys general on Tuesday. Mark Berman reports: Trump’s remarks came as attendees discussed a spike in recent threats against Jewish facilities and vandalism at a Jewish cemetery. "When Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) asked him about the recent threats against Jewish facilities, the president responded by condemning the statements but then 'suggested the ‘reverse’ may be true,' Shapiro said ... Shapiro’s account of the meeting with Trump was first reported by Billy Penn. According to the Billy Penn report, a reporter asked if Shapiro interpreted Trump’s statements to mean that the president thinks his supporters are being framed, but Shapiro responded by saying he is unsure what Trump was implying."
-- Trump again vowed last night to make childcare cheaper, but a fresh analysis from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center finds his current proposal will do “little to help” working families who need the most relief. In fact, CNN’s Heather Long reports, the proposal reads more like a “gift to the rich”: "The tax experts at TPC say 70% of the benefits will go to families that make $100,000 or more. Another 25% will go to people earning $200,000 or more. There are also concerns about how Trump will pay for this child care policy. The Tax Policy Center estimates just the tax deductions and credits will cost $115 billion over the next decade. The Tax Foundation estimates it would cost $500 billion … The price tag may cause Congress to reject the proposal.”
-- New York Times, “Why the Trump Agenda Is Moving Slowly: The Republicans’ Wonk Gap,” by Neil Irwin: “When Republicans won in November, it looked as if 2017 would reflect a major legislative shift to the right. But two months into the 115th Congress … progress on fulfilling Republicans’ major domestic policy goals is looking further away, not closer. This is partly just the usual slow grinding of legislative gears … But there’s another element in the sluggish or nonexistent progress on major elements of the Republican agenda[:] The roster of congressional Republicans includes lots of passionate ideological voices. It is lighter on the kind of wonkish, compromise-oriented technocrats who move bills. [In fact,] the last time congressional Republicans have done the major lifting of making domestic policy was Mr. Bush’s first term, a productive time that included an expansion of Medicare to cover prescription drugs, the No Child Left Behind education law, [and] the Sarbanes-Oxley Act … But that’s now a decade and a half ago. Only 51 of the 238 current House Republicans were in Congress then — meaning a significant majority of Republican House members have never been in Congress at a time when their party was making major domestic policy.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Twitter said three million tweets were posted about the speech, breaking the record of 2.6 million set under Obama:
Trump's recognition of Ryan Owens's widow was, by far, the most memorable moment of the night and generated the most chatter online.
He gave her a hug in the hall after the speech:
Sean Spicer's perspective:
Conservatives thought the heartbreaking scene during the speech was moving:
Many on the left called the situation awkward and uncomfortable:
This Iraq war veteran and Arizona Democratic lawmaker called on Trump to begin a probe into the Yemen raid that resulted in Ryan's death:
The bigger picture:
C-Span's Howard Mortman posted this photo of Trump on his way to the Capitol:
Trump greeted staff when he got back to the White House:
From the NYT columnist:
A lot of reporters from mainstream media outlets gave the speech pretty high marks:
In this same vein, many people reacting to the speech online joked about how low expectations were for Trump.
A former Obama senior adviser:
Some perspective on #MAGA:
The former communications director for the RNC predicted that POTUS will get a bounce:
Maureen Scalia was recognized:
Some Twitterati proposed edits to Trump's speech:
Best of friends:
"Morning Joe," a former congressman from Florida, sat next to Elijah Cummings:
Several lawmakers shared photos of immigrants or visitors to the United States who came with them to the joint session:
Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) brought Banah al-Hanfy, an Iraqi affected by Trump's original travel ban, as her guest:
As well as those helped by Obamacare:
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) thought Trump was trying to have it both ways on Obamacare:
Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) brought Dr. Mona Hannah-Attisha, who helped expose Flint's water crisis:
Many Democratic female lawmakers wore white to the joint session:
A memorable Democratic response, if only for its brevity:
A close Trump ally questioned who is really behind the spate of anti-Semitic threats earlier in the day:
Good perspective from a Republican lobbyist:
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- The New Yorker, “Leaving Aleppo,” by Pauls Toutonghi: “Of all the family stories about my grandfather Philip Toutonghi’s time in North Hollywood, one pains me the most. In 1951, after months and months of polite but dogged pursuit, he managed to get a meeting with the [Lebanon-born actor] Danny Thomas … [who starred in musicals alongside Doris Day while my grandfather swept floors at Universal Studios]. Still, my grandfather was a recent immigrant, full of ambition. He was a poet, and he’d written a few lyric stanzas in English, which he dreamed of turning into a song. It was, he would always claim—even decades later—a poem worth ‘a million dollars,’ and ‘unlike anything anyone had ever heard.’ Excited and confident … he brought his son, my father, along, and they waited [in his studio] patiently for an hour. Then twothree. He and my father left through the side door and went home. He was working that night; he had to change out of his suit and into his coveralls.
“What happens when the world that creates you is gone? In the face of war, some flee, and some remain. The culture is transformed, of course, but each transformation is individual … Suffering cannot be generalized.”
-- Slate, “What Is Your Name? Where Are We? Who Is President? Oh God.” By Jeremy Samuel Faust: “As an emergency doctor, one thing I cannot take for granted is whether or not a patient is fully oriented. To assess this, I ask four basic questions: What is your name? Where are we? What is the date? Who is the president of the United States? When they get one of the answers wrong, it is good practice to reorient them. Each time now, I stop, take a big breath, look them squarely in the eyes, and then I reveal to them the full, undeniable truth of the situation: The president of these United States is Donald J. Trump. I pause. I do not break eye contact. For the most part, it isn’t pretty. One elderly woman let out a startling moan, the kind of sound I would have expected if someone had told her that her cat had died. [Another accused me of tricking him] … Regardless of political affiliation, my patients’ reactions have shown that they find the truth to be far stranger—and more surprising—than fiction.”
-- The Wall Street Journal, “How Alzheimer’s Defined a Family,” by Clare Ansberry: “Several DeMoe family members inherited a mutated gene that means they will suffer early onset Alzheimer’s. As the only one of six siblings without it, Karla DeMoe Hornstein has essentially become the guardian of an extended family in which each member has a 50% chance of inheriting the gene.”
-- The New Yorker, “A perfect storm at Uber,” by Anna Wiener: “The company faces a female engineer’s charges of discrimination and harassment. She’s as well-situated to go public as anyone could ever hope to be … [But the problems illustrated in the case] are not just Uber’s. They are cultural, systemic, and not ‘very, very strange’ at all; in fact, for many of us, they could not have sounded more familiar.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“Graffiti On HBCU Campus Reveals Tension, Refers To School As ‘Trump’s Plantation,’” from HuffPost: “A number of people weren’t too happy when HBCU leaders met with [Trump] at the White House on Monday to discuss the state of their institutions. This includes students at Howard University, who say the meeting has created tension on campus. At least one person expressed their disdain through graffiti, with one message describing university President Wayne A.I. Frederick as the ‘overseer’ of ‘the Trump plantation’: Jaimee Swift, Howard doctoral student and editor-at-large of Howard’s student-run newspaper … was not impressed with Trump’s attempts to work with HBCUs. ‘Trump is the very antithesis of what Howard University represents,’ Swift said. ‘His racist, discriminatory, sexist and xenophobic remarks and sentiments are against the very ideals of black liberation ...’”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
"Pelosi to Democrats: Treat Trump voters like a friend whose boyfriend is a jerk," from CNN: “[Nancy Pelosi] is telling her rank-and-file members that she is confident a good portion of [Trump’s] voters will eventually turn on him -- and Democrats just have to wait it out. She's using a colorful analogy to make her point -- comparing Trump to a friend's boyfriend who is a ‘jerk.’ ‘The way I told my members: It's like telling your friend the guy she's dating is a jerk. You can't tell her that. She has to find out for herself. You can give her clues and then eventually one thing will lead to another, she'll come to her conclusion. But if you tell her right up front, you'll lose a friend. So we're not interested in losing any friends. Let them find out,’ Pelosi recounted [to reporters]."
At the White House: Trump will have a House and Senate leadership lunch this afternoon. He will then lead a legislative affairs strategy session. In the evening, he will have dinner with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Meanwhile, Pence will participate in a series of interviews regarding Trump's first address to the Joint Session of Congress.In the evening, he will participate in a legislative affairs session at the Vice President's residence.
On Capitol Hill: The Senate will convene at 10:00 and proceed to executive session to resume consideration of interior secretary nominee Ryan Zinke.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
"I certainly meant no disrespect." -- Kellyanne Conway addressed her couch pose on Fox Business
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- March kicks off with our wackiest forecast yet -- warm temps, some rain and the possibility of a tornado. Per today's Capital Weather Gang forecast: "We could see a passing morning shower, mainly north of town. And then it’s off to the races as we rise through the 60s into the 70s, topping out in the 70s to near 80 for afternoon highs, despite partly to mostly cloudy skies. A mild breeze blows in from the southwest at around 10-20 mph, with gusts near 30 mph. After 1 p.m. or so and into the evening is when we’re likely to see some showers and thunderstorms, with damaging winds and large hail possible, along with the chance of an isolated tornado."
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Watch the six-minute dash cam video, published yesterday afternoon by Bloomberg, of Uber's CEO getting in a heated argument with one of his drivers. The argument starts at 3:45:
Josh Earnest joined Stephen Colbert's post-speech live show:
Watch the Spanish-language Democratic response to Trump (we added English subtitles and published an English-language transcript of our translation):
Here's a five-second clip in which CNN cut away to a nonplussed Nancy Pelosi as Republicans loudly cheered:
Watch Jimmy Kimmel's Trump free Tuesday:
Watch Trump call Obama about the Oscars: