THE BIG IDEA: 

After appearing to project some ambivalence earlier in the day, President Trump came out strongly last night for the faltering House Republican plan to replace Obamacare. He told the group of about 20 lawmakers who will be charged with whipping up support for the legislation that he wants the Paul Ryan bill to be approved largely intact. He said he plans to become personally involved in persuading wavering lawmakers. And he warned that Republicans will suffer badly in the midterms if they fail to deliver on their campaign promises to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. One member who was in the private meeting told CNN that he even spoke of an electoral “bloodbath.”

Offering a taste of what’s to come, POTUS took to Twitter a few hours later to nudge Rand Paul, a 2016 rival for the GOP nomination who is now a potentially pivotal vote in the Senate:

The Kentucky senator described the draft language, which will be marked up in committee hearings today, as “Obamacare Lite” and pronounced it “dead on arrival.”

The president is also trying to use carrots, not just sticks, stepping up outreach to other 2016 foes. Tonight he’s having dinner with Ted Cruz. Yesterday he lunched with Lindsey Graham. The South Carolina senator, as a gesture of goodwill, gave the president his new cell phone number. This is notable because, during a 2015 rally, Trump read Graham’s old number aloud to a crowd and asked people to call him.

Trump has negotiated big deals, but he’s never done anything quite like this. There will be a steep learning curve. “Following late-afternoon votes Tuesday, several Republican senators privately groused that they felt rushed by their GOP colleagues in the House and by Trump, who they said does not fully grasp the Senate’s slower pace or its concerns,” Mike DeBonis, Robert Costa and David Weigel report. “The senators also expressed skepticism that key White House officials with deep ties to Congress’s conservative wing would eventually be able to lock up the votes for the current plan. Instead, they said there is confusion over who is managing the process and which administration figures, if any, have power to sway Trump on the issue.”

Just how much political capital Trump is willing to spend is an open question that could determine the fate of the 2010 law. Will he keep his tweets gentle like the one aimed at Paul last night or will they take on a harder, more personal edge? You could imagine him lashing out at leaders of Freedom Caucus on a Saturday morning, for instance, blaming them for the failure of his agenda. Perhaps the fear of drawing his ire – a credible threat based on his track record – will get some members off of the fence. There are other ways he could use his power: Would he have rallies in the states or districts of wavering lawmakers? Will his new outside group run ads promoting the bill or criticizing those who oppose him?

There’s an emerging sense among some in Trump World that repeal and replace will not happen without muscular leadership from the president, but there’s also a growing recognition of the political risks that come with wading in deeply. Four are top of mind:

Donald Trump enters a meeting with the House Deputy Whip team in the East Room at the White House yesterday. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

1. RUNNING AFOUL OF CONSERVATIVES IN THE GOP CIVIL WAR:

The battle lines are drawn. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Wall Street Journal editorial board support the Ryan plan. The Koch network (led by Americans for Prosperity), the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks, Heritage Action and Breitbart vocally opposed it. People on the right have dubbed the plan “Obamacare Lite” or “RyanCare.”

Many of these groups opposing the draft bill have never viewed Trump as an authentic movement conservative. If they see him as joining forces with the establishment to ram through something that is tantamount to a new government entitlement, it will only bolster their skepticism. It’s not out of the question that Trump will have a primary challenger from his right to contend with in three years, and this could be a data point.

2. BACKLASH FROM SENIORS:

Seniors constitute Trump’s core base of support. Exit polls showed that the septuagenarian really ran up the score with older people vis-à-vis Mitt Romney, and this might have made the difference in several states.

The draft legislation Trump embraces would undo a rule from the ACA that allows insurers to charge their oldest customers no more than three times what they charge their youngest and healthiest ones. Insurers could now charge five times as much.

AARP has already begun mobilizing its members on this point. David Certner, the senior lobby’s legislative counsel, said the group is particularly concerned about the effect on Americans ages 50 to 64 if that age-charge differential is to increase. Low-income Americans in that older group would “get hammered,” he said, per Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin.

Expect to see hundreds of anecdotes like this one over the coming months: “Martha Brawley of Monroe, N.C., said she voted for President Trump in the hope he could make insurance more affordable. But on Tuesday, Ms. Brawley, 55, was feeling increasingly nervous based on what she had heard about the new plan from television news reports,” the New York Times reports. “She pays about $260 per month for a Blue Cross plan and receives a subsidy of $724 per month to cover the rest of her premium. Under the House plan, she would receive $3,500 a year in tax credits — $5,188 less than she gets under the Affordable Care Act. ‘I’m scared, I’ll tell you that right now, to think about not having insurance at my age,’ said Ms. Brawley, who underwent a liver biopsy on Monday after her doctor found that she has an autoimmune liver disease. ‘If I didn’t have insurance, these doctors wouldn’t see me.’”

3. THE 2020 FACTOR:

Timing is everything in politics. If the disastrous rollout of healthcare.gov happened in Oct. 2012, instead of Oct. 2013, Obama very well might have lost reelection. Recognizing the risks of implementation, they postponed a lot of deadlines until after elections.

The most striking thing about studying the draft House bills is how much stuff comes due in 2020, when Trump has already announced he will be running for reelection and Republicans will be fighting to preserve their narrow majority in the Senate.

“The changes to the Medicaid expansion and the subsidy system would take hold at the beginning of 2020,” Greg Sargent observes. “Democratic candidates will be able to blast Republicans who voted for the GOP replacement, on the grounds that it is resulting in their states’ residents getting tossed off of coverage, while vowing to replace the spending. Some GOP senators up for reelection in 2020 in swing states also happen to represent states that already opted into the Medicaid expansion. That includes Joni Ernst in Iowa and Cory Gardner in Colorado. There’s also Thom Tillis in North Carolina (which didn’t expand Medicaid but could lose a lot in subsidies). ‘The Republican health-care plan as it stands today would certainly endanger some Republican incumbents up in 2020,’ said Jennifer Duffy, who tracks Senate races at the Cook Political Report. Some of these senators got elected by campaigning against the ACA’s rollout problems amid the shriveled midterm electorate of 2014 and will now face reelection in a presidential year, as repeal’s impact takes hold.”

4. HE FULLY OWNS FAILURE:

The more aggressively he sells the bill, the more he will be identified with its collapse if things don’t work out.

The margin for error is small: They can afford to lose 21 Republicans in the House and just two in the Senate.  The House Freedom Caucus has about 30 members. Several of them held a press conference outside the Capitol to say they’d never vote for the measure as it stands now. They ideally want straight repeal with nothing else, which is just never going to happen. In addition to Paul and Cruz, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) opposed the House draft yesterday. If the three of them voted no, the measure would fail.

But, but, but: Every concession that’s made to win over the Freedom Caucus and that trio in the Senate makes it harder to lock down the votes of someone like Susan Collins or Rob Portman. The Ohio senator who was one of four Republicans to declare this week that he’ll oppose any plan that hurts lower-income folks who benefited from expanding Medicaid under the law. The others are Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), Cory Gardner (Colo.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).

Mitch McConnell said yesterday that the Senate will pass a repeal bill before Easter recess: “Senior GOP sources said the leadership team will employ an ‘arm-breaking’ whip strategy to get the required 50 votes,” Politico’s Burgess Everett reports.

This “arm-breaking” approach could backfire, however. One Republican senator said on background last night that several senators are asking their leadership to “take it easy” in terms of the timeline, allowing space to debate and analyze the proposal with a “clear understanding of the costs involved,” per DeBonis, Costa and Weigel’s story on the state of play. “If that takes months or a year, so be it,” the senator said. A second GOP senator said the party was making a “mistake” in its rollout by taking “too much ownership” of health care after years in which Democrats were identified with Obamacare.

Mike Pence speaks to reporters after joining Senate Republicans for their weekly policy lunch yesterday. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

KEY POINT: MIKE PENCE WILL NEED TO BE THE CLOSER.

The vice president will be crucial to winning over recalcitrant House Republicans he once served with. He has credibility because he voted against Medicare Part D when the Bush White House was heavily pressuring Republicans to fall in line.

Pence, an Indiana talk radio host before getting elected to Congress, has several interviews scheduled this afternoon to sell what’s been branded as The American Health Care Act. He’ll talk to Sean Hannity for his radio show and then sit-down with local TV affiliates from Virginia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida.

But the VP is best at the inside game, especially compared to Trump, which is why the most important thing on Pence’s calendar today is a 7 p.m. “legislative affairs dinner” at the Naval Observatory to schmooze lawmakers. Dave Weigel relays a telling anecdote from the Capitol yesterday: “The House Freedom Caucus was ready for the spotlight. Dozens of reporters and cameramen had set up at the House Triangle. Some cable networks were taking their news conference live. But a few reporters were being held inside the Capitol by security guards because Pence was wrapping a visit to the Hill, talking to Freedom Caucus members. When the vice president left, some of the conservative rebellion’s leaders were taking a more measured — if still skeptical – stance.”

As Trump embraced the specific bill, his top aides clarified that he is very open to changes and amendments to make it better. In his conversations with members yesterday, Pence stressed that the Ryan plan is “the framework for reform.” OMB director Mick Mulvaney, a member of the Freedom Caucus until just a few weeks ago, carried a similar message when he went to the Hill to reassure the right flank of the conference that the president is open to amendments. “This is a work in progress and continues to be so,” HHS secretary Tom Price said on Fox News last night. “Let me make clear to people that this single bill is not the entire plan."
 

FIVE MORE OBAMACARE STORIES FROM OUR TEAM:

-- “Obamacare repeal guts crucial public health funds,” by Lena H. Sun: “The Republican health-care bill would eliminate funds for fundamental public health programs, including for the prevention of bioterrorism and disease outbreaks, as well as money to provide immunizations and heart-disease screenings. As part of the ACA, the Prevention and Public Health Fund provides almost $1 billion annually to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since 2010, the fund has been an increasingly important source of money for core CDC programs, today accounting for about 12 percent of the CDC’s total budget. The GOP bill would eliminate the Prevention and Public Health Fund starting in October of next year. No clear replacement has been proposed. Cuts in those funds, combined with potential federal budget cuts at the CDC and other health agencies, ‘could amount to a catastrophic year for public health funding,’ according to a statement from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.”

-- “Here are five ways the GOP proposal would change the tax system,” via WaPo budget reporter Kelsey Snell: 1. This is a major tax cut for the rich. 2. Lower-income workers are going to feel the biggest squeeze. 3. There may be more tax changes to come. 4. All of these tax changes could create a big deficit headache. 5. Democrats and even some conservatives are skeptical the math will work out in Republicans’ favor.

-- “Income separates the winners and losers in Republicans’ health-care plans,” by Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin: “An analysis by S&P Global predicts the legislation would lead to a loss of coverage for 2 million to 4 million of the roughly 16 million Americans who bought their own health plans through the ACA’s marketplaces or separately. More adults 35 and younger would gain coverage, while fewer adults 45 and older would be insured, according to the analysis. Specifically, the current subsidies take into account the cost of insurance in a given area, and they are linked to premiums for the next-to-lowest ‘silver’ health plan — the second rung among four ACA tiers that supply different levels of coverage. Under House Republicans’ plans, those tiers would disappear and the tax credits would no longer vary depending on geography. As a result, the largest credits, $4,000 for people 60 and older, would cover more than half the typical insurance premiums in New Mexico, for example, but less than a third of the cost in Wyoming.”

-- Bigger picture --> “The debate over the Affordable Care Act is really a debate over wealth redistribution,” by Karen Tumulty: “What makes the latest health-care battle different from past ones is that it is not about building a new government program. This time, the question is whether to abolish one … That means it is harder to gloss over a bedrock philosophical and ideological question that has always been in the background of any argument about the government’s role in health care: What is the minimum that society should provide for its poorest, most vulnerable citizens, and how much should be taken from the rich and powerful to do it? ‘Even though it is a technical discussion, it’s a really big value discussion,’ said Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard University...

“There were many ways that Obamacare redistributed the burden of medical costs — from the sick to the healthy, with provisions such as the one denying insurers the ability to refuse coverage to people with preexisting conditions; from the old to the young, with a mandate that everyone have coverage or pay a penalty; from the rich to the poor, with an array of new taxes.”

-- “The most popular (and unpopular) parts of House Republicans’ health-care plan,” by WaPo polling director Scott Clement: “The Republicans' plan keeps several of the law's most popular provisions, but also scales back or repeals several others that enjoy majority support. As widely expected, the law also repeals the individual mandate to buy insurance (or pay a fine), the least popular part of the ACA.”

  • Popular parts the GOP plan keeps: “The House Republicans’ replacement plan preserves four parts of the ACA that at least 60 percent of adults favored keeping in a January Associated Press-NORC poll. The survey found 77 percent supported the ACA’s requirement that private insurance companies offer preventive health services at no out-of-pocket cost, while 60 percent supported requiring plans to cover the full cost of birth control. The plan also includes the signature ACA rule prohibiting insurance companies from denying coverage or charging more to people with preexisting medical conditions, which was supported by 69 percent. More than 70 percent supported allowing adult children up to age 26 to stay on their parents’ health plans, which the GOP plan keeps.”
  • Popular parts the GOP plan changes: “A McClatchy-Marist poll last month found that 72 percent of adults said lawmakers should keep financial help for lower-income people; in November, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll found 80 percent favorably viewed the law’s subsidies for those with lower and middle incomes. Two-thirds of Americans (66 percent) in the AP-NORC poll supported expanding Medicaid to more low-income, uninsured adults … The bill would also cap the amount of federal Medicaid funding a state receives per person. … While this issue is fairly complex, a February Kaiser Family Foundation poll found roughly 32 percent of the public supported such a change, while 63 percent preferred maintaining federally guaranteed benefits.”
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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

Teachers take part in a "A Day Without A Woman" demonstration outside the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia this morning. Organizers of January's Women's March are calling on women to stay home from work and not spend money in stores or online to show their impact on American society. (Matt Rourke/AP)

-- Today is International Women’s Day and “A Day Without A Woman,” in which many plan to stay home as a form of protest. Several local schools are closed today, including in Alexandria and Prince George’s County. The Maryland district announced the closure last night after 1,700 teachers and 30 percent of the transportation staff asked for the day off. With those numbers, the system said, it could not transport students and provide proper learning environments. (Marty Weil)

-- The state of Hawaii will ask a federal judge to block Trump’s revised executive order barring issuance of new visas to citizens of six Muslim-majority countries. The suit, which lawyers plan to file today, will be the first formal legal challenge to the second ban. (Matt Zapotosky)

-- Nigeria advised its citizens against non-essential travel to the United States, warning that people have had their visas canceled and been denied entry without explanation. The Nigerians claim an American customs official told one guy that he didn’t “look like” a software engineer and demanded he prove expertise in his field. (CNN)

-- Trump nominated Noel Francisco to be U.S. solicitor general. He comes from Jones Day and has been working on the re-launch of the travel ban. He once clerked for Antonin Scalia and has argued several times before the high court in private practice. Last year, he successfully represented former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell during his appeal to SCOTUS.

In Sept. 2005, then-FEMA Chief Michael Brown looked on as Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff defended the Bush administration's botched response to Hurricane Katrina. Bush told Brown he was doing a heck of a job in what became one of the low points of his presidency. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?

-- The Trump administration, searching for money to build a border wall and fund a deportation force, is weighing significant cuts to the Coast Guard, TSA, FEMA and other federal agencies focused on national security threats. Dan Lamothe, Ashley Halsey III and Lisa Rein report: “The Coast Guard’s $9.1 billion budget in 2017 would be cut 14 percent to about $7.8 billion (under a working draft proposal), while the TSA and FEMA budgets would be reduced about 11 percent each to $4.5 billion and $3.6 billion, respectively. The plan puts the administration in the unusual position of trading spending on security programs for other security priorities at the southern border, raising questions among Republican lawmakers and homeland-security experts. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), who supported Trump’s presidential bid and oversees the House Transportation subcommittee on the Coast Guard and maritime transportation, questioned whether OMB officials are on the same page as the White House, citing the sea service’s roles in stopping illegal immigration and the flow of drugs into the country."

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. American adults are having less sex than they did a quarter century ago, with married people showing the most dramatic decline of all. A new study shows a drop across gender, race, region, education level and work status. Possible factors including increased access to entertainment and social media, a decline in happiness among people age 30 and over, higher incidence of depression, and use of antidepressants. (Tara Bahrampour)
  2. Turkey ordered the Oregon-based Mercy Corps to immediately shut down operations in Ankara, shuttering a U.S. aid group that the State Department says has been providing “critical” help to refugees. Reasons were not immediately made clear. (Karen DeYoung and Dan Lamothe)
  3. A 34-year-old activist pleaded guilty to conspiring to disrupt an inaugural event for Trump supporters known as the “DeploraBall” with an acid attack inside the National Press Club. In an agreement with prosecutors, his criminal record will be expunged if he performs 48 hours of community service. (Peter Hermann)
  4. The owners of an office building in Jacksonville have declined to renew a lease for Marco Rubio – effectively booting the Florida senator from his second state office in a week due to disruptive protests. Building owners in Tampa cited the same factor. (Kristine Phillips)
  5. All 100 U.S. senators penned a letter urging Trump to “swiftly” denounce a recent spike in anti-Semitic violence, following a new wave of bomb threats that were made against Jewish schools and community centers. (Mark Berman)
  6. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti cruised to reelection last night in one of the biggest landslides in the city's history. (LA Times)
  7. About one in four American adults suffers from arthritis, according to a new CDC study, much higher than originally thought. Of the 54 million people who reported suffering from arthritis, some 60 percent are working age. (Jia Naqvi)
  8. Israel’s parliament imposed an “entry ban” on foreign boycott activists on Monday, approving a law that denies entry visas to foreign nationals who publicly back or call for any kind of boycott against Israel or its West Bank settlements. It’s a measure aimed at battling the “BDS” movement, which has found growing support in Europe and the U.S. in recent years. (Ruth Eglash)
  9. Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega is in critical condition after undergoing two brain surgeries. A tumor was originally detected in 2011. (AP)
  10. Nike will release a specifically-designed performance hijab, seeking to allow women to compete in sports of their choice while remaining covered. The headgear was inspired by a number of world-class Muslim athletes who have recently competed in hijabs on the global stage, including at the London and Rio Olympic games. (Cindy Boren)
  11. Officials at a New Orleans zoo are investigating a freak accident after a large female gorilla lobbed a block of wood at a pregnant woman, hitting her in the head and causing her to fall down on her stomach. (WWL-TV)
  12. A French zoo is mourning the loss of its four-year-old rhino Vince, after he was killed by a group of poachers who broke into his exhibit. His death has stunned wildlife experts, who say it underscores the lengths poacherswill go to meet insatiable demand for rhino horns. (Peter Holley)

WIKILEAKS STRIKES AGAIN:

-- A vast portion of the CIA’s computer hacking arsenal appears to have been exposed by WikiLeaks, which posted thousands of files revealing highly-classified CIA hacking tools used to convert cellphones, televisions and other ordinary devices into implements of espionage. Greg Miller and Ellen Nakashima report: “The trove appeared to lay bare the design and capabilities of some of the U.S. intelligence community’s most closely guarded cyber weapons, a breach that will likely cause immediate damage to the CIA’s efforts to gather intelligence overseas and place new strain on the U.S. government’s relationship with Silicon Valley giants. ... [Officials said] the breach could undermine the CIA’s ability to carry out key parts of its mission, from targeting the Islamic State and other terrorist networks to penetrating the computer defenses of sophisticated cyber adversaries.”

  • “It looks like really the backbone of their network exploitation kit,” said one former hacker who worked for the NSA.
  • "Any exposure of these tools is going to cause grave if not irreparable damage to the ability of our intelligence agencies to conduct our mission,” a former senior U.S. intelligence official said.

-- There is no good rationale for this disclosure: WikiLeaks claimed to have gotten the files from a former CIA contractor and touted the trove as comparable in scale and significance to the NSA leaks exposed by Edward Snowden. "But while the Snowden files revealed massive surveillance programs that gathered data on millions of Americans, the CIA documents posted so far by WikiLeaks appear mainly to unmask hacking methods that many experts already assumed the agency had developed," Greg and Ellen note.

-- Meanwhile, Trump’s approach to WikiLeaks has taken a full 180 now that he is the one occupying the White House. Only a few months ago, he praised the organization during his rallies and once lauded it as a “treasure trove." Jenna Johnson and Ashley Parker report: “Back then, Trump loved anything that made his rival Hillary Clinton look bad — even if the information had been hacked, stolen or leaked. But now that he is in the White House, Trump is having to confront the threat of hacking, along with leaks from within his own administration — and, suddenly, he is not a fan. Trump and his aides have angrily railed against leakers, threatening to find and prosecute them and urging congressional allies to investigate, while being uncharacteristically quiet when it comes to WikiLeaks. ... The breach could pose a serious challenge for Trump, who has been feuding with the intelligence community over probes into alleged ties between his campaign and Russia."

  • Former Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said he hopes Trump finally realizes that the hacking in the election is “an anti-American problem,” rather than a partisan one: “The problem at its core is that a country that our own Joint Chiefs of Staff said was our greatest enemy and greatest threat to our security stole information from one of our national political parties and used it against one of the candidates,” he said, referring to Russia. “Do I believe that this is going to come back to haunt the Republicans? Absolutely, I do.”
  • Sean Spicer declined to comment on the latest WikiLeaks dump during his press briefing, saying that the issue “has not been fully evaluated.”
  • John McCain said that, if the group “can hack the CIA, they can hack anybody,” and urged the White House to place more focus on the issue: “I’d like to see a greater emphasis, to tell you the truth."

-- The mole hunt has begun. Devlin Barrett reports: “In the wake of revelations from Army private Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, officials sought to tighten security procedures, and federal agents came under greater pressure to find and prevent secrets from spilling out of the government. But cracks keep appearing in the system. Now, U.S. intelligence agencies are [again] rushing …  to determine whether they again have suffered an embarrassing compromise at the hands of one of their own. ... Once investigators verify the accuracy of the WikiLeaks documents, a key question to answer is who had access to the information, according to veterans of past leak probes.”

Vladimir Putin marks International Women's Day at the Kremlin in Moscow a few hours ago. (Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

THERE'S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- The first open hearing on Russia’s meddling in the U.S. election has been set for March 20. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes said he has invited FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers, as well as former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates to testify. (CNN)

-- Trump's then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski personally approved foreign policy adviser Carter Page’s now-infamous trip to Moscow last summer on the condition that he would “not be an official representative” of the Trump campaign. Politico reports: “A few weeks before he traveled to Moscow to give a July 7 speech, Page asked J.D. Gordon, his supervisor on the campaign’s National Security Advisory Committee, for permission to make the trip, and Gordon strongly advised against it. … Page then emailed Lewandowski and spokeswoman Hope Hicks asking for formal approval, and was told by Lewandowski that he could make the trip, but not as an official representative of the campaign, the former campaign adviser said. The trip is now a focus of congressional and FBI investigations into Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election.” Lewandowski said he did not recall the email exchange but “did not deny” that it occurred. “Is it possible that he emailed me asking if he could go to Russia as a private citizen?” Lewandowski said Tuesday. “I don’t remember that, but I probably got 1,000 emails a day at that time … And I wouldn’t necessarily remember if I had a one-word response to him saying he could do something as a private citizen.”

-- Trump’s nominee for deputy attorney general declined to endorse Democratic calls for a special prosecutor to investigate Russia’s election interference during his confirmation hearing. Matt Zapotosky, Sari Horwitz and Sean Sullivan report: “Under insistent questioning from Democrats, deputy attorney general nominee Rod J. Rosenstein refused to commit Tuesday to appoint a special counsel to oversee investigations of Russian meddling … though he stressed that he did not yet know the facts of the matter. At a tense Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing that lasted more than 3 1/2 hours, Rosenstein said that he was ‘not aware’ of any reason he would not be able to supervise such probes. “You view it as an issue of principle, that I need to commit to appoint a special counsel in a matter that I don’t even know if it’s being investigated,” he told Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who had vowed to try to block his nomination should he not make such a commitment. “And I view it as an issue of principle that as a nominee for deputy attorney general, I should not be promising to take action on a particular case.”

-- Al Franken says he has concluded that Attorney General Jeff Sessions definitely committed perjury during his confirmation hearing when he failed to disclose his meetings with the Russian ambassador. "It's hard to come to any other conclusion than he just perjured himself," the Minnesota Democrat said on CNN, telling host Jake Tapper that Sessions should come before the Senate Judiciary Committee again to explain himself.

-- Christopher Steele, the former British spy who authored the controversial dossier on Trump, which was widely circulated and eventually sent him and his family into hiding, has reemerged. London journalists said he was spotted outside his company’s building on Tuesday, appearing relaxed – albeit tight-lipped -- about his recent whereabouts. "I'm now going to be focusing my efforts on supporting the broader interests of our company here,” Steele told reporters. “I'd like to say a warm thank you to everyone who sent me kind messages and support over the last few weeks,” he added. (Karla Adam)

-- Before spending $30 million to help Trump, the NRA sent a delegation to meet with Putin’s deputy in Moscow. The Daily Beast’s Tim Mak reports: “In March 2014, the U.S. government sanctioned Dmitry Rogozin—a hardline deputy to [Putin], the head of Russia’s defense industry and longtime opponent of American power— in retaliation for the invasion of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. Eighteen months later, the [NRA], Trump’s most powerful outside ally during the 2016 election, sent a delegation to Moscow that met with him. David Keene, the former NRA president and current board member who was on the Moscow trip, insisted the meeting …. had nothing whatsoever to do with geopolitics. But Rogozin is no ordinary Russian official, and his title extends far beyond being merely the chairman of a shooting club. His portfolio as deputy prime minister of Russia includes the defense industry. One issue where Rogozin seems particularly interested is cyberwarfare, which he has heralded for its ‘first strike’ capability.”

Barack Obama leaves the National Gallery of Art in Washington on Sunday. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)

WIRETAPPING FALLOUT:

-- “The rapport between [Barack Obama and Trump] is unraveling, with the president convinced that Mr. Obama is undermining his nascent administration and the former president furious over Trump tweets accusing him of illegal wiretapping,” the Wall Street Journal’s Carol E. Lee and Peter Nicholas report: “The budding feud between two men who share the unique bond of membership in the commander-in-chiefs’ club is a fresh distraction in a Trump presidency that has been struggling to enact its agenda. The rift also is distancing Mr. Trump from a former two-term president who had offered to give private advice and counsel as the onetime businessman settles into his first job in public office.”

-- The New York Times’ Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman report on the turmoil Trump’s tweets often create among his closest circles: “[His Saturday tweet, for example], led to a succession of frantic staff conference calls, including one consultation with the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, as staff members grasped the reality that the president had opened an attack on his predecessor. Mr. Trump, advisers said, was in high spirits after he fired off the posts. But by midafternoon, after returning from golf, he appeared to realize he had gone too far, although he still believed Mr. Obama had wiretapped him.” He reportedly asked staff about hiring someone on the outside to try corroborating his claims.

-- House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said he has not seen any evidence supporting Trump’s claim that he had been “wiretapped” by the Obama administration, but said his committee would “look into it anyway.” Karoun Demirjian reports: “The bigger question that needs to be answered is whether or not Mr. Trump or any of his associates were in fact targeted by any of the intelligence agencies or law enforcement authorities,” Nunes told reporters Tuesday. “At this point we don’t have any evidence of that,” Nunes said. “But we also don’t have any evidence of many people who have been named in multiple news stories that supposedly are under some type of investigation.”

Ranking committee Democrat Adam B. Schiff (Calif.) also told reporters that he was “happy” to look into Trump’s allegations – but warned that, if proven false, could pose much bigger problems for the new commander-in-chief. “If a sitting U.S. president alleging that his predecessor engaged in the most unscrupulous and unlawful conduct … that is also a scandal, if those allegations prove to be false,” Schiff said. “And we should be able to determine in fairly short order whether this accusation was true or false.” 

Donald Trump speaks at Trump National Doral in Florida, one of the clubs where industry groups now want to hold conferences. (Evan Vucci/AP)

CONFLICTS OF INTEREST:

-- “‘Big Candy’ is lobbying the Trump administration. It’s also holding events at Trump hotels,” by Amy Brittain and Jonathan O'Connell: “As U.S. candymakers descended on South Florida for their industry conference this week, they were scheduled to plot lobbying strategy in the ‘Ivanka Trump ballroom.’ A dessert networking event was planned for the ‘Donald J. Trump grand patio.’ Between meetings, attendees were eligible to enjoy outings on a Trump-owned golf course and massages at a Trump spa. The National Confectioners Association is doing a lot of business with President Trump’s company. In addition to this week’s gathering of 600 attendees … the group has booked two upcoming meetings, in September and again in 2018, at the Trump International Hotel down the street from the White House…

“At the same time, the organization, representing candy titans Hershey, Mars and Jelly Belly, among other companies, is optimistic about scoring big, early policy wins from the Trump administration. Among the industry’s priorities: a long-sought rollback of government sugar subsidies that candy firms say drive up the costs of making their products. The group said it booked the venues in 2014 and 2015, long before Trump won the presidency. But the arrangement illustrates a repercussion of Trump’s decision to retain ownership of his business during his time in the White House — that he can become financially intertwined with a special interest that is simultaneously seeking to influence policy decisions by his administration.”

Boris Epshteyn, White House Assistant Communications Director for Surrogate Operations, huddles with Omarosa, the White House Director of Communications for the Office of Public Liaison. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

WEST WING INTRIGUE:

-- “White House official Boris Epshteyn, a combative Trump loyalist tasked with plugging the president’s message on television, threatened earlier this year to pull all West Wing officials from appearing on Fox News after a tense appearance on anchor Bill Hemmer’s show,” Politico’s Annie Karni reports: “Epshteyn … got in a yelling match with a Fox News booker after Hemmer pressed him for details of [Trump’s] controversial executive order cracking down on immigration from Muslim-majority countries — a topic he was not expecting to be grilled on. ‘Am I someone you want to make angry?’ Epshteyn told the booker, the sources said. When he threatened to pull White House officials from the network, the fed-up booker had had enough. ‘Go right ahead,’ the booker fired back, the sources said. Epshteyn’s rise to a position of prominence in the Trump White House reveals how the president has rewarded his loyalists. But Epshteyn … has added to the impression of an antagonistic White House by throwing his weight around in a manner that has further strained the relationship between the administration and the television networks.”

-- Two front-runners have emerged to be Trump’s next Navy secretary after his previous pick, Philip Bilden, pulled out due to investment conflicts. The Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold reports: “The White House is considering Richard V. Spencer, an investment banker with extensive business experience and ties to the Pentagon, and Randy Forbes, a former Virginia congressman and onetime chairman of an important naval subcommittee, to head the Navy, the officials said. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other senior officials at the Pentagon favor Mr. Spencer, a former Marine aviator with extensive investment and business experience. Vice President Mike Pence backs Mr. Forbes, a Virginia Republican who lost a primary bid for his re-election campaign last year.

-- National security adviser H.R. McMaster has invited top council staff back into the Oval Office for calls between Trump and foreign leaders -- reversing a decision by his ousted predecessor Michael Flynn to exile senior directors to the Situation Room during such conversations because of fears they’d get leaked. (Politico)

Afghan security forces re-secure the Kabul Military Hospital. (Jawad Jalali/EPA)

THE WORLD IS ON FIRE:

-- Insurgents struck Afghanistan’s largest military hospital, leaving at least four dead and at least 60 more injured after a suicide bomber and gunmen attacked the medical compound. ISIS has claimed responsibility. Sayed Salahuddin and Pamela Constable report: “Officials said at least four gunmen stormed the Sardar Dawood medical complex, located near the U.S. embassy and government buildings in the heart of the city. One security official said the attackers were disguised in white doctors’ uniforms. The battle stretched on four hours through much of the day with the attackers holed up in the upper floors of the hospital where they were engaged by special forces. ... The double assault followed a familiar pattern by Taliban insurgents in which an official target is bombed at its entrance and armed fighters quickly follow.”

-- China warned of “consequences” for South Korea and the U.S. over the newly-deployed U.S. antimissile system known as THAAD, further raising tensions in the region. Emily Rauhala reports: “The stern words came a day after North Korea launched four missiles that landed off the Japanese coast — an exercise, the North Korean government said, designed to practice for an attack on U.S. military bases in Japan. While American and South Korean officials say the Kim regime’s continued launches demonstrate why the new antimissile system is necessary, Beijing sees the system as a threat to the Chinese military and evidence of U.S. 'meddling' in East Asian Affairs."

-- Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is going on a trip to China, Japan and South Korea next week. “But he is traveling without the usual symbolism of the big blue and white ‘United States of America’ plane past secretaries of state have routinely used, and without the usual U.S. press corps,” Anne Gearan and Carol Morello report. “The State Department has said only that a smaller plane is more convenient and reliable, and that there is not room to bring reporters.” That’s not even good spin…

Katy Perry and Richard Simmons attend the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards at the Barclays Center. (Larry Busacca/Getty Images for MTV)

WAPO HIGHLIGHTS:

-- THE BEST NON-POLITICS STORY YOU'LL READ ALL DAY: “Is Richard Simmons missing? Or is he just dearly missed?” by Dan Zak: “On Feb. 15, 2014, the flamboyant fitness guru did not show up to teach his regular $12 exercise class at his studio, which was called Slimmons. He cut off contact with friends and hasn’t been seen in public since. One of his regular students was a filmmaker-writer named Dan Taberski, who last month launched a podcast called ‘Missing Richard Simmons.’ ‘I think he’s important,’ Taberski says in Episode 1, justifying his loving invasion of Simmons’s privacy. Richard Simmons is many things: manic, brilliant, troubled, tough, hilarious, ridiculous. But important too? …. Simmons is a gaudy rhinestone embedded in American culture: a true original whose commercial sorcery summoned the forces of positive thinking and negative self-imaging. He cast his spell using old-fashioned vaudeville techniques that he must’ve inherited. He also helped the world gain something. ‘…God could have made you a butterfly that lasts three months, but he made you a human being,’ [he said on CNN in 2014]. Six weeks later, poof.”

Alejandra Campoverdi waits for her food at Grand Central Market in Los Angeles.(Kyle Monk/For The Washington Post)

-- “Alejandra Campoverdi is running for Congress. And facing down the threat of cancer,” by Manuel Roig-Franzia: Within a few minutes, a nurse will be X-raying [Alejandra Campoverdi’s] chest and pumping a dye into her veins that will leave her a little lightheaded, but that might give her some answers. Two years ago, Campoverdi learned that she has a genetic mutation, known as BRCA2, that means she is extremely likely to develop breast cancer, the disease that took the lives of her grandmother and great-grandmother. … Campoverdi’s diagnosis and her decision to have a preventive double mastectomy in the near future … forms the emotional and intellectual foundation of her campaign to represent a portion of her native Los Angeles in Congress. She’s been an [Ivy League-pedigreed] Obama White House staffer … a poor kid surviving on welfare, a reality show contestant, a Maxim model in skimpy lingerie, a Harvard graduate, a groundbreaking first-ever deputy director of Hispanic media at the White House. Now her underdog candidacy in an overflow field to succeed longtime Democratic congressman Xavier Becerra is turning into another test of whether [Obama] spawned a generation of future leaders."

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Trump celebrated International Women's Day with some early morning tweets:

Ad his most prominent female surrogate:

A cheeky response from singer Lily Allen to Trump:

A conservative #NeverTrumper also trolled Trump over the above tweets:

Teachers in Alexandria, Va., are marking a Day Without a Woman by joining the protests, thereby shutting down some public schools. One conservative pundit reacted:

Continued reaction to the House GOP's Obamacare repeal rollout:

"The Americans" is back on TV at a surreal life-imitates-art-imitates-life moment:

A debate over the border adjustment tax played out on Twitter:

A family of four from Pakistan walk down Roxham Road in Champlain, New York, towards the US-Canada border. (Geoff Robins/AFP/Getty Images)

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- New York Times, “Since Trump, Quiet Upstate Road Becomes a Busy Exit From U.S.,” by Rick Rojas: "Chris Crowningshiele has been driving a cab, on and off, for 30 years in this rural corner of upstate New York known as the North Country. But in recent weeks, riders have been asking him — two, three, sometimes as many as seven times a day — to bring them to the end of Roxham Road. He is carrying them on the last leg of their journey out of the United States. 'You wonder what’s going through their heads, you know?' he said. ... Many of his passengers have been families, with parents carrying young children and whatever possessions they could take with them. Some were migrants from Yemen and Turkey. They confided that they were fearful, of what was happening in the countries they wanted to leave behind — not just their homeland but now also the United States — and of what they faced once they stepped out of Mr. Crowningshiele’s cab.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

A $2.5 trillion asset manager just put a statue of a defiant girl in front of the Wall Street bull,” from Business Insider: “The world's third-largest asset manager installed a bronze statue of a defiant girl in front of Wall Street's iconic charging bull statue on Tuesday morning as part of its new campaign to pressure companies to add more women to their boards. State Street Global Advisors, a nearly $2.5 trillion investor and unit within State Street Corp., is rolling out the campaign ahead of International Women's Day on Wednesday. The money manager said it would vote against boards if a company failed to take steps to increase its number of members who are women. State Street plans to send a letter to 3,500 companies on Tuesday asking the companies to act. "There has been a lot of discussion on this topic, but the needle hasn't moved materially,’ [said one company official] … State Street wants every company it's targeting to have at least one female board member and to take steps toward fixing its gender gap, Heinel said.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Son of Sen. Tim Kaine is one of six arrested after protesters disrupt Trump rally at state Capitol Saturday,” from the Pioneer Press: “The youngest son of U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 running mate, was one of six people arrested Saturday after counter-protesters disrupted a rally in support of [Trump] at the Minnesota State Capitol. Linwood Michael Kaine, 24, and four others were arrested on suspicion of second-degree riot after the ‘March 4 Trump’ rally in St. Paul; a sixth person was cited for disorderly conduct. Counter-protesters clashed with Trump supporters in the Capitol rotunda after they disrupted the proceedings with air horns, whistles and chants. At one point, someone set off a smoke bomb. Linwood Kaine, a Minneapolis resident who attended Carleton College and goes by Woody, was released from the Ramsey County jail on Tuesday morning pending further investigation, law enforcement officials said.” “We love that our three children have their own views and concerns about current political issues,” Sen. Kaine said in a statement. “They fully understand the responsibility to express those concerns peacefully.”

 

DAYBOOK:

 

At the White House: In the morning, Trump will meet with Laurene Powell Jobs before hosting a strategic affairs lunch regarding infrastructure. He will then meet with Rep. Elijah Cummings. Later, Trump will meet with Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and Sens. Lisa Murkowski, and Dan Sullivan, as well as a group of conservative leaders about healthcare. Later, Trump and Melania will have dinner with Ted and Heidi Cruz.

Pence will join Trump for his infrastructure lunch before conducting a radio interview with Sean Hannity, by a series of regional satellite interviews focused on the American Health Care Act. In the evening, Pence will host a legislative affairs dinner at the Vice President’s Residence.

On Capitol Hill: The Senate will convene at 9:30 am and resume consideration of H.J.Res.58. House committees are marking up the health bill.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) brushed aside questions about Trump's wiretapping claims: "A lot of the things he says, you guys take literally." (CNN)

 

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

-- Spring still remains (happily) in full swing. Today’s Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Showers exit to the east by 7 a.m. or so. Skies turn mostly sunny thereafter, and that helps temperatures rise from morning 50s to afternoon highs in the mid-60s.”

-- A Maryland police officer was suspended after making a “highly inappropriate” Facebook comment about two teens who were slain last week in a car crash. “F—‘em, shouldn’t have been driving that fast,” he wrote on his social media page. (Dana Hedgpeth)

-- Montgomery County police have arrested and charged a 35-year-old man with impersonating a police officer. Authorities said they were first tipped off to his case in February, and upon searching his home, found seven handguns, two assault rifles and a shotgun, as well as body armor, tactical vests, ammunition and a Baltimore County Police Department badge. He was never employed by the department. (AP)

-- The Wizards beat the Suns 131-127.

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Stephen Colbert did a segment on how the CIA isn't spying on us through our TVs:

See why Anderson Cooper has muted Trump on Twitter:

The lights illuminating the Statue of Liberty turned off for more than an hour last night:

Margarita Zavala, a leading presidential hopeful in Mexico and former first lady, spoke with The Post about why her country will never pay for the wall. Read her op-ed. Watch some highlights: