Donald Trump speaks about health care during a Monday event in the White House. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

With Breanne Deppisch

THE BIG IDEA: The Reagan Democrats who delivered the Rust Belt to Donald Trump last fall will blame congressional Republicans, not him, if Obamacare repeal fails.

The president is flying to Detroit later this morning to talk about the future of the auto industry during a roundtable with union workers and CEOs. He is expected to relax fuel economy standards.

Trump was the first Republican to carry Michigan since 1988 because of his outsized strength among non-college educated independents and traditional Democrats.

Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg coined the term “Reagan Democrats” in the mid-1980s to describe just these sorts of blue-collar whites in Macomb County, Michigan, mostly autoworkers, who had shifted from staunchly backing John F. Kennedy to going gaga for Ronald Reagan. He helped his client Bill Clinton assiduously court this constituency and bring them back into the Democratic fold.

Barack Obama easily carried Macomb twice. Then Trump won it with 54 percent.

To understand what happened, Greenberg went back last month to conduct four focus groups with 35 non-college educated whites who voted for both Trump and Obama.

There was no buyer’s remorse. Despite the drama of the opening weeks, not one of the participants regretted voting for the president. They described Trump as sincere, complained about unfair media coverage and criticized protesters for not giving him a chance to do good things. They love that he remains politically incorrect. They remain confident that he is a strong leader who will shake up Washington, secure the border and bring back manufacturing jobs. Their faith is strong. Their doubts are sparse.

At the same time, no one in the focus groups trusted congressional Republicans to do the right thing, particularly on the economy and health care. The Trump/Obama voters were asked to react to pictures of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. Among the responses: “shifty,” “they only look out for themselves,” and “like the CEOs.” They want these guys to support Trump and his agenda, not the other way around. Asked for impressions of Republicans generally, several volunteered that the party cares primarily about the rich.

Many of these voters could get behind Trump partly because they saw him as so distinct from the GOP. The defections by Republican leaders last fall, especially after the 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape came out, cemented the perception that he was his own man and not beholden to party bosses. “Nothing has happened that has broken their trust in him and their belief that they cast the right kind of vote,” Greenberg explained in an interview yesterday afternoon. “That doesn’t mean it won’t break at some point, but it gives him a lot of space for now. They also know regular Republicans were not with him. They’re very conscious of this.”

Greenberg was also struck by how much health care dominated the conversation in his focus groups, which was not by design. Nearly everyone told a story about how the Affordable Care Act is not affordable enough for them. They almost all have struggled to afford their insurance plans, co-pays and medications. Some expressed frustration about having to subsidize coverage for the poor and minorities. One man lamented that he cannot retire because he needs to pay for health care. A woman complained about her son having to pay a penalty because of the individual mandate.

Asked to write down what they like most about Trump, one of the most dominant answers was his promise to fix the health system. Yet not one person during any of the four sessions, which were conducted before the House GOP plans were released last week, uttered the word “repeal.” People said they weren’t sure what exactly the alternative should be, Greenberg notes, but they were hopeful Trump can figure it out.

“Repairing health care is what they expect him to do,” Greenberg said. “If it doesn’t happen, though, I believe they will think it’s because of the Republicans in Congress first and foremost, rather than Trump.” (Greenberg and Nancy Zdunkewicz, of Democracy Corps, wrote a 17-page memo summarizing their findings. It’s worth reading in full.)

Paul Ryan talks with Mitch McConnell as they wait for Trump to announce Neil Gorsuch. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

-- Many prominent Republicans on the Hill are cognizant of this dynamic and anxious about the fallout if Trump lashes out at them. A lot of members who are working closely with the White House right now are almost fatalistic on this point, lamenting privately that it is a matter of when, not if, Trump comes after them. One constant throughout his career is that he is habitually unable to take responsibility when things don’t go his way. And when you’re president, a lot doesn’t go your way…

Trump always finds a scapegoat. After Navy SEAL Ryan Owens was killed in a covert mission in Yemen, for example, Trump blamed the generals. “They lost Ryan,” the president said on Fox News. Sean Spicer insisted the mission had been approved by the Obama administration, something Obama national security officials disputed vigorously.

-- Meanwhile, a chorus of populists who have Trump’s ear are urging him to abandon the House GOP bill. “Trump loyalists warned that the president was at risk of violating some of his biggest campaign promises — such as providing broad health coverage for all Americans and preserving Medicaid and other entitlement programs — in service to an ideological project championed for years by Ryan and other establishment Republicans,” Bob Costa and Phil Rucker report on the front page of today’s paper.

Beyond Breitbart News, here are four illustrations of the pressure Trump is getting from right-wing media:

  • Christopher Ruddy, a longtime Trump friend, published a column in Newsmax, the magazine he runs, urging Trump to “ditch” the bill.
  • Talk radio host Laura Ingraham, another friend of Trump’s who was considered for a job in the White House, called the Ryan bill a trap. “I think Donald Trump is going to get caught on this in 2020,” she said on Fox. “I’d like to spend an hour talking to him about it. I think this is a trap set for Trump, and it’s going to be bad.”
  • Fox News host Eric Bolling, who also considered joining the Trump administration, said Ryan and “the establishment GOP have pulled a fast one” on the White House. “It’s time for President Trump to scrap the GOP health-care bill,” he wrote in an op-ed.
  • Rush Limbaugh has trained his fire on congressional leaders. “Passing the bill becomes the measure of success, and so that’s when the real dangerous horse-trading begins,” he said on his show, saying Trump deserves time and space to work out a better deal because this is his first time negotiating a big bill. “Trump is probably finding out just how deeply intertwined the tentacles of this are throughout our society,” Limbaugh told his listeners.

-- The White House is trying to make clear to these outside allies that this is the final real chance for getting rid of Obamacare. “This is the only vehicle that seeks to achieve what people on our side of the aisle have been talking about since 2010,” Sean Spicer said at this briefing yesterday. “This is it. If we don’t get this through, the goal of repealing Obamacare and instituting a system that will be patient-centered will be unbelievably difficult.” He paused before he said unbelievably difficult. I got the sense that he wanted to say impossible but knew he needed to choose his words carefully.

-- As Spicer defended the plan at the podium, the president spoke privately with Speaker Ryan and Kevin McCarthy. They discussed the pressure campaign, the opinions of key lawmakers who could derail the bill and a joint strategy to close the deal. The White House continued to put more political capital behind the Ryan proposal, with Mike Pence and other emissaries fanning out across the Hill to sell it. Skeptical lawmakers — including Ted Cruz – also came to the White House for meetings.

-- But as Trump and Ryan conferred about concessions that could win over tea party types in the House Freedom Caucus to get the 216 votes they need, more moderates defected. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) announced they will oppose the bill. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) said he has “serious concerns and reservations.”

-- But, but, but: Don’t discount the importance of the inside game. Voters in Macomb County may hold Trump blameless if this effort falls apart, but there is consensus among veteran Washington insiders of both parties that the president will be badly hobbled on the legislative front if he cannot get something done. “Falling short on a marquee campaign promise — when both chambers are controlled by his party — would almost certainly sap momentum for Trump’s agenda,” John Wagner and Abby Phillip report. “Moreover, Republicans are counting on cuts from (Obamacare) to make the budget math work on other Trump priorities, particularly major tax reductions.” Four good quotes from their piece:

  • Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said “you won’t be doing any tax revision” if the ACA repeal fails, though he said other goals would still be attainable.
  • Sen. Orin Hatch (R-Utah) said “it might embolden the Democrats if they can win on this issue. And we gotta make sure they don’t win on it.”
  • “It’s difficult to see the kind of aggressive agenda that they’ve outlined for the rest of this year without some sort of repeal-and-replace success,” said Michael Steel, a former senior aide to John Boehner.
  • “For Trump to fail would probably send a dagger through the heart of the rest of his legislative agenda,” added Jim Manley, a longtime top aide to Harry Reid.

-- A final thought: Greenberg notes that the participants in his Michigan focus groups did not feel like the ACA benefits them or their families, and he says Democrats need to take that seriously. He said it’s politically safe to fight the Republican plan right now because they can make the case to people that they will be worse off if it passes. But he stressed that it is important for lawmakers on the left to not become perceived as defenders of the status quo.

“These are the people that were supposed to benefit from these reforms and they have strong reasons why they want to see it fundamentally change,” the pollster said of the Reagan Democrats in Macomb. “They’re struggling, and there are still tremendous burdens. … Democrats are poised to be back in the debate, but it’s got to be with an ear toward the idea that people do want big changes that make health care more affordable and secure.”

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

Yahoo! (Michael Probst/AP)

-- The Justice Department is set to announce later today the indictments of two Russian spies and two criminal hackers in connection with the heist of 500 million Yahoo user accounts in 2014, marking the first U.S. criminal cyber charges ever against Russian government officials. From Ellen Nakashima: “The indictments target two members of the Russian intelligence agency FSB, and two hackers hired by the Russians The charges include hacking, wire fraud, trade secret theft and economic espionage, according to officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the charges have not yet been announced. The indictments are part of the largest hacking case brought by the United States. The charges are unrelated to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. But the move reflects the U.S. government’s increasing desire to hold foreign governments accountable for malicious acts in cyberspace. The United States does not have an extradition treaty with Russia, but officials have said that taking steps such as charges and imposing sanctions can be a deterrent. People also sometimes slip up and travel to a country that is able and willing to transfer them to the United States for prosecution.”

-- “Comet Pizza gunman to plead guilty in tentative deal with prosecutors in Washington,” by Spencer H. Hsu: “A North Carolina man accused of commandeering a Washington pizza restaurant with an assault-style rifle in December is expected to plead guilty in a deal with federal prosecutors, both sides told a federal judge (this morning). Terms of the plea offer to Edgar Maddison Welch, 28, of Salisbury, N.C., were not disclosed. The U.S. attorney’s office for the District and Welch’s federal defender said they had agreed on a ‘plea in principle,’ but declined to comment further at a previously scheduled court appearance after a deadline to accept the deal or face trial expired Monday.”

-- Trump paid $38 million in federal taxes in 2005 on income of $153 million and with a $105 million write-down in business losses, according to a copy of his tax return that was revealed last night on “The Rachel Maddow Show.” The return – which was obtained by journalist David Cay Johnston – shows that Trump paid an effective tax rate of 24 percent and saved millions of dollars in additional taxes by claiming the losses. “The return shows that Trump paid $36.5 million in income tax, of which about $31 million was in the form of an ‘alternative minimum tax,’ a supplemental tax designed to cut down on filers with excessive deductions. He also paid about $1.5 million in Medicare and Social Security taxes," Philip Rucker and Drew Harwell report.

  • Many accused MSNBC of over-hyping the report: “In the end -- as she acknowledged repeatedly -- the more significant story was actually that this return was leaked to a reporter, not the return itself,” Aaron Blake writes. “The two pages of Trump's 2005 IRS Form 1040 didn't shed much light on the big questions about Trump finances. Except for one important point that is: It turns out Trump didn't avoid income taxes for nearly two decades, after all.”
  • The White House condemned the release, saying in a statement that it is “totally illegal to steal and publish tax returns.” “It is indeed illegal to steal and publish tax returns, but publishing a tax return that just arrives — unsolicited — in your mailbox is likely protected by the First Amendment,” The Fix’s Callum Borchers notes. “Johnston, the journalist who obtained the document and shared it with Maddow, said on the air that that's exactly how he got it.”
  • Following the broadcast, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted: “Thank you Rachel Maddow for proving to your #Trump hating followers how successful @realDonaldTrump is & that he paid $40mm in taxes! #Taxes”
Demonstrators gather outside The White House to protest Trump's new travel ban. (Tasos Katopodis/AFP/Getty Images)

FOUR THINGS THAT SHOULD BE ON YOUR RADAR TODAY:

-- With Trump’s new travel ban set to take effect at the stroke of midnight, lawyers and volunteers are mounting a last-minute campaign to halt the order in U.S. courts, mobilize protesters, and provide aid to any travelers who might be stranded this time around. Maria Sacchetti and Matt Zapotosky report: Federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland are set to hear arguments on whether to halt Trump’s revised executive order in the next few hours. U.S. District Judge James Robart, who blocked the previous ban and was backed up by the Ninth Circuit, ordered Trump administration lawyers to submit a brief by 4:30 p.m. Pacific time yesterday in Seattle. He could rule that his injunction on the previous ban remains in effect, despite changes in the revised order.

-- The Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates.

-- The polls are currently open in the Netherlands in an election that will set the tone for a year of ballot-box drama in Europe, as anti-immigrant, anti-establishment campaigners test their strength against the elites. “Immigration was the dominant issue of the Dutch campaign, after years of war and misery in the Middle East that swept millions of refugees and migrants into Europe in recent years,” Michael Birnbaum reports from Utrecht. “Geert Wilders, a fiery fixture of the Dutch far-right who wants to ban the Koran and shutter mosques, topped polls for months, unnerving mainstream leaders in France and Germany who face elections later this year. His support has waned in recent weeks, but he has already forced many Dutch parties to sharpen their rhetoric toward immigrants. … A Wilders defeat would likely slow the momentum of French anti-immigrant leader Marine Le Pen, who if she captured her nation’s presidency in May would try to lead France out of the European Union, shattering the bloc in the process.”

-- Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse says FBI Director James Comey promised to tell him at some point today whether the FBI is investigating ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. The Rhode Island Democrat told CNN that Comey made the pledge during a March 2 meeting with him and Lindsey Graham. The FBI has not responded to requests for comment.

Chuck Grassley speaks to constituents at a town hall in Iowa last month. (Rachel Mummey for The Washington Post)

-- Chuck Grassley announced that he will hold up the confirmation vote for Trump's nominee to be deputy attorney general until the Senate Judiciary Committee receives a full briefing from Comey on the FBI investigation into Russian interference. It’s a signal of how seriously the chairman takes the issue. “I’m not going to schedule a hearing on the deputy attorney general until we get a briefing from Comey,” he told our Karoun Demirjian last night. Rod J. Rosenstein had his confirmation hearing before the committee last week and is expected to earn enough votes to be confirmed on the Senate floor. But before his nomination can go to the full Senate, the Judiciary Committee must schedule a meeting to approve his nomination. Grassley controls the schedule. The Iowan says he has no preference for whether the briefing is private or public, telling Karoun that he'll be satisfied with “whatever the law allows.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. The nonprofit run by white nationalist Richard Spencer has been stripped of its tax-exempt status, following a Post report in December that the National Policy Institute failed to file tax returns since 2013. Spencer blamed the mistake on a former bookkeeper and said he had already begun the reapplication process, which could take months. (John Woodrow Cox)
  2. The outgoing U.S. attorney for northern Illinois – one of 46 purged by Trump last week – released a letter urging Chicago and the Justice Department to quickly move forward on police reform efforts and to address “soaring” violence that has plagued the city. He also called the U.S. Attorney’s Office “woefully understaffed,” urging the feds to immediately assign more prosecutors to oversee violent crime cases. (Sari Horwitz and Mark Berman)
  3. The Wall Street Journal reports that Megyn Kelly is having a messy exit from Fox News. The network says she was released from her contract last week – four months ahead of her original end date – to begin work at NBC News. But a spokeswoman for the star anchor contested that, saying terms of the termination are “still being negotiated.” Her start date at NBC is still unclear.
  4. Attorneys for “El Chapo” Guzmán are seeking to have him removed from solitary confinement and allow regularly-scheduled visits from his wife – arguing in a newly-filed court document that since the drug lord and two-time prison escapee was extradited to New York, his physical and mental health have deteriorated drastically. (Joshua Partlow)
  5. South Korean prosecutors summoned the newly-ousted President Park for questioning over the massive corruption scandal that led to her impeachment last week. Park – who refused to be questioned while in office – no longer has immunity from prosecution, and plans to “actively” cooperate with the investigation, her attorney said. (Anna Fifield)
  6. The European Court of Justice ruled that employers can ban the Muslim headscarf in the workplace – sending a loud message to the continent at a time when strong anti-immigrant sentiment has permeated into the political mainstream. (James McAuley)
  7. It was with great fanfare that a Saudi Arabian governor announced the creation of a “girls council,” spearheading a first-of-its-kind initiative aimed at giving a voice to females in the country. The only problem? Women were not actually allowed to attend the first meeting. Instead, they gathered in a separate room -- linked only by video to the group of 13 men speaking onstage. (Sudarsan Raghavan)
  8. Mexico launched an ambitious plan to have all of its students speak both English and Spanish within two decades, moving to provide English classes from elementary through high school. (Joshua Partlow)
  9. More than 250 skulls have been found in clandestine graves on the outskirts of Veracruz, Mexican officials said, in what appears to be a mass burial ground utilized by a drug cartel. The remains were first discovered by a group of mothers whose children had disappeared, and who were frustrated by the country’s inaction. So far, they’ve found more than 120 different burial pits in the area. (AP)
  10. Ben Affleck revealed that he has completed treatment for alcohol addiction. "I have completed treatment for alcohol addiction; something I've dealt with in the past and will continue to confront," he wrote on Facebook. "I want to live life to the fullest and be the best father I can be." Affleck previously sought treatment for alcohol abuse in 2001. (CNN)
  11. The South Korean government is warning its people not to eat river rats, spelling out the (very numerous) health risks in a statement from the environmental ministry. The warning comes on the heels of a university study which found that the rodent gallbladders contained high levels of ursodeoxycholic acid, which is used as traditional medicine in parts of Asia. (BBC)
  12. A British entrepreneur has developed an app that can match photos of people on the street with their Facebook profile – a technological development that many have billed as “creepy." Facebook said the app violates its privacy policies and has at least temporarily blocked it. (The Telegraph)
David Lausman speaks to sailors in 2012 on the deck of USS George Washington. He was arrested yesterday. (Bobby Yip/Reuters)

MILITARY MEN BEHAVING BADLY:

-- “Admiral, seven others charged with corruption in new ‘Fat Leonard’ indictment,” by Craig Whitlock: “The Justice Department unsealed a fresh indictment Tuesday charging eight Navy officials — including an admiral — with corruption and other crimes in the ‘Fat Leonard’ bribery case, escalating an epic scandal that has dogged the Navy for four years. The Navy personnel are accused of taking bribes … courtesy of Leonard Glenn ‘Fat Leonard’ Francis, a Singapore-based defense contractor ... The indictment lists page after page of bribes allegedly provided to the defendants including $25,000 watches, $2,000 boxes of Cohiba cigars, $2,000 bottles of cognac and $600-per-night hotel rooms. According to the charging documents, Francis also frequently sponsored wild … parties for many officers assigned [to the warships]. … During a port visit by the Blue Ridge to Manila … for example, five of the Navy officers attended a ‘raging multi-day party, with a rotating carousel of prostitutes,’ at the Shangri-La Hotel … The group allegedly drank the hotel’s entire supply of Dom Pérignon champagne and rang up expenses exceeding $50,000, which Francis covered in full.”

-- “Lawmakers skewer top Marine officer over nude-photo scandal,” by Thomas Gibbons-Neff: “In what lawmakers on both sides of the aisle called a ‘sad day for the Marine Corps,’ the service’s top officer, Gen. Robert B. Neller, told senators Tuesday that he intended to fix the misogynistic culture of his branch in the wake of a nude-photo-sharing scandal that has roiled the military. ‘What is it going to take for you to accept these Marines as Marines?’ Neller asked of the male Marines watching his testimony, while imploring the female Marines to ‘trust the leadership to correct this problem.’ The existence of a shared drive containing the photos on a Facebook group called Marines United was first reported … earlier this month. In the days since, multiple offshoots of the 30,000-strong group and different versions of the shared drive have continued to pop up despite a formal investigation. … Last week, reports indicated that the photo sharing wasn’t just a Marine Corps problem and that other parts of the military were soliciting naked photos of female service members from every other branch, including at least two service academies.”

Elizabeth Warren speaks in front of the Supreme Court this morning to kick off the delivery of petitions calling on senators to oppose Neil Gorsuch. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

SCOTUS WATCH:

-- New York Times A1, “Neil Gorsuch Has Web of Ties to Secretive Billionaire,” by Charlie Savage and Julie Turkewitz: "The publicity-shy billionaire Philip F. Anschutz inherited an oil and gas firm and built it into an empire that has sprawled into telecommunications, railroads, real estate, resorts, sports teams, stadiums, movies and conservative publications like The Weekly Standard and The Washington Examiner. Mr. Anschutz’s influence is especially felt in his home state of Colorado, where years ago Judge Neil M. Gorsuch … was drawn into his orbit. As a lawyer at a Washington law firm in the early 2000s, Judge Gorsuch represented Mr. Anschutz [and] his companies ... [and] in 2006, Mr. Anschutz successfully lobbied Colorado’s lone Republican senator and the Bush administration to nominate Judge Gorsuch to the federal appeals court. With the Senate Judiciary Committee set to take up Judge Gorsuch’s nomination next week, Democrats have based much of their criticism of him on the argument that his judicial and economic philosophy unduly favors corporations and the wealthy. But his relationship with Mr. Anschutz, 77, whose fortune is estimated by Forbes to be $12.6 billion, has received scant attention.”

PERSONNEL IS POLICY:

-- Trump said he’d drain the swamp. Instead, he keeps draining Goldman: Last night the White House announced that the president has nominated Goldman Sachs managing director James Donovan to serve as deputy treasury secretary. That gives a fifth veteran of the investment bank a senior role in his administration. (Damian Paletta)

-- Defense Secretary Jim Mattis withdrew retired senior diplomat Anne Patterson as his choice to be undersecretary for policy, after the Trump administration indicated it was unwilling to fight for her confirmation in the Senate. Two members of the Armed Services Committee – Tom Cotton and Ted Cruz – expressed strong opposition because of her tenure as U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Karen DeYoung reports. She served in the post from 2011 to 2013, “a time when the Obama administration supported an elected government with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood that was ultimately overthrown by the Egyptian military.” The removal of Patterson leaves Mattis with a bench still empty of Trump-appointed senior officials – a problem that continues to plague the entire administration. Since taking office eight weeks ago, Trump has not nominated a single high official below Cabinet rank in the Defense or State departments.

-- Trump has overruled a decision by National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster to sideline a key intelligence operative who fell out of favor with some at the CIA, Politico’s Kenneth P. Vogel and Eliana Johnson report: “On Friday, McMaster told the NSC's senior director for intelligence programs, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, that he would be moved to another position in the organization. The conversation followed weeks of pressure from career officials at the CIA who had expressed reservations about the 30-year-old intelligence operative and pushed for his ouster. But Cohen-Watnick appealed McMaster’s decision to two influential allies with whom he had forged a relationship while working on Trump’s transition team —[Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner]. They brought the matter to Trump on Sunday, and the president agreed that Cohen-Watnick should remain as the NSC’s intelligence director. ... The incident raises more questions about just how much autonomy Trump is giving to McMaster." Spicer has insisted repeatedly that McMaster would have full control over his staff...

-- Monica Crowley, who was going to be a top official on the National Security Council until she was brought down by revelations of plagiarism, has now registered as a FOREIGN AGENT for a Ukrainian oligarch who advocates concessions to Russia. She’s filed forms with the Justice Department to work as an agent for billionaire Victor Pinchuk. In 2015, his foundation gave $150,000 to the Trump Foundation as a speaking fee. “Crowley’s new gig comes as European critics of Russian aggression in Ukraine worry that Pinchuk is going soft,” The Daily Beast’s Lachlan Markay notes. “In a December column for the Wall Street Journal, he called on Ukrainian leaders to make additional concessions to Moscow. ‘The new administration in Washington can be an opportunity for Ukraine to contribute to the solution of Russia’s intervention,’ he wrote. He advised that Ukraine abandon plans to join the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.” The man who would have been Crowley’s boss at the NSC, Mike Flynn, also registered as a foreign agent last week for work he did to advance the Turkish government’s agenda.

-- Rex Tillerson is making a major diplomatic trip to Asia this week without a traveling press corps, but he invited someone from a conservative outlet called IJR, which was founded by former Republican operatives, to accompany him. Reuters reports: “The State Department had previously told reporters covering Tillerson’s trip to South Korea, Japan, and China that he would not be taking reporters on his plane and that they would have to fly commercially, breaking with decades of precedent stretching back to Henry Kissinger.” Major news organizations complained, including the BBC, CNN, New York Times, Washington Post and Reuters. Now it turns out the Independent Journal Review’s Erin McPike is on the trip. Thus far, McPike has yet to file any “pool reports” customarily filed by journalists traveling with the secretary of state -- a critical way of keeping colleagues up to speed on the actions of the top U.S. diplomat.

-- A “culture of paranoia” is consuming the White House, with staffers increasingly preoccupied with perceived enemies—inside their own government, Politico’s Alex Isenstadt and Kenneth P. Vogel report: “In interviews, nearly a dozen White House aides and federal agency staffers described a litany of suspicions: that rival factions in the administration are trying to embarrass them, that civil servants opposed to [Trump] are trying to undermine him, and even that a ‘deep state’ of career military and intelligence officials is out to destroy them. Aides are going to great lengths to protect themselves. They’re turning off work-issued smartphones and putting them in drawers when they arrive home from work out of fear that they could be used to eavesdrop. They’re staying mum in meetings out of concern that their comments could be leaked to the press. … It’s an environment of fear that has hamstrung the routine functioning of the executive branch. Senior advisers are spending much of their time trying to protect turf, key positions have remained vacant due to a reluctance to hire people deemed insufficiently loyal, and Trump’s ambitious agenda has been eclipsed by headlines surrounding his unproven [wiretapping claim].”

One senior aide said the degree of suspicion had created an “unsustainable” degree of toxicity: “People are scared,” he said, adding that the Trump White House had become “a pretty hostile environment to work in.”

THE FUTURE OF THE ENVIRONMENT:

-- At least half a dozen former aides to Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) — and counting — have now been hired into top positions at the EPA and the White House. From Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis: "The chief of staff and deputy chief of staff to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt spent years working for the senator. Pruitt’s senior advisers on air, climate and legal issues are Inhofe alumni. In addition, two former Inhofe aides have become top domestic and international energy and environmental advisers to [Trump]. ... 'It gives me a level of comfort to know that we have a bureaucracy that’s actually going to be serving instead of ruling,’ Inhofe said in an interview. ... Comforting is not how many of Inhofe’s longtime opponents would describe the changes.”

-- It’s finally happening: Trump is expected to issue a sweeping executive order within days aimed at reversing Obama-era climate policies. Juliet reports: “The directive will instruct members of the Cabinet to rewrite regulation restricting carbon emissions from both new and existing power plants, lift a moratorium on federal coal leasing and revise the way climate change is factored into federal decision-making — all key elements of the Obama administration’s effort to address climate change. It will also reverse an executive order former president Obama issued that instructs agencies to incorporate climate change into the National Environmental Policy Act reviews it applies to federal actions. It could take as long as a year and a half to rewrite the rule on existing plants, known as the Clean Power Plan.”

-- A senior White House official says Trump plans to “reexamine” fuel efficiency standards installed during the Obama administration. Trump is slated to make the announcement during his visit with automakers in Detroit today, per Steven Overly. But Trump does not plan to revoke a waiver allowing more than a dozen states to enforce emissions standards beyond those of the EPA. If those remain intact, automakers will still be compelled to produce more fuel efficient cars regardless of federal changes.

-- Al Gore said in an interview that he thinks there is a “realistic chance” Trump will not bail on the Paris climate agreement. The former vice president, who met with Trump in December, declined to reveal any details of their discussion but confirmed that the president is “still considering” whether to remain with the global warming pact. “I do believe there is an ongoing deliberation in the White House about what to do with respect to the Paris agreement,” he told Juliet. “I will simply express the hope that there is a realistic chance that the president will ultimately decide that the cost to the United States and to his presidency of withdrawing from the Paris agreement would far outweigh any quote-unquote benefits from withdrawing.” Trump has sent mixed signals – saying at one point he would “cancel it,” and at another point that he has “an open mind to it.”

Steve Bannon speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

GET TO KNOW THE PEOPLE RUNNING THE GOVERNMENT:

-- Wall Street Journal, “Steve Bannon and the Making of an Economic Nationalist,” by Michael C. Bender: “On Oct. 7, 2008, in the cramped TV room of his modest [Richmond] home, Marty Bannon watched with alarm as plunging stock markets dragged down his shares of AT&T, the nest egg he built during a 50-year career at the company. As he toggled between TV stations, financial analysts warned of economic collapse and politicians in Washington seemed to mirror his own confusion. So he did the unthinkable. He sold. Marty Bannon, now 95 years old, still regrets the decision...

“There were many factors that turned Steve Bannon into a divisive political firebrand. But his decision to embrace ‘economic nationalism’ and vehemently oppose the forces and institutions of globalization, he says, stems from his upbringing, his relationship with his father and the meaning those AT&T shares held for the family. Steve Bannon idealizes the bygone corporate era that gave his father the kind of stability that he himself never pursued. Marty Bannon … sought a life of security, while the thrice-divorced Steve Bannon craves chaos and drama. He has served in the Navy, dabbled in penny stocks and was briefly in charge of Biosphere 2, a domed terrarium in Arizona.”

Money quote: “He’s the backbone of the country, the everyman who plays by the rules," the younger Bannon said of his father. “The world is probably 95% Marty Bannons, and 5% Steve Bannons. And that’s probably the right metric for a stable society.”

Kellyanne Conway speaks at CPAC. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

-- The Atlantic, “Kellyanne’s Alternative Universe,” by Molly Ball: “Even in triumph, Kellyanne Conway nursed a grudge. As she reflected on Trump’s November victory, she made clear that she hadn’t forgotten how people treated her back when they thought she was a sure loser. Their attitude wasn’t one of outright rudeness or contempt. … It was syrupy condescension—the smarmy, indulgent niceness of people who think they’re better than you. … [Still], to doubt that Conway’s comeuppance awaits is to question the laws of political gravity, or even the basic concept of right and wrong. ‘She’s able to sit there with a straight face and say, over and over, ‘No, the sky has never, ever been blue, and it’s true because we won,’' says Rick Wilson, an anti-Trump Republican consultant. 'She’s going to have to, at some point, reckon with the moral compromises.' In a universe that operates according to normal rules, that might be true. But as [Trump] showed again and again throughout the campaign, those rules aren’t as binding as we may have once believed. ... 'Winning may not be everything,’ Conway said, leaning forward over her paper cup of hot cocoa and giving a wink of one mascara-clotted blue eye. ‘But it’s darned close.’”

Trump gives a thumbs up as he arrives at a costume party at the home of hedge fund billionaire and major campaign donor Robert Mercer in New York last December. (Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters)

-- Two yachts believed to be owned by Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev and top Trump donor Robert Mercer were seen together near the British Virgin Islands. The Palm Beach Post's John Pacenti reports: "The coincidences are piling up. Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev last week disavowed any contact with [Trump]. But speculation again was stoked when his state-of-the-art yacht Anna sat anchored in the British Virgin Islands on Friday night and another equally resplendent luxury liner, the Sea Owl, sidled up, according to a website that tracks the movement of yachts. The owner of the dark-hulled yacht? [Trump’s] biggest financial supporter and Breitbart News moneyman, Robert Mercer. Rybolovlev has repeatedly said he has never met Trump or had any dealings with anyone in his campaign. Within days of the election this past year, Trump's and Rybolovlev's jets were parked on the airport apron in Charlotte, N.C., on Nov. 3. The two planes were also in Las Vegas at the same time in October.” A spokesman for Rybolovlev said he has “never met” and has no relationship with Mercer. 

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) speaks at a GOP event. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

AMERICA, DIVIDED:

-- In the wake of Trump’s victory, Americans determined to leave the country appear to have set their sights on one common destination: New Zealand. The number of Americans who have applied for a grant of citizenship in the country spiked to 170 since the election, nearly doubling applications in the same period the year before. And in the two days after the U.S. election, the number of Americans who visited New Zealand’s website to find out about citizenship rose to more than 4,000 -- compared to just 305 from the same period in October. (AP)

-- Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said African Americans and Hispanics “will be fighting each other” before overtaking the white population in the United States. CNN reports: King was on an Iowa radio station Monday responding to a question about Univision anchor Jorge Ramos' comment to Tucker Carlson on Fox News that whites would become a majority-minority demographic in America by 2044. "Jorge Ramos' stock in trade is identifying and trying to drive wedges between races," King replied. "Race and ethnicity, I should say to be more correct. When you start accentuating the differences, then you start ending up with people that are at each other's throats. And he's adding up Hispanics and blacks into what he predicts will be in greater number than whites in America. I will predict that Hispanics and the blacks will be fighting each other before that happens." King’s on-air comments came one day after he prompted outrage for an incendiary tweet, saying, "We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies."

-- “It’s not just Steve King. The Donald Trump effect — free-wheeling, inflammatory and at times fact-free — has been unleashed across Capitol Hill,” Elise Viebeck reports: “Since Trump’s election, Republican lawmakers appear to be crossing a new line: making comments that are racially insensitive, trafficking in conspiracy theories and airing politically incorrect views that provoke mild criticism but not always wholesale rejection from members of their own party.” Five recent examples:

  • Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.) compared raucous town-hall events to “the cleansing” that “the Orientals used to do” during China’s Cultural Revolution when individuals were publicly humiliated and verbally abused by a crowd.
  • Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), speaking at a GOP dinner in his district, accused Obama of deciding to live in the District after his presidency “for one reason and one reason only … to run a shadow government that is going to totally upset the new agenda.”
  • Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), during a hearing last week, questioned why men should have to pay for prenatal coverage. “Is that not correct? Should they?” he asked a Democratic colleague.
  • Rep. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) said the poor “just don’t want health care and aren’t going to take care of themselves.”
  • Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) said a “war on whites” was responsible for criticism of Jeff Sessions ahead of his confirmation vote for attorney general.

-- Who isn’t down with the coarsening of our discourse? Longtime hip-hop fan Marco Rubio, who has expressed regret for attacking Trump over the size of his “hands” during the presidential campaign, yesterday blasted a new Snoop Dog video which depicts the rapper pulling a gun on a clown dressed as Trump. “I think people can disagree on policy but we gotta be very careful about that kind of thing,” the Florida senator told Roll Call, “because the wrong person sees that and gets the wrong idea and you can have a real problem so I'm not sure what Snoop was thinking.”

Here's how Trump feels about the matter (from this morning):

Glenn Beck gives a hug to the wife of one of his radio co-hosts. (Rex C. Curry/For The Washington Post)

-- “Glenn Beck wants to heal the America he divided — one hug at a time,” by Marc Fisher: “For those who yearn to believe the movement that made President Trump possible is having serious second thoughts, the new Glenn Beck seems heaven sent. Back then, Beck was the bad boy of cable … [one more former radio disc jockey who] had switched from spinning the hits to spinning the news, always remembering the laws of Top 40: Keep it simple, keep it moving, never stop selling. Beck has stopped the music. ‘I’m not willing to do this anymore,’ he says. Now, at 53, Beck sees a nation of people who are at one another’s throats … [and] he believes that his radio show and his TV shows and his rallies on the Mall paved the way for the incivility, intolerance and general indigestion that now plagues the body politic. ‘I did and said terrible things,’ Beck says. So he’s sorry. Really sorry. ... Since he was a teenager, Beck has been selling stuff. At the pinnacle of his popularity, he sold conspiracies and the idea that [Obama] had a ‘deep-seated hatred for white people’ and was leading the nation toward becoming ‘a fascist state’ … Now, he’s going to find out whether he can sell empathy.”

-- The deputy editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens, laments how the paranoid style of discourse has permeated U.S. politics: “In September 1980 the Turkish military mounted a coup, arrested half a million people, sentenced more than 500 of them to death, and executed 50. The military left power two years later, having imposed a constitution that further entrenched its prerogatives. For decades, the generals’ veto power in Ankara formed the legal spine of what Turks call derin devlet, or deep state …  Ordinarily it should go without saying that Washington is not Ankara, that the CIA and FBI are staffed by patriots, that a flurry of invidious leaks is not tantamount to tanks in the streets … and that the predictable reflexes of bureaucracies to defend their turf are not acts of sedition. But, to borrow a phrase, this is no ordinary time. This is paranoid time. … Conservatives used to understand the ideological provenance of words and the consequences that flow from treating political differences as mortal threats to the state. Too bad too many intelligent conservatives gave up worrying about the use of language sometime last year. They will come to regret what they’ve allowed, perhaps only when they, too, become its victims.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets with Jason Greenblatt, Trump's Middle East envoy, in the West Bank city of Ramallah yesterday. (Mohamad Torokman/Reuters)

TRUMP’S WORLD:

-- New York real estate lawyer-turned-diplomat Jason Greenblatt traveled as Trump’s emissary to meet separately with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas this week, sounding out the two leaders on prospects for Middle East peace. His visits garnered generally positive reviews from both sides, Ruth Eglash reports, despite his lack of diplomatic experience or defined goals.

-- An increasingly threatening North Korea will be the “number one priority” of Tillerson’s Asia trip, Anne Gearan reports: “When Trump told an interviewer last month that [Obama] had warned him of a grave ‘military problem from a certain place,’ there was little doubt that the place was North Korea. The threat from [Pyongyang] — nuclear-armed, impoverished and deeply suspicious of a potential U.S. attack — is the centerpiece of [Tillerson’s] visit to Asia beginning Wednesday. In Japan and South Korea, that means reassuring U.S. allies most at risk from an unprovoked North Korean attack. In China, which is Tillerson’s last stop, it means leaning on the North’s protector and only ally to use its economic power to choke Pyongyang’s missile development. Among the key issues related to North Korea will be a restatement of U.S. commitment to defend Japan and South Korea after Trump’s suggestions during the presidential campaign that the United States could save money by having those allies develop their own nuclear weapons.”

-- Chinese Premier Li Keqiang delivered a message to the U.S. a few hours ago: We don’t want a trade war with you, but should one break out, your companies would bear the brunt. Simon Denyer reports: “’Recently I came across an article from an authoritative international think tank. It says that should a trade war break out between China and the United States, it would be foreign-invested companies, in particular U.S. firms, that would bear the brunt of it,” [Li] said. ‘We don't want to see any trade war breaking out between the two countries. That wouldn’t make our trade fairer,’ he added. Yet despite tensions over jobs, currency rates and ‘security matters,’ Li Keqiang told a news conference in Beijing … that he remained optimistic about the future of China’s relationship with the United States. ‘Our hope on the Chinese side is that, no matter what bumps this relationship may run into, it will continue to move forward in a positive direction,’ he said … adding that diplomats were working toward a face-to-face meeting between President Xi Jinping and [Trump].”

-- Turkish President Erdogan issued a fresh broadside against the Netherlands, using a televised speech to blame the country for the Srebrenica massacre -- Europe’s worst mass killing since World War II. “We know the Netherlands and the Dutch from the Srebrenica massacre,” he said. “We know how rotten their character is from their massacre of 8,000 Bosnians there.” The Turkish leader previously called the Netherlands “Nazi remnants” and also accused it of “fascism.” (AP)

-- The White House is seeking to slash U.S. payments to the United Nations by more than a third. Karen DeYoung reports: “U.S. officials cautioned that the outline of President Trump’s preliminary budget, to be released Thursday, is unlikely to reveal much in the way of intentions for specific programs. ... Threats to decrease or withhold U.N. payments have been common in the past, particularly in Republican administrations, and the United States has often found itself in arrears on assessed funding. But the outline could provide an indication of how the administration plans to deal with an international institution that Trump during his campaign said caused more problems than it solved, and was ‘just a club for people to get together and talk and have a good time.’”

This photo of 70-year-old Mohammad Mohiedine Anis, smoking a pipe in his gutted Aleppo apartment, has gone viral. (AFP/Joseph Eid) 

-- “How one man’s pause became a haunting symbol of Aleppo’s destruction,” by Avi Selk: “It was a picture perfectly framed by a war: a 70-year-old man in socks and sandals, smoking a pipe beside an old record player, in the gray-dusted ruins of his bedroom in Aleppo. The man on the bed is Mohammed Mohiedin Anis … in the city where he made a fine life for himself before photographer Joseph Eid found him living in destitution last week. ‘He was a wealthy man,’ Eid [said]. ‘He speaks five languages. He studied medicine, went to Italy ...’ [Now], rubble [litters] his bedroom. The windows had collapsed in on themselves, and air from the destroyed city mingled with dust ...” Still, he showed off remains of his favorite belongings to journalists, cranking his phonograph as he smoked a pipe pieced together by Scotch tape.  “I think people got bored from the violence. From the war,” Eid said. “This image, I think, it speaks to the situation of the human being.” “And gives also a hope,” he added. “Okay. We had the destruction. Now it's time to let the music play.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Trump tweeted at 3:55 a.m. about Maddow's release of his 2005 tax returns, per journalist David Cay Johnston (not incidentally, a Pulitzer prize winner for The New York Times for exposing loopholes in the tax code:)

Johnston's response:

And earlier:

Lots of chatter about whether Trump leaked his own tax return (perhaps in order to distract from the health care and Russia-related debates). From the president of ProPublica:

And the chief ethics lawyer under George W. Bush:

Key perspective from the WSJ's tax policy writer:

From a Tennessee Democratic lawmaker:

From the Wapo's Chris Cillizza:

An ex-Illinois Republican congressman thought it was a genius move, if true:

Former Jeb! spokesman and GOP operative:

Mike Huckabee panned Maddow for the oversell:

Boom:

Lots of remarks on Maddow's traditional long windup:

From the Washington reporter for RT America:

Seems about right so far:

HRC's former press secretary warned Dems not to let Trump change the subject:

From Salon's political writer:

On another subject, ouch:

Anybody want to claim this bracket left in the senator's office?

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Video Of Beauty Store Owner Attacking Black Woman Sparks Outrage,” from HuffPost: “Residents of Charlotte, North Carolina, are calling for the boycott of a local beauty store after a shocking video of a store manager assaulting a black customer surfaced online. In a video … Missha Beauty owner Sung Ho Lim is seen hitting and kicking an unnamed black woman before ultimately putting her in a headlock. [Local reports say] Sung and a female employee believed the unnamed woman was shoplifting …  Whether or not the woman in the video was actually stealing, residents say that Sung’s violent attempt to detain her was uncalled for. On Sunday, a group of black Charlotte residents gathered to protest the store, with many vowing to never patronize the business again. The beauty store incident occurred just days before the 26th anniversary of the death of Latasha Harlins, a 15-year-old Los Angeles native … [who was] shot and killed by a South Korean liquor store owner who mistakenly thought she was shoplifting.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“H-1B Visas Keep Down U.S. Tech Wages, Study Shows, from the Wall Street Journal: “Silicon Valley has long portrayed the U.S. visa program for skilled foreign workers as a win-win, providing much-needed tech talent and fueling innovation and economic growth. Critics—including [Trump]—have said that the H-1B visa program disadvantages American workers by allowing companies to hire cheaper foreign labor for roles that would have gone to U.S. workers. A new research paper on the effects of the H-1B visa program on workers suggests the influx of skilled foreign workers has historically led to lower wages and employment for American tech workers. Such findings could further inflame debate around immigration of high-skilled workers, but some economists caution against making too much of the result.”

 

DAYBOOK:

At the White House: Trump will depart Joint Base Andrews en route to Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. He will then then tour American Manufactured Vehicles before holding a roundtable meeting with CEOs and union workers. Trump will then deliver remarks at the American Center for Mobility before departing for Nashville. There, the president will tour Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage and deliver remarks. In the evening, he will hold a “Make America Great Again Rally” before traveling back to D.C.

Meanwhile, Pence will deliver remarks to the Republican Study Committee before holding meetings with a lawmakers. Later, Pence will return to the Capitol to deliver remarks to the GOP Conference. In the evening, he will speak at the American Ireland Fund 25th Annual National Gala.

On Capitol Hill: The Senate will convene at 9:30 a.m.  and proceed to executive session to resume consideration of Daniel Coats as Director of National Intelligence.

Tom Price is participating in a CNN town hall on health care at 9 p.m. Eastern.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

"That was cleaned up." – Sean Spicer, asked during the briefing about Kellyanne Conway’s suggestion that microwaves were used to spy on Trump

 

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

-- Blizzard forecasts may be behind us, but the winter chill – and some icy spots – still remain. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Watch out for icy spots this morning, and bundle up. Morning temperatures slowly rising into the low to mid-20s feel more like the low teens and single digits with the wind. Those winds today come from the west-northwest around 20-25 mph with gusts near 45 mph. A couple of snow showers or flurries are possible as well. Otherwise, we’re partly to mostly cloudy and very cold with highs in the upper 20s to mid-30s.”

-- “Washingtonians are beginning to worry that [Trump’s budget proposal] might do what wars, peace, recessions and government shutdowns could not: upend the historically stable regional economy.” Jonathan O'Connell reports: “Bolstered by the federal government, the metropolitan area has largely avoided the sharp ups and downs that have made life unpredictable for the rest of the nation. The Washington economy was barely nicked by the Great Recession, and it has roared ahead since then on the strength of steady job growth, booming home prices, a nascent technology sector and a huge influx of millennial workers. But Trump is set to release a budget Thursday that threatens the prosperity Washington has built by suggesting cuts of 10 to 20 percent to federal agencies headquartered in and around the nation’s capital, while boosting defense spending. Should he prevail, his spending priorities would pose the greatest test in decades for the regional economy by threatening the underpinning of everything it is built upon: the federal workforce.”

-- The Capitals beat the Wild 4-2.

-- White supremacist fliers were found at the University of Maryland campus in College Park for the third time in three months..This has been happening around the country in recent weeks. (Justin Wm. Moyer)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Texas GOP Rep. Joe Barton has a rocky townhall moment:

What happens when a Democratic and Republican lawmaker roadtrip to Washington from Texas? Check it out:

Sean Spicer says comments about microwave surveillance were "in jest:"

Seth Meyers has a few things to stay to Rep. Steve King:

Watch Stephen Colbert's monologue as Rex Tillerson:

See a cool time lapse of the winter storm passing through the D.C. region:

Watch the professor whose children interrupted his BBC interview laugh about the viral moment.