Democratic candidate James Thompson, with his wife Lisa and daughter Liberty, concedes last night at the Murdock Theatre in Wichita, Kansas. He came up short in his bid to beat Republican state Treasurer Ron Estes in a special election to replace CIA director Mike Pompeo. (Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle via AP)

With Breanne Deppisch

THE BIG IDEA: Donald Trump carried Kansas’s fourth congressional district by 27 points last fall. In yesterday’s special election to replace Mike Pompeo, who stepped down to become CIA director, state treasurer Ron Estes prevailed by just 7 points.

The unexpectedly strong performance of a Bernie Sanders supporter, who had never before run for office, in a Wichita-area district, which is home to Koch Industries, has set off alarm bells in some Republican quarters about next year’s midterm elections. It has also raised the stakes for another special election next week in Georgia.

Without the last-minute intervention of Trump himself and a big infusion of cash from the national party apparatus, Democrats might have taken the seat for the first time since Dan Glickman got swept out by the 1994 wave. 

Here are 12 takeaways from last night:

1. Fewer districts can be considered truly safe. There are only 75 congressional districts that are more reliably Republican than the Kansas Fourth, based on the Cook political index. The GOP retains a 23-seat advantage in the House. As the CEO of TargetSmart, a big political data firm, notes:

From the publisher of Political Wire:

2. The close call could make it harder for the GOP to recruit the best candidates in 2018 and easier for Democrats. It could also prod some Republican lawmakers who are on the fence about running for reelection toward retirement. Illustrating that, as he conceded defeat, Democratic candidate James Thompson announced that he will try again next year.

3. If Republicans think the Kansas swing portends a bigger 2018 backlash, some may change their behavior. When a congressman thinks he’ll easily win reelection in a cakewalk, he is more inclined to take tough votes and walk down whatever plank his leadership wants. If that member feels suddenly that he has a target on his back, depending on the composition of the district, he might be more inclined to break with Trump or Speaker Paul Ryan. If he starts to worry more about losing in a general election than a primary, he might be willing to vote with Democrats on some stuff, like funding the government, and shy away from supporting bills that become fodder for attack ads, like cutting Medicaid.

4. Last night will strengthen the conviction of Democratic leaders that they should not bail out their GOP counterparts. There are a bunch of rank-and-file Democrats who want to cooperate with Republicans, but leadership and the liberal base think the best strategy is to stay out of the way and let Republicans cannibalize themselves. The Kansas results will inspire Nancy Pelosi to drive a harder bargain in negotiations with Ryan when the Freedom Caucus won’t come along. It is, after all, in the interests of the Democratic caucus to make Republicans look incapable of governing.

Sam Brownback speaks to the Kansas legislature in Topeka. (Orlin Wagner/AP)

5. Sam Brownback, the toxically-unpopular governor, had a lot to do with the tightness of the race. “In Topeka, the state capital, Estes became associated with a Republican governing team that has presided over a weak economic recovery and a series of budget deficits,” David Weigel reports. “Democrats — and increasingly, voters — came to blame Brownback’s supply-side tax cuts, which ate into the state’s revenue. In 2016, as Republicans won across the country, the party lost ground in Kansas. Democrats gained 12 seats in the state House and one seat in the state Senate, after moderate anti-Brownback Republicans defeated conservatives in a series of primaries.” But Democrats and Republicans alike note that Brownback has been unpopular for a while, and it has not registered in any federal races until now. So there is certainly more to it than just him.

6. Estes’s under-performance does suggest that Republicans will struggle to keep control of the governor’s mansion in 2018. Brownback’s approval rating has been mired in the mid-20s statewide. “If Kansas Republicans thought that running away from Brownback in a federal race was hard, they can’t be looking forward to the race to succeed the deeply unpopular governor,” said DGA communications director Jared Leopold. “Kansas voters are fed up with Brownback economics and will reject the next Brownback clone that Republicans nominate.” 

7. Trump might actually have pulled Estes across the finish line. The president recorded a robocall to push his supporters to the polls and tweeted about the contest yesterday:

The Democratic candidate even cited Trump last night as a factor in his loss. “I probably shouldn’t say this, but Mr. Estes did not beat us,” Thompson said. “It took a president of the United States.”

8. Rural voters saved Republicans once again. Thompson narrowly carried Sedgwick County, which includes Wichita and is the most populous part of the district. Trump had won there by 18 points. But Estes held on because he ran up huge margins in smaller outlying counties.

Ron Estes thanks Ted Cruz for flying to Wichita to help him on Monday. (Fernando Salazar/The Wichita Eagle via AP)

9. The late intervention by national Republicans made a big difference. An internal GOP poll last week showed Estes up just 1 point, which prompted a massive influx of outside money. The National Republican Congressional Committee spent $92,000 on brutal attack ads that claimed the Democrat supported late-term abortion and sex-selective abortion, something he denied. The Congressional Leadership Fund, Ryan’s aligned super PAC, dropped a bunch of money and organized GOTV efforts.

Thompson gets a hug from a supporter at his watch party last night. (Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle via AP)

10. National Democrats will face more pressure than ever from the left flank to spend money in red districts, even if there’s no realistic path to victory. Even as Republicans poured money in, national Democrats largely steered clear. The chair of the DNC said last week that his group wasn’t planning to spend. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said it didn’t want to nationalize the race and didn’t do anything more than some late phone banking.

The House Democratic campaign arm finally reached out last week to Thompson, but only to inquire whether he had any internal polling to share, according to the New York Times. The Thompson campaign never paid for a poll.

A lot of liberals are attacking the Democratic party apparatus for not helping Thompson, arguing that he might have been able to win if they had even just matched GOP spending. A political reporter for The Guardian laughed about the intense finger-pointing:

11. There will also be more pressure on the establishment from the Bernie Wing to get behind unapologetically progressive populists, rather than the moderate candidates who have historically been able to actually compete in places like Kansas.

12. Democrats always had a better shot at picking off the open seat in Georgia than in Kansas. In the Atlanta suburbs, there was a huge drop-off from Mitt Romney in 2012 to Trump in 2016. That didn’t happen in Pompeo’s district. (I wrote about this dynamic in February.) Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff is currently leading in the April 18 contest to replace Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price against a crowded field of Republicans. He is still likely to face a two-way runoff. Both parties have heavily engaged with the race.

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- The FBI obtained a FISA warrant last summer to monitor the communications of former Trump adviser Carter Page, as part an investigation into possible links between Russia and the Trump campaign. Ellen Nakashima, Devlin Barrett and Adam Entous scoop: “The FBI and the Justice Department obtained the warrant … after convincing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge that there was probable cause to believe Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power. … This is the clearest evidence so far that the FBI had reason to believe during the 2016 presidential campaign that a Trump campaign adviser was in touch with Russian agents. The government’s application … included a lengthy declaration that laid out investigators’ basis for believing that Page was an agent of the Russian government and knowingly engaged in clandestine intelligence activities on behalf of Moscow, officials said. Among other things, the application cited contacts that he had with a Russian intelligence operative in New York City in 2013 … In addition, the application said Page had other contacts with Russian operatives that have not been publicly disclosed.”

Since the 90-day warrant was first issued, it has been renewed more than once by the FISA court. “The judges who rule on FISA requests oversee the nation’s most sensitive national security cases, and their warrants are some of the most closely guarded secrets in the world of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence gathering,” our colleagues write. “Any FISA application has to be approved at the highest levels of the Justice Department and the FBI.” FBI Director James Comey has said FISA applications are often “thicker than his wrists” – representing the magnitude of work required by Justice Department attorneys and FBI agents in order to convince a judge that such surveillance is appropriate. Page has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

-- Republican and Democratic lawmakers and aides who have reviewed the classified intelligence reports brought to light by Devin Nunes tell CNN that they have found “no evidence” so far that Obama administration officials did anything unusual or illegal. This undercuts Trump’s claims that former national security adviser Susan Rice broke the law with her unmasking requests, which Trump calls a “massive” story. “Over the last week, several members and staff of the House and Senate intelligence committees have reviewed intelligence reports related to those requests at NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland,” CNN reports. “One congressional intelligence source described the requests made by Rice as ‘normal and appropriate’ for officials who serve in that role to the president. And another source said there's ‘absolutely’ no smoking gun in the reports, urging the White House to declassify them to make clear there was nothing alarming in the documents.

-- “Records match some Ukraine ledger payments to ex-Trump aide," by the Associated Press: "Last August, a handwritten ledger surfaced in Ukraine with dollar amounts and dates next to the name of Paul Manafort, who was then [Trump's] campaign chairman. Ukrainian investigators called it evidence of off-the-books payments from a pro-Russian political party — and part of a larger pattern of corruption under the country’s former president. Now, [newly obtained] financial records … confirm that at least $1.2 million in payments listed in the ledger next to Manafort's name were actually received by his consulting firm in the United States. They include payments in 2007 and 2009, providing the first evidence that Manafort's firm received at least some money listed in the so-called Black Ledger.”

-- White House press secretary Sean Spicer apologized again this morning at the Newseum for claiming during his briefing that Adolph Hitler did not use chemical weapons during World War II, calling it an "inexcusable and reprehensible" mistake. In criticizing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s alleged use of sarin gas Tuesday afternoon, Spicer said that even Hitler did not sink to that level of warfare and “was not using the gas on his own people in the same way that Assad is doing,” despite Hitler’s use of gas chambers to kill millions of Jews and others. Following hours of controversy, and a written statement trying to clean up what he’d said at the briefing, Spicer went on Wolf Blitzer's TV show to apologize. He also reportedly called the office of Sheldon Adelson, a major Jewish GOP donor, to apologize personally.

“President Trump and his aides rarely apologize for controversial remarks or stating factual errors and often take a confrontational approach when challenged,” Jenna Johnson and Ashley Parker note. “Spicer’s decision to appear on CNN late in the day was a sign of just how badly his remarks were being received both inside and outside the White House.”

Steve Bannon walks behind Trump at the White House. (EPA/Jim Lo Scalzo)

-- Is this the beginning of the end for Stephen K. Bannon? The president appeared to place his chief strategist at an arm’s length in an interview with the New York Post’s Michael Goodwin yesterday. He complained that the ex-Breitbart CEO’s role in his administration and campaign has been overstated. “I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late,” Trump said. “I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn’t know Steve. I’m my own strategist and it wasn’t like I was going to change strategies because I was facing crooked Hillary.” Referring to the feud between Bannon and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, Trump added: “Steve is a good guy, but I told them to straighten it out or I will.”

Astute Trump observer Maggie Haberman reads between the lines:

-- Fox News host Bill O’Reilly told viewers last night that he is taking a “vacation” from his show until April 24 to go on a trip which he says was booked last fall. Dozens of companies have yanked advertisements, slicing ad time for the show by more than half. An internal investigation into sexual harassment allegations is being conducted by outside counsel. Two highly-placed Fox sources told New York Magazine's Gabriel Sherman that 21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch would like O'Reilly to be permanently taken off the air, while his father Rupert and older brother Lachlan are more inclined to keep him. (Samantha Schmidt)

GET SMART FAST:

  1. ATF agents used a secret bank account to rent a $21,000 NASCAR suite, travel to Vegas, and donate to the school of one of the agent’s children, the New York Times reports. The incident highlighs the agency’s lax oversight that allowed employees and informants to spend millions while avoiding normal accounting protocols.
  2. The U.S. Postal Service agreed to pay $49 million to settle a class action lawsuit after “dawdling” for more than two decades in paying more than 2,000 life insurance beneficiaries (Joe Davidson)
  3. The USDA has halted the use of cyanide traps in Idaho after one exploded last month, harming a 14-year-old boy and killing his Labrador retriever. The agency announced that it has “ceased all use of” the devices. (Karin Brulliard)
  4. Navy SEALS are battling a “staggering” drug problem that has corroded their elite ranks and even forced a temporary training pause last December, CBS News reports. Three current and former SEALs said “multiple” team members have tested positive for illegal drugs including cocaine, marijuana and ecstasy. Apparently, the problem had been ignored by Navy leadership for years.
  5. Former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad unexpectedly filed to run (again) in the upcoming election. This contradicts a recommendation from the supreme leader that he should stay out of the race – and could upend an election many believed would be won by moderate President Hassan Rouhani. (AP)
  6. Rolling Stone reached a settlement with former U-Va. associate dean Nicole Eramo, who sued the magazine for defamation stemming from a discredited 2014 story about an alleged gang rape on campus. The settlement caps a years-long legal trial that roiled Charlottesville. (T. Rees Shapiro and Emma Brown)
  7. The San Bernardino gunman and the teacher he killed at an elementary school had been married for just two months. Investigators said it appeared Cedric Anderson was attempting to persuade his already estranged wife to return home – and was angered when she resisted multiple attempts. (Rob Kuznia, Lindsey Bever and Sandhya Somashekhar)
  8. A middle -school teacher was fired after asking her students to rate on a 1-4 scale “how comfortable they are” with different people based on their ethnicity or religion. The questionnaire presents students with example scenarios such as, “The young man sitting next to you on the airplane is an Arab,” and “A group of young Black men are walking toward you on the street.” (Kristine Phillips)
  9. A Marvel comic book artist is facing disciplinary action after he inserted two Koranic references into an X-Men strip, which critics have slammed for containing “anti-Christian” and “anti-Jewish” iconography. Marvel has pulled the offending strips and says the artist is facing disciplinary action. (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)
  10. Friends, family, and fellow service members gathered to honor the life of a World War II veteran whose body was found stuffed inside a suitcase last month. The distressing discovery has prompted law enforcement officials and veterans’ groups to demand justice for his death, saying the former “belly gunner” – whose wartime assignment was so dangerous it was often dubbed a “suicide mission” – deserved to be buried in dignity. (Katie Mettler)
  11. A new drug-treatment program has drawn national attention after claiming to cure heroin addiction with marijuana. But the claim has echoes of a discouraging and decades-old trend of using drugs to treat other drugs – one that ironically once convinced physicians to treat alcoholism with heroin. (Keith Humphreys)
  12. A Maryland man won the lottery twice at the same convenience store in Silver Spring – taking home checks for $50,000 and $5,000 just weeks apart. (Dana Hedgpeth)
Donald Trump shows Chinese President Xi Jinping around his Mar-a-Lago estate in West Palm Beach last week. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

TRUMP'S FOREIGN POLICY:

-- “Trump promised an ‘unpredictable’ foreign policy. To allies, it looks incoherent,” by Kevin Sullivan and Karen Tumulty: "During his campaign, Trump summed up his approach to foreign policy this way: 'We must as a nation be more unpredictable.' But now that he is commander in chief, anxious allies say that unpredictability might be better described as incoherence — a dangerous tendency at a moment of high tension with Russia and Syria, and with U.S. warships heading toward the Korean Peninsula. In interviews over the past few weeks with a half-dozen foreign ambassadors based in Washington, most complained … that thin lines of communication have made it difficult for them to explain U.S. intentions to officials in their home capitals. That is creating strain on traditionally solid alliances, they said. ‘Nobody can tell us on Russia what the American policy is, on Syria what the American policy is, on China what the American policy is,’ one ambassador said. ‘I’m not sure there is a policy.’”

As Trump holds meetings with fellow world leaders, his remarks have at times heightened doubts that the he has a clear sense of what direction he intends to take U.S. foreign policy: “During their White House meeting last month, [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel tried to pin down Trump on one of the top concerns of U.S. trading partners — a proposed ‘border adjustment tax’ to be imposed on imported goods. Publicly, Trump has signaled an openness to the idea, but he also said it has drawbacks. 'Don’t worry,' Trump told Merkel, holding his thumb and forefinger close together. 'It will only be a little bit.'" Trump’s breezy answer — and Merkel’s exasperation — has been the talk of diplomatic circles in Washington and Europe. 'So all the chancellor of Germany knows is that, ‘It will only be a little bit,’'' said a senior European diplomat in Washington, holding up his fingers as Trump did, and repeating an account confirmed by others in anxious embassies in Washington. 'It’s very puzzling.'"

-- The Trump administration took the unusual step of declassifying U.S. intelligence assessments as it sought to discredit Russia’s claims about the attack in Syria – a coordinated broadside from the White House, State Department and Pentagon that adds to rapidly-increasing tensions with the Kremlin. Missy Ryan, Greg Jaffe and Dan Lamothe report: “Officials said their case against the Syrian government included signals and aerial intelligence — combined with local reporting and samples taken from victims … that showed a Russian-made, Syrian-piloted SU-22 aircraft dropped at least one munition carrying the nerve agent sarin. … [American officials] said U.S. surveillance tracked the aircraft as it took off from a base near the city of Homs, loitered over the strike area in Idlib province and delivered its deadly yield. The officials said that nothing from an array of intelligence and publicly available material provided any credence to the alternative account put forward by Syria and Russia, which claimed that routine bombing struck an opposition chemical weapons depot."

“I have personally reviewed the intelligence, and there is no doubt the Syrian regime is responsible for the decision to attack and for the attack itself,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters. And while U.S officials have not yet reached a consensus on whether Russia knew about the assault ahead of time, many suggested it was unlikely they would have been kept in the dark. “I think it’s clear that the Russians are trying to cover up what happened there,” one official said.

Rex Tillerson attends a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow. (Reuters/Maxim Shemetov)

-- Rex Tillerson is in Russia. Carol Morello and David Filipov report: “Tillerson told reporters that the U.S. is aiming for a negotiated end to six years of conflict in Syria and wants Russia’s help in ushering Assad out of office. In what was in effect an ultimatum, he said Moscow must calculate the costs of remaining an ally of Assad, the Iranians and Lebanon’s Shiite militia Hezbollah. ‘Is that a long-term alliance that serves Russia’s interests?’ he told reporters. ‘Or would Russia prefer to realign with the U.S., with other Western countries and Middle East countries that are seeking to resolve the Syrian crisis?’” Tillerson also told reporters that last week’s attack shows that Moscow either did not fulfill or did not take seriously its role in a 2013 agreement to oversee the destruction of Assad’s chemical-weapons arsenal. In either case, he added, the distinction “doesn’t much matter to the

-- Before Tillerson even exited his plane in Moscow, Vladimir Putin told a news conference that the Kremlin has information that “provocateurs” are planning to plant chemical substances in Damascus and “blame it on Syrian authorities”: He said the situation in Syria reminded him of events in Iraq before 2003, alluding to the unfounded “weapons of mass destruction” assertion used to justify the war. He also accused Western countries divided over Trump’s election of “scapegoating” Russia and Syria: “We’ve seen all this before,” Putin said. Putin’s spokesman said it remained unclear whether the Russian president will meet with Tillerson on Wednesday.

-- Tillerson left other ministers at the G-7 conference befuddled after asking why U.S. taxpayers should care about Ukraine. Bloomberg’s Nick Wadhams and John Follain report: “French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault … [later] said he responded that American taxpayers ought to want a European Union that’s ‘strong politically, strong from a security point of view, and strong economically.’ But the provocative remark suggested Tillerson … is still finding his footing in a world of diplomacy where even passing remarks are parsed for deeper meaning. The question was sure to give pause to any European official fearful that [Trump] might ease sanctions and let the former Soviet state slip back into it Russia’s orbit, even as tensions with Moscow are running high.” Asked what Tillerson was driving at with his question about Ukraine, State Department spokesman R.C. Hammond responded with two words: “Rhetorical device."

-- Trump is struggling to enact policies that match his trade rhetoric. Damian Paletta and Ana Swanson report: “Within days Trump will decide whether … to declare China a ‘currency manipulator,’ a designation that could lead to new U.S. tariffs if China doesn't change its practices. And while Trump has called China ‘grand champions’ of currency manipulation as recently as February, three people familiar with the discussions say it did not appear likely that the Treasury Department would officially designate China in its semiannual foreign currency report due Saturday.” Meanwhile, Trump suggested in a tweet Tuesday morning that he will now tie trade discussions to whether Beijing works harder to contain North Korea – his first acknowledgement that trade discussions can become subsumed into broader diplomatic negotiations."

-- But the less-confrontational approach drew harsh criticism from Sen. Chuck Schumer, who held a conference call with reporters Tuesday to criticize Trump’s refusal so far to declare China a currency manipulator. Asked to respond to Trump’s tweet, the Senate minority leader agreed that China’s currency manipulation and current problems in North Korea are linked, “but in the opposite way” that Trump suggested: “The Chinese have done nothing on North Korea, and I don’t think they will unless they think America is tough,” Schumer said. “The tougher we are on trade, the more likely China is going to think we’re tough on North Korea.” (Ed O’Keefe)

-- Beyond China, the White House has missed an internal mid-March deadline to begin renegotiating NAFTA with Mexico and Canada. A draft letter that would begin the process remains unsigned. During a meeting with company executives yesterday, Trump promised more progress on the talks. "We’re going to have some very pleasant surprises for you on NAFTA," he said.

-- Meanwhile, there are signs that frayed U.S.-Mexico relations are beginning to mend as Trump refrains from publicly attacking the country. The Wall Street Journal’s David Luhnow and Jacob Schlesinger report: “Earlier this year, U.S.-Mexican relations hit their worst crisis in decades when [Trump] and Enrique Peña Nieto quarreled over who would pay for a proposed border wall, prompting the Mexican president to call off a planned trip to Washington. But then a funny thing happened: Mr. Trump, at the urging of senior aides, stopped attacking Mexico on Twitter and in public statements, opening up space to officials from both countries to markedly improve ties since then, U.S. and Mexican officials say. 'The relationship is much more constructive,' a senior Mexican government official said. A senior U.S. official agreed, saying the greater contact between the sides had improved ties. Many people in Mexico City remain nervous about Mr. Trump’s trade stance. But the cautious sigh of relief there that his administration may not disrupt the world economic order as much as once feared is echoed in capitals around the world, and in Washington.” “The radio silence from the president’s Twitter feed has been extremely important to provide breathing room” to both sides, said Arturo Sarukhán, Mexico’s former ambassador to the U.S.

North Korean men during rush hour yesterday in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korea will mark the 105th anniversary of the birth of the late leader Kim Il Sung on April 15. (Wong Maye-E/AP)

-- The U.S. and North Korea continued to engage in high-tension brinkmanship, with Pyongyang threatening to “hit the U.S. first” with nuclear weapons. Analysts said the prospects of them following through is slim, Anna Fifield reports. “The stakes remain too high for both countries, analysts say, today as they were yesterday, as they were last year. ‘I don’t think we’re about to go to war against North Korea," said Ralph Cossa, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’s Pacific Forum. "But the U.S. is certainly trying to send a message that they are fed up with the North Koreans and with sending strong letters of protest.’” Still, expectations are mounting that North Korea will unleash some kind of provocation this week, as the Kim regime prepares to celebrate the 105th anniversary of its founding president's birthday.

-- Chinese President Xi Jinping urged Trump to find a “peaceful solution” to the crisis on the Korean Peninsula during a telephone call between the two leaders early Wednesday. The call comes just days after the two held their first face-to-face talks in Florida, and hours after Trump tweeted that North Korea was “looking for trouble,”  suggesting the U.S. would “solve the problem” with or without assistance from Beijing. (Simon Denyer)

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney listens yesterday while Trump speaks at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

THE DECONSTRUCTION OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE STATE GOES ON:

-- The White House is instructing all federal agencies to submit a plan to shrink their civilian workforces -- offering the first details on how the Trump administration aims to rein in the size and scope of the government. Lisa Rein and Damian Paletta report: OMB Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters Tuesday that a government hiring freeze will be lifted “immediately,” but said agency leaders must start “taking immediate actions” to save money and reduce staff. “This does not mean that agencies will be free to hire willy nilly,” Mulvaney said ... He called the restructuring a more “strategic” and “surgical” plan to rein in the federal workforce. In accordance with Trump’s budget proposal released last month, Mulvaney said some agencies such as the Defense Department and the VA will add staff, while others, like the EPA, will “end up paring” full-time employees “even greater than they would have … during the hiring freeze.”

-- A draft budget proposal obtained by The Post details how the Trump administration seeks to cut more than 31 percent of the EPA’s budget. Denise Lu and Armand Emamdjomeh report: “The spending plan emphasizes a focus on the EPA’s ‘core legal requirements,’ withdrawing from state and local projects and avoiding any efforts the administration considers to be extraneous within the EPA or other agencies. Among the cuts, the budget shutters 56 programs and trims staffing by nearly 4,000 jobs. Many of the programs slated to be cut are either programs focusing on specific geographic areas or federal grants that go out to states to fund specific projects. Some of these programs are part of the Clean Water Act of 1972, which charges the EPA with helping to restore the nation’s waterways.”

-- Also being watched by environmentalists: the D.C. Circuit granted a request by Trump’s EPA to postpone oral argument in a case over the Obama administration’s 2015 smog standard – a move that allows Scott Pruitt additional time to reconsider the rule. Juliet Eilperin reports: “The EPA asked on Friday for the postponement, saying [Trump’s] appointees ‘are closely reviewing the 2015 rule to determine whether the Agency should reconsider the rule or some part of it.’ The new standard, which imposes tighter restrictions on ground-level ozone, was challenged both by several industry groups and Republican-controlled states as too tough and by a coalition of environmental and public health organizations as not stringent enough.”

-- Meanwhile, Trump has claimed credit for the creation of more than 600,000 jobs since he took office, a figure that overstates his true job creation numbers by tens of thousands — if not hundreds of thousands. Politico’s Noland McCaskill reports: “‘We’ve created over 600,000 jobs already in a very short period of time, and it’s gonna really start catching on now because some of the things that we’ve done are big league, and they are catching on,’” Trump told CEOs in a meeting Tuesday morning. “’Already, we’ve created more than almost 600,000 jobs.’ … According to Labor Department data, the U.S. economy added a combined 317,000 jobs in February and March, the first full months Trump’s presidency. About 98,000 of those jobs were added last month.”

Protesters gather outside of a news conference where Jeff Sessions spoke after he toured the U.S.-Mexico border. (AP/Ross D. Franklin)

IMMIGRATION WARS:

-- Jeff Sessions directed U.S. prosecutors to make immigration cases a higher priority and “look for opportunities” to bring serious felony charges against undocumented immigrants. Sessions’s order is the latest in a string of contentious moves, as he seeks to expand the Justice Department’s role in immigration enforcement. Matt Zapotosky and Sari Horwitz report: In a memo Tuesday, Sessions directed each federal attorney to appoint a “border security coordinator” to oversee the prosecution of illegal immigrants, and to make immigration offenses – including harboring undcoumented immigrants – “higher priorities.” Sessions asked prosecutors to consider whether they could bring felony charges against those who illegally crossed the border multiple times, and whether they could be charged with aggravated identity theft – a felony charge carrying a mandatory two-year prison sentence. Meanwhile, he said, law enforcement will no longer “catch and release” undocumented immigrants taken into custody at the border. 

Advocates and legal analysts criticized the attorney general's aggressive posture, saying it raises “troubling questions” about the DOJ’s intentions and use of resources. “Which prosecutors and agents does he want to divert from the growing threats like terrorism, cyber crime, the opioid and heroin trade, organized crime and cartel activity?” asked Jenny Durkan, a former U.S. attorney in D.C. “The ‘surge’ philosophy always requires taking agents, money and prosecutors from other priorities. In fact, the cost of satisfying Washington will reduce the ability of every U.S. attorney to address the greatest threats in their communities.”

-- The White House temporarily suspended a weekly publication of U.S. “sanctuary cities” – or localities that refuse to honor federal immigration detainers -- after several law enforcement agencies complained that they were erroneously included in the report. An ICE spokesman said the agency is reviewing its methodology and plans to resume publication after the review is completed. (David Nakamura and Maria Sacchetti)

-- Mulvaney, for his part, is pressing lawmakers to restrict federal funding grants for sanctuary cities in the upcoming short-term spending measure for the government, which expires on April 28. Politco reports: "The goal is to bring the House Freedom Caucus on board with a government funding bill, according to Capitol Hill Republicans — or at least show that the administration is courting the support of the hard-right and pushing GOP leaders to adopt Trump's priorities." Until now, the shutdown brinksmanship seemed like it wouldn't happen...

Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) speaks during a House hearing. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

PERSONNEL IS POLICY:

-- Pennsylvania lawmaker Tom Marino has reportedly been tapped as the next White House drug czar and is expected to step down from his congressional seat to serve in the Trump administration. The 64-year-old Republican served as one of Trump’s earliest Capitol Hill backers during his presidential campaign, Ed O’Keefe writes, and is reportedly in the final stages of completing his paperwork for the White House post. If confirmed, he will be the fifth congressional Republican tapped to serve in Trump’s administration. This means another special election.

-- LBGT advocacy groups launched an effort to block Trump’s Army secretary nominee Mark Green from being confirmed, citing the former Tennessee lawmaker’s “appalling” record of antagonism and hostility towards the gay community. Dan Lamothe reports: Green has suggested that being transgender is a “disease,” and sponsored controversial legislation critics say would allow employers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. And his incendiary remarks date to as recently as last fall, when he said that despite widespread millennial acceptance of transgender people, he wanted to be a “light” that set the record straight. “If you really want to bring this back to who’s at fault, I mean we gotta look a little bit inwardly,” he said. “I mean, we’ve tolerated immorality and we’re not reflecting light.”

Barack and Michelle Obama imitate monsters as they read a story during last year's Egg Roll. (EPA/Oliver Douliery) 

IF YOU CAN'T PUT ON A SUCCESSFUL EASTER EGG ROLL, WHAT CAN YOU DO?

-- The New York Times’ Julie Hirschfeld Davis reports that the administration is playing catch up on organizing the annual Easter Egg Roll, and that it's not looking promising: “Trump received an urgent warning in February, informing him of a crucial date he was about to miss. ‘FYI manufacturing deadlines for the Easter eggs are near,’ said a Twitter post directed at Mr. Trump … ‘Please reach out!’ The message came from Wells Wood Turning & Finishing, the company that supplies commemorative wooden eggs … for the 138-year-old celebration that has drawn 35,000 people to the South Lawn in recent years. By the time Trump officials got in touch, the ovoid uncertainty appeared to raise a critical question: Could [Trump’s] White House, plagued by slow hiring and lacking an on-site first lady, manage to pull off the largest, most elaborate and most heavily scrutinized public event of the year? The evidence points to a quickly thrown-together affair. … There may be half as many guests, a fraction of the number of volunteers to manage the invasion of the South Lawn, and military bands in place of A-list entertainers like Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Idina Menzel and Silentó who have performed for Egg Rolls past. White House officials did not respond to several weeks’ worth of inquiries … and declined to provide basic information such as how many people are expected to attend.”

-- Also unclear: Will Spicer will dig out his bunny suit for the event, as he did during the Bush years?

-- Asked for reaction to the Times’s story, Spicer said: “I think we're going to have an egg-cellent time.”

SOME GOOD NEWS FOR SENATE DEMS:

-- Republican Sen. Susan Collins said she is seriously contemplating a run for Maine governor in 2018. The senator had mostly demurred until a local radio interview yesterday. “Let me say that I am looking at where I can do the most good for the people of Maine,” said Collins, who has served in the Senate for 20 years. “In the Senate, I now have significant seniority and that allows me to do a lot. Coming to be governor, if I were fortunate enough to be elected … you can work on issues I care a lot about like economic development, jobs, education. And I would try to heal the state and bring people back together, which I think is important as well. So I’m trying to figure out where I can do the most good. I’m being totally honest with you – I truly don’t know, I really don’t, it’s a hard decision.”

Collins, 64, told the Portland Press Herald that she won’t make a final decision until later this year. She ran for governor in 1994 and lost to Angus King, now the junior senator. If Collins won, outgoing Republican Gov. LePage would get to appoint her successor for the two years that would remain in her term. But that’d make it much easier for Democrats to pick up the seat in 2020.

UNITED’S P.R. NIGHTMARE CONTINUES:

-- Video footage of a man being violently dragged off a United Airlines flight dominated headlines for the second day in a row, spiraling into a full-blown public relations nightmare as consumers across the globe threatened to boycott the airline and lawmakers urged a federal investigation. The story occupied nearly every corner of the news industry, with Jimmy Kimmel dedicating a portion of his show to discussing it and White House press secretary Sean Spicer lamenting the “unfortunate” incident. "Clearly, when you watch the video, it is troubling to see how that was handled,” he told reporters.

The company’s damage control measures escalated in kind: United CEO Oscar Munoz issued a second apology Tuesday and launched an internal investigation into the incident, after his original response was widely lampooned as tone-deaf and insufficient. “No one should ever be mistreated this way,” Munoz said Tuesday. He promised a public review of the company’s partnerships with law enforcement, and its policies on giving seats to employees, by the end of the month. Meanwhile, dragged passenger David Dao remained in the hospital receiving treatment for his injuries. (He also retained a high-powered attorney.)

  • Chinese social media exploded with outrage over the incident, with many users suggesting the man’s race may have been a factor in his treatment. By late afternoon on Tuesday, the topic had attracted 160 million readers -- prompting responses from public figures in the country and a number of widely-shared petitions urging a boycott of the airline. (This could prove to be a big headache for United, CNBC notes: the company is China’s largest U.S. carrier and accounts for 20 percent of all flights between the two countries.)
  • The L.A. Times published the story of a California investment manager who says United employees threatened to handcuff him last week after he refused to vacate his first-class seat in order to make room for a “higher priority” passenger: “They said they have a priority list and this other person was higher on the list than me,” Geoff Fearns recounted. “They said they’d put me in cuffs if they had to.”
  • The Post’s Abby Ohlheiser has a full timeline of how social media turned United into the biggest story in the country.
Residents in Brownsville, Tenn. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

WAPO HIGHLIGHTS:

-- “In the Tennessee Delta, a poor community loses its hospital — and sense of security,” by Amy Goldstein: “This town of the Tennessee Delta, seat of a county that once grew the most cotton east of the Mississippi, relied for decades on a little public hospital built during the Great Depression … But these days, plywood boards are nailed up behind the hospital’s sliding glass entrances … [and] the nearest ER is more than a half-hour ambulance ride away. The demise of Haywood Park Community Hospital three years ago this summer added Brownsville to an epidemic of dying hospitals across rural America. Nearly 80 have closed since 2010 … [and] many more are considered fragile — downstream victims of federal health policies, shifts in medical practice and the limited tolerance of distant corporate owners for empty beds and financial losses. In every rural community, the ripple effects of a lost hospital are profound, reverberating beyond the inability of would-be patients to get immediate care. Many of the best jobs in town vanish. Local leaders trying to recruit new industry face an extra hurdle.” 

-- “Starving to death,” by Max Bearak and Laris Karklis: “Our world produces enough food to feed all its inhabitants. When one region is suffering severe hunger, global humanitarian institutions, though often cash-strapped, are theoretically capable of transporting food and averting catastrophe. But this year, South Sudan slipped into famine, and Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen are each on the verge of their own. Famine now threatens 20 million people — more than at any time since World War II. Each of these four countries is in a protracted conflict. While humanitarian assistance can save lives in the immediate term, none of the food crises can be solved in the long term without a semblance of peace. [And] at this time of unprecedented need, the world’s biggest supplier of humanitarian relief is getting ready for a major cutback. Humanitarian aid makes up a tiny fraction of the U.S. government spending — less than 1 percent — but the Trump administration’s proposed budget would eliminate much of it.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

If you missed it, here is the two-minute video of Spicer saying that Hitler did not gas his own people during World War II:

The moment may be better understood by watching our Ashley R. Parker's facial expression as Spicer talks (she's behind the ABC reporter asking the question):

The condemnation was swift:

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum tweeted a graphic video showing footage taken when U.S. forces liberated a concentration camp in Germany in April 1945:

Spicer's gaffe was tailor-made for social media takedowns:

Many noted that Spicer's comment came during Passover:

Here are walking directions from Sean's office to the museum:

Wow:

Some pushed back on the breathlessness:

Maggie Haberman replied to the Time editor with a reminder:

One conservative (sort of) came to Spicer's defense:

Spicer talked to Wolf Blitzer on CNN after the presser to apologize. There were other issues:

Obama's deputy White House press secretary had other concerns about yesterday's briefing:

#NewUnitedAirlinesMottos became a thing:

Many people online were outraged after the Courier-Journal published a report detailing the booted passenger's "troubled" past:

George W. Bush went to Arizona for a Jeff Flake fundraiser last night:

California Gov. Jerry Brown's dog is adorable:

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) is opening the door to running for president:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- New York Times Magazine, “I Thought I Understood the American Right. Trump Proved Me Wrong," by conservative historian Rick Perlstein: “The professional guardians of America’s past … had made a mistake. We advanced a narrative of the American right that was far too constricted to anticipate the rise of a man like Trump. Historians, of course, are not called upon to be seers. Our professional canons warn us against presentism — we are supposed to weigh the evidence of the past on its own terms — but at the same time, the questions we ask are conditioned by the present. That is, ultimately, what we are called upon to explain. Which poses a question: If [Trump] is the latest chapter of conservatism’s story, might historians have been telling that story wrong?”

“I was one of the historians who helped forge this narrative. Writing about the movement that led to Goldwater’s 1964 Republican nomination, for instance, it never occurred to me to pay much attention to McCarthyism, even though McCarthy helped Goldwater win his Senate seat in 1952, and Goldwater supported McCarthy to the end. (As did William F. Buckley.) I was writing about the modern conservative movement, the one that led to Reagan, not about the brutish relics of a more gothic, ill-formed and supposedly incoherent reactionary era that preceded it."

-- McClatchy DC, “Can Democrats cuss their way back to the White House?” by Alex Roarty: “An old political maxim holds that politicians campaign in poetry but govern in prose. But after voters rewarded [Trump] despite – or perhaps because of – his plain, often expletive-prone rhetoric, Democrats are suddenly quite eager to adopt the language of America’s president. From the party’s new chairman to a senator many believe will run for the White House in 2020, Democrats are letting loose four-letter words in public speeches and interviews, causing a small stir, at least in political circles, where swearing in public is usually off limits. But behind the rhetoric is a real struggle for a party still trying to find its way in the aftermath of last year’s electoral catastrophe. In the age of Trump, party strategists wonder, do Democrats need to start talking in bolder, blunter terms to connect with voters – even if that means occasionally contributing to the swear jar?”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Did a Republican running for Va. governor really dress up like a Confederate gent?” from Laura Vozzella: “For a minute there, it looked like Corey Stewart’s bid for Virginia governor had morphed him from Confederate flag-waver to fully costumed Confederate reenactor. He turned up at the Old South Ball … wearing a bow tie and dark bolero jacket bedecked with lots of shiny buttons. ‘Over my dead body when I’m governor of Virginia are we ever going to take down the statue of Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson …’ he roared in [a video filmed at the] dance hall, plastered with the Stars and Bars. He put in a good word for the flag, too. ‘I’m proud to be next to the Confederate flag,’ said Stewart … ‘It’s time that we stop running away from our heritage. It’s time that we embrace it.’ So is it also time to dress up like Virginia is still the capital of the Confederacy? Apparently so for anyone attending the ball, an annual event that raises money for wounded veterans but has drawn criticism for glorifying the days of slavery.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Notre Dame Students Complain: Mike Pence Makes Us ‘Feel Unsafe,’” from The Federalist: “Students at the University of Notre Dame are not happy that Vice President Mike Pence is going to speak at their commencement ceremony. Some are even claiming that Pence’s presence on campus makes them ‘feel unsafe,’ and have taken to social media to express their hurt feelings … Two seniors encouraged their fellow students to share messages about why Pence makes them feel unsafe written out on white boards, photographed, and posted via Facebook and Twitter. Senior Jourdyhn Williams, another student involved in the protest, said she thinks it ‘goes against certain Catholic Social Teaching,’ to invite Pence, a conservative Christian, on campus.” Seniors urged graduating students to share the hashtag, #NotMyCommencementSpeaker and #NotMyVicePresident ahead of his remarks.

 

DAYBOOK:

At the White House: Trump will hold meetings with House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte and Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg of NATO before leading an expanded bilateral meeting with General Stoltenberg. Later, the two will hold a joint press conference.

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

"We're not going into Syria." -- Trump to the New York Post

 

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

-- Bring your umbrella – today’s pleasantly mild morning could be followed by some scattered showers. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “It’s a mild start with morning temperatures mainly in the 60s. As a weak cold front moves through, a few scattered showers are possible through the morning hours under partly to mostly cloudy skies. Increasing afternoon sun should help highs to the mid-to-upper 70s.”

-- The Nationals beat the Cardinals 8-3.

-- Democrat Daniel Helmer, an Army veteran and Rhodes Scholar who says he is “emboldened” by the election of Trump, launched a campaign to unseat Rep. Barbara Comstock in Virginia. He said he has raised $120,000 so far — an amount he hopes will set him apart from an already-crowded field of contenders vying to represent the Northern Virginia district. (Jenna Portnoy)

-- Former congressman Tom Perriello gained a slight advantage in Virginia’s gubernatorial race, according to a fresh Quinnipiac University poll of Democratic voters, giving him a 25 to 20 percent edge over Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam. Meanwhile, former political strategist Ed Gillespie continued to hold a strong 28 percent lead in the GOP primary field – with second-place contender Corey Stewart drawing 12 percent and state Sen. Frank Wagner netting 7 percent. (Fenit Nirappil

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Jimmy Kimmel talks about Spicer's "Hit-larious" statement:

Conan talks to Chelsea Handler about Sean Spicer and Ivanka Trump. "It's just like he's so stupid...he can't possibly be that stupid naturally," Handler says:

Stephen Colbert talks alter egos:

Constituents yelled "YOU LIE" over and over again at Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) during a town hall:

Candidates never cease to surprise:

See how one Muslim med school student deals with all the hate in America today:

Finally, watch Trump identify Carter Page as one of his advisers during a WaPo editorial board meeting last year: