February was the first full month of Trump’s term, but it was also the 77th consecutive month of job growth. Most economists say the 235,000 figure merely reflects the continuation of longer-term trends and caution against attributing too much to Trump at this stage of his presidency.
But that won’t stop Trump, who called the BLS numbers a hoax during the campaign, from celebrating them as a validation of his policies and agenda. He already did so last month, even though January’s jobs report was based on data largely collected before his inauguration.
That was a small illustration of a larger pattern that’s played out across the government over the past seven weeks. (Today is Trump’s 50th day in office.)
-- A reporter asked Sean Spicer to react to North Korea’s latest provocations during a briefing earlier this week. “The Trump administration is taking steps to enhance our ability to defend against North Korea’s ballistic missiles,” the press secretary replied, “such as through the deployment of a THAAD battery to South Africa.” Realizing he misspoke, Spicer corrected himself: “South Korea!”
In fact, the Obama administration began discussing the deployment of this advanced missile defense system more than a year ago and reached an agreement with Seoul to do so last July. Barack Obama touted the program at the top of a speech in Laos last September, and the Pentagon had already expedited the delivery.
Moreover, the system is still not operational. “Several key details of the deployment have not yet been finalized, and the land where the battery will be housed is not yet ready,” Dam Lamothe reports. “But South Korean defense officials said they would keep the equipment at the U.S. air base at Osan until the site is ready.”
None of that stopped Spicer from talking about THAAD again the next day as if it was somehow Trump’s idea. “We stand shoulder to shoulder with Japan and South Korea in doing what we can to protect that region,” he said, responding to China’s complaints about THAAD without mentioning that it had been in the works for a while.
Something similar happens whenever Trump discusses his defense build-up. Obama's budget last year already included a major boost for military spending in the 2018 fiscal year. When Trump calls for a 10 percent increase, he’s using the 2017 fiscal year as a baseline. When the more accurate benchmark is used, what he describes as a bold increase is actually modest. In fact, it looks much more like the Obama plan than he’d ever want to acknowledge.
-- Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross held a press conference on Tuesday to announce that the Chinese cellphone equipment maker ZTE agreed to plead guilty and pay $892 million to settle allegations that it violated American laws on selling technology to Iran.
This deal was primarily investigated and negotiated by the Obama team.
Not only did Spicer overstate the size of the plea deal during his briefing later in the day (he called it “a record-high … $1.19 billion”), he portrayed it as Trump following through on a campaign promise. “This settlement tells the world that the days of flouting the U.S. sanctions regime or violating U.S. trade laws are over,” Spicer said. “President Trump is committed to ending the disrespect of American laws and American workers.”
-- Trump has repeatedly taken credit for an agreement to reduce the cost of the F-35 jet fighter that was negotiated before his inauguration. “We've saved taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars by bringing down the price,” he claimed during his speech to Congress last week. “The cost savings he persists in bragging about were secured in full or large part before he became president,” the Associated Press reports. “The head of the Air Force program announced significant price reductions in the contract for the Lockheed F-35 fighter jet Dec. 19 — after Trump had tweeted about the cost but weeks before he met the company's CEO about it. Pentagon managers took action even before the election to save money on the contract. Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with the aerospace consulting firm Teal Group, said there is no evidence of any additional cost savings as a result of Trump's actions.”
-- Trump took credit for a small decline in the national debt that he had absolutely nothing to do with. The Saturday morning before last, Trump was watching Fox News and saw Herman Cain repeat a peculiar claim that he’d read on a conservative blog. The national debt, he said, had declined by $12 billion during Trump’s first month in office. Trump quickly tweeted what he’d heard on television as fact:
But the new president has yet to make any changes in spending policy or tax rates that would have any impact on this number. "Considering that Trump hasn’t enacted any fiscal legislation, it’s a bit of a stretch for him to take credit for any changes in debt levels," Dan Mitchell, a libertarian economist and senior fellow at the Cato Institute, told Politifact, which rated Trump’s claim mostly false. "Debt levels go up and down in the short run based on independent factors such as quarterly tax payments and predetermined expenditure patterns.”
Several experts told the fact-checking site that Trump’s policies are almost certain to grow the national debt over time. "I wonder what he thinks he did to bring this about," said Harvard University government professor Jeffrey Frankel. "This one-month number is trivial in the long-run trend. The national debt will rise this year and in future years. It will rise at a sharply accelerated rate if Trump carries out even half of his campaign promises for specific tax cuts (and specific spending increases). Will he be willing to be judged by the debt numbers in the future?"
-- The most egregious examples of Trump claiming credit where it is not due relate to jobs. Most of the corporate expansions Trump has hyped predate his presidency and were already publicized during the previous administration.
This week’s most notable example is ExxonMobil. The media focused on the White House cribbing language from a press release sent by the oil company, which went out sent just hours after Trump met with former Exxon CEO and current secretary of state Rex Tillerson. But the underlying story was that Trump explicitly took credit for an investment decision that was made years before he won the election. “I’m very pleased to announce the great company ExxonMobil is going to be investing $20 billion in the Gulf Coast and the Gulf Coast region,” Trump said in a Monday video message on Facebook. “This was something that was done to a large extent because of our policies and the policies of this new administration having to do with regulators and so many other things.”
The oil behemoth itself acknowledged that these investments actually began four years ago, in 2013, and are expected to continue through at least 2022. The biggest piece is an LNG plant that’s well underway, Bloomberg reports. While $20 billion may seem like a lot to you, it represents only 10 percent of the company’s current capital spending levels.
-- “Trump’s bravado on these jobs announcements is becoming a bad joke,” WaPo Fact Checker Michelle Ye Hee Lee observes in a new post this morning about the president’s pattern of embellishment. “Among the many problems with this exercise is that hiring pledges aren’t binding. Plans change, and the jobs don’t always come to fruition. For example, in 2013, Foxconn announced it would create 500 jobs at a new high-tech factory in central Pennsylvania. The factory was never built, and the jobs never came, The Washington Post’s Todd Frankel reported. Yet the company recently announced a plan to invest $7 billion and hire up to 50,000 workers — a plan that Trump then touted.”
-- Six other choice examples, via Michelle:
- Fiat Chrysler announced its plan to invest $1 billion in Michigan and Ohio plants and create 2,000 jobs. The CEO said it had been in the works for more than a year and had nothing to do with Trump.
- Ford expanded in Michigan rather than in Mexico. But it had more to do with a strategic decision related to investing in electric vehicles than any administration policy.
- Walmart said it would create 10,000 jobs in the United States in 2017, but this was part of a $6.8 billion capital spending plan announced in October.
- Intel announced it would create at least 10,000 jobs at a “new” plant in Arizona. But the chipmaker already announced this factory in 2011 with Obama. It just hadn’t opened yet.
- SoftBank, the Japanese company that owns a controlling stake in Sprint, announced a $100 billion technology investment fund three weeks before the election. It merely announced, as expected, that half of the money would be spent in the U.S.
- When Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce company, pledged to create 1 million U.S. jobs, Trump said that until he got elected they had “no intention” of investing in the United States. But, in 2015, CEO Jack Ma had done just that and outlined a similar plan.
“Trump has promised to create 10 million jobs over the next four years, and that ultimately is what he will be judged on,” Michelle concludes. “All the job announcements in the world will mean little if actual hiring does not (eventually) turn up in the monthly reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- South Korean President Park Geun-hye was removed from office, after the Constitutional Court unanimously upheld a parliamentary vote to impeach her for her role in a wide-ranging corruption and influence-peddling scandal. Anna Fifield reports: “The decision marks a historic moment in a country that adopted democracy only 30 years ago, with peaceful protest leading to the removal of an elected leader. But supporters of Park wasted no time in venting their anger Friday morning, clashing with riot police and breaching cordons around the court. One protester died in the throng outside the court." Elections for a new president will be held within 60 days. Current polls show progressive candidate Moon Jae-in holding a strong lead over conservatives.
-- German police said one arrest has been made in a Düsseldorf train station ax attack, which left seven people injured and three victims seriously harmed. Authorities don't think the incident is terrorism-related. Anthony Faiola and Rick Noack report: “Authorities identified the suspect as a 36-year-old man ... He originally moved to Germany from the former Yugoslavia and ‘apparently has mental issues,’ according to a police statement." He was detained after jumping from a bridge following the incident.
-- “NFL abuse of painkillers and other drugs described in court filings,” by Rick Maese: “National Football League teams violated federal laws governing prescription drugs, disregarded guidance from the Drug Enforcement Administration on how to store, track, transport and distribute controlled substances, and plied their players with powerful painkillers and anti-inflammatories each season, according to sealed court documents (reviewed by The Washington Post). …The sealed material … provides a rare look into the league’s relationship with drugs and how team doctors manage the pain inherent in a bruising sport to keep players on the field.” The filing asserts that ‘every doctor deposed so far … has testified that they violated one or more’ federal drug laws and regulations. At times, team medical staff displayed a cavalier attitude toward federal guidelines that govern dispensing medicine. In August 2009, for example, Paul Sparling, the Cincinnati Bengals’ head trainer, wrote in an email: ‘Can you have your office fax a copy of your DEA certificate to me? I need it for my records when the NFL ‘pill counters’ come to see if we are doing things right. Don’t worry, I’m pretty good at keeping them off the trail!’"
-- The Redskins fired General Manager Scot McCloughan last night, ousting him two seasons into a four-year contract after weeks of speculation. Sources attributed the decision to McCloughan’s ongoing problem with alcohol. (Liz Clarke, John Woodrow Cox, Mike Jones and Master Tesfatsion)
GET SMART FAST:
- A U.S. military investigation has determined that an American-led military raid in Yemen killed “up to a dozen” civilians, offering the most specific admission yet that the Trump-ordered operation in January resulted in unintended loss of life. Yemeni reports put the civilian death toll as high as 30. (Missy Ryan)
- Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D), who sued successfully to block Trump’s first travel ban, asked a federal judge to declare that the previous freeze applies to the revised measure. He’s arguing that the new order imposes many of the same harms as the first one. (Matt Zapotosky)
- Pope Francis said the Catholic Church must study whether it is possible to ordain married men to minister in remote communities, expressing an openness to reexamining whether so-called “viri probati” is a possibility to help curb a priest shortage. (AP)
- A Canadian federal judge who asked a rape victim why she couldn’t “just keep your knees together” resigned this week, following a scathing judicial panel report that called for his removal. (Derek Hawkins)
- A constellation of small “pay-to-stay” jails is on the rise in California, allowing wealthy convicts the option of serving out their sentences in safer, cushier digs – equipped with amenities such as flat-screen TVs and computer rooms. (LA Times)
- Los Angeles police detectives recently paid a visit to the home of celebrity fitness guru Richard Simmons, confirming that he is indeed “perfectly fine” and “very happy” after his abrupt retreat from the public eye. Interest in the reclusive celebrity has prompted a string of unlikely but persistent rumors – including that his housekeeper is holding him hostage – as well as a new podcast series. (Travis M. Andrews)
- The defendant in a 2015 murder case has allowed Amazon to release information from his Echo smart-home device as possible evidence, raising a host of new and fascinating questions about the intersection of privacy and technology in the digital age. (Amy B Wang)
- Scientists said they are one-third of the way to synthesizing the complete genome of baker's yeast, a significant advance towards successfully creating the world’s first “designer” complex cell. (Sarah Kaplan)
- Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) announced he will seek reelection, telling CNN that both Trump and Mitch McConnell have urged him to seek an eighth term. His spokesman tried to walk it back and pretend that he hasn’t actually made a “final” decision so that the campaign can drum up press attention for a later announcement. (The Salt Lake Tribune)
- Arnold Schwarzenegger, who will not return to host "The Celebrity Apprentice" next season because of its terrible ratings, is now looking for something to do with his time. The former California governor is not ruling out a 2018 bid for Senate in California as an independent, hopeful that his feud with Trump would keep him from getting tainted by a GOP brand that is toxic in the state. But he has lots of baggage, having alienated conservatives during his rocky tenure in Sacramento and would likely struggle to raise enough money to be viable. (Politico)
- Mark Halperin and John Heilemann are writing a third “Game Change” book about the 2016 campaign, and HBO is making an accompanying miniseries. The yet-to-be-named project will be produced by “All the Way” executive producer Jay Roach, Gary Goetzman and Tom Hanks. Still unclear: who will be cast for the roles of Trump and Hillary Clinton. (Emily Heil)
- A Honolulu-bound Hawaiian Airlines flight was diverted after an “unruly” passenger threatened to take a member of the crew "behind the woodshed" to retaliate for having to pay $12 to get an in-flight blanket. (Lindsey Bever)
- A Boston veterans council that barred a gay veterans group from participating in a St. Patrick’s Day parade is under siege, with an American Legion post withdrawing from the council and yet another parade corporate sponsor threatening to drop its support. (Boston Globe A1)
- An anonymous donor paid $1 million to fund New York Times subscriptions for public school students. The influx came as part of a “sponsor-a-subscription” program, which has garnered more than 15,500 donations and provided access to the paper to some 1.3 million students. (The Hill)
- School officials in Rockville, Md., are investigating swastikas drawn on two student desks at a middle school. The incident comes days after another anti-Semitic event prompted alarm. (Donna St. George)
THERE'S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- FBI investigators and computer scientists are continuing to examine whether there was a computer server connection between the Trump Organization and a Russian bank, CNN’s Pamela Brown and Jose Pagliery report: “Questions about the possible connection were widely dismissed four months ago. But the FBI's investigation remains open, sources said, and is in the hands of the FBI's counterintelligence team -- the same one looking into Russia's suspected interference in the 2016 election. Internet data shows that last summer, a computer server owned by Russia-based Alfa Bank repeatedly looked up the contact information for a computer server being used by the Trump Organization -- far more than other companies did, representing 80% of all lookups to the Trump server.” It’s unclear, however, if the Trump Organization server itself ever did anything in return – and investigators have not yet determined whether a connection would be significant.
-- FBI Director James Comey visited Capitol Hill yesterday, huddling with top lawmakers from the “Gang of Eight” and Intelligence Committee as pressure grows on the Justice Department to either substantiate or denounce Trump’s accusation that Obama wiretapped his phones during the presidential race. Karoun Demirjian reports: “Comey’s trip to Capitol Hill comes as lawmakers are divided — not always along party lines — over whether the director is keeping the Gang of Eight adequately informed about the intelligence the FBI and Justice Department have collected that could bear on the congressional investigation into alleged Trump-Russia ties.”
-- “Trump in Palm Beach: Why did Russian pay so much for his mansion?” by The Palm Beach Post’s Alexandra Clough and John Pacenti: “Why did a Russian oligarch pay now-President Trump $95 million for his Palm Beach mansion? Almost a decade later, the answer is less clear than it was at the time of the sale, the largest price paid for a Palm Beach home. In 2008, Dmitry Rybolovlev bought the Palm Beach mansion owned by Trump for $13 million more than the most expensive Palm Beach mansion sale up to that moment. It’s been almost a decade since the sale, but the transaction is newsworthy again as new questions surround contacts between members of Trump’s administration and Russian government officials. On Friday, a [spokesman] said his client … [purchased the former mansion] for his family’s trust.But this is not what Rybolovlev’s representatives said in 2008 … In 2008, Rybolovlev characterized the purchase as a company investment: ‘This acquisition is simply an investment in real estate by one of the companies in which I have an interest,’ Rybolovlev said at the time through a spokesman for Uralkali, the fertilizer company he previously owned. Rybolovlev added that he didn’t plan to live in the United States.”
-- WikiLeaks pledged to release software codes of CIA hacking tools to tech firms, founder Julian Assange said on Thursday, attempting to position himself as a defender of cybersecurity and further antagonizing the intelligence community. Ellen Nakashima, Elizabeth Dwoskin and Devlin Barrett report: “We have decided to work with” the firms, Assange said Thursday at a news conference, “to give them some exclusive access to the additional technical details we have so that fixes can be developed and pushed out, so that people can be secured.” “Once the patches are sent out — or, as Assange put it, ‘once this material is effectively disarmed by us’ — WikiLeaks will release more details publicly, he said. Assange’s remarks come two days after the radical transparency site put up a cache of files describing secret CIA hacking techniques and tools aimed at, for instance, seizing control of iPhones and Google’s Android phones, turning some Samsung television sets into bugging devices and getting data from devices not connected to the Internet.”
THE OBAMACARE BATTLE:
-- The Republican proposal to revise the Affordable Care Act cleared two House committees yesterday, as Trump and other top GOP lawmakers tried to tamp down backlash over the plan. Mike DeBonis, Kelsey Snell and Sean Sullivan have the state of play: “Trump met with conservative critics of the plan, signaling both a willingness to negotiate its details and that it does not yet have enough votes to emerge from the House. More acknowledgment of the proposal’s problems came from Senate Republicans, who suggested Thursday that the measure is moving too quickly through the House and in a form unlikely to succeed if it gets to the upper chamber. The GOP proposal cleared the Ways and Means and the Energy and Commerce committees on party-line votes after marathon sessions that lasted through Wednesday night and into Thursday. It now heads to yet another panel, the Budget Committee, and it remains on track to land on the House floor by month’s end. But the proposal faces challenges with both GOP conservatives and moderates, in addition to Democrats, many of whom questioned the lightning-fast process and raised dueling qualms about its policy provisions.”
In an unusual news conference broadcast on television Thursday, Paul Ryan gave a 23-minute PowerPoint presentation on the House bill – which he framed as a “binary choice” for GOP lawmakers. “We as Republicans have been waiting seven years to do this,” Ryan said. “This is the closest we will ever get to repealing and replacing Obamacare.”
-- A male GOP lawmaker from Illinois asked during a hearing why men should pay for prenatal coverage. “I’m just … is that not correct?” Rep. John Shimkus said. “And should they?” Video of his remarks quickly began circulating on social media. (Elise Viebeck)
-- The current GOP proposal would eliminate a requirement that Medicaid cover basic mental-health and addiction services in states that expanded Medicaid, allowing states to decide for themselves whether to include those benefits. Katie Zezima and Christopher Ingraham report: “House Republicans confirmed the benefit cuts during a meeting of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday. Republicans on the committee argue that the change would give states additional flexibility in coverage decisions, and believe they would continue to provide addiction and mental-health coverage to Medicaid recipients if needed.” Nearly 1.3 million people currently receive treatment for mental-health and substance abuse disorders under the Medicaid expansion, according to an estimate by health care economists.
THE TRUMP TAKEOVER:
-- EPA administrator Scott Pruitt strongly rejected the established science of climate change in an interview on Thursday – causing outrage across the scientific community. “I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” Pruitt said on CNBC. “But we don’t know that yet. We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.” Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis note that "his comments represented a startling statement for an official so high in the U.S. government, putting him at odds not only with other countries around the globe but also with the official scientific findings of the agency he now leads."
-- Trump angered veterans' groups by sending Omarosa Manigault to a White House meeting in his place: “For the assembled veterans’ service organizations, which have a combined membership of about six million veterans, the missed connection with the president was the latest in a series of puzzling interactions with the Trump administration,” The Daily Beast’s Patricia Murphy writes. "Despite Trump’s audacious campaign promises to them, including a commitment to overhaul the long-troubled Veterans Administration and vow to ‘do everything for veterans,’ Trump himself has still not met face-to-face with veterans groups since he was elected president.” The meeting was not on Trump’s official schedule, but several attendees said they “fully thought” they would have met with Trump by this point in the administration.
- Buzzfeed just posted a profile of Omarosa (“The Gatekeeper"): “Best known for her turn on The Apprentice, Manigault — a former Democrat turned ‘Trumplican’ — now holds an important position inside the White House. Her rise has sent black Republicans into an existential crisis as they find themselves trying to get a seat at the table.”
-- Jeff Sessions said he is in favor of bringing new enemy combatants to Guantanamo Bay, reversing eight years of Obama-era policy aimed at eventually shuttering the military prison facility. The AG also said he supports trying detainees there instead of in federal courts, calling the facility a “very fine place” for holding dangerous criminals. (Ellen Nakashima)
-- Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has begun taking “extraordinary measures” to delay the U.S. government from defaulting on its obligations, and he is urging Congress to lift the debt ceiling “at its first opportunity.” Damian Paletta reports: “Mnuchin, in a letter to Paul Ryan, said Treasury was now suspending the sale of certain state and local securities, a practice the federal government normally performs to assist with tax policies. Treasury will soon likely suspend payments to certain pension funds as it tries to delay, as long as possible, falling behind on other payments. Eventually, though, it will run out of options and not have enough money to pay its bills. ‘As I said in my confirmation hearing, honoring the full faith and credit of our outstanding debt is a critical commitment,’ Mnuchin wrote to Ryan. ‘I encourage Congress to raise the debt limit at the first opportunity so we can proceed with our joint priorities.’” Budget experts believe that if the debt ceiling isn’t raised by August or September, Treasury will run out of steps to delay default, forcing a Republican White House and Congress to face several difficult choices.
-- GOP lawmakers are quietly moving to advance key elements of tort reform. Kimberly Kindy reports: “House Republicans are advancing a series of bills that would make changes to the civil justice system long sought by doctors and U.S. corporations, including a cap on some medical malpractice awards and new roadblocks for classes of people seeking to sue jointly to address harm. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups are promoting the measures, arguing that courts have grown overly tolerant of frivolous and fraudulent claims. Civil rights and consumer groups oppose the measures, saying they would severely limit the ability of average Americans to pursue legal remedies from powerful institutions. One proposal would limit monetary awards in medical malpractice suits to $250,000 for noneconomic damages, which include pain and suffering. Most Democrats oppose the measures, arguing that they would slam shut the courthouse doors to deserving plaintiffs. Many also complained that GOP leaders were moving the bills through the Capitol at breakneck speed, without the close analysis and public debate typically afforded major legislation.”
-- “Fair-housing advocates and experts in urban policy say that significant cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development could be devastating to cities and low-income families across the country, probably stalling backlogged repairs at public-housing units and driving down the availability of subsidized housing vouchers," Jose A. DelReal reports: “The Trump administration has considered more than $6 billion in cuts to HUD’s budget, according to preliminary 2018 budget documents … According to the document, federal budget officials have discussed billions of dollars in reductions to public maintenance funds and have considered eliminating several community development grants that fund such services as meal assistance and cleaning up abandoned properties. In an email to HUD staff Thursday, Secretary Ben Carson emphasized that budget negotiations between the department and the White House are ‘currently underway’ and that the numbers being considered could change. ‘It’s unfortunate that preliminary numbers were published out but please take some comfort in knowing that starting numbers are rarely final numbers,’ Carson wrote.”
-- President Trump has cancelled “multiple” open press events this week, opting not to let reporters in the room to ask him questions. CNN Money reports: “On Tuesday, the White House canceled a scheduled Oval Office press event known as a ‘pool spray’ with Trump and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. On Thursday, it canceled one that was scheduled to take place during a luncheon with members of Congress. The moves have allowed the president to avoid questions about a litany of issues, including the Wikileaks CIA dump and Trump's wiretap accusations. White House deputy press secretary Stephanie Grisham said the cancellations 'were game time decisions' made by her, saying the rooms were 'too full' to accommodate press and equipment."
CONFLICTS OF INTEREST WATCH:
-- The owners of a popular Washington wine bar filed a lawsuit against the president this week, saying the newly-opened Trump International Hotel constitutes unfair competition that damages their business. Jonathan O'Connell reports: The owners of Cork Wine Bar are not seeking any damages, but rather an order barring the D.C. hotel from continuing to operate while President Trump still owns it. “We have events we do here for elected officials, nonprofits, foreign dignitaries, the World Bank, law firms,” said co-owner Diane Gross, co-owner of Cork Wine Bar. “Those folks are now being courted to come and want to go there because they see it as advantageous to them to curry favor with the president.” The complaint cites Trump’s appearances at the hotel, its hosting of foreign embassies and Sean Spicer’s comments on the eve of the inauguration: “It’s an absolutely stunning hotel. I encourage you to go there if you haven’t been by.”
- Why this lawsuit actually has potential: One of the big challenges in these cases has been the issue of standing. It’s hard for someone to demonstrate standing in a challenge over the emoluments clause. But these folks could demonstrate harm to their bottom line because of Trump.
- A team of high-wattage attorneys is representing the couple on a pro bono basis, including Alan Morrison, dean of public interest law at George Washington University.
- Eric Trump called the suit “a publicity stunt” in an interview yesterday afternoon. “It’s people who have nothing better to do, so they harass and they harass and the [court] will throw it out,” he said. “It’s ridiculous.”
-- The federal government’s top ethics official chastised the White House for declining to discipline Kellyanne Conway for her on-air endorsement of Ivanka Trump’s clothing line last month. Drew Harwell reports: “Walter M. Shaub Jr., director of the Office of Government Ethics, had urged officials last month to reprimand Conway after she told Fox News viewers to ‘go buy Ivanka’s stuff,’ appearing to violate a federal rule banning public officials from using their position to endorse products or services.” The recommendation was rebuffed by Stefan C. Passantino, who handles White House ethics issues, and said in a letter last week that Conway “acted inadvertently and is highly unlikely to do so again.” Shaub on Thursday said he “remains concerned” about Conway’s “misuse of position.” “When an employee’s conduct violates [federal rules], disciplinary action serves to deter future misconduct,” Shaub wrote back to the counsel's office. “Not taking disciplinary action against a senior official under such circumstances risks undermining the ethics program.”
-- Ethics questions dogged Agriculture secretary nominee Sonny Perdue when he was governor. The New York Times’ Eric Lipton and Steve Elder report: “In Sonny Perdue’s telling, Georgians were growing weary of the corruption and scandals in their state when he took over as governor in 2003 — a time when he gave his own version of a ‘drain the swamp’ pledge. But Mr. Perdue, a Republican who is awaiting confirmation to serve as [Trump’s] agriculture secretary, became a target of frequent criticism that he was failing to honor his own ethics pledge during his eight years as governor ... The criticism centers on the fact that, as Mr. Trump has, he continued to own or help run his family business ventures — four farming-related companies — while serving as governor. Before his tenure as governor ended in 2011, 13 complaints had been filed against Mr. Perdue with the State Ethics Commission, which on two occasions ruled that the governor had violated state ethics laws. The commission took the unusual step of fining Mr. Perdue while he was governor.”
-- Also benefiting from a Trump presidency? His golf properties around the globe. The Times’ Lipton and Susanne Craig report: “On Memorial Day weekend, the Senior P.G.A. Championship will be held at the Trump National Golf Club in (Loudoun County). The company is also bidding to host the Scottish Open or a half-dozen other possible professional tournaments at courses it owns in spots around the world … 'The stars have all aligned,' [Eric Trump] said on Thursday. … What he did not mention at the news conference, while the cameras were rolling, is the product placement of incalculable value that is helping boost the Trump Organization’s golf courses: his father. President Trump has given the family’s global inventory of golf courses … a new level of international attention. He has returned to his home at Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., for four out of the last five weekends in office to play golf at two of his nearby courses. … In total, Mr. Trump has played golf at least seven times since he was inaugurated — each time at his family’s own courses.”
MORE ROADBLOCKS FOR TRUMP'S AGENDA:
-- NRSC chairman Cory Gardner, up for reelection in Colorado in 2020, poured cold water on Trump’s border wall. "As far as the wall goes, I believe we have to have border security, but I do think billions of dollars on a wall is not the right way to proceed," the senator said during a telephone town hall. "I don't support a tariff to pay for any kind of wall. We do need security on the border. That may mean personnel. It may mean a fence. That may mean an electronic fence. But we shouldn't just build a wall and add billions of dollars because that's what somebody said should be done." (Politico’s Eli Stokols)
Mitch McConnell was asked at Politico event whether he believes Mexico will, ultimately, foot the cost for the border wall: “Uh, no,” the Senate Majority Leader replied. Chris Cillizza calls this answer “refreshingly honest.”
-- A new report from the American Society of Civil Engineers says it will take nearly $4.6 trillion over the next eight years to bring United States infrastructure up to an “acceptable standard." It also gives U.S. infrastructure an overall grade of D-plus –a D-minus for transit systems and D’s for roads, airports, dams and drinking water. Bridges and ports got slightly higher grades of C-minuses. (Ashley Halsey III)
TRUMP WANTS TO SHIFT THE LANGUAGE WE USE:
-- “The political lexicon of a billionaire populist,” by Marc Fisher: “From the start of his presidential campaign, Donald Trump pledged ‘total change,’ delivering his promises with a scorched-earth political vocabulary — ‘Lyin’ Ted,’ ‘Crooked Hillary,’ ‘drain the swamp,’ ‘lock her up.’ Some found his language appalling, but others found it refreshing enough to make him president. Now, in the Oval Office, Trump and [chief strategist Steve Bannon] have moved beyond the campaign’s embrace of political incorrectness to shake official Washington with a new vocabulary that breaks from the usual liberal-conservative terms of debate. ‘I don’t like the name-calling,’ [George W. Bush] said last month. ‘Nobody likes that.’ Nobody except those who consider Trump a much-needed provocateur who realizes that a linguistic poke in the face may be necessary to force the government to address the needs and pains of what the president calls ‘the forgotten men and women.' ...
“Trump and his strategists have turned their rhetorical guns on ‘coastal elites,’ academics, journalists, financiers and Hollywood celebrities — a fairly traditional roster of targets for a populist. By talking about globalism and corporatism, [one expert] said, Trump seeks not to unite the country but to solidify his support with ‘a very important target group — people who voted for Obama but were willing to try something different.’ ... 'The populist rhetoric is so systemic, it’s hard to believe it’s not a deliberate effort to change the language of politics,' said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who taught history at the University of Oklahoma before entering politics. 'This is obviously very populist language — the idea that there’s finally somebody here to protect you from these international and corporate forces that are making you feel lost.'"
THE STATE DEPARTMENT IS SIDELINED, CONT...
-- Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray traveled to Washington for meetings with the U.S. government yesterday, but he sidestepped normal channels completely and went straight to top White House officials instead. The LA Times reports: “[Videgaray] met at the White House with [Jared Kushner], along with National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and Gary Cohn, a top financial aide, the Mexican government announced. Striking in its absence from that announcement was any mention of a meeting with officials from the State Department. It is customary for foreign secretaries from all nations to be received by their U.S. counterpart when in Washington, currently Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. But when asked whether any sessions were scheduled at the State Department, the spokesman, Mark Toner, said he didn't know Videgaray was in town.” (Videgaray later said he phoned Tillerson the night before to inform him of his plans, but that the thrust of his visit “meant he needed to speak directly to the White House.”)
-- BANNON BACKSTABBING, via David Ignatius: “If Tillerson doesn’t develop a stronger voice, control of foreign policy is likely to move increasingly toward Stephen K. Bannon. … Tillerson’s candidate for deputy, Elliott Abrams, was rebuffed — reportedly at Bannon’s urging — after Trump had seemed initially supportive. … Back in December, a prominent Republican personally recommended Abrams to Bannon, but Bannon said the administration didn’t need someone who was outspoken as ‘a globalist, an interventionist, a neoconservative.’ Tillerson persisted and offered Abrams the job in early January. Trump seemed enthusiastic during an Oval Office meeting on Feb. 7 that included Tillerson (and Jared) Kushner. As they were leaving the Oval Office, Bannon, in a true ‘House of Cards’ moment, said to Abrams: ‘Huge fan.’ Several hours later, reportedly after Bannon showed Trump some critical comments Abrams had made about him during the campaign, Tillerson was informed that the nomination had been nixed. Tillerson tried to reverse the decision but failed.”
FLYNN GETS RESULTS?
-- Mike Pence said that Michael Flynn registering as a foreign agent is an “affirmation” of Trump’s decision to ask for his resignation. Speaking on Fox News last night, the vice president told Bret Baier that he learned in the press of Flynn’s work that aided the government of Turkey. “I think it is an affirmation of the President’s decision to ask General Flynn to resign,” he said. (CBS News)
-- “As a new relationship is tested, Turkey keeps high hopes for Trump,” by Karen DeYoung and Kareem Fahim: “In a world where some countries despair over [Trump] and others see him as a breath of fresh air, Turkey is decidedly in the second category. ‘The last seven or eight months of the Obama administration were marked by its total absence’ as far as Ankara was concerned, said [Recep Erdogan spokesman] Ibrahim Kalin … From what Turkey saw as his mistaken Syria policy to his foot-dragging on U.S. extradition of the alleged mastermind of last year’s coup attempt here, Barack Obama ‘simply was not there,’ Kalin said. Trump’s order to the Pentagon to beef up its anti-Islamic State strategy has sparked a belief here that Turkey’s views will be paid more heed. Ankara also hopes for an early decision to extradite Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen from his Pennsylvania residence. But despite the warm words and intimations of change, Turkey is probably headed for disappointment. … So far, at least, Trump’s direction on the issues Turkey cares about most shows little sign of differing from that of his predecessor.”
-- Less than two weeks before his confirmation hearing begins, the Justice Department finally turned over nearly 150,000 documents pertaining to Neil Gorsuch’s 2005-2006 tenure during the Bush administration to the Senate Judiciary Committee. From CNN: “Acting Assistant Attorney General Ryan Newman wrote that Gorsuch ‘played a role’ in some high profile national security matters, including Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, a case concerning detentions at Guantanamo Bay. According to the letter, Gorsuch's role involved ‘reviewing the DC Circuit and Supreme Court opinions; participating in discussing litigation options ... and participating in developing case strategy.’ In another Guantanamo-related case, Boumediene v. Bush, he ‘reviewed pleadings in preparation for an appellate court moot in which he participated.’"
Why it matters: "Judge Gorsuch's response indicates that he was significantly involved in at least three cases in which the Department of Justice made very broad claims about the scope of executive power in matters of national security," said Jennifer Daskal, a professor at American University’s law school. "It will be important for the committee and the public to learn more about what he advised at the time and his views now."
FRIDAY HISTORY PRIMER -- IS TRUMP THE NEW NIXON?
-- “A little-known pre-Watergate Nixon scandal helps us understand the road the new president is traveling,” by NYU history professor Tim Naftali (a former director of the Richard Nixon library) in Slate: “Nixon and Trump share the quality of extreme pettiness. … Both Trump and Nixon share a boredom with policy details. … Both men are consumed by consideration of their own image. Nixon, who was not a particularly hard worker and lacked a sense of humor, urged his staff to leak information that would paint him as a witty workaholic. … And finally, both men share a sense of victimhood…
- “Fearing that the (1968) election—which he had been leading most of the summer—was slipping away, Nixon ordered his team to ‘monkey wrench’ Lyndon Johnson’s efforts to get the warring sides in the Vietnam conflict to the peace table. A surrogate for his campaign, Anna Chennault, repeatedly met at Nixon’s suggestion with the South Vietnamese ambassador to convince Saigon to resist Johnson’s entreaties to turn up at the negotiating table in Paris. She reported to John Mitchell, Nixon’s campaign manager. … Chennault’s efforts did not go unnoticed. Not by the South Vietnamese, who helped the Nixon campaign by refusing to go to Paris, and not by U.S. intelligence, which put her under surveillance and undertook electronic coverage of the South Vietnamese Embassy. … The Russian hacking scandal has the potential to be the Chennault Affair of our times.”
- “After he became president, Nixon—convinced that Johnson had been conspiring against him—spread reports alleging that Johnson had tapped his campaign plane. Nixon knew this wasn’t true—he had access to the intelligence records from 1968—but saying your predecessor was spying on you can make a compelling story, especially when you have something to hide yourself.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
The below video went viral of GOP Rep. John Shimkus (Ill.) asking why males should pay for prenatal care as part of health insurance coverage. Read more from Elise Viebeck:
Eric Trump misses his sister:
Dick Cheney and Jim Baker visited the Capitol:
Trump bragged about consumer confidence:
Prompting this response from the conservative editor of The Weekly Standard:
Newt's take on the left's attacks on Trump:
Some lawmakers marked the anniversary of the death of the Notorious B.I.G.:
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- LA Times, “Old trucks, long hours, poor management: The convoys that drive 3 million miles a year hauling nuclear weapons,” by Ralph Vartabedian and W.J. Hennigan: “The unmarked 18-wheelers ply the nation’s interstates and two-lane highways, logging 3 million miles a year hauling the most lethal cargo there is: nuclear bombs. The covert fleet, which shuttles warheads from missile silos, bomber bases and submarine docks to nuclear weapons labs across the country, is operated by … a troubled agency within the U.S. Department of Energy so cloaked in secrecy that few people outside the government know it exists. The transportation office is about to become more crucial than ever … [but its] increased workload will hit an agency already struggling with problems of forced overtime, high driver turnover, old trucks and poor worker morale — raising questions about its ability to keep nuclear shipments safe from attack in an era of more sophisticated terrorism. That worst case would be a terrorist group hijacking a truck and obtaining a multi-kiloton hydrogen bomb.”
-- The New York Times, “For Years, City Spent $300 an Hour Looking for $5,000,” by Jim Dwyer: “Like a modern-day version of Inspector Javert from Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables,” the dogged [prosecutor, Roger Bennet Adler], has spent the better part of five years trying to find evidence that two men stole money from the campaign — even though they made proper filings with the city campaign finance board. The amount of the purported larceny was $5,000. It has probably cost 200 times the value of the nonexistent theft for Mr. Adler to reach the conclusion that there is no crime to prosecute. Who could have guessed that a single City Council race would turn into an elephantine criminal inquiry that dragged on for years, at enormous cost, to absolutely no point whatsoever?”
-- “The man who condemns the media as ‘the enemy of the people’ may be the most voracious consumer of news in modern presidential history,” the AP’s Jonathan Lemire reports: “Trump usually rises before 6 a.m. and first watches TV in the residence before later moving to a small dining room in the West Wing. A short time later, he's given a stack of newspapers … as well as pile of printed articles from other sources … The TVs stay on all day. The president often checks in at lunch and again in the evening, when he retires to the residence, cellphone in hand. It is a central paradox of the Trump presidency. Despite his fervent media criticism, Trump is a faithful newspaper reader who enjoys jousting with reporters, an avid cable TV news viewer who frequently live-tweets what he's watching, and a reader of websites that have been illuminated by his presidential spotlight … Where Trump differs most from his presidential predecessors is his reliance on getting news online — even though he rarely uses a computer and prefers aides to print out articles for him to read.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“Family Sues Off-Duty Cop Who Fired Gun During Dispute With Teen,” from HuffPost: “A civil lawsuit was filed last week against an off-duty police officer who dragged a teenage boy and fired his weapon in front of minors in Anaheim, California on Feb. 21. The teen’s parents … filed the suit … against [LAPD officer] Kevin Ferguson, the Orange County Register reported. They claim that the cop brutally attacked their 13-year-old son on his way home from school and violated his civil rights. The lawsuit alleges that Ferguson was standing outside of his own home drinking a beer when a girl walked across his lawn. Ferguson ‘became irate’ …Witnesses used camera phones to film Ferguson as he dragged the teen down a sidewalk and onto a lawn. As seen in [video footage] … a group of minors followed along, asking Ferguson to let the boy go. Ferguson then pulls a gun from his waistband and fires towards the ground, sending the group of teens running away.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“How Are All These Intel Leaks Happening? Look At One Of The Last Things Obama Did Before Leaving Office” from the Daily Caller: “[Obama] made a last-minute change to the way wiretapped intelligence is shared Jan. 12, which may have contributed to the proliferation of leaks plaguing the Trump administration. Obama changed the way [NSA] intelligence is shared 8 days before leaving office, which allows globally intercepted communications to be disseminated across the entire intelligence community. The change was part of a post-9/11 push by the executive branch to increase intelligence sharing, to ensure that NSA analysts do not miss critically important information. ‘We have people spouting off who don’t know the difference between FISA surveillance and a wiretap or a counterintelligence probe versus a special prosecutor criminal case, and it has hurts our ability to get to the truth and has wrongly created the impression that intelligence officials have a political agenda,’ a U.S. intelligence official [said].”
At the White House: Trump will lead a health care discussion with key House Committee leaders before speaking by phone with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. In the afternoon, Trump will have lunch with Rex Tillerson before meeting with HUD secretary Ben Carson.
Pence will join Trump for the health care discussion before hosting a listening session with conservative leaders in the Vice President’s Ceremonial Office. Later, he’ll host a reception for the Indiana National Guard.
The House has votes at 10:30 a.m. The Senate is out until Monday.
For your radar next week: The CBO score for the House GOP proposal is expected on Monday. The House Budget Committee marks up part of the health bill on Wednesday, the same day that the Trump administration will unveil its budget.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“Here’s what I’d do if I were President Trump,” said Lindsey Graham. “Say: 'I’ve got a view of health care, tell me your views, I’m going to try to work to get to yes with as many people as I can … I’m not making a deal for a deal’s sake...’ And just walk away from the frigging table." (Politico)
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- Today brings yet another dive on Washington’s ongoing weather roller coaster ride. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “The morning commute looks like it could be wet, as pre-dawn and morning rain and snow showers moves through. Any snowflakes mixing in will not accumulate, although elevated objects could be briefly dusted if it’s heavy enough, especially north of the city. Rain jackets and/or a small umbrella should shield you, and precipitation ends by midday. But temperatures don’t go far. They either hold steady from morning readings, or slowly decrease. Daytime highs are in the mid-40s to around 50 degrees.
-- The Metro board voted to raise fares for bus and rail riders and make several service cuts – a move that officials say will boost revenue by $21 million as they seek to offset losses caused by ridership decline. The changes increase rush-hour rail fares would increase by a dime, and off-peak rail and bus fares by 25 cents. (Faiz Siddiqui and Martine Powers)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
See the inner thoughts of Conan's female writers:
Watch actress Kristen Stewart brush off Trump's tweets about her:
A compilation of Spicer claiming not to know the answer to questions during his briefing:
Does the Trump administration believe in climate change?
Here's why it doesn't make sense to compare iPhones and health care: