Richmond and a delegation of five other African American House Democrats feel duty-bound to go to the Oval Office to see the president and vice president at 3 p.m. “Part of it really is an education thing,” he explained yesterday afternoon. “Some of the things they say out of the White House are just not factual. But, even more than that, what they’re saying just doesn’t make a lot of sense. So instead of just criticizing, we will try to give them the benefit of our experience. … There’s a strong feeling, and I think a valid feeling, that the people around him are not in a position to do that. One, it’s not a very diverse group. Two, I don’t think they have the policy bona fides … I don’t think somebody’s connecting the dots for him.”
-- Despite routinely describing himself as “the least racist person,” Trump has done a great deal to antagonize the African American community. After years of trying to de-legitimize the first black president by insisting that he was born in Kenya, the 70-year-old now clings to a discredited conspiracy theory that Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower and refuses to apologize for falsely accusing his predecessor of the worst political crimes since Watergate.
He accused John Lewis, who was nearly beaten to death in Selma because he peacefully resisted American apartheid – of being “all talk, talk, talk—no action, or results.”
He’s stocked his government with top advisers and an attorney general who have, at times, been tone-deaf and tin-eared when race comes up.
Trump’s long history also complicates matters. In the 1970s, the Justice Department accused Trump and his dad of systematically discriminating against black tenants who wanted to rent in their apartment buildings. In the 1980s, Trump ran full-page ads calling for the Central Park Five to be executed – even though they had been falsely convicted of raping a white woman. In the 2000s, Trump pitched NBC on a white-versus-black season of “The Apprentice.” The list goes on.
Every one of these things makes it difficult for the White House to build basic trust with African American leaders, let alone goodwill. Some of the most vocal critics of the president in the past two months have come from communities of color. The ranking Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, for example, tweeted this yesterday:
-- Even the way today’s meeting came together has frustrated many. During that 77-minute press conference Trump held last month after firing Michael Flynn as his national security adviser, April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks asked Trump if he would include the CBC in discussions about his agenda for addressing urban policy. Trump didn’t seem to know what she was referring to. “Am I going to include who?” he asked. “Are you going to include the Congressional Black Caucus,” Ryan, who is black, replied. “Well, I would,” Trump interrupted. “Tell you what, do you want to set up the meeting? Do you want to set up the meeting? Are they friends of yours? Set up a meeting!” Ryan noted that she is a journalist and not part of the CBC. “I’m sure some of them are watching right now,” she said.
“That is the impetus of how we got to a meeting,” Richmond recalled. “Once they made a more appropriate request, then we granted it. … It all makes it extremely difficult for our base (and) for our supporters.”
-- In the final weeks before the election, Trump added an appeal for African American votes to his stump speech. He painted a picture deeply at odds with reality, speaking as if the vast majority of black people live in some kind of urban hellscape. Then he’d ask: “What do you have to lose?"
“We lose a lot in his budget,” said Richmond, rattling off a list of proposed cuts to everything from Pell Grants to afterschool programs and community redevelopment grants that he said would directly hurt his constituents if enacted.
The congressman expressed concern that Trump’s high command has not clearly laid out all his options. “I’ve served with Mick Mulvaney,” Richmond said, referring to the director of the Office of Management and Budget. “We’re all a product of our life experiences, and I promise you Mick’s life experience is not one that’s duplicated by many in the inner cities or poor areas around the country. Mick’s view is one of austerity. He thinks we need to cut our way out of our social and economic problems. That’s just not true.”
Richmond also expressed skepticism about the ability of Ben Carson, the only African American in the cabinet, to manage the Department of Housing and Urban Development. “He may have been the best neurosurgeon of all time, but that doesn’t transfer over into the area of HUD,” the congressman said. “Because of that, we have to let them know that (their proposed cuts) will lead to chaos, more poverty and barriers to success for many families. We have to just tell him what I am sure he’s not hearing from the people around his table.”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said at his briefing yesterday that Trump invited the lawmakers to "continue to have a dialogue -- sitting down with people, talking about the issues, talking about common ground." Spicer noted that Trump already met earlier this month with Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). "They found common ground," Spicer said. "The president talked about areas, despite the narratives out there--issues where they both probably share concerns. ... The willingness to sit down and talk -- that's the first step." Cummings, who hails from Baltimore, privately challenged the president over his "hurtful" and "insulting" language about the black community, per David Nakamara.
Richmond, only half-joking, said “there are a million policy issues” he wants to cover during today’s meeting, from health care to infrastructure and urban renewal. He feared that if all 49 members of the black caucus came to the White House, it would just become a photo opp. To have a focused conversation, only the executive board of the CBC is trekking down Pennsylvania Avenue. Andre Carson (D-Ind.), who is Muslim, will express concern about the travel ban. Anthony Brown (D-Md.), who spent eight years as Martin O’Malley’s lieutenant governor, wants to talk about funding for higher-education, specifically historically black colleges and universities. Also set to join are Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) and Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.).
A SAD UPDATE:
The Saturday before the election, trying to ascertain which way North Carolina would break, I went to talk with voters at a football game in Raleigh between two historically-black institutions.
Ayana McAllister, then 18, had moved south to attend St. Augustine’s University, following in the footsteps of several family members. She was delighted to chat with a Washington Post reporter because she grew up in the D.C. suburb of Largo, Md., and was homesick.
Two weekends before, Ayana had gone with classmates to a Hillary Clinton rally on campus. She recalled how five “Mothers of the Movement” – women who have lost children to gun violence or police-involved incidents – accompanied the Democratic nominee. She had been moved by Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin. “There is no excuse, no excuse, for you not to vote,” Fulton had told the crowd. “It’s important. Your life depends on it.”
Ayana, who planned to major in criminal justice, was bummed that she never got to vote for Obama. She lamented the negativity in the political discourse and the nasty turn the fall campaign had taken. America deserves better than this, I remember her telling me as a marching band performed on the field behind her. “I don’t know,” she said. “I feel like I’ve got to settle for Hillary. I feel like I’m going to vote because I know I need to, not because I want to. I feel like neither of them should be president, but I feel like Hillary will be better. Really, it’s like two children arguing back and forth.”
This was a common refrain during all my interviews that day. I led the next morning’s Big Idea with her quote to highlight Clinton’s soft support among African Americans, and I’ve thought often since November of her call to elevate the discourse.
Now Ayana has died, before she could even finish her freshman year. Home for spring break, she was gunned down Monday night.
Ayana and another woman were shot near the Benning Road Metro stop in Northeast Washington. An aunt said she was a bystander, watching a friend who was helping to film a music video. “At this point, we are not in a position to say whether she was the intended target or not,” said Dustin Sternbeck, a police spokesman. (Martin Weil and Dana Hedgpeth have more.)
At Largo High in Prince George’s County, where she graduated last year, Ayana was on the honor roll, participated in the ROTC program and loved basketball. The school’s principal tweeted this picture from the yearbook:
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- A North Korean missile fired early Wednesday morning exploded within seconds of its launch, the South Korean and U.S. militaries said – a reassuring sign for global allies worried about the speed at which Pyongyang’s weapon program is progressing. Anna Fifield reports: "The attempted missile launch comes at a time of heightened tensions in the region, with the United States and South Korea conducting joint military exercises aimed at countering the North Korean threat and the Trump administration clearly signaling it is prepared to use force to stop the Kim regime. It was not immediately clear what kind of missile North Korea had fired. Both militaries were working to analyze the data."
GET SMART FAST:
- More than 6,000 migrants have been rescued in the Mediterranean Sea in recent days while crossing from North Africa to Europe. The influx suggests that growing numbers of migrants, refugees and others are attempting to make the dangerous sea passage to Europe as weather conditions improve, and smugglers ramp up their operations. (Michael Birnbaum and Brian Murphy)
- The Senate voted 52-47 to abolish an Obama administration rule that restricted certain kinds of hunting inside Alaska national wildlife refuges, including trapping and aerial shooting. Republicans said states should set the terms for public land conservation “within their own borders.” The vote, basically along party lines, is the latest instance of the Congressional Review Act being used to get rid of regulations. (Juliet Eilperin)
- The former chairman of the Colorado Republican Party was charged with voter fraud for allegedly forging his wife’s mail-in ballot in last year’s election. If convicted, he would face up to three years in prison. (ABC Denver)
- Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams was indicted in a sprawling corruption case, accused of repeatedly selling his influence and seeking thousands of dollars in bribes from deep-pocketed donors. In exchange for his legal help, Williams reportedly accepted luxury trips abroad, a Jaguar convertible, and a spate of other gifts including a $205 Louis Vuitton necktie and Burberry watch. (Philadelphia Inquirer)
- Preet Bharara, fired by Trump as U.S. attorney, will join NYU'S School of Law as a distinguished scholar in residence. (New York Times)
- The Los Angeles police chief reports that sexual assault and domestic violence reports have plummeted from the city’s Latino community this year because victims are terrified of being deported. (LA Times)
- Grammy-winning hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean accused Los Angeles authorities of racial profiling after he was “thrown up against” a squad car and placed in handcuffs as officials investigated a robbery. The musician posted video of being handcuffed by authorities, saying he had done “absolutely nothing” and was on his way home from the studio when the incident occurred. (Peter Holley)
- The U.S. has agreed to pay $1 million to the family of a 16-year-old Mexican who died after border officers told him to drink liquid meth. He had claimed the substance was apple juice in an effort to smuggle it across the border, and officers – suspecting nefarious activity – told him to "drink it to prove he wasn’t lying.” (Kristine Phillips)
- Houthi forces appear to be using Iranian-made drones to attack Saudi and UAE missile defense sites in Yemen, according to a new report by the Conflict Armament Research group. Though Houthi forces claim the drones were indigenously built in Yemen, the report says that design and construction characteristics – as well as identical serial number prefixes – tell a different story. (Thomas Gibbons-Neff)
- An attorney for Oklahoma state Sen. Ralph Shortey said he plans to resign by the end of the day today, amid allegations that he solicited sex from a 17-year-old. The decision comes nearly two weeks after the embattled lawmaker was found in a Super 8 motel room with the underage boy, and just days after Shortey was charged with three felonies. (Kristine Phillips)
- Chicago police are investigating multiple suspects involved in the sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl, which was streamed on Facebook Live. The most disturbing part is that dozens of people tuned in during the assault – and not a single person called authorities to report it. (Peter Holley)
- A 14-year-old boy in Idaho is mourning the loss of his pet dog, who was killed by an M-44 cyanide trap laid by the U.S. Department of Agriculture designed to target predatory animals. The boy’s family says it had no prior notifications about the deadly device – and it appears to be a symptom of a larger, troubling problem: since 2008, some 230 dogs have been killed unintentionally by the government-laid traps. (Philip Bump)
- “Piggy Bank” has died. The beloved sea turtle in Thailand was offered coins as a blessing and consumed nearly eleven pounds of them before undergoing emergency surgery earlier this month. She had appeared to be on the mend for weeks but then took a turn for the worse. Rushing her back into intensive care on Sunday couldn’t save her. (Katie Mettler)
THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- New corruption allegations lodged in Ukraine against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort have thrust him back into the spotlight, amid ongoing scrutiny over whether Trump officials coordinated with the Russian government to influence the U.S. election. Rosalind S. Helderman, Andrew Roth and Tom Hamburger report: “The new allegations against Manafort were leveled by Serhiy Leshchenko, a lawmaker and journalist, who on Tuesday released a copy of what he said was an invoice on letterhead from Manafort’s consulting company, based in Alexandria, Va., dated Oct. 14, 2009, to a Belize-based company for $750,000 for the sale of 501 computers. Nazar Kholodnytskyi, a deputy prosecutor general of Ukraine whose department specializes in corruption cases, said in an interview Tuesday that the documents hadn’t been confirmed by law enforcement or, to his knowledge, submitted for examination. There is an ongoing investigation into the black ledgers, he said, but Manafort was not a target of that investigation.
Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni dismissed the claims as “baseless,” and said some of the documents appear to be fabricated. “We have seen some of the new documents and they are not Paul’s letterhead or Paul’s signature,” he said. In a statement, Manafort said he was the victim of a “blatant attempt to discredit me and the legitimacy of the election of President Trump: “I had no role or involvement in the cyberattack on the DNC or the subsequent release of information gained from the attack, and I have never spoken with any Russian Government officials or anyone who claimed to have been involved in the attack,” he said. “The suggestion that I ever worked in concert with anyone to release hacked emails or sought to undermine the interests of the United States is false.”
-- Meanwhile, the AP’s Jeff Horwitz and Chad Day report that Manafort also secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance pro-Putin interests a decade ago, and that he proposed an “ambitious” political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across the former Soviet republics. “The work appears to contradict assertions by the Trump administration and Manafort himself that he never worked for Russian interests. Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse. Manafort pitched the plans to Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally with whom Manafort eventually signed a $10 million annual contract beginning in 2006 … [and] Manafort and Deripaska maintained a business relationship until at least 2009.”
TRUMP SPEAKS LOUDLY AND CARRIES A BIG STICK:
-- The president warned skeptical House holdouts that failing to pass the health-care bill would endanger both his legislative agenda and their own political careers. Mike DeBonis, Kelsey Snell and Robert Costa report: “In a morning address to a closed-door meeting of House Republicans, Trump used both charm and admonishment as he made his case, reassuring skittish members that they would gain seats in Congress if the bill passed." Then he threatened consequences for members who failed to approve the bill: “I’m gonna come after you, but I know I won’t have to, because I know you’ll vote ‘yes,’” Trump told Freedom Caucus leader Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.). “Honestly, a loss is not acceptable, folks.”
-- While the hardline Freedom Caucus has not taken a formal position on the bill, the bulk of its three dozen members seem ready to oppose the measure, which is slated to come to a floor vote tomorrow. House leaders can lose no more than 21 Republicans for the bill to succeed, as no Democrats plan to vote for it. Two Freedom Caucus-ers who said they could support the bill — Rep. David Schweikert of Arizona, and Rep. H. Morgan Griffith of Virginia — serve on the committees that wrote it. Others insisted the caucus would “hold fast: 'I personally know of more than 21 House members who are pretty strong no’s,' said Rep. Rod Blum of Iowa 'So when [GOP leaders] say they’ve got the numbers, they don’t have the numbers.' (The Fix's Amber Phillips is keeping a running whip count here.)
-- Trump really is Machiavellian in the sense that he believes its better to be feared than loved. “For a president with a penchant for vengeance — who named ‘an eye for an eye’ as his favorite biblical passage, who banned media outlets from campaign events when he didn’t approve of their coverage … the roll-call vote on the Republican health care plan will be the first accounting of who’s with him and who’s against him on Capitol Hill," Politico’s Shane Goldmacher writes. "Those close to Trump describe a largely binary world view: You’re either on Team Trump or against Team Trump. 'Get even with people,' Trump outlined … in a 2011 speech. ‘If they screw you, screw them back 10 times as hard. I really believe it.’ The president may be ideologically flexible, even to the point of disinterest, on the particulars of the health care legislation. But Trump’s been clear and consistent about one message: He wants it done.”
-- INSIDE TRUMP’S PSYCHE --> “[Trump] is a man seriously susceptible to snagging himself in the nettles of obsession,” the New York Times’ Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman report. "In the last three weeks, no compulsion has so consumed [him] … as the deeply held and shallowly sourced belief that [Obama] tapped his phones. So why can’t he just let go? Mr. Trump, according to one longtime adviser, is perpetually playing a soundtrack in his head consisting of advice from his father, Fred, a hard-driving real estate developer … [and] the caustic and conniving McCarthy-era lawyer Roy Cohn, who counseled Mr. Trump never to give in or concede error. Toughness, more than any other attribute, is what Mr. Trump has sought to project during his short and successful political career — and he believes his behavior makes him look tougher, no matter what the press thinks. As a presidential candidate, he wanted to look dour, and vetoed any campaign imagery that so much as hinted at weakness, aides said. Finally, Mr. Trump hasn’t let up because no one can stop him. Within the White House, aides describe a nearly paralytic inability to tell Mr. Trump that he has erred or gone too far."
-- Spicer insisted that Trump’s remarks to Meadows were not intended as a threat but “a political reality” for Republicans refusing to rally behind the legislation. Asked whether Trump believed that lawmakers who opposed the bill would be damaged at the ballot box, Spicer answered: “I think they’ll probably pay a price at home.”
“Trump’s remarks … reflected his mounting urgency to secure a major legislative victory in the early months of his presidency and fulfill a central campaign promise,” DeBonis, Snell, and Costa write. “Passing a health-care measure is key to unlocking momentum for the president’s other legislative priorities, such as tax reform and infrastructure spending. 'He wants to get this bill done,' said Sen. David Perdue. 'I don’t hear that as a threat. It’s a statement of reality' ... Still, more than two dozen lawmakers said in interviews that they were either firmly opposed to the bill or leaning toward voting against it."
“Several Republicans privately said Tuesday that the Thursday vote could be postponed if leaders are unable to secure enough firm votes for passage beforehand. One top Republican … said the leadership remained confident that it would collect enough support but was weighing scheduling options. 'The White House is engaged, the leadership is engaged, everyone is working together,' the Republican said. 'But this is the House GOP, and you can’t assume that it’s going to go perfect. You leave options,'" meaning a potential Friday or even weekend vote.
Paul Ryan downplayed the possibility of failure on Thursday, arguing that further changes could jeopardize the measure's chances in the Senate. “If you get 85 percent of what you want, that’s pretty darn good,” he said. “We don’t want to put something in this bill that the Senate is telling us is fatal.” And Sen. Mitch McConnell sounded a “cautiously optimistic note,” promising that the Senate would forge ahead with planned votes on the measure — if the legislation cleared the House first. “If the House passes something, I will bring it up,” McConnell said. “We’ll try to move it across the floor next week.”
-- “The 7 Big Revisions Republicans Have Already Made to Their Health Care Bill, and Why They Made Them," by the New York Times’s Kevin Quealy and Margot Sanger-Katz:
- Medicaid work requirements: “States can make some Medicaid recipients prove they are working or looking for work.” (Previously: States could apply for waivers to impose work requirements, but they might not get approved.)
- Medicaid block grants: “States have an option to receive lump-sum Medicaid payments.” (Previously: States received a flat per-beneficiary payment for Medicaid patients.)
- Tax credits: “Most people buying their own insurance get a flat tax credit based on age, but the Senate might increase funding for Americans between 50 and 64.” (Previously: Most people buying their own insurance got a flat tax credit based on age.)
- Obamacare taxes: Obamacare taxes phase out this year. (Previously: Obamacare taxes would have phased out in 2018.)
- Medicaid formula changes: “Medicaid allotments for older and disabled beneficiaries grow faster than the rate of medical inflation.” (Previously: Medicaid allotments for elderly and disabled beneficiaries grow at the rate of medical inflation.)
- The “Yankee Swap”: Local New York politics play a small part in the Republican health bill. (Previously: Local New York politics play no part in the Republican health bill.)
- Health savings accounts: “If your tax credit is worth more than your premium, you lose the difference.” (Previously: If your tax credit was larger than your premium, you could save the difference.)
-- Massachusetts GOP Gov. Charlie Baker warned that the Republican plan as it stands could still cause hundreds of thousands of his residents to lose coverage and blow a $2 billion hole in the state's budget. The Ryan plan, Baker said in the letter to the all-Democratic congressional delegation, would “increasingly strain the fiscal resources necessary to support the Commonwealth’s continued commitment to universal health care coverage.” (Boston Globe)
-- Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, another Republican, reached out directly to Republican members of Congress on Tuesday, seeking to “remind them” of the tens of thousands of constituents in their districts who could lose coverage under the GOP plan. "Altogether, there are 1.75 million children, seniors, pregnant women and disabled individuals served by traditional Medicaid in Michigan and roughly 104,000 of them reside in your district," he wrote Rep. Tim Walberg. The Republican legislation, he warned, "will adversely impact them." (Detroit Free Press)
Michigan House Republicans did not seem deterred by his warnings, and continued to voice support for the plan: "Medicaid is not on sustainable financial footing and it cannot stay intact if we continue to kick the can down the road," said Rep. Mike Bishop. Added Rep. Paul Mitchell: "This is not the first issue on which I disagree passionately with the governor. This is a rescue mission. Allowing the system to continue to collapse will result in even fewer choices and, eventually, a lack of access to care."
-- At a fundraiser for House Republicans last night, which apparently raised $30 million, Trump cast the vote as critical for the Republican Party – continuing to make the case that passing an Obamacare replacement would clear the way for action on “really fantastic” tax reform. “After we repeal and replace Obamacare, our Republican majority will pass massive, historic tax reform — the biggest tax cut since Ronald Reagan and potentially even bigger,” Trump said. “It’s going to be very big.” (John Wagner)
-- “The math in the Senate [remains] difficult,” National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar explains. “Already two Republican senators—Kentucky’s Rand Paul and Arkansas’ Tom Cotton—sound unyielding in opposition to the latest House legislation. The two Republican senators facing competitive re-elections in 2018—Nevada’s Dean Heller and Arizona’s Jeff Flake—will be challenging to win over. Unpredictable moderates like Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski will be tough sells, as well. As impressive a strategist as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is, there may be no way to thread together the competing, disparate interests. The political geography is different in the House, where Ryan’s goodwill with moderates and Trump’s deep popularity in ruby-red districts should get Republicans to the 216 votes they need. If the legislation doesn’t pass that bare threshold, it raises serious questions about their political clout—and the future of more ambitious efforts going forward.”
-- The public mood --> “Americans worry, cheer as Congress moves to upend the Affordable Care Act,” by Sandhya Somashekhar: “A soon-to-be father whose wife is getting prenatal care through the Affordable Care Act. A woman whose mother would have been bankrupted by her cancer diagnosis had she not had ACA coverage. An older self-employed couple … who for ‘the first time in our lives’ can afford to see doctors and buy medicines. This month, they and nearly 1,200 other people responded when [The Post] asked readers how they thought the health-care debate on Capitol Hill would affect them … The vast majority of people voiced anxiety, apprehension, even fear. Several doctors weighed in, warning that the country’s most vulnerable citizens would be put at risk by House Republicans’ legislation. But a small fraction of people said they would be glad to see the law go. Others have been staggered by their plans’ annual deductibles. And there are those who still feel deceived, with one woman in Tennessee invoking [Obama’s] promise that people would be able to keep their plans and doctors going forward."
SUPREME COURT HEARING, DAY TWO:
-- “Neil Gorsuch stresses his independence from Trump,” by Robert Barnes and Ed O’Keefe: “From the first question from a friendly Republican to a grilling by a Democrat hours later, Gorsuch was called upon on the second day of what is expected to be four days of hearings to assert his impartiality and reassure senators that he would not be swayed by political pressure if he wins confirmation, which appeared even more likely after his marathon session. Gorsuch reiterated in public what he had told many senators in private — that he is offended by attacks like the ones leveled by President Trump against federal judges who have ruled in the past year in cases involving him. ‘When anyone criticizes the honesty or the integrity or the motives of a federal judge, I find that disheartening. I find that demoralizing — because I know the truth,’ Gorsuch told Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). ‘Anyone including the president of the United States?’ Blumenthal asked, who had made the elephant-in-the-room comment. ‘Anyone is anyone,’ Gorsuch said.
“Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) questioned Gorsuch’s ruling in what has become a celebrated case of a trucker who was fired after unhitching his trailer in subzero weather and driving away in search of warmth and safety. Gorsuch was the lone dissenter in saying a federal law did not protect the driver, but Franken said the judge could have ruled that a strict interpretation of the law would lead to an absurd result. ‘I had a career in identifying absurdity, and I know it when I see it,’ Franken said.
“He had a tense encounter with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who sparred with him on issues of campaign finance and ‘dark money,’ including a $10 million campaign by the group Judicial Crisis Network to advocate for Gorsuch’s confirmation. Whitehouse said the group’s donors do not have to be disclosed, and he wondered what they saw in Gorsuch that would warrant such an expenditure. ‘You’d have to ask them,’ Gorsuch said. ‘I can’t because I don’t know who they are,’ Whitehouse shot back…
“Trump said that he would nominate people to the Supreme Court who would overrule Roe v. Wade and return decisions on abortion to the states. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) asked Gorsuch whether Trump had asked him to do that during his interview before his nomination. ‘Senator, I would have walked out the door,’ Gorsuch replied. In questioning later, Gorsuch said Trump did mention abortion being a ‘divisive’ issue but then moved to other topics.”
-- IJR’s Erin McPike, who was the sole reporter invited to travel alongside Rex Tillerson during his Asia trip-- and who drew criticism for failing to produce regular stories or updates on his activities throughout her week on the road -- filed a lengthy profile piece on the secretary of state last night. Here’s one particularly revealing exchange from the feature:
“’I didn’t want this job. I didn’t seek this job,’ [Tillerson said]. He paused to let that sink in. ‘My wife told me I’m supposed to do this.’ After watching the contortions of my face as I tried to figure out what to say next, he humbly explained that he had never met the president before the election. As president-elect, Trump wanted to have a conversation with Tillerson ‘about the world’ given what he gleaned from the complex global issues he dealt with as CEO of Exxon Mobil. ‘When he asked me at the end of that conversation to be secretary of state, I was stunned.’ When Tillerson got home and told his wife … she shook her finger in his face and said, ‘I told you God’s not through with you.’ With a half-worn smile, he said, ‘I was supposed to retire in March, this month. I was going to go to the ranch to be with my grandkids.’
“And that may be why the criticism he’s endured hasn’t pushed him to change course. This is not a man who sees a U.S. president in the mirror every morning, which is the kind of personality Washington, D.C., is used to dealing with in such a prestigious and sought-after job. And he does not have patience for the games we’re used to playing here.”
-- But while McPike enjoyed unfettered access to the nation’s top diplomat, IJR was battling another firestorm at home – this time after the site’s “viral editor” Kyle Becker published an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory linking Obama’s recent visit to Hawaii to a ruling by a U.S. judge blocking Trump’s updated travel ban. And though Becker apologized for the now-retracted article, he was reportedly not the only person to blame. Business Insider’s Oliver Darcy reports: “IJR's chief content officer, Benny Johnson, had been warned earlier that the story about Obama was an unfounded conspiracy theory, but he assigned it to Becker anyway … Alex Skatell, the founder of IJR, [said] in a statement that the incident was under investigation. He said Becker, Johnson, and content editor Becca Lower had been suspended. In conversations with more than a dozen current and former employees … several people said the incidents were emblematic of larger problems at IJR. Current and former staffers said the website, chasing clicks, had veered sharply to the right in recent months to feed its conservative base the red meat it desired.”
“Additionally, these sources characterized Johnson … as a verbally abusive leader who had flagrantly violated the website's ethics guidelines — only to be promoted up the chain. The work environment, they said, has resulted in a swath of talent recently leaving the website for work elsewhere … One major concern, sources said, was Johnson's history of plagiarism. In late 2015, new allegations were leveled against Johnson by his colleagues … “ The content was discovered and scrubbed after publication, but it was unclear whether Johnson ever faced any disciplinary action for the incident. "You commit the cardinal sin of your craft and you're still allowed to do whatever you want?” said one source. “That's a really bad thing."
-- The State Department declined to provide details about Tillerson’s planned trip to Moscow next month, but the visit appears to be a stand-in for any immediate Trump-Putin meeting. Anne Gearan reports: “Tillerson … will be the first high-level Trump administration emissary to go to Moscow. The trip could provide insight into how the Trump administration will approach Russia, even as the FBI says it is investigating the Kremlin’s intervention in the 2016 election and possible coordination between the Trump campaign and officials in Moscow.Although Tillerson has already met with his Russian counterpart … on the sidelines of a diplomatic meeting in Germany, doing so on Russian soil sends a different message in both countries. Many meetings among U.S. and Russian diplomats have taken place in third countries to avoid the appearance that one side is bowing to the other. The Kremlin said earlier this year that a Trump-Putin one-on-one meeting might be possible before the Group of 20 summit in July – the first time they are slated to be in the same place at the same time.
-- The State Department and NATO said they are seeking an “alternative date” for Tillerson’s first meeting with foreign ministers from the alliance, after he said he could not make a scheduled April 5 gathering in Brussels due to a conflicting meeting with Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Florida. Karen DeYoung reports: The date hasn’t yet been announced, but it is widely believed to be during the first week in April. And with little chance that the 27 member countries can change their schedules in the next two weeks, all sides scrambled to insist that Tillerson “meant no disrespect” by the brush-off. “We will find a way to address this,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in an interview. “The main thing is I’m absolutely confident about his absolute commitment to NATO.”
-- President Trump will attend a NATO gathering in Brussels in May, White House officials confirmed -- a move that could help reassure American allies about the current administration’s commitment to Europe’s security. David Nakamura reports: Sean Spicer confirmed Trump’s participation, adding that the president "looks forward to meeting with his NATO counterparts to reaffirm our strong commitment to NATO, and to discuss issues critical to the alliance, especially allied responsibility-sharing and NATO’s role in the fight against terrorism." Trump’s commitment comes after he previously called the alliance “obsolete,” and suggested he might reevaluate U.S. support for the organization. Meanwhile, Spicer also said that Trump will welcome NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to the White House on April 12 to "talk about how to strengthen the alliance to cope with challenges to national and international security."
PERSONNEL IS POLICY:
-- “Labor nominee Alex Acosta cut deal with billionaire guilty in sex abuse case,” by Marc Fisher: “There was once a time — before the investigations, before the sexual abuse conviction — when rich and famous men loved to hang around with Jeffrey Epstein, a billionaire money manager who loved to party. They visited his mansion in [Palm Beach]. They flew on his jet … They even joked about his taste in younger women. [Trump] called Epstein a ‘terrific guy’ back in 2002, saying that ‘he’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.’ Now, Trump is on the witness list in a Florida court battle over how federal prosecutors handled allegations that Epstein, 64, sexually abused more than 40 minor girls, most of them between the ages of 13 and 17. The lawsuit questions why Trump’s nominee for labor secretary, former Miami U.S. attorney Alexander Acosta … cut a non-prosecution deal with Epstein a decade ago rather than pursuing a federal indictment that Acosta’s staff had advocated.”
-- Trump is appointing defense contractors and their lobbyists to key government positions, as he seeks to rapidly expand the military budget and homeland security programs. The Intercept’s Lee Fang reports: “Two Department of Homeland Security appointments Trump announced Tuesday morning are perfect examples. Benjamin Cassidy, installed by Trump as assistant secretary for legislative affairs, previously worked as a senior executive at Boeing’s international business sector .... Jonathan Rath Hoffman, named assistant secretary for public affairs, previously worked as a consultant to the Chertoff Group, the sprawling homeland security consulting firm … Personnel from major defense companies now occupy the highest ranks of the administration including cabinet members and political appointees charged with implementing the Trump agenda. At least 15 officials with financial ties to defense contractors have been either nominated or appointed so far, with potentially more industry names on the way as Trump has yet to nominate a variety of roles in the government.”
DISPATCHES FROM TRUMP’S AMERICA:
-- “Trump’s budget targets rural development programs that provide a quiet lifeline,” by Jose A. DelReal: “Chad Trador was, like many people here, a onetime coal miner struggling to find work. ‘The best opportunities I had were … maybe as a clerk, making minimum wage,’ [he said] … ‘And then I heard that radio ad.’ The intensive 33-week job training program being advertised — TechHire Eastern Kentucky — promised to teach him computer coding from scratch. It would even pay him decent money while he learned. Trador signed up, and he is on track to complete the training in April, when he will emerge with a job as an Apple iOS developer. Like many such programs and infrastructure projects here in Eastern Kentucky and across Appalachia, the job training course has the federal government’s fingerprints all over it. The Appalachian Regional Commission … helped jump-start it last year … But after decades of work, the commission’s future is in doubt, with the Trump administration’s 2018 budget proposal threatening to eliminate funding for the commissions and other rural development endeavors. Voters in this part of the country, which overwhelmingly supports [Trump], could be disproportionately affected if that happens.”
-- “Trump’s ‘big, beautiful wall’ will require him to take big swaths of other people’s land,” by Tracy Jan: The order has been issued for the immediate construction of a Mexico border wall [and] the specs have been outlined … The next thing on President Trump's to-do list for building his ‘big, beautiful wall’: Hire more lawyers for a long and expensive battle over private land. The wall will cost a lot more — politically and economically — than Trump has publicly acknowledged. To build the wall along the nearly 2,000-mile border — and fulfill a key campaign promise — Trump will need to wield the power of government to forcibly take private properties, including those belonging to his supporters. Much of the border, especially in Texas, snakes through farms, ranches, orchards, golf courses, and other private property ... As a signpost to the troubles ahead, the government has still not finished the process from the last such undertaking a decade ago.” “It's going to be time consuming and costly,” said Brownsville, Tex. Mayor Tony Martinez. “From a political perspective, you have a lot of rich landowners who were his supporters.”
-- “This is the Rough N Rowdy, where a forgotten town dukes it out once a year,” by Wesley Lowery: “One weekend every March, almost every resident in this town crowds the tan-and-gray bleachers of the local armory to watch their friends and neighbors beat each other bloody. The boxing-brawling event … draws more than 2,000 spectators a night in a 3,000-person city nestled so deep in the mountains that your cellphone won’t ring. The winners leave with a trophy, a jacket and a check for $1,000 — the same take-home as a few weeks of soot-covered work in the local mines. McDowell County was once the largest coal-exporting county in the U.S. [Now], [it’s] the state’s poorest county, home to one of the shortest life expectancies in the nation. The people who coal left behind here have a movie theater, a dollar store, a liquor shop and a few fast food joints. On weekends … people gather around 30-packs of beer in their garages; there’s no bar and the nearest watering hole is nearly an hour’s drive. But every March, when the first blades of grass break through the melting snow, they still have the Rough N Rowdy.”
MORE ON THE TRUMP AGENDA:
-- Trump signed a bill authorizing $19.5 billion in funding for NASA – signing what is the first authorization bill for the space agency in seven years. Sarah Kaplan reports: “The bill more or less aligns with the budget blueprint Trump laid out last week. NASA won't face the same cuts as other science and medical agencies, which stand to lose huge portions of their budget under the president's proposal. Sending humans to Mars by the 2030s remains NASA's long-term goal, and Congress will continue to fund the construction of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion crew capsule for that mission.” Meanwhile, Trump made clear that he believes NASA’s priorities should be on deep space, not Earth."
Flanked by GOP Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Ted Cruz (Texas) – both co-sponsors of the bill, whose states are home to two major NASA centers, the president weighed in on the difficulty of being an astronaut. “I don't know Ted, would you like to do it?” he asked, turning to Cruz. “I don't think I would.” Cruz shook his head, so Trump looked at Rubio (who also declined). “You could send Congress to space,” Cruz suggested, apparently disregarding the fact that he's a member of Congress. “We could,” Trump said. “What a great idea that could be.”
THE FIRST FAMILY:
-- Wall Street Journal, “Jared Kushner’s White House Role Complicates Skyscraper Deal,” by Peter Grant: “More than two years ago, Charles Kushner had a vision to convert his family’s trophy Manhattan office and retail skyscraper from a barely break-even property into a soaring 1,400-foot mixed-use skyscraper with retail, a hotel and some of the most expensive condominiums in the city. Then [Trump] sought—and won—the presidency, and the project got more complicated. Extensive negotiations are under way between Kushner Cos., its partners on the building, potential investors, lenders and tenants who would have to move for the project to happen. … Anbang Insurance Group, a big Chinese insurer with strong political and family connections to the government in Beijing, is in advanced talks to provide as much as half of the $2.5 billion in equity for the planned redevelopment, according to people close to the negotiations. But worries over a conflict of interest, given Jared Kushner’s role in the White House, could torpedo Anbang’s participation."
-- A small San Francisco clothing retailer has launched a class action lawsuit against Ivanka Trump’s brand, charging that her eponymous line has an “unfair advantage” because Trump and his aides have leveraged his White House status in order to promote its products. Matea Gold reports: “Modern Appealing Clothing, a 40-year-old upscale boutique, filed a claim last week in Superior Court of California … arguing that the brand's sales “have surged since the election” because it has exploited “the power and prestige of the White House for personal gain.” The lawsuit comes as Ivanka Trump expands her presence as an unpaid adviser to her father, gaining an office in the West Wing and seeking security clearance.” Ivanka plans to serve as her father’s “eyes and ears” in the White House and offer “her candid advice,” as well as focus on issues affecting women in the workplace, according to her ethics adviser.
-- White House officials maintained that Ivanka will “voluntarily” follow federal ethics rules in her new role: “Ivanka has taken on several measures to promote high standards of ethical conduct,” Spicer said Tuesday. “Even though she’s not a federal employee, she’ll follow the restrictions that would apply if she were. She’s taken these steps with the advice of counsel and in consultation of the Office of Government Ethics.”
-- What should we really expect from the first daughter as she begins her “informal” West Wing tenure? The public may never know. Danielle Paquette reports. “[She] could start with the nation's child care system, the issue she persuaded her father to tackle during the campaign. Or boosting women in the business world — she has already discussed that with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Ivanka, 35, is reportedly receiving a security clearance, granting her access to sensitive information. She hasn’t had to pass a background check, like many other West Wing employees do, and she doesn’t have to answer to anyone beyond her immediate family. Though Ivanka has technically stepped down from her companies, her attorney [said] she is handing control of her assets to her relatives: brother-in-law, Josh Kushner, and sister-in-law, Nicole Meyer. Dave Mayer, a business ethics professor at the University of Michigan, said that, by granting his daughter White House real estate, Trump has stepped into explicitly nepotistic territory, whether or not Ivanka has a defined title.” “You could understand why Trump would want to be surrounded by family members, who he can trust,” Mayer said. “But the problem is: There’s very little oversight.”
-- “Virginia’s June primary poses the first major test for Democrats in Trump era,” by Gregory S. Schneider: “Ralph Northam is not a fiery campaigner for the Democratic nomination for governor of Virginia. Most voters still don’t know who he is, despite the fact that he’s been lieutenant governor for the past three years. But that may not matter, at least for the June 13 primary. Northam has spent years building an army of loyalists across the state who can amplify his voice and do the single most important thing: Get voters to show up at the polls. That means [his challenger, Tom Perriello] … needs to whip up a phenomenal amount of grass-roots support to compete. Primaries usually have low turnouts … But Perriello says he thinks voters will be motivated by the controversial administration of [Trump].
“This is one way the Virginia race stands as a defining moment for the Democratic Party in the Trump era. In Northam, the party has an establishment candidate who has played by the rules and cultivated the usual base … [But] Perriello is pushing into populist territory, aiming for anyone who feels angry and disaffected, saying Trump’s success with the working class means the Democratic Party needs to broaden its appeal. Who wins will say something about the way forward for Democrats.”
-- “Yazidis who suffered genocide are fleeing again, but this time not from the Islamic State,” by Loveday Morris: “Relatives collapsed in grief as the coffin of an 18-year-old Yazidi fighter was carried to a small temple at the base of Mount Sinjar. [His death] … marked the latest dark turn for an Iraqi minority sect that has suffered genocide at the hands of [ISIS]. But the men were not killed fighting the militants. They died in clashes with Kurdish peshmerga forces when long-simmering rivalries erupted. [ISIS] overran the town of Sinjar and its surroundings 2½ years ago, executing thousands of Yazidi men … But the fierce infighting among forces ostensibly meant to be battling the militants now threatens to set back efforts to recapture more land and rebuild areas reduced to rubble. The conflagration presents a challenge for the United States, which plays a role supporting both Kurdish factions involved. … It also marks a bleak bellwether for the prospects of peace after territory is finally won back from the Islamic State.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Arnold Schwarzenegger trolled Trump on his budget:
Former Mexican President Vicente Fox pointed out some recent polling:
Lots of jokes about Ted Cruz's man crush on Neil Gorsuch:
Some cautionary notes for Trump as the House GOP plan heads to a House floor vote:
Some commentary on the long, long Gorsuch hearing:
We're not sure what season Corey Booker was dressed for yesterday (but then again, the weather was strange):
It was just another day outside the Capitol:
Susan Rice spoke out about the Trump White House:
Michael Moore thinks Democrats should declare a national emergency:
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The Democratic Party needs to declare a National Emergency. For the first time in our history, the President of the United States and his staff are under investigation for espionage. This announcement, by the head of the Trump-friendly FBI, is a shock to our democracy. The Democratic leadership in the House and Senate needs to bring a halt to all business being done in the name of this potential felony suspect, Donald J. Trump. No bill he supports, no Supreme Court nominee he has named, can be decided while he is under a criminal investigation. His presidency has no legitimacy until the FBI - and an independent investigative committee -- discovers the truth. Fellow citizens, demand the Democrats cease all business. "The American people have a right to know if their President is a crook." -- Richard Nixon
Mitt Romney celebrated his wedding anniversary:
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- Vanity Fair, “’It’s a disaster. It’s a nightmare.’ Is a civil war brewing inside Fox News?” by Sarah Ellison: “[Megyn] Kelly’s move may have signaled a rightward lurch for NBC, which appears to be coming to terms with its place in our new Trumpian reality. But the move may be more significant for her former stomping ground, Fox News, which appears to be in the midst of its own regressive (if highly rated) culture change. During Kelly’s reign, ‘it was always all about Megyn,’ one former Fox colleague told me. Now, it’s all about the Old White Men.”
-- New York Times Magazine, “The Hawaii Cure,” by Wells Tower: “Not until 2017 has Hawaii held for me even a vague temptation. Hawaii is notoriously nice, and unremitting niceness is what I do not want out of a vacation. This is because I’m cheap. I want a maximum memory harvest for my travel dollar, and a trip rarely sticks in my long-term storage cache without the sharp edges of mishap and discomfort to snag on. … But in a political moment so well supplied with nastiness, I don’t need to bunk with carrion. Give me a slack-keyed, macadamia-dusted holiday where things are pretty and people are smiling, if only because it’s in their job description. In a gesture of spiritual surrender, I have booked a five-day stay in the Hawaiian Islands with no greater hope for the voyage than that it may be merely nice.”
-- Trump managed to escape questions on his wiretapping allegations and Russia in local television interviews this week -- even as both topics emerged as the main stories gripping Washington, HuffPost’s Michael Calderone reports: “When ABC News White House reporter Jonathan Karl got within earshot of [Trump] on Monday afternoon in the Oval Office, he asked if the president believed he was wrong to allege that his predecessor wiretapped him. Trump didn’t answer. The president’s bogus “wiretap” claim was surely on the mind of other Washington journalists Monday afternoon … But when Trump did a couple interviews hours later with local newscasts prior to his rally in Louisville, Kentucky, those two stories consuming the capital didn’t come up. A representative for a Cincinnati station interviewing Trump says they chose to focus on local concerns, while a Louisville reporter who spoke to the president said those two issues were off limits.” “The White House made it clear the president would not answer questions about wiretapping or the investigation into Russia’s role in the election,” said one reporter at Louisville Fox affiliate WDRB in Louisville. “So we stuck to issues most directly important to Kentucky.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“Texas Senate Passes Bill Allowing OBs To Keep Info From Pregnant Women,” from HuffPost: “Senate Bill 25, which will now be sent to the Texas House, prevents parents from suing their medical provider if their baby is born with disabilities, even if that doctor discovered the condition during routine prenatal testing and failed to inform the parents. The architects of the so-called ‘wrongful-birth’ bill have argued it would protect children with disabilities and prevent doctors from facing unnecessary lawsuits. ‘It is unacceptable that doctors can be penalized for embracing the sanctity of life,’ Senator Brandon Creighton … said in a press release when he introduced the legislation last fall. But reproductive rights advocates have been relentless in their criticism of the measure, arguing that it would effectively make it lawful for a care provider who is opposed to abortion to avoid prenatal testing, downplay test results or even lie to patients about results if they believe those patients might consider terminating a pregnancy.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“Nonprofits Angry About Trump’s Budget Cuts Hid The $179 Million They Took From The EPA,” from the Daily Caller: “Six nonprofit groups that criticized President Donald Trump’s proposed budget cuts failed to mention the nearly $179 million in Environmental Protection Agency grants they’ve received since 2009, according to [an] … analysis of federal spending data. The agency has funded thousands of such groups since former President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration, but TheDCNF focused only on six of the largest nonprofit recipients in its analysis of grant data … [Five] groups analyzed advocate for aggressive EPA regulatory action to ensure clean water, clean air, conservation and support for environmental science research. They … railed against Trump’s proposed budget cuts, but omitted the fact that they received millions in federal funding. It would be nearly impossible to calculate how many non-federal government grants were awarded to the groups and their dozens of affiliates.”
At the White House: Trump will “drop by” the Women in Healthcare panel hosted by Seema Verma, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services before hosting a Legislative Affairs group meeting. Later, Trump will meet with members of the Congressional Black Caucus Executive Committee. In the evening, he will dine with Rex Tillerson.
Pence will participate in a series of radio interviews before meeting with EU High Representative and Vice President Federica Mogherini. Later, he’ll join Trump for the Legislative Affairs group meeting and the CBC meeting, and participate in a radio interview with Rush Limbaugh. In the evening, the Vice President will participate in a series of satellite media interviews.
On Capitol Hill: The Senate will convene at 10:30 am. and vote to undo an Obama labor regulation, as Gorsuch continues his testimony before the Judiciary Committee. The House meets at 10 a.m., votes at around 1 p.m. and will wrap a little after 4 p.m.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Former British Prime Minister David Cameron on one benefit of no longer being in office: "I don't have to listen anymore to the wiretaps of Donald Trump's conversations.” He quickly added during his speech at Brown University: “That’s a joke.” (The Guardian)
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- Back to winter we go. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Morning commute temperatures mainly in the mid-30s to low 40s aren’t particularly cold. But winds from the northwest add quite the chill … Afternoon highs reach only the mid-40s despite partly to mostly sunny skies.”
-- Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s approval rating has slipped for the first time since taking office, according to a new Washington Post/University of Maryland poll, while voter skepticism of Trump threatens to complicate his reelection bid in 2018: The popular Republican governor holds a 65 percent approval rating – down from 71 percent last September. While that’s still above the highest mark in Post polls for the three previous governors, support for reelection lags far behind his approval rating: Just 41 percent of registered voters said they would support Hogan for a second term, while 37 percent said they would prefer a Democrat in office.
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Seth Meyers holds a late-night White House press briefing:
Meyers also took on the Comey hearing:
The Daily Show tackles the short news cycle:
And Trump's live-tweeting of the Comey hearing:
See Neil Gorsuch's worst jokes from his confirmation hearing:
Here's how you pronounce Gorsuch's last name:
Watch the North Korean missile launch fail:
See House Republicans react to Trump's lobbying them on their health care plan:
Researchers have found what are believed to be the earliest color films of the White House grounds. The footage – filmed sometime during the Herbert Hoover administration from 1929 to 1933 – includes scenes of important Washington landmarks, as well as personal moments, such as Hoover landing a barracuda on a deep-sea fishing trip. Michael E. Ruane has the story. Here are some of the choicest clips:
Watch this 3-year-old get into a prize toy machine: