with Breanne Deppisch
-- By the end of this week, when the judge has been confirmed and the Senate leaves town for Easter recess, Republicans will control all three branches of the federal government for the first time since 2006.
-- On paper, this is a golden age for the GOP. There are 33 Republican governors, the most since 1922. In 25 states now, Republicans have unified control of the governorship and legislature. Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri and New Hampshire joined that club last November when the GOP took control of five more House chambers and two more Senate chambers. Today there are 4,195 Republican state legislators, compared to 3,132 Democrats.
-- Gorsuch, once confirmed, will be well positioned to provide the decisive vote on a host of issues that might help cement this Republican hold on power, or at least give the party a leg up in future elections. He could vote to allow states to restrict voting, give more leeway to partisans in the round of redistricting that will begin after the 2020 election and further loosen campaign finance limitations. Don’t forget Bush v. Gore, when the Supreme Court – on a party-line vote – delivered the presidency to George W. Bush.
-- These are significant, and under-covered, reasons why only four of 48 Democrats have broken ranks on using the filibuster. Three face tough reelection fights next year in ruby red states that Donald Trump carried by double digits. The fourth, Michael Bennet, represents Gorsuch’s home state of Colorado.
Bennet reportedly urged Chuck Schumer to keep the party’s powder dry for the next Supreme Court fight. He believes Gorsuch, filling Antonin Scalia’s seat, will not fundamentally change the ideological balance on the court the way Trump getting to pick Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s or Anthony Kennedy’s successor would. “If you’re looking to preserve Roe, [the next vacancy] is the seat you need to die on the sword for,” one person close to Bennet, describing the senator’s thinking, told Politico.
The senator’s colleagues in both parties, who understand the stakes and grasp how politicized the judiciary has already become, privately mock this as a naively short-sighted view. Yes, Gorsuch won’t be able to immediately overturn Roe v. Wade. But the 4-4 splits after Scalia’s death during the last term on issues like collective bargaining, plus the number of 5-4 decisions in the years before that, are reminders that the Supreme Court takes up a lot more than abortion rights.
-- Gorsuch is a political animal. His mother was a conservative Colorado state legislator before she ran Ronald Reagan’s EPA. The judge’s own resume used to say that he had “worked on Republican campaigns since 1976.” In addition to volunteering in Ohio for the Bush-Cheney 2004 reelection effort, he was the co-chair of a Republican National Lawyers Association task force. The Senate Republican Conference even gave him a “distinguished service” award.
“He is a true loyalist (and a good, strong conservative),” then-RNC chair Ken Mehlman, his roommate at Harvard Law, emailed the White House’s political affairs shop as Gorsuch sought an appointment after the 2004 election.
Gorsuch himself wrote Bush’s political director to say he’d “spent considerable time trying to help the cause on a volunteer basis in volunteer roles.” “I’ve concluded that I’d really like to be a full-time member of the team,” he said. Soon after that, he landed a senior job in the Bush Justice Department. Within two years, he was on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
-- Republicans and Democrats alike are confident that Gorsuch will continue working to advance “the cause” as a “full time member of the team” once he’s on the high court. That’s why conservative groups are spending more than $10 million on commercials to promote him and liberals are fighting tooth and nail to stop him. In contrast to someone like John Roberts, Gorsuch came into this confirmation process with a very long paper trail. He’s ruled on nearly 3,000 cases during his tenure in Denver. Even if he’s never directly ruled on a subject, there are few mysteries about how he will come down on the hot button issues that will likely come before him. Academics who have studied his jurisprudence found that Gorsuch is further to the right than all four of the Republicans presently on the court.
-- Consider voting rights: When Scalia was alive, he joined the 5-4 majority to strike down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, which required states with a history of racial discrimination to get preclearance from the Justice Department before they could change voting rules. That ruling prompted several states to quickly enact new limitations that disproportionately impacted African Americans, a core constituency of the Democratic Party.
One of the states was North Carolina, which selectively chose voter-ID requirements, reduced the number of early-voting days and changed registration procedures. Government-issued driver’s licenses became an acceptable form of identification, but government-issued public assistance cards — used disproportionately by minorities in that state — were not. It came out during litigation that, before enacting the law, the state legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices.
A three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit unanimously ruled to strike down the law. “The new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision” and “impose cures for problems that did not exist,” Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the panel.
The Republican governor appealed to the Supreme Court for a stay. All four of the Republican justices wanted to grant North Carolina’s request, which would have allowed the restrictions to be in place for the 2016 election. Because there was a 4-4 tie, the lower court ruling prevailed. If either Scalia or Gorsuch had been on the court, the decision almost certainly would have gone the other way.
Al Franken pressed Gorsuch during his confirmation hearing about “whether you're disturbed by a state government’s effort to systematically and strategically discriminate against its citizens by race.” “It seemed like an easy question to me so I'll ask you again,” the Minnesota senator said. “Does that disturb you at all?” Gorsuch ducked and declined to give a straight answer. “Senator, if there are allegations of racism in legislation, in the voting area, there are a variety of remedies,” he said, declining to elaborate.
The Nation also published a piece last month about emails Gorsuch sent to Hans von Spakovsky during his tenure at the Justice Department. “Few people in the Republican Party have done more to limit voting rights than von Spakovsky,” Ari Berman explained. “He’s been instrumental in spreading the myth of widespread voter fraud and backing new restrictions to make it harder to vote. … At very least, the e-mails suggest Gorsuch was friendly with von Spakovksy.”
-- Gorsuch might also be able to give air cover to redistricting plans that could help lock in the Republican House majority. The drawing of boundaries is always heavily litigated.
-- And, on campaign finance, the judge has a history of siding with conservatives who oppose legal restrictions on fundraising. In Riddle v. Hickenlooper, Gorsuch joined the majority to invalidate a Colorado law. “The act of contributing to political campaigns implicates a ‘basic constitutional freedom,’ one lying ‘at the foundation of a free society’ and enjoying a significant relationship to the right to speak and associate — both expressly protected First Amendment activities,” he wrote.
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- North Carolina beat Gonzaga 71-65 to win the NCAA championship. It was an ugly win. The Tar Heels were 4-for-27 on three-point shots and missed 11 free throws out of 26. But they went on an 8-0 run in the final 100 seconds, and a W is a W. (Chuck Culpepper)
-- Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered Justice Department officials to review reform agreements with troubled police forces nationwide, saying it was necessary to ensure that these pacts do not work against the Trump administration’s goals of promoting officer safety and morale while fighting violent crime. From Sari Horwitz, Mark Berman and Wesley Lowery: "In a two-page memo released (last night), Sessions said agreements reached previously between the department’s civil rights division and local police departments — a key legacy of the Obama administration — will be subject to review by his two top deputies, throwing into question whether all of the agreements will stay in place. The memo was released not long before the department’s civil rights lawyers asked a federal judge to postpone until at least the end of June a hearing on a sweeping police reform agreement, known as a consent decree, with the Baltimore Police Department that was announced just days before President Trump took office. Since 2009, the Justice Department opened 25 investigations into law enforcement agencies and has been enforcing 14 consent decrees, along with some other agreements."
Civil rights advocates fear that Sessions’s memo could particularly imperil the status of agreements that have yet to be finalized, such as a pending agreement with the Chicago Police Department. “This is terrifying,” said Jonathan Smith, executive director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, who spent five years as the department’s chief of special litigation, overseeing investigations into 23 police departments such as New Orleans, Cleveland and Ferguson, Mo. “This raises the question of whether, under the current attorney general, the Department of Justice is going to walk away from its obligation to ensure that law enforcement across the country is following the Constitution.”
-- “Trump Administration Considers Far-Reaching Steps for ‘Extreme Vetting,’” by the Wall Street Journal’s Laura Meckler: “Foreigners who want to visit the U.S., even for a short trip, could be forced to disclose contacts on their mobile phones, social-media passwords and financial records, and to answer probing questions about their ideology, according to Trump administration officials. [The White House] also wants to subject more visa applicants to intense security reviews and have embassies spend more time interviewing each applicant. The changes could apply to people from all over the world, including allies like France and Germany. The measures—whose full scope haven’t yet been publicly discussed—would together represent the ‘extreme vetting’ Trump has promised. The changes would be sure to generate significant controversy … with experts warning that other nations could impose similar requirements on Americans seeking visas.”
-- The Russians have identified a suspect in the St. Petersburg metro explosion that killed 11 yesterday. Investigators are still examining whether a suicide bomber may have detonated the blast as they continue to comb through wreckage and body parts, but the reported suspect is a Russian citizen from Kyrgyzstan, a restive Central Asian republic. The state security service there told Interfax that he is 22-year-old Akbarzhon Dzhalilov, who was born in Osh, a city that has seen bloody ethnic conflicts and the growth of Islamist militant movements since the Soviet Union began disintegrating three decades ago. (Andrew Roth and David Filipov)
GET SMART FAST:
- A suspected chemical attack in northern Syria killed at least 58, including 11 children, on the eve of an international meeting in Brussels to discuss the country’s reconstruction. If a monitoring group’s report is confirmed, that would be the deadliest chemical attack since Assad’s forces dropped sarin gas on the Damascus suburbs in 2013. (Louisa Loveluck)
- Boeing has signed a $3 billion deal with Iran’s Aseman Airlines for 30 737 airplanes, the first major U.S. sale to the Islamic Republic under the Trump administration. (AP)
- One in five patients with serious medical conditions are initially misdiagnosed by their primary care providers, according to an alarming new study from the Mayo Clinic. (Lenny Bernstein)
- Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai yanked ads from Bill O’Reilly's show, following reports that the top-rated television host and his employer have paid five women $13 million to settle allegations of sexual harassment and verbal abuse. (Katie Mettler)
- Fox News contributor Julie Roginsky also filed a discrimination suit against ousted CEO Roger Ailes and president Bill Shine. Her suit is potentially significant because it describes events allegedly taking place after Ailes’ departure, when the company vowed to clean up the “culture of harassment.” And because she's a contributor, not a full-time employee, Fox cannot force her into arbitration. (Paul Farhi)
- Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) said he will remove an Orlando prosecutor from some two dozen murder cases, the latest salvo in an escalating dispute over her unwillingness to pursue the death penalty against an accused cop killer. (Mark Berman)
- A Connecticut university is mourning the death of a student after choking last weekend in a pancake-eating contest at her sorority. Thousands attended a mass in honor of the 20-year-old, whose father died while rescuing people on 9/11. (Susan Svrluga)
- Camels from across the Arab world are descending on Saudi Arabia for an annual beauty contest. They are judged on the length of their lashes, the size of their lips, and the placement of their back humps. Contenders strut a 12-mile runway -- and compete for more than $30 million in prize money. (Samantha Schmidt)
THERE'S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- The United Arab Emirates arranged a secret meeting in January between Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a Russian close to President Vladimir Putin as part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and then President-elect Trump, according to U.S., European and Arab officials. Adam Entous, Greg Miller, Kevin Sieff and Karen DeYoung scoop: "The meeting took place around Jan. 11 — nine days before Trump’s inauguration — in the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean ... Though the full agenda remains unclear, the UAE agreed to broker the meeting in part to explore whether Russia could be persuaded to curtail its relationship with Iran, including in Syria, a Trump administration objective that would be likely to require major concessions to Moscow on U.S. sanctions."
Though Prince had no formal role with the Trump campaign or transition team, he presented himself as an unofficial envoy for Trump to high-ranking Emiratis involved in setting up his meeting with the Putin confidant: "Prince was an avid supporter of Trump. After the Republican convention, he contributed $250,000 to Trump’s campaign, the national party and a pro-Trump super PAC led by GOP mega-donor Rebekah Mercer, records show. He has ties to people in Trump’s circle, including Stephen K. Bannon, now serving as the president’s chief strategist and senior counselor. Prince’s sister Betsy DeVos serves as education secretary ... And Prince was seen in the Trump transition offices in New York in December."
"U.S. officials said the FBI has been scrutinizing the Seychelles meeting as part of a broader probe of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and alleged contacts between associates of Putin and Trump. The Seychelles encounter, which one official said spanned two days, adds to an expanding web of connections between Russia and Americans with ties to Trump — contacts that the White House has been reluctant to acknowledge or explain until they have been exposed by news organizations. 'We are not aware of any meetings, and Erik Prince had no role in the transition,' said Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary." Read the full story here.
-- Former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page met with and passed documents to a Russian intelligence operative in New York City in 2013, Buzzfeed’s Ali Watkins reports: “Carter Page met with a Russian intelligence operative named Victor Podobnyy, who was later charged by the US government alongside two others for acting as unregistered agents of a foreign government. The charges, filed in January 2015, came after federal investigators busted a Russian spy ring that was seeking information on US sanctions as well as efforts to develop alternative energy. Page is an energy consultant. The revelation of Page’s connection to Russian intelligence — which occurred more than three years before his association with Trump — is the most clearly documented contact to date between Russian intelligence and someone in Trump’s orbit."
-- House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes said Monday that his committee could resume interviews in its Russia probe later this month. Karoun Demirjian reports: ”The committee’s Russia investigation effectively ground to a halt last week after Nunes said it would be difficult to schedule interviews or depositions before [James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers] returned to Capitol Hill for additional closed-door testimony, following open testimony they gave two weeks ago. A scheduled, open hearing that would have featured testimony last week from former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., former CIA director John Brennan and former acting attorney general Sally Yates was canceled to make way for the return of Comey and Rogers to Capitol Hill, Nunes said — although The Washington Post later reported that the White House sought to keep Yates from testifying.” Nunes said the Comey and Rogers meeting has still not been scheduled and that the holdup was “with Comey, not with anyone else.” Nunes declined to say whom the committee planned to interview, or what the format of the interviews might be.
-- New details of an attempted cyber-attack in 2014 underscore how much more aggressive foreign powers are becoming as they attempt to breach U.S. computer systems. Ellen Nakashima reports: “Over a 24-hour period, top U.S. cyber defenders engaged in a pitched battle with Russian hackers who had breached the unclassified State Department computer system and displayed an unprecedented level of aggression that experts warn is likely to be turned against the private sector. Whenever National Security Agency hackers cut the attackers’ link between their command and control server and the malware in the U.S. system, the Russians set up a new one. The new details about the November 2014 incident emerged recently in the wake of a senior NSA official’s warning that the heightened aggression has security implications for firms and organizations unable to fight back. ‘It was hand-to-hand combat,’ said NSA Deputy Director Richard Ledgett, who said the attackers’ thrust-and-parry moves inside the network while defenders were trying to kick them out amounted to ‘a new level of interaction between a cyber attacker and a defender.’”
-- The governing body of track and field has been hacked by Fancy Bear, the Russian-linked group that previously attacked the World Anti-Doping Agency. IAAF officials believe the hack has compromised athletes' medical records. (AP)
THE RICE CONNECTION:
-- “Top Obama adviser sought names of Trump associates in intel,” Bloomberg’s Eli Lake: “White House lawyers last month learned that former national security adviser Susan Rice requested the identities of U.S. persons in raw intelligence reports on dozens of occasions that connect to the Trump transition and campaign ... The pattern of Rice's requests was discovered in a National Security Council review of the government's policy on ‘unmasking’ the identities of individuals in the U.S. who are not targets of electronic eavesdropping, but whose communications are collected incidentally. Normally those names are redacted from summaries of monitored conversations. … The intelligence reports were summaries of monitored conversations -- primarily between foreign officials discussing the Trump transition, but also in some cases direct contact between members of the Trump team and monitored foreign officials. One U.S. official … said they contained valuable political information on the Trump transition such as whom the Trump team was meeting, the views of Trump associates on foreign policy matters and plans for the incoming administration.”
Sean Spicer yesterday decried the media’s “lack of interest” in the Rice story as he continued to deflect questions about the contacts between Trump associates and Moscow. The press secretary declined to comment directly on the Rice reports, but he still complained that the press cares more about certain stories than others.
-- Important context: “Unmasking” refers to revealing a name that has been blacked out in an intelligence report on surveillance,” Karen DeYoung explains. “The law does not permit surveillance of U.S. persons without a warrant; if one shows up in authorized surveillance of a foreign person, it is ‘masked.’ According to a former senior national security official, top aides in all administrations are assigned an individual intelligence ‘briefer’ who gives them a curated report each morning, including foreign surveillance reports deemed of interest to them. The former official … said that in a minority of cases, the recipient may determine that the context of a particular communication, especially if it deals with sensitive security or foreign policy matters, requires knowledge of the U.S. person involved. The official can ask the intelligence briefer to ‘unmask’ that person. The request is considered and acted upon — or not — by the intelligence agency involved. The process is neither uncommon nor illegal.”
“Rice, as national security adviser, certainly had the authority to request the identities of U.S. citizens picked up as part of National Security Agency intercepts of communications by foreign officials,” adds Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler. “Most of the reports were said to be summaries of conversations of foreign officials discussing the Trump transition, but some included conversations between foreign officials and Trump associates. The disclosure that Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak spoke several times with Trump incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn — and that Flynn had misled Trump officials about the nature of the calls — led to his firing by the president just three weeks after Trump took office. Lake reported two officials claimed that Rice made ‘dozens’ of requests. The Fact Checker contacted former NSC officials and that number seems rather high, although Rice apparently was closely monitoring the high-profile investigation into Russian interference.”
THE HEALTH CARE FIGHT IS NOT OVER:
-- White House officials, led by Vice President Pence, jump-started negotiations on a stalled health-care bill last night, raising hopes that the closely watched legislation could pass the House as soon as this week. Mike DeBonis and John Wagner report: “Pence, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney came to Capitol Hill late Monday to attend a meeting of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, days after [Trump] launched a remarkable intraparty attack on the staunch conservatives who helped block the bill last month. Early in the day, the three men hosted members of the Tuesday Group, a caucus of about 50 moderate House Republicans, at the White House for a health-care-focused discussion.”
House Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadow said administration officials offered a “solid idea” that could form the basis of an intraparty compromise: “That idea, he said, would allow states to apply for federal waivers exempting them from some health insurance mandates established under Obamacare, including an ‘essential health benefits’ requirement mandating coverage of mental-health care, substance abuse treatment, maternity care, prescription drugs and more. It remained unclear whether moderate Republicans could swallow the proposals offered Monday. But the flurry of activity reflected an ongoing willingness to wrestle with the difficulties of winning a GOP consensus on health care — an issue that helped drive much of the party’s electoral gains over the past eight years since the Affordable Care Act was passed.”
-- A remarkable stat: The top 1 percent of health-care spenders use more resources, collectively, than the bottom 75 percent, according to a new study in Health Affairs. Slice the data a different way, and the bottom half of spenders all together rack up only about 3 percent of overall health care spending. The pattern hasn’t budged for decades, Carolyn Johnson explains, but this dynamic underscores a fundamental inequality in the country's health spending that is the crux of the challenge policymakers face: They need a system that works for people who are ill, but is attractive to those who are healthy and spend little on health care.
THE FIRST FAMILY:
-- “Jared Kushner has a singular and almost untouchable role in Trump’s White House,” by Ashley Parker and John Wagner: “In an administration riven by competing factions and led by a president who demands absolute loyalty, Kushner’s position — elevated and so far nearly untouchable — emanates from his familial relationship with [Trump]. Kushner’s portfolio has already grown to encompass slices of foreign policy (Mexico, the Middle East) and domestic issues (opioid addiction, veterans affairs), in addition to serving as the in-house mediator for the various feuding camps within the West Wing (the ideologues, the Wall Street guys). But Kushner’s outsize role has led to larger-than-life sniping and resentments, with rivals whispering that he has little depth and lacks the self-awareness to know what he doesn’t know. Simply put: Kushner’s role and relationship with the president — neither chief of staff nor regular political adviser — come with no precedents.”
Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, compares the Trump-Kushner dynamic to “a mob family operation”: “It’s as if Trump is the don and he only trusts his close family members. There’s no indication that experience in the real estate business prepares one for the tasks at hand. It’s the hubris of a businessman imagining he can run government just because he’s a businessman. I don’t know if Jared Kushner shares the hubris of his father-in-law, but he’s certainly willing to say, ‘Yes, sir.’”
-- The White House breached protocol Sunday by confirming reports of Kushner’s trip to Iraq before he was even on the ground, raising security concerns from the Pentagon. U.S. military officials typically provide information about trips made by senior officials under the condition that media not report them until the official already has landed in a country. (Ashley Parker and Dan Lamothe)
-- Kushner’s trip to Iraq does not appear to be yet another item on his absurdly long list of responsibilities – but rater part of a Pentagon effort to reach out to members of Trump’s inner circle. New York Magazine: “Administration officials said that after early disagreements with the president over personnel matters, both [Joint Chiefs Chairman] Joseph Dunford and Defense Secretary James Mattis have been devoting considerable time to building relationships with top White House officials. It appears the defense officials hope to ensure they’re heard, regardless of which faction happens to be on top in Trump’s White House. One of the national security officials said the idea is to make sure ‘everybody is seated at the table.’ Of course, giving Dunford the chance to bond with Kushner during a long plane ride wasn’t the trip’s only purpose. Dunford said he invited Kushner and Thomas Bossert, the White House homeland security adviser, to Iraq so they could hear ‘first-hand and unfiltered’ from military advisers about the battle against ISIS.”
-- "At Kushners' Flagship Building, Mounting Debt and a Foundered Deal," by the New York Times's Charles V. Bagli: "The Fifth Avenue skyscraper was supposed to be the Kushner Companies' flagship in the heart of Manhattan - a record-setting $1.8 billion souvenir proclaiming that the New Jersey developers Charles Kushner and his son Jared were playing in the big leagues. And while it has been a visible symbol of their status, it has also been a financial headache almost from the start. On Wednesday, the Kushners announced that talks had broken off with a Chinese financial conglomerate for a deal worth billions to redevelop the 41-story tower, at 666 Fifth Avenue, into a flashy 74-story ultraluxury skyscraper comprising a chic retail mall, a hotel and high-priced condominiums. The official announcement said the company remained 'in active, advanced negotiations' with a number of investors, whom it declined to name."
-- Ivanka and Jared are paying $15,000 a month to rent their home in D.C.’s Kalorama neighborhood. The rental agreement, filed with the city, is the first concrete information about the couple's deal with a Chilean billionaire who has business before the government and recently purchased the house for $5.5 million. (WSJ)
-- Trump donated his first three months of White House paychecks to the National Park Service. The $78,333 will be put towards the maintenance of historic battlefields, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said. (David Fahrenthold)
-- The "trust agreement" that Trump used to put his adult sons in charge of his companies allows him to withdraw money at any time without any public disclosure, illustrating the thin divide between the president and his private fortune. It's another reminder that the president has not actually divested from his wide-ranging holdings. (Drew Harwell and ProPublica)
PERSONNEL IS POLICY:
-- Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore is on the shortlist to be U.S. ambassador to Germany. (Anne Gearan and Abby Phillip)
-- An English-language newspaper in Saudi Arabia is discontinuing a column by Middle Eastern scholar Andrew Bowen after he requested that his pre-election columns criticizing Trump be taken down so that he could pass clearance for a potential job in the State Department. In an unapologetic post on its website, Arab News blasted Bowen’s request as “unprofessional journalistically, particularly given that there were no factual errors or libelous comments that require a redaction or correction.” (Samantha Schmidt)
-- The Trump administration has hired the former executive director of the Louisiana GOP, Jason Doré, even though his name surfaced on a list of accounts released in the hack of the Ashley Madison cheating web site in 2015. Doré began his new White House gig this week, where he will serve as assistant chief counsel for external affairs for the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy. He maintains that he registered so that he could conduct opposition research on Democrats and says it was a non-issue during his interviews. (Politico’s Daniel Lippman)
-- “Controversial Trump Aide Sebastian Gorka Backed Violent Anti-Semitic Militia," by The Forward’s Lili Bayer: "As a Hungarian political leader in 2007, [Trump's] chief counter-terrorism adviser, publicly supported a violent racist and anti-Semitic paramilitary militia that was later banned as a threat to minorities by multiple court rulings [and] later condemned by the European Court of Human Rights for attempting to promote an ‘essentially racist’ legal order. ... Asked directly on the TV interview program if he supports the move by Jobbik, a far-right anti-Semitic party, to establish the militia, Gorka, appearing as a leader of his own newly formed party, replies immediately, 'That is so.' The Guard, Gorka explains, is a response to 'a big societal need.'"
-- “SEC Pick Communicated With Thiel, Mercer, and Bannon Before Nomination,” by Bloomberg: “Jay Clayton, the deals lawyer nominated to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission, said he had ‘substantive’ communications with several wealthy backers of Trump before he was offered the job in January. Clayton spoke with venture capital billionaire Peter Thiel and political adviser Rebekah Mercer, both of whom were on Trump’s transition team. … Clayton also said he communicated with … Stephen Bannon … The Wall Street connections that Clayton cultivated as a Sullivan & Cromwell partner have led Democrats including [Elizabeth Warren] to question whether he’ll be a tough regulator. The SEC is responsible for crafting and enforcing regulations governing U.S. equity markets and the operations of hedge funds, traders and banks.”
MORE ON THE TRUMP TAKEOVER:
-- Ben Carson said that, despite the $6 billion cut Trump has proposed to HUD, “no one is going to be thrown out onto the street.” "This administration considers housing a significant part of infrastructure in our country. And as such, the infrastructure bill that’s being worked on has a significant inclusion of housing in it," Carson said at the National Low Income Housing Coalition conference in Washington. “No one is going to be thrown out on the street. What would that accomplish? That doesn’t make any sense and is certainly not going to happen while I’m around. We do have a responsibility." (Jose A. DelReal)
-- The Coast Guard’s top officer says his service gets “left behind” in Trump’s proposed budget. There are proposed spending increases for the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. “I’m delighted” that the other branches are being plused up, he said at a Navy League conference in Maryland. “But we’ve got nothing left!” (Dan Lamothe)
-- The White House has cut off funding to the U.N. Population Fund, accusing the agency of supporting population-control programs in China. Though the announcement focused on forced abortion – opposed by Democrats and Republicans alike – the move will have far-reaching implications and is seen as a nod to social conservatives. (AP)
-- The Trump administration issued a strong warning to U.S. companies as they begin applying for H-1B visas, cautioning that DOJ will “investigate and prosecute” any business that overlooks qualified American workers for jobs. The AP reports: “The message came on the opening day of applications for American employers seeking the visas, which are used mostly by technology companies to bring in programmers and other specialized workers from other countries. ‘U.S. workers should not be placed in a disfavored status, and the department is wholeheartedly committed to investigating and vigorously prosecuting these claims,’ said Tom Wheeler, acting head of the [DOJ’s Civil Rights Division]."
-- “She voted illegally. But was the punishment too harsh?” by Robert Samuels: “Rosa Ortega, 37, voted illegally and has become the national face of voter fraud, a crime that [Trump] and other Republicans believe is an epidemic endangering the integrity of American elections, even though no evidence supports the claim. Mexican born and Texas raised, Ortega voted in Dallas County after filling out a registration form saying she was a U.S. citizen … [believing] she could vote because she has a green card. ... After she was convicted on voter fraud charges, jurors were asked to deliver a punishment they believed was 'fair.' Before Ortega, this often resulted in minor penalties such as community service or probation – and the 38 illegal voting cases Texas resolved since 2005, only one defendant received more than three years in prison. But by February 2017, the notion of 'fair' had changed. Ortega was sentenced to eight years, and was told she would likely be deported to Mexico afterwards."
-- “In deep-blue Los Angeles, a fight for the future of Latino politics,” by David Weigel: “[Jimmy] Gomez, the Harvard-educated son of Mexican immigrants, is the front-runner in the first congressional race of the Trump era. It’s happening in a part of America where Republicans are becoming scarce. Gomez is not exactly on the vanguard of the new progressive resistance movement that is sweeping the country in protest of Trump. He’s been endorsed by a slew of elected officials — and the California Democratic Party itself. But his background — and liberal politics — has not turned off progressives. It’s the district’s very blueness that’s made it a proving ground for liberal politics. To win back the House in the 2018 midterms, the Democrats would have to flip districts in California, as well as the increasingly competitive states of Arizona and Texas, where the Latino and Asian populations are growing quickly. At the same time, the Trump victory has been driving Latino politics to the left — a movement that outside groups encourage. … ‘We are witnessing a wave of qualified Latinos who see it as their duty to run for office at all levels to defend their communities and fight back against Trump and this hostile administration,' said Latino Victory Project President Cristóbal Alex.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
The White House released the official portrait of the first lady:
A lot of Dems say "I told you so" on Neil Gorsuch:
My no on Gorsuch isn't payback for Garland, but any Republican lecturing us on obstructionism this week get the Gold Medal of Hypocrisy.— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) April 3, 2017
Let me get this straight: GOP says Gorsuch deserves a vote because he's qualified and was nominated by a president.— Christina Reynolds (@creynoldsnc) April 3, 2017
BUT MERRICK GARLAND.
McConnell will get the last laugh:
Jared's next mission?
We should get Jared Kushner to fix Metro— Igor Bobic (@igorbobic) April 3, 2017
An editor of Infowars.com got into a Twitter fight with immigrant rights activist Jose Antonio Vargas:
Scott Walker reminds us of the best presidential first pitch:
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) shows off the Cherry Blossom princesses:
View this post on Instagram
This is of a few of my fellow Cherry Blossom Princesses and me after our first official event, the lighting of the Japanese Stone Lantern. The Latern is located on the Tidal Basin among the cherry blossom trees – in fact, it is 50 feet from the first two cherry blossom tress planted in Washington, D.C. in 1912. The Japanese Stone Lantern was given as a gift to Washington in 1954 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of American’s first treaty with Japan and is lit only once a year during the Cherry Blossom Festival. - Olivia, 2017 ND Cherry Blossom Princess
The Nats are back, and they won Opening Day 4-2:
An "Impeach Trump" banner was unfurled by protesters at the end of the game:
Georgetown hoops is welcoming back an old star as its coach:
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- Los Angeles Times, “Washington may be shaking its head, but Devin Nunes is still a hometown hero,” by Cathleen Decker: “At home, Devin Nunes remains what he has always been, an auspiciously successful man who rose swiftly to unexpected heights, a man high school teachers point to when they tell kids in this often-overlooked place what is possible in this world. Outside the farming community southeast of Fresno that has sustained him and his family for generations, though, many see the 14-year Republican congressman very differently — as a national symbol of political bungling or worse. But the two perspectives on Nunes merge on one point that may explain what has brought him so much trouble. As his lifelong friend … Johnny Amaral put it: ‘Devin is a fiercely loyal person. He’s the kind of guy you want next to you in a fight.’ Some who have watched Nunes for years, though, suggest that the current public scrutiny has exposed a blind spot -- an excess of loyalty to Trump, on whose transition team he worked, and to the House GOP leadership that has advanced his career.”
-- New York Magazine, “Kirsten Gillibrand Is an Enthusiastic No,” by Rebecca Traister: “Appointed to fill Hillary Clinton’s seat in 2009, Gillibrand came to the Senate with a reputation as a moderate upstate hack, an unremarkable product of New York’s political machine. Yet one month into the Trump administration, Gillibrand had staked out the most defiant position among her colleagues, casting the most ‘no’ votes against his Cabinet nominees of any senator … earning admiration from progressives frustrated by other Democrats’ initial willingness to ‘work with’ Republicans. When Gillibrand spoke at the Battery Park rally against Trump’s Muslim travel ban in January, chants of ‘Kirsten 2020!’ rang out among the protesters. Gillibrand’s Cabinet votes lined up with her principles: ‘I look at each nominee,’ she told me. ‘If they suck, I vote against them. If they’re worthy, I vote for them.’ But her positioning was also savvy. One of her strengths, sometimes mistaken for a hollow willingness to shape-shift, is her nose for where her constituents, and the country, are headed.”
-- While the moment of rescue marks the end of most migrants’ debts to their smugglers, for Nigerian girls it is only the beginning. The New Yorker’s Ben Taub chronicles the desperate journey of human trafficking victims – mostly teenagers, some as young as 13 -- migrating to Europe. It is such a common practice in the area that a U.N. report estimates virtually every family in Benin City, Nigeria, has a member involved in trafficking: “As African migrants head toward the Mediterranean, they unwittingly follow the ancient caravan routes of the trans-Saharan slave trade. For eight hundred years, black slaves and concubines were transported through the same remote desert villages. Now … tens of thousands of human beings who set out voluntarily find themselves trafficked, traded between owners, and forced to work as laborers or prostitutes. The men who enter debt bondage come from all over Africa, but the overwhelming majority of females fit a strikingly narrow profile. … In Palermo’s underground brothels, trafficked Nigerians sleep with as many as fifteen clients a day; the more clients, the sooner they can purchase their freedom. When people spit on them, the women go to the bushes to retrieve hidden handbags, take out their hand mirrors, and, by the dim yellow glow of the street lamps on Via Crispi, fix their makeup … Then they get back to work.”
At the White House: Trump hosts a CEO town hall on the American business climate before traveling to the Washington Hilton, where he will make remarks at the 2017 North America’s Building Trades Unions National Legislative Conference. Later, Trump will hold meetings with Scott Pruitt, Steve Mnuchin, and Ben Carson. The President will then meet with Congressman Dana Rohrabacher and, later, Governor Ralph Torres of the Northern Mariana Islands. Pence will join Trump for the CEO town hall before participating in the Senate Republican Policy Luncheon.
HOT ON THE LEFT:
"Marvel executive says emphasis on diversity may have alienated readers,” from The Guardian: “Marvel’s vice president of sales has blamed declining comic-book sales on the studio’s efforts to increase diversity and female characters, saying that readers 'were turning their noses up' at diversity and ‘didn’t want female characters out there.’ Over recent years, Marvel has made efforts to include more diverse and more female characters, introducing new iterations of fan favourites including a female Thor; Riri Williams, a black teenager who took over the Iron Man storyline as Ironheart; Miles Morales, a biracial Spider-Man and Kamala Khan, a Muslim teenage girl who is the current Ms Marvel. ... ‘What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity,’ he said. 'They didn’t want female characters out there. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not.'"
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“Black Lives Matter Philly banned white people from attending its meetings," from the Daily Caller: “Black Lives Matter Philly banned white people from an upcoming event, claiming it is a ‘black only space.’ The April 15 meeting plans to discuss projects and initiatives for the upcoming year and act as a place for people to “meet, strategize and organize.” While children are invited to attend, white people are explicitly banned from the meeting, according to the Facebook event page. When people began questioning the ban on whites over Twitter, Black Lives Matter Philly stayed by their ban, explaining that their meetings are ‘black centered.’ Anyone who identifies as ‘African disapora’ is allowed to attend, the group explained over Twitter.”
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Trump warmly welcomed Egypt’s authoritarian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, to the White House for meetings. “We agree on so many things,” the president said. “I just want to let everybody know in case there was any doubt that we are very much behind President el-Sissi.” (David Nakamura)
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- Yet another “hyperactive” weather forecast keeping us on our toes, says the Capital Weather Gang: “Showers continue through the early rush hour but should just be widely scattered by mid-morning. Look for clearing skies by late morning and midday. Temperatures start the day in the low 60s (maybe some upper 50s), reach 70 with sunshine by noon and then gallop to the middle to upper 70s by 3 or 4 p.m.”
THE NATS ARE LOOKING GOOD:
-- It was Opening Day for the Nationals on Monday, which means Bryce Harper hit a home run. "It’s become sort of a D.C. baseball tradition, up there with presidents declining to throw out the first pitch," Jorge Castillo writes. "The 24-year-old right fielder has played in five Opening Day games at the major league level and has hit five home runs across four of them. He hit two in 2013, one in 2015 and another a year ago. The Nationals won two of those five, including Monday’s 4-2 decision. The sequence is unprecedented: Harper has the most Opening Day home runs before turning 25 in history. Gary Carter is second with four, followed by Mickey Mantle, Dean Palmer and Corey Patterson with three apiece."
-- Blake Treinen got his first save as the Nationals' new closer. (Chelsea Janes)
-- For at least one day, all the Nationals' pieces fell into place, Thomas Boswell writes in his column.
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Stephen Colbert spent 10 minutes on the Senate's fight over the filibuster:
Jimmy Kimmel joked about Kushner's trip to Iraq in his monologue:
John Oliver covered Jeff Sessions's promise to start enforcing federal marijuana laws again:
Colbert sang "Good Riddance" with Green Day:
And Jimmy Kimmel ordered food with a robot:
Trevor Noah did a segment on "black Twitter":
In 2004, Trump was invited to throw out the first pitch for the Somerset Patriots, a baseball team based in Bridgewater Township, N.J.:
If you missed it, Chris Wallace pressed EPA administrator Scott Pruitt hard on climate change and last week's executive orders during an interview on Fox News Sunday: