Jon Huntsman ends his 2012 presidential bid in South Carolina. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

With Breanne Deppisch

THE BIG IDEA: Donald Trump has blocked several people who opposed him during the campaign from getting jobs in his administration. So why has he reportedly chosen Jon Huntsman to be the U.S. ambassador to Russia?

-- The 56-year-old has earned a reputation as someone who ingratiates himself with his patron of the moment but whose long-term loyalty cannot be counted on. His critics — including some who have worked with him — complain privately that he’s always thinking about how he can climb the next step up the ladder. When his name comes up around this town, one often hears words like craven and opportunistic.

While others from the Republican establishment were signing Never Trump letters last year, Huntsman was singing Trump’s praises. Elise Viebeck reported last October that “the theory in foreign policy circles” was that he “wanted to be secretary of state badly enough he was willing to risk his credibility on Trump.”

But Huntsman seemed to calculate after David Fahrenthold uncovered the 2005 “Access Hollywood” video of Trump boasting about groping women that he could no longer win. So, just weeks before the election, he called on Trump to drop out of the race. “In a campaign cycle that has been nothing but a race to the bottom — at such a critical moment for our nation — and with so many who have tried to be respectful of a record primary vote, the time has come for Governor Pence to lead the ticket,” Huntsman told The Salt Lake Tribune, which is owned by his brother.

After Trump won, though, Huntsman changed his tune again. As the foreign policy firmament fretted about Trump’s phone conversation with the leader of Taiwan, Huntsman surprised many of his old friends by rushing to the president-elect’s defense on Fox News and in the New York Times. He described the move as “shrewd.” It could be a “useful leverage point,” he said. “Having lived in Taiwan twice and having lived in China once, there's a little too much hyperventilating about this one,” Huntsman said on Fox.

-- It’s unclear what strings he might have pulled behind the scenes, but Huntsman was soon floated by transition officials as a potential dark-horse pick for secretary of state. When he got passed over for Rex Tillerson, he stayed in the mix to become deputy secretary of state. Now he’s settled for another foreign posting.

-- The whole Huntsman family has been part of the charm offensive:

Mary Anne, one of the ambassador's daughters, played piano at the White House yesterday:

Abby Huntsman, a co-host of "Fox & Friends Weekend," conducted a softball interview with Sean Spicer last week:

-- Assuming he’s confirmed by the Senate, Hunstman will become a very high-profile figure. Anything Trump does vis-à-vis Russia will be under a microscope by Congress and the media. Michael Flynn’s resignation and Jeff Sessions’s misleading sworn testimony — both related to conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the United States — underscore the sensitivity of the job he’s taking on. If Trump continues to pursue rapprochement with the Kremlin, suspicions will run very high about his motives, and Huntsman will be called upon to defend the policy as beneficial to the national interest.

-- Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said overnight that he hopes Huntsman will help Trump improve relations. “We will welcome any head of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow who will be a staunch supporter of the idea to establish dialogue between the two countries. We believe that this is the main task of any ambassador in any country," Peskov told the state-sponsored Sputnik news organization.

-- Another person breathing a sigh of relief is Orrin Hatch. There’s been rampant speculation in Utah that Huntsman might challenge the 82-year-old senator for the GOP nomination next year. He won’t be able to do that from Moscow.

George H.W. Bush swims in the Pacific during a 1990 vacation to Honolulu. (Joe Marquette/UPI)

HOW HUNTSMAN MADE IT THIS FAR:

-- George H.W. Bush named him ambassador to Singapore when he was just 32, making him the youngest U.S. ambassador in a century. He had helped Bush with fundraising in Utah, and his billionaire father — who previously worked in the Nixon administration — was (and remains) a major GOP donor.

When George W. Bush became president, Huntsman left his family’s business to become deputy U.S. trade representative. Then he returned to Utah to run for governor in 2004. With a growing national profile, he cruised to reelection in 2008.

-- Barack Obama’s White House was worried that he could pose a very strong challenge in 2012. To sideline him, the president appointed Huntsman as ambassador to China. The gambit failed. Huntsman came back to run anyway.

But Huntsman was hobbled by his links to Obama in that campaign, specifically a handwritten love letter he’d sent the then-president in 2009. Praising him as gracious and kind, he wrote: “You are a remarkable leader — and it has been a great honor getting to know you.” He underlined the word remarkable for emphasis.

In another letter, Huntsman effusively praised Hillary Clinton. “I have enormous regard for your experience, sense of history and brilliant analysis of world events,” he wrote Bill Clinton. “I must report that Sec. Clinton has won the hearts and minds of the State Dept. bureaucracy — no easy task. And after watching her in action, I can see why. She is well-read, hard working, personable and has even more charisma than her husband! It’s an honor to work with her.”

-- The portrait of Huntsman in Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s book about the 2012 election was particularly unflattering. Both the candidate and his wife are depicted as especially shallow. Then-White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley called Huntsman in the middle of the night in Beijing after reading a Washington Post story about his campaign-in-waiting while he was still serving as Obama’s ambassador. “This is a pretty s---y way to treat someone who gave you the opportunity of a lifetime,” Daley told him. Huntsman denied The Post’s report, even though he knew it was accurate.

Donald Trump made a show of humiliating Mitt Romney by pretending to consider him for secretary of state. He invited journalists to photograph them eating at Jean Georges restaurant in November. Romney had refused to endorse Trump during the campaign. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

-- Mitt Romney also came to detest Huntsman, a fellow Mormon, after he defected to John McCain ahead of the 2008 primaries. “Your grandfather would be ashamed of you,” Romney told him at the time, according to an account in the Halperin and Heilemann book.

Mitt got sweet revenge four years later by crushing Huntsman like a bug in New Hampshire. Especially meaningful to him was McCain’s endorsement three days before the Granite State’s first-in-the-nation primary. Hunstsman saw this as a betrayal and personally emailed the Arizona senator to complain, noting the price he’d paid in Utah for snubbing a favorite son four years before.

-- Ironically, Huntsman attacked Romney during the 2012 campaign for sucking up to Trump. The former Massachusetts governor schlepped to Trump Tower to seek the businessman’s support in September 2011, following a procession of other candidates that year that included Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich. Huntsman bragged that he didn’t meet with Trump during one of the debates.

Trump, who had flirted with running that year before taking a pass, wanted to play the role of kingmaker. He announced that he would sponsor a debate in Des Moines the week before the Iowa caucuses. Huntsman immediately declared that he would not participate. "We look forward to watching Mitt and Newt suck up to The Donald with a big bowl of popcorn," said Huntsman spokesman Tim Miller.

-- Huntsman claimed that Trump asked him for a meeting, and he declined. Trump responded that Huntsman was the one who tried to meet with him, but that he had not returned Huntsman's calls. The then-reality TV star took several digs at his Mormon faith during the ensuing spat, which became an issue in Utah last fall.

Trump relished and even took credit for Huntsman’s inability to gain traction and, over a period of several months, mocked him on Twitter as an ineffective ambassador to Beijing:

Asked back then about Trump’s attacks, Huntsman replied on Fox News: "I'm not going to kiss his ring, and I'm not going to kiss any other part of his anatomy."

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

A convoy of U.S. forces armored vehicles drives near the northern Syrian city of Manbij. (Delil Souleiman/Getty) 

ESCALATION -- MORE BOOTS ON THE GROUND IN SYRIA:

-- The U.S. military is getting drawn deeper into the struggle for control over areas liberated from the Islamic State  risking prolonged American involvement in wars in Syria and Iraq long after the militants are defeated. Liz Sly reports: “In their first diversion from the task of fighting the Islamic State since the U.S. military’s involvement began in 2014, U.S. troops dispatched to Syria have headed in recent days to the northern town of Manbij … to protect their Kurdish and Arab allies against a threatened assault by other U.S. allies in a Turkish-backed force. Russian troops have also shown up in Manbij under a separate deal that was negotiated without the input of the United States. … Under the deal, Syrian troops are to be deployed in the area, also in some form of peacekeeping role, setting up what is effectively a scramble by the armies of four nations to carve up a collection of mostly empty villages in a remote corner of Syria. The latest twist in Syria’s ever more complicated war points to one of the many risks of a U.S. strategy that has prioritized the military defeat of the Islamic State at the expense of political solutions to the broader conflicts fueling instability in the wider region, analysts say."

-- Marines from an amphibious task force have left their ships in the Middle East and deployed inside Syria, where they will use artillery guns in the fight to help Syrian rebels wrest control of Raqqa from the Islamic State. The new mission comes as the Trump administration weighs a plan to take back Raqqa, the de facto ISIS capital, that includes more Special Operations troops and attack helicopters. Dan Lamothe and Thomas Gibbons-Neff report: “The deployment puts more conventional U.S. troops in the battle. ... Several hundred Special Operations troops have advised local forces there for months, but the Pentagon has mostly shied away from using conventional forces in Syria.” One official says the Marines movement into Syria is not the byproduct of Trump’s request of a new plan to take on ISIS and that it has “been in the works for some time.”

-- Soft power: Rex Tillerson has invited more than 60 countries to send representatives to Washington later this month for a two-day strategy session on how to best fight the Islamic State. His goal is to build a global coalition focused on starving the enemy of money, weapons and fighters. (Anne Gearan)

Kim Jong Un visits a "Revolutionary School." (KCNA via Reuters)

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. North Korea attempted to sell a form of lithium metal  a key material for developing miniaturized nuclear weapons  to unidentified international buyers last year, according to United Nations investigators. This should spark new concerns about the proliferation threat posed by the Kim regime’s growing nuclear-and ballistic-missile programs. (Wall Street Journal)
  2. Meanwhile, the United States rebuffed a proposal from China to “apply the brakes” on the escalating standoff with North Korea, rejecting Beijing’s mediation efforts. (Emily Rauhala)
  3. Trump is poised to name Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) as the ambassador to the United Nations for food and agriculture. The appointment has yet to be formally announced, but it would move the Kansas governor — who spent 14 years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and served as his state's agricultural commissioner before that — to Rome. (Kansas City Star)
  4. A massive yellow fever outbreak in Brazil has worried infectious-disease experts, who say that the deadly virus — which has infected hundreds of people in the country since December  could spread to the United States. Health officials are scrambling to thwart infections from reaching urban areas, where they could potentially spike to epidemic levels. (Lena H. Sun)
  5. Harvard Law announced it will no longer require applicants to take the LSAT for admission, breaking with a decades-long tradition as the school moves to implement a pilot program designed to broaden access to the university. Under the new rule, applicants will be permitted to submit either GRE or LSAT scores. (Susan Svrluga)
  6. Fox News reportedly reached a $2.5 million settlement with Tamara Holder, a longtime commentator on the network who accused a former top executive at the company of sexual harassment. (New York Times)
  7. Trump’s former campaign communications director Jason Miller has been hired at CNN as an analyst, the latest in a cadre of pro-Trump voices hired by the network. (Erik Wemple)
  8. A nationwide 911 outage affected local AT&T Wireless customers for about 90 minutes last night, resulting in temporarily-suspended service in the District and several suburban areas. The company issued an apology but did not immediately release any information about the cause. (Clarence Williams and Victoria St. Martin)
  9. A Miami attorney who was defending a client in an arson case was delivering closing arguments when his own pants spontaneously combusted and caused him to flee the courtroom. The attorney insisted it wasn’t a courtroom stunt, however, and blamed a faulty e-cigarette in his pocket. (Miami Herald)
  10. New Hampshire lawmakers are considering legislation that would allow counties to deploy cops to residents’ homes to verify voter registration information -- seeking to crack down on voters who register on or within one month of election day, even though there’s no evidence of widespread voter fraud. (HuffPost)
  11. A Virginia accountant who formerly served more than a year in federal prison has filed paperwork to become a state delegate. He’s eligible, thanks to a newly-passed law, but left off his resume the reason he served time behind bars in the first place – for threatening to kill the president of the United States. He’s also advocated for legalizing incestuous marriage and making it harder to win a restraining order against an abusive spouse, among other things. (Antonio Olivo)
  12. A pastor's daughter in Michigan married a paroled murderer, who had killed his first wife in cold blood. Now he's murdered her children. (Kristine Phillips)
  13. Researchers at the University of Liverpool say they can use microbes from Neanderthal jaws to reveal striking personal details about our oldest known ancestors  including what they ate, how they lived, and even whom they kissed! (Sarah Kaplan)
  14. As many countries spent yesterday celebrating International Women’s Day, one region in Italy advanced a somewhat different proposal  one that would ban women from wearing the Islamic face veil in public places, including hospitals. A local politician praised the move as a "concrete initiative" to protect women's freedom amid a "flood of useless chatter that accompanies Women's Day." (Amanda Erickson)
  15. South Korea’s Constitutional Court is slated to deliver a verdict Friday in the impeachment proceedings of President Park Geun-hye, potentially making her not just the country’s first female president, but also its first president to get impeached. (Anna Fifield)
  16. Samsung is planning a major production expansion in the United States, potentially shifting some production operations from Mexico. At least five states are under consideration as a site for a potential factory. The move could create around 500 jobs. (WSJ)

OBAMACARE REPEAL HITS MORE SPEED BUMPS:

-- The House Ways and Means Committee approved a Republican proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act on a 23-16 vote at 4:30 a.m. after 18 hours of debate, giving the bill its first procedural victory. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said lawmakers need to see the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate of how the bill will affect the federal deficit before they move forward. “I think we need to know that,” McConnell said at a Politico breakfast, adding that the CBO report could come out by Monday. (Elise Viebeck, Sean Sullivan and Mike DeBonis)

-- Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who has the ability to derail the bill in the Senate, expressed serious reservations in a tweetstorm this morning. He said Republicans should "START OVER."

-- Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told Yahoo News’s Katie Couric that the current House measure would “not be well received in the Senate” and stood no chance of passing as is: “I want us to slow down to take more time to be sure we get this right,” she said.

-- Major associations representing physicians, hospitals, insurers and seniors all leveled sharp attacks against the House GOP plan yesterday. (Juliet Eilperin and DeBonis round up some brutal quotes.)

-- Many Republicans have publicly questioned whether the measure can even clear the House. From our main story: “Referring to the number of votes needed to pass the measure out of the House, Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, said: ‘Right now I feel confident saying there aren’t 218 votes for this.’ Perry opposes the proposal. House Republican leaders have given little indication that they will make anything but marginal changes to their plan.”

-- Trump tried to assuage conservative fears during a White House meeting last night with leaders of the Club for Growth, the Heritage Foundation, Heritage Action for America, Americans for Prosperity, Tea Party Patriots, and FreedomWorks. From Dave Weigel and Sullivan: “In the process, the conservatives heard the president and his team express some openness to tweaks to the bill that go further than House or Senate leaders might accept. Trump and his team did not outright reject changes on at least three components of the American Health Care Act, said some of the meeting’s attendees. One idea was accelerating the timetable for key changes to Medicaid under the House GOP plan from 2020 to 2018.”

Sean Spicer compares a copy of the Obamacare bill and a copy of the new House Republican health care bill during his briefing. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

PERSONNEL IS POLICY:

-- If you read one story this morning --> ProPublica, “Meet the Hundreds of Officials Trump Has Quietly Installed Across the Government,” by Justin Elliott, Derek Kravitz and Al Shaw: “A Trump campaign aide who argues that Democrats committed ‘ethnic cleansing’ in a plot to ‘liquidate’ the white working class. A former reality show contestant whose study of societal collapse inspired him to invent a bow-and-arrow-cum-survivalist multi-tool. A pair of healthcare industry lobbyists. A lobbyist for defense contractors. An ‘evangelist’and lobbyist for Palantir, the Silicon Valley company with close ties to intelligence agencies. And a New Hampshire Trump supporter who has only recently graduated from high school. These are some of the people the Trump administration has hired for positions across the federal government. While [Trump] has not moved to fill many jobs that require Senate confirmation, he has quietly installed hundreds of officials to serve as his eyes and ears at every major federal agency, from the Pentagon to the Department of Interior. Unlike appointees exposed to the scrutiny of the Senate, members of these so-called ‘beachhead teams’ have operated largely in the shadows.”

ProPublica obtained a list of administration hires that includes obscure campaign staffers, contributors to Breitbart and others who have embraced conspiracy theories. There are also at least 36 lobbyists, spanning industries from health insurance and pharmaceuticals to construction, energy and finance. Many of them lobbied in the same areas that are regulated by the agencies they have now joined.” Check out the full list here.

-- EPA administrator Scott Pruitt is stacking his agency with skeptics of climate change who are intent on rolling back environmental regulations. The New York Times’ Coral Davenport reports: “Mr. Pruitt has drawn heavily from the staff of his friend and fellow Oklahoma Republican, Senator James Inhofe, long known as Congress’s most prominent skeptic of climate science. A former Inhofe chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, will be Mr. Pruitt’s chief of staff. Another former Inhofe staff member, Byron Brown, will serve as Mr. Jackson’s deputy. Andrew Wheeler, a fossil fuel lobbyist and a former Inhofe chief of staff, is a finalist to be Mr. Pruitt’s deputy, although he requires confirmation to the position by the Senate. To friends and critics, Mr. Pruitt seems intent on building an E.P.A. leadership that is fundamentally at odds with the career officials, scientists and employees who carry out the agency’s missions. That might be a recipe for strife and gridlock at the federal agency tasked to keep safe the nation’s clean air and water while safeguarding the planet’s future.”

-- Steven Mnuchin's picks to fill the top ranks of the Treasury Department have been stalled due to resistance from White House aides – including one recruit whose Twitter account was scrutinized for potential Trump criticism. Bloomberg's Robert Schmidt and Saleha Mohsin report: “Bogged down are Mnuchin's choices for his senior management team -- deputy secretary, undersecretaries for domestic finance and international affairs, general counsel and several other posts ... The impasse is fueling impatience inside a department eager to put its mark on issues ranging from international economic diplomacy at a Group of 20 meeting next week to a domestic tax overhaul that Mnuchin, 54, has promised will get done before September. The White House’s reasons for the holdups vary, but questions about loyalty to Trump played a role in at least two cases, some of the people said. Mnuchin has complained privately to friends that President Trump's advisers are hindering him as he tries to get the Treasury up and running.”

-- An organization owned by conservative billionaire Joe Ricketts, whose son has been nominated as deputy secretary of commerce, purchased Gothamist, a network of web sites covering cities from New York to Los Angeles. At some point either before or after the acquisition, Gothamist deleted critical coverage of Ricketts from its New York and Chicago sites. (Jezebel)

Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting in Moscow earlier today. (Pavel Golovkin/AFP/Getty Images)

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

--  A senior U.S. general accused Russia yesterday of deploying a land-based cruise missile in violation of "the spirit and intent" of a nuclear arms treaty, warning that the Kremlin is trying to threaten U.S. facilities in Europe and the NATO alliance. (AP)

-- U.S. and Ukrainian authorities have expressed interest in the activities of a Kiev-based operative with suspected ties to Russian intelligence who “consulted regularly” with former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort last year. Politico’s Kenneth P. Vogel and David Stern report: “The operative, Konstantin Kilimnik, came under scrutiny from officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the State Department partly because of at least two trips he took to the U.S. during the presidential campaign … Kilimnik, a joint Russian-Ukrainian citizen who trained in the Russian army as a linguist, told operatives in Kiev and Washington that he met with Manafort during an April trip to the United States. And, after a late summer trip to the U.S., Kilimnik suggested that he had played a role in gutting a proposed amendment to the Republican Party platform that would have staked out a more adversarial stance towards Russia …  The FBI declined to comment on Kilimnik, while the State Department did not respond to a request for comment. It’s unclear if either agency launched any kind of official inquiry into Kilimnik, nor is it clear whether the interest from the U.S. authorities is ongoing.”

-- Former national security adviser Michael Flynn earned $530,000 for consulting work last fall that may have helped benefit Turkey. USA Today’s Fredreka Schouten reports: “Flynn, fired last month from his White House post, formally registered as a foreign agent this week with the Justice Department and disclosed the details of his work for Inovo BV, a Dutch consulting firm owned by a Turkish businessman with ties to Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The new documents show Inovo wrote six-figure checks to Flynn's firm in September and October as he served as a top national security aide on Trump's campaign. The final payment of $145,000 came on Nov. 14, 2016, just days after Trump captured the presidency. Flynn's lawyer Robert Kelner said Flynn shut down his firm last year, but decided to register because his work for Inovo BV ‘could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.’”

-- Canadian-Russian relations took even more of a nosedive yesterday after our northern neighnor’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, accused Moscow of spreading disinformation about her grandfather. Freeland, a former journalist who was once Moscow bureau chief for the Financial Times of London before being banned from the country three years ago, says Moscow is behind web-spread stories alleging that her long-dead grandfather was a Nazi collaborator in occupied Poland. (Alan Freeman)

-- The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee wants to meet with Christopher Steele, the former British spy who authored the unsubstantiated dossier alleging that the Russian government had compromising material on Trump. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that he is “more than willing” to meet author Christopher Steele “in any manner that he is comfortable,” even if it meant connecting with him on his own turf instead of in the House Intelligence Committee’s hearing room. Schiff added that “other members of the committee would join me in that.” (Karoun Demirjian)

MORE ON THE TRUMP TAKEOVER:

-- “President Trump’s pledge to create a program that funds $1 trillion in new infrastructure programs has kicked off with numerous meetings but few firm decisions, beset by understaffing, bureaucratic challenges and major questions about how to pay for everything," Damian Paletta and John Wagner report: “Trump promised in a February speech to Congress that a $1 trillion infrastructure rebuilding plan would create ‘millions of new jobs,’ but few of those jobs are expected to materialize this year, because no firm deadlines have been set and much of the planning could spill into 2018. Despite those challenges, the White House’s infrastructure team has become one of its broadest task forces, with Trump considering it a central plank of his promise to create more jobs. He has activated a team of White House and Cabinet agency officials to identify a wide range of infrastructure projects across the United States and come up with a way to fund them, launching the internal deliberations to design the $1 trillion package he promised on the campaign trail. On Wednesday, Trump hosted an infrastructure-focused luncheon with SpaceX founder Elon Musk, General Atlantic chief executive William Ford and a number of others.” The quick shift from popular campaign promise to the bogged-down bureaucratic negotiation process is the latest test of Trump’s ability to pivot from thematic ideas to concrete action. And on infrastructure in particular, he faces challenges selling fellow GOP lawmakers on his plans once they do jell. 

-- Trading butter for guns: The Trump administration is considering more than $6 billion in cuts at the Department of Housing and Urban Development – potentially moving to squeeze public housing support and end most federally funded community development grants, which provide services such as meal assistance and cleanup of abandoned properties in low-income neighborhoods. This is the latest proofpoint that Trump is serious about slashing domestic spending by $54 billion to fund a defense build-up. “Budgets for public housing authorities — city and state agencies that provide subsidized housing and vouchers to local residents — would be among the hardest hit," Jose DelReal reports. "Under the preliminary budget, those operational funds would be reduced by $600 million, or 13 percent. … The proposal would also reshape the federal government’s involvement in local community development, potentially eliminating a decades-old program that funnels federal dollars into programs that combat poverty and urban decline, and fund other local improvement efforts.”

-- The Senate voted 59-40 to overturn Obama-era regulations on teacher preparation, rolling back efforts that require each state to issue annual ratings for teacher-prep programs within their borders. The House has already voted to repeal the regulations, and the White House supports the effort. (Emma Brown)

-- Two Democratic congressmen who met with Trump this week said he told them privately that he would agree to support their bill to allow the government to negotiate on behalf of Medicare when buying prescription drugs. Carolyn Y. Johnson reports: Reps. Elijah E. Cummings and Peter Welch said they had procured Trump’s support for their measure after nearly an hour-long meeting on Wednesday. “I’m going to join with you' — those are his exact words — to make this happen," Cummings said in a post-meeting conference call. "He felt that it was important that we address this issue head on. As a matter of fact, I would again describe his position as being enthusiastic." In a statement, the White House said Trump wanted to work together in a bipartisan fashion to make prescription drugs more affordable, but the statement did not specifically say that the president would support the bill they left for him to review.

-- Jeff Sessions has formally directed federal prosecutors to “use every tool we have” to target most violent offenders in the country, urging prosecutors to “aggressively” laws regarding firearms, robbery, carjacking and drug offenses as tools to bring investigations and prosecutions against suspected criminals. “Sessions’s memo to his prosecutors follows a speech he gave last month to state attorneys general in which he said that historically low crime rates might be coming to an end and that recent crime increases could foreshadow a violent new period in the nation’s history,” Sari Horwitz reports

Lindsey Graham may have had lunch with Trump, but he is not messing around. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

WIRETAPPING FALLOUT:

-- Two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked the FBI and Justice Department to hand over any potential warrant applications related to possible wiretaps of the Trump team, following up on the president's unsubstantiated allegations against his predecessor. Karoun Demirjian reports: The letter, penned by Sens. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Sheldon Whitehouse, asks the agencies for “copies of any warrant applications and court orders — redacted as necessary ... related to wiretaps of President Trump, the Trump Campaign, or Trump Tower.” “We would take any abuse of wiretapping authorities for political purposes very seriously,” they wrote. “We would be equally alarmed to learn that a court found enough evidence of criminal activity or contact with a foreign power to legally authorize a wiretap of President Trump.”

-- Ex-Trump aides say the New York businessman has long been worried about people “listening in” on his calls and expressed “regular” concern that his Trump Organization phone lines were not secure. The AP reports: “At times he talked about possible listening devices and worried that he was being monitored, two executives said. In other times, he was doing the monitoring. One of the executives said Trump occasionally taped his own phone conversations using an old-school tape recorder, although Trump once denied this. ‘I assume when I pick up my telephone, people are listening to my conversations anyway, if you want to know the truth,’ Trump told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt [in 2015]. ‘It’s pretty sad commentary, but I err on the side of security.’”

-- Trump's White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and Obama's former White House chief of staff, Denis McDonough, have spoken since Trump claimed Obama had him wiretapped, per CNN's Jeff Zeleny and Kevin Liptak. “There have also been conversations between other former Obama officials and Trump officials since Saturday.”

-- “WikiLeaks disclosure exposes rapid growth of CIA digital operations — and agency vulnerabilities,” by Greg Miller, Ellen Nakashima and Julie Tate: “On his workplace bio, he describes himself as a ‘malt beverage enthusiast,’ [and] a fitness buff fond of carrying a backpack full of bricks … He is also a cyberwarrior for the CIA, an experienced hacker whose résumé lists assignments at clandestine branches devoted to finding vulnerabilities in smartphones and penetrating the computer defenses of the Russian government. The trove of documents exposed by WikiLeaks provides an unprecedented view of the scale and structure of this operation, which encompasses at least 36 distinct branches devoted to cracking the espionage potential of cellphones, communication apps and computer networks supposedly sealed off from the Internet. But in their descriptions of elaborate exploits and sketches of specific employees, the documents also point to the CIA’s vulnerabilities. As much as it is organized to exploit the pervasive presence of digital technology abroad, the CIA’s own secrets are increasingly created, acquired or stored on computer files that can be copied in an instant.”

Ivanka Trump talks with other guests at a luncheon in honor of International Women's Day. (Shawn Thew/EPA)

THE FIRST FAMILY:

-- Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are renting their Washington home from a Chilean billionaire who is currently suing the United States government over a Minnesota mine. The Wall Street Journal reports: “The six-bedroom house in the capital’s Kalorama neighborhood was bought for $5.5 million in late December by a company controlled by [business titan] Andrónico Luksic … The Obama administration in its waning days blocked a Luksic-company plan to build a giant copper-and-nickel mine adjacent to a Minnesota wilderness area, citing environmental concerns. The company and some Minnesota politicians are urging the Trump administration to reverse the decision. A White House spokeswoman said that the family was paying 'fair market value,' that the mining issue has never come up, and that the two were not aware of Luksic’s U.S. business interests at the time they agreed to rent the house."

 -- While China slowly comes to terms with a Trump-led White House, his daughter Ivanka has never been more popular. Simon Denyer reports from Beijing: “Chinese companies have been scrambling to add her name to their products since her father won the U.S. presidential election in November. There’s even a new Chinese cosmetic-surgery firm offering the chance to look a little more like her. An astounding 258 trademark applications were lodged under variations of Ivanka, Ivanka Trump and similar-sounding Chinese characters between Nov. 10 and the end of last year … The trademark applications cover a dizzying array of products, including diet pills, anti-wrinkle cream, spa services, massage machines, cosmetic surgery, underwear and sanitary napkins. Ivanka, of course, has her own line of fashion items and has registered nine trademarks in China, with 26 applications pending and three rejected. But many other companies want to take advantage of her fame.”

-- Public opinion of Melania has spiked since her husband took office, according to a new CNN/ORC poll: Favorability ratings for the new first lady have risen 16 points during her time in the White House, and a full 52 percent majority now report having a favorable opinion of her. (Pre-inauguration, just 36 percent of Americans said they approved.)

DIVIDED AMERICA:  

-- FiveThirtyEight, “Purple America Has All But Disappeared,” by David Wasserman: “If you feel like you hardly know anyone who disagrees with you about Trump, you’re not alone: Chances are the election was a landslide in your backyard. More than 61 percent of voters cast ballots in counties that gave either Clinton or Trump at least 60 percent of the major-party vote last November. That’s up from 50 percent of voters who lived in such counties in 2012 and 39 percent in 1992 — an accelerating trend that confirms that America’s political fabric, geographically, is tearing apart.” Consider these three remarkable data points from the story:

  • Of the nation’s 3,113 counties (or county equivalents), just 303 were decided by single-digit margins — less than 10 percent. In contrast, 1,096 counties fit that description in 1992, even though that election featured a wider national spread.
  • During the same period, the number of extreme landslide counties — those decided by margins exceeding 50 percentage points — exploded from 93 to 1,196, or over a third of the nation’s counties.
  • Between 1992 and 2016, the share of voters living in extreme landslide counties quintupled from 4 percent to 21 percent.

“In an increasing number of communities like Baldwin County, Alabama, which gave Trump 80 percent of its major-party votes, and San Mateo, California, which gave Clinton 80 percent, an entire generation of youth will grow up without much exposure to alternative political points of view. If you think our political climate is toxic now, think for a moment about how nasty politics could be 20 or 30 years from now.

-- “Gov. Joe Piscopo? Candidates in two states try to use lessons learned from Trump,” by John Wagner: “The appeal of [Trump]-style populism could soon be tested by another celebrity candidate with no governing experience: Joe Piscopo. The former [‘SNL’] cast member best known for his impersonation of Frank Sinatra is ‘very close’ to jumping into the New Jersey governor’s race, inspired in part by his interactions with ‘real Americans’ while on the campaign trail with Trump. Piscopo’s possible bid reflects the maneuvering in New Jersey and Virginia — the two states with gubernatorial contests this year — by candidates from both parties, who are trying to capitalize on lessons learned from Trump’s strong performance among working-class voters. And some are mimicking him in other ways. [One hopeful] … told a story with some Trumpian bluster that involved a member of the clergy who described New Jersey as ‘a humble valley in the shadow of New York and Philadelphia.’ ... 'When the event was over, I went up to the clergy and kicked him right in the shins,' he said. “We are a cultural, economic and intellectual powerhouse … we are not going to be [second-rate] … to anybody.'"

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Some scenes from the all-nighter health care markups:

A Republican from Texas offered to buy all the Democrats food from Waffle House if they stopped using delay tactics:

Rick Perry talks with Ted Cruz before being sworn in as the Energy secretary last week. (Erik S. Lesser/EPA)

Ted and Heidi Cruz had dinner with Trump last night. That's awkward for lots of reasons. Less than a year ago, the president had this to say:

And he retweeted this picture of Mrs. Cruz, compared to his own wife:

Some reactions:

Another #ThrowbackThursday from a staffer to Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.):

This Kentucky Democrat has some words ahead of Trump's expected trip to the Bluegrass State this weekend:

International Women's Day was a hot topic on social media:

House Democrats celebrated outside the Capitol:

Sen. Chuck Schumer shared this snap with the women of his staff:

So did Sen. Angus King (I-Vt.):

And Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.):

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) shows off some mail:

It's not quite a cat video:

Conservative women pushed back:

Though some celebrated the day too. This is Rick Santorum's daughter:

Ivanka Trump went to the U.N. to celebrate women's day:

The Women's March account got endlessly mocked for this fuzzy math tweet:

The Colombian Embassy delivered flowers to leading women around Washington:

Hmmmm...

Neither did Obama...

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- Washingtonian, “Is Katrina Pierson Actually Doing Anything?,” by Elaina Plott: “On the eve of President Trump’s State of the Union address, Katrina Pierson strolls into the Trump Hotel lobby, her face buried in her gold bedazzled phone. She’s just arrived from a Fox News hit, and the suit-clad men gathered at the bar, sipping Manhattans, notice.  But the election has come and gone … and Pierson now finds herself helping run America First Policies, the nonprofit ostensibly organized to promote Trump’s agenda. The group has had little discernible movement since its launch in January and has only now, Pierson says, settled on a location for its headquarters (she can’t remember exactly where it is). She admits the group hasn’t ‘done anything exciting yet,’ but, with a flourish that would make her former boss glow, she says it has ‘some opportunities to do some really great things in the future.’ It’s all terrifically vague and unglamorous for someone who once championed her role as team Trump’s most visible player. Yet Pierson swears she’s exactly where she wants to be.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“‘American Idol’ Star Says She ‘Chose’ To Be Straight After 2-Year Gay Stint,” from HuffPost: “Less than a year after noting she ‘doesn’t agree’ with the LGBTQ ‘lifestyle’ ‘American Idol’ alum La’Porsha Renae made some startling claims about her own sexuality.  Renae, who lost to Trent Harmon on the final season of Idol, responded to a Twitter user’s claims that she was homophobic early Wednesday. ‘…I chose to be heterosexual after being homosexual for 2 years. I chose a belief system that felt TRUE to my spirit,’ [she said in a tweet].” Later, the 23-year-old singer clarified her  remarks: “’I decided to be heterosexual because I felt like that’s the life God intended me to live.’ ‘My response to your skepticism is that many people walk many different strokes of life,” she wrote. “Some people believe they chose homosexuality and some believe they didn’t. Who’s to say one is wrong? It’s not fair to generalize anyone’s sexuality or walk of life.’”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Ann Arbor woman pleads guilty to making up hate crime,” from Michigan Live: “A 21-year-old Ann Arbor woman pleaded guilty as charged to one count of false report of a misdemeanor in 15th District Court on Monday, March 6. Halley Bass admitted in court that she fabricated a story about a strange man scratching her face in downtown Ann Arbor on Nov. 15.At the time, Bass claimed her attack was part of the surge in hate crimes following the election of Donald Trump a week earlier. She told police she was targeted for wearing a solidarity pin connected to Great Britain's ‘Brexit’ vote. Bass admitted to scratching her own face with the pin after becoming upset during a Woman's Literature class at the University of Michigan, according to the Ann Arbor Police Department report. “…I made up a story and told a friend that a stranger had done it while I was walking,” she told the judge. “I was encouraged to report it to the police. I made the mistake of doing that."

 

DAYBOOK:

At the White House: Trump will lead an NEC listening session with CEOs of small and community banks, hold a legislative affairs lunch regarding the Federal budget, and meet with former Secretary of Commerce Pete Peterson. Later in the afternoon, Trump will meet with Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Later, Trump will make remarks to the Senate Youth Program.

Pence will conduct a series of regional radio interviews focused on the American Health Care Act before traveling to Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers. Later, he will give the keynote address to the Latino Coalition’s “Make Small Business Great Again Policy Summit,” and conduct an interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

The executive director of a school choice advocacy group founded by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos resigned from his post after saying that he wanted to “shake” a public official “like I like to shake my wife.” His remarks came as he testified before the Michigan Senate Education Committee -- whose membership is all male – and likened a public official’s actions to his wife’s inability to pick a dinner restaurant. (Valerie Strauss)

 

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

-- The warmest day we’ll see this week (so enjoy it while you can!). Today’s Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Sunshine dominates through the day and highs in the upper 60s to lower 70s add up to a pleasant combination. Winds from the west are likely to gust to 25 mph, whipping up dust, pollen and the occasional flurry of tree blossoms.”

-- The National Park Service yesterday predicted that peak bloom for cherry blossoms would occur between March 19 and March 22, which is five days later than the original forecast last week. Officials cited recent temperatures, the progression of the blooms and the seven-day forecast.

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Jimmy Kimmel breaks down Obama's casual wear:

Watch Obama and Trump talk wire-tapping:

Stephen Colbert's predicts dire consequences from the GOP's health care plan:

Watch this GOP lawmaker talk about how tanning beds harm women (and point to International Women's Day):

Watch this Texas Democrat demand Trump's tax returns (no dice):

This daycare worker was caught on tape pushing a child down the stairs: