With Breanne Deppisch
THE BIG IDEA: The continuing intrigue inside the West Wing is so much more than just a wild soap opera. Whoever has Donald Trump’s ear at any given time has immense power over the trajectory of this country. Another consequence of the dueling power centers is that it’s taking longer than usual to staff up the executive branch.
Lisa Rein has a fascinating story on the front page of today’s paper about Cabinet secretaries who are growing increasingly exasperated with how slowly the White House is moving to fill top-tier posts. They believe the vacancies in their departments are hobbling efforts to oversee basic government operations and promote Trump’s agenda.
It turns out that one important explanation for the sluggish process is that lots of people inside the White House have veto power over who gets even junior jobs. Trump, who fancies himself a decisive leader, is in many ways governing by committee, something Republicans often attacked Barack Obama for.
“Prospective nominees … must win approval from competing camps inside the White House," Lisa explains. "Around the table for weekly hiring meetings are chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, representing the populist wing; Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, leading the establishment Republican wing; White House Counsel Don McGahn; Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Josh Peacock; and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, representing a business-oriented faction. ... For economic appointments, Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, also sits in, as does the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, when a hiring decision piques her interest."
With so many people able to nix nominees, it is inevitable that well-qualified people will be knocked out of contention for reasons big and small.
Consider this remarkable statistic: “The Senate has confirmed 26 of Trump’s picks for his Cabinet and other top posts. But for 530 other vacant senior-level jobs requiring Senate confirmation, the president has advanced just 37 nominees. That’s less than half the nominees Obama had sent to the Senate by this point in his first term."
-- This inefficient process is driving some secretaries nuts. Seven Washington Post beat reporters, fanned out across town, helped Lisa illustrate the government-wide frustration. Here are some of the most memorable illustrations from her story:
- Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has routinely peppered the White House Personnel Office for updates and called Trump directly to press for faster action on filling vacant jobs.
- HHS Secretary Tom Price aired his dismay at a recent breakfast with former congressional colleagues. “He’s very frustrated,” said a Republican House member who was there.
- Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, the wife of the Senate Majority Leader, has become so impatient that she has tapped an outside consultant to help identify contenders for the top jobs and shepherd them through the White House nomination process.
- EPA chief Scott Pruitt has been pushing coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler for his agency’s No. 2 job, but the White House has still not signed off two months later.
At the Education Department, Secretary Betsy DeVos is leaning heavily on the staff of Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) to compensate for her depleted senior ranks: “She had backed New Mexico Education Secretary Hanna Skandera for assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, but the White House soured on her after some Senate Republicans raised concerns about her support for Common Core standards," Lisa reports.
At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis withdrew his top choice for undersecretary for policy in March after the White House told him it would not fight an expected battle for Senate confirmation for retired senior diplomat Anne Patterson: “While the president has since named several candidates for senior defense positions, the policy post, arguably the most important person on the secretary’s team, is still held by an acting career official. Mattis has skirmished with the White House over other appointments as well and told colleagues he is frustrated by the delays, especially since he had insisted on being able to choose his team.”
-- The president himself is keenly interested in certain appointments, especially when it comes to choosing the federal prosecutors in his home town, which also slows the process. From Politico’s Josh Gerstein and Josh Dawsey: “Trump removed almost all of the sitting, Obama-appointed U.S. attorneys in a Friday afternoon purge in March, in a highly unusual move that’s left federal prosecutors’ offices under the supervision of acting U.S. attorneys since then. As with other political appointments, the Trump White House has been slow to fill the vacancies. … None are more important to him than the U.S. attorney posts in Manhattan and Brooklyn … which are known for handling white-collar crime cases.… The Manhattan office, which oversees the Southern District of New York, was previously headed by Preet Bharara, who was the only U.S. attorney fired in March, after he refused to resign. He’d visited Trump Tower in November, after the election, and had said that Trump promised him he’d be able to remain in his post. White House officials and outside advisers with a crucial say in the picks, like former mayor Rudy Giuliani, are still talking to candidates for the two New York jobs.”
THE NARRATIVE ON DAY 97:
-- As Trump nears the 100-day mark, his administration is scrambling to show a patina of progress. Ashley Parker, Philip Rucker and Sean Sullivan report: “Trump has called Saturday’s 100-day marker … an ‘artificial’ construct, and he is not incorrect. Yet the kinetic energy emanating from the West Wing, which at times borders on frenetic, reveals a White House eager to cross the threshold with some tangible wins. … The whirlwind of activity this week seems aimed at demonstrating forward momentum from a young administration criticized for a lack of signature legislative achievements — a sense that doing something, anything, is better than the perception of stagnation. ... Trump, more than any modern president before him, runs his White House like a television drama, believing that sometimes projecting an image of energy and progress is as important, if not more so, than the reality."
-- Three new stories raise questions about the COMPETENCE of some of the people Trump has hired:
1. The White House included inaccurate historical information, which an aide admits was simply pulled from the Internet and not checked independently in a press release designed to make Trump look more successful than he’s been: A fact sheet said that he’s “accomplished more in his first 100 days than any other president since Franklin Roosevelt.” Prima facie, that’s obviously not true. But the basis for the claim is that Trump will have signed 30 executive orders during his first 100 days. The White House said in its release that Roosevelt signed just nine executive orders during his first 100 days. “In reality, Roosevelt signed 99 executive orders in his first 100 days, or more than three times Trump’s tally,” Fact Checker Glenn Kessler reports. “A White House official acknowledged the count for Roosevelt’s executive orders was wrong.”
2. Trump’s inaugural committee also admitted that a list of donors that it submitted to the FEC was riddled with errors. A crowd-sourced reporting project led by HuffPost’s Christina Wilkie asked the public to examine more than 1,500 listings of individual donors and their addresses. That effort — soon followed by others — appeared to turn up MORE THAN 300 EXAMPLES where the data did not match reality. David Fahrenthold has more: “In one case … a $25,000 donation seemed to be mistakenly attributed to NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, one of the subjects of the movie ‘Hidden Figures.’ In another … an address came from a nonexistent person listed as living in a vacant lot in New Jersey.” An inaugural committee spokesman acknowledged that both of those listings were in error and said the committee plans to update its report.
3. Rex Tillerson invited African Union chief Moussa Faki to Washington to meet but then backed out at the last minute — infuriating African diplomats in a snub that could sour U.S. ties with Africa. Foreign Policy’s Robbie Gramer reports: [Tillerson] invited Faki to Washington the week of April 17, after Faki ended meetings at the United Nations in New York. [Sources] … say Faki scheduled his trip to Washington on April 19 and 20 while waiting for the details to be sorted out. But then Tillerson’s office went radio silent for several days, and left the head of the 55-nation bloc in the lurch and fuming.... Tillerson’s team eventually got back to Faki’s entourage as he was about to depart New York and offered a meeting with lower-level State Department officials, but Faki cancelled his Washington visit entirely. … Diplomatic and protocol missteps — particularly in dealings with Africa — can have lasting consequences and potentially burn bridges that took decades to build, experts warn. Faki chairs the only continent-wide organization that speaks for Africa as a whole, and has been supportive of U.S. efforts to take a tougher line against terrorism. The incident also showcases how the understaffed State Department can botch even basic tasks like scheduling courtesy visits, mistakes that send political shock waves through the countries they spurn.”
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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
MOVEMENT ON HEALTH CARE:
-- White House officials and several GOP lawmakers said last night that they are nearing a deal on health-care legislation with members of the House Freedom Caucus, claiming at least three members of the hard-line group are ready to support an amended plan. Robert Costa and Paige Winfield Cunningham report: “Reps. Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan, and Raúl R. Labrador — all leaders of the Freedom Caucus and central figures in the latest discussions — signaled Tuesday they are ready to support a new plan. The agreement at the crux of the revised bill would allow states to opt out of some insurance regulations in the Affordable Care Act. Through a federal waiver, insurers could be freed from a requirement to cover certain essential health benefits as defined by the federal government.” The language was crafted jointly in recent days by moderate Tom MacArthur, the chairman of the Tuesday Group, and Meadows, as well as heavy involvement from White House officials. Still, members said little publicly Tuesday night about where they stand on the revised measure."
-- Top GOP aides said that text of the new bill probably won’t be posted until House Republicans feel confident that they have enough votes to pass the bill. Whether the moderates will come along is an open question. Politico nabbed the text of the new amendment.
-- Republicans close to House GOP leaders said last night they remain skeptical of how much support would be behind any new legislation, and said House leaders are not driving the discussions with the Freedom Caucus. (This appears to have been primarily negotiated by the administration, around GOP leadership.)
-- Paul Ryan's office said the speaker has not ruled out a vote on the health-care bill this week but reiterated that his top priority is passing a spending measure to avoid a government shutdown. If consensus on health care were reached, however, the House could move quickly, said spokeswoman AshLee Strong. “I think we can turn things around quickly if we were to reach an agreement,” she said. “We will see something as soon as we can, but we’re not there right now.”
-- Freedom Caucus member Trent Franks stopped short of supporting the bill, saying he needs to see the legislative text first — but the Arizonan said it appears as though “it is going in a very good direction.” “I would not be the most shocked person in the building if we voted it this week out of the House,” he added.
THE COURTS CHECK TRUMP AGAIN:
-- A federal judge in San Francisco dealt the Trump administration another legal blow last night, temporarily halting the president's threat to withhold unspecified federal funding from cities and towns that refuse to cooperate with immigration authorities. From Maria Sacchetti: “U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick imposed a nationwide injunction against Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order on what are called ‘sanctuary’ jurisdictions and said lawsuits by Santa Clara County and San Francisco challenging the order were likely to succeed. Orrick pointed to discrepancies in the administration’s interpretation of the executive order, which broadly authorized the attorney general to withhold grant money from jurisdictions that do not cooperate with immigration officials on deportations and other enforcement actions. At the same time, the judge said the Justice Department may hold back grant money that is awarded with immigration-related conditions, if those conditions are violated.”
- ACLU National Political Director Faiz Shakir celebrated: “Once again, the courts have spoken to defend tolerance, diversity and inclusion from the illegal threats of the Trump administration. Once again, Trump has overreached and lost.”
- White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said Justice Department lawyers are reviewing legal options: “It’s the 9th Circuit going bananas. The idea that an agency can’t put in some reasonable restriction on how some of these monies are spent is going to be overturned eventually, and we’ll win at the Supreme Court level at some point.”
-- Trump himself weighed in with a trio of tweets this morning:
First the Ninth Circuit rules against the ban & now it hits again on sanctuary cities-both ridiculous rulings. See you in the Supreme Court!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 26, 2017
Out of our very big country, with many choices, does everyone notice that both the "ban" case and now the "sanctuary" case is brought in ...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 26, 2017
...the Ninth Circuit, which has a terrible record of being overturned (close to 80%). They used to call this "judge shopping!" Messy system.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 26, 2017
THE BUSH VS. ROMNEY PROXY WARS CONTINUE:
- A group led by Jeb Bush reached a $1.3 billion agreement to buy the Miami Marlins. The deal is still pending MLB approval, which could take months, but both sides are “very optimistic” it will be finalized. Bush and his money men beat out an investor group led by Mitt Romney's son Tagg. Jeb! plans to be the Marlins’ “control person," the individual with ultimate control over franchise decisions. The former Florida governor’s group includes at least five investors, but besides former New York Yankees star Derek Jeter, their identities are unknown. (Miami Herald)
- Mitt's nephew Doug Robinson announced he is running for governor of Colorado. The former investment banker is seeking to position himself as a political outsider, but the expected entry of state treasurer Walker Stapleton, who is related to George H.W. Bush, is likely to draw national attention to the race and ensure heavy spending in the primary. (Denver Post)
-- In case you forgot, Mitt almost ran against Jeb in the 2016 GOP primaries before deciding to sit it out. But the former Massachusetts governor was candid about his doubts that Bush could beat Hillary Clinton.
-- Speaking of dynasties, New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo (Mario's son) has hired former top Chris Christie aide Maria Comella to be his chief of staff ahead of a possible 2020 run for president. Maria is a lifelong Republican, but she publicly backed Hillary Clinton over Trump last year. She says she has informally been advising Cuomo for several months now. (CNN)
-- Dorothy McAuliffe, the wife of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and a close friend of the Clintons, is weighing a run for the Democratic nomination to challenge Rep. Barbara Comstock (R) in the D.C. suburbs next year. “I really am very seriously considering it,” the commonwealth’s first lady told Jenna Portnoy in a brief interview yesterday as she visited a Manassas middle school in the 10th District, where the McAuliffes maintain a home. In recent weeks, she has called several Democratic state senators as well as Virginia’s four Democratic congressmen to seek their input.
- Terry McAuliffe, the former DNC chairman, is barred under Virginia’s Constitution from seeking a second term, so he’ll be out of office next January. He’s pretty popular — a poll in February put his approval rating at 55 percent statewide — so she could ride his coattails.
- Four Democrats are already vying for the party’s nomination to take on Comstock: Three have filed the paperwork to raise money: state Sen. Jennifer T. Wexton, a former prosecutor from Loudoun County; Lindsey Davis Stover, a former Obama administration official; and Dan Helmer, an Army veteran and Rhodes Scholar. Kimberly Adams, past president of the Fairfax County teachers union, has also said she will run.
GET SMART FAST:
- As Europe seeks to crack down on an ongoing migrant surge, the long-tolerant nation of Italy could strike a bargain with Libya to create a de facto “migrant blockade” for those attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Under the plan, Italy would train and equip Libyan guards to scour coasts and deserts to stop, push back and detain migrants before they reach the high seas. But aid groups warn that the plan could come at “overwhelming” human cost – and leave untold thousands of migrants trapped in the dysfunctional, war-torn country. (Anthony Faiola)
- Berkeley is bracing for massive protests and potential violence on campus this week, as conservative firebrand Ann Coulter announced plans to speak Thursday in an open and public forum on campus. University officials cancelled her originally-planned remarks, citing fears of violence after a series of recent riots. (Susan Svrluga and William Wan)
- For the first time, drivers killed in crashes are more likely to be high than drunk. A new report finds that 43 percent of drivers tested in fatal crashes in 2015 had used a legal or illegal drug -- eclipsing the 37 percent who tested above the legal limit for alcohol. The data comes as part of a complicated portrait of drug use, as an opioid epidemic persists and marijuana laws are increasingly relaxed. (Ashley Halsey III)
- Uber executives announced an ambitious new goal this week: to develop a “network of flying taxis” in Dubai and the Dallas area by the year 2020. Executives from the ride-sharing company outlined a bullish timeline to develop the electric technology needed for the Vertical Takeoff and Landing aircraft and implement the proper infrastructure in major cities by the time we pick our next president. Those outside Silicon Valley are a lot more skeptical. (Amy B Wang)
- An incident report from Chicago aviation authorities claimed that they used “minimal but necessary force" to remove the United Airlines passenger off his flight. This is despite footage of the bloodied, limp man. The report claims that he was more aggressive and “violent” than was seen on tape – that he “swung his arms” at officers and ran back to the aircraft, telling them: “Just kill me. I want to go home.” (Lori Aratani and Kristine Phillips)
- As tens of thousands of demonstrators gear up to participate in a Climate March in D.C. this weekend, they could have one hard-to-ignore piece of evidence in their favor: an April forecast expected to reach up to 90 degrees. The unseasonably-warm weather prediction is 19 degrees above normal – closer to the average maximum temperature in mid-July. (Jason Samenow)
- A standing committee of correspondents has denied Breitbart from receiving Capitol Hill press credentials – voting to table their bid for permanent passes and to discontinue their temporary credentials, slated for expiration next month, without extension. (CNN)
- A man in Thailand hanged his 11-month-old daughter in a Facebook Live broadcast Monday before hanging himself, the latest in a string of recent appalling tragedies to be live-streamed on the social media site. (Lindsey Bever)
- Two female flight attendants in Russia are suing the country’s flag carrier, Aeroflot, for age and sex discrimination. The company has flatly denied that such discrimination exists, but as the two sought to air their grievances in an unusually-public press conference, men defending the airlines jumped in to argue that attractive employees are, in fact, a “business need.” (New York Times)
- Pope Francis took his familiar message of social inclusion and equality to a new forum – the international TED conference in Vancouver. In a surprise video message to scientists, academics, and tech developers, the pontiff argued that the age-old strategy of caring for one another should be kept at the forefront of innovators’ minds as they seek to make the world a better place. “How wonderful would it be, while we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters orbiting around us,” he said to applause. (Colby Itkowitz)
DRIVING THE DAY -- A PREVIEW OF TRUMP’S TAX REFORM PROPOSAL:
-- The president today will call for a significant increase in deductions that Americans can claim on their tax returns – potentially putting thousands of dollars each year into the pockets of tens of millions of Americans. The change is one of several that he plans to propose during a tax overhaul pitch before key members of Congress. Damian Paletta and Steve Mufson report: “Trump will call for a sharp reduction in the corporate tax rate, and propose lowering rates for millions of small businesses that now file their tax returns under the individual tax code – thus making them subject to the 15 percent rate proposed for corporations. White House officials think these changes will give Americans and companies more money to spend, expand the economy and create more jobs. The existing standard deduction Americans can claim is $6,300 for individuals and $12,600 for married couples filing jointly. The precise level of Trump’s new proposal could not be ascertained, but it was significantly higher … During the campaign, Trump proposed raising the standard deduction to $15,000 for individuals and $30,000 for families.”
Republicans praised Trump’s ambitious effort, but cautioned that some parts of the plan might go too far – illustrating potential challenges Trump will continue to face, even in his own party, as he seeks to garner support for one of his top domestic priorities: Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Kevin Brady, who head Congress’s tax-writing panels, said they were open to Trump’s plan to push forward with sharp cuts in the rates that businesses pay but suggested that changes might be needed. “I think the bolder the better in tax reform,” said Brady. “I’m excited that the president is going for a very ambitious tax plan.” Hatch said the White House appears to be “stuck on” the idea that certain small businesses should have their tax rates lowered to 15 percent, just like large businesses. “I’m open to good ideas,” Hatch said. “The question is: Is that a good idea?”
-- THE LAFFER CURVE COMES BACK TO LIFE: “A white cloth napkin, now displayed in the National Museum of American History, helped change the course of modern economics,” the New York Times’ Peter Baker writes in his preview of today’s announcement. “On it, the economist Arthur Laffer in 1974 sketched a curve meant to illustrate his theory that cutting taxes would spur enough economic growth … More than 40 years after those scribblings, [Trump] is reviving the so-called Laffer curve as he announces the broad outlines of a tax overhaul on Wednesday. What the first [Bush] once called ‘voodoo economics’ is back, as Mr. Trump’s advisers argue that deep cuts in corporate taxes will ultimately pay for themselves with an explosion of new business and job creation.”
- Critics have scoffed at the math: “There is not a shred of evidence to support the secretary’s pay-for-itself claim,” said former Obama economics adviser Jared Bernstein.
- “But one fan of Mr. Trump’s approach is Mr. Laffer, now 76 and still every bit the believer in the virtues of lower taxes as he was the night he went to a restaurant in 1974 with three fellow conservatives named Dick Cheney, Donald H. Rumsfeld and Jude Wanniski and outlined his thinking on that famous napkin. ‘We would bring people back and we would create jobs without tariffs and without protectionism,’ Mr. Laffer said by telephone. ‘I’m a big believer in using honey rather than vinegar, and incentives are much better.’”
THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- The lead Democrat and Republican on the House Oversight Committee meted out a rare bipartisan rebuke of former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn after seeing private information that confirmed he failed to disclose foreign income from Russia and Turkey. Karoun Demirjian reports: “The public criticism by the senior Republican on the House’s chief investigative panel is unusual and presents a dilemma for the White House, which was accused of failing to provide everything the committee asked for — an assertion White House press secretary Sean Spicer disputed. Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and the panel’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), suggested that Flynn broke the law. … The lawmakers said they believe Flynn neither received permission nor fully disclosed income he earned for a speaking engagement in Russia and lobbying activities on behalf of Turkey. They reached the conclusion after viewing two classified memos and a disclosure form in a private briefing Tuesday morning.”
Chaffetz and Cummings stressed that as a former military officer, Flynn would have needed special permission for his December 2015 appearance at a gala sponsored by RT, the Putin-funded television station, for which he was paid $45,000. For his work lobbying on behalf of the Turkish government, he was paid more than $500,000. “Personally I see no evidence or no data to support the notion that General Flynn complied with the law,” Chaffetz told reporters. “It does not appear that was ever sought, nor did he get that permission.”
-- Fresh Washington Post/ABC News polling, published at 7 a.m., finds that sizable minorities of Americans think that President Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russians to help him win the 2016 election and that President Obama spied on the Trump campaign. John Wagner and Emily Guskin report on the numbers:
- Overall, nearly 4 in 10 Americans think some members of Trump’s campaign helped the Russian government influence the election. About 6 in 10 Democrats say Russia tried to sway the election with the help of the Trump campaign, while only about 1 in 10 Republicans say that’s the case.
- Meanwhile, about one-third of Americans think that the Obama administration intentionally spied on Trump and members of his campaign before the election. Just over half of Republicans believe there was improper surveillance, while only about 1 in 10 Democrats say that’s the case. Clinton voters are 68 percentage points more likely than Trump voters to say the president colluded with Russians, while Trump voters are 54 points more likely than Clinton voters to say Obama spied.
- U.S. intelligence agencies have stated emphatically that Russia sought to influence the 2016 election, but 35 percent of Americans do not think that’s true. (It’s overwhelmingly Republicans.)
-- Reflexive partisanship increasingly shades people’s views of even the most basic facts. It is hard to overstate how bad the trust deficit has become and how corrosive this is for civic life in a free society. John called back some of the poll respondents to interview them later. One of his interviews is really eye opening. Gary Phillips, a 65-year-old Trump supporter who lives in Ohio, is among those who say Obama spied on the Trump campaign. “I wouldn’t put it past the Obama bunch,” said Phillips, a retiree who previously managed a private lake in his state, when asked why he believes the claim. “I wouldn’t believe (Obama) if he said today was sunny or today was cloudy.” Certainly, there are a lot of Democrats who would say the same about Trump. This makes governing very hard.
-- Another important finding in our new WaPo/ABC poll is that half of Americans lack confidence in Congress’ ability to fairly investigate Russian interference in the election. Four in 10 Republicans doubt the investigation’s fairness, rising to 51 percent among Democrats and 58 percent among political independents.
-- The House Intelligence Committee is working to regain the credibility it lost when Devin Nunes was in charge. Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.), who replaced the Californian after he recused himself, has scheduled a classified briefing next Tuesday with the directors of the FBI and National Security Agency. He’s also holding an open hearing next month for former acting Attorney General Sally Yates to testify.
-- Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who has been accused of being too close to the Trump administration, is also trying to earn the trust of some Democrats. He announced yesterday that his panel has now “finished the initial round” of over 20 interviews and plans to “pick that pace up” with more in the near future: “Flynn is on the list of officials Burr hopes to bring in for an interview,” Karoun reports. “The senator noted the panel had been interested in speaking to him ‘from the beginning.’ ‘In many cases in investigations like this, you get one shot at people,’ Burr said, explaining why they had not yet invited him. ‘So we want to make sure we’re as thorough as we possibly can be.’” He also told reporters that his panel will not give Flynn immunity, as his lawyer requested.
-- The question on everyone’s mind: Could Flynn go to prison? “Violations of this nature can be punished by up to five years of jail time,” Karoun explains. “The FBI could open an investigation into the matter, and if it has not already, Congress could ask them to do so. Those decisions will probably be up to the Justice Department’s new deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, whom the Senate confirmed Tuesday by a vote of 94 to 6. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from matters involving the Trump campaign.” BUT, BUT, BUT: “The bar for prosecution is high. The law requires investigators to show that Flynn ‘knowingly and willfully’ made false statements. Prosecutors would not be able to make a case if Flynn’s forms were inaccurate because of carelessness or an honest mistake.” (Matt Zapotosky has more on Rosenstein’s confirmation.)
THE FIRST FAMILY:
-- Ivanka Trump was booed by the crowd at a women’s economic conference in Berlin yesterday after she called her father a “tremendous champion of supporting families.” Danielle Paquette reports: “Trump was taking her first crack at diplomacy abroad in her new role as assistant to the president, vowing … to create ‘positive change’ for women in the United States. ‘He encouraged me and enabled me to thrive,’ she said on a panel with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde and other female leaders. ‘I grew up in a house where there was no barrier to what I could accomplish beyond my own perseverance and my own tenacity.’ Miriam Meckel, editor of the German magazine WirtschaftsWoche, noted the audience’s response of groaning and hissing and asked Trump whether her father is actually an ‘empowerer’ of women. ‘I've certainly heard the criticism from the media, and that's been perpetuated,’ Trump said on the panel, ‘but I know from personal experience, and I think the thousands of women who have worked with and for my father for decades when he was in the private sector are a testament to his belief and solid conviction in the potential of women.’”
-- Her reviews at home aren’t much better: The new Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 61 percent of Americans say Trump should not have put his daughter and son-in-law in his administration, while just 34 percent approved of the hires. The results echo findings from a Quinnipiac University poll last week, in which 53 percent majorities said both Ivanka Trump and Jared Kusher's appointments, individually, were inappropriate. (Aaron Blake)
-- Workers at a Chinese factory used by the company that makes clothing for Ivanka's eponymous clothing line worked nearly 60 hours a week to earn wages of little more than $62 a week, according to a factory audit. Drew Harwell reports: "The factory’s 80 workers knit clothes for the contractor, G-III Apparel Group, which has held the exclusive license to make the Ivanka Trump brand’s $158 dresses, $79 blouses and other clothes since 2012. The company also makes clothes for Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and other brands.” Inspectors with the Fair Labor Association, an industry monitoring group whose members include Apple and Nike, found two dozen violations of international labor standards during a two-day tour factory tour in October, saying in a report that workers faced daunting hours, high turnover, and pay near or below China’s minimum wage. Trump has no leadership role in G-III, and the report [did not] say whether it was working on Ivanka-brand products at the time of the inspection. [But] the inspection offers a rare look at the working conditions of the global manufacturing machine that helped make Trump’s fashion brand a multimillion-dollar business."
-- A travelogue-style item referring to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club as the “winter White House” was not reviewed for ethics or conflict-of-interest issues before it was published on a State Department website earlier this month, according to a spokesman from the department. Anne Geran reports: The spokesman said the item – which has since been pulled following criticism that it amounted to improper promotion of Trump’s business empire – was written solely to explain the venue to foreign audiences ahead of Trump’s meeting there with Chinese President Xi Jinping. “It was meant to provide historical information and context relevant to the conduct of U.S. diplomacy and was not intended to endorse or promote any private enterprise,” he said.
-- The Trump family is costing taxpayers a lot of money. Here's a small, but telling, illustration, via a Post investigative reporter:
Part of the U.S. taxpayer price-tag for Jared & Ivanka's vacation to Vancouver: $6,884.03 for "multi day ski passes" for Secret Service pic.twitter.com/XAJNiWU8bo— Amy Brittain (@AmyJBrittain) April 25, 2017
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
-- The U.S. military began installing a controversial anti-missile defense system known as THAAD in South Korea overnight. The sudden, unannounced move comes just six days after U.S. Forces Korea secured land to deploy the system – and has prompted criticism that it was rushing to get the battery in place before the likely election of a president who opposes it. Anna Fifield reports: “Moon Jae-in, a liberal candidate who has a strong lead in the polls ahead of the May 9 presidential election, has promised to review South Korea’s decision to host the anti-missile battery. 'There’s a sense in Seoul that THAAD deployment has been rushed based on the timetable of South Korea’s presidential election, rather than North Korea’s threats,' said John Delury, a professor in Seoul. 'To some extent, the acceleration of THAAD deployment has ‘worked,’ limiting the next South Korean leader’s room for maneuver.' But there’s the danger of a backlash among the South Korean public feeling like a pawn in the game of ‘America First.’” South Korea’s ministry of defense said THAAD will be fully operational “within the year.” A spokesman for Moon criticized the installation.
-- The White House said there is “still room” for a diplomatic solution with North Korea, even as Pyongyang conducted live-fire drills Tuesday and South Korea, Japan, and the U.S. carried out their own military exercises. Sean Spicer told reporters Tuesday that Trump’s recent meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping is “paying dividends”: “The more that we can solve this diplomatically and continue to apply pressure on China and other countries to use the political and economic tools that they have to achieve a goal in stabilization in the region, but also to tamp down the threat that North Korea faces, I think that that is something that we all share.”
“At the same time, one of the largest U.S. guided-missile submarines showed up in the South Korean port of Busan, presaging the imminent arrival in the region of a naval strike group led by an aircraft carrier,” Anna reports. “And Kim Jong Un’s regime marked the 85th anniversary of the founding of North Korea’s army Tuesday with its typical bluster, conducting large-scale live-fire drills on its east coast, South Korean media said. Even so, Joseph Yun, the U.S. special representative for North Korean policy, met with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts in Tokyo, and China’s main point man on North Korea was also in town -- a sign that diplomacy is not entirely dead.”
-- Turkey stepped up its bombing campaign against Kurdish militants outside its borders Tuesday, killing as many as 20 U.S.-backed fighters in Syria and expanding its strikes in Iraq, an escalation that could complicate efforts to combat ISIS. Loveday Morris and Kareem Fahim report: “The predawn raids drew swift rebukes from the U.S. and Iraq, which accused Turkey of not properly coordinating the strikes. The government of the Iraqi region of Kurdistan described the strikes as ‘painful and unacceptable’ after five of its peshmerga fighters were killed in an apparent misfire. The Turkish military said the raids targeted ‘terrorist hotbeds’ and supply routes used by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to smuggle ammunition, arms and explosive material into Turkey, where it is waging an insurgency. But the PKK affiliate hit in the Syria strikes … has played a key role in turning back Islamic State militants and is a major component of U.S.-backed forces preparing for an assault on the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa. The incident underscores the increasing tension between Washington and Ankara over the role of the Kurdish fighters.”
-- “Whoever wins France’s presidency will still face a big challenge: Governing,” by Michael Birnbaum: “As two political outsiders battle to become France’s president ahead of a runoff next month, each is looking ahead to a biting reality: If they want to pass laws, they need lawmakers on their side. And right now, their two parties combined command three lawmakers out of 925 in France’s Parliament. Centrist newcomer Emmanuel Macron and far-right rival Marine Le Pen both aim to capture the lower house of Parliament in June’s legislative elections. Their tally could make or break their presidencies — but in a nation where traditional parties are in disarray, few politicians are willing to predict what could happen. The challenge may be particularly steep for Macron, who is the formidable front-runner … Vanquished leaders of traditional parties have united behind him to attempt to deny Le Pen the presidency. But that unified front is unlikely to hold for the Parliament. And if Macron wins a mandate but flops in his bid to improve life for French citizens, the anti-E.U. Le Pen may come back stronger than ever.”
Macron, a 39-year-old former investment banker who has never held elected office, has staked his campaign on a pledge to improve the system – but some analysts say his ascendency is due less on the strength of his message and more on the failings of his rivals. “It’s amazing what he’s doing,” said Paris-based political science professor Dominique Reynié. “It’s a masterpiece to become a president so quickly and so young, but the political situation fundamentally is very, very dangerous.”
-- Marine Le Pen faces an uphill battle in France’s presidential runoff. But with the final vote less than two weeks away, she’s also getting support from an unlikely source: her defeated counterpart on the far left. The New York Times’ Adam Nossiter reports: “Alone among all of France’s major political personalities, Jean-Luc Mélenchon … who finished a strong fourth in Sunday’s voting, has refused to endorse [Macron] ... Mr. Mélenchon’s critics say his obstinacy is petulant, wounded pride that can only help Ms. Le Pen’s National Front. But it also speaks to the passions that Mr. Macron, a seemingly mild-mannered centrist, provokes in large parts of the French electorate, far left and far right, who share a view of the 39-year-old former investment banker as a fire-breathing incarnation of evil market culture. As populism and anger over the impacts of globalization energize much of the electorate, Mr. Mélenchon’s stand has added a new element of uncertainty into the final round of voting … It has also set off a dynamic in the French race much like when Hillary Clinton defeated [Bernie Sanders] in the Democratic presidential primaries … leaving his supporters, still in the thrall of populism, up for grabs as party allegiances broke down.”
-- The headline on the cover story in the next edition of Bloomberg Businessweek: “Is Justin Trudeau the Anti-Trump?” From John Micklethwait's interview with the Canadian leader:
- On Trump’s trade comments: “One of the challenges that we’ve seen in the rise of populist or nationalist politics around the world over the past years is a reflection that trade hasn’t always been great for everyone …The issue, however, is if you end up going down a highly protectionistic route, if you end up creating barriers and tariff walls, you end up slowing down economic growth, and everyone ends up suffering, including and especially the middle class.”
- On what he has learned about Trump so far: "I’ve learned that he listens … As politicians, we’re very, very much trained to say something and stick with it. Whereas he has shown that if he says one thing and then actually hears good counterarguments or good reasons why he should shift his position, he will take a different position, if it’s a better one, if the arguments win him over."
- On his efforts to legalize marijuana: "Whatever you may think about the relative harms of marijuana vs. alcohol or cigarettes, marijuana’s not good for the developing brain. It’s not good for our kids. We need to do a better job of making it more difficult, at least as difficult as it is to access alcohol.”
MORE ON THE DOMESTIC AGENDA:
-- Trump officially caved on border wall funding in this week's spending fight, as I reported he would in yesterday morning’s 202. The latest Republican offer to keep the government open past Friday includes not one dollar to fund the president’s proposal, Kelsey Snell and Ed O'Keefe report: “The decision to withdraw a roughly $1.5 billion request to begin building a physical barrier between the two countries may eliminate the White House’s best chance to secure the funding and begin construction this year. Nonetheless, Trump and his aides vowed Tuesday that a wall will still be built by the end of his current term. In exchange for backing off the border funding request, Republicans insisted on increases in border security and defense spending, including an unspecified amount to repair fencing and new surveillance technology to patrol the nearly 2,000-mile border.” “The wall was never going to be in there. There aren’t enough Republican votes,” said ranking Senate Appropriates Committee Democrat Patrick Leahy.
-- “Pelosi and Hoyer at odds over budget negotiations,” by Politico’s Heather Caygle: “A disagreement between House Democratic leaders over Obamacare subsidies spilled into the open Tuesday, threatening to undermine their negotiating position as they hash out a deal with Republicans to fund the government. Democratic negotiators, led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), are demanding the final funding bill include language to provide permanent Obamacare subsidies to help cover costs for low-income enrollees and keep insurance markets afloat. But House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), No. 2 behind Pelosi, publicly dismissed that idea Tuesday, saying the fix would be nice to have in the funding bill but should not be a requirement for supporting the legislation and should not be used as a political bargaining chip.”
-- The White House has changed course on providing child-care benefits for families, following criticism that Trump’s campaign proposal would have done little to help working-class families and provide disproportionate benefits to well-off parents. Danielle Paquette and Damian Paletta report: “The Trump administration is now looking to bolster the Child and Dependent Care Credit, which allows working parents to slice a maximum of $2,100 from their tax bill for spending on child care … The centerpiece of Trump’s earlier approach would have allowed parents to deduct the average cost of child care from their income taxes, a strategy that would have benefited families with a high level of income. Lower-income families often don’t have a federal income tax burden and so wouldn’t have received much of a benefit under the plan. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center had estimated that 70 percent of Trump’s child-care plan would flow to families earning more than $100,000 a year.” Now, the administration is focusing on the Child and Dependent Care Credit, and a White House official said they are looking to increase the value of the credit, while limiting how much higher-income parents can benefit from the tax credit.
-- During his campaign, Trump told religious groups he would reverse an Obama administration requirement that employers provide birth control to employees under the Affordable Care Act. Now his Justice Department is fighting the religious groups who oppose the mandate. Paige Winfield Cunningham reports: “The department has asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit for an additional 60 days to negotiate with East Texas Baptist University and several other religious groups objecting to a requirement to which they are morally opposed. The request doesn’t necessarily mean that Justice plans to continue defending the mandate; the agency could be buying extra time as the new administration figures out its next move. But the lack of clarity from the Trump administration is dismaying to several religious organizations, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of nuns that fought the mandate for several years but expected an immediate reprieve under the Republican president.”
-- An internal State Department memo says the Paris climate accord imposes “few obligations” on the U.S., bolstering the case for Trump officials who want to stay in the deal. Bloomberg reports that the draft makes no explicit recommendation about whether the U.S. should remain in the pact, but it was circulated ahead of a scheduled meeting of White House officials to deliberate the accord.
-- Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said Trump is granting him the authority to review more than two dozen national monuments created since 1996 and spanning more than 100,000 acres -- seeking “to make sure the people have a voice” in which lands receive the highest level of federal protection. Juliet Eilperin reports: “Trump will sign an executive order authorizing the review Wednesday at the Interior Department, a move that could prompt changes to areas designated not only by [Obama, but also George W. Bush and Bill Clinton]. Each created multiple monuments under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which gives the president wide latitude to safeguard federal land that faces a threat. ‘It restores the trust between local communities and Washington,’ Zinke [said], ‘to give Americans a voice and make sure their voices are heard.’” While Zinke did not identify which designations were considered most problematic, the review has been specifically crafted to encompass national monuments in Utah, including the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears, declared by Obama last December."
-- Trump will sign a toothless executive order today instructing Betsy DeVos to study how the federal government “has unlawfully overstepped state and local control” in education. Emma Brown has a preview: The move comes as Trump has repeatedly pledged to downsize the Education Department and its role in U.S. schools and colleges. The order he plans to sign is “intended to return authority to where Congress intended — state and local entities.” It’s unclear how long the study will take or what, if any, action the Trump administration would take in response to the findings.
-- “The saga of a YouTube family who pulled disturbing pranks on their own kids,” by Abby Ohlheiser: “Heather Martin, a.k.a. ‘MommyOFive,’ is screaming. ‘Get your f—— a — up here!’ she yells at Cody, her young son. Mike Martin — DaddyOFive to his family YouTube channel’s 750,000 subscribers — follows along behind with the camera as Cody runs upstairs, [and discovers ink all over his floor]. The boy begins to cry. ‘I didn’t do that,’ he says, his face turning red. For three minutes, the parents scream and swear at Cody and his brother … [then], MommyOFive reveals a small bottle in her hand. The ink was trick ink, she says, it will disappear from the floor. ‘You just got owned!’ DaddyOFive says, pointing the camera in the faces of his children … faces still red from crying. ‘It’s just a prank, bruh!’ The video is difficult to watch; it feels wrong in your gut. Go deeper into DaddyOFive’s YouTube channel archives, and that gut feeling gets worse. DaddyOFive built enough of a fan base to make a living off his monetized YouTube channel, but to most onlookers, the videos he posted looked a lot like abuse.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
isn't that every day at the White House? pic.twitter.com/YduucRnMG1— Colin Campbell (@colincampbell) April 25, 2017
In the wake of Bill O'Reilly:
25 years after those celebrated hearings,Anita Hill on what we've learned about sexual harassment at work https://t.co/55RPiZI6Nk— Andrea Mitchell (@mitchellreports) April 25, 2017
One take on the Canada news, from the Toronto Star's Washington Correspondent:
Curiously, the Trump team has started going hard at Canada as it has explicitly eased off on China and noticeably eased off on Mexico.— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) April 25, 2017
Foreign governments are putting out much more detailed readouts of Trump's calls than the White House, a break with tradition:
Left: Prime Minister's office readout of Trudeau's phone call with Trump— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) April 26, 2017
Right: White House readout of the very same call
Like the old days when you could cover China better from the British colony in Hong Kong than from the censored Chinese capital. https://t.co/0AnsYHyHBh— David Frum (@davidfrum) April 26, 2017
Donald Trump Jr. retweeted this pro-Le Pen video, even as White House aides continue to claim (dubiously) that the Trumps don't have a preference in the French runoff:
Macron will take powers away from France while Le Pen will protect it. This is the choice for French voters. pic.twitter.com/98Bo3jk8cK— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) April 25, 2017
Many people on social highlighted how much Trump himself would benefit from the tax plan he's proposing:
No action Trump has taken to date would personally enrich him and his family nearly as much as this https://t.co/kSehzQFyVb— Dylan Matthews (@dylanmatt) April 25, 2017
It's 5:00am in Pyongyang, North Korea. Listen to the alarm that wakes the area https://t.co/Bdu709ngq4— The Lead CNN (@TheLeadCNN) April 25, 2017
Ted Cruz has a new project:
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- The New Yorker, “Colombia’s guerrillas come out of the jungle,” by Jon Lee Anderson: Carlos Antonio "Lozada is an unlikely seeming Marxist revolutionary. But, at fifty-six, he is the youngest member of the seven-man secretariat that governs the [FARC] … as it tries to reëngage with the world. When I visited, Lozada had spent the previous two weeks helicoptering around the country with a Colombian Army general and a group of U.N. officials, inspecting spots where guerrillas can meet and surrender their weapons. Sounding delighted, and a bit incredulous, he kept repeating, ‘The war is over.’ Most of the combatants had been living as fugitives in their own country, and were now contemplating a return to towns and families they had not seen in years. At a nearby farm, Lozada had set up a satellite Internet connection, and he marvelled at its effect on his young fighters. ‘That’s all they talk about: getting on Facebook to find their parents, and making WhatsApp calls,’ he said. That afternoon, the mother of one girl who had run away to join the FARC ten years earlier arrived at Yarí unannounced. When she found her daughter, she broke down. ‘For ten minutes, no words came,’ Lozada said. ‘She just sobbed.’”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“Turn in 'illegal aliens': Posters call on UT-Arlington campus to do so as 'civic duty,’” from the Dallas Morning News: “Posters urging people at UT-Arlington to report those in the country illegally to immigration officials were spotted on campus Monday. The fliers, which include the website of the white supremacist group Vanguard America, call on white Americans to turn in unauthorized immigrants to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ‘America is a white nation,’ the fliers read. In addition to the one found on campus, the Vanguard America website contains anti-black and anti-Muslim posters. It is not clear whether members of the group were responsible for hanging the posters. Voto Latino tweeted an image of one of the posters and urged people to demand … UT-Arlington [be declared] a sanctuary campus, an effort that gained momentum after [Trump's] election.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“Texas lawmaker on four-day hunger strike in protest of ‘sanctuary city’ bill,” from Samantha Schmidt: “On Sunday, Texas state Rep. Victoria Neave attended Mass at Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Dallas, asked the priest for a blessing and received Holy Communion. She hasn’t eaten anything since. Neave, a Democrat, is fasting for four days in protest of a ‘sanctuary city’ bill that the Texas House is scheduled to debate on Wednesday. The bill would ban cities, counties and universities from preventing local law enforcement agencies from asking about a person’s immigration status or enforcing immigration law. The Texas Senate has approved the legislation, and those against the bill are outnumbered in the House, Neave said. ‘I feel like this is an attack on my dad and millions of other families across our state,’ she said … ‘What else can I do to defeat this bill?’ she [added]. ‘The last alternative I thought I could turn to was prayer.’”
At the White House: Trump will travel to the Department of the Interior to give remarks and sign the Antiquities Executive Order. In the afternoon, Trump will have lunch with Pence, meet with Rex Tillerson, participate a federalism event with Governors, and sign the Education Federalism Executive Order. Later in the afternoon, Trump will stop by an all-Senate briefing on North Korea, and hold a National Teacher of the Year event.
Pence will join Trump as he signs the Antiquities Executive Order, and then they'll have lunch. Later in the day, the Vice President will rejoin the President to drop by an all-Senate briefing on North Korea, a federalism event with Governors, an Education Federalism Executive Order signing, and a National Teacher of the Year event.
-- Law enforcement and first responders will take part in a full-scale training exercise simulating a terrorist attack in the District and surrounding suburbs today. Authorities are warning residents not to be alarmed by the increased presence of police, fire and emergency crews that will be deployed through the region for the exercise designed to train first responders for a possible attack on the region. The training exercise will occur in a controlled environment and involve hundreds of first responders and volunteers, who will be acting as injured victims. The exercise will take place in six staged locations throughout Northeast and Southeast Washington and Prince George’s, Arlington and Fairfax counties. (Lynh Bui)
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“We will confront anti-Semitism,” Trump said at a Holocaust remembrance event. “We will stamp out prejudice, we will condemn hatred, we will bear witness and we will act. As president of the United States, I will always stand with the Jewish people.”
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- Finally some sun on the radar! The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Mostly cloudy skies stick around this morning, with perhaps some lingering drizzle, as temperatures rise through the 50s and into the 60s by lunchtime. Brightening afternoon skies should then lift highs to the upper 60s to mid-70s with light winds.”
-- The Nationals beat the Rockies, 15-12.
-- A new study from George Washington University found that some seafood chain restaurants in Washington are serving similar -- but not the exact -- species of fish advertised on local menus. Out of 12 dishes at six seafood chains, scientists found that one-third of samples were incorrectly labeled. (Maura Judkis)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Stephen Colbert airs "the bold and he babbling:"
Obama is back, says Jimmy Kimmel:
Caitlyn Jenner defense her vote for Trump:
Conan wants you to see the Anti-Scientist protesters:
Adam Schiff says Trump should stop tweeting:
Watch this stunning time lapse video of California desert:
See the moment the Maryland shooting spree subject is caught:
Five fact checks from Trump's AP interview: