With Breanne Deppisch
THE BIG IDEA: Donald Trump appears to have made a cynical calculation that he will not pay a high political price for being the most secretive president since Richard Nixon.
All the leaks about infighting among senior staff and the president’s proclivity for tweeting have created a false sense that the public knows what is happening inside his White House. In fact, the administration has gone to great lengths to conceal pertinent information from the American people.
After dodging questions on the subject for weeks, the administration waited until the afternoon of Good Friday to dump the news that it will not follow former president Barack Obama's policy of voluntarily disclosing the names of most visitors to the White House complex. The president’s communications director cited “grave national security risks” as a justification, even though Obama had made an exception for national security.
Then on Easter, Trump lashed out at the tens of thousands of protesters who marched in dozens of cities on Saturday to demand that he release his tax returns. As a candidate, the president declined to voluntarily release his tax returns – even though every major party presidential nominee has done so for more than 40 years. Polls consistently showed that most voters wanted to see what was in the returns, and Trump promised he’d share them eventually. But he changed his tune as soon as he won, saying that his victory proved people didn’t care. As he tweeted yesterday, “The election is over!”
Despite constantly ripping Hillary Clinton for being secretive, Trump was consistently less transparent during the campaign. Besides not releasing his taxes, he declined to provide documentation of the “tens of millions” of dollars he claimed to have donated to charity. Instead of a full medical history, Trump put out a four-paragraph letter that declared he would be “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” He also rarely fleshed out any of his promises with specifics, famously telling voters that he had a secret plan to destroy the Islamic State.
Trump seems to feel that the results in November validated this obfuscation, and that takeaway has emboldened him to continue the same approach as much as possible.
TRUMP WAS FOR TRANSPARENCY BEFORE HE WAS AGAINST IT:
-- During the 2012 campaign, Republicans actually attacked Obama for not going far enough when it came to disclosure of the visitor logs. Some meetings were kept off the logs, and aides scheduled certain sessions at the Caribou coffee shop across the street from the White House so that they wouldn’t be disclosed. Trump joined this chorus:
Why is @BarackObama spending millions to try and hide his records? He is the least transparent President--ever--and he ran on transparency.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 6, 2012
-- Back then, as he embraced the birther conspiracy theory to lay the groundwork for a presidential run, the businessman was an often outspoken advocate of transparency. Here are five more examples of him promoting the principle of disclosure, from Twitter alone:
For the sake of transparency, @BarackObama should release all his college applications and transcripts--both from Occidental and Columbia.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 17, 2012
If Obama doesn't accept my offer to be fully transparent, what will he say?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 26, 2012
In the spirit of transparency, Obama should immediately release the 9.11 tape of Tyrone Woods pleading for military support in Benghazi.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 31, 2012
A lot of undecided and independent voters have had enough with Obama’s lack of transparency. I don't blame them.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 31, 2012
Top White House aides also echoed these talking points. As RNC communications director, Sean Spicer attacked the president for not putting enough information in the visitor logs. “President Obama got elected by promising to be different, to change Washington, and to be open, transparent and accountable,” Spicer wrote in an Aug. 2012 press release. “But it turns out it was all empty rhetoric--nothing but broken promises.”
-- Trump’s evolving excuses for withholding his tax returns encapsulate why he is a man who cannot be taken at his word:
- In 2011, the businessman told ABC News he’d release his tax returns as soon as Obama released his birth certificate. Obama did. Trump reneged.
- In 2012, criticizing Mitt Romney for not releasing his returns, Trump said on Fox News that it would be “a positive” and “a great thing” if he put his returns out because it would show “you’ve been successful, and that you’ve made a lot of money.” The former Massachusetts governor eventually relented under pressure.
- In 2014, Trump was unequivocal. “If I decide to run for office, I’ll produce my tax returns, absolutely,” he told an Irish TV station. “And I would love to do that.”
- “At some point I’ll release it,” he said in a 2015 radio interview.
- In early 2016, Trump said he was “working on” putting the returns together and planned to share them soon. Then, after he started winning primaries, he changed his tune. He said he couldn’t put them out because he was being audited by the IRS. But he promised repeatedly, including during an October debate with Clinton, that he’d share his returns just “as soon as the audit is finished.”
-- If he hasn’t already, Trump will file this year’s taxes very soon. The audit excuse does not apply. It is literally impossible for this year’s return to already be under scrutiny by the IRS. There are also previous years that are not under audit.
-- Now, however, the president acts as if the mere fact he won an election absolves him of every past promise. On Saturday, Trump’s motorcade took a circuitous route back from a golf outing so he would not need to see hundreds of protestors calling for his tax returns. On Sunday, he tweeted this:
I did what was an almost an impossible thing to do for a Republican-easily won the Electoral College! Now Tax Returns are brought up again?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 16, 2017
Someone should look into who paid for the small organized rallies yesterday. The election is over!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 16, 2017
-- “The marches were sponsored by a coalition of 69 organizations,” John Wagner answers. “Many of the protests featured an inflatable chicken, a mascot of sorts for the march, in a bid to mock Trump’s unwillingness to share his returns.”
-- It’s not just the taxes and visitor logs, though. There are numerous examples of Trump and his team withholding pertinent information from the public since January:
-- Foxes in the hen house: Secret waivers allow lobbyists to advance their former clients’ interests from high perches inside the government without anyone on the outside ever knowing. The lead story in Sunday’s New York Times, produced in conjunction with ProPublica, highlighted how cagey Trump’s White House is being about whether it is even following its own rules. From Eric Lipton, Ben Protess and Andrew Lehren: “President Trump is populating the White House and federal agencies with former lobbyists, lawyers and consultants who in many cases are helping to craft new policies for the same industries in which they recently earned a paycheck. … The potential conflicts are arising across the executive branch. … In at least two cases, the appointments may have already led to violations of the administration’s own ethics rules. But evaluating if and when such violations have occurred has become almost impossible because the Trump administration is secretly issuing waivers to the rules…
- “One such case involves Michael Catanzaro, who serves as the top White House energy adviser. Until late last year, he was working as a lobbyist for major industry clients such as Devon Energy of Oklahoma, an oil and gas company, and Talen Energy of Pennsylvania, a coal-burning electric utility, as they fought Obama-era environmental regulations, including the landmark Clean Power Plan. Now, he is handling some of the same matters on behalf of the federal government.
- “Another case involves Chad Wolf, who spent the past several years lobbying to secure funding for the Transportation Security Administration to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a new carry-on luggage screening device. He is now chief of staff at that agency — at the same time as the device is being tested and evaluated for possible purchase by agency staff…
- “At the Labor Department, two officials joined the agency from the K Street lobbying corridor, leaving behind jobs where they fought some of the Obama administration’s signature labor rules, including a policy requiring financial advisers to act in a client’s best interest when providing retirement advice.
- “In several cases, officials in the Trump administration now hold the exact jobs they targeted as lobbyists or lawyers in the past two years. Trump White House officials had over 300 recent corporate clients and employers, including Apple, the giant hedge fund Citadel and the insurance titan Anthem, according to a Times analysis of financial disclosures. (The White House has released disclosures for only about half of its roughly 180 current senior political employees.) And there are more than 40 former lobbyists in the White House and the broader federal government…
“A White House spokeswoman, Sarah H. Sanders, declined repeated requests by The Times to speak with … the White House lawyer in charge of the ethics policy. Instead, the White House provided a written statement that did not address any of the specific questions about potential violations…” (Read the whole story here.)
-- The White House appears to be gagging agencies and instructing professional career staffers to not respond to inquiries from Democratic lawmakers. During the first six years of Bush’s presidency, when they were also in the minority, Democrats say departments would not respond to every letter but for the most part provided documents and answered questions courteously. At Nancy Pelosi’s request, Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) is tracking all the letters that House Democrats are sending to the executive branch. So far, Sarbanes says, more than 100 have received no response. This appears to be part of a bigger effort to prevent factual information from getting out unless it will advance Trump’s agenda to deconstruct the administrative state.
In Sunday’s Post, Darryl Fears reported on two examples of lawmakers being rebuffed by the Trump administration:
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) could not get information out of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about the Endangered Species Act. He was stunned when his chief of staff informed him that a staffer tasked with retrieving some statistics from a congressional liaison office was turned away. Grijalva said he was told that Fish and Wildlife workers couldn’t speak to minority staff unless they were called as a witness at a hearing. “I’ve been on this committee going on my 15th year,” Grijalva said. “This kind of response is unprecedented.” Without the guidance, the Democrats on a Natural Resources subcommittee said they were powerless to refute claims from witnesses called by Republicans to attack the law. (An Interior spokeswoman denied wrongdoing.)
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the ranking member on the Environment and Public Works Committee, says he was told by officials at the General Services Administration that they will now only provide documents when they are requested by Republican chairmen. Carper wanted to know whether the use of public land by a Trump hotel in Washington financially benefited the president. He said GSA officials told him they wouldn’t cooperate. The White House did not respond to Darryl’s requests for comment.
-- The administration tried to block Sally Yates from testifying before Congress by asserting executive privilege. The Justice Department sought to stop the former acting attorney general from testifying before the House Intelligence Committee -- on the ouster of former national security adviser Michael Flynn for his contacts with the Russian ambassador, among other things — by telling her lawyer that any communications with the White House were protected by attorney-client privilege, according to letters obtained by The Post.
Yates, who was fired in January by Trump for ordering DOJ lawyers not to defend his first immigration ban, played a key part in the investigation surrounding Flynn. She had made clear to government officials that her testimony to the committee would probably contradict some statements that White House officials had made, according to Devlin Barrett and Adam Entous. Before she got her chance to speak, House Intelligence chairman Devin Nunes, who has since stepped aside, canceled the hearing altogether. Spicer denied The Post’s report, claiming that the White House did not seek to have the hearing canceled and did not assert privilege. But her testimony has not been rescheduled.
-- There are many smaller examples of the White House trying to control the information flow:
Trump has ditched the protective press pool to go to dinner and golfing, a break with longstanding tradition. Often the White House won’t even acknowledge that the president is golfing when he is at a golf course. When it does, spokesmen refuse to disclose the names of the president’s golf partners. That too is a break with precedent.
Staffers routinely converse with each other on encrypted private messaging apps, which could be in violation of the Presidential Records Act. It means that there will be no copies archived for historical purposes. It also means that if Democrats win control of either chamber of Congress in 2018, and with it subpoena power, crucial material may already be deleted.
-- Finally, Trump has taken steps to scale back transparency requirements for companies, as well. Last month, the president signed a bill that killed an Obama-era worker safety rule that required businesses competing for large federal contracts to disclose serious safety and other labor law violations. In February, he repealed a regulation that required energy companies to disclose payments to foreign governments. Trump signed that measure on Valentine’s Day.
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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
PENCE GOES TO THE DMZ:
-- Mike Pence made a surprise visit to the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea on Monday, amid rising tensions in the region over Kim Jong Un’s aggressive actions. Anna Fifield reports: The vice president delivered a stark warning to North Korea, saying the regime could be in for the same treatment as Syria and Afghanistan – both of which the Trump administration has bombed this month – if it continues with its nuclear program. Speaking to reporters, Pence said Trump was hopeful that China would use its “extraordinary levers” to pressure Pyongyang to abandon its weapons program. “The era of strategic patience is over,” he said. “[President Trump] has made it clear that the patience of the United States and our allies in this region has run out and we want to see change. We want to see North Korea abandon its reckless path of the development of nuclear weapons, and also its continual use and testing of ballistic missiles is unacceptable." The comments came a day after Kim’s regime launched its latest ballistic missile, although the missile fired early Sunday morning exploded within seconds. North Korea is the main focus of the vice president's four-country Asia trip this week.
MCMASTER TRAVELED TO KABUL:
-- National security adviser H.R. McMaster was in Kabul on Sunday for what was the first visit by a Trump official to Afghanistan, one that comes just days after U.S. forces dropped a 22,000-pound bomb on ISIS militants there and revived debate over the war. Erin Cunningham reports: “More than 8,000 U.S. troops are helping Afghan forces battle the Taliban. The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., has said that he will need thousands of additional troops to better support the international coalition’s mission. While here, McMaster … met with Nicholson, senior Afghan officials and other NATO commanders overseeing the mission to advise Afghan security forces.”
Officials said the leaders discussed regional dynamics and counterterrorism efforts, including al-Qaeda and ISIS, but perhaps the most important task for McMaster is evaluating the progress in the fight against the Taliban insurgency: "Taliban militants control more territory than at any other time since 2001, when U.S. troops helped overthrow the Islamist regime. Officials here said the government would raise its request for more military aid with McMaster, who is seen as an ally of those pushing for the Trump administration to send more troops. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is expected to make a formal recommendation on troop numbers to the president. But it is unclear how McMaster’s suggestions will fit into that review."
-- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan narrowly won a referendum granting him sweeping new powers as president -- broadening his authority over the judiciary and the parliament, and extending his divisive tenure in office. Still, the result will take days to confirm, and opposition parties quickly moved to contest the vote -- claiming that up to 2.5 million ballots were invalid and that some election monitors had been removed from polling stations. (Kareem Fahim)
GET SMART FAST:
- A Russian journalist who reported that gay men were being detained, tortured and even killed as part of an anti-homosexual purge in Chechnya says she has been forced to go into hiding after receiving death threats. Despite corroborating evidence from a number of organizations and Western publications, Chechen authorities dismissed the allegations out of hand — not because the violence is wrong, but because they say gays “do not exist” in Chechnya. (Adam Taylor)
- An Egyptian court acquitted a U.S. charity worker who spent nearly three years in pretrial detention for her work with an organization helping street children. She was arrested on charges of abusing children and engaging in human trafficking; charges which human rights groups said were fabricated. Her acquittal comes after Trump met Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, which was his first visit to the U.S. since coming to power in a 2013 coup. (Heba Farouk Mahfouz and Louisa Loveluck)
- BP is struggling to regain control of a damaged well on Alaska’s North Slope that has been leaking natural gas since Friday, though an initial “spray” of crude oil appears to have stopped. The news comes as experts from a well-control company arrived to help devise plans to kill and plug the well. Officials said there have been no injuries and no reports of harm to wildlife. (Steven Mufson)
- Cleveland police and the FBI are looking for a shooter who murdered an elderly man in broad daylight and streamed it on Facebook Live. The wanted man, identified as 37-year-old Steve Stephens, was seen on video pulling up next to an elderly man before asking his age and shooting him in the head. In the video, Stephens says he has committed “multiple” other homicides, though police say no additional victims have been found. (Drew Harwell)
- Authorities have arrested a man suspected of killing Vanessa Marcotte, a 27-year-old Google employee who went for a jog last summer while visiting her parents in Princeton, Mass., and never came back. Authorities said they used DNA evidence to track down 31-year-old Angelo Colon-Ortiz, and said they are “very comfortable” that they have the man responsible for her death. (Kristine Phillips and Amy B Wang)
- Former NFL player Todd Heap accidentally drove over his 3-year-old daughter, killing her as he moved his truck in the family’s driveway. Officials said there was no sign Heap was impaired or that her death was anything other than a tragic accident. (Cindy Boren)
- A five-year-old boy died this weekend after being crushed between the floor and the wall of an upscale, rotating skyscraper restaurant in Atlanta. The restaurant is closed while authorities investigate. (Derek Hawkins)
- A woman was arrested after attempting to climb the auxiliary “crowd control” fence at the White House on Sunday afternoon. The incident prompted a shutdown in that area of the grounds, which lasted around 45 minutes. (Martin Weil)
- Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, and his wife of more than 20 years, Kathleen, have officially divorced. The two have been separated for some time, but the arrangement raised eyebrows after it came out that Hunter was dating Hallie Biden, the widow of his late brother, Beau, who died of brain cancer in 2015. (Emily Heil)
- A construction crew found the remains of five Archbishops of Canterbury buried beneath a medieval parish church-turned-museum. While refurbishing the property, the builders happened upon a vault containing 20 coffins – one with a gold crown on top of it and one belonging to Archbishop of Canterbury Richard Bancroft, who led the committee that produced the King James translation of the Bible in 1611. (NBC News)
-- The EPA has emerged as a major target after Trump solicited policy advice from the manufacturing industry. Juliet Eilperin reports: “Industry leaders responded with scores of suggestions that paint the clearest picture yet of the dramatic steps that Trump officials are likely to take in overhauling federal policies, especially those designed to advance environmental protection and safeguard worker rights. Those clues are embedded in the 168 comments submitted to the government after Trump signed a presidential memorandum Jan. 24 instructing the Commerce Department to figure out how to ease permitting and trim regulations with the aim of boosting domestic manufacturing. The Environmental Protection Agency has emerged as the primary target in these comments, accounting for nearly half, with the Labor Department in second place as the subject of more than one-fifth.” Among the notable items on industry’s to-do list:
- BP wants to make it easier to drill for oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico by reducing how often companies must renew leases.
- A trade association representing the pavement industry wants to block the U.S. Geological Survey from conducting so-called “advocacy research” into environmental impact of coal tar, saying such research could limit what it uses to seal parking lots and driveways.
- The U.S. Chamber of Commerce wants to reduce the amount of time opponents have to challenge federal approval of projects – seeking to cut the time from six years down to just two.
- In a 51-page comment, the Associated General Contractors of America recommended repealing 11 of Obama’s executive orders and memos, including one establishing paid sick leave for government contractors.
“Three senior administration officials in different departments said the White House is inclined to accept many of these suggestions,” Juliet reports. “Across the government, administration officials are beginning to flesh out how they can scale back rules imposed by Obama — and, in some cases, his predecessors. Officials are launching websites to take suggestions, holding meetings with chief executives and industry representatives, and drawing up recommendations to submit to the White House.”
-- Immigration arrests spiked 32.6 percent in the first weeks of Trump’s presidency, with newly empowered ICE agents intensifying pursuit of not just undocumented immigrants with criminal records, but also thousands of illegal immigrants who are otherwise law-abiding. Maria Sacchetti reports: “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested 21,362 immigrants, mostly convicted criminals, from January through mid-March, compared to 16,104 during the same period last year … Arrests of immigrants with no criminal records more than doubled to 5,441, the clearest sign yet that [Trump] has ditched his predecessor’s protective stance toward most of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.” The number of immigrants arrested with criminal records jumped by 15 percent since last year, but the biggest spike was seen in immigrants with no criminal records, with immigration field offices in major cities doubling or tripling numbers from the previous year:
- ICE’s Atlanta office arrested the most immigrants without criminal records, arresting nearly 700 people compared to just 137 the year before.
- Philadelphia had the largest percentage increase, with 356 noncriminal arrests – or more than six times as many as the previous year.
- Immigration detainers spiked 75 percent year over year. These are requests from ICE to law enforcement agencies to hold those arrested beyond their normal release date so that agents can take them into custody and deport them.
-- DHS chief John Kelly rejected the idea that he is creating a “deportation force,” defending his proposal to hire thousands of additional immigration and border-control officials on “Meet the Press." He described the new hires as a “law enforcement force." "There are a huge number, as you know, of illegal aliens or undocumented individuals that have to be dealt with in one way or another," he told Chuck Todd. “I would argue that we have to straighten this out. And I place that squarely on the United States Congress. It’s a hugely complex series of laws, and I engage the Hill quite a bit and get an earful about what I should do and what I shouldn't do. But it all comes down to the law, doesn’t it? And we are a nation of laws, and I would hope that the Congress fixes a lot of these problems.”
-- Trump is expected to tap former Treasury undersecretary Randy Quarles as the Federal Reserve’s top bank regulator, Politico reports: “The selection would send a clear signal that the administration is looking to take a pragmatic approach to paring back bank regulation, rather than choosing an ideologue who would seek to eviscerate the rules enacted since the financial crisis. Quarles still needs to meet with the president, which will happen in the coming days, but he is likely to get the nod for the post, the most important bank regulatory position in government, barring unexpected developments.”
-- Trump will speak at the NRA’s annual convention in Atlanta later this month, the first sitting president to do so in 34 years. (HuffPost)
IS TRUMP LOW ENERGY?
-- “He has become a virtual homebody during his first few months in office, largely sitting out the honeymoon period that other presidents have used to hit the road and rally support for their priorities," The New York Times’ Julie Hirschfeld Davis notes: “Mr. Trump, who dislikes spending the night away from home … has rarely ventured far from the Executive Mansion or his Mar-a-Lago retreat in Florida during his first 85 days in office. He has not strayed west of the Mississippi River, appearing at public events in only seven states and eschewing trips overseas. He is planning to travel to Wisconsin on Tuesday, and his first international trip is scheduled for next month … By contrast, [Obama] had made public appearances in nine states and taken three overseas trips by this point … and was beginning his fourth journey abroad. And [Bush 43] had stopped in 23 states by mid-April during his first year in office and also visited Canada.”
DISPATCHES FROM TRUMP'S AMERICA:
If you read one story today --> “In Kiron, Iowa, pop. 229, the meaning of a life, a death and another cup of coffee,” by Stephanie McCrummen: “Russell Paulson had already heard by the time he arrived at the Quik Mart for his afternoon coffee. Walt Miller had died. ‘Died last night, huh?’ someone [said] … Russell listened; he had known Walt. At the age of 80, he knew almost everyone in Kiron, a town of 229 people, one of whom is U.S. Rep. Steve King, who has a house on the edge of town. Russell knew King, too, knew that he was the sort of person always stirring controversy, often by raging against what he called ‘cultural suicide by demographic transformation.’ There was little controversy across King’s district, though, a swath of rural America made up of tiny towns with tiny, aging white populations that routinely elected King with more than 70 percent of the vote. In Kiron, people brushed it off as King being King, a man they all knew, expressing a plain truth they all understood: the white population was shrinking and towns like theirs were vanishing … It was a quiet afternoon, the ritual 3 p.m. coffee in a place where, as one regular put it, ‘You can figure out Steve King by understanding all of us.’”
-- Austin American-Statesman, “In Travis County custody case, jury will search for real Alex Jones,” by Jonathan Tilove: “At a recent pretrial hearing, attorney Randall Wilhite [said] that using his client Alex Jones’ on-air Infowars persona to evaluate Alex Jones as a father would be like judging Jack Nicholson in a custody dispute based on his performance as the Joker in ‘Batman.’ ‘He’s playing a character,’ Wilhite said of Jones. ‘He is a performance artist.’ But in emotional testimony at the hearing, Kelly Jones, who is seeking to gain sole or joint custody of her three children … portrayed the volcanic public figure as the real Alex Jones. ‘He’s not a stable person,’ she said. … ‘He says he wants to break Alec Baldwin’s neck. He wants J-Lo to get raped.’ Beginning Monday, a jury will be selected … that in the next two weeks will be asked to sort out whether there is a difference between the public and private Alex Jones, and whether, when it comes to his fitness as a parent, it matters. But for Alex Jones, at the peak of his power and influence, what emerges from the [courthouse] ... might shape whether he comes to be seen by his faithful as more prophet or showman.”
-- Hundreds of pro-Trump demonstrators and counter-protesters clashed at a demonstration in Berkeley, Calif., this weekend, in a violent rally that left 11 people injured and 20 others arrested. Berkeley police also confiscated a number of makeshift weapons – among them, a Pepsi can filled with concrete in a nod to the soda company's widely-mocked protest ad. (Avi Selk and Michelle Ye Hee Lee)
-- “Two Republican lawmakers face anger, from their own voters, on health care,” by Sean Sullivan and Kelsey Snell: “Inside a government building [in Florida], far-right Rep. Ted Yoho scolded his party’s leaders for rolling out an ‘ill-advised’ health-care bill and blamed [Paul Ryan] for the ensuing debacle. The next evening on a college campus nestled in the Rocky Mountains, moderate Rep. Mike Coffman held the House Freedom Caucus — to which Yoho belongs — culpable for the legislation’s defeat. In both places, Republican voters also pointed fingers — at [Trump], Ryan, their members of Congress, or all of them. Fewer than 100 days after Republicans assumed complete control of Washington, their botched attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and broader struggles to cooperate have stoked widespread distrust and despair inside the party. The open warfare threatens the president and the GOP agenda, but is also dampening enthusiasm with Republican voters who can no longer blame Democrats or divided government for the dysfunction. The frustration is visible in both purple areas such as Coffman’s district, which will factor heavily into the battle for Congress in 2018; and ruby-red regions, such as Yoho’s seat, which voted strongly for Trump."
-- America First Policies, a pro-Trump nonprofit outfit, is starting a $3 million advertising campaign to bolster a dozen House Republicans who publicly backed the health-care proposal that has stalled on Capitol Hill. In a phone call with Robert Costa last night, the Trump campaign veterans who run the organization described the expenditure as a gesture of appreciation to Trump’s friends as well as a way to encourage other House Republicans to get behind the effort. Katie Walsh, Trump’s former deputy chief staff who left the White House in late March, is a senior adviser to America First Policies. The group’s chairman is longtime GOP strategist Nick Ayers, who is a confidant of Vice President Pence. Brad Parscale, who ran digital operations for the Trump campaign, is also a senior adviser.
The House Republicans receiving air support are: Gary Palmer (Ala.), Jeff Duncan (S.C.), David Schweikert (Ariz.), Keith Rothfus (Pa.), Rob Wittman (Va.), Tom Graves (Ga.), Scott R. Tipton (Colo.), Thomas Garrett (Va.), David Joyce (Ohio), Michael R. Turner (Ohio), Martha McSally (Ariz.) and Brian Mast (Fla.).
-- “[Trump’s] revived enthusiasm for tackling health-care legislation before tax policy has highlighted the complicated interplay between Republicans’ health-care overhaul and their planned tax bill,” the Wall Street Journal’s Richard Rubin reports: “Mr. Trump signaled last week that one of the reasons he has reprioritized health care is that he was relying on savings from the health bill to bolster the tax plan. If the health plan is signed, ‘we get hundreds of millions of dollars in savings that goes into the taxes,’ said Mr. Trump said in an interview Wednesday. ‘Could we do it without health care? Absolutely but it’s a cleaner package if we get health care done.’ The budget reality isn’t that straightforward. Budgetary savings from a health bill don’t get plowed into the tax bill, so the lack of a health bill wouldn’t necessarily change the tax-bill math. There is also no requirement that the health bill come first. But the two pieces of legislation are interrelated because the GOP health bill would eliminate discrete taxes created as part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, smoothing the process of passing a broader tax overhaul.”
ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN:
-- New York Magazine, “Steve Bannon’s Biblical Fall,” by Olivia Nuzzi: “Media reports have not been subtle in characterizing Bannon’s political future. The New York Times branded him ‘doomed’ while Politico planned his funeral. … But as with all things Trump, the truth may be at once less and more predictable than that. ‘You’re always up and down with Trump,’ another source said. ‘There’s always gonna be a favorite.’ White House sources tell me the ideological split with (Jared) Kushner is real but not quite the point — Bannon’s primary ‘gunfight’ is with economic adviser Gary Cohn … whose influence has ballooned as Bannon has fallen out of favor with the president. The Goldman Sachs alums … can comfortably ‘shoot the [breeze]’ but mutual suspicion looms beneath the superficial friendliness. ‘Look, in all honesty? Steve has said things to me about Gary,’ [said a source close to Bannon]. ‘He’s never said one thing to me derogatory about Jared.'"
Trump is “both prone to nostalgia” and also “deeply unsentimental”: “You could play golf with this guy for 40 years, have a heart attack on the ninth hole, he’ll pick up a new golf partner on the tenth hole like nothing happened,” one official said, adding: “As soon as you think you’re in Trump’s good graces and you start to be at ease and take that for granted, that’s when you get annihilated.”
-- The new acting head of the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights once complained that she experienced discrimination because she is white. ProPublica’s Annie Waldman reports: “As an undergraduate studying calculus at Stanford … Candice Jackson ‘gravitated’ toward a section of the class that provided students with extra help on challenging problems. … Then she learned that the section was reserved for minority students. ‘I am especially disappointed that the University encourages these and other discriminatory programs,’ she wrote. ‘We need to allow each person to define his or her own achievements instead of assuming competence or incompetence based on race.’ Although her limited background in civil rights law makes it difficult to infer her positions on specific issues, Jackson’s writings during and after college suggest she’s likely to steer one of the Education Department’s most important — and controversial — branches in a different direction than her predecessors. A longtime anti-Clinton activist and an outspoken conservative-turned-libertarian, she has denounced feminism and race-based preferences. She’s also written favorably about, and helped edit a book by, an economist who decried both compulsory education and the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
-- “Meet the 'most underestimated person on Trump's team,’” by CNN’s Dan Merica: “When [Trump] has a problem, Keith Schiller is often the solution. Never was that clearer than earlier this year, when Trump -- nagged by questions about a series of baseless claims he made about his predecessor … leaned on Schiller to get the pestering press out of his meeting. ‘Mr. President, any proof on the wiretapping?’ yelled a reporter. Enter the 6'4’, 210-pound Schiller, a man who, after working for Trump for nearly two decades, knew his usually loquacious boss didn't want to talk. The former police investigator has risen from a high school student who coaches doubted would amount to anything to Trump's muscle-for-hire to, arguably, the person Trump trusts most outside his own family. Schiller, who has an apartment near Trump's in Trump Tower, wears many hats in the White House: press wrangler, body man, private muscle and sounding board. And in a White House filled with new hired hands and paid advisers, his relationship with Trump has something that only time could cement: Trust.”
Key quote: "It mattered more to me what Keith Schiller thought of me than what the campaign manager thought," said a former top campaign aide. "Now I think it means more what Keith thinks of you than Reince thinks of you."
-- Fractious Republicans in Georgia are attempting to unite behind a “Stop Jon Ossoff” movement ahead of tomorrow’s special election, seeking to keep the 30-year-old Democrat under 50 percent, the amount he needs for an outright victory, while also positioning themselves to potentially face off with him in a June runoff vote. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
-- Samuel L. Jackson cut a 60-second radio ad for urban radio stations in Atlanta to galvanize African American turnout in tomorrow’s special. With an homage to his role in “Pulp Fiction,” the actor frames the election as a referendum on Trump: “Stop Donald Trump, a man who encourages racial and religious discrimination and sexism. Remember what happened the last time people stayed home? We got stuck with Trump. We have to channel the great vengeance and furious anger we have for this administration into votes at the ballot box!” (Listen to the spot, cut for the DCCC, here.)
-- But while the Georgia race is seen as a test for the “rising electorate” of minority voters and highly educated white voters, Montana’s special election is a test for populism. David Weigel and Kathleen McLaughlin report from Montana: “[Rob] Quist, who backed Sen. Bernie Sanders for president, portrays [Republican contender Greg] Gianforte as a plutocrat who will work only for his class. It’s the argument Democrats failed to stick to Trump, and one they want to see working in the places where working-class white voters bolted their party.” Gianforte, who has been criticized for holding few public events, plans to welcome Donald Trump Jr. — an avid hunter who argued for Zinke at Interior — to the state [this week].” Meanwhile, Quist says he is “thrilled” with all the national attention from Republican outside groups, telling attendees at a recent public event that he could “smell the fear” coming from the right.
-- “Against all odds, a communist soars in French election polls,” by James McAuley: “In the latest plot twist in France’s highly contentious presidential election, [Jean-Luc] Mélenchon — an outspoken 65-year-old leftist who … has pitched his proposal to nationalize France’s biggest banks and renegotiate its relationship with the E.U. … is now soaring in the polls. With less than two weeks before the election, his meteoric and unexpected rise is already sending jitters through financial markets and shock waves through an increasingly anxious electorate. For months, analysts have likened the upcoming French election to ‘Europe’s Stalingrad,’ a crucial turning point that will determine the future of a country and a continent. But while commentators worldwide have focused on the steady rise of the far-right, fiercely anti-immigrant National Front of Marine Le Pen, few have paid any attention to the leftist fringe of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who has vaulted into the picture … and who shares with Le Pen the desire to drastically alter France’s relationship with the E.U."
The reality is that “big change” will probably come with or without his success: For the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic, McAuley writes, neither of the country’s vaguely center-left and center-right parties are likely to triumph. Instead, the contest will likely be a face-off between political outsiders: independent Emmanuel Macron, far-right Marine Le Pen and, possibly, the communist Mélenchon.
-- “Nearly every nation in South America has been jolted by large protests or violent clashes in recent weeks, a continental surge of anti-government anger unlike anything in years,” Nick Miroff reports: “On the streets of Venezuela, opponents of the left-wing government are squaring off against riot police nearly every day. In Paraguay, angry crowds sacked and firebombed the country’s parliament building after lawmakers tried to alter presidential term limits. Powerful unions in Argentina crippled the country’s transportation networks this month with a general strike. Whether leftist or right-wing, the governments … are all facing major demonstrations, abysmal approval ratings or both. The political dynamics vary … but analysts see common threads[:] The global commodity boom that ushered millions of South Americans into the middle class has burned out, crimping government finances. In several countries, populist leaders who cast themselves as national saviors and demonized their opponents have turned electoral contests into supercharged life-or-death showdowns, making democratic transitions and ideological compromise all the more difficult.”
“South America is part of a global pattern, marked by a search for fresh and effective political leadership in agitated and often polarized societies,” said Michael Shifter, president of a Washington-based think tank.
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Trump tweeted this last night:
The recent Kansas election (Congress) was a really big media event, until the Republicans won. Now they play the same game with Georgia-BAD!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 17, 2017
Some funny reactions to the president's stream of tweets attacking his critics on Easter:
Ah Easter when old resentments and insecurities are risen again. https://t.co/Edqo9YlaLU— Max Boot (@MaxBoot) April 16, 2017
With all of Trump's tweeting abt the electoral college it's clear he's still insecure he got 3 million fewer votes even with Russia's help— Zerlina Maxwell (@ZerlinaMaxwell) April 16, 2017
These are the marches Trump was complaining about:
Other pols played it straighter and stuck to a more traditional holiday greeting:
Like millions of Americans, my family will commemorate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, when the mourning of Good Friday gave way to joy. pic.twitter.com/HolW6E3oPv— Vice President Pence (@VP) April 16, 2017
From the first couple at Mar-a-Lago:
Happy Easter! pic.twitter.com/pzJ7ouViDZ— Melania Trump (@FLOTUS) April 16, 2017
Melania will be at the White House to host the Easter egg roll on Monday:
From our friendly neighbor to the north:
This Easter, let’s put into practice what it really means to love our neighbours as ourselves. Happy Easter! pic.twitter.com/vCJQK9eVPh— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) April 16, 2017
And one across the pond:
Happy Easter to all in this troubled world.— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) April 16, 2017
Lawmakers shared some family fun:
Post egg hunt glow. Happy Easter from the O'Rourkes! pic.twitter.com/IpQKfBVMGh— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) April 16, 2017
Just now, my backyard Easter bunny. pic.twitter.com/MO9d69Vt5M— Steve King (@SteveKingIA) April 16, 2017
John and I at Easter lunch with my dad at the Sheehys! He just turned 89! pic.twitter.com/5UDV7psuFE— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) April 16, 2017
On Easter Sunday, we are reminded that one of the most important messages Christianity has brought the world is one of hope. pic.twitter.com/2HmVlhlLJi— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) April 17, 2017
One of my favorite family traditions this time of yr - our annual egg decorating contest. Happy Easter everyone! pic.twitter.com/8ngPMRKG38— Sen. Lisa Murkowski (@lisamurkowski) April 16, 2017
Wishing a Happy Easter to my entire Congressional staff, both in Washington and in Miami!! I cannot do it without you all! pic.twitter.com/RuvkEZfaN8— Rep Frederica Wilson (@RepWilson) April 16, 2017
Who said the Easter bunny isn't terrifying:
The bunny! FROM THE TOP ROPE! pic.twitter.com/ZewhZHpBWP— MLB GIFS (@MLBGIFs) April 16, 2017
From Snoop Dogg:
Donald Trump Jr. rode on Air Force One for the first time:
He also wore a new T-shirt:
And tweeted this over the weekend:
His brother, Eric, posed for a photo shoot that appeared in the Irish Times (he retweeted the pics):
Ouch. The title. pic.twitter.com/DnOmv3VjEn— Patrick Ruffini (@PatrickRuffini) April 16, 2017
Then there's this:
And just when you're ready to give up hope... pic.twitter.com/o4DI0FZyUa— Stevie Van Zandt (@StevieVanZandt) April 16, 2017
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- “It was like a visit to the land of Alternative Truth Yet to Come”: The New York Times’ Jim Rutenberg traveled to Russia in the aftermath of Syria’s chemical attacks, where the dominant theme from the state-run media was that the attack was a “false flag” operation by rebels to goad the U.S. into attacking Assad: “When Trump administration officials tried to counter Russia’s ‘false narratives’ by releasing to reporters a declassified report detailing Syria’s chemical weapons … and suggesting to The [AP] … that Russia knew of Mr. Assad’s plans … the Russians had a ready answer borrowed from Mr. Trump himself,” he writes. “As [one] pro-Kremlin newspaper put it: ‘Apparently it was for good reason [Trump] called unverified information in the mass media one of the main problems in the U.S.’ It was the best evidence I’ve seen of the folly of Mr. Trump’s anti-press approach. You can’t spend more than a year attacking the credibility of the ‘dishonest media’ and then expect to use its journalism as support for your position during an international crisis — at least not with any success. While Mr. Trump and his supporters may think that undermining the news media serves their larger interests, in this great information war it serves Mr. Putin’s interests more. It means playing on his turf, where he excels.”
-- Philadelphia Magazine, “Why Is Bob Brady Still in Charge?” by Holly Otterbein: “[Bob]Brady is an unabashedly old-school politician. In order to get things done, he makes and keeps scores of friends. This comes naturally to him: He’s a deeply loyal and unapologetically transactional man. He’s also charismatic in that brash, blue-collar, purely Philadelphian way. Brady’s allies say his relationships have enabled him to do everything from stitch together the city’s Democratic Party to help save the Sunoco refinery in Southwest Philly. What they don’t say is that these close ties are likely also why he’s stood idly by in recent years as the city’s elected officials have incinerated the public’s trust. Several times over the past year, rumors have bubbled up that Brady is going to step down as party chairman, Congressman or both. Once, after I shared such gossip at a private meeting with city leaders, I got a call from Brady 10 minutes later[:] ‘I have sources, too,’ he joked, then promised he wasn’t going anywhere. For all his charms, you can’t help wondering: Would everyone — the Democratic Party, Philadelphia, and perhaps even Brady himself — be better off if he actually did step aside?”
-- Washingtonian, “How a Tiny Florida Newspaper Became a Must-Read in the Trump Era,” by Benjamin Freed: “The dinner services at Mar-a-Lago on a recent April weekend were a groaning table of potential news items: [Rex Tillerson] was in attendance, as were New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and Marvel Entertainment Chief Executive Ike Perlmutter. [Trump] … greeted them all on his customary dinnertime strolls ... But perhaps the most surprising news of all … was a result of another high-profile guest: [Chinese President Xi], whose presence required the Secret Service to shut down the traditional prime-rib buffet. That nugget came not from one of the White House reporters assigned to pool duty that weekend, but from the Palm Beach Daily News, a 120-year-old beach-town paper. The Daily News—or ‘Shiny Sheet,’ as its known to locals for the higher-than-usual-quality paper it prints on—typically covers events at Palm Beach’s charity galas, local real-estate transactions, and goings-on in town government. It’s only got about 5,000 subscribers, but it’s become required reading for a Washington that is still struggling to make sense of the 45th President.”
-- The New Yorker, “America’s most political food,” by Lauren Collins: “The original restaurant occupies a barnlike building on a busy intersection and is presided over by a regionally famous electric marquee that features the boast ‘world’s best bar-b-q,’ along with a grinning piglet named Little Joe. The Piggie Park is important in the history of barbecue, which is more or less the history of America. One reason is that its founder, Maurice Bessinger, popularized the yellow, mustard-based sauce that typifies the barbecue of South Carolina’s Midlands area. Another is that Bessinger was a white supremacist who, in 1968, went to the Supreme Court in an unsuccessful fight against desegregation, and, in 1974, ran a losing gubernatorial campaign, wearing a white suit and riding a white horse.”
-- The Verge, “Instant Recall: Facebook's Instant Articles promised to transform journalism — but now big publishers are fleeing,” by Casey Newton: “While big publishers have been largely disappointed with Instant Articles, the format is propagating quickly throughout Facebook. Since last year, when Facebook began letting anyone publish to the format, the number of publishers using Instant Articles grew 16 times, to 9,000 publishers, Simo said. And a quarter of all clicks to articles on Facebook are now to Instant Articles … a number that has grown 50 percent in 2017. It’s easy to see why readers like Instant Articles (they’re fast and uncluttered). And it’s easy to see why Facebook likes Instant Articles (they keep people on Facebook). But for big media companies, the format has looked like a bad bet. And after two years of experimenting with Instant Articles, many outlets appear to have had enough.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“GOP Candidate Loses Party’s Support After [asking a woman to sleep with him],” from HuffPost: “A Republican running for a seat in the New Jersey General Assembly has lost GOP support after a video surfaced of him hitting on a woman. … Brian McDowell, a former contestant on NBC’s ‘The Apprentice’ who just filed a petition to run for office last month, was caught on tape asking a woman to sleep with him, slurring his words as he spoke. The footage prompted Cape May County Republicans to pull their support of his campaign … [But] McDowell [said] he won’t end his campaign because of the video. ‘There are human errors and even Jesus dropped the cross three times,’ McDowell said. ‘I’m not running to be the pope. I’m running to make New Jersey more affordable.’ While volunteering for Trump’s campaign, McDowell told a local NBC affiliate he thought of Trump’s reality show, which he competed on in 2005, ‘as a fraternity.’”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“Harvard Activists Say They’re So Sorry for Posting Fake Deportation Notices,” from National Review: “A group of activists at Harvard University have apologized for posting fake deportation notices in dorm rooms, explaining that they were simply trying to get people to think about how bad deportation is. ‘We regret to inform you that a resident of this dorm has been detained indefinitely due to suspicious actions, suspected violent inclinations, or suspicion of being a deportable alien (i.e. questionable residency status),’ the notice, which read ‘Harvard Special Investigations Unit’ at the top, read. The back — and only the back — of the flyer clarified that it was, in fact, ‘not a real notice,’ and that the reason for the ‘unsettling nature’ of it was to encourage ‘Harvard community members to reflect on the reality of people who face these kinds of unwarranted disruptions of life in unexplained suspicious circumstances before a state power that can hold ‘suspects indefinitely.’ It also included information about an upcoming panel on incarceration.”
At the White House: Trump and Melania will host a breakfast reception and attend the White House Easter Egg Roll. Later in the afternoon, Trump will meet with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Some egg roll history: This is the White House’s 135th Egg Roll – a tradition that began in 1878 and has since ballooned into the largest public event at the White House. But this year, far fewer participants than last year’s 35,000 are expected — and it’s unclear what role the first lady will have, if any, in hosting the event. (Petula Dvorak has more.)
The vice president is in Seoul: Pence will meet with U.S. Embassy staff and their families in Seoul before participating in cultural visits throughout the city. Later, Pence will participate in a bilateral meeting, working lunch, and joint press conference with Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn of the Republic of Korea. Pence will then participate in a bilateral meeting with National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-Kyun.
Congress is on recess for the rest of this week.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
The Woodrow Wilson Center’s Robert Litwak told the New York Times that what is playing out in North Korea is “the Cuban missile crisis in slow motion.”
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- A rainy start to the morning, with temps just a bit cooler than yesterday. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Rain showers are likely this morning through around midday. They should taper off early afternoon, after which skies brighten some. Highs are in the low-to-mid 70s – a good 10 to 15 degrees cooler than yesterday.”
-- The Wizards beat the Hawks 114-107 in game one of the playoffs.
-- The Capitals lost to the Maple Leafs 4-3, evening the first round playoff series at 1-1.
-- The Nats won at the bottom of the ninth inning in dramatic fashion. Down 0-2 in the count and a run in the game with two outs, Bryce Harper battled back to a full count, then buried a ball 423 feet to dead center field. The Nationals, who looked destined for a loss and a .500 record, suddenly had a 6-4 win and a 7-5 record before what promises to be one of the more grueling road trips any of them have experienced. Harper had homered earlier, too — a two-run shot in the third inning that gave the Nationals the lead they ultimately gave back late. He has four home runs this season and is hitting .333 with a .455 on-base percentage. No Nationals regular has gotten on base at a higher rate. (Chelsea Janes)
-- D.C. school officials said a convicted sex offender who fraudulently posed as an employee obtained access to a school bus, transporting children for a week in March before he was caught and removed from service. A spokeswoman for the Office of the State Superintendent of Education said he gained access to the bus “as a result of an egregious lapse in procedures” by an HR employee who has since been put on paid administrative leave. Officials said he was never screened or hired by OSSE, nor was he licensed to drive a school bus. (Moriah Balingit)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
The most tone-deaf comment of the past few days came from Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.). The 73-year-old, who has a reputation on the Hill as a Luddite, defended his vote to take away consumer protections and to allow Internet service providers to sell customers’ Internet browsing history. "Nobody's got to use the Internet," he said at a town hall.
Trump, played by Alec Baldwin, finally picked between Stephen Bannon and Jared Kushner in the cold open of "SNL":
Melissa McCarthy is one Spicey Easter bunny:
John Oliver visited an "excessively French" bistro to talk about the French elections:
Mt. Etna erupted after a quiet period:
The first protest in space targeted...Trump:
Readers were mad that The Post Magazine discontinued the traditional Peeps contest:
Take a ride on the conveyor belt to see how Peeps are born: