Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.), a potential challenger to Sen. Tim Kaine in 2018, just came out against the American Health Care Act. (Steve Helber/AP)

With Breanne Deppisch

THE BIG IDEA: The worse-than-expected Congressional Budget Office forecast seems certain to force meaningful changes to the Obamacare repeal bill now under consideration in the House.

-- An alarm bell for GOP leadership: Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) is exactly the kind of mainstream conservative whose support House Speaker Paul Ryan needs to secure passage of his pending legislation. After reading the CBO report last night, he came out against the plan. “It is clear that this bill is not consistent with the repeal and replace principles for which I stand,” the five-term congressman  wrote on Facebook. “I do not think this bill will do what is necessary for the short and long-term best interests of Virginians.” Jenna Portnoy notes that Wittman, who rarely dissents from leadership, dropped out of the governor’s race a few weeks after Trump won but has kept the door open to challenging Tim Kaine (D-Va.) for Senate next year. Wittman can almost certainly picture the brutal ads Kaine would run against him and concluded that he cannot take the risk.

-- Rodney Whitlock has worked as a senior GOP health-care staffer in both the House and the Senate, including as Sen. Chuck Grassley’s health policy director in 2010. A consultant now, his tweet reflects what many Republican staffers and think tank types are saying privately:

-- Senate Republicans are making it increasingly clear that the House bill, as presently constituted, will be dead on arrival in their chamber:

  • “The top line numbers are alarming,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). “These kinds of estimates are going to cause revisions in the bill, almost certainly. I don’t think that the bill that is being considered now is the bill that ultimately will be the one that we vote on in the Senate.”
  • "Can't sugarcoat it. Doesn't look good," said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), per Politico. "The CBO score was, shall we say, an eye-popper."
  • “Let’s say the CBO is half-right; that should be cause for concern,’’ said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), per the Boston Globe. “So rather than attacking the CBO as the exclusive way of moving forward, I would think the prudent thing for the party to do is to look at the CBO report and see if we can address some of the concerns raised.”
  • Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) cited the CBO number as another reason to slow the whole process down. “I don’t think Americans care whether this bill passes by Easter or Memorial Day,” he told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt this morning. “I think that people in Congress often get tunnel vision, and they focus on the next 24 or 48 hours and what’s going to happen with this legislation, and passing a bill and not solving a problem."
  • Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) told one of our reporters that it’s understandable fewer would have coverage because there will no longer be a mandate. But the Senate majority whip added that Republicans in his chamber will “obviously” want to “improve those coverage numbers” all the same.

-- These five quotes will make it much harder for House Republican leaders to whip their members, especially if they try to force a vote late next week. Why would they walk the plank and vote for something they know will be used against them in attack ads down the road if they also know it won’t make it through?

Remember all those House Democrats whom Nancy Pelosi forced to vote for cap-and-trade and then lost their seats in 2010 after the Senate never took up the legislation? It’s one thing to take a principled and courageous vote in order to enact a major policy change. It’s another to cast a potentially career-ending vote that winds up being purely symbolic.

-- Another problem: Most of the changes that the White House seems to be talking about to get House Freedom Caucus members onboard will worsen the coverage numbers and make it harder to win over GOP senators.

-- A tertiary consequence: The red state Senate Democrats who are up for reelection in 2018 say they now feel no pressure to vote for repeal. Republicans think that they would be able to use their failure to get health care done as a bludgeon against the likes of Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Joe Donnelly Ind.). But these lawmakers can all cite the CBO report, produced by a Republican appointee, as a reason to toe the party line.

THE NUMBERS YOU NEED TO KNOW FROM THE CBO REPORT:

-- Twenty-four million fewer people would have coverage a decade from now than if the Affordable Care Act remains intact, nearly doubling the share of Americans who are uninsured. The number of uninsured people would jump 14 million after the first year.

-- The Republican legislation would lower the deficit by $337 billion during that time, primarily by decreasing Medicaid spending and government aid for people purchasing health plans on their own. 

-- Premiums would be 15 to 20 percent higher in the first year compared with current Obamacare premiums, but 10 percent lower after 2026.

-- Older Americans would pay “substantially” more, and younger Americans less. 

-- The CBO analysis also found that the plan to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding would leave many women without services to help them prevent pregnancy, resulting in “thousands” of additional births, which would in turn jack up Medicaid costs. Sandhya Somashekhar reports: “The analysts estimated that excluding the women’s health organization from the Medicaid program for one year, as congressional Republicans have proposed, would particularly affect low-income areas and communities without many health care options, leaving 15 percent of those people ‘without services that help women avert pregnancy.’ The reduction in services would reduce federal spending on Medicaid, the state-federal program for the poor, by $178 million during 2017, the analysts estimate. But they believe the savings would be partially offset by the fact that there would be ‘several thousand’ more births paid for under Medicaid, which already picks up the costs of about 45 percent of all U.S. births; many of those new babies likely would qualify for the Medicaid program.”

-- Another indictment from the CBO: The House Republicans’ mechanism for persuading healthy Americans to stay insured would be largely ineffective, and it would ultimately lead to about 2 million fewer Americans buying insurance each year. Juliet Eilperin explains: “GOP lawmakers are determined to repeal the individual mandate.… But by jettisoning what has grown over time to a hefty penalty, several experts said, lawmakers have crafted a financial incentive that many consumers are unlikely to find compelling. Under the House GOP proposal, any consumer who opts out of getting insurance would have to pay a 30 percent surcharge on one year’s premium upon re-enrolling. That compares with the current tax penalty under the 2010 law, which is calculated as the higher of either 2.5 percent of household income or a flat-dollar amount per adult and child in a family, for a total that cannot exceed $2,085. … Initially under the Republican approach, the CBO projects, ‘roughly 1 million people would be induced to purchase insurance in 2018 to avoid possibly having to pay the surcharge in the future.’ But after that year, it adds, about 2 million people would opt out annually of getting covered. That shift could affect the overall mix of who is buying insurance on the individual market. ‘The people deterred from purchasing coverage would tend to be healthier than those who would not be deterred and would be willing to pay the surcharge,’ the CBO analysis states.” 

-- Bottom line: “The 37-page report provides the most tangible evidence to date of the human and fiscal impact of the House GOP’s American Health Care Act,” Goldstein, Elise Viebeck, Kelsey Snell and Mike DeBonis report. “It also undermines [Trump’s] pledge that no Americans would lose coverage under a Republican remake of the Affordable Care Act.”

-- Read all 37 pages for yourself here.

-- Our graphics team visualized the stark estimates:

(Philip Bump)

IT COULD HAVE BEEN WORSE:

-- A secret OMB analysis of the GOP plan, obtained by Politico, predicted even steeper coverage losses than the CBO projections. Paul Demko reports: “The executive branch analysis forecast that 26 million people would lose coverage over the next decade, versus the 24 million CBO estimates. The analysis found that under the American Health Care Act the coverage losses would include 17 million for Medicaid, six million in the individual market and three million in employer-based plans. [And] a total of 54 million individuals would be uninsured in 2026 under the GOP plan, according to this White House analysis. That’s nearly double the number projected under current law." 

-- In damage control mode this morning, White House officials claim that this leaked analysis was done only to get ahead of the CBO:

-- Separately, an independent analysis by Bloomberg’s John McCormick of the Ryan plan's geographic impacts is full of more bad news for Trump voters“Counties that backed him would get less than a third of the relief that would go to counties where Hillary Clinton won. The two individual tax cuts contained in the Republican plan to replace Obamacare apply only to high-earning workers and investors, roughly those with incomes of at least $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for married couples. Taxpayers in counties that backed Trump would see an annual windfall of about $6.6 billion, (an) analysis of Internal Revenue Service data shows. In counties that backed Clinton, it’d be about $21.9 billion.” The Ryan plan ends two individual taxes that were imposed by the ACA: a 0.9 percent additional Medicare tax on wages and 3.8 percent surtax on investment income that both apply to people at the top end of the income scale.

Paul Ryan speaks to reporters during his weekly press briefing. (Evy Mages/Getty)

REPUBLICANS ATTACK THE MESSENGER:

-- Paul Ryan claimed that the numbers actually “exceeded” his expectations and focused on the deficit, not coverage, findings. The legislation is “about giving people more choices and better access they want and can afford,” he said on Fox. “When people have more choices, costs go down. That’s what this report shows.”

-- HHS Secretary Tom Price said the CBO score is "just not believable." 

-- OMB Director Mick Mulvaney dismissed it as “just absurd.”

-- Newt Gingrich called for the CBO to be “abolished”: "It is corrupt. It is dishonest. It was totally wrong on Obamacare by huge, huge margins. I don't trust a single word they have published. And I don't believe them," he said on Fox News. When host Martha MacCallum noted that the head of it is a Republican, he said curtly: "I couldn't care less."

BIGGER PICTURE:

-- The Republican effort to pass a health-care overhaul has been less strategic and more top-down than when Democrats did it, which could come back to haunt Ryan. Carolyn Y. Johnson reports: “To get the ACA passed, Democrats used a big-tent approach, convening health-care groups that did not normally talk to one another while cutting deals and strong-arming key industry players to build broad support for the plan. First, the drug companies got on board. Then came the hospitals and the doctors. ‘It was a little thuggish. You’d be at the table or you’d be on the menu,’ said [former Bush adviser] Doug Badger.… In contrast, the Republican effort to sweep away [Obama’s] signature health-care law has unfolded so fast that lobbyists and industry groups barely had time to digest the bill before lawmakers began marking it up. The difference between the approaches speaks to a drastically changed political atmosphere and the reality of passing a health-care plan chiefly aimed at dismantling the current law vs. building one from scratch.”

In this vein, a Nevada Republican congressman said this to a local reporter:

WHAT'S THE NEXT PHASE OF THE BATTLE?

-- The Trump team is trying to marginalize the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) in an effort to discount its opposition to the House bill. David Weigel reports: “The White House’s quick dismissal of the 37 million-member monolith stands in contrast with how parties trying to push entitlement reforms typically operate. Throughout the lengthy Affordable Care Act debate, the Obama White House and congressional Democrats talked to AARP to stay on the same page. ... And in the first George W. Bush administration, AARP was brought on board to endorse Medicare Part D, running a multimillion-dollar ad campaign to shore up votes from wavering Republicans. When AARP has been left outside the gate, a reform push has typically failed. Bush found that out in 2005, when he made Social Security privatization the first big project of his second term. AARP came out against it, mobilizing angry voters at town halls and blunting the impact of Bush’s own push, which took him around the country for months. The Trump administration, and Republicans in Congress, have chosen this year to simply define AARP as yet another flawed interest group.” 

-- Breitbart, the president's Pravda, continues trying to turn Trump against Ryan. The site's coverage of the bill has been very negative, and last night it prominently posted audio of the speaker distancing himself from Trump last October when the "Access Hollywood" video emerged. "I am not going to defend Donald Trump — not now, not in the future," Ryan said then.

-- The White House’s attacks on the CBO may turn out to be short-sighted and could make it hard to pass future legislation, including tax reform. “CBO officials are often political punching bags, but vitriolic attacks from top White House officials in recent days have the potential to erode the agency’s standing at a time when its assessments of health-care policy, changes to the tax code and deficit projections will factor into whether Congress enacts key parts of the Trump administration’s agenda,” Damian Paletta reports. “Trump and his top advisers have routinely worked to discredit government entities that publish forecasts, estimates or reports. Trump has suggested, for example, that the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ data on unemployment cannot be trusted. The entity’s analysis will be crucial for some of the Trump administration’s more-controversial proposals this year, and it could repeatedly issue assessments that run counter to what the White House thinks.”

Jason Furman, who chaired the White House Council of Economic Advisers during the Obama administration, said he always chose his words carefully when publicly debating CBO decisions — sticking to policy debates rather than attacks on credibility or legitimacy. “This administration likes to argue with facts,” he said of the Trump administration. “And if they don’t like what’s produced … they attack the messenger. At a time when there’s increasing distrust in institutions, that’s like playing with fire.

Judge Neil Gorsuch has been on Capitol Hill to meet with senators a lot the past six weeks. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

CHAOS CONTINUES:

-- The GOP is running a no-huddle spread offense, and next Monday is going to be one of the most exhausting days since Trump took power. Republican committee chairmen have scheduled Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing and the House Intelligence’s open session on Russian meddling in the 2016 election for the same day. This guarantees neither meeting will get as much coverage as it would otherwise, especially on cable news.

Among the star witnesses expected for the House hearing: FBI Director James B. Comey, National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers, former CIA director John Brennan, former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., former acting attorney general Sally Yates (who was fired by Trump), and two senior officers of CrowdStrike — the company that found proof that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee.

For the first time, Gorsuch will need to answer publicly for Trump’s nasty attacks on the judiciary while defending his own independence. With the help of an elaborate P.R. apparatus, he’s garnered overwhelmingly favorable coverage these past six weeks. But the president and his surrogates have not been shy about saying that Gorsuch is as, or maybe more conservative, than Antonin Scalia. And he has a long paper trail. How will he explain his views on abortion rights, religious freedom, the Second Amendment and more when he’s in the hot seat? Judicial opinions don’t make for great television, though, and foreign espionage does. So how much will any of it break through?

Topping it off, the Trump team has just announced a big rally for Monday evening in Louisville, Ky. The 7:30 p.m. event means, if Gorsuch has a rough debut or damaging revelations emerge regarding the Trump campaign’s links to Russia, the president has a platform to throw out enough red meat and flash shiny objects to try distracting the D.C. press corps and shifting the narrative. As we outlined last week, this is his modus operandi.

Welcome to the Daily 202, PowerPost's morning newsletter.
Sign up to receive the newsletter.

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- Last night’s snowstorm left a very slippery “wintry mix” icing over the region  causing slick roads and below-freezing temperatures in many areas. The Capital Weather Gang says the morning blast should gradually change back to all snow before ending between midday and mid-afternoon. Federal government offices in the region are opening on a three-hour delay. A full list of school closings and delays can be found here. (Commuting through the deluge? Take note of the following.) 

The full forecast: “Blustery weather eases up tomorrow night, but the pattern stays cold into the weekend. A weak storm early this weekend should be more rain than snow, but clouds look slow to clear, and temperatures still run cooler than normal for middle March.” Follow updates here.

D.C. leaders briefed the president last night on preparations for the storm:

Some scenes from around the metro area:

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Two former Penn State officials who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor child endangerment in connection with the Jerry Sandusky case each face up to five years in prison as part of a potential deal with prosecutors. It is unclear if the two have agreed to testify against former Penn State president Graham Spanier, who has also been charged with helping to cover up years of abuse by Sandusky. (Des Bieler)
  2. Poland is seeking the arrest and extradition of a 98-year-old Minnesota man with Alzheimer’s disease, claiming he is a former Nazi commander who ordered the massacres of two Polish villages. He allegedly ordered his men to “liquidate” the towns – and oversaw his troops as they burned down both villages and shot those who tried to flee. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison. (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)
  3. Pirates have hijacked an oil tanker off the coast of Somalia, the first seizure of a large commercial ship since 2012 on a crucial global trade route. Two dozen seized the vessel, and more have now joined them. A ransom demand has not yet been made. (AP)
  4. Russia appears to have deployed special forces to an airbase in western Egypt in recent days – a move that, if confirmed, would heighten U.S. concerns about Moscow’s deepening role in Libya. U.S. officials said the deployment near the Egypt-Libya border could be part of a bid to support Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar, whose oil ports were recently attacked by the Benghazi Defense Brigade. (Reuters)
  5. Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon said she will seek a new independence referendum, a “defiant and unexpected” announcement that forces British leaders to try and prevent their country from ripping apart, even as they negotiate sensitive details of their split from the EU. (Griff Witte)
  6. California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is drafting a universal health care plan for California that he will unveil as a key component in his 2018 gubernatorial bid to succeed Jerry Brown. He plans to base the proposal in part on the health care program he signed into law when he was mayor of San Francisco. (The Sacramento Bee)
  7. A California lawmaker seeking to end the “tampon tax” on feminine hygiene products has proposed an alternative: raising taxes on liquor to make up for the state revenue loss. Lawmakers estimate the liquor tax would end up costing consumers an additional 1.5 cents per serving. (Kristine Phillips)
  8. The NBA fined Golden State Warriors forward Andre Iguodala $10,000 for his remarks during a heated postgame interview, in which he used the n-word three times and said “I just do what master say” when asked about sitting out a game in San Antonio. He has yet to issue an apology. (Tim Bontemps)
  9. Going gluten-free may offer zero health benefit to people who aren’t shunning bread out of medical necessity, according to the results of a 30-year study – in fact, it could make their health worse. People who ate gluten were 13 percent less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than their low-gluten counterparts. (Wires)
  10. A Miami police officer was arrested last week on allegations of “systematically” pulling over and robbing drivers during traffic stops. He was nabbed after attempting to steal from an undercover police officer. (Avi Selk)
  11. A Florida agency has put out a “help wanted” ad for python killers, seeking to curb a snake infestation that has spread rapidly and left nearly every species in the state vulnerable to attack. Even the Everglades aren’t immune to the python’s predatory ways – as proved by video footage of an alligator being strangled and killed by the snake! (Darryl Fears)
  12. A New Jersey school apologized for a “culturally insensitive project” in which fifth-graders learning about Colonial America were tasked with creating posters advertising slave auctions. (CNN)
  13. A Pennsylvania woman who began rapidly gaining weight at the age of 45 says she spent years trying to stave off the pounds before eventually resigning herself to a life of being “short, round and fat.” It wasn’t until a blood clot sent her to the hospital that doctors discovered she wasn’t suffering from a weight problem – but rather, a 140-pound tumor on her torso. (Amy B Wang)
  14. Children’s author Amy Krouse Rosenthal, whose heart-wrenching “Modern Love” essay about her terminal illness, “You May Want to Marry My Husband,” was published just 10 days ago, died on Monday after losing her battle with ovarian cancer. “I am wrapping this up on Valentine’s Day,” Rosenthal wrote in the column, styled as a future personals ad for her husband, “and the most genuine, non-vase-oriented gift I can hope for is that the right person reads this, finds Jason, and another love story begins.” She was 51. (New York Times)

"WIRETAPPING" FALLOUT:

-- The Justice Department requested an extension to respond to a request from the House Intelligence Committee seeking any wiretapping applications, orders or warrants related to Trump or his associates, which was originally due on Monday. Matt Zapotosky reports: The request comes after Trump asserted earlier this month that Barack Obama had “wires tapped” in the Trump Tower during the presidential race, providing zero evidence to back his claim – which was denied by both Obama and former national intelligence director James Clapper. Nonetheless, the House committee said they would investigate the matter, and requested the agency provide “copies of any applications submitted to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, any orders that court released, and any copies of warrants issued by federal judges or magistrates regarding Trump or his campaign surrogates, business associates, employees, family and friends — ‘if they exist.’” House Intelligence Committee spokesman Jack Langer said Monday that the lawmakers now want a response by March 20, the day of their hearing, and “may resort to a compulsory process if our questions continue to go unanswered.” This could include subpoenas.

-- Meanwhile, the White House's defense of Trump's unfounded claims continued to evolve. The administration initially asked Congress to investigate the claim as part of a broader inquiry into Russian interference, with Sean Spicer saying he would let Trump’s tweet on the matter “speak for itself.” But yesterday Spicer did just the opposite – and appeared to suggest Trump was using the term “wiretapping" to encompass broader conduct: “If you look at the president’s tweet, he said very clearly, quote, ‘wire tapping’ — in quotes,” Spicer said, making air quotes for emphasis. “There’s been substantial discussion in several reports … There’s been reports in the New York Times and the BBC and other outlets about other aspects of surveillance that have occurred. The president was very clear in his tweet that it was, you know, ‘wiretapping’ — that spans a whole host of surveillance types of options.”

“This is quite a remarkable standard Spicer is trying to set for his boss,” The Fix’s Callum Borchers writes. “None of the ‘several reports’ Spicer referenced actually claim that Trump or his aides were wiretapped, despite claims to the contrary. Fox News Channel's Steve Doocy said on the air Monday morning that ‘there's no doubt about the fact that at least Michael Flynn was wiretapped,’ and counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway said on CNN a short time later that ‘We know that General Flynn was wiretapped.’ Wrong. The Washington Post reported last month that pre-inauguration phone calls between Flynn, who resigned as national security adviser, and Russia's ambassador to the United States were intercepted by U.S. intelligence agencies because the ambassador was wiretapped. That's a key distinction that the president's aides and media boosters seem determined to obscure. … The unavoidable conclusion is this: Spicer knows that no evidence of actual wiretapping is coming, so his best shot to vindicate Trump is to claim that ‘wire tapping’ could mean something else.”

Trump speaks with Ivanka and husband Jared Kushner at the White House. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

CONFLICTS OF INTEREST WATCH:

-- A company owned by the family of Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser Jared Kushner stands to receive more than $400 million from a prominent Chinese firm that is investing in the family’s Manhattan office tower at 666 Fifth Ave. Bloomberg reports: “The planned $4-billion transaction includes terms that some real estate experts consider unusually favorable for the Kushners. It provides them with both a sizable cash payout from Anbang Insurance Group for a property that has struggled financially and an equity stake in a new partnership. [The agreement] would make business partners of Kushner Cos. and Anbang, whose murky links to the Chinese power structure have raised national security concerns over its U.S. investments. In the process, an existing mortgage owed by the Kushners will be slashed to about a fifth of its current amount."

-- Ivanka Inc. is going down market in an apparent effort to reach more customers who support the Trumps, as higher-end stores continue to distance themselves. “Over the last few weeks, it seemed like Neiman Marcus could not make up its mind about whether to sell Ivanka Trump’s fine jewelry,” The New York Times’ Rachel Abrams reports. “The brand’s baubles disappeared, reappeared and then disappeared again from the department store’s website. But now, Neiman Marcus won’t have much of a choice. Ms. Trump’s brand has discontinued its line of high-end bracelets, necklaces and rings, the company confirmed on Monday. Instead, it will focus on more affordable fashion jewelry, according to [company president] Abigail Klem. ... Ms. Klem attributed the decision to the company’s ‘commitment to offering solution-oriented products at accessible price points.’ She did not mention Neiman Marcus, or any of the other retailers that had recently backed away from carrying Ms. Trump’s increasingly politicized products.”

-- Trump has not yet fulfilled his campaign promise to donate his White House salary to charity, but Sean Spicer said he still intends to. "The president's intention right now is to donate his salary at the end of the year, and he has kindly asked that you all help determine where that goes," Spicer told reporters during his briefing. "The way that we can avoid scrutiny is let the press corp determine where it goes." (CNN)

President Trump speaks on the phone with Australia Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in the Oval Office on Jan. 28. (Alex Brandon/AP)

TRUMP FULLY EMBRACES JACKSON:

-- During a trip to Nashville tomorrow, on what would have been Andrew Jackson’s 250th birthday, the president will lay a wreath at the former president’s tomb and then tour his home. From the Tennessean: “He will be the 14th president to visit the Hermitage, and the first since Ronald Reagan participated in the birthday commemoration ceremony in 1982.” Jackson was born March 15, 1767.

-- The Hermitage had scheduled a full day of events for tomorrow but postponed them to accommodate the president. The activities, now set for this weekend, include hickory pole racing, birthday cake, a concert performed by the Tennessee National Guard and a book-signing event with Andrew Jackson VI. The local paper says, on Friday and Saturday, there will also be over 150 costumed interpreters to recreate a military encampment from the War of 1812.

-- When he moved into the White House, one of the first things Trump did was hang a portrait of Jackson in the Oval Office.

-- The Inauguration Day edition of The Daily 202 looked at how Trump came to admire Jackson. Hint: Stephen K. Bannon. Read it here.

Scientists demonstrate against Trump in Boston. (Steven Senne/AP)

WHO IS IN CHARGE?

-- Still missing from the new administration? Scientists. A Post analysis has found that Trump has moved to fill just one of 46 key science and technology positions that help the government combat a wide range of risks – including everything from chemical and biological attacks to rising seas. Chris Mooney reports: “The vacancies in the 46 Senate-confirmed posts range from the president’s science adviser, to the administrators of NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to the chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Other administrations have been slow to populate senior science posts, but policy experts say that Trump’s stands out because of its combination of thin science staffing with sharp proposed budget cuts to government science programs. Meanwhile, Trump 'beachhead teams' at federal agencies, whose members do not require Senate confirmation, have included people whose views diverge from science consensus positions."

-- “Trump Appointee Who Tweeted About 'Some Muslim Piece Of [Expletive]' Is Out From Energy Department," from Buzzfeed: “A massage therapist and former Trump campaign operative with a history of making disparaging remarks about Muslims on Twitter is no longer employed with the Department of Energy … According to two employees at the nuclear weapons agency … Sid Bowdidge, 60, began working at the department [as an ‘assistant to the secretary’] following the inauguration. Though such assistants may or may not be involved in science or policy decisions, (last) week he attended a staff meeting for the Office of Technology Transitions, an office established two years ago to help private companies incorporate technology developed at the department’s national labs — among the world’s premier physics and nuclear weapons research facilities — in their products.”

-- The New York attorney general says Rex Tillerson used an email alias, “Wayne Tracker,” to discuss climate change when he was ExxonMobil's chief executive from 2008 to 2015. Bloomberg reports: He sent messages from the account to discuss the risks posed by climate change, Eric Schneiderman said in a court filing about his office’s investigation of the company. "Schneiderman made the claim in a letter Monday to Justice Barry Ostrager in New York state court in Manhattan, accusing Exxon of failing to turn over all relevant documents required by a court order. The filing comes in a protracted legal dispute in which Exxon seeks to derail probes by New York and Massachusetts into whether the company misled investors for years about the possible impact of climate change on its business.” Tillerson used the account for "secure and expedited communications between select senior company officials … for a broad range of business-related topics” after his primary account began receiving too many messages, an Exxon spokesman said in a statement.

Kenneth Allen Polite Jr., right, speaks at a 2014 press conference about a crackdown on trafficking. He got fired on Friday. (Evan Vucci/AP)

FALLOUT FROM U.S. ATTORNEY FIRINGS, DAY FIVE:

-- “Preet Bharara was not the only federal prosecutor taken aback by sudden request to resign,” by Ellen Nakashima and Matt Zapotosky: “Although individual cases and investigations are likely to press on no matter who heads each U.S. attorney’s office, their enforcement priorities could change depending on who is at the top. Kenneth A. Polite, the U.S. attorney in New Orleans, for example, increased the number of prosecutors handling violent crime and established a public integrity unit. His successor may have other ideas. In Baton Rouge, local law enforcement officials pleaded with Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to leave in place Walt Green, the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Louisiana, citing his efforts fighting violent crime. A Marine who served two tours in Iraq, Green created several crime-fighting units that have led to a 16 percent drop in homicides and a 22 percent reduction in violent crime since 2012, the officials said in a letter sent Sunday.” It was to no avail. Green is out.

Trump has purged many career prosecutors who had no political background or agenda. Though legally entitled to fire whoever he wants, a lot of Republicans in the law enforcement community complain privately about a lack of class from the Justice Department. Among those who got axed on Friday:

  • Barbara McQuade, who served 12 years as a federal prosecutor in Detroit, including a stint as deputy chief of the national security unit there, before becoming U.S. attorney. On her first day as U.S. attorney in 2010, her office arrested the “Underwear Bomber” — the al-Qaeda operative later convicted of attempting to blow up a jetliner over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.
  • John Vaudreuil, the U.S. attorney in Wisconsin, joined the Justice Department 37 years ago, fresh out of law school. He has been to more than 25 countries on behalf of the department, including Pakistan, Bangladesh and Russia, supporting democracy-building efforts.
  • Richard Hartunian had been an assistant U.S. attorney 13 years before being appointed U.S. attorney in Albany, N.Y. He got his start as an assistant district attorney in Albany County in 1990 and was motivated to become a prosecutor after his younger sister was killed on Pan Am Flight 103 — the jet that was bombed over Lockerbie, Scotland. Hartunian, who served on the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee, is three months from retirement.” (He's been extended so he get to 20 years.)

-- “Why Trump's prosecutor purge could haunt the GOP,” by Politico's Daniel Strauss: “Until Friday, Barbara McQuade served as United States attorney in eastern Michigan. By Saturday, one day after the Trump administration demanded her resignation, her prospects as a candidate for governor or attorney general were the talk of the state Democratic Party. McQuade was among more than 40 U.S. attorneys appointed by [Obama] and let go by the president last week, an act that suddenly flooded the political marketplace with experienced federal prosecutors of the sort both parties love to tap to run for high office. New York is buzzing with rumors about what’s next for Preet Bharara … who has been tipped for elected office in the past. Kenneth Polite, the former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, resigned Friday and immediately reinvigorated talk of a run for state attorney general, mayor of New Orleans, or Orleans Parish sheriff.” “They come with a lot of advantages,” said former DCCC political director Ian Russell. “There’s the prosecutorial experience, the sense of respect Americans have for the impartial justice department.”

Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer speak to reporters about the CBO report. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

THE AGENDA ON THE HILL:

-- Senate Democrats are preparing to battle Republicans on Trump’s border wall initiative, even if it means threatening a government shutdown at the end of April. Kelsey Snell reports: Chuck Schumer warned GOP leaders in a letter on Monday that they will not accept any attempt to include funding for Trump’s border wall in a spending bill that is necessary to keep the government open past April 28. “Given these and other concerns, we believe it would be inappropriate to insist on the inclusion of such funding in a must-pass appropriations bill that is needed for the Republican majority in control of the Congress to avert a government shutdown so early in President Trump’s Administration,” he wrote, along with other Democrats. It’s the first clear warning from Democrats that they’re willing to risk a spending showdown to push back on Trump’s policies – which they could easily accomplish, since Republicans need votes from at least eight Democrats to approve the bill.

-- John McCain and Lindsey Graham penned an op-ed for today's Post arguing for the deployment of more U.S. forces to Afghanistan: “The U.S. objective in Afghanistan is the same now as it was in 2001: to prevent terrorists from using the country’s territory to attack our homeland. Weary as some Americans may be of this long conflict, it is imperative that we see our mission through to success. We have seen what happens when we fail to be vigilant. The threats we face are real. And the stakes are high — not just for the lives of the Afghan people and the stability of the region, but for America’s national security."

-- “Dozens of lawmakers are urging House leaders who oversee the budget to block any move by the Trump administration to slash Coast Guard funding, saying the working proposal to do so is ‘a cause for serious alarm’ and ‘nonsensical’ if [Trump] plans to expand the other armed services,” Dan Lamothe reports. “The bipartisan call was issued in a letter to Rep. John Carter, who leads the House Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security, and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, the subcommittee’s ranking Democrat. Lawmakers argue in the letter that OMB appears to have discounted that while the Coast Guard is not a part of the Defense Department, it is part of the U.S. military and actively involved in efforts to stop illegal immigration and terrorism. Given Trump’s efforts to strengthen border security, it’s likely that the flow of illegal drugs and immigrants offshore will only increase, meriting a ‘sizable budget increase’ to the Coast Guard, the letter said.”

A carnival float featuring a Trump effigy is prepared for a traditional Rose Monday parade in Germany. (Thomas Lohnes/Getty)

THE WORLD ADJUSTS TO TRUMP:

-- Angela Merkel postponed her White House visit from today until Friday because of the snowstorm.

-- The German chancellor's visit comes as foreign leaders try to find their footing with Trump – a mercurial yet crucial ally. Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker report: “Franklin Roosevelt had Winston Churchill. Ronald Reagan had Margaret Thatcher. Bill Clinton had Tony Blair, and Barack Obama had Merkel. Now, more than seven weeks into Trump’s presidency, the question is who, if anyone, might become Trump’s confidant on the world stage. The list of foreign leaders already auditioning to be Trump’s BFF is long, with no obvious consensus candidate. The public and private courtship of the famously mercurial Trump raises several thornier questions: Will the president who defines his worldview as ‘America First’ ever confide in a foreigner? And how can world leaders ingratiate themselves with a man many view as a boorish, truth-challenged bully — but whose friendship they still covet because of the economic and military dominance of the United States?"

Despite their differences, Merkel is hopeful she can woo Trump during her White House visit: “At first blush, she and Trump do not seem to be an obvious pairing. Classically trained as a scientist, Merkel is risk-averse, subdued and rational, while Trump is brash, a showman and proudly impulsive. Despite their differences, however, Trump has been solicitous of Merkel’s opinion, and she is regarded as a good listener, having spent a decade dealing with Vladimir Putin, another male leader with an outsize ego."

But, but, but: A top Trump adviser half-joking dismissed Merkel as a “typical liberal woman” – and unfavorably compared her to Hillary Clinton: “Don’t lecture us about values, about who we are and what we believe,” this adviser said on background. “That again? As any movie buff knows, the sequel is never as good as the original.”

-- Divisions over Trump continue to sow deep discord abroad. Foreign correspondent Anthony Faiola files an illustrative dispatch on the tension: “In Germany, he was a California boy made good — a 29-year old from Fresno whose thriving burger joint in the western city of Essen served up towering plates of greasy American goodness. Then Nicholas Smith came out on national television as a Trump fan. What followed — a de facto boycott of his restaurant, followed by its surprise rescue by the German right — suggests how the polarization of the Trump era has gone global. But particularly in places like Europe, where a certain brand of anti-Americanism often lingers just below the surface, Trump’s rise has also stirred deep animosity along with serious concern. ‘In the U.S., I see the division. There is all this hatred and people can’t argue in a decent way anymore,’ said [one customer]. ‘I feel the same thing is happening in Germany now.’”

-- The UK Home Office warned its employees and contractors not to tweet or retweet negative posts about Trump, warning against such content in a newly-updated guide to proper social media behavior distributed to staff last week. (The Register)

-- Trump “may meet” with Turkish President Erdoğan, following the country’s April 16 referendum on whether to shift the country to an executive presidential system. Speaking to reporters on Monday, Erdoğan chalked the date up to a United States’ policy of not meeting politicians from countries where a public vote is due to be held within 60 days. (Hurriyet Daily News)

WAPO HIGHLIGHTS:

Russell Moore, a Baptist leader, speaks in Nashville. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

-- Chilling: Russell Moore, the leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, could lose his job because of backlash from Trump supporters in his flock who are angry that he criticized the president. Religion reporter Sarah Pulliam Bailey reports: “Any such move could be explosive for the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, which has been divided over politics, theology and, perhaps most starkly, race. Since he was elected in 2013, Moore, 45, has been praised by younger evangelicals for challenging the political approach of an older generation. He is also very popular among many evangelicals of color, who have welcomed Moore’s promotion of racial justice, including his vigorous opposition to public displays of the Confederate flag. [But] more than 100 of the denomination’s 46,000 churches have threatened to cut off financial support for the SBC’s umbrella fund … [Now], the committee is studying whether the churches are acting out of displeasure with Moore."

-- “Facing long odds in blue states, Republicans call Democratic candidates ‘unhinged,’” by David Weigel: “As first-year elections go, the race for governor of New Jersey looks brutal for [Trump] and the GOP. The GOP’s surprising strategy to dig out, so far, has been to pummel [top Democratic contender Phil Murphy] for his criticism of Trump. … Trump, who won the presidency despite low favorable ratings, threatens to be an anchor in 2017’s only major races. In Virginia, Democrats are trying to retain the governor’s mansion; in New Jersey, to reclaim it. Not only do midterm elections tend to break against the party that holds the White House, but both states voted solidly for [Clinton] last year. While the 2018 Senate race map is a struggle for Democrats, and that year’s House map is slanted against the party thanks to tough gerrymanders, this year’s elections look close to ideal for comebacks. The GOP has tried to take advantage of that, by exploiting the dark language Democrats use to describe Trump — often in front of Democratic audiences for whom too much red meat is never enough.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Illinois) got arrested after leading a sit-in at a Chicago federal building yesterday to protest one of his constituents, a mother of six, receiving a deportation order:

The fallout over Steve King's tweet that our "civilization" can't be restored with "someone else's babies" continues.

From Jeb Bush:

A Republican senator up for reelection next year:

A Mother Jones writer:

A Democrat from the Iowa delegation:

Nancy Pelosi was angry at Ryan after he issued a tepid statement of disagreement:

The civil rights legend:

Other members of the Congressional Black Caucus agreed:

Lots of chatter about the CBO score, with observers commenting on the GOP attempts to delegitimize it:

Here are 13 times Trump cited the CBO, on Twitter alone, to back up a point:

From Joe Biden's former chief economic adviser:

A WaPo reporter covering the politics of the health fight:

Speaker Ryan defended it:

Breitbart ripped Ryan:

Our White House editor noted with amusement how similar the Breitbart and Huffington Post headlines were:

Ways and Means Democrats posted a screengrab from the House GOP's FAQ page about their health care bill:

What Americans are seeing when they go grocery shopping this week:

The conservative editor of The Weekly Standard didn't like the optics of how Trump signed his latest executive order:

Trump complained about Democratic obstruction as he signed the order:

He also seemed to criticize the press coverage of Kellyanne Conway's unfounded claim about Obama surveillance:

That did not stop the pile-on:

At the Capitol:

A Huffington Post editor makes this observation about Trump's listening session with "victims of Obamacare":

A common sentiment on the left:

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who got elected to the House as a moderate and is very likely to seek the Democratic nomination in 2020, continues to position herself further and further to the left:

A reminder that we have it pretty good here:

Mitch McConnell posted this snap from the Capitol:

An important reminder from D.C.'s delegate:

And from the president:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- The Atlantic, “Washington's Spy Paranoia,” by Molly Ball: “In Washington, it can be impossible to discern what is on the level and what is not, what is paranoia and what is justified. One former congressional staffer … told me that a few years ago he was offered a cash payment … to pass along committee documents related to Taiwan. ‘This guy just called out of the blue and asked me to lunch,’ the former staffer recalled. The ‘guy’ was an American who had previously worked as a congressional chief of staff. ‘And that was the offer he made—my current salary, in cash.’ This is simply the way things work in a superpower’s capital city. There is the Washington most of its residents live in, and then there is the one underneath, where allies and enemies jockey for influence and information. ... You think you’re living in an episode of Veep, and you find out you’re living in an episode of The Americans."

  • That staffer, who had a security clearance, turned down the offer and reported the contact to his security officer, who said the guy was “on the radar” of American intelligence. "The same staffer also said he was once asked for classified information by a Malaysian embassy official; a friend who worked for a member of the Agriculture Committee was told to watch out for Chinese spies who supposedly hung out at the Hawk ’n’ Dove, a Capitol Hill bar, to eavesdrop on staffers’ conversations."
  • A second former congressional staffer recalled repeatedly being asked on dates by an attractive woman from the Israeli embassy who had also been out with many of his friends. When they finally did go out, he couldn’t shake the feeling it might be “an old-fashioned honeypot scene,” he said, and declined her offer to come home with him.
  • A top official on Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign told me that the Secret Service at one point became concerned that Chinese hackers had penetrated the campaign’s computer network at its Boston headquarters. “That weekend, all these guys who looked like they worked at Home Depot showed up and spent the weekend putting in new hardware,” the official recalled. “Then the Service admonished us not to put anything in email that we thought was sensitive—that lasted about 24 hours.” The staffers disregarded the warning and went back to their old habits, because the threat just didn’t seem real.

-- American Citizens: U.S. Border Agents Can Search Your Cellphone,” by NBC News: “Data provided by the Department of Homeland Security shows that searches of cellphones by border agents has exploded, growing fivefold in just one year, from fewer than 5,000 in 2015 to nearly 25,000 in 2016. According to DHS officials, 2017 will be a blockbuster year. Five-thousand devices were searched in February alone, more than in all of 2015.”

Are Muslims being targeted? “When Buffalo, New York couple Akram Shibly and Kelly McCormick returned to the U.S. from a trip to Toronto on Jan. 1, 2017, U.S. Customs & Border Protection officers held them for two hours, took their cellphones and demanded their passwords. Three days later, they returned from another trip to Canada and were stopped again by CBP. … Within seconds, he was surrounded: one man held his legs, another squeezed his throat from behind. A third reached into his pocket, pulling out his phone. McCormick watched her boyfriend's face turn red as the officer's chokehold tightened. … Shibly and McCormick's experience is not unique. In 25 cases examined by NBC News, American citizens said that CBP officers at airports and border crossings demanded that they hand over their phones and their passwords, or unlock them. … Some were asked about their religion and their ethnic origins, and had the validity of their U.S. citizenship questioned. What most of them have in common — 23 of the 25 — is that they are Muslim, like Shibly, whose parents are from Syria.”

Reaction: "This really puts at risk both the security and liberty of the American people," said Senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon. "Law abiding Americans are being caught up in this digital dragnet."

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Former NC gov. says 'bathroom law' has made it hard for him to find job,” from The Hill: “Former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) says the state's controversial ‘bathroom law’ has made it difficult for him to land a job after leaving office. McCrory said in an interview with a World Radio podcast … that the backlash following the law ‘has impacted me to this day, even after I left office. People are reluctant to hire me, because ‘oh my gosh, he’s a bigot’ — which is the last thing I am.’ He blamed liberal advocates who opposed the law, which requires that transgender people use the bathroom corresponding to their biological sex as identified on their birth certificate, for damaging his reputation.” “If you disagree with the politically correct thought police on this new definition of gender, you’re a bigot, you’re the worst of evil,” McCrory said. “It’s almost as if I broke a law.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“High-School Kids Slammed for Wearing USA-Themed Attire to a Basketball Game,” from National Review: “Students at Valley High School in Iowa wore USA-themed gear during a basketball game — and fans of the opposing team, Des Moines North High School, are saying that was offensive. According to [a] local news source … Valley fans say that they’ve used a ‘USA’ theme in the past for games against several different schools, but North’s fans are insisting that it was a personal attack against them because some of their students come from refugee families.  The controversy got so intense that a group of student leaders from Valley wound up hand-delivering a note of apology to North’s principal ...” “A lot of people were very upset about it,” said a North student. “Even if that was their theme for the game, I feel like they should have switched that because everyone knows North is a more diverse school.”

 

DAYBOOK:

At the White House: In the afternoon, Trump will have lunch with Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Trump will then speak by phone with Anthem CEO Joseph Swedish and HHS Secretary Tom Price. Later, Trump will hold a call to discuss healthcare with Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy.

Meanwhile, Pence will travel to Capitol Hill for the Senate Republican policy lunch and to participate in a swearing-in ceremony for Seema Verma as the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Pence will then spend the afternoon meeting with lawmakers. 

On Capitol Hill: House votes have been cancelled. The Senate will stay open, with plans to convene at 2 pm to consider the repeal of a Labor Department rule regarding employer drug testing of applicants for unemployment benefits.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“I’m not Inspector Gadget,” Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway said on CNN. “I don’t believe people are using the microwave to spy on the Trump campaign. However, I’m not in the job of having evidence. That’s what investigations are for.”

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

-- A history teacher at Georgetown Day School has been charged with sexual misconduct after allegedly kissing and inappropriately touching a 14-year-old girl, according to an arrest affidavit. If convicted, the 31-year-old teacher faces up to 10 years in prison. (Peter Hermann and Keith L. Alexander)

-- George Washington University officials said they are investigating white supremacy signs that were posted on campus, shocking and upsetting some students. According to a recent count from the Anti-Defamation League, more than 100 similar signs have been found in recent months on campuses across the United States. (Susan Svrluga)

-- “Whoops! Sorry about that frigid camp-out, but ballot placement is a lottery,” by Laura Vozzella: “Braving bitter cold, campaign staffers for state Sen. Bryce E. Reeves camped out all weekend in front of the state Board of Elections, determined to get his name listed first on the ballot for the June 13 GOP primary for lieutenant governor of Virginia. Sunday night, they got some company on the sidewalk. Staffers for gubernatorial hopeful Corey A. Stewart lined up behind them, confident for the next 12 bone-chilling hours that they, too, had snagged the top ballot position in their race. But the frigid vigils were for naught. Turns out, there’s a little wiggle room in the state’s first-come, first-listed approach. If two or more candidates file simultaneously, state code says the order is determined by drawing lots. But the code does not define ‘simultaneously.’ … [and] elections officials called it a tie for anyone in line by that hour. A little before 8 a.m. Monday, shortly before the board’s office doors opened, two rival campaigns arrived.” All were deemed a tie, and will be decided with a public drawing on April 5.

-- The national abortion rights group NARAL threw its weight behind Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam in the Democratic gubernatorial primary race, making a rare endorsement that the group billed as a “reward” for Northam’s long-standing advocacy for abortion access. His Democratic challenger, Tom Perriello, was a moderate on abortion during his single term in Congress. (Fenit Nirappil)

-- A Maryland Senate committee rejected Gov. Larry Hogan’s nominee, Wendi Peter, to head the Department of Planning, voting 11-6 against her confirmation on the grounds that she lacked the “planning and managerial experience” to lead the state agency. (Ovetta Wiggins)

-- Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources Secretary Mark J. Belton offered lawmakers no explanation for why he fired the longtime manager of the state’s crab program days after watermen complained to Gov. Hogan about the employee. From Josh Hicks: “Belton repeatedly declined to justify the dismissal during a joint hearing with the House and Senate environmental committees, as Democratic lawmakers questioned whether the termination of Brenda Davis, a 28-year state employee, was politically motivated. … Davis was fired Feb. 21, about one week after Hogan met with Dorchester County watermen who had been pressing the DNR to change its regulations to allow them to catch smaller crabs in late summer. The department, using annual crab-population surveys and scientific analysis, determined that the change would run counter to its goal of ensuring sustainable harvests. Davis, who made policy recommendations but did not have final say over regulations, was six years away from retirement and saving money to send two high school children to college when she was terminated.”

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Seth Myers takes a closer look at Trump on health care and wiretapping:

Stephen Colbert gets started on Trump's wall:

John Oliver devoted 19 minutes of his show to the Ryan health plan: