House Budget Committee Chairman Diane Black (R-Tenn.) speaks at a news conference last week with Kevin McCarthy and Kevin Brady. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

With Breanne Deppisch

THE BIG IDEA: Diane Black isn’t just the first woman to chair the influential House Budget Committee. She’s also the first registered nurse.

The Tennessee Republican leapfrogged more senior members to get the gavel from Tom Price when he became secretary of health and human services.

Soon she’ll be at the center of the debate over President Trump’s new spending plan. Today, though, Black is in the hot seat as she leads a hearing to merge the Obamacare replacement bills that passed two other committees last week.

Bowing to reality, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) announced last night that his health-care proposal must change to pass the House. Without the speaker’s commitment to “incorporate feedback,” the whole endeavor to repeal the Affordable Care Act would have collapsed this morning in Black’s committee. She could afford only four GOP defections, and there were three hard "no" votes: Virginia's Dave Brat, Alabama's Gary Palmer and South Carolina's Mark Sanford — all of them members of the House Freedom Caucus.

Because of Ryan's sudden openness to changes, some conservatives who have voiced deep concerns agreed to advance the legislation through the Budget Committee, even if they may ultimately vote against final passage. One of them, Wisconsin Rep. Glenn Grothman, said he did so based on “an implied promise that things are going to be different on the floor, and therefore we can keep the process moving.”

The final vote was 19-17. Technically the Budget Committee cannot amend the bill. So now members are voting on nonbinding “motions” that call on the Rules Committee to make specific tweaks when it takes up the measure next week.

“It’s kind of like sausage,” Black said in an interview before the hearing, paraphrasing Otto von Bismarck. “It’s not very pretty, but it tastes good at the end. We’re going to have a good product at the end of the day.”

Her cellphone rang and her iPad buzzed with text messages as we spoke for half an hour in her Longworth office late Tuesday afternoon. Members were reaching out about motions they want to make. “Some days you want to give it back,” she joked of her coveted new role. “It’s like a fish.” But, really, Black relishes being in the arena. “This is like dessert for me,” she said with a smile.

Black caught these crappie in Old Hickory Lake in Tennessee. (Courtesy of Diane Black)

-- To understand how Black, 66, got here is to understand why so many Republicans are fixated on getting an Obamacare replacement bill through the House, even if it’s imperfect. The ACA was a major reason that they either ran for, or won, the offices they now hold.

Black was a practicing nurse when a Democratic governor created TennCare in 1994, which dramatically expanded Medicaid, enrolled all recipients in managed care and came to eat up a huge chunk of the state’s budget. “I never thought I’d ever enter the political arena,” she said. “I had never run for anything, including student body president. But what I was seeing in caring for patients was that it was not good health care.”

Black got elected to the state legislature by running against TennCare. Eventually, the program was majorly scaled back. She was involved in the push to limit enrollment and benefits.

In 2010, she made opposition to Obamacare the central rationale of her campaign for an open U.S. House seat. When she arrived in Washington, she secured a plum spot on the Ways and Means Committee. But there wasn’t room for her on the health subcommittee. She asked the chairman if she could sit in on hearings. He let her, and she made sure to always show up and ask questions. When a slot opened up a few years later, she claimed it.

Diane Black, second from left, officially becomes a nurse at a 1971 ceremony. (Courtesy of the congresswoman)

-- Growing up poor in Baltimore, Black lived in public housing. “When I was 4 years old, I asked for a doctor’s kit for Christmas,” she recalled. “I was a tomboy. I’d bandage my two brothers up when they got hurt. … I would have loved to have been a doctor, except that I was raised in a family that just didn’t have the means to let me do that.”

A scholarship allowed her to attend Anne Arundel Community College. Then she moved to Nashville to earn her nursing degree. (Her husband founded a drug-testing laboratory. Now she’s one of the wealthiest members of Congress.)

There is a House Doctor’s Caucus, and Black successfully petitioned to join when she arrived. She’s the only woman in that group, too. She said she really admires Price, who supported her bid to be included. “I’ve always been pleased that he has respect for me as a nurse,” Black said. “Sometimes doctors can be funny about that. They want to push nurses around.”

-- The smartest move Black made when she arrived on the Hill in 2011 was to befriend Ryan, who was then the chairman of the Budget Committee. “I asked him to be my mentor,” she recalled. “He gave me some things to read. I learned at the feet of Paul Ryan. … If you ask him about tax extenders, he can tell you what year it passed, who sponsored the bill [and] why it was done. This man has a trap for this stuff in his brain.”

Now she’s one of the speaker’s closest allies and has taken on an increasingly visible role in defending his approach. Black helped formulate the House GOP’s "Better Way" agenda on health-care reform last year, which Ryan rolled out as part of last year’s campaign. “This bill follows that blueprint,” she said. “Obviously this is the first bite at the apple. This is not the final bill. We have a ways to go.”

Black openly laments that Republicans must use the budget reconciliation process to replace Obamacare. Going this route allows changes to pass the Senate with 51 votes, instead of 60. But she notes that it requires unpleasant trade-offs and prevents the bill from being as good as it would be if it could stand alone. The bill, for instance, cannot allow insurance to be purchased across state lines. Separately, social conservatives fear that the Senate parliamentarian will block the draft legislation from defunding Planned Parenthood.

“It is a frustration for us, but we’ve got to work within the confines of what their archaic rules allow for,” Black said of the Senate. “So there are some good pieces that I’d like to be able to do on this first bite, but they’re going to take more time. You have to accept that and just get all you can.”

Tom Price, Mick Mulvaney and Sean Spicer speak to reporters after the Congressional Budget Office released its score on Monday. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

-- Black read the full text of the ACA when she first took office. During our conversation, she hopped up from her leather chair to find her dog-eared copy of “that bloomin’ thing” in a cabinet. Every time she saw a place where the legislation gave the HHS secretary discretion to implement something, she wrote an “S” in the margin.

While she was dismayed when Barack Obama was in charge and his appointees had this power, Black now flips through the bill to show off the “S” notations. She uses them to make the case to wavering Republicans that Price will have lots of flexibility and options to flesh out and build upon whatever Congress passes.

-- Some conservatives are pressing for a straight repeal of Obamacare. Black has also been warning them about the cautionary tale of TennCare. She is very proud that an entitlement program was scaled back in her home state — something that has never been done successfully at the federal level — but she said it could have been handled better.

“The unfortunate thing was that they didn’t have a glide path for people who were on the program. They just cut it off, and there was a cliff. And we saw the results of that,” Black recalled. “I’ve shared my experiences here to say, ‘Let’s not pull the rug out from under people’s feet. Let’s have a glide path.’ Fortunately, that’s a notion most people agree with.” 

Rep. Diane Black, joined by Reps. Greg Walden, Kevin Brady and Virginia Foxx, speaks to the media after meeting with President Trump at the White House about health-care legislation. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

FOUR FINAL INSIGHTS ON THE HEALTH CARE FIGHT:

-- Fox News just published the first live-caller poll about the GOP health-care plan. It was in the field from Sunday through Tuesday, and it shows that Trump, Ryan and Black have their work cut out for them:

  • Only 34 percent favor “the Republican health care plan that would replace Obamacare.” Only half of that group “strongly” favors the plan. While 54 percent oppose the GOP plan, 40 percent of all respondents “strongly oppose” it. Two-thirds of those who are against the plan say it’s because the plan makes too many changes to Obamacare, while 21 percent say it doesn’t make enough changes.
  • This debate is breaking through. Three-quarters of those polled say they are familiar with the House Republican plan.
  • A number that Ryan can take solace in: 49 percent agree with the statement that, “If Obamacare is left as is, it will collapse.” (Forty-six percent disagree.)
  • The president’s overall job approval rating is 43 percent, down from 48 percent in their poll last month. While 47 percent like how Trump is doing on the economy, only 35 percent approve of his handling of health care (55 percent disapprove).

-- “Trump can’t hide how eager he is to be finished with the health-care debate,” White House correspondent Abby Phillip reports. It took more than 25 minutes into his speech in Nashville last night for him to mention the issue. Even then, Trump made it clear he would much rather be dealing with the tax code. And he cited the need to get onto tax reform as a main reason to deal with Obamacare. On Air Force One after the event, Trump told reporters: "We will get something through. We're going to mix it up, we're going to come up with something.”

-- Conventional wisdom is wrong. Paul Kane, who is super plugged into Ryan World, relays that the speaker is primarily worried about losing mainstream conservatives from states that accepted Medicaid expansion: “While they do not seek as much media attention, these wavering moderates far outnumber the conservatives who are currently opposed. In New York alone, nine Republicans are concerned that the legislation would not do enough to help their constituents who would lose Medicaid coverage and would prefer more generous tax credits to help them buy new insurance plans. But conservatives are wary of the tax credits, and any expansion of them risks widening the pool of opponents on the right. … This bill has been carefully crafted with those two pockets of opposition in mind. Some minor tweaks can be made, but in general, Ryan’s team thinks that any big shift to the right on tax credits or Medicaid would lose too many votes from the center.” Despite the bigger concern about members from those states with Medicaid concerns, Ryan’s public posture has been about demonstrating his conservative bona fides in supporting the bill.

-- A bunch of stories this morning look at just how critical a moment this is for Ryan:

Andy Slavitt speaks at the Treasury Department last year about the annual Social Security and Medicare Boards of Trustees report. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

-- Is there room for a grand bargain? Juliet Eilperin has a scoop this morning on a new bipartisan effort to figure out health reform: “Andy Slavitt, who helped rescue the HealthCare.gov website after its botched roll out in fall 2013 and became a top health-care official in the Obama administration, is launching a new effort to bring bipartisanship back to health-care restructuring. He knows it might take a while to catch on. Slavitt, who served as acting administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, will be affiliating with the Bipartisan Policy Center, which has worked on health-care issues for a decade. … Natalie Davis, who served as his senior adviser during his time at CMS, will serve as director of strategic engagement there. They will join with others affiliated with the BPC — including Gail Wilensky, who headed a predecessor agency under George H.W. Bush — to solicit input from different players in the health-care system and devise possible policy solutions. BPC’s Health Project has been led by former Senate majority leaders Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) and Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).” Avik Roy, who advised Mitt Romney on health policy in 2012, is also participating.

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

THE BUDGET:

-- Trump will unveil a proposal today that calls for steep cuts across much of the government to pay for an increase in military spending. He calls for eliminating dozens of long-standing federal programs that assist the poor, fund scientific research, and aid U.S. foreign allies, among other things. (A full copy of the White House proposal is here.) Damian Paletta and Steven Mufson wrap it together:

  • The spending blueprint calls for a $54 billion hike in defense spending – but does not make clear where the funds would go: “It would, among other things, acquire new F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and rebuild what it says are depleted munitions inventories. But it stops short of saying how these new funds would support new tactics to combat the Islamic State.”
  • The proposal calls for a complete defunding of 19 federal agencies.
  • The departments of State, Labor, and Agriculture took the hardest hits. Each would see reductions of more than 20 percent.
  • The EPA would receive a 30 percent reduction in funds.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services would receive $69 billion under the plan – a 17.9 percent reduction. The move would send the federal government’s largest and most sprawling departments to its lowest level in nearly 20 years. More than a third of that come from the National Institutes of Health, which is the government’s “main engine” of biomedical research. (The huge NIH cut may have been the biggest surprise.)
  • The Energy Department would lose 5.6 percent of its budget, and money would be funneled away from climate programs toward reviving the controversial Yucca Mountain storage facility for nuclear waste. Harry Reid is no longer around to keep Yucca dead...
  • The proposal boosts the Justice Department’s tough-on-crime and anti-immigration efforts. Its overall 4 percent decrease appears to come from a reduction in federal prison construction – while putting money toward targeting criminal organizations and drug traffickers, and hiring immigration judges, border enforcement prosecutors and additional deputy U.S. marshals. The proposal indicates that DOJ officials could withhold grants or other funding for “sanctuary cities,” but did not specify which programs could be affected.
  • The Education Department’s budget would be downsized by $9.2 billion, or 13.5 percent. It would eliminate grants for teacher training, after-school programs and aid to low-income and first-generation college students. Meanwhile, Trump is proposing a $168 million increase for charter schools — a 50 percent increase from the current level— and a new $250 million private-school choice program.
  • The budget seeks a $6 billion cut in funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the elimination of community development grants. This could hit rural areas pretty hard.
  • It creates a new Federal Emergency Response Fund that would allow the U.S. to rapidly respond to disease outbreaks, but provides no specifics about how large it would be or where funds would come from.
  • NASA funding would shrink only slightly decreasing to $19.1 billion from about $19.3 billion.

-- Reality check: “Many of Trump’s budget proposals are likely to run into stiff resistance from lawmakers on Capitol Hill, even from Republicans, whose support is crucial because they must vote to authorize government appropriations,” Paletta and Mufson write. Members of the GOP have objected to the “large cuts in foreign aid and diplomacy that Trump has foreshadowed, and his budget whacks foreign aid programs run by the Education, State and Treasury departments, among others.” “The administration’s budget isn’t going to be the budget,” Sen. Marco Rubio said. “We do the budget here. The administration makes recommendations, but Congress does budgets.”

“Trump’s budget would not take effect until the new fiscal year on Oct. 1, but the president must still reach a separate agreement with Congress by the end of April, when a temporary funding bill expires. If they can’t reach an agreement, and if Trump’s new budget plan widens fault lines, then the chances would increase for a partial government shutdown starting on April 29.”

THE TWO SMARTEST ASSESSMENTS:

-- Dan Balz sees echoes of Ronald Reagan’s 1981 budget as he reads the blueprint, but he says the proposal leaves open the question of what Trump’s true priorities are: “Are they mainly to raise defense spending, thereby being forced to find offsetting savings from domestic spending? Are they to reduce the deficit significantly, in which case what he is proposing will not go very far? Are they to take an ax to the executive branch, both through regulatory changes and the elimination of programs, in an effort to fight a bureaucracy that he appears to see as hostile to his presidency? The domestic cuts proposed in Trump’s new budget will produce pain and are likely to spark the same kind of backlash that has greeted past efforts. Trump enjoys the advantage of having a Congress in Republican hands … But the built-in resistance to cuts in specific programs will test Trump’s ability to shift priorities and truly shrink Washington’s reach. ‘There aren’t a lot of examples of presidents coming in and saying, ‘I’m going to eliminate this program and that program and cut a whole bunch of programs back anywhere from 10 to 30 percent,’ said [former CBO director] Robert Reischauer. ‘This is quite unusual.’”

-- Some parts of America are more first than others in what the White House is calling Trump’s “America First” budget. Peter Baker explains in the New York Times: “The tough choices he promised would eliminate longstanding staples of American life. Gone would be federal financing for public television, the arts and humanities. Federal support for long-distance Amtrak train service would be eliminated. Washington would get out of the business of helping clean up the Chesapeake Bay or the Great Lakes. While he may not care about East Coast elites upset about ending financing for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, some of the agencies and programs that would be ‘zeroed out’ are institutions in parts of the country that Mr. Trump won last November. Among the agencies to be cut off, for instance, would be the Appalachian Regional Commission, a federal-state agency founded in 1965 to promote economic development and infrastructure in some of the poorest parts of the United States. Similarly, federal support for rural airports should go, he argued, because … [the areas] do not need their own or that they ‘could be served by other existing modes of transportation.’”

THREE DIFFERENT FEDERAL JUDGES BLOCKED TRUMP IN THE PAST 24 HOURS:

-- A judge in Hawaii issued a temporary freeze on Trump’s revised executive order just hours before it was slated to take effect at midnight, stopping for now the administration’s attempt to halt immigration from six majority-Muslim countries and suspending admission of refugees. Matt Zapotosky, Kalani Takase and Maria Sacchetti report: “In a blistering 43-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Derrick K. Watson pointed to Trump’s own comments and those of his close advisers as evidence that his order was meant to discriminate against Muslims and declared there was a ‘strong likelihood of success’ that those suing would prove the directive violated the Constitution. Watson declared that 'a reasonable, objective observer — enlightened by the specific historical context, contemporaneous public statements, and specific sequence of events leading to its issuance — would conclude that the Executive Order was issued with a purpose to disfavor a particular religion." (Read the judge’s full opinion here.)

-- A second judge in Maryland issued a restraining order early this morning blocking enforcement of one of the critical sections of Trump’s revised ban, using the president’s remarks against him in deciding the ban was likely unconstitutional. Matt Zapotosky reports: “The decision from U.S. District Judge Theodore D. Chuang in federal court marks another win for challengers of the president’s executive order … Chuang’s order did not sweep as broadly as the one in Hawaii, but he similarly declared that even the revised travel ban was intended to discriminate against Muslims. He said those wanting evidence of anti-Muslim intent need look no further than what the president himself has said about it. Chuang’s ruling won’t upend or call into question the decision in Hawaii, instead offering some measure of reinforcement. ‘The history of public statements continues to provide a convincing case that the purpose of the Second Executive Order remains the realization of the long-envisioned Muslim ban,’ Chuang wrote.”

-- The Third Circuit stopped the Trump administration from deporting an Afghan man, who had been granted a special visa for assisting the U.S. mission in that country at great personal risk. Abigail Hauslohner reports: “Hours before immigration officials were set to send the Special Immigrant Visa-recipient back to Afghanistan, the court ... granted a temporary stay in response to an emergency request by the man’s lawyers.” DHS officials first detained the man when he arrived at Newark International Airport on Monday night. His case would have been the first known removal of an Afghan recipient of the Special Immigrant Visa – and is the second case in a matter of days involving SIV holders legally attempting to enter the U.S.

-- Trump said the "terrible" ruling in Hawaii represented "unprecedented judicial overreach" and told a cheering audience in Nashville that it was “done by a judge for political reasons.” He vowed to fight the decision “as far as it needs to go” and lamented the fact that he had been forced to sign a “watered-down version” of his first travel ban. “Let me tell you something, I think we ought to go back to the first one and go all the way,” the president said. “The danger is clear, the law is clear, the need for my executive order is clear!”

-- Chilling: Some prominent Trump supporters, including the father of the deputy White House press secretary, are urging the president to ignore the court orders.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte reacts enthusiastically at The Hague after his victory in the Dutch general election. (Carl Court/Getty)

THE ESTABLISHMENT STRIKES BACK:

-- Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte fended off a challenge from anti-Muslim firebrand Geert Wilders in the country's general election. His victory has heartened centrist leaders in Europe who have grown increasingly fearful of Trump-like populist upsets in their own nations. Michael Birnbaum reports: “The result was embraced by other leaders inside and outside the Netherlands as a major blow to anti-immigrant populism, breaking a streak of disruption that started with the Brexit vote and continued with the election of [Trump] … Instead, as the Netherlands’ famed tulip season gets underway, [Rutte] will remain in office as he tries to form a coalition. The vote in the prosperous trading nation was seen as a bellwether for France and Germany, which head to the polls in the coming months and have also been shaken by fierce anti-immigrant sentiment.” Wilders nose-dived in recent weeks after leading opinion polls for most of the past 18 months. He described some Moroccans as “scum," called for banning the Koran and proposed shuttering mosques – a sentiment that Dutch voters seemed to reject in the final stretch of the campaign.

GET SMART FAST:

  1. The Federal Reserve raised its benchmark interest rate by a quarter point. The move is likely to help ward off threats of inflation amid a strengthening economy, but it also raises costs for indebted American households. (Ana Swanson)
  2. An American plan to help facilitate the urgent delivery of food, medicine and commercial goods into Yemen has been temporarily halted, according to U.N. officials, which will worsen an already-dire humanitarian crisis caused by that country’s civil war. (Missy Ryan)
  3. Four people in Germany were sentenced to prison on charges of forming a far-right terrorist group. They allegedly had plans to bomb refugee homes as a tactic to scare migrants into fleeing the country. (AP)
  4. Turkish sympathizers hacked hundreds of Twitter accounts to post messages deriding Germany and the Netherlands as Nazis. The messages – which echo rhetoric spouted by Turkish President Erdogan – come amid escalating tensions between Turkey and Europe. (Kareem Fahim)
  5. Three women with macular degeneration became permanently blind after undergoing an experimental stem-cell treatment at a South Florida clinic. The alarming episode comes as a spate of stem-cell clinics have begun popping up across the country, offering unproven treatment for ailments ranging from hip problems to autism to ALS. It raises important questions about whether the government and doctors are doing enough to protect patients from the dangers of so-called “experimental” therapies. (Laurie McGinley)
  6. A New England doctor pleaded guilty on several charges this week after writing more than 1,100 oxycodone prescriptions in a single month, a staggering amount that is more than some of the largest state hospitals during the same period. (New York Daily News)
  7. Oklahoma police are investigating a Republican state senator, Ralph Shortey, who was allegedly found with a teenage boy in a motel room. Authorities released a heavily-redacted police report describing the incident on Wednesday, but they did not say what charges may be filed against the lawmaker. (AP)
  8. Federal prosecutors agreed to drop charges against an American University student accused of pointing a laser pointer at a federal park police helicopter on Inauguration Day, on the condition that he complete a one-year term of “good conduct” and log 100 hours of community service. (Spencer S. Hsu)
  9. Are yoga pants causing sea pollution? Maybe so, according to a two-year study. Researchers say the cozy athletic-wear is emerging as a source of plastic that’s increasingly ending up in oceans and potentially contaminating seafood. Other top offenders include fleece-type jackets, sweat-wicking athletic wear, and other types of clothing containing nylon and polyester. (AP)
  10. Public concern about climate change in the U.S. has reached an all-time high, according to a new Gallup survey, with 45 percent of Americans saying they worry a “great deal” about it. Six in 10 believe its effects are already occurring. Seven in 10 believe climate change is driven by human activities. (Chelsea Harvey)

THE "WIRETAP" WALKBACK CONTINUES:

-- House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, who was a member of Trump's transition team, said yesterday there is no evidence Trump Tower was wiretapped, repeating a claim he made last week. The California Republican told reporters that, if Trump's tweets were taken literally, "clearly the president was wrong."

-- Trump defended his wiretapping allegations against the Trump administration in a Fox News interview – even as he indicated he had no solid evidence to support his declaration. Philip Rucker reports: “’I've been reading about things,’ Trump said the interview. Trump said that after noticing an article in the New York Times and commentary by Fox anchor Bret Baier, Trump said he told himself, ‘Wait a minute, there's a lot of wiretapping being talked about.' In the interview Wednesday … Trump maintained that information would soon be revealed that could prove him right, but he would not explain what that information might be. He said he would be ‘submitting certain things’ to a congressional committee investigating the matter and that he was considering speaking about the topic next week.” “I think you're going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks,” Trump said.

-- Tensions between GOP lawmakers and the Trump administration over Russia keep rising, as lawmakers probing alleged ties between Trump staffers and the Kremlin accused officials of trying to block their efforts, Karoun Demirjian and Ed O'Keefe report.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley even accused top Justice Department officials Wednesday of LYING when they promised to share information about ongoing department probes with lawmakers conducting oversight. “It doesn’t matter whether you have a Republican or Democrat president, every time they come up here for their nomination hearing … I ask them, ‘Are you going to answer phone calls and our letters, and are you going to give us the documents we want?’ And every time we get a real positive ‘yes’! And then they end up being liars!” Grassley said, screaming into the phone during an interview. “It’s not if they’re treating us differently than another committee. It’s if they’re responding at all.”

-- John McCain accused Rand Paul of “working for Putin” after his Senate colleague blocked an attempt to vote on a treaty that would allow NATO membership for Montenegro. "The senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin," McCain said on the floor. The Arizona Republican took aim at the Kentucky Republican for killing the vote "without any justification or any rationale." "If there is objection, you are achieving the objectives of Vladimir Putin," McCain said. "You are achieving the objectives of trying to dismember this small country, which has already been the subject of an attempted coup." (Politico)

-- Nikki Haley stressed the importance of not trusting Russia in her first interview as United Nations ambassador, taking a harsh stance on Moscow that breaks with Trump. "Take it seriously. We cannot trust Russia. We should never trust Russia," she told NBC News' Matt Lauer.

Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch arrives for a meeting with Bob Casey. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

SCOTUS WATCH:

-- Senate Democrats are requesting more information about the key role that Neil Gorsuch played in defending Bush-era terrorism policies, including practices that many consider torture. Robert Barnes and Ed O'Keefe report: Ranking Senate Judiciary Committee Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein said the information provided by Gorsuch about his 2005-2006 Justice Department employment has raised more questions ahead of his confirmation hearing: “With your hearing only six days away, it has come to my attention that your response via the Department of Justice to my letter of February 22 is incomplete and must be supplemented immediately,” she wrote, setting a deadline of 5 p.m. Thursday. Her request includes “all litigation related to the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism, intelligence, detention, interrogation, military, or related efforts in which you drafted or reviewed a legal filing.” Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said that “on areas of surveillance and torture, what I’ve seen so far, his views are a lot different than mine.”

A U.S. Marine Corps Harrier gets mid-air refueling yesterday by a KC-10 over Syrian air space. (Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters)

ESCALATION IN SYRIA:

-- The U.S. military is likely to deploy as many as 1,000 additional ground troops to northern Syria in the coming weeks, moving to expand American presence in the country ahead of an offensive on ISIS militants in Raqqa. The deployment, if approved by the White House, would potentially double the number of U.S. forces in Syria – and ramps up the potential for direct combat in the country’s six-year conflict. (Thomas Gibbons-Neff)

-- Suicide bombers killed dozens of people in the Syrian capital of Damascus, detonating separately at a historic courthouse and a restaurant in the city. The bombings – which killed 39 and left more than 100 others wounded – come on the sixth anniversary of the anti-government protests which led to the country’s civil war. (Louisa Loveluck)

Trump speaks during a meeting on human trafficking last month. Dina Powell is on the right. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

IN THIS WHITE HOUSE, IT’S ALL ABOUT PROXIMITY TO POWER:

-- Politico, “Wherever Trump goes, his gang of aides stays close by,” by Annie Karni and Josh Dawsey: “When he boarded Air Force One on Wednesday morning to travel to Michigan and Tennessee, he didn’t wing it alone: His entire senior West Wing staff traveled with him. The White House touts Trump’s close relationship with his aides as evidence of his inclusive governing style. But the constant presence of Trump’s senior aides also reflects their desire not to lose their standing in Trump’s complicated orbit — or to let others in. At a closed-press meeting in the Oval Office last week with conservative groups airing grievances against the health care bill, many attendees were surprised that Trump and [Mick Mulvaney] brought an entourage. Conway, Priebus and Kushner all stood behind a semi-circle of activists and the president at the Resolute Desk, while Bannon paced silently in the back of the room … The large number of senior officials present, at all times, is a major contrast with past administrations — and it speaks to the defensive crouch that has become necessary for top aides in a White House defined by rival factions and power centers.”

ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN:

-- Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a Tokyo press conference a few hours ago that it is time to take a “different approach” to dealing with North Korea after two decades of diplomacy have “failed” to convince the regime in Pyongyang to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Anna Fifield reports: “Tillerson’s comments will fuel fears in the region that military options might be on the table to deter North Korea — an approach that could prove devastating for Seoul, where more than 20 million people live within North Korean artillery range.”

  • “The secretary of state, making his first major trip abroad since taking office, also backed President Trump’s proposed cuts to his department’s budget, saying that the current State budget was ‘simply not sustainable’ and that he would ‘take the challenge on willingly.’"
  • Tillerson did not go to the U.S. embassy in Tokyo to meet staff Thursday morning, as is often customary, but instead stayed in his hotel, where he read and received briefings from embassy officials, a spokesman said.”
  • "The press conference in Tokyo also appears to be his only forum for speaking during the media during his trip. Even then, he only took questions from four pre-selected reporters." What kind of message does that send to the regime in China about American values?
Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin walks past a police officer on his way to 10 Downing Street for meetings in London this morning. He picked James Donovan to be his number two. (Frank Augstein/AP)

-- Boston Globe A1, “Father of Trump deputy treasury pick at center of family dispute,” by Deirdre Fernandes: “James Donovan, a Goldman Sachs banker, is about to take the hot seat as [Trump’s] nominee to the number two job at the Treasury Department. But for more than a decade, the nominee to be deputy treasury secretary has been tackling one of his biggest challenges closer to home: his own father. The 50-year-old North Shore native, along with his siblings, has been embroiled in a long-running dispute with their father, John Donovan Sr., that involved allegations of attempted murder, a frame-up, and a battle over millions of dollars and acres of waterfront property. In 2005, James Donovan was accused by his father, a charismatic entrepreneur and former MIT professor … of hiring Russian hitmen to shoot him. But police investigators found that the senior Donovan had orchestrated the whole incident, shooting himself in the stomach. Family relations soured further when the children tried to take control of property their father had left in trusts for them. James Donovan [and his family] …moved out of Massachusetts more than 10 years ago, concerned for their safety and troubled by the stigma of the very nasty family fight, according to court testimony and friends.”

Trump and James Mattis board Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews on March 2. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

-- “Two months into the Trump administration, the top jobs at the U.S. Department of Defense remain largely empty," Defense News reports. "But supporters of [Defense Secretary Jim Mattis] are quietly expressing hope that a top Trump aide whom they see as a roadblock for nominees will soon move on to a new role, which could speed up the nominee process … Sources who support Mattis have grown increasingly vocal about frustrations with Mira Ricardel, a top defense voice on the Trump campaign who also served as a part of the defense transition team for the administration.  Ricardel is positioned at the Office of Presidential Personnel and has been a vital part of the nominee review process …  It now appears Ricardel will be moving out of the OPP position soon. Sources from the Pentagon say that the move comes after a major clash with Mattis, with one source familiar with the discussions going so far as to say that ‘Mattis told the White House either Mira goes, or he walks. They blinked.’

-- Bigger picture: The president’s embrace of the military has provoked equal parts excitement and unease among officers still struggling to make sense of an unconventional commander in chief,” Greg Jaffe and Missy Ryan report. “‘You want those in uniform … to trust the president,’ one retired four-star officer said. ‘They don’t have to like him, but they have to trust him. Right now, there is an uncertain fabric of trust between them.’ The uncertainty extends to the president’s over-the-top praise. Do his frequent encomiums reflect a respect for the military’s discipline and expertise, or could he be using the uniform as a backdrop to bolster his popularity? Even the president’s proposed $54 billion buildup has provoked some questions. ‘We’re going to load it up. You’re going to get a lot of equipment,’ Trump said of his military buildup, which seems designed more as a show of strength than an effort to deal with any pressing threat.”

Trump introduces H.R. McMaster as his new national security adviser last month. (Susan Walsh/AP)

-- Trump has greatly expanded the portfolio of one of his top economic advisers, former Goldman Sachs executive Dina Habib Powell, to include her in national security strategyPhilip Rucker reports that the Bush 43 veteran is close with Trump's daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner. She's now going to get the title of "Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategy," in addition to being "Senior Counselor for Economic Initiatives." The White House says Powell will devise the administration's national security strategy and oversee coordination with the State Department, the Defense Department and various intelligence agencies. An administration official claims that Powell's elevation does not represent a demotion for current deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland, but that really doesn't pass the smell test. Of course it is.

-- The Weekly Standard, “McMaster Interviewed CIA Operative to Replace Trump NSC Official,” by Michael Warren: “Over the weekend, a personnel dispute within the National Security Council between the national security advisor, H.R. McMaster, and senior White House aides Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon was eventually brought to [Trump] himself. As [previously reported] … Trump overruled McMaster, who had sought to move the NSC's senior director of intelligence programs to another position, reportedly after ‘weeks of pressure from career officials at the CIA.’ Some of those CIA officials … were pushing for one of their own to take the job in Trump's White House. Two sources within the White House tell me that last week McMaster had interviewed a potential replacement … longtime CIA official Linda Weissgold. Weissgold apparently had a good interview with McMaster, as she was overheard saying as she left the White House she would next have to ‘talk to Pompeo’—as in Mike Pompeo, the director of the CIA. But Weissgold was never offered the job; days later, Trump himself overruled the effort to move Cohen-Watnick out of his senior director role.”

Sebastian Gorka speaks in Germany in 2015. (Eric Steen/U.S. Army)

-- The Forward, “Nazi-Allied Group Claims Top Trump Aide Sebastian Gorka As Sworn Member," by Lili Bayer and Larry Cohler-Esses: “Sebastian Gorka, [Trump’s] top counter-terrorism adviser, is a formal member of a Hungarian far-right group that is listed by the U.S. State Department as having been ‘under the direction of the Nazi Government of Germany’ during World War II, leaders of the organization have told the Forward. The elite order, known as the Vitézi Rend, was established as a loyalist group by Admiral Miklos Horthy … a self-confessed anti-Semite [who] imposed restrictive Jewish laws prior to World War II and collaborated with Hitler during the conflict. His cooperation with the Nazi regime included the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Jews into Nazi hands. Gorka - who Vitézi Rend leaders say took a lifelong oath of loyalty to their group - did not respond to multiple emails sent to his work and personal accounts, asking whether he is a member of the Vitézi Rend and, if so, whether he disclosed this on his immigration application and on his application to be naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 2012."

White House chief strategist Steve Bannon waits for the start of Trump's rally in Nashville last night. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

-- Daily Beast, “Steve Bannon in College: Grateful Dead Fan, ‘Jerry Brown Liberal,’ ‘Ladies Man,’” by Asawin Suebsaeng: “The Bannon the world knows today is a hard-right nationalist and a former ringleader of far-right, race-baiting media. It’s a Steve Bannon who the Steve Bannon of his formative college years would likely see as barely recognizable. Old friends, acquaintances, and roommates … described Bannon in his Virginia Tech undergraduate days as a ‘Jerry Brown liberal’ who was a devotee of rock artists and jam-bands such as the Grateful Dead and Bruce Springsteen. He was a book-wormy-y ‘history nerd,’ an idiosyncratic football player, and a charismatic ‘ladies man,’ say his college peers. He was a force in campus politics who would, with a large pot of coffee, regularly preside over huddles of student leaders and activists in his apartment. ... ‘I can remember one of [our] roommates saying, ‘Steve’s gonna end up in the White House one day,’ said college friend John DePaola. 'He was more intellectual than any of us.'"

-- BuzzFeed, “How Trump’s Lawyer Placed A Big Casino Bet That Left Dozens Empty-Handed,” by Anthony Cormier and Chris McDaniel: “The Atlantic sailed twice a day in the summer of 2003, gliding out of Miami Beach Marina with a full liquor bar, prime rib on the buffet, a dance floor, blackjack tables, roulette wheels, and 200 slot machines. Its destination: nowhere. The 196-foot yacht went 3 miles off the Florida coast, where passengers could drink and gamble free of oversight by state regulators. For those first few months, employees recall, the Atlantic Casino was a smash. But behind the scenes, Atlantic Casino was going sideways. It owed the marina $2.4 million and it owed a consulting company another $950,000. Managers asked people for patience on payroll checks, then one day The Atlantic wasn’t in the marina anymore. ‘I have two kids and they owed me $4,000,’ said Ivan Philipov, a food and beverage manager. ‘That’s a lot of money to a guy like me. I never got any of it. None of the employees did.’ The casino’s implosion would be of little note … except that one of the owners of Atlantic Casino is [Trump’s] personal attorney and close advisor, Michael D. Cohen. This chapter of Cohen’s life ... offers a rare opportunity to understand how an important figure in Trump’s inner circle conducted business."

-- Mother Jones, “Businesswoman Who Bought Trump Penthouse Is Connected to Chinese Intelligence Front Group,” by Andy Kroll and Russ Choma: “When a Chinese American businesswoman who sells access to powerful people recently purchased a $15.8 million penthouse in a building owned by [Trump], the deal raised a key question. Was this a straightforward real estate transaction, or was this an effort to win favor with the new administration? The woman, Angela Chen, refused to discuss the purchase with the media. ... Chen runs a business consulting firm, Global Alliance Associates, which specializes in linking US businesses seeking deals in China with the country's top power brokers. But Chen has another job: She chairs the US arm of a nonprofit called the China Arts Foundation, which was founded in 2006 and has links with Chinese elites and the country's military intelligence service. To sum up: An influence-peddler who works with a princeling tied to Chinese military intelligence placed $15.8 million in the pockets of the president of the United States.

THE AGENDA: 

-- Trump plans to withdraw and rewrite an Obama-era “fracking” rule aimed at limiting hydraulic fracturing on public lands, according to court documents filed by the Interior Department. The move to roll back the 2015 regulation, which has been stayed in federal court, is the latest effort to ease restraints on oil and gas production. (Juliet Eilperin)

--Jeff Sessions said marijuana is “only slightly less awful” than heroin as he previewed a federal crackdown on decriminalization. Less than two years ago, the Drug Enforcement Administration officially declared that “heroin is clearly more dangerous than marijuana.”

  • Speaking in Richmond, the new attorney general said: “I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store. And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana — so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful. Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.”
  • “Sessions remarks are contradicted by a wealth of medical and policy research,” writes Wonkblog’s Chris Ingraham.

-- During a sprawling speech in Detroit, Trump once again took credit for jobs he did not create. "We’re going to stop the jobs from leaving our country,’ he declared. "It’s not going to happen anymore, folks. Already, we’re seeing jobs coming back. Since my election … just today, breaking news, General Motors announced that they’re adding or keeping 900 jobs right here in Michigan!"

"GM’s hiring decision has more to do with the company’s long-term strategy than any presidential pressure or imminent policy changes," Danielle Paquette explains. "When asked if the administration influenced the automaker’s move, GM spokesman Pat Morrissey did not give Trump credit. ‘We haven’t fundamentally changed any of our plans,’ he said Wednesday. Earlier this year, GM rejiggered its production strategy, announcing it would pour $1 billion into U.S. manufacturing, an investment that would allow the company to open or retain 1,500 jobs. Separately, the company also wiped out roughly 3,300 factory jobs across the Midwest.” Over the last three months, Trump has taken credit for persuading Ford and Chrysler Fiat to keep jobs on American soil — claims both companies have disputed. (Last Friday's Big Idea was about the president's habit of claiming credit for things he had nothing or little to do with.)

-- During his trip to Nashville, Trump commemorated the 250th birthday of Andrew Jackson by touring his plantation and visiting his grave. He called the former president his "hero" and explicitly claimed his mantle. "They say my election was most similar to his," Trump said. "1828 — that’s a long time ago! Usually, they go back like to this one or that one, 12 years ago, 16. I mean, 1828, that’s a long way, that’s a long time ago."

"Although Jackson is regarded as the founder of the Democratic Party and won the popular vote, there are more than a few resemblances between the forces that elected the seventh president and the 45th," Jenna Johnson and Karen Tumulty report. "A departure from the mannered elite who had been elected before him, the frontiersman son of Scots-Irish immigrants was known as 'the people’s president.' ... But more recent interpretations of Jackson’s time in office have taken some of the sheen off his reputation. He supported slavery and forced Native Americans off their lands with the Indian Removal Act of 1830, leading to the ‘Trail of Tears.’ … The White House’s top Jackson history buff is Steve Bannon, who invoked him in describing Trump’s dark inaugural address — memorable for its reference to ‘American carnage.’” (Here's my big idea on this subject from Jan. 20.)

TRUMP'S TAXES:

-- Sean Spicer slammed MSNBC for publishing the first two pages of the president's 2005 returns on “The Rachel Maddow Show" and rejected suggestions that Trump was the one who ordered the document to be leaked (something many people suspect he did to distract the press). “NBC sat there and speculated openly and asked guests and pushed a narrative about whether the president was behind this," Spicer told reporters on Air Force One. "It’s despicable and reprehensible, and they should be ashamed of themselves." Asked directly if Trump authorized the leak, Spicer said, “No. And I think it’s offensive to ask that question." The White House and Trump himself both insisted NBC acted illegally in publishing the documents, but Spicer declined to say whether the presidential administration or Trump’s personal attorneys will pursue legal action, Abby Phillip reports.

-- The Fix’s Philip Bump doesn’t think the Trump people would have leaked the returns, and he speculates that it might have come from someone at a bank that gave Trump a loan. (He runs through the clues here.)

-- “The Trump team’s response to leaked tax information only raises more questions,” The Post’s Editorial Board says this morning: “Unless and until Mr. Trump releases his returns, including all supporting materials, we are entitled to assume that he has something to hide, whether it’s embarrassingly chintzy charitable contributions, chronic exaggerations of his wealth, business ties to Russia — or some combination of the three. Even tax returns would not constitute sufficient disclosure for a man whose business affairs stretch across states and around the world, as Mr. Trump’s do. The public is entitled to a detailed explanation of all that, as well.”

-- Rachel Maddow said last night that, if people felt let down by her over-hyped story, it’s more because of the weight of expectations than anything she did wrong. “The MSNBC host found herself in the odd position Wednesday of defending herself from criticism following one of the biggest-ever scoops for her show,” the AP notes. “Maddow (said) that she never misrepresented what she had. ‘That hype is external to what we did,’ she said. … Maddow’s nearly 20-minute explanation of why seeing the president’s tax returns is important and all of the things they could reveal — before telling what the 2005 documents actually showed — may have felt familiar to her regular viewers but a long tease for those enticed by the advanced advertising. (People compared it to when Geraldo opened Al Capone’s safe.)”

-- Page Six reports that the episode has caused friction inside NBC. “[MSNBC] announced it on Twitter, and [NBC] found out when [the general public] did,” an unnamed insider claimed. “[MSNBC president] Phil Griffin was trying to undermine [NBC News president] Noah Oppenheim. There was never a conversation. They overplayed their hand in a huge way.”

In this artist's drawing, Ahmad Khan Rahimi appears in a New York courtroom to face federal terrorism charges last November. The Afghanistan-born U.S. citizen is charged with detonating a pipe bomb along a Marine Corps charity race in Seaside Park, N.J., and planting pressure cooker bombs in New York City. (Elizabeth Williams/AP)

HOW TERRORISTS CAN FALL THROUGH THE CRACKS:

-- “Report: U.S. lacks system for spotting, defusing homegrown extremist threats,” by Joby Warrick: “On his way to planting an explosive in a Manhattan alley last September, suspected bombmaker Ahmad Rahimi stumbled into a deep hole in the U.S. system of safeguards against domestic terrorist attacks. The Elizabeth, N.J., resident had twice come under scrutiny by the FBI  … But investigators found no grounds for arresting him, and they lacked alternatives measures for maintaining surveillance … [Now], that gap is the subject of a new bipartisan report that warns of a serious flaw in U.S. defenses against homegrown terrorism: the lack of an effective, comprehensive system for finding, redirecting and rehabilitating Americans who may be on a path to violent extremism. ‘Fighting terrorism requires both tactical efforts to thwart attacks and strategic efforts to counter the extremist radicalization that fuels its hatred and violence and undergirds its strategy and global appeal,’ says the report, based on a year-long study commissioned by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank.”

Unless such a system is put is put into place, the report says, law-enforcement officials will be left to try to prevent attacks only after the would-be terrorist becomes operational: “The report … urges federal backing for an array of programs that would seek to prevent radicalization from taking root in local communities … The proposed remedies would mostly take place outside the criminal justice system, while maintaining a strong ‘connective tissue’ with law enforcement.”

Bill Cassidy outside the Senate Chamber. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

GAFFE OF THE DAY:

-- Bill Cassidy made an embarrassing mistake in an op-ed for The Hill. Our Lindsey Bever noticed that the Louisiana senator attributed one of Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s most famous quotes (“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts”) to Ronald Reagan. Ironically, Cassidy then added: “Conservatives believe in truth — embracing myths in public policy can be disastrous.” We wonder if one of the senator’s speechwriters will have his pay docked this week...

WORDS MATTER:

-- “Rarely do a presidential candidate’s own words so dramatically haunt his presidency,” Mike Shear notes in the Times: “For the second time in two months, a federal judge on Wednesday refused to allow [Trump] to impose a travel ban, citing his campaign rhetoric as evidence of an improper desire to prevent Muslims from entering the United States. The judge’s stunning rebuke was a vivid example of how Mr. Trump’s angry, often xenophobic rallying cries during the 2016 campaign — which were so effective in helping to get him elected — have become legal and political liabilities now that he is in the Oval Office. It is a lesson that presidents usually learn quickly: Difficult and controversial issues can easily be painted as black-and-white during a long campaign, but they are often more complicated for those who are in a position to govern.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

A fun fact about the Dutch election: there were hundreds of candidates to choose from. Here's what the ballot looked like:

(Marco de Swart/AFP)

Lots  of commentary about the continuing saga over Trump's wiretapping claims:

Trump panned NBC for the Maddow tax returns segment:

Some reaction to Trump's Nashville rally, from one of our White House reporters who covered Trump's campaign:

Some pointed out that words matter in reaction to the court decision on Trump's new travel ban:

From one of CNN's Trump champions:

Some panned Hawaii itself:

Lots of reaction to the Trump budget:

From the Post's budget reporter:

Democrats spotlighted this clip from Tom Price's CNN town hall on health care last night:

This probably has more to do with Paul's demands that the House GOP health care proposal be changed:

Speaking of books....

Lawmakers are going all in on March Madness:

Samantha Bee helped former Gov. Pat McCrory (R-N.C.), who says he's having trouble getting a new job, with his resume:

These lawmakers survived their bipartisan road trip:

House Democrats wished RBG a Happy Birthday:

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“‘I don’t even want to look at it’: Conservative rally host derisively compares ACA bill to a transgender woman,” from Elise Viebeck: “It was a few minutes before Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was supposed to speak, and conservative radio host Andrew Wilkow was stalling for time, talking about his hatred for the Republican health-care plan. ‘How is any different from Obamacare?’ Wilkow told the rally of conservative activists … ‘I love when they say, ‘It’s a conservative bill, Andrew. It’s a conservative bill.’ I’m sorry, I looked under its skirt — it’s not a conservative bill.’ … Now, Wilkow could practically see Cruz walking toward the small stage. But he wasn’t finished with his analogy about Ryan’s health-care plan. ‘You can tell me that it self-identifies as a Republican bill,’ he said derisively. ‘But you know what? I saw its parts. I don’t want to go on a date with it.’ The crowd laughed and whooped. ‘I don’t want to live with it. I don’t want to marry it. I don’t even want to look at it!’ The crowd roared.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“How bad are things for Democrats? A blank book mocking them is Amazon’s top seller,” from Peter Holley: “The mainstream comedy world is dominated by left-of-center voices, but that doesn't mean conservatives don't have a voracious appetite for humor. Just ask Michael J. Knowles, a 26-year-old history buff with a degree from Yale whose name graces the cover of the top-selling book on Amazon at the moment: ‘Reasons to Vote for Democrats: A Comprehensive Guide.’ A quick glance at the table of contents suggests the book is as humorless as its title is dry. But flip through a few chapters and you'll quickly notice that all 266 pages — wait for it — are completely blank. Get it? There ARE no reasons to vote for Democrats — ba dum tss! If you find yourself LOLing, you're not alone. More than 60,000 copies of the $6 paperback have been sold in less than a week, making a book nearly devoid of words the top-selling book on Amazon. Should we expect anything less from the universe in 2017? Probably not.”

 

DAYBOOK:

March Madness begins today. See a full schedule of the games, and a rundown of ways to watch online, here.

At the White House: Trump will lead a bilateral meeting with the Taoiseach of Ireland in the morning, before departing for the Capitol. Later, he will deliver remarks at the Friends of Ireland luncheon and host the Taoiseach and Mrs. Kenny of Ireland at the White House. In the evening, Trump will make remarks at the St. Patrick’s Day reception.

Pence will welcome Taoiseach Enda Kenny and friends of Ireland to the Naval Observatory for a St. Patrick’s Day breakfast before joining Trump for a bilateral meeting at the White House. President for a bilateral meeting with the Taoiseach of Ireland at the White House. In the afternoon, he will participate in the Friends of Ireland luncheon before the swearing-in ceremony of Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. Later, he will meet with lawmakers before joining Trump for the St. Patrick’s Day reception.

On Capitol Hill: The Senate will convene at 11:30 a.m.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“You, sir, shut up.” – Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) responds to a constituent who was shouting at him during a town hall 

 

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

-- Another day of belated winter chill awaits. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Sunshine is back for much of the day and, although west winds remain blustery, the gusts shouldn’t exceed 25 mph. Despite our nearly 12 hours of daylight and a sun much higher in the sky, highs only reach the mid-30s to near 40. Headway on melting the dense snow cover will be a slow process.”

-- Maryland’s House of Delegates gave preliminary approval to Gov. Larry Hogan’s $43.5 billion budget Wednesday after making a series of key changes to the spending blueprint -- restoring nearly three-quarters of the $112.3 million in spending requirements that Hogan planned to slash. (Josh Hicks)

-- Hogan (R) also withdrew Day Gardner’s name to serve on the Maryland Board of Physicians following criticism over her advocacy against doctors who perform abortions. Gardner is the third nominee withdrawn by Hogan in the last two weeks. (Ovetta Wiggins)

-- The Alexandria City Council voted 6 to 1 to advertise a property tax rate hike of 5.7 cents, more than twice what the city manager recommended, one day after scores of school advocates pressured the council to raise more money for school construction and maintenance. “The proposal, which would raise property taxes to $1.13 per $100 of assessed property value, could cost the average homeowner $356 more than what they now pay,” Patricia Sullivan reports. “The council also is considering higher fees for sewers and trash, and a new storm-water utility fee, all of which would add about $200 more to a homeowner’s bill in fiscal 2018.”

Post copy editor and author Bill Walsh in Washington, DC. (Jacqueline Dupree)

-- We are sad to report that our colleague Bill Walsh, who spent the past 20 years as a Post copy editor and author, and was known as a "witty authority" who valued a well-placed hyphen, has died at age 55. The cause was complications from bile-duct cancer, said his wife, Jacqueline Dupree, who also works at the Post. Adam Bernstein has a touching obituary: “In the hurly-burly of a newsroom, where even the best reporters have widely varying degrees of grammatical competence, copy editors are the often unheralded guardians of language and common sense. They are the front-line mud soldiers in an endless war against bad spelling, ill-considered sentence construction and factual errors. They prevent English teachers everywhere from wincing. They save behinds. By many accounts, Mr. Walsh stood at the zenith of his profession. Mary Norris, the recently retired New Yorker magazine copy editor ... called Mr. Walsh ‘that rare thing: a celebrity copy editor ... clever, decisive, entertaining, and knowledgeable, in person and on the page.’”

“For several years now, Jacqueline and I have looked at each other and shaken our heads and marveled at our good fortune,” Walsh wrote on his blog following his diagnosis last summer. “If we had behaved this way in front of other people, it would have seemed smug and boastful. But we really were grateful, and we still are. I have had a great life. I have a great wife, a great family, a great job, etc., etc. ... I would not trade 55 of these years for 75 or 85 or 95 of what's behind Door No. 2.”

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Check this out from The Daily Show:

The fountain of youth, discovered?

Lisa Murkowski does not want to answer a question about whether she supports the House GOP health care plan:

See Amtrak commuters get pummeled by snow: