Today’s BIG IDEA is by Breanne Deppisch:
Donald Trump has abandoned the promotion of human rights as a central aim of U.S. foreign policy, just as he promised when taking office. Experts say this is already emboldening authoritarians and adversaries — especially Vladimir Putin.
-- Almost every day brings a fresh illustration of the degree to which Trump is unconcerned with promoting democracy or holding America’s moral high ground. From last week alone:
- The president did not speak out after Putin’s forces cracked down on mass protests across Russia last week.
- The U.S. government backed off its policy of regime change in Syria, saying that the Syrian people will decide President Bashar al-Assad's future. (As if that’s something they could do.) “Do we think he's a hindrance? Yes. Are we going to sit there and focus on getting him out? No," said U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.
- Trump's State Department told Congress it plans to approve a multibillion-dollar sale of F-16 fighter jets to Bahrain without the human rights conditions imposed under Barack Obama.
-- Trump today will welcome Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, his favorite Middle East stongman, to the White House. Trying to reboot the bilateral relationship, he will steer clear of discussing human rights issues in the country. Aides said they will instead focus on economic and national security concerns.
“The Obama administration did not allow Sissi to set foot in Washington after he staged a bloody coup against a democratically elected government in 2013,” deputy editorial page editor Jackson Diehl writes. “His regime is holding, according to Egyptian and U.S. monitors, between 40,000 and 60,000 political prisoners, including thousands of secular liberal democrats. His security forces were responsible for 1,400 extrajudicial killings in 2016 alone, and 912 disappearances between August 2015 and August 2016, according to Moataz El Fegiery of Front Line Defenders. Eighty-five civil society activists have been banned from leaving the country and dozens of journalists are being held without trial, according to Bahey el-din Hassan of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. None of it matters to Trump, who has called Sissi ‘a fantastic guy’ because of his supposed support for the war against the Islamic State — never mind that Egypt has been losing the battle against the jihadists in its own Sinai Peninsula.”
“Sissi’s brutal repression has made Egypt a mass-production facility for violent extremism,” add Robert Kagan from Brookings and Michele Dunne from the Carnegie Endowment in an op-ed for today's paper. “Sissi supports the regime of Assad … and has offered unqualified endorsement of Russia’s increasing military presence throughout the Middle East. … His state-manipulated media is filled with anti-Western diatribes, and Americans working in Egypt, and Egyptians who work with Western organizations, have faced trumped-up charges under increasingly harsh laws criminalizing not only funding but even contacts between Egyptians and foreigners.”
-- Looking ahead, Trump will almost certainly not broach human rights during his summit with the leader of China on Thursday.
-- Trump memorably downplayed Putin’s human rights abuses in an interview with Fox News’ Bill O'Reilly before the Super Bowl. “We have a lot of killers,” he said. “You think our country is so innocent?” He had made nearly identical remarks on “Morning Joe” a year earlier. During his inaugural address, speaking more broadly, Trump declared: “We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world, but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone.”
Gone is the soaring rhetoric so often employed by politicians, pointing to a shared moral mission or higher purpose for the nation. Instead, Trump surveys the landscape and sees “American carnage” — a country often played like a fiddle by other nations, with “war-torn” cities and a “deep state” that conspires against him.
-- This weekend, John McCain once again harshly condemned Trump for likening what the United States does to brazen behavior by Putin’s regime. "To state that there's some moral equivalency between an imperfect nation — that's the United States of America — and [Putin] is appalling," he told David Axelrod on "The Axe Files.” The Arizona senator also strongly pushed back on any comparison between Trump and Ronald Reagan, noting that Reagan "spoke out for the captive nations" under Soviet rule and gave hope to the citizens there. "That's a pretty big difference,” he said.
-- “Every president in recent history except [Trump] has understood (as Putin surely does) that America has a strategic as well as a moral interest in standing with democrats around the world, and that America grows stronger and more powerful the more successfully it represents universal values on the world stage,” Foreign Policy’s Daniel B. Baer wrote following last weekend’s massive protests across Russia. “The silence of Trump and his team [last weekend] was exactly what Putin wanted — his investment in Trump’s election paying dividends in the form of what [former Hillary Clinton adviser] Jake Sullivan … called Trump’s ‘unilateral moral disarmament.’”
-- Critics believe Trump’s lack of moral leadership has allowed Russia to more forcefully assert itself in the Middle East:
- Iranian President Hassan Rouhani plans to meet with Putin in Moscow later this month, and both countries are expected to sign a slew of documents on economic and political issues.
- In Libya, there are new accusations that Russia is sending operatives to bolster an armed faction.
- In Afghanistan, U.S. generals have also said Moscow may be supplying weapons to the Taliban.
-- Russian American journalist Masha Gessen said Putin feels emboldened by Trump’s lack of moral leadership. “It took the [past] administration many years to understand the severity of the situation [and] it’s gone from bad to worse,” Gessen said in a phone interview last week.
-- The Post’s Moscow bureau chief David Filipov sees a “power vacuum” created by a silent Trump administration. Though we can't know for sure what Putin expected of Trump, “they’re loving the fact that there’s no leadership” from Washington so far. “They’ll definitely move … to fill in that vacuum,” Filipov said.
-- Haley, the U.N. ambassador, insisted during two Sunday show appearances that Trump is “not stopping me from beating up on Russia.” “He's not stopping me from talking about the pressure that China needs to be putting on North Korea. He's not stopping me on how we're working together to defeat ISIS,” the former South Carolina governor said on ABC’s “This Week.” "There's no love or anything going on with Russia right now. They get that we're getting our strength back, that we're getting our voice back and that we're starting to lead again."
-- With no significant U.S.-Russian projects underway and punitive sanctions in place, the United States has little, if any, leverage to pressure Putin on human rights inside Russia. And with Washington in chaos over Trump’s ties to Russia, Putin has been able to deflect any criticism of his record as “Russophobia."
- Former Russian lawmaker and Putin critic Denis Voronenkov was shot dead in a crowded Kiev square less than 72 hours after telling a Washington Post reporter he was in danger last month, making him the eighth high-profile Russian who has died since Trump’s November presidential victory.
- The White House remained silent as riot police arrested thousands of peaceful anti-corruption protesters across Russia last week. Only 12 hours after the Russian crackdown had started, and following statements from several U.S. senators urging a response, did Sean Spicer address the detentions — reading from State Department remarks without addition or embellishment.
- Twice-poisoned Russian dissident Vladimir Kara-Murza urged U.S. lawmakers to take a harsher stance against Putin’s regime. Not doing so is essentially “enabling” corrupt and abusive behavior, he said during a Senate subcommittee hearing chaired by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) last week. Kara-Murza stressed the necessity of maintaining lines of communication outside the Kremlin.
“Trump most certainly has fueled deep divisions among American elites and society, pushing all of us to focus inward — on our internal polarizing differences — and giving less attention to Putin’s domestic or foreign policy behavior,” former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul writes. “Stories and discussion about Russian interventions in Ukraine and Syria, just months ago the center of attention in U.S. foreign policy debates, have faded from the public eye. Likewise, top leaders in the new administration seem indifferent to the continuing autocratic trends inside Russia.”
-- Jeane Kirkpatrick, Ronald Reagan’s ambassador to the United Nations, was writing about the Soviet Union when she penned her 1985 essay, “The Myth of Moral Equivalence,” but her argument still resonates today: “To destroy a society it is first necessary to delegitimize its basic institutions so as to detach the identifications and affections of its citizens from the institutions and authorities of the society marked for destruction. An alliance among democracies is based on shared ideals. The process of delegitimization is, therefore, an absolutely ideal instrument for undermining an alliance, as well as for undermining a government. The NATO alliance among democracies simply cannot survive a widespread conviction among its members that there is no difference between the superpowers. It is not necessary to demonstrate that the Soviet Union is flawed, or deplorable. To destroy the alliance, it is only necessary to deprive the citizens of democratic societies of a sense of shared moral purpose which underlies common identifications and common efforts.”
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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- The South Carolina women’s basketball team won its first NCAA championship, beating out Mississippi State 67-55. (Gene Wang)
-- “Leftist headed to narrow victory in Ecuador, defying Latin America’s shift to right,” by Nick Miroff: “Ecuador plunged into crisis Sunday night after a disputed presidential vote, with leftist candidate Lenín Moreno headed to a narrow victory and his conservative opponent denouncing the results as fraudulent. The race was a political barometer for the strength of long-dominant leftist parties in South America that have been in retreat after electoral losses. Ecuador’s results appeared to buck that trend. With more than 96 percent of the ballots counted, Moreno led 51 percent to 49 percent over right-wing challenger Guillermo Lasso, who insisted that he was the real winner. Clashes broke out in several cities, with voters screaming at one another in the streets and many fearing an escalating standoff. [And] the government’s opponents seemed in no mood to concede defeat, demanding a recount and vowing to challenge the results in court.”
GET SMART FAST:
- Chicago police have identified two of several juvenile suspects accused of participating in the sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl that was broadcast on Facebook Live. Authorities declined to say how many suspects police are looking for, but an AP report says as many as six male juveniles are suspected. (Kristine Phillips)
- At least 200 were killed in a Colombian landslide after a river overflowed. Townspeople are desperately combing debris, searching for survivors. The landslide came in the middle of the night. Hundreds are missing. (AP)
- So many journalists have been killed this year in Mexico that one newspaper is shutting down completely. Signing off for good with a massive front-page headline – “Adios!” – the editor cited the wave of violence against journalists, saying “there are neither the guarantees nor the security to exercise critical, counterbalance journalism” in the country. (Samantha Schmidt)
- Johns Hopkins University has withdrawn from a study to test marijuana as a treatment for veterans with PTSD after a dispute over the quality of the pot provided by the feds. (Aaron Gregg)
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
-- Trump says the United States is “ready to act alone” on North Korea if China does not take a harder line against its nuclear program — a warning that comes just days before President Xi Jinping is scheduled to meet with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort. "Yes, we will talk about North Korea," Trump said in an interview with the Financial Times. China “has great influence over North Korea. And China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won't. And if they do that will be very good for China, and if they don't it won't be good for anyone." Asked specifically how he would tackle North Korea, Trump said: "I'm not going to tell you. You know, I am not the United States of the past where we tell you where we are going to hit in the Middle East."
-- Jared Kushner is in Iraq. The president's son-in-law traveled at the invitation of Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The purpose of the trip remains unclear, though it comes as more than 200 soldiers have been ordered to deploy to the country as part of an offensive to retake control of Mosul. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, meanwhile, has still not visited Iraq. (Ashley Parker)
-- Kushner is also the key channel for high-level interactions between the White House and Chinese leadership, per Josh Rogin.
-- Ashton Carter doubts Beijing will cooperate in taking a tougher stance against Pyongyang. "I've been working on the North Korea problem since 1994," the former secretary of defense said on ABC’s “This Week." "And we have consistently asked Chinese leaders ... because they uniquely have the historical and the economic relationship with North Korea, to make a difference. They haven't used that influence, and so it's hard for me to be optimistic with that."
THE SENATE IS GOING NUCLEAR:
-- The battle to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court is entering its final stretch this week. Ed O’Keefe reports: "With the Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled to refer him to the full Senate on Monday, lawmakers are about to embark on the final — and perhaps most bitter — round of debate. Three days of formal debate begin Tuesday with Republicans planning to confirm Gorsuch by Friday. That timeline would give the 49-year-old federal appeals court judge a chance to join the high court in late April and to participate in the final cases of this year’s term, which ends in June. ... The Republican-controlled Senate is likely to confirm him, but only if it changes the chamber’s rules. Democrats are vowing to filibuster Gorsuch, a tactical roadblock that can only be overcome with the votes of 60 senators. Republicans hold 52 seats, and only three moderate Democrats so far say they plan to vote for Gorsuch."
- Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said it is “highly, highly unlikely” that Republicans will get the 60 votes needed to end a Democratic filibuster. He added on “Meet the Press" that it “is up to Mitch McConnell and the Republican majority” to set the rules for the confirmation vote.
- Majority Leader McConnell (R-Ky.) said that Gorsuch will “ultimately be confirmed.” Exactly how that happens,” he declared on Fox News Sunday, “will be up to our Democratic colleagues.”
- Joe Donnelly became the third Democrat to defect last night. “After meeting with Judge Gorsuch, conducting a thorough review of his record, and closely following his hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, I believe that he is a qualified jurist," the vulnerable Indiana Democratic senator said in a statement Sunday.
- But other red state Democrats, such as Jon Tester from Montana and Claire McCaskill from Missouri, came out against Gorsuch and against cloture over the weekend.
-- The bottom line is there is no way Republicans will get the Democratic crossovers they need. The GOP is going to permanently change the rules of the Senate before the week is done.
-- Still, keep an eye on Michael Bennet. The Colorado senator is in a bind: “He’s trapped between significant home-state pressure to back the Denver-bred judge and a scorching liberal base,” Politico’s Seung Min Kim explains. “Even more significant for Bennet — a stickler for Senate tradition — is that he’s watching the chamber further collapse all around him as an institution.… Bennet has sat down extensively with Gorsuch, likely longer than any of the other 70-plus senators whom the nominee has privately courted during his confirmation process. The two men met once in Denver and again in Washington, with the meetings running multiple hours.” We’ve seen this movie before: Up for reelection in 2016, Bennet dragged his feet for what felt like forever on the Iran nuclear deal before ultimately coming out in favor of it.
-- One hard "yes" vote for Gorsuch, Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, could not fly back from Nebraska to D.C. last night, and he needed to get back for this morning's Judiciary Committee vote. So he flew to Newark and rented a car. Then he live-tweeted his drive down to the Capitol:
He made it around 4:30 a.m.:
THE GOP CIVIL WAR:
-- The Narrative: Trump is increasingly ISOLATED. “Ahead of his 100th day in office, which he will mark this month, Trump has struggled to build a governing coalition that matches the nontraditional alliance that put him in the Oval Office,” Abby Phillip and Robert Costa report. “‘He seems both politically and personally isolated these days,’ said David Gergen, a former adviser to Democratic and Republican presidents dating to Richard M. Nixon. ‘He’s flailing because he doesn’t know where to find his natural allies.’ … Despite loose talk from White House aides and staff-level conversations this week, little has been done to court Democratic support for his priorities.”
-- The president hosted Rand Paul for a round of golf at his Virginia property yesterday. Afterward, the Kentucky senator struck a positive tone, calling it a “great day” with the president: “I continue to be very optimistic that we are getting closer and closer to an agreement on replacing Obamacare,” he said. (AP)
-- White House social media director Dan Scavino Jr. may have violated a federal law prohibiting officials from using their positions for political activity, Matea Gold reports: “On Saturday, Scavino went after Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, calling him “a big liability” in a tweet from his personal account. "#TrumpTrain, defeat him in primary,” he added. Even though Scavino was tweeting from his personal account, the page at the time listed his official White House position and featured a photo of him inside the Oval Office, noted [Bush-era ethics lawyer Richard Painter]. ‘You can't just load up your personal Twitter page with a lot of official stuff,’ Painter said. ‘This is way over the top. It’s not a personal page. It's chock full of official stuff.’ Painter said he thinks Scavino's tweet violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits the use of one's office for political purposes.”
-- Trump’s attacks on conservative members of his own party come as his allies beef up a number of outside groups to promote his agenda — amassing firepower that could end up being turned on fellow GOP lawmakers. Matea and Robert Barnes report: “At least four separate organizations are seeking to drive public support for Trump and his priorities — a marked shift from the first two months of his administration, when the White House had limited outside air cover. The immediate goal: to lean on Democratic senators in the run-up to a vote expected this week on [Gorsuch]. But down the road, some of the groups could end up turning their focus on lawmakers who cross Trump, including members of his own party.… 'It is something we would consider if there is clarity that a group is stymieing the agenda, whether it’s establishment types or others,' said Eric Beach, co-chairman of the pro-Trump advocacy group Great America Alliance."
-- Candice Jackson, the lawyer who aided Trump’s presidential campaign and brought national attention to Hillary Clinton’s defense of a man accused of raping a 12-year-old girl, has been tapped to temporarily lead the Education Department’s civil rights office, according her alma mater. If true, Jackson — who authored the 2005 book “Their Lives: Women Targeted by the Clinton Machine” — will temporarily head the office responsible for enforcing civil rights laws in schools, including the handling of campus sexual assault. (Emma Brown)
-- A U.S. judge dismissed Trump’s effort to throw out a lawsuit accusing him of inciting violence against protesters at a 2016 campaign rally. In a 22-page filing, the judge said Trump’s repeated comments to “get 'em out of here” could have plausibly advocated the use of force. (Aaron Blake)
IN TRUMP'S AMERICA, LOYALTY — OR DENIAL — RUNS DEEP:
-- Jenna Johnson files from Durant, Okla., where Trump’s budget would hit hard but his supporters are still willing to trust him. “In this town of 16,000 — located near the Texas border in Oklahoma’s Bryan County, where Trump won 76 percent of the vote — excitement about Trump’s presidency has been dulled by confusion over an agenda that seems aimed at hurting their community more than helping it. Many red states like Oklahoma — where every single county went for Trump — are more reliant on the federal funds that Trump wants to cut than states that voted for [Clinton].” Still, many Trump supporters are holding out hope that the possible budget sacrifices will be worth it. Tire shop owner Rick Munholland said he wants to see more jobs in the area, fewer undocumented immigrants and lower monthly health-insurance premiums. “Working people like me can’t afford it. Now, if you’re low-income, they can get it for nothing — but the low-income gets taken care of regardless,” Munholland said. “God bless America, but it has gone to the dogs.”
-- The New York Times’ Yamiche Alcindor goes to Trumball County, Ohio, where residents are heavily reliant on affordable housing programs and HUD-sponsored initiatives. “For years, Tammy and Joseph Pavlic tried to ignore the cracked ceiling in their living room, the growing hole next to their shower and the deteriorating roof they feared might one day give out. Mr. Pavlic [was forced to leave his job as his multiple sclerosis advanced].... By 2015, Ms. Pavlic was supporting her husband and their three children on an annual salary of $9,000.…” That year, they tapped a Congressionally-funded county project called HOME to help repair their house. The next year, they voted for Trump, who has moved to cut the program in favor of beefing up military spending and building a U.S.-Mexico border wall. “Keeping the country safe compared to keeping my bathroom safe isn’t even a comparison,’ Joseph Pavlic said of Trump’s proposed budget cuts. ‘We have people who are coming into this country who are trying to hurt us, and I think that we need to be protected.’”
- “Our county voted for [Trump], so I’m not sure they quite understand what is going to happen,” said Julie Edwards, the county’s economic development coordinator. “I don’t think people realize how much we rely on these services. I don’t think people are making the connection between cutting the HUD funds and paving our streets or building new affordable housing.”
-- New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof also journeyed through “Trump country" to see how his most fervent supporters were reacting to news of the budget cuts. None said they regretted their votes in November, and they all said that they might vote for Trump for re-election: “Judy Banks, a 70-year-old struggling to get by, said she voted for Trump because ‘he was talking about getting rid of those illegals.’ But Banks now finds herself shocked that he also has his sights on funds for [a senior citizen service program], which is her lifeline. It pays senior citizens a minimum wage to hold public service jobs. Banks said she depends on the job to make ends meet … ‘If I lose this job,’ she said, ‘I’ll sit home and die.’ Yet she said she might still vote for Trump in 2020.”
-- GOP admaker Brad Todd and journalist Salena Zito have signed a contract to write a book together called “The Great Divide,” slated to come out next spring, analyzing the Trump coalition and how it could impact politics and the culture forward. The authors will profile voters in bellwether counties that flipped from Obama to Trump. Todd is known for making commercials that resonate with these blue-collar ancestral Democrats. “The populist coalition that came together in 2016 has been a long time in the making and anyone who wants to understand what’s next had better dig into it,” Brad said.
THERE'S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- Ranking House Intelligence Committee Democrat Adam Schiff said he is treating an immunity request from Michael Flynn with “healthy skepticism,” telling CNN’s Jake Tapper he would first need to confirm that the ousted national security adviser would “add value” to their ongoing Russian investigation. "I think we start out with a very healthy skepticism," Schiff said. "We don't want to do anything that will interfere in any case that the Justice Department may decide to bring."
-- Before resigning as national security adviser, Flynn submitted a personal financial disclosure form to federal ethics officials that failed to note speaking fees he received from Russia-related entities in 2015. “Flynn later noted the payments on an amended form he signed Friday that listed among his sources of income the Russian government-backed television network RT, a U.S. air cargo company affiliated with the Volga-Dnepr Group and the U.S. subsidiary of Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab,” Matea Gold, Rosalind S. Helderman and Sari Horwitz report.
-- The White House dumped financial disclosures for senior staff late Friday night to minimize how much coverage they’d get. If you missed them, check out a summary of what our reporters found here. Remarkable stat: Financial reports released by the administration indicate that 27 staffers who work for Trump are worth a combined $2.3 billion. In 80 percent of the counties in America, every household combined earns less than $2.3 billion a year. In counties that voted for Trump, that figure is higher: In 86 percent of Trump counties, the total amount of income earned in a year is less than $2.3 billion. (Philip Bump)
-- RFK’s son, running for governor of Illinois, thinks Trump may have committed treason. From Annie Linskey’s excellent piece on the front page of Sunday’s Boston Globe about the next generation of Kennedys getting into politics: “Chris Kennedy bares his teeth when he gets worked up, which was what happened in an interview when he described some of the outrage he says pushed him to the vanguard of a Kennedy family comeback in American politics. ‘That’s treasonous. That’s treasonous,’ Kennedy said, citing the FBI’s investigation of possible connections between Trump’s campaign and Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election. ‘If that happened, and if he touched any part of it, that’s treason. And I think you go to jail for treason,’ said Kennedy, whose blue eyes, curly hair, and square face come directly from his father, the late Robert F. Kennedy. This is the red meat that Chris Kennedy, the eighth of Robert and Ethel Kennedy’s 11 children, hopes the Democratic base wants as he launches his 2018 bid for governor in his adopted Illinois.”
-- New York Magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi profiles Jon Ossoff, the 30-year-old Democrat running in the special election to replace Tom Price this spring: “He is a relative neophyte running 20 points ahead of a divided Republican field in a congressional district that hasn’t been blue since Jimmy Carter, also a Georgian, was president; an anonymous congressional aide turned documentary-film producer made into a national political figure mostly by love from readers of the Daily Kos; a pleasant, generic hipster-technocrat vessel into which an entire nation of angry Democrats has poured its electoral hopes (not to mention its millions of dollars — literally millions, a wild haul for a first-time nobody in a two-month race). In this brave new post-2016 world, the Ossoff campaign is an experiment of sorts, a Trump-backlash trial balloon that might … tell us just how much the president has reshaped the electoral map. It may also tell us that Democrats will have to do a whole lot more than just ride the wave of Trump hate to have a real chance of puncturing House Republicans’ red wall in 2018.”
-- The Post’s Fact Checker gives Ossoff “one Pinocchio” this morning for over-hyping his national security credentials in ads and on the stump. The candidate says he had five years of experience as a national security staffer in Congress, but he held a top secret security clearance for only five months. “On balance, it seems reasonable for Ossoff to say he spent five years working on national security issues in Congress, even though at least two years of that period overlapped with college work,” Glenn Kessler concludes. “Declaring himself a ‘senior national security staffer’ is [a] bit too much résumé puffery.”
-- “The government’s struggle to hold opioid manufacturers accountable,” by Lenny Bernstein and Scott Higham: “To combat an escalating opioid epidemic, the [DEA] trained its sights in 2011 on Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, one of the nation’s largest manufacturers of the highly addictive generic painkiller oxycodone. It was the first time the DEA had targeted a manufacturer of opioids for alleged violations of laws designed to prevent diversion of legal narcotics to the black market. And it would become the largest prescription-drug case the agency has pursued. Ultimately, the DEA and federal prosecutors would contend that the company ignored its responsibility to report suspicious orders as 500 million of its pills ended up in Florida between 2008 and 2012 — 66 percent of all oxycodone sold in the state. But six years later, after four investigations that spanned five states, the government has taken no legal action against Mallinckrodt. Instead, the company has reached a tentative settlement … [under which Mallinckrodt will admit no wrongdoing].… The case shows how difficult it is for the government to hold a drug manufacturer responsible for the damage done by its product.”
-- “A live stream of Shia LaBeouf chanting was disrupted by Nazi-themed dancing. Then things got weird,” by Avi Selk: “On the day of President Trump’s inauguration, two poorly understood forces of the Internet collided in a sort of bizarre death lock — a struggle that has manifested in the real world as Nazi-costumed dances in New York, a meticulously planned theft in rural Tennessee and last month, a raid on a British rooftop. These forces are called 4chan and Shia LaBeouf."
AS U.S. SOFTENS STANCE ON ASSAD, PRISONERS DESCRIBE UNTHINKABLE TORTURE:
-- The Post's Louisa Loveluck and Zakaria Zakaria spent months talking to people formerly detained in Syria's military hospitals — secret torture wards described as "slaughterhouses" for the horrific brutality carried out inside. (One was located just a half-mile from President Bashar al-Assad's palace.) “In interviews across Lebanon, Turkey and Europe, more than a dozen survivors and army defectors described horrors in Syrian military hospitals across the country for which war crimes lawyers say they have struggled to find a modern parallel. The former detainees come from all walks of life. Elite, working-class, leftist and Islamist, their only connection to one another was involvement in Syria’s 2011 uprising. Some were its instigators. Others said they had simply commented on the Facebook statuses of friends who supported protests. Investigators say that testimony and documentation from Syria’s military hospitals offer some of the most concrete evidence to date of crimes against humanity that could one day see senior government figures tried in court...."
One survivor remembers a guard who took a lighter to a plastic bag and melted it, drop by drop, onto a prisoner’s face until he died of an apparent heart attack. Others recall an iron rod used to smash in their bedmates’ skulls, and a man they called the "Angel of Death," who carried a stick laced with razor blades. "We were swept into a system that was ready for us,” a former prisoner recounts. “Even the hospitals were slaughterhouses.”
-- “With Brexit looming, millions wonder whether they can stay in Britain,” by Karla Adam: “Twenty-one years ago, Patrizia Mayall moved to Britain after falling in love with a young Englishman serving in the Royal Air Force. She studied linguistics before taking time out of the workplace to raise their British children. For all appearances, she is British. Only she’s not. She is an Italian national living in Britain, her future thrown into doubt following Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. ‘I’ve lived here most of my adult life. I feel more British than Italian,’ said Mayall.… For decades, this has been the way of life in Europe: People can up and move to another country at a moment’s notice. Some decide to plant roots in their new homeland, acquiring families, jobs, pets and mortgages along the way. But with Brexit looming, the future for millions now hangs in the balance. Figuring out what happens to an estimated 3.2 million E.U. citizens living in the U.K. — and the 1.2 million Brits living in Europe — will be the most high-profile aspect of early Brexit talks as the two-year exit process gets underway.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Trump has spent a lot of time tweeting the past few days, mainly defending his unsubstantiated claims of being wiretapped and dismissing damaging revelations in the growing Russia scandal as "FAKE NEWS."
From this morning:
Such amazing reporting on unmasking and the crooked scheme against us by @foxandfriends. "Spied on before nomination." The real story.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 3, 2017
Was the brother of John Podesta paid big money to get the sanctions on Russia lifted? Did Hillary know?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 3, 2017
He still has not gotten the memo that the 2016 campaign is over:
Did Hillary Clinton ever apologize for receiving the answers to the debate? Just asking!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 3, 2017
From Saturday (not April Fool's!):
When will Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd and @NBCNews start talking about the Obama SURVEILLANCE SCANDAL and stop with the Fake Trump/Russia story?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 1, 2017
It is the same Fake News Media that said there is "no path to victory for Trump" that is now pushing the phony Russia story. A total scam!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 1, 2017
The real story turns out to be SURVEILLANCE and LEAKING! Find the leakers.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 2, 2017
That last tweet drew some interesting responses:
This is uncannily like what Richard Nixon would have been tweeting in April '73. (And Trump's 1st term increasingly feels like Nixon's 2nd.) https://t.co/3awv78MD1p— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) April 2, 2017
Trump also slammed those who say that negotiations have stopped on repealing and replacing Obamacare (you might recall that Trump promised to move on from the issue if the House didn't pass the bill the Friday before last):
Anybody (especially Fake News media) who thinks that Repeal & Replace of ObamaCare is dead does not know the love and strength in R Party!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 2, 2017
Talks on Repealing and Replacing ObamaCare are, and have been, going on, and will continue until such time as a deal is hopefully struck.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 2, 2017
Rand said he and Trump talked about it over golf:
I had a great time today with @realDonaldTrump and believe we are getting closer to an agreement on health care!— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) April 2, 2017
Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), a member of the Freedom Caucus, was defiant as the White House social media director Dan Scavino called for Trump supporters to mobilize and defeat him:
Bring it on. I'll always stand up for liberty, the Constitution & Americans of every background. You can help here: https://t.co/ECxQGXE5XH.— Justin Amash (@justinamash) April 1, 2017
Another GOP lawmaker (and Freedom Caucus-er), who Trump personally trolled on Twitter, said this:
A White House reporter for the AP tweeted a question at Scavino:
@DanScavino Any response to ethics lawyers who say the tweet about Rep. Justin Amash violates Hatch Act?— darlene superville (@dsupervilleap) April 1, 2017
He responded yesterday:
Paul Ryan got quite a bit of blowback on social media for this tweet:
Autistic people are not puzzle pieces, we're human beings who you want to deny health care https://t.co/fgMgWTyCL5— Dylan Matthews (@dylanmatt) April 2, 2017
The lapel pin is nice but the Medicaid cuts Ryan's been dreaming of since his kegger days would devastate assistance to autistic kids. https://t.co/Q0GdfcEVYM— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) April 2, 2017
On a lighter note, Michigan Sen. Gary Peters's staff ran the Cherry Blossom 10-miler:
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- New York Times, “How Uber Uses Psychological Tricks to Push Its Drivers’ Buttons,” by Noam Scheiber: “Employing hundreds of social scientists and data scientists, Uber has experimented with video game techniques, graphics and noncash rewards of little value that can prod drivers into working longer and harder — and sometimes at hours and locations that are less lucrative for them. It has even concocted an algorithm similar to a Netflix feature that automatically loads the next program, which many experts believe encourages binge-watching. Some local managers who were men went so far as to adopt a female persona for texting drivers, having found that the uptake was higher when they did. … And as so-called platform-mediated work like driving for Uber increasingly becomes the way people make a living, the company’s example illustrates that pulling psychological levers may eventually become the reigning approach to managing the American worker.”
-- The New Yorker, “Tucker Carlson’s Fighting Words,” by Kelefa Sanneh: “In many ways, Carlson is a throwback, and a contradiction: a fierce critic of the political and cultural establishment who is also, unapologetically, a member of it. … [He] thinks that, in general, people get too ‘spun up,’ which is one of his favorite terms—a reminder of the tendency to overestimate the goodness or the badness of whoever is in charge. But no political philosophy is equally appropriate for every era. There comes a time, eventually, when wild-eyed outrage is entirely appropriate. And nobody can be sure that this is not it. In conversation, Carlson often returns to an unusual disclaimer: ‘I’m not a deeply moral guy.’ Maybe this is his way of playing the rogue. Maybe this is a debater’s ploy—a way of insisting that some principles are so clear that even he can see them. But with Carlson it is wise to consider another possibility: Maybe he means it. And maybe he is right.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“Vacate Trump Tower: People want Melania Trump to be forced to leave New York City,” from Salon: “The exorbitant cost of keeping Melania and Barron Trump in their gold-plated penthouse in New York City has inspired thousands to sign a petition asking that they be forced to leave town. The viral Change.org request, titled ‘Make Melania Trump Stay in the White House or Pay for the Expenses Herself,’ already has more than 175,000 signatures. The petition is a response to the drain on city dollars brought on by the stunning security costs — up to $146,000 a day — of keeping Melania and Barron in Trump Tower, according to New York City Police estimates … That figure would shoot up another $10 million if the president were to start coming home on weekends, which he hasn’t done since entering office.” “As to help relieve the national debt, this expense yields no positive results for the nation and should be cut from being funded,” the petition reads.
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“Texas A&M Yanks Student Body Presidency From Winner Over Glow Sticks,” from The Federalist: “This month, the candidate who resoundingly won the election for student body president of Texas A&M University was subsequently disqualified by a student court. His campaign included political advertising, such as a Facebook video that featured some glow sticks participants picked up for free at an unrelated event on campus. The glow sticks cost nothing, until they cost the winner his presidency. Rather than accept the winner, someone filed an anonymous complaint about the glow sticks, claiming the winner failed to include these free items on his campaign finance reports. The student-run judicial court decided that failing to disclose the cost of free glow sticks was so serious a violation of the Student Government Association’s (SGA’s) election code that it merited postelection disqualification. They then handed the win to the man who had lost. [Now], the spirit and character for which Aggies are renowned is being rightfully questioned in light of this coup d’état masquerading as an ‘election.’”
At the White House: Trump will meet with President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi of Egypt at the White House, before being joined by Mike Pence for an expanded bilateral meeting. Later, they will have a working lunch and Trump will meet with Rex Tillerson.
Mike Pence will join Trump for an expanded bilateral meeting and working lunch with Sisi before heading to Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers.
The Senate Judiciary Committee meets at 10 a.m. to consider Gorsuch.
The Nationals home opener starts at 1 p.m. (Here’s the starting roster.)
Gonzaga plays North Carolina in the NCAA championship game at 9:20 p.m. ET tonight. For the second time in three years, a pair of No. 1 seeds will play for the national title. (Our sports reporters preview what to watch for here.)
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
"I don't regret anything.” – Trump asked about his tweets during his interview with the Financial Times
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- The Capital Weather Gang forecasts a (rare) seasonably-appropriate day of weather ahead: “This qualifies as a nice day through midday (or so) with a good deal of sunshine. But then clouds increase and showers become possible toward the evening commute (40 percent chance of measurable rain before sunset). Temperatures are pleasant enough, with highs in the mid-60s.”
-- Georgetown is slated to interview basketball legend Patrick Ewing for a head coaching position, potentially bringing back the man who helped put the school’s basketball program on the map. (Tim Bontemps)
-- The Capitals won 3-2 over the Columbus Blue Jackets. “In a game with significant playoff seeding implications and one pocked with frequent post-whistle skirmishes, the Capitals kept their cool and showed why they are on the verge of clinching the Metropolitan Division title,” Isabelle Khurshudyan reports from Ohio.
-- The Wizards lost to the Warriors 139-115, their third straight loss. A long road trip, in which the team clinched its first division title in 38 years, is over. Golden State (63-14), which is flexing into championship form with 11 straight wins, controlled Washington from the start. (Candace Buckner)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
C-SPAN made a three-minute montage of politicians from both parties talking about their love for baseball:
April the giraffe is expected to give birth soon, and many are watching the livestream:
There's a wildflower "super bloom" in California:
Watch Conan explore the mysterious death of Russian diplomats:
Seth Meyers parodied "The Rockford Files" intro as he mulled the latest Russia revelations:
Stephen Colbert says we're all One Week Older:
Colbert imagines Trump imagining the White House Correspondents Dinner:
In his monologue, Stephen also seized on George W. Bush reportedly saying Trump's inauguration was "some weird sh*t":
Susan Sarandon said she's still in touch with Bernie Sanders:
Bill Maher spent seven minutes skewering Trump's "enablers," including Devin Nunes, on his Friday night show:
Then he interviewed Roger Stone:
Jimmy Fallon mocked Trump for not wanting to throw the first pitch at Opening Day:
John Oliver joked about YouTube conspiracy videos: