President Trump talks about health care with House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) at the White House on Friday. (Shawn Thew/EPA)

With Breanne Deppisch

THE BIG IDEA: Congress has never reversed a major program of social benefits once it has taken effect and reached millions of Americans. Many have tried, but no precedent or roadmap exists for Republicans as they press ahead with the effort to repeal and replace Obamacare.

The Affordable Care Act, which passed with not a single Republican vote in either chamber, ushered in the most significant expansion of insurance coverage since the creation of Medicare and Medicaid. Eleven million additional people joined the Medicaid rolls after the ACA allowed states to expand their programs to cover people with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, which means the system now covers 68 million people.

Conservatives fought so hard to stop the ACA from getting through in the first place because they understood just how hard it would be to claw back, no matter how problematic or expensive the law turned out to be. Their fears are now coming to fruition, as the debate over Medicaid’s future increasingly threatens to imperil the House GOP bill.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the bill creating Social Security in Aug. 1935. (AP)

-- Republicans have been in similar positions before. After Franklin Roosevelt created Social Security, leading Republicans ran on repealing the system, which they saw as an un-American redistribution of wealth. In 1952, Dwight Eisenhower finally brought the GOP out of the wilderness after two decades by embracing the idea of Social Security and promising to keep other New Deal programs intact. Barry Goldwater famously attacked Eisenhower for offering “a dime store New Deal” when he proposed government medical care for the elderly.

Ike eventually wound up expanding Social Security eligibility. “Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history,” the president mused in a letter to his brother about the risks of taking away benefits that people have become accustomed to.

Richard Nixon, a Big Government Republican who had been Eisenhower’s vice president, never waged a frontal assault on Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs, which included Medicare and Medicaid, because he had no stomach for the political risk. Neither did Gerald Ford.

Ronald Reagan spoke out against Medicare in the 1960s but changed his tune by the 1980 campaign. The year he took office, he tried to reduce early retirement benefits for Social Security. But he backed off from that under public pressure.

George W. Bush’s inability to reform Social Security in 2005, fresh off a commanding reelection victory, is a more recent reminder of how hard it is to tinker with the safety net — even on the margins.

Donald Trump eats lunch Saturday with staff and Cabinet members, plus some significant others, at his Trump National Golf Club in Potomac Falls, Va. (Pete Marovich/EPA)

-- Donald Trump recognized all of this intuitively as he ran for office. That’s why he repeatedly promised during his campaign, including in his announcement speech, to never undercut Medicaid. “I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican, and I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid,” he said in 2015.

-- Columnist Charles Krauthammer is one of the conservative intellectuals who repeatedly made the point in 2010 that Obamacare could never be undone once it went into effect. “You cannot retract an entitlement once it's been granted,” he explained last week, describing this as the "genius" of the left.

Krauthammer now agrees with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that the House GOP plan is “Obamacare Lite,” but he supports it anyway because he believes it is the best conservatives can hope for. "I'm willing to admit it. Paul Ryan is not," Krauthammer told Bret Baier on Fox News last week. "Get it while you can, and worry about the rest later.”

-- To be sure, just because something is hard and hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing….

-- It also does not mean that Republican leaders will fail. Trump has political capital, and he’s willing to spend it. Ryan (R-Wis.) believes that this fight will define his legacy as House speaker. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) recognizes that a promise has been made to the conservative base over the past four election cycles, and he fears the fallout of breaking it. The Senate majority leader is up for reelection in 2020 and could face a primary challenge.

-- But this weekend offered numerous illustrations, big and small, of the politically-perilous path ahead for the GOP:

Sen. Dean Heller arrives for a Senate Banking Committee hearing last month. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

-- The number of Republican senators who said they won’t vote for the House bill as presently constituted continues to rise.

Dean Heller of Nevada, the only Republican senator who is up for reelection next year in a state Hillary Clinton won, said he worries that Ryan’s bill will hurt seniors and the poor. More significantly, he declared that he sees health care as a fundamental right — a principle that conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus explicitly reject. “Do I believe that all Americans should have access to health care? Absolutely, I do,” he said in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson. “Not everything in the Affordable Care Act is bad. As we move forward and take a look at some of these changes and what’s occurring, I think we ought to embrace what’s good in the Affordable Care Act.” (Politico’s Burgess Everett obtained the audio of an event his staff closed to the press.)

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) warned House Republicans in dire terms not to risk their political careers on something that’s bound to fail. “Do not walk the plank and vote for a bill that cannot pass the Senate and then have to face the consequences of that vote,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.” "I'm afraid that if they vote for this bill, they're going to put the House majority at risk next year."

“He will not have the votes,” Rand Paul added on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “Everybody is being nice to everybody because they want us to vote for this, but we’re not going to vote for it.”

John Kasich walks out of the White House after a meeting with Trump on Feb. 24. (Evan Vucci/AP)

-- John Kasich, one of more than a dozen Republican governors leading states that have accepted the Medicaid expansion, warned in ominous terms against the House bill. "When you jam something through, just one party over another, it's not sustainable," the Ohioan said. “We're talking about lives. ... We better be careful we're not losing the soul of our country because we're playing politics.”

On “Meet the Press,” Chuck Todd played a clip from an interview Mike Pence gave to a local TV affiliate in Kasich’s state. “I'm very confident that this legislation will give Ohio both the resources and the flexibility that your governor, your legislature will need to be able to meet those needs going forward and literally offer our most vulnerable citizens even better coverage,” the vice president said.

“Is he right?” Chuck asked.

“No, he's not right,” Kasich replied. “First of all, Medicaid expansion has covered 700,000 people in my state, a big chunk of whom are mentally ill and drug addicted and have chronic diseases. … If chronically ill, you’re going to have to have consistent coverage. Under this bill you don’t have it.”

Darrell Issa speaks during a town hall meeting at the Junior Seau Beach Community Center in Oceanside, Calif., on Saturday. (Hayne Palmour IV/The San Diego Union-Tribune via AP)

-- Over three hours on Saturday, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) continued to distance himself from Trump. After barely winning reelection in his suburban San Diego district because of backlash against Trump, he declared in his opening statement at a community meeting: “I do not work for the executive branch. I investigated the Obama administration. I also investigated the Bush administration.” Later, he said: “I’m going to be with Trump sometimes, against him sometimes.” Tony Perry, who was in Oceanside for us, notes that no one asked Issa about local issues, not even about a recent deployment of Marines from nearby Camp Pendleton to Syria: “That suggests that the electorate is primed to turn the 2018 election into a referendum on Trump.”

Issa’s longtime former spokesman decried the Ryan plan last night:

-- The press coverage continues to be overwhelmingly unfavorable to the House bill:

The front-page headline in the Los Angeles Times is: “Trump voters would be among the biggest losers in Republicans' Obamacare replacement plan.” “Among those hit the hardest under the current House bill are 60-year-olds with annual incomes of $30,000, particularly in rural areas where healthcare costs are higher and Obamacare subsidies are greater,” Noam Levey writes. “In nearly 1,500 counties nationwide, such a person stands to lose more than $6,000 a year in federal insurance subsidies. Ninety percent of those counties backed Trump. And 68 of the 70 counties where these consumers would suffer the largest losses supported Trump in November…

  • “Most affected by the Republican health plan would be parts of Alaska, Arizona, Nebraska, Tennessee and Oklahoma, where Obamacare insurance subsidies have been crucial in making high-priced insurance affordable. All five states went for Trump. Also hit hard would be parts of key swing states that backed Trump, including Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Michigan…
  • “Meanwhile, higher-income, younger Americans — many of whom live in urban areas won by Hillary Clinton — stand to get more assistance in the Republican legislation.”

Humanizing the consequences: The Post ran a lengthy feature on Sunday’s front page from a health clinic in McDowell County, West Virginia, which Trump carried with 74 percent and which has the shortest life expectancy of any county in the nation. Many supporters of the president who are now able to see a doctor there because of the Medicaid expansion simply wouldn’t be able to afford the care they now receive under the House plan. (Jessica Contrera has more.)

-- Unpopular elements of the Ryan plan are also getting additional scrutiny from health care reporters: “Employers could impose hefty penalties on employees who decline to participate in genetic testing as part of workplace wellness programs,” Lena Sun reports, to cite just one example. “In general, employers don't have that power under existing federal laws, which protect genetic privacy and nondiscrimination.”

-- There are hospitals in every congressional district, and they are mobilizing in a concerted way against Ryan’s plan. “All of the major hospital groups, including the American Hospital Association and those representing children's hospitals and psychiatric hospitals, came out against the new legislation,” USA Today notes this morning.

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney speaks to reporters during a White House briefing on Feb. 27. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

-- Driving the week: The Congressional Budget Office’s estimate of how much the bill will cost and how many will lose coverage is scheduled to land as early as today. Everyone knows that its report will predict that millions of people would no longer have insurance.

Republican leaders are trying to preempt that by diminishing the CBO’s credibility, even though the office is led by an economist who was hand-picked by Republicans. “I love the folks at the CBO,” OMB Director Mick Mulvaney said Sunday on “This Week.” “But sometimes we ask them to do things they’re not capable of doing, and estimating the impact of a bill of this size probably isn’t the best use of their time.”

In fact, this is exactly what Congress created the CBO to do....

-- Other administration officials, meanwhile, continue to make promises that experts agree they will not be able to keep:

  • Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said yesterday that nobody will be worse off financially under the House bill. "Success,” he said, “means more people covered than are covered right now, and at an average cost that is less.”
  • Gary Cohn, chief economic adviser to President Trump, insisted on Fox News Sunday: “If you’re on Medicaid, you’re going to stay on Medicaid.”

-- To keep up the drumbeat for action, Trump will have a meeting “with victims of Obamacare” in the White House Roosevelt Room later this morning “to hear their stories.” 

-- Paul Ryan has tried to be more cautious than Trump and administration surrogates when it comes to making promises that could come back to haunt him down the road. Asked on “Face the Nation” yesterday how many will lose coverage under the House plan, the speaker said he cannot answer because it’s up to people whether they pay for insurance or not. That prompted criticism.

Ryan made clear, though, that he gets the magnitude of the undertaking. Noting that the House bill caps Medicaid’s growth, he boasted: “This is the most historic entitlement reform we have ever had!”

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- In D.C., much of Monday will be quiet and chilly before a siege of snow and wintry mix tonight. Here’s the latest Capital Weather Gang forecast: “Today we brace for a major late-winter storm set to begin this evening and continue into Tuesday. Depending on where you live, moderate to heavy amounts of snow could fall or a sloppy mix of snow, sleet and rain. The heaviest snowfall is expected to occur in our far western and northern areas, but the storm will likely will prove disruptive for much of the region through at least Tuesday morning. We want to stress that this forecast is extremely complex and we have lower confidence in predicted snow amounts than usual. This is especially true along and east of the Interstate 95 corridor where we have reduced our predicted snowfall amounts some. Starting Wednesday, in the wake of the storm, the region is locked into a winterlike regime with colder-than-normal temperatures through the weekend.”

-- March Madness begins. The NCAA tournament schedule has been revealed. If you’re planning to fill out a bracket for an office pool and don’t really follow college hoops, we aggregated a dozen stories from our sports reporters to create a cheat sheet.

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. At least 46 were killed and dozens more injured by a massive garbage dump landslide in Ethiopia. The government vowed to relocate a massive network of makeshift dwellings located just outside the landfill. (Wire reports)
  2. Barack Obama visited Omaha, Neb., to have lunch with Warren Buffett, and his daughter Susie, at a country club. Susie Buffett declined to comment on the purpose of the get-together, other than to confirm that it was not a fundraiser. Obama apparently had a taco salad and flew on to San Jose. (The Omaha World-Herald)
  3. Arnold Schwarzenegger punctured the trial balloon that he might run for Senate. The former California governor wrote on Facebook that he is “deeply flattered” by the buzz, but he plans to continue his fight for redistricting reform. “Gerrymandering has completely broken our political system and I believe my best platform to help repair it is from the outside, by campaigning for independent redistricting commissions,” he wrote. (Politico)
  4. Trump plans to host Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago in Florida next month. Officials bill the trip as a “working meeting” — no golf is expected — and the leaders will likely focus on economic and security matters. (Axios)
  5. Pence will visit Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and Australia next month on an “Asia tour.” (Reuters)
  6. A three-year-old girl in Pennsylvania died in a house fire that authorities believe was sparked by a recharging hoverboard. The Consumer Products Safety Commission said her death is the first fatal incident to be linked to hoverboards, though it is certainly not the first fire. The agency is investigating 60 cases of hoverboard-related fires in the past year-and-a-half alone. (Ben Guarino)

TRUMP'S TAKEOVER:

-- The administration's budget proposal, expected Thursday, would shake the government to its core if enacted  scaling back numerous programs and reducing the size of the federal workforce. Damian Paletta previews: If enacted, this would be the first time the government has executed cuts of this magnitude — and all at once — since the drawdown following World War II. “Aides say that the president sees a new Washington emerging from the budget process, one that prioritizes the military and homeland security while slashing many other areas, including housing, foreign assistance, environmental programs, public broadcasting and research. Simply put, government would be smaller and less involved in regulating life in America, with private companies and states playing a much bigger role."

Trump's proposed cuts would cause layoffs of federal workers  an effect that would be felt heavily in the Washington region: "One economic analysis says the reductions outlined so far by Trump’s advisers would slash employment in the region by 1.8 percent and personal income by 3.5 percent. Budget experts stressed that it is unclear what the exact impact on many agencies may be, because each department could choose to implement the reductions in a variety of ways. Moreover, the effects cannot take effect unless they are authorized by Congress."

-- “Trump, with NASA, has a new rocket and spaceship. Where’s he going to go?” by Joel Achenbach: "NASA is building a jumbo rocket. It’s called the Space Launch System, or simply the SLS. The core stage of the SLS is slowly materializing in a sprawling facility on the outskirts of [New Orleans].… But [first], the new rocket will have to survive the unpredictable crosswinds of Washington. President Trump is now in charge of the space program, and no one in Washington seems to have a clear idea what’s going to happen next. [Bush 43] wanted U.S. boots on the moon by 2020. [Obama] killed the Bush program, saying we’d been there and done that. But with Republicans in control of both Congress and the White House, the moon looms larger in the sky. Last month, in his address to Congress, Trump made a single, enigmatic comment about space: ‘American footprints on distant worlds are not too big a dream.’ Did that mean the moon? Mars?"

-- The White House is exploring how to loosen or bypass Obama-era counterterrorism rules intended to prevent civilian deaths from drones, commando raids and other missions outside “conventional” war zones such as Afghanistan and Iraq, using operations in Yemen and Somalia as “test runs.”  The New York Times’ Charlie Savage and Eric Schmitt report: “Already, [Trump] has granted a Pentagon request to declare parts of three provinces of Yemen to be an ‘area of active hostilities’ where looser battlefield rules apply. That opened the door to a Special Operations raid in late January in which several civilians were killed, as well as to the largest-ever series of American airstrikes targeting Yemen-based Qaeda militants.… Mr. Trump is also expected to sign off soon on a similar Pentagon proposal to designate parts of Somalia to be another such battlefield-style zone for 180 days, removing constraints on airstrikes and raids targeting people suspected of being militants with the Qaeda-linked group the Shabab, [officials] said. Inside the White House, the temporary suspension of the limits for parts of Yemen and Somalia is seen as a test run while the government considers whether to more broadly rescind or relax the Obama-era rules.”

Vladimir Putin, right, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, center, tour the Kremlin after talks in Moscow. (Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

THERE'S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- John McCain says to stay tuned on Trump's ties to Russia: “There's a lot of aspects of this whole relationship with Russia and [Putin] that requires further scrutiny, and so far, I don't think the American people have gotten all the answers," the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said on CNN. "In fact, I think there's a lot more shoes to drop from this centipede."

McCain also called on Trump to either retract or prove his claim that Obama ordered the wiretapping of Trump Tower during the campaign. "I have no reason to believe that the charge is true, but I also believe that the president of the United States could clear this up in a minute," the Arizona senator told Jake Tapper. "All he has to do is pick up the phone, call the director of the CIA, director of national intelligence and say, 'Okay, what happened?'"

-- Longtime Trump friend and informal adviser Roger Stone defended his Twitter exchanges with "Guccifer 2.0,” a nom de guerre linked to the Russian intelligence agents who hacked the DNC. Stone said they simply had a “brief exchange” of direct messages that occurred after the hack. "To collude, I would have to have written him before,” he told CNN. “We would need a time machine to collude." While Stone claimed it was all innocuous, this is the first time anyone in Trump’s orbit has publicly acknowledged contact with one of the hackers.

-- New York Times, “Russian Espionage Piggybacks on a Cybercriminal’s Hacking,” by Michael Schwirtz and Joseph Goldstein: “To the F.B.I., Evgeniy M. Bogachev is the most wanted cybercriminal in the world. The bureau has announced a $3 million bounty for his capture, the most ever for computer crimes, and has been trying to track his movements in hopes of grabbing him if he strays outside his home turf in Russia. He has been indicted in the [U.S.], accused of creating a sprawling network of virus-infected computers to siphon hundreds of millions of dollars from bank accounts around the world, targeting anyone with enough money worth stealing — from a pest control company in North Carolina to a police department in Massachusetts....

“In December, the Obama administration announced sanctions against Mr. Bogachev and five others in response to intelligence agencies’ conclusions that Russia had meddled in the presidential election. Publicly, law enforcement officials said it was his criminal exploits that landed Mr. Bogachev on the sanctions list.… But it is clear that for Russia, he is more than just a criminal. At one point, Mr. Bogachev had control over as many as a million computers in multiple countries.… While Mr. Bogachev was draining bank accounts, it appears that the Russian authorities were looking over his shoulder, searching the same computers for files and emails. In effect, they were grafting an intelligence operation onto a far-reaching cybercriminal scheme, sparing themselves the hard work of hacking into the computers themselves."

Preet Bharara, speaks during a press conference last year. (Justin Lane/EPA)

TRUMP PURGES U.S. ATTORNEYS:

-- Rupert Murdoch is one of the biggest beneficiaries of Trump firing Preet Bharara. New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman reports: "Since Election Day, Murdoch, now the executive chairman of Fox News, has personally nudged the network in a more pro-Trump direction. Trump seems to be returning the goodwill … [and] now Murdoch may be poised to reap a much bigger win from a Trump administration action. That’s because on Saturday, Trump oversaw the firing of Preet Bharara … whose office is in the middle of a high-profile federal investigation of Fox News. Which is why, for Murdoch, it must be a relief that Bharara’s replacement could be an ally. ... Trump’s shortlist to replace Bharara includes Marc Mukasey — who just happens to be former Fox News chief Roger Ailes’s personal lawyer.… Considering Mukasey's close relationship with Ailes, he would surely come under pressure to recuse himself from the Fox probe if he was appointed by Trump to succeed Bharara[:] 'I have no comment,' Mukasey said when I reached him Sunday evening and asked if he planned to do so, should he get the job."

-- Bigger picture: “The sudden departure of [Bharara] raises uncertainty about the federal government’s approach to trying financial crimes and global terrorism cases, even as it isn’t likely to change the course of several high-profile investigations,” the Wall Street Journal reports on the front page. “The Manhattan U.S. attorney has wide jurisdiction in prosecuting financial crimes and other white-collar cases, and prosecutors in that office have been particularly aggressive in charging and arresting people outside the U.S. for federal crimes like terrorism, sanctions violations and cybercrime. The firings don’t force pending investigations across the country to be put on hold, as U.S. attorney’s offices have career prosecutors who will fill in until new ones are confirmed. In Manhattan, Mr. Bharara’s departure is unlikely to have a significant impact on continuing probes, largely because the interim leader of the office, Joon Kim, is a close friend and longtime colleague of Mr. Bharara’s."

-- Preet took a shot across the bow at New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo yesterday, whom he could theoretically challenge next year. From the New York Times: “Not all of Mr. Bharara’s public corruption inquiries led to criminal charges, most notably his sweeping examination of Mr. Cuomo’s abrupt shutdown in March 2014 of an anticorruption commission that the governor had formed with great fanfare just nine months earlier. A Times investigation published in July 2014 showed that before disbanding the panel, known as the Moreland Commission, Mr. Cuomo had hobbled its work, intervening when it focused on groups with ties to the governor or on issues that might reflect poorly on him. But after an investigation that spanned more than a year, Mr. Bharara said in January 2016 that his office had concluded that ‘absent any additional proof that may develop, there is insufficient evidence to prove a federal crime.’ Yet the Moreland Commission was clearly not far from Mr. Bharara’s mind.” He posted this on his recently opened Twitter account yesterday:

(The tweet got big-league pick up in the New York Post and the Daily News.)

“Mr. Bharara’s investigation clearly stuck with Mr. Cuomo as well,” The Times notes. “In the lead-up to Mr. Trump’s inauguration, Mr. Cuomo, who has done little to hide his frustration with Mr. Bharara, told a Trump adviser in passing that the prosecutor was ‘a bad guy,’ saying, ‘Preet is not your friend,’ according to a person familiar with the discussion. (A Cuomo spokeswoman denied that the governor had made such a statement.)”

You can judge a man by the enemies he makes. Preet is proud of his. In addition to Cuomo, Vladimir Putin also hates him: “Mr. Bharara was among 18 United States officials barred from Russia in 2013 in retaliation to American sanctions imposed on Russians accused of rights violations. (Mr. Bharara was barred in response to his prosecution of Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer.)”

-- Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said there could be a connection between Bharara’s firing and investigations into Trump. He noted on ABC’s “This Week” that, while the president does have the right to fire U.S. attorneys, the move is a reversal from Trump’s previous remarks indicating he would keep him on board. The White House counsel had also promised that any dismissals would happen in an orderly way. "I'm just curious as to why that is, and certainly there's a lot of questions coming up as to whether ... President Trump is concerned about the jurisdiction of this U.S. attorney and whether that might affect his future," said the Maryland congressman. "You look at everything surrounding the investigations — there are a lot of questions that need to be asked, but again, the president does have that prerogative." (The Hill)

-- Elizabeth Warren spoke for many Democrats when she wondered:

-- Also forced to resign was Channing D. Phillips, who has been the U.S. attorney for D.C. It is unclear who his replacement will be, and the field of possible candidates is not limited to District residents – giving the Trump administration a wide pool to choose from. (Colbert I. King)

CONFLICTS OF INTEREST WATCH:

-- Donald Trump Jr., tasked with running his family's business alongside brother Eric Trump, claimed this weekend that he barely has any contact with his father. “I basically have zero contact with him at this point,” he told attendees at a Dallas County GOP fundraiser on Saturday. “I thought I was out of politics after Election Day and get back to my regular life and my family ... But I couldn't.” It is unclear what “basically … zero contact” means. The younger Trump declined to elaborate. But it's hard to believe. (Amy B Wang)

-- On the campaign trail and after his victory, Trump vowed to forgo a presidential salary. Aides said he planned to donate the monthly sum to the Treasury Department or to charity. But as his second payday approaches, the White House has declined to say if the president has made good on his word and refuses to provide proof of his donations. (NBC News)

ALTERNATIVE FACTS ALERT:

-- OMB chief Mick Mulvaney claimed falsely that the Obama administration was “manipulating” jobs data to make the unemployment rate "look smaller than it actually was." "What you should really look at is the number of jobs created," Mulvaney told CNN’s Jake Tapper. "We've thought for a long time, I did, that the Obama administration was manipulating the numbers, in terms of the number of people in the workforce, to make the unemployment rate -- that percentage rate -- look smaller than it actually was."

Sean Spicer was asked during his briefing on Friday whether Trump still believes the BLS numbers are a hoax. “I talked to the President prior to this,” he replied, “and he said to quote him very clearly: 'They may have been phony in the past, but it's very real now.'” The press room laughed.

-- Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway said in an interview with The Bergen Record on Sunday that “surveillance” attempts from the Obama White House may be broader than even Trump alleged, leveling another remarkable charge against the former commander-in-chief without providing any evidence. “What I can say is there are many ways to surveil each other,” Conway told Kelly. “You can surveil someone through their phones, certainly through their television sets — any number of ways.” Conway went on to say that the monitoring could be done with “microwaves that turn into cameras,” adding: “We know this is a fact of modern life.”

Conway acknowledged that she has no evidence of the wiretapping allegations during a hit on "Good Morning America" a few hours ago:

Dahlonega city officials take down a KKK sign.

A DIVIDED AMERICA:

-- “In northern Georgia, reaction to KKK banner is a sign of the times,” by Stephanie McCrummen: “The mayor was still home when his phone started ringing. The reverend was still down with the flu when he began getting one message after another. Valerie Fambrough had just dropped off her daughters at day care when she heard[:] ‘There’s a Ku Klux Klan sign in the town square.’ It had a cartoonish drawing of a white-sheeted person raising a hand … and what happened next would become one more pocket of America dealing with a disturbing incident at a time when hate crimes have been on the rise and new brands of white nationalism have been making a comeback across the country. A black pickup truck pulled up … [and the] women heard [the driver] say something about how ‘glorious’ it was to see such a sign in the light of day, and then he drove off, even as more people were arriving — white-haired locals, college students and others who said they were appalled; a Native American man who brought a ladder and tried to rip the banner down … a young black man who stood there crying. A school bus passed, and now Fambrough was crying as the town dispatched a cherry picker to the scene, and workers began ratcheting out the first of 21 screws holding the banner in place. And that was how the banner came down, and the flags came down, and all the rest began.”

-- A Florida man who attempted to set a convenience store on fire told authorities that he mistook the Indian store owner as a Muslimand that his crime was an attempt to “run the Arabs out of our country.” It’s the latest in a string of distressing events in which South Asian people have been targeted and mistaken for people of Arab descent. (Amy B Wang)

-- An Oregon man is facing possible hate crime charges after attacking an employee at a Middle Eastern restaurant with a pipe. “Go back to your country, terrorist,” the 52-year-old allegedly told the man, whom he later described as a “Saddam Hussein-looking guy.” “Get out of America.” (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)

-- A month after Muhammad Ali Jr. and his mother were detained for two hours in a Florida airport, the son of the legendary boxer says he was held and questioned for a second time at an airport in Washington. The incident occurred just one day after Ali and his mother spoke to members of a Democratic committee about Trump’s travel ban. They think they were targeted because they are Muslim and have Arabic names. (The Independent)

-- A group of environmental activists snuck onto and defaced a Trump golf course in California on Sunday, carving six-foot-tall letters onto the green that said: “NO MORE TIGERS. NO MORE WOODS.” In a statement, members of the group – which bills itself as an “anonymous environmental activist collective” -- said the vandalism was carried out in response to Trump’s “blatant disregard” for the environment. (Peter Holley)

A group of people hold up signs during a meeting called "The Resistance Training" hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union on Saturday in Coral Gables, Fla. (Luis M. Alvarez/AP)

THE RESISTANCE:

-- The ACLU launched a new campaign against Trump’s policies. David Weigel reports from a Saturday training session in Coral Gables, Fla.: “It had all the trappings of a campaign rally: the signs, the Bruce Springsteen songs on repeat, the clipboard-hugging volunteers in matching T-shirts. But the 2,000-odd people in the University of Miami’s basketball arena were there to hear Anthony Romero, the executive director of the [ACLU], try to recruit them into a legal army. The ACLU is spending millions of dollars on a plunge into grass-roots politics — a ‘People Power’ campaign. It’s the newest and largest development from a sprawling ‘resistance’ movement that regularly moves faster than the Democratic Party’s leaders can think and isn’t waiting on politicians for cues. The key to the effort: targeting Trump’s policies, rather than the man or his words. If 2016 taught Democrats anything, it’s that attacking Trump isn’t enough. ‘The biggest danger was in not doing something like this, where people get apathetic and they fall asleep,’ [Romero said in an interview]. There’s little apparent risk of that, and the biggest organizations on the left, broadly defined, are staffing up to give it direction.”

-- Also experiencing a boom in memberships: the Democratic Socialists of America. The LA Times’ Matt Pearce reports: “Holding red and white signs, they protested outside Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s election party on Tuesday, demanding the city take a tougher stand against deportation. The next day, they rallied in support of the International Women’s Day strike, demanding social and economic equality for women. These weren’t liberals. They were card-carrying members of the Democratic Socialists of America, one of the fastest growing groups on the American left. The surge of activism sweeping the U.S. since [Trump’s] election has energized the nation’s largest socialist organization, which has tripled in size over the last year to claim more than 19,000 dues-paying members. New members of the Democratic Socialists of America say they want build a grassroots movement engaged at the local level — and either pull the Democratic Party leftward or shove it out of the way.”

A boy runs past pigeons in front of a picture of Turkish President Erdogan, at Taksim Square in Istanbul. (EPA/Sedat Suna)

WAPO HIGHLIGHTS:

-- “Turkish battle over ‘executive presidency’ prompts tensions with the Netherlands and divisions at home,” by Kareem Fahim and Anthony Faiola: “So far in a rancorous campaign season, the Turkish government or its opponents have invoked Nazi Germany, terrorist groups, fifth columnists and a Latin American dictator. And that was in the campaign’s first two weeks. There is more than a month to go before a referendum in April that will allow Turks to vote on a series of constitutional amendments that could give Turkey’s dominating leader, [President Erdogan], vast new powers and allow him to remain in office for more than a decade. But already, the poisonous rhetoric surrounding the campaign has aggravated tensions in this sharply divided nation, raising fears about the aftermath of the vote. The tensions have been building for months. Fistfights broke out in the Turkish parliament when lawmakers debated the proposed ­changes. Now, at campaign rallies, the referendum is portrayed as an existential struggle over the nation’s future, propelling Turkey either toward tyranny or stagnation. And the anger has surged beyond Turkey’s borders, upending its foreign alliances, including in Europe."

Two Ohio officers talk with a woman who gave CPR to an overdose victim from the previous week. (Maddie McGarvey for The Washington Post)

-- “As opioid overdoses rise, police officers become counselors, doctors and social workers,” by Katie Zezima: “The nation’s opioid epidemic is changing the way law enforcement does its job, with police officers acting as drug counselors and medical workers and shifting from law-and-order tactics to approaches more akin to social work. Departments accustomed to arresting drug abusers are spearheading programs to get them into treatment, convinced that their old strategies weren’t working. They’re administering medication that reverses overdoses, allowing users to turn in drugs in exchange for treatment, and partnering with hospitals to intervene before abuse turns fatal. Opioids now kill more people than car accidents, and in 2015 the number of heroin deaths nationwide surpassed the number of deaths from gun homicides. The expansion of the problem has forced officers to fundamentally rethink their work. Police must also work as front-line social-service providers in homes where children are present during an overdose.” “We’re struggling to get them somewhere safe,” said Capt. Ron Meyers of Chillicothe, Ohio. “You could send them to grandma’s house, but she’s also a heroin addict. You have to vet everyone.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

There's a big election in the Netherlands this week. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) sparked outrage with this tweet celebrating the rise of the Dutch Freedom Party's Geert Wilders:

This drew a rebuke from Florida Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a prominent Cuban-American:

Conservative thought leaders were also outraged:

A former aide to Reagan and George H.W. Bush:

A former Jeb Bush adviser and the co-founder of America Rising:

Jeb's longtime spokeswoman:

A former spokesman for Bush 43: 

Meanwhile:

A chorus of liberals attacked King--

A Rhode Island Democratic congressman:

A California Democrat:

From the president of the NAACP:

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) is keeping up her impeachment drumbeat:

Selina Meyer is excited about Northwestern basketball making March Madness (her son plays for the team):

Backstage at SNL:

Tammy Duckworth celebrated St. Patrick's Day a bit early:

Meet Torro, the TSA dog:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- The New Yorker, “Is Trump trolling the White House press corps?” by Andrew Marantz: “Until recently, the more established White House correspondents have regarded floaters as a harmless distraction—the equivalent of letting a batboy sit in the dugout. Now they are starting to see the floaters as an existential threat. ‘Historically, the way the briefing room has been organized is, the closer you are, the farther you’ve come,” said [CBS News’ chief White House correspondent Major Garrett]. ‘And the person at the podium has tended to recognize that.’ More experienced reporters, he said, ‘ask questions that are sharper, more informed. Not, ‘What’s your message today?’ Not, ‘Here’s a paintbrush—would you paint us a pretty picture?’’ If established reporters got fewer questions relative to the floaters, I asked, would this be good or bad for democracy? ‘We’ll see,’ Garrett said. ‘We’re engaged in a grand experiment.’”

-- New York Times A1, “For Solace and Solidarity in the Trump Age, Liberals Turn the TV Back On,” by Michael Grynbaum and John Koblin: “There is a new safe space for liberals in the age of [Trump]: the television set. Left-leaning MSNBC, after flailing at the end of the Obama years, has edged CNN in prime time. Stephen Colbert’s openly anti-Trump ‘Late Show’ is beating Jimmy Fallon’s ‘Tonight’ for the first time. Bill Maher’s HBO flock has grown nearly 50 percent … Traditional television, a medium considered so last century, has watched audiences drift away for the better part of a decade. Now rattled liberals are surging back, seeking catharsis, solidarity and relief. The turbocharged ratings are a surprise even to seen-it-all television executives, who had been bracing for a plunge in viewership after the excitement of the presidential campaign. Instead, the old analog favorites are in … Despite a dizzying array of new media choices, viewers are opting for television’s mass gathering spots, seeking the kind of shared experience that can validate and reassure.”

-- Meanwhile, key offices are continuing to gather dust as the Trump administration drags its feet on the slowest transition in decades. The New York Times’ Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Sharon LaFraniere report: “From the moment he was sworn in, [Trump] faced a personnel crisis, starting virtually from scratch in lining up senior leaders for his administration. Seven weeks into the job, he is still hobbled by the slow start, months behind where experts in both parties, even some inside his administration, say he should be. The lag has left critical power centers in his government devoid of leadership as he struggles to advance policy priorities … Mr. Trump’s personnel problems are rooted in a dysfunctional transition effort … compounded by roadblocks of his own making: a loyalty test that in some cases has eliminated qualified candidates, a five-year lobbying ban that has discouraged some of the most sought-after potential appointees, and a general sense of upheaval at the White House that has repelled many others. ‘There’s no question this is the slowest transition in decades,’ said [former State Department official] R. Nicholas Burns … ‘It is a very, very big mistake. The world continues — it doesn’t respect transitions.’”

-- Politico Magazine, “Lessons From the Fake News Pandemic of 1942,” by Joshua Zeitz: “Long before the advent of conservative radio, cable news and the internet—and two generations before an especially dim bulb shot up Comet Pizza in Northwest D.C. … ‘fake news’ pervaded the American South. It wasn’t the first time that Americans consumed and spread conspiratorial rumors, but it was the first time that such rumors travelled so widely and targeted a prominent member of the first family. And it’s also the historical example that echoes today’s disinformation pandemic most closely. The example of 1942 also carries a warning. Many regions of the country were rife with rumor … but the South—with its weak political, civil society and educational institutions—was particularly susceptible to disinformation. Looking back from a distance, most Americans today would probably agree that the peculiar condition of the South in 1942 is not one that we wish to replicate seventy-five years later. But is our civil society today strong enough to resist?

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“South Dakota law allows LGBT child services denial,” from the New York Daily News: “Adoption and foster agencies can legally refuse to serve gay people in South Dakota under a new law that activist groups have denounced as a ‘dark new reality’ for LGBT rights. Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed SB 149 on Friday, making South Dakota the first state to pass a so-called ‘religious freedom’ law since the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in 2015. The law says no child placement agency in the state can be required to provide services that conflict with any ‘sincerely-held religious belief or moral conviction.’ ‘LGBTQ children in South Dakota’s foster care system face the risk of staying in a facility that does not affirm their identity and actively works against the child’s well being by refusing to give them appropriate medical and mental health care,’ Human Rights Campaign legal director Sarah Warbelow said in a statement.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Sean Spicer ambushed while shopping at the Apple Store,” from the Washington Examiner: “White House press secretary Sean Spicer was accosted while shopping at an Apple store in Washington, D.C., on Saturday. ‘How does it feel to work for a fascist? Have you helped with the Russia stuff? Are you a criminal as well? Have you committed treason too, just like the president?’ a woman filming Spicer asks. Spicer tried to ignore the woman as she followed him around the store, continuing to ask him if he ‘feels good’ about working for a ‘fascist’ and about ‘lying to the American people.’ ‘Such a great country that allows you to be here,’ Spicer responded. The woman who supposedly recorded the video tweeted the confrontation.”

 

DAYBOOK:

At the White House: Trump will lead a listening session on healthcare before joining Mike Pence and Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao for lunch. He will then meet with members of his cabinet and sign an executive order titled “Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch.” In the evening, Trump will have dinner with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster.

Pence will join Trump for the healthcare listening session, his Cabinet meeting and lunch with Chao. He’ll also join the president as he signs his executive order later in the afternoon.

On Capitol Hill: The Senate will convene at 2:00 p.m. and proceed to executive session to resume consideration of Seema Verma to be Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Some other events that should be on your radar for the next few days, via GOP lobbyist Bruce Mehlman:

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“He's the Zoolander president.” -- Mark Cuban on Trump at South by Southwest (CNBC)

 

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

-- The Capitals lost to the Ducks, 5-2.

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

SNL considers Ivanka "complicit" in her dad's misdeeds:

Alec Baldwin was back for SNL's cold open:

Al Franken and Jeff Sessions squared off on Weekend Update:

Watch good samaritans save a woman from a train:

"60 Minutes" ran a strong segment about the way Putin goes after his critics: