Barack Obama and Donald Trump arrive for the inauguration ceremony in January. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP/Pool)

With Breanne Deppisch

THE BIG IDEA: For Donald Trump, the buck stops … with Barack Obama.

As the Western world processed stomach-churning images of dead children, apparently murdered by chemical weapons, the president couldn’t help but take a potshot at his predecessor. “These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration’s weakness and irresolution,” Trump said in a statement yesterday afternoon. “President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a 'red line' against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing. The United States stands with our allies across the globe to condemn this intolerable attack.”

As he ripped Obama, Trump mentioned neither Russia nor Iran. Both countries are actively propping up Assad’s regime.

The president also offered no path forward, except to say that the savagery, which observers on the ground say killed at least 72 people, “cannot be ignored.” Asked how the United States will respond, Sean Spicer replied: “We’ll talk about that soon.”

This White House is stuck in permanent campaign mode. Several officials involved in internal administration discussions told the AP that the National Security Council had been preparing a different statement, until the president’s closest advisers took over the process.

This has been a pattern during Trump’s first 75 days in office. When it suits him, the president takes credit for his predecessor’s successes. More often, he points the finger. Trump’s unsubstantiated allegation that Obama “wiretapped” his office is the most memorable illustration, but there are many others. After the botched raid in Yemen that killed a Navy SEAL, for instance, the White House claimed that the operation was authorized by the Obama team.

-- Obama has repeatedly acknowledged that Syria was the biggest failure of his presidency, and he knows it will haunt his legacy. He notoriously said in August 2012 that Assad using chemical weapons would cross a “red line” that would change his “calculus” about whether to intervene. When the Butcher of Damascus did it anyway, using sarin to kill hundreds of innocents, Obama lacked the will to act unilaterally. So he punted to an even less courageous Congress. American credibility suffered. Assad’s barbaric war crimes continued.

-- The timing of Trump’s dig was curious, however. Just last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said publicly that removing Assad is no longer a U.S. priority — breaking with Western allies.

-- Even more incongruously, Trump vociferously opposed the very action he now attacks Obama for not taking. The billionaire posted an endless stream of tweets like these over several weeks in 2013, which make yesterday’s statement look quite hypocritical:

-- Trump has claimed repeatedly since taking office that he “inherited a mess.” As he put it during his 77-minute press conference in February: “I inherited a mess. It's a mess. At home and abroad, a mess. … The Middle East is a disaster. [Also] North Korea. We're going to take care of it all. I just want to let you know I inherited a mess."

-- After the GOP’s Obamacare replacement package fell apart in the House, Trump announced that he will let the health care system fall apart. He thinks this will force Democrats to come to the negotiating table. The president reasons that Obama will surely get blamed for any problems with something called Obamacare.

-- A new poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows why Trump’s strategy is flawed. The nonpartisan group conducts a respected monthly poll of public attitudes about health care. When asked which of two statements came closer to their view, 6 in 10 Americans endorsed the statement: “Trump and Republicans in Congress are now in control of the government and they are responsible for any problems with it moving forward.” Just over 3 in 10 chose the alternative statement: “President Obama and Democrats in Congress passed the law and they are responsible for any problems with it moving forward.”

For context, the poll found that more than 6 in 10 Americans say it’s a “good thing” the House GOP bill went down. But that group is split evenly between those who do not want to repeal the law and those who want to repeal and replace the law but had concerns about the specific legislation.

The country is also split close to down the middle about next steps: 45 percent want to keep working on a plan to repeal and replace the 2010 law, and 49 percent think Trump and congressional Republicans should stop working on health care and move on to other priorities.

Trump waves to his supporters last month as his motorcade passes through Bingham Island on the way to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla. (Michael Ares/Palm Beach Post via AP)

-- On the economy, the American people have a more nuanced view than the president. A Quinnipiac University poll published yesterday is full of bad news for Trump. His approval rating is 35 percent. He’s even underwater right now with whites and men. More than 6 in 10 registered voters nationally don’t think he’s honest, level-headed or shares their values. On the issues, the poll finds that 58 percent disapprove of how he’s handling foreign policy and a 48 percent plurality doesn’t think he’s handling the economy well. The survey found that 52 percent think the economy is in excellent or good shape, while 45 percent say it’s not so good or poor. Overall, 66 percent say Obama is more responsible than Trump for the current state of the economy.

When Obama left office in January, our Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 61 percent of Americans approved of his economic stewardship. That number was higher than at any point in his eight-year presidency, up from 50 percent in Jan. 2016 and 43 percent in Jan. 2014. So there is ample evidence that Americans were crediting him for the nation’s improving economy before Trump took office.

Quinnipiac asked a series of questions in another poll last month on whether Obama or Trump should be credited with certain economic statistics. By more than 2 to 1, voters said Obama deserves more credit than Trump for the fact the unemployment rate has stayed under 5 percent. But a smaller 48 percent plurality credited Obama for the 200,000 jobs added in February, while 41 percent said Trump deserves credit. And 55 percent said Trump, not Obama, deserves more credit for the stock market’s positive performance recently.

-- To be sure, Republicans often accused Obama of unfairly blaming George W. Bush late into his presidency. Because of the nature of the 2008 financial crisis, though, more voters always blamed Bush than Obama for the country’s economic ills — including during the 2016 election, according to Gallup surveys conducted from 2009 through 2016. In its poll last summer, Gallup found that 64 percent of Americans thought Bush deserved a "great deal" or a "moderate amount" of blame for “current economic problems.” Half, 50 percent, said Obama did.

A man carries the body of a dead child following a suspected chemical attack in Syria. (Reuters/Ammar Abdullah)

THE BIGGER PICTURE:

-- Foreign policy has dominated the opening chapters of the Trump administration to a degree the president clearly did not anticipate. If he’s got 99 problems, Syria is now certainly one.

-- Trump is learning that the panaceas he promised so often as a candidate do not actually exist. "No one — not even President Obama, as far as I could tell — was satisfied with the Obama administration’s approach to the conflict in Syria," Andrew Exum, who was an Obama appointee at the Pentagon, writes for the Atlantic. "But if you assembled all of the Obama administration’s critics in one room, they would not agree on an obvious alternative. The problem is wicked enough to confound easy solutions, and each policy alternative had strategic and moral deficiencies."

-- Russia is now trying to blame rebels for the attack, instead of Assad. From Louisa Loveluck: “A Russian military spokesman on Wednesday said that Syrian warplanes had been targeting rebel workshops used to produce crude chemical weapons on the eastern outskirts of Khan Sheikhoun when the deaths began. ‘The territory of this storage facility housed workshops to produce projectiles filled with toxic agents,’ Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, the spokesman for Russia’s Ministry of Defense, said in a recorded statement. His comments marked a rare admission that airstrikes had taken place in the area. Moscow typically denies involvement in such mass-casualty attacks, and has previously falsified video footage in an attempt to exonerate its war planes. … Russia also blamed the 2013 sarin attack on rebels it said were attempting to provoke international intervention.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) responded:

The U.N. Security Council will hold an emergency meeting today to discuss the attack, and international donors are gathered in Brussels to drum up billions in aid for Syria’s eventual reconstruction. U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres called the chemical attack a “moment of truth” and expressed hope it will galvanize action. “The horrific events of yesterday demonstrate that, unfortunately, war crimes are going on in Syria and that international humanitarian law [continues to be] violated frequently,” he said.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said “Assad believes he can commit war crimes with impunity,” and he challenged Trump to do something. The question now confronting Washington, he said, “is whether we will take any action to disabuse him of this murderous notion.”

-- How it's playing:

-- Three smart stories about Trump’s broader foreign policy popped overnight:

1. “Trump embraces the Sunni autocrats,” by the New Yorker’s Robin Wright: “The first tangible steps in Trump’s Middle East policy are taking shape … [with goals] to foster a bloc among often fractious Sunni leaders to counter the influence of Shiite Iran, take a larger role politically and physically in fighting extremism, and help navigate peace between Israel and the Palestinians. … Trump’s strategy could, however, rejuvenate the old authoritarian order of sclerotic autocrats and impervious monarchies in the Middle East. These days, a common lament among Sunnis themselves is that they lack a vision, an ideology, or a leader to guide them. … Bitter rivalries for regional influence run deep ... A broader danger is that the Trump strategy — designed at the National Security Council, with almost no input from the State Department — could backfire."

Tom Malinowski, who was Obama's assistant secretary of state for democracy and human Rights until January, expressed concern: "We have traditionally acted in the Middle East in defense of interests and principles. We’ve never explicitly aligned ourselves with a bloc defined in religious terms. It’s another thing to create the impression that we are aligning with Sunnis against Shiites — that we are effectively taking sides in a civilizational battle.”

2. “For Trump, a Focus on U.S. Interests and a Disdain for Moralizing,” by the New York Times’s Peter Baker: “Mr. Trump has dispensed with what he considers pointless moralizing and preachy naïveté. … ‘We would look like, to some degree, rather silly not acknowledging the political realities that exist in Syria,’ said spokesman Sean Spicer. … He has taken foreign policy to its most realpolitik moment in generations, playing down issues of human rights or democracy that animated his predecessors, including Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Obama. … His foreign policy seems defined more by a transactional nationalism, rooted in the sense that the United States is getting ripped off. Rather than spreading American values, Trump’s policy aims to guard American interests.”

“It struck me that it was very Chinese in orientation,” said Ian Bremmer, the founder and president of the Eurasia Group, a consultancy in Washington. “You take out all of the issues of American exceptionalism and values, you take out all the restraints and responsibilities of American alliances and architecture that are based on those values, and it creates a very different sense of foreign policy.”

3. Trump’s retrenchment on free trade, climate change and security alliances has created a leadership vacuum that is already working to Beijing’s advantage. David Nakamura previews tomorrow’s summit: “Since Trump’s unexpected victory in November, Chinese President Xi Jinping has moved to position his fast-developing nation as a defender of globalization, and he has accelerated Beijing’s challenge to U.S. primacy in Asia. This budding shift of power dynamics has alarmed U.S. allies and partners in the region and raised the stakes as Trump prepares to welcome Xi for a two-day summit starting Thursday at his Mar-a-Lago estate in South Florida. The two are expected to discuss a wide range of issues, including North Korea’s mounting nuclear threat and a lopsided trade imbalance in China’s favor, in what aides called a meeting aimed at establishing a working relationship. ... More broadly, however, the Trump administration has not developed or publicly enunciated a coherent policy to deal with China’s growing economic and military clout. And Trump, who called China a currency manipulator during his campaign, has delivered mixed messages on how far he is willing to go to confront Beijing.”

Welcome to the Daily 202, PowerPost's morning newsletter. 

Pollster Scott Clement contributed. Sign up to receive the newsletter.

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

Activists protest for transgender rights outside Greenwich Village's famous Stonewall Inn. (Kena Betan Cur/AFP/Getty Images)

-- The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit ruled last night that workers may not be fired for their sexual orientation, becoming the highest court in the country to find that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects gays from workplace discrimination. The Chicago-based appellate court found that instructor Kimberly Hively was improperly passed over for a full-time job at Ivy Tech Community College in South Bend, Ind., because she was a lesbian. “While the Civil Rights Act does not explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, it bars sex discrimination; the court concluded that the college engaged in sex discrimination by stereotyping Hively based on her gender,” Sandhya Somashekhar explains.

This sets up a landmark Supreme Court case because the 11th Circuit ruled the opposite just last month. The three Atlanta-based judges interpreted Title VII of the Civil Rights Act much more narrowly and found that sexual orientation is not a protected class under that law. That means that the high court will probably be forced to decide which appellate court is correct. Based on his rulings, there is no doubt that Neil Gorsuch would agree more with the Atlanta judges than the Chicago ones.

Why this is a big dang deal: In 28 states, there are no statewide laws that explicitly protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. And Trump is certainly not going to provide it. So it's up to the courts.

School board candidate Ed Yung unloads yard signs from the trunk of his car on Monday. (Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune via AP)

-- In a closely watched school board race at the center of the transgender rights debate, in the Chicago suburbs, a slate of conservative candidates who pledged to require students to use bathrooms and locker rooms aligned with their biological sex appear headed for defeat. From Moriah Balingit and Sandhya Somashekhar: “Elections are typically low-key for the Township High School District 211 Board of Education, but this year, the district drew national attention, highlighting the explosive debate over how schools should balance the needs of transgender students with the privacy of their peers. Under pressure from the U.S. Education Department, the board in December 2015 voted to allow a transgender girl to use the girls’ locker room, spurring protests and a lawsuit. Three challengers … hoped to win enough seats to reverse the practice of allowing transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms aligned with their gender identity. Two board members who voted to allow the transgender girl into the locker room … were comfortably ahead of the challengers with votes in one precinct not yet counted.” The district includes five high schools and nearly 11,900 students in the Palatine-Schaumburg area.

California State Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez canvasses in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles this weekend. He is the front-runner to replace Rep. Xavier Becerra in the House. (Dania Maxwell for the Washington Post)

-- All the Berniecrats lost last night in California. In the special election jungle primary to replace Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), who resigned to become the state’s attorney general, the assemblyman who was most closely tied to the Democratic establishment and a Korean American who used to be on the L.A. planning commission beat out the Bernie Sanders-aligned contenders. Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, who has Becerra’s endorsement, and Robert Lee Ahn, both Democrats, will now square off in a June 6 runoff.

  • A scattered field: “In one of the few districts in California that favored Sanders over Hillary Clinton in last year’s primary, three candidates ran as self-styled ‘Berniecrats,’ hoping to continue the Vermont senator’s ‘revolution’.… But all three were trailing … by thousands of votes,” the Los Angeles Times reports. “Sanders and Our Revolution, the political group he helped start, declined to endorse a candidate, leaving the trio to fight for votes on the left. An eleventh-hour controversy over allegations of sexism leveled at (Arturo Carmona) by former Sanders campaign staffers further split the field.”
  • Mobilizing the ethnic vote: “The 41-year-old Ahn, who would be the only Korean American in Congress if elected, spent major resources registering new voters in the Korean American community and turning them out at the polls," the L.A. Times notes. "Korean Americans cast more than 4,000 early ballots by mail, according to an analysis by the data firm Political Data."

-- THE WORLD IS ON FIRE: North Korea fired another ballistic missile Wednesday morning, in what appeared to be a test of a land-based version of a missile that can be fired from a submarine. Anna Fifield reports: “The launch comes shortly after Pyongyang said it planned to mark two key anniversaries this month as ‘big’ political events and a day before [Trump] meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping — with North Korea at the top of the agenda.” The missile appeared to fly a relatively short distance of 40 miles, prompting an emergency meeting from the South’s national security council. U.S. Pacific Command said the missile 'did not pose a threat to North America.' Satellite images taken over the past 10 days have shown a prolonged and heightened level of activity at Pyongyang’s underground testing site, sparking speculation about whether a sixth nuclear test was planned."

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. The lawman who toppled “Sheriff Joe” Arpaio last November has stopped making inmates wear pink underwear, and now he’s shuttering the notorious tent city in Phoenix. “This facility is not a crime deterrent, it is not cost efficient, and it is not tough on criminals,” Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone said in Phoenix. “Starting today, that circus ends and these tents come down.” Arpaio cultivated a reputation as “America’s toughest sheriff,” starting in 1993, by making inmates stay outside in the scorching summer sun, sleeping in surplus Korean War military tents. (Kate Mettler)

  2. At least 18 big-name advertisers have now pulled their commercials from “The O'Reilly Factor," a boycott that follows a New York Times story that five women received $13 million in settlements after accusing the show's host of harassment or inappropriate conduct. Among the companies that confirmed they were suspending or removing ads: the automakers Hyundai, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Mitsubishi Motors; financial firms T. Rowe Price and Allstate Insurance; drugmakers Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline; the online marketing company Constant Contact and men’s apparel seller Untuckit. (Paul Farhi)​​​​

  3. Baltimore’s police commissioner pledged to move forward on reform efforts that the city agreed to in a consent decree with the Obama Justice Department after Jeff Sessions signaled he won’t enforce it. (Lynh Bui and Peter Hermann)

  4. The president of the Richmond branch of the Federal Reserve, Jeffrey Lacker, abruptly resigned after acknowledging that he leaked confidential information to a financial analyst in 2012. (Ana Swanson)

  5. U.S. companies are poised to report their strongest quarterly earnings in years, with analysts predicting the highest period of growth since 2011. (Wall Street Journal)
  6. The philanthropy established by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar is giving $100 million to support investigate journalism, fight misinformation and counteract hate speech. Early recipients will include the D.C.-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the anti-Defamation League, and the Latin American Alliance for Civic Technology. (Margaret Sullivan)
  7. A newly-hired high school principal in Kansas resigned after a group of student journalists noticed discrepancies in her education credentials, prompting a weeks-long investigation that resulted in an article questioning the legitimacy of her degrees and work as an education consultant. (Samantha Schmidt)
  8. The NCAA said it has “reluctantly” ended its boycott of North Carolina after lawmakers repealed the state’s “bathroom bill.” But the replacement law has drawn criticism for stopping short of a full repeal, and NCAA officials warned that, “if we find that our expectations of a discrimination-free environment are not met, we will not hesitate to take necessary action at any time.” (Cindy Boren)
  9. A former Oklahoma football player has been accused of prostituting an ex-Sooners cheerleader. Both were nabbed in a sting at an OKC hotel. (Des Bieler)
  10. Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is leaving the NFL and will replace Phil Simms as the main color analyst on CBS. (Cindy Boren and Marissa Payne)
  11. Rory McIlroy would think twice about golfing again with Trump if he gets invited. At a pre-Masters press conference, the legend said he does not agree with the president on most policies, that they didn’t talk politics during their round together and that he mainly agreed to hang out with POTUS because he wanted to see the Secret Service in action. "Would I do it again? After the sort of backlash I received, I'd think twice about it," he said. (Golf Magazine)
  12. Divers are scouring Italy’s Lake Nemi for the 2,000 year-old remains of one of Emperor Caligula's “pleasure ships”  the third in a line of massive and ornate barges rumored to be the site of wild orgies and excessive indulgence. Caligula spent untold sums of money on similar projects during his time as emperor and had a number of bizarre personal habits — ranging from rolling around in literal piles of money to drinking precious pearls dissolved in vinegar. (Amy B Wang)

GOING NUCLEAR:

-- The Senate continued to careen toward a nuclear explosion, as Mitch McConnell filed for cloture. Sean Sullivan and Ed O’Keefe report: “There was no sign of compromise as the chamber formally opened debate on Judge Neil Gorsuch, who [the majority leader] predicted will be confirmed on Friday before senators leave town for the two-week Easter recess. In a speech on the Senate floor, McConnell faulted Democrats for ‘hurtling toward the abyss’ and ‘trying to take the Senate with them.’” Still, only four Democrats have defected.

-- Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley (D) held the Senate floor all night. He started speaking just before 7 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday evening. Over the next 12 hours, he portrayed Gorsuch as an extreme nominee, took aim at Trump and slammed Republicans for not moving ahead with Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland. “To proceed to fill this stolen seat will damage the court for decades to come,” he said this morning.

-- Of course, it must be said that these speeches make no practical difference at changing the outcome. From Amber Phillips: “Procedurally there's nothing he nor his colleagues can do to stop Gorsuch from getting a vote on Thursday to advance his nomination — and, ultimately, not much they can do stop him from getting on the court. To understand why, we first have to understand the most accepted definition of a traditional filibuster. The Senate has no limits on how long a senator can talk. And once a senator gets talking, they usually cannot be interrupted or cede the floor without their consent. So, if this were a traditional filibuster, it means as long as Merkley (and other senators who join him) talk, they can hold up the Senate procedure. Except there is one thing that can force a talking senator to yield the floor. And it's the one thing [McConnell] set in place Tuesday: A vote to end debate on Gorsuch.”

Neil Gorsuch is sworn in at his confirmation hearing last month. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

CHARGES OF PLAGIARISM:

-- Neil Gorsuch copied structure and language from several authors without citing source material in his 2006 book and other academic articles, Politico’s John Bresnahan and Burgess Everett report. Someone provided them evidence that several passages from the 10th chapter of the judge's book are lifted nearly verbatim from a 1984 article in the Indiana Law Journal.

Some independent experts on academic integrity told Politico there was impropriety: “‘Each of the individual incidents constitutes a violation of academic ethics. I've never seen a college plagiarism code that this would not be in violation of,’ said Rebecca Moore Howard, a Syracuse University professor who has written extensively on the issue. Elizabeth Berenguer, an associate professor of law at Campbell Law School, said that under legal or academic standards Gorsuch’s similarities to the Indiana Law Journal would be investigated ‘as a potential violation of our plagiarism policy. It’s similar enough to the original work.’”

The White House sent the reporters statements from more than a half-dozen scholars who have worked with the judge to say that this is not a big deal. Spokesman Steven Cheung called the revelations a “baseless, last-second smear” by those “desperate to justify the unprecedented filibuster of a well-qualified” nominee. It referred the authors to scholars who say the "standards for citing work in dissertations on legal philosophy is different than for other types of academia or journalism: While Gorsuch may have borrowed language or facts from others without attribution, they said, he did not misappropriate ideas or arguments."

The author of the lifted material isn't bothered: “Gorsuch, in his book, appears to duplicate sentences from an Indiana Law Journal article written by Abigail Lawlis Kuzma without attributing her,” Bres and Burgess write. “Instead, he uses the same sources that Kuzma used: A 1982 Indiana court ruling that was later sealed, a well-known pediatrics textbook, ‘Rudolph’s Pediatrics,’ and a 1983 article in the Bloomington Sunday Herald. … At one point, Gorsuch’s prose mimics Kuzma’s almost word for word in describing a child born with Down syndrome. … Kuzma, a one-time aide to former Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), did not respond to an inquiry from Politico, but released a statement through Gorsuch’s team. Kuzma said she does ‘not see an issue here, even though the language is similar.’ ‘These passages are factual, not analytical in nature,’ Kuzma, now a deputy attorney general in Indiana, said. ‘It would have been awkward and difficult for Judge Gorsuch to have used different language.’”

-- A fun thought exercise: How would Ted Cruz react if this same information emerged about Merrick Garland ahead of his confirmation vote?

-- Reality check: This will move no votes.

Carter Page, then an adviser to the Trump campaign, speaks in Moscow last summer. (Pavel Golovkin/AP)

THERE'S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- Former Trump adviser Carter Page made an appearance in a federal espionage case because he communicated several years ago with a Russian spy under surveillance by the FBI. Tom Hamburger and Alice Crites report: “In a statement released Tuesday, Page confirmed his role in the 2015 Justice Department spy case, adding another twist to the still-unfolding story of Trump’s peculiar and expanding ties to people connected to Russia. Page said he assisted U.S. prosecutors in their case against Evgeny Buryakov, an undercover Kremlin agent then posing as a bank executive in New York. Buryakov was convicted of espionage and released from federal prison last week … [and] agreed to be immediately deported to Russia….

“According to the 2015 complaint … Page met with a Russian agent, Victor Podobnyy, in January 2013 at an energy conference in New York. It says that from January to June of that year, Page as Male 1 ‘provided documents to [Podobnyy] about the energy business.’ At the time, the Russians were seeking information on U.S. sanctions and on energy development. Although Page communicated with the Russian agents in 2013, he said the information he provided was innocuous. In his statement, Page compared the revelation of his role to the politically-motivated unmasking standards seen in the Obama Administration which have recently been exposed.’ He said the information was released as ‘retribution for my public positions of dissent’ against Obama administration policy toward Russia.”

Michael Flynn sits in the Oval Office as Trump talks on the phone with Vladimir Putin. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

-- Trump's own transition team did not think Michael Flynn should be national security adviser, Dan Balz scoops in a deep dive on Trump's messy transition: Two days after the election, leaders of Trump’s transition team presented his inner circle with more than 100 names of candidates for key Cabinet and other senior positions in the new administration. Missing from the list for the post of national security adviser was Flynn. "Flynn was a loyalist who had a close relationship with Trump," Balz writes. "It was obvious to the transition team that Trump would give him a prominent appointment. But among some of those tasked with bringing forward prospective candidates, there was a belief that Flynn was ill-suited for the critically important job of coordinating national security policy in the new White House. (He was penciled in as a possible director of national intelligence, for which transition officials believed he was better suited.) Trump, however, had his own list of candidates, and Flynn was at the top.”

  • “It went off the rails almost immediately after the election,” said one knowledgeable person who spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer a candid assessment of the transition process.
  • Indeed, the Trump team has still not scaled up: The Partnership for Public Service, in collaboration with The Post, has been tracking 553 key administration positions that require Senate confirmation. To date, just 21 nominees have been confirmed, with 20 more formally nominated and an additional 25 awaiting nomination.
Dana Rohrabacher visits Moscow in 2013. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

-- Putin’s biggest GOP ally inside the House met with Trump at the White House last night. Politico’s Josh Dawsey, Isaac Arnsdorf and Tara Palmeri report: "Rep. Dana Rohrabacher woke up before dawn Saturday for a Fox News hit in which he gave a spirited defense of [Trump]. Minutes after the California Republican walked off the set, Trump was on the line, inviting him to come by the White House. The congressman's spokesman said Rohrabacher at first believed the call was a prank because it came from the White House switchboard, early on April 1. But it was the president, an avid TV watcher who often posts tweets or sets up meetings based on what he sees on-screen. Neither Rohrabacher’s office nor the White House would comment.… But the president’s decision to host a lawmaker known for defending [Putin] raised eyebrows in Washington at a time when Trump is fending off questions about his administration’s ties to Moscow.”

UNMASKING:

-- Susan Rice flatly denied that the Obama administration ever used the “unmasking” process for any improper or political purpose, saying in an MSNBC interview that it’s “not unusual” to request the identities of people caught on intelligence surveillance. "There were occasions when I would receive a report in which a U.S. person was referred to … and sometimes in that context in order to understand the importance of that report, and assess its significance, it was necessary to find out or request the information as to who that U.S. official was," the former national security adviser told Andrea Mitchell. Rice also denied revealing the identity of Michael Flynn, who resigned after his communications with Russian officials were reported. "I leaked nothing to nobody and never have and never will," Rice said, stressing the point that unmasking does not mean making the information public. The reports are still highly classified and viewable by a very select group of people with top secret clearance. “The notion that, which some people are trying to suggest, that asking for the identity of an American person is the same as leaking it, is completely false. There's no equivalence between so-called unmasking and leaking.”

-- Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) did not rule out interviewing Rice about the unmasking. "If the reports are right, she will be of interest to us," he told Karoun Demirjian. Other Republican lawmakers also urged more investigation: “When it comes to Susan Rice, you need to verify, not trust,” Lindsey Graham in a Fox News interview. John McCain also said that the Rice situation “obviously … needs to be investigated,” though he warned against drawing premature conclusions. The Arizona senator also said the names of other officials would pop up before the end of the investigation: “I promise you there will be many more,” he said. Tom Cotton called Rice "the Typhoid Mary of the Obama administration."

-- Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, called the attention focused on Rice a diversionary tactic. From Karen DeYoung's story with Karoun: He has also called on the Intelligence Committee’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R), a Trump transition official and fellow Californian, to recuse himself from the investigation. The White House, Schiff said, has a “strong desire . . . that we lose our focus, that we not pursue the investigation of Russia, particularly as it might impact the Trump campaign.” At the same time, Schiff told CNN, Rice has long been a target of what he called the “Breitbart crowd . . . the hard right” since the September 2012 attacks on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi.

Mike Pence departs the Capitol after a meeting of House Republicans yesterday. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)

THE OBAMACARE REPEAL EFFORT IS BACK ON LIFE SUPPORT:

-- Republican lawmakers led by Mike Pence are pushing to revive the health care replacement effort, meeting late into the night with party members eager to build new GOP consensus on a proposal. Mike DeBonis and Paul Kane report: “Pence spent much of Tuesday on Capitol Hill meeting with key groups of lawmakers, as well as with [Paul Ryan], a day after visiting separately with conservative hard-liners and moderates to gauge the potential for a revamped version of legislation that collapsed last month. The crux of the new proposal would be to allow states to seek exemptions from certain mandates established under the Affordable Care Act — including a requirement that insurers cover 10 ‘essential health benefits’ as well as a prohibition on charging those with preexisting medical conditions more than the healthy."

While the largely behind-the-scenes effort generated optimistic talk, no clear path has emerged toward House passage of the Republican bill: Last night, key players said they were still waiting to see new proposals in writing, and some lawmakers said they were wary of rushing the process: “There is a value sometimes to the vetting process,” said House Freedom Caucus leader Mark Sanford. “That having been said, we’ll see what comes our way.”

-- “Trump administration officials and arch conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus have gotten off to a rocky start, driven at least in part by their mutual tendency to hear what they want to hear from the other side,” Paul Kane explains in a smart analysis. “The latest negotiation is centered on allowing individual states to apply for waivers from mandates such as ‘essential health benefits’ … This is a modified version of a key issue from the standoff two weeks ago, when the conservatives pushed for and won inclusion of a provision to eliminate the essential benefit coverage. This effort is trying to thread the needle between conservatives who want to see lower premiums in the insurance markets, which they think would result once coverage mandates are lifted, and mainstream Republicans who balk at the idea of denying coverage for critical areas such as pregnancies. Everyone says they’re open to finding common ground between the conservative and moderate [House GOP flanks]. ... The question is whether all sides are hearing one another’s concerns or, as they did in previous talks, are interpreting the discussions as evidence of a shift in their direction.”

IMMIGRATION CRACKDOWN:

-- A Department of Homeland Security spokesman said yesterday that immigration agents may arrest crime victims and witnesses at courthouses, heightening growing tensions between the Trump administration and some state court officials, who say the threat could silence immigrants from reporting or providing evidence of crime. Devlin Barrett reports: “Just because they’re a victim in a certain case does not mean there’s not something in their background that could cause them to be a removable alien,’’ DHS flack David Lapan told reporters, making clear the courthouse arrests are not limited to people who would otherwise be apprehended in a jail or prison. “Just because they’re a witness doesn’t mean they might not pose a security threat for other reasons.’’ His remarks come after California Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye sent a letter to Trump officials decrying the practice, saying courthouses “serve as a vital forum for ensuring access to justice and protecting public safety.” Courthouses “should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country’s immigration laws,” she added. 

-- Temporary reprieve: “‘A wonderful day’: A veteran’s undocumented wife won’t be deported by ICE,” by Theresa Vargas: “For months, Veronica Castro had dreaded Tuesday, when she was scheduled to check in with immigration officials. The undocumented immigrant didn’t know whether she would be detained and deported to Mexico or allowed to return home with her husband, a disabled veteran, and their four children, all U.S. citizens who live in Lothian, Md. [But on Thursday], their fears were allayed in less than 30 minutes. Immigration officials gave Castro another year before she would have to check in again. ’Im happy,’ she said in Spanish, [greeting a cheering crowd gathered outside]. In the months leading up to Tuesday’s appointment, she and Pineda appealed to politicians and clergy members for help. They feared that despite Pineda’s service and their children’s medical needs, Castro would be swept up in Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration. In Arizona, a mother of two U.S.-born children, checked in on Feb. 8, as she had done for eight years. The next day she was deported to Mexico. 'My husband wouldn’t be able to take care of my children without my help,' Castro said. 'If I’m deported, my family will be destroyed.'"

-- The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors declared itself a “welcoming and accepting place” for immigrants last night, carefully steering clear of the word “sanctuary,” which Trump and Sessions have warned could lead to the withholding of federal funds. Despite pleas from activists, the board also declined to declare itself opposed to a Muslim registry. It’s the latest example of a jurisdiction trying to strike a delicate balance between “reassuring immigrants fearful of stepped-up deportation efforts and avoiding sanctions from a White House that has said an immigration crackdown is critical to maintaining public safety,” Antonio Olivo explains.

-- A new bipartisan bill would prevent Americans’ electronic devices from being searched at the border without a warrant. The bill was introduced yesterday by Ron Wyden (D) and Rand Paul (R) in the Senate, while Reps. Jared Polis (D) and Blake Farenthold (R) sponsored it in the House. (CNN)

-- Jared Kushner met confidentially with Muslim leaders before the inauguration for a “candid” discussion about what kind of relationship the new president might forge in office with American Muslims, striking a friendly tone as he solicited ideas for how to improve the administration’s relationship with Muslims and asked them to recommend people to serve in the Trump administration. (Buzzfeed)

TRUMP'S WISHLIST:

-- Trump signed another bill rolling back Obama-era worker safety rules that aimed at tracking and reducing workplace injuries, illnesses, and deaths. The vote comes less than a month after Obama repealed The Fair and Safe Workplace Act, requiring businesses competing for large federal contracts to disclose and correct serious safety and other labor law violations. (Kimberly Kindy)

-- Just hours after two Trump administration officials said the president's team was exploring a carbon tax and a value-added tax (VAT) to raise revenue, the White House disavowed both options and said they are no longer under consideration. Damian Paletta and Max Ehrenfreund report: “The rapid reversal illustrates a Trump administration still in the initial stages of a plan to rework the tax code, particularly as it looks to build support while also sticking close to conservative ideas.” White House officials also signaled they will be much more involved in proposing and negotiating elements of the plan then they were during plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. 

-- Trump reiterated his pledge to spur $1 trillion in new infrastructure spending — or perhaps more — as he hosted a friendly audience of New York-area CEOs at the White House. "We have to build roads. We have to build highways," the president said. "We’re talking about a very major infrastructure bill of a trillion dollars, perhaps even more." The president's still-evolving infrastructure initiative has been overshadowed in recent weeks, but his advisers insist he remains committed to getting it done, John Wagner reports:

  • Chief economic adviser Gary Cohn said officials are working with “the broadest interpretation of infrastructure” and made clear that he expects many projects to be financed through public-private partnerships — or just private investments, in some cases.
  • Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said one challenge is that most federal infrastructure spending funnels to states and localities – thus complicating plans for a major spending infusion.
  • Ivanka Trump said workforce development and vocational education will be part of the effort.

-- Trump received a cool reception at the annual legislative conference of the building trade unions yesterday after he launched into an oft-repeated tirade his election victory. Abby Phillip reports: “The electoral college is very, very tough,” Trump told them, noting that he had won Wisconsin and Michigan, two states he “didn’t even need.” “They say almost impossible for a Republican to win.” The crowd began shifting in discomfort. “I had the support, of I would say, of almost everybody in this room,” Trump said. “I had tremendous support of the workers.” “Nope,” a few voices called out. Others followed with “boos” and chuckles. Meanwhile, a group of conference attendees stood bearing signs with the “#RESIST” printed on them, earning a quick escort from the room.

-- “Trump Team Takes Steps to Keep Chinese Away From Westinghouse,” from Bloomberg’s Jennifer Jacobs, Saleha Mohsin, and Jennifer A. Dlouhy: “The Trump administration is so alarmed that Chinese investors may try to purchase Westinghouse Electric Co.’s nuclear business that U.S. officials are trying to find an American or allied buyer for the company instead ... Cabinet members including Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have discussed preventing Westinghouse’s purchase by a Chinese-linked company ... The administration is preparing for Westinghouse to come up during [Trump’s] first meeting with [Xi]. …  For years, Chinese entities have been interested in the nuclear reactor builder, and the company has been a repeated target of Chinese espionage. Westinghouse filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on March 29 and its parent company Toshiba Corp. is seeking a buyer for its money-losing reactor business. Trump administration officials and members of Congress are concerned the bankruptcy filing could allow a bid from an investment group with hidden Chinese backing.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Jeff Merkley pulled an all-nighter:

House members are using the debate over Gorsuch as a campaign issue:

Strange bedfellows -- Republicans found themselves retweeting Cher:

GOP consultant Ana Navarro weighs in on the Bill O'Reilly scandal:

O'Reilly and Don Lemon got into the act:

Is this part of Trump's pledge not to tip his hand to the enemy?

From a former Obama national security aide:

White House adviser Sebastian Gorka posted this:

@WMATA:

This picture of Devin Nunes from his 1991 yearbook went viral:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- Ivanka Trump's chic neighbor Dianne Bruce became an overnight internet sensation after a picture of her watching protesters while sipping wine and donning a fur coat went viral. In an interview with Cosmo, she says she’s “a little confused” why the internet loves her. Rebecca Nelson: “This wonderful car came in and there were two dancers on top,” Bruce said of the event. “The most athletic, wonderful dancers I've ever seen. We were enjoying that thoroughly. And another neighbor came out with a bottle of wine, some glasses, so we all sat there and enjoyed watching the party.”

  • How did you find out that you went viral? “The next day, a friend of mine called and said, ‘Oh, you're not gonna believe it, but you're in the Daily Mail!’ It's so weird, because I don't even quite understand what the word 'go viral' means. Because I don't do tweet. I don't do Facebook. I don't do any of that. I don't really understand it all. It's just one very simple picture."
  • Has too much been made of it? “Yeah ... I really would like somebody to explain it to me, in a way. When someone says ‘go viral’ — does everybody now hate me and they're gonna blow up my house?”
  • No! ‘Go viral," as in, like, it's made its way across the internet. Like, a lot of people have seen it. I think you're safe!: “[Laughs.] I'm not particularly crazy about the Trump administration. But they are people, and I in my own way can protest things. I mean, I went to the first march in my life when I went to the Women's March in Washington. And [I] was most impressed with all that. So I thought, well, protest is good, as long as it doesn't get ugly. And this definitely was not ugly. It was basically a party.”

-- The New Yorker, “Death of a Dystopian,” by Alec Wilkinson: “Alt-right conspiracy theorists think that the government killed the aspiring Libertarian filmmaker David Crowley. The truth is far stranger.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Legislator Calls Out Her ‘White Male’ Colleagues For Skipping Speeches By Women Of Color,” from HuffPost: “On Monday, Minnesota state Rep. Ilhan Omar (D) spoke out against a public safety bill, arguing that its increase in penalties for protesters who block major roads would weaken civil rights and could have blocked historic demonstrations throughout history. Melissa Hortman (D), the minority leader in the state House, was disappointed that more of her colleagues weren’t in the chamber to hear this speech and others that had been delivered by women opposed to the bill. So she moved to make them come back. ‘I hate to break up the 100 percent white male card game in the retiring room, but I think this is an important debate,’ she said. That comment deeply offended some of the white men in the chamber. [Still], Hortman refused to apologize[:] “I have no intention of apologizing,” she said, adding that she is so tired of watching her colleagues give amazing speeches, and then “looking around, to see, where are my colleagues?” “And I went in the retiring room, and I saw where a bunch of my colleagues were,” she added. “And I’m really tired of watching women of color, in particular, being ignored. So, I’m not sorry.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Swedish soccer hooligans wear Muslim niqabs to get around newly imposed mask ban,” from Marissa Payne: “Swedish government officials thought they had the perfect solution to curtail violent behavior by masked soccer fans — ban their face coverings. The new law, passed in January and enacted in March, was supposed to prevent extremist fans from ‘disguising all or part of their face so as to make it more difficult to be identified,’ according to the bill’s language … To make sure the bill didn’t infringe on anyone’s religious rights, however, the law offers an exemption for ‘people who cover their face for religious reasons.’: Well, it appears soccer is now a religion in Sweden. On Sunday, during the Stockholm club AIK’s season opener against BK Häcken, several dozen of AIK’s most boisterous fans — known as ‘ultras’ — traded their masks for niqabs, the traditionally Muslim face covering that obscures the entire face except the eyes. To really rub it in, AIK’s extremists also unfurled two gigantic banners with a message for Interior Secretary Anders Ygeman, who spearheaded the legislation.” “Freedom for ultras is the ultimate goal,” the banner read. “Thanks, Ygeman, for the loophole.”

 

DAYBOOK:

At the White House: Donald and Melania will welcome King Abdullah II and Queen Rania of Jordan to the White House. In the afternoon, Trump will meet with Abdullah before being joined by Pence for an expanded bilateral meeting. Later, the two will hold a press conference and working luncheon.

Pence will participate in a media interview with Fox News’ Martha MacCallum before joining Trump to participate in his meetings with Jordan’s king. Later, Pence will host a reception for Gold Star wives.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

Ivanka Trump criticized an "SNL" skit that portrayed her selling a perfume called "Complicit." A narrator called it "the fragrance for the woman who could stop all this, but won’t." On CBS News, the first daughter said: “If being complicit is wanting to be a force for good and to make a positive impact, then I’m complicit. ... I don’t know what it means to be complicit.

 

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

-- Another beautiful day of spring weather ahead, the Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Mostly sunny skies through the morning and midday turn increasingly cloudy by midafternoon. But the rain holds off, and highs reach the delightful upper 60s to low 70s. Winds are light and variable in direction.”

-- The Capitals beat the Maple Leaves 4-1.

-- The Wizards beat the Hornets 118-111.

-- Bernie Sanders endorsed Tom Perriello in the Democratic primary for Virginia governor, throwing his weight behind the former congressman competing against Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who is backed by the Richmond establishment and Gov. Terry McAuliffe. (Fenit Nirappil)

-- Ed Gillespie announced that he wants to see abortion “banned," suggesting a shift from his previously-stated stance of opposition except in cases of rape, incest, and when the mother’s life is at risk. Spokesmen for the Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate insisted after the forum that his position had not changed and that he still backs those three exceptions. (Laura Vozzella)

-- A Maryland lawmaker who was raped repeatedly in childhood by his adoptive father made it his mission to ensure child victims have more time to sue abusers giving painful testimony before his colleagues as he vowed to sponsor the bill until it passed. On its third try Tuesday, it did. “I never wanted to share my personal business … but I did it because I thought it would help people,” Del. C.T. Wilson said. “I wanted the victims of sexual abuse to know they are not alone and that we care about them.” (Ovetta Wiggins and Josh Hicks)

-- A sign of the times: The Montgomery County Council voted unanimously to place security checkpoints at two entrances to its Rockville office building. "With no discussion, the council voted 9 to 0 to spend $300,000 for contract security guards, walk-through metal scanners and other equipment. The annual cost is estimated to be $664,000," Bill Turque reports.

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Jimmy Kimmel talks about how the rides at Universal Studios have gotten political:

Seth Meyers talks about The Americans:

Stephen Colbert says Sean Spicer is shrinking:

And he points to Scooby Doo's explanation of the Susan Rice "unmasking" charges:

Watch drone footage capture Mt. Edna's lava flow:

See Sean Spicer take the next question at his press briefing pretty quickly:

See what all the fuss is about in Kendall Jenner's new Pepsi ad:

Wow: an Ethiopian maid is falling from a 7th story window, and her boss filmed it.

Ahead of Passover, there's a Matzoh Mobile making the rounds: