With Breanne Deppisch

THE BIG IDEA is by Rachel Van Dongen today as James is on vacation until next Monday. Never fear, we have an all-star lineup of Post writers to guest host the 202 in his absence. Hope everyone enjoyed their Memorial Day break.

President Trump arrived back in Washington after his first overseas trip to find that the Russia tangle has made its way into the White House — in the form of one of the president's closest aides: son-in-law Jared Kushner. Post reporters Ellen Nakashima, Adam Entous and Greg Miller dropped a Friday afternoon bombshell when they reported that Kushner and the seemingly omnipresent Sergey Kislyak — Moscow's ambassador to the United States  had talked about setting up a secret back-channel communication system with the Kremlin. According to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports, Kushner and Kislyak discussed using Russian diplomatic facilities to shield their conversations from our own country's intelligence apparatus. The move was unusual to say the least — and it happened several weeks before Trump was inaugurated, so Kushner was acting as a private citizen.

The meeting was picked up by U.S. intelligence and is said to have occurred between Dec. 1 and 2 at Trump Tower. Another controversial figure was also there  Michael Flynn, who was later ousted as Trump's national security adviser and is refusing to comply with a Senate subpoena demanding a list of his contacts with Russian officials between June 16, 2015, and Jan. 20, 2017. The Senate Intelligence Committee is deciding whether to hold him in contempt.

Until last week, it was Flynn and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort who seemed to be in the crosshairs of congressional investigators and the FBI, which is probing Russia's suspected meddling in the 2016 campaign and possible ties between Trump aides and Vladimir Putin. Manafort had already been sidelined before the campaign concluded, and Flynn was ousted in February after he was less than candid with Vice President Pence about his conversations with Kislyak. Manafort is taking a different approach to the congressional probes thus far, just last week he submitted 302 pages of documents related to Russia to the House and Senate intelligence panels.

 

But the Kushner situation is different for a number of key reasons.

First, the top White House official is Trump's son-in-law, married to the president's influential daughter Ivanka. Ivanka and Jared, and their children, moved down to Washington to help Trump run the government and the couple, who were by Trump's side during the campaign, are trusted advisers among the president's warring and competitive inner circle. Second, the report that Kushner is now a focus of the FBI probe into Russian interference in the election, brings the Justice Department investigation and recently appointed special counsel Robert Mueller into the inner sanctum of the White House.

That is dangerous territory for the president, who could more easily attribute any problems related to Russia to rogue aides like Flynn and Manafort who are no longer advising him. But severing the tie between himself and Jared — whose broad portfolio includes Middle East peace and "innovation" — will not be so easy.

There was a wealth of reporting on the first son-in-law over the weekend. Most of it suggested that Kushner was readying to fight the idea that he has done anything improper when it comes to Russia. John Wagner, Robert Costa and Ashley Parker reported the president was considering setting up a war room to more quickly combat the endless drip of Russia-related stories: "Kushner has played an active role in the effort to rethink and rearrange the communications team, improve the White House’s surrogate operation, and develop an internal group to respond to the influx of negative stories and revelations over the FBI’s Russia inquiry, said a person with knowledge of the coming changes." 

John, Bob and Ashley reported that Kushner's role "has emerged as a particularly sensitive topic of discussion.... Some White House aides have discreetly discussed among themselves whether Kushner should play a lesser role — or even take a leave — at least until the Russia-related issues calm." But here's the key line: "Those close to Kushner said he has no plans to take a reduced role, although people who have spoken to him say that he is increasingly weary of the nonstop frenzy."

The New York Times's Glenn Thrush, Maggie Haberman and Sharon LaFraniere reported that Kushner spent the last three days "in fretful seclusion" at his father-in-law's estate in Bedminister, N.J.: "But he emerged defiant and eager to defend his reputation in congressional hearings, according to two of his associates.... But in recent weeks, the Trump-Kushner relationship, the most stable partnership in an often unstable West Wing, is showing unmistakable signs of strain.... It has been duly noted in the White House that Mr. Trump, who feels that he has been ill served by his staff, has increasingly included Mr. Kushner when he dresses down aides and officials, a rarity earlier in his administration and during the campaign."

The NYT reports that the "most serious point of contention" was the pitch by Kushner's sister, Nicole Meyer, to Beijing investors regarding a Kushner Companies condo project in New Jersey. Meyer "dangled the availability of EB-5 visas to the United States as an enticement for Chinese financiers willing to spend $500,000 or more." In another key nugget, the reporters note that Stephen Bannon, Kushner's rival for Trump's attention, refers to Jared as "'the air,'” because he blows in and out of meetings leaving little trace, according to one senior Trump aide."

There has been lots of buzz about Trump bringing back some of his more controversial old hands. Last night, for instance:

For some insight into how Kushner works, don't miss Michael Kranish's and Jonathan O'Connell's revealing piece on how Trump's son-in-law was playing hardball way before he moved to Washington. Michael and Jonathan explain how Jared bought the New York Observer in 2006 after his father went to prison for federal tax evasion. Some former colleagues allege he aimed to use the paper to settle scores with business rivals. Kushner also took charge  at the age of 25  of his father's real-estate business, paying $1.8 billion in 2007 for the country's most expensive office building. The timing was off  the Great Recession was underway  and the property's value plummeted to about half of what it was worth by 2010. Kushner played hardball with the investors  one of whom was Trump friend Thomas Barrack Jr. Kushner ultimately made a deal to lower his debt and maintain majority ownership in building. Some lenders had hard feelings "but Kushner viewed it as a hardball business deal and showed that he was a tough negotiator, according to an individual familiar with his perspective. Sources familiar with the arrangement said the Kushner family got back most of its $500 million investment."

Roll Call columnist Walter Shapiro had a blistering column in The Guardian: "Even under the benign theory that Kushner thought that a secret back channel was like a small boy’s tin-can telephone, his life in the coming months and maybe years will be a study in misery. He will probably spend more time with his personal lawyer, Clinton Justice Department veteran Jamie Gorelick, than with Ivanka or his children. Whether it is an appearance under oath on Capitol Hill or the inevitable FBI interview, every sentence Kushner utters will bring with it possible legal jeopardy."

To take his White House job, Kushner resigned from the family business but "kept stakes in about 90 percent of his real estate holdings, valued between $132 million and $407 million," which troubles some ethics experts.

The NYT on Tuesday examined why Kushner met in mid-December with Russian banker Sergey Gorkov, a close Putin associate whose financial institution is under sanction by the U.S. government. U.S. officials now say the meeting "may have been part of an effort by Mr. Kushner to establish a direct line to Mr. Putin outside of established diplomatic channels," report Matthew Rosenberg, Mark Mazzetti and Maggie Haberman. More from their piece: "It is not clear whether Mr. Kushner saw the Russian banker as someone who could be repeatedly used as a go-between or whether the meeting with Mr. Gorkov was designed to establish a direct, secure communications line to Mr. Putin.... Yet one current and one former American official with knowledge of the continuing congressional and F.B.I. investigations said they were examining whether the channel was meant to remain open, and if there were other items on the meeting’s agenda, including lifting sanctions that the Obama administration had imposed on Russia in response to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and its aggression in Ukraine."

So far, Trump is sticking by his son-in-law. John Kelly, the Homeland Security Department secretary, said on the Sunday shows that opening a back-channel with Russia was a "good thing": “It’s both normal, in my opinion, and acceptable,” Kelly said on ABC News’s “This Week.” “Any way that you can communicate with people, particularly organizations that are maybe not particularly friendly to us is a good thing.” But others disagreed  including ranking House Intelligence Committee Democrat Adam Schiff (Calif.) who called for Kushner's security clearance to be reviewed.

Trump released this statement to the Times: "Jared is doing a great job for the country. I have total confidence in him. He is respected by virtually everyone and is working on programs that will save our country billions of dollars. In addition to that, and perhaps more importantly, he is a very good person.”

And Trump called out the "fake news" media in a series of tweets on Sunday, though they didn't mention Kushner by name.

 

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- Mike Dubke has resigned as White House communications director, a senior administration official confirmed, in the first of what could be a series of changes to Trump's senior staff amid the growing Russia scandal. Philip Rucker reports: “Dubke, who served in the post for three months, tendered his resignation May 18. He offered to stay on to help manage communications in Washington during Trump's foreign trip, and the president accepted.” His last day on the job has not been determined but could be as early as today.

Dubke has worked closely with Sean Spicer in helping manage communications strategy — including responses to crises such as the firing of James Comey and other policy rollouts. “The communications operation — and Dubke and Spicer specifically — have come under sharp criticism from Trump and many senior officials in the West Wing, who believe the president has been poorly served by his staff, in particular in the aftermath of the Comey firing. Dubke was the rare Trump newcomer in a White House in which personal relationships and proximity to the president is the currency. He arrived in mid-February, a few weeks into Trump's term, and struggled to build alliances with some colleagues on the senior staff, not having worked on Trump's campaign or his transition team."

-- DRIP, DRIP DRIP: “Russian government officials discussed having potentially ‘derogatory’ information about then-presidential candidate [Trump] and some of his top aides in conversations intercepted by US intelligence during the 2016 election, CNN’s Pamela Brown, Jim Sciutto and Dana Bash report: “One source described the information as financial in nature and said the discussion centered on whether the Russians had leverage over Trump's inner circle. The source said the intercepted communications suggested to US intelligence that Russians believed ‘they had the ability to influence the administration through the derogatory information.’

The sources cautioned that the Russian claims to one another "‘could have been exaggerated or even made up,’ as part of a disinformation campaign that the Russians did during the election. [But] the details of the communication shed new light on information US intelligence received about Russian claims of influence, [and] … made clear to US officials that Russia was considering ways to influence the election  even if their claims turned out to be false.”

-- Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, the Panamanian strongman and onetime American ally who was toppled from power in a 1989 U.S. invasion — and who spent more than 20 years in prison on drug dealing and and conspiracy charges — died late Monday. He was 83. The cause of death was not announced, but Noriega had been in a hospital’s intensive care unit for months after complications from surgery to remove a benign brain tumor. (Peter Eisner)

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Jim Bunning, the Hall of Famer-turned-politician who pitched 17 years in the majors before going on to serve as a U.S. senator from Kentucky, died Friday at the age of 85. The cause of death was complications from a stroke he suffered last October, a family member confirmed. (The Courier-Journal)
  2. A car bomb exploded outside a popular ice cream shop in central Baghdad Tuesday, killing 13 people and leaving more than 20 others injured. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack. (AP)
  3. Newly minted French President Emmanuel Macron delivered a blunt greeting to Vladimir Putin in Paris on Monday, blasting Russia’s state-owned media outlets as “propaganda” that sought to influence the country's presidential race. (James McAuley)
  4. A worsening budget crisis in Oklahoma has forced more than 95 school districts to hold class just four days a week. Some say the crisis serves as a cautionary tale about the real-life consequences of the small-government approach favored by Republican majorities in Washington and statehouses nationwide. (Emma Brown)
  5. The Denver Post issued an apology after one of its sportswriters, Terry Frei, tweeted that he was “very uncomfortable” with Japanese driver Takuma Sato winning the Indy 500.  (Scott Allen)
  6. A freak wind storm tore through Moscow on Monday, killing at least 16 people and leaving hundreds injured in what is believed to be the country’s deadliest storm in more than a century. (BBC)
  7. A 73-year-old Australian man was enjoying a leisurely fishing trip when he was joined by a very unexpected visitor: a seven-foot great white shark that leapt into his boat, knocking him to the floor and nearly filling the length of his tiny vessel. The fisherman  who escaped with minor injuries  says he believes the shark jumped about four feet to clear the side of his boat. (NBC News
  8. Millions of people hop on ferries each year to visit the Statue of Liberty, eager to catch a glimpse of the famed symbol of freedom. But as companies race to pack each sightseeing boat with tourists, a fierce and rapidly escalating turf war has emerged — prompting a spate of assaults, a slashing and, most recently, a shooting. “They make a lot of money down there,” one official noted, “and they’ll defend it with knives and guns if they need to.” (New York Times)
  9. Can convicts housed in some of New York’s toughest detention facilities learn to (literally) change their tune? That’s the aim of a new Carnegie Hall outreach program, which has dispatched its renowned teachers across the state in hopes of curbing recidivism rates through music. At Rikers Island, for example, jailed mothers write lullabies alongside famed musicians. Others pen and perform songs about their painful pasts. And now, the fabled institution says it will begin connecting juvenile offenders with arts programs after they reenter society. (Wall Street Journal)
  10. Tiger Woods says that prescription medication  not alcohol  was the cause of his DUI arrest early Monday. Speaking in a statement just hours after his release from jail, the pro golfer claimed he was suffering from an "unexpected reaction" and did not realize the "mix of medications" he took had affected him so strongly. Woods suffers from chronic back pain and underwent surgery in April, though it is unclear whether his prescriptions were related to that injury. (Barry Svrluga)

INSIDE TRUMP’S WASHINGTON  THREE MUST-READ STORIES:

-- ON HOW TRUMP HANDLES TOP-SECRET INTEL: “[Trump] consumes classified intelligence like he does most everything else in life: ravenously and impatiently, eager to ingest glinting nuggets but often indifferent to subtleties.” Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker report: “Most mornings, often at 10:30 … Trump sits behind the historic Resolute desk and, with a fresh Diet Coke fizzing and papers piled high, receives top-secret updates on the world’s hot spots. The president interrupts his briefers with questions but also with random asides. He asks that the top brass of the intelligence community be present, and he demands brevity." 

  • "Though career intelligence analysts often take the lead in delivering them, Trump likes his [political appointees] to attend, along with national security adviser H.R. McMaster. [Mike Pompeo and Daniel Coats], whose offices are in McLean, Va., have had to redesign their daily routines so that they spend many mornings at the White House. As they huddle around the desk, Trump likes to pore over visuals — maps, charts, pictures and videos, as well as ‘killer graphics,’ as [Pompeo] phrased it.  Yet there are signs that the president may not be retaining all the intelligence he is presented, fully absorbing its nuance, or respecting the sensitivities of the information and how it was gathered...."

-- ON HOW HE TREATS HIS CLOSEST AIDES:Snubs and slights are part of the job in Trump’s White House,” by Ashley Parker: “[Sean Spicer] was giddy at the thought of meeting Pope Francis during President Trump’s first trip abroad, telling acquaintances that for him, a devout Catholic, the moment would fulfill a bucket-list dream.  But when the White House finalized the lucky list of staff and family members who would accompany Trump … Spicer’s name was nowhere to be found. [His exclusion] … [stunned] his colleagues, many of whom expressed pity for him and were visibly uncomfortable talking about the slight.… In Trump’s White House, aides serve a president who demands absolute loyalty — but who doesn’t always offer it in return. Trump prefers a management style in which even compliments can come laced with a bite, and where enduring snubs and belittling jokes, even in public, are part of the job."

  • “The approach, however, frequently leaves Trump’s top team open to some of his more cutting digs. More recently, during a lunch with ambassadors from countries on the U.N. Security Council, Trump jokingly polled those in the room on whether they thought U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, seated directly to his right, was doing a good job. ‘How do you all like Nikki?’ he asked, as she looked on. ‘Otherwise, she can easily be replaced.’"

-- ON HOW HE’S “TORTURING CAPITOL HILL”: “A flawed, unpopular health-care bill is stalled in the Senate, the president’s budget proposal has been dismissed out of hand, and hope is fading for other priorities,” The Atlantic’s Molly Ball reports. “‘How do you pack all that in?’ [John McCain] asked last week, adding, ‘So far, I've seen no strategy.… I'm seeing no plan for doing so.’ Meanwhile Democrats sit back and watch it burn, with no small amount of schadenfreude, and the Republicans who never liked Trump see their worst predictions fulfilled. ‘You bought this bad pony. You ride it,’ the anti-Trump consultant Rick Wilson tweeted recently. A staffer to a Senate Republican who did not vote for Trump told me, ‘We didn’t have high expectations, so we’re not disappointed. We tried to warn you.’"

  • “[For] the most part, his party has not openly turned on Trump. [But] behind closed doors … there are differing degrees of fatalism. One group thinks it is possible to fight through the crisis, while another is resigned to ‘a long slow death’ … potentially culminating in a Democratic-controlled House beginning impeachment proceedings in 2019. ‘This is like Reservoir Dogs,’ the staffer said. ‘Everyone ends up dead on the floor.’”

THE FALLOUT COULD GO BEYOND WASHINGTON:

-- New York Times, “‘Narrowcast’ Trump? Republicans Seek Formula to Keep House Majority,” by Jeremy W. Peters: “In the northern suburbs of Atlanta, where what is likely to be the most expensive House campaign in history is being waged, a band of conservative advocacy groups is grappling with a question that may decide whether the Republican Party keeps its House majority after 2018: Do you run with [Trump] or against him? Somehow, the groups are discovering, they will have to do both. The trick for Republicans and their allied outside groups is figuring out how to avoid conspicuously embracing the president without alienating conservative voters who would view any overt rebuff as a betrayal.” “I don’t think you really look to broadcast him,” said Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. “You narrowcast him.”

“At the other end of the spectrum are groups … determined to keep their distance from Mr. Trump. The Congressional Leadership Fund plans to have at least 20 offices up and running by the end of the year in districts across the country … [which will be] primarily in districts that are a lot like Georgia’s Sixth: suburban centers populated with highly educated, well-off voters who are not terribly enthusiastic about Mr. Trump.  The message that groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the Congressional Leadership Fund are pushing in Georgia is Trump-agnostic. The goal is to remind conservative-leaning voters of the common enemy they have in Washington Democrats, even if the headlines about Mr. Trump are too ubiquitous to avoid.”

--  “In Va. governor’s race, Gillespie in a tight spot on immigration in Trump era,” by Laura Vozzella: “With about three weeks to go before Virginia Republicans pick their nominee for governor, front-runner Ed Gillespie is engaged in an awkward two-step as he tries to appeal to [Trump] voters as well as more mainstream ‘big tent’ Republicans. In TV ads, Gillespie sells himself as a twofer — a seasoned government hand … and Washington insider itching to go to bat for the average Joe. In Facebook ads targeted to the kinds of voters who swept Trump into the White House, the Republican strikes a harder tone, with images of federal immigration agents taking someone away in handcuffs … ‘He’s having to play the hokey pokey a little bit here, one foot in, one foot out,’ said [political scientist] Benjamin Melusky …  [Now], Gillespie must figure out how to excite his party’s conservative base without turning off the moderate Republicans and independents essential to winning the swing state. [And if he] wins the nomination, his challenge in the race for the Nov. 7 general election will only get trickier …”

-- ONE POSSIBLE SOLUTION? MIKE PENCE. The vice president is embarking on a cross-country campaign tour this summer amid fears that the Republican Party  reeling from Trump-related controversies — is heading for a midterm election disaster Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reports: “Pence is mapping out a schedule that will take him through several Midwestern battlegrounds and to traditionally conservative southern states like Georgia, where an unexpectedly competitive June special election runoff is alarming party strategists. The vice president will also attend a series of Republican Party events that will draw major donors and power-brokers, where talk about 2018 is certain to be front-and-center. The push comes at a time of growing consternation among senior Republicans who say the White House has given them little direction on midterm planning. Many complain that they do not even know who to contact about 2018 in an administration that has been consumed by chaos. At the same time, the vice president’s increased electoral activity has stoked speculation that Pence is positioning himself for a post-Trump future in the party, something his advisers strenuously deny.”

  • “Next on tap: an early June trip to Iowa, where [Pence] will appear at a barbeque-themed event that will be attended by Sen. Joni Ernst and Gov. Kim Reynolds, the latter of whom is facing a 2018 contest. [Pence] is also likely to be [in] Michigan, where high-profile races for governor and Senate will be on the ballot, and in Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker is seeking reelection.…”

DISMANTLING CONT.:

-- The White House is planning to disband the Labor Department division that has policed discrimination among federal contractors for four decades, according to Trump’s proposed budget  a move that comes as part of wider efforts to minimize civil-rights efforts in government agencies. Juliet Eilperin, Emma Brown and Darryl Fears report: “The proposal to dismantle the compliance office comes at a time when the Trump administration is reducing the role of the federal government in fighting discrimination and protecting minorities by cutting budgets, dissolving programs and appointing officials unsympathetic to previous practices.” Other changes outlined in Trump’s budget proposal:

  • The new leadership at the EPA has proposed eliminating its environmental justice program, which addresses pollution that poses health threats concentrated in minority communities and offers money and technical aide to residents confronted with local hazards.
  • The Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights — which has investigated thousands of discrimination complaints and set new standards for how colleges should respond to sexual-assault allegations – would see significant staffing cuts.
  • HUD has revoked a rule ensuring that transgender people can stay at sex-segregated shelters of their choice, and HHS removed a question about sexual orientation from two surveys of elderly Americans about services offered or funded by the government.

-- The Trump administration is moving to roll back a contraceptive coverage mandate for religious employers – seeking to relax a provision that was one of the most hotly contested policies adopted under the Affordable Care Act. The New York Times’ Robert Pear reports: “Because the policy change is embodied in an interim final rule, it could take effect immediately upon publication in the Federal Register. When agencies issue interim final rules, however, they typically invite public comments and can later revise the rules in light of those comments. On its website, the White House [OMB] said it is reviewing an ‘interim final rule’ to relax the requirement, a step that would all but ensure a court challenge by women’s rights groups."

-- Trump tweeted Monday that the stabbing attack on a light-rail train in Portland was “unacceptable,” weighing in for the first time after two people were slain as they confronted a man who was shouting insults against Muslims. Jenna Johnson reports: “The tweet came from the president's official Twitter account, @POTUS, which is chiefly run by his staff, and not from his personal account, @realDonaldTrump, which he controls. Trump has faced criticism for staying quiet about the attack for so many days, even though he is quick to react to violent acts carried out by Muslim extremists.” 

THERE IS A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- Robert Mueller has gotten off to a fast start building his staff and budget in the Russia probe, the Wall Street Journal’s Aruna Viswanatha reports: Mueller is "building a team, designing a budget and forcing the [FBI] to withhold from Congress documents he may be interested in—all in his first full week on the job. Mr. Mueller’s team has been assigned office space in a nondescript building in downtown Washington that is home to the Justice Department’s civil rights and environment and natural resources divisions. Mr. Mueller and his colleagues have been spotted using their badges to enter the office, conspicuous for their formal attire amid the other Department employees ... Under regulations that govern a special counsel appointment, Mr. Mueller has 60 days from his appointment to develop a proposed budget, to be approved by Mr. Rosenstein. His office is working on that task … [Meanwhile], Mr. Mueller brought two attorneys with him from his former law firm, WilmerHale, and he is expected to recruit additional lawyers from within the Justice Department as he staffs his operation."

-- Sen. John McCain said Vladimir Putin was a bigger threat to America than the Islamic State, characterizing the Russian president in a radio interview Monday as the “premier and most important threat” facing the United States. "I think ISIS can do terrible things …  and I worry about a whole lot of things about it," McCain said. "But it's the Russians … who tried to destroy the very fundamental of democracy, and that is to change the outcome of an American election." (Reuters)

TRUMP'S AMERICA:

Texas lawmakers got into a heated fight on Monday over the issue of immigration, which was the central theme of Trump's campaign as he vowed to deport illegal immigrants, many of whom he alleged were criminals. He also pledged to build a wall on the United States's southern border, but that campaign promise seems to have been sidelined by the controversies engulfing the White House and amid resistance in Congress.

See the fight on the Texas House floor:

-- Lawmakers scuffled on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives Monday, after a Dallas-area Republican told Democrats that he “called ICE officers” on demonstrators who were chanting and waving signs in protest of a controversial state law that bans sanctuary cities.

Peter W. Stevenson reports: “We were just on the floor talking about the SB4 protests, and [Rep.] Matt Rinaldi came up to us and made it a point to say, ‘I called [ICE] on all of them,’’ state Rep. Philip Cortez said. ‘And this is completely unacceptable. We will not be intimidated.’

Video of the [subsequent] scuffle shows lawmakers pushing one another, yelling and gesticulating. Later, Democrats said, Rinaldi repeatedly got in their faces and cursed at them.” And at one point, language between the lawmakers apparently turned violent. “There was a threat made from Representative Rinaldi to put a bullet in one of my colleagues’ heads,” state Rep. Justin Rodriguez said in a news conference afterwards. But Rinaldi claimed the threat went the other way — that state Rep. Poncho Nevárez “threatened my life on the House floor.” Without audio of the exchange, it’s impossible to determine who threatened whom. But the scuffle shows how the contentious issue of immigration enforcement can stir passions on both sides.

-- “North Carolina’s battle over voting rights intensifies,” by William Wan: “North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature has worked steadily and forcefully during the past seven years to tilt the state’s election system in its favor, using voting restrictions, favorable district maps and a slew of new policies that lawmakers say are aimed at reducing voter fraud. But at every turn, Democrats and voting rights advocates have stymied their plans, dragging them to court and condemning the GOP actions as discriminatory against the state’s minorities. Instead of giving up — even after two major defeats this month in the U.S. Supreme Court — North Carolina’s Republican leaders are working to push the battle over the ballot box into a new phase. Rumors are circulating here about a new Republican voter identification bill … [and] beyond the voter identification law, almost every aspect of the state’s electoral system is being drawn into this acrimonious political war …”

  • And the intensifying nature of North Carolina’s ballot-box battle echoes a broader national trend: “North Carolina right now is the canary in the coal mine,” said election law expert Wendy Weiser. “… It gives us a glimpse of where we as a country may be headed if we don’t find a way to apply the brakes on efforts to game the electoral system.”

WAPO HIGHLIGHTS:

-- “Syria’s bloodiest battle is yet to come — and 1 million civilians are at risk,” by Louisa Loveluck and Zakaria Zakaria: “They came from every corner of Syria: people who fled fighting but could not afford smugglers’ fees to go farther. Now nearly 1 million are packed into one province in Syria’s northwest, eyeing a weeks-old cease-fire there with trepidation, fear and mistrust. This vast and often hilly expanse along Turkey’s southern border has become the rebels’ final redoubt. In the coming months, it could become the sternest — and the bloodiest — challenge for [Assad’s] forces as they battle to control areas they lost to rebel fighters after the country’s 2011 uprising. A deal brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran this month has stopped much of the violence in Idlib province and three other regions of Syria. But if the truces break down and fighting resumes, the stakes will be highest in the northwest: The Turkish border is tightly controlled, and pro-government forces have been closing in for months. Across the province, a coalition of al-Qaeda-linked rebels would be firmly in Assad’s crosshairs, with hundreds of thousands of civilians stuck in the middle.

So the displaced live in permanent flux, doing what they can to outrun the violence and to make ends meet when they arrive at their next destination. Many families live in tents, mud houses or even caves. … For most people, the only way out is with a smuggling network charging extortionate prices — or in an ambulance in the aftermath of an attack.”

-- “Bulldozers have become more crucial — and more vulnerable — in the fight against the Islamic State,” by Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Mustafa Salim: “On the front lines, the jagged teeth of a young soldier’s bulldozer mark the beginning of Iraq’s territory and the end of the Islamic State’s. Pvt. Mohammed Ali al-Shwele is 19, weathered and lean. He has been shot at, rocketed and mortared while trying to protect the troops behind him. [He], and the cadre of bulldozer drivers like him, are responsible for moving the war forward one block at a time. Bulldozers were essential to Iraqi forces as they pushed through Ramadi, Fallujah and eastern Mosul. [And] in western Mosul … the machines have become more crucial — and more of a target — than ever. Soldiers such as Shwele, and the construction equipment they pilot, provide insight into what the fighting in the city has turned into after eight months of near-continuous combat. The battle is a daily grind, and despite the presence of drones, GPS-guided artillery and U.S. jets, the best way forward is still behind a mobile wall of steel.” “There can be no liberation without the bulldozer,” Shwele said.

See this armored bulldozer get hit by a car bomb in Mosul:

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Trump celebrated Memorial Day on Twitter:

Trump paid his respects to the late Marine 1st Lt. Robert Michael Kelly, son of Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. He bumped into a boy it Arlington cemetery's Section 60, which is the resting place of those who died in Iraq and Afghanistan:

Andhe  warned about the signal North Korea's nuclear test is giving to...China:

Others also paid tribute:

David Frum is now trolling FLOTUS:

One way to spend the holiday:

And another:

In celebration of JFK's 100th birthday:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- Buzzfeed News, “The Place Where Letters To Hillary Clinton Go,” by Ruby Cramer: “[Rob] Russo has spent more than a decade managing Clinton’s “paper process,” a job he approaches with extreme diligence and care and order. He compiles her briefing books, handles her mail, and drafts letters to every corner of the vast and layered network known as Clintonworld: thank yous, condolences, graduations and weddings. So he was not prepared, a few days after the blow of Nov. 8, for the letters that started showing up … They came by the hundreds, most from people his boss had never met — all about the loss. Since Election Day, about 100,000 letters have arrived — two times the amount that Clinton received during the 18-month campaign, according to Russo. People send art. Kids send drawings. One person sent a Thanksgiving turkey …  When it came to the letters, Clinton had little instruction for what should be said, but one absolute directive for what should be done: ‘She is insistent that every message should get a response,’ he says.” “It’s like they have so much to say. And there’s no one they can say it to.”

---- Vanity Fair, “How Stephen Miller rode white rage from Duke’s campus to Trump’s West Wing,” by William D. Cohan: “At the young age of 31, Stephen Miller has his own office in the West Wing and the President’s ear. He also has held a shocking worldview since he was a teenager. From his writings on the 2006 Duke lacrosse-team rape scandal, which gave the then–college junior national media exposure, to an alleged association with a white-nationalist advocate, William D. Cohan dives deep into Miller’s tumultuous past.”

-- The Wall Street Journal, “France’s Special Forces Hunt French Militants Fighting for Islamic State,” by Tamer El-Ghobashy, Maria Abi-Habib, and Benoit Faucon: “French special forces have for months enlisted Iraqi soldiers to hunt and kill French nationals who have joined the senior ranks of Islamic State ... Iraqi commanders leading the fight for Mosul said French special forces have provided to Iraqi counterterrorism troops the names and photographs of as many as 30 men identified as high-value targets. An undisclosed number of French citizens have been killed by Iraqi artillery and ground forces … using location coordinates and other intelligence supplied by the French. The motive for the secret operation is to ensure that French nationals with allegiance to Islamic State never return home to threaten France …”

-- New York Magazine, “Uber, But for Meltdowns,” by Reeves Wiedeman: “In its brief history, Uber has morphed from a simple service that allowed users to press a button to summon a car into what is on paper the most valuable start-up of all time. It also spawned an entire category of start-up pitch — Uber, but for doctors, for cookies, for private jets — bent on solving First World problems via app. Uber has created vast theoretical fortunes and helped remake the American economy. Its most recent valuation, of $68 billion in 2015, was the highest ever given to a private company. Uber itself, however, has lately become a monument not only to the power of technology and confidence in the face of adversarial forces but possibly to the dangers of hubris: When you’re worth that much money on imaginary paper, and buoyed by the belief that you’re on a mission to change the world, it can be easy to sweep aside concerns like ‘rampant sexual harassment’ and ‘public relations’ and ‘profits …’”

-- New York Times, “How a Candy Heir Sneaked Into Pro Hockey and Made His Name as a ‘Savage,’” by Jason Buckland: “Nello Ferrara was being groomed to take the reins of a famed confectioner, but chose to cobble together a decade-long career with 19 minor league teams.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Portland Republican says party should use militia groups after racial attack,” from The Guardian: “As tensions continue in Portland following the racially charged murder of two men on Friday, the top Republican in the city said he is considering using militia groups as security for public events. On Monday … Multnomah County GOP chair James Buchal [said] that recent street protests had prompted Portland Republicans to consider alternatives to ‘abandoning the public square.’ ‘I am sort of evolving to the point where I think that it is appropriate for Republicans to continue to go out there,’ he said. ‘And if they need to have a security force protecting them, that’s an appropriate thing too.’ Asked if this meant Republicans making their own security arrangements rather than relying on city or state police, Buchal said”: “Yeah. … We’re thinking about that. Because there are now belligerent, unstable people who are convinced that Republicans are like Nazis.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT 

“These 8th-graders from New Jersey refused to be photographed with Paul Ryan,” from Peter Jamison: “For students across the country, the traditional eighth-grade trip to Washington is a chance to join the throngs on the Mall and perhaps spot some of the world’s most powerful people on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol. But a group from South Orange Middle School in New Jersey may remember their trip to the nation’s capital last week for another reason: It was the occasion for a pointed snub of House Speaker [Paul Ryan]. Dozens of the 218 students on the trip refused to have their photo taken with Ryan when he briefly joined them outside the capitol Thursday, students on the trip said. [Those students] stood across the street while Ryan posed with their peers. Their act of civil disobedience was picked up by a local news website, the Village Green, and drew attention from larger media outlets.” Matthew Malespina, one of the students who stayed away, called Ryan “a man who puts his party before his country.”

 

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “This is like Reservoir Dogs,” a longtime GOP Hill staffer told The Atlanic's Molly Ball of the Trump presidency. “Everyone ends up dead on the floor.”

 

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

-- Another rainy-ish, cloudy forecast on tap, per today’s Capital Weather Gang:  “Scattered morning showers with patchy fog. A brief downpour is possible this afternoon along with a rumble of thunder but we’re not expecting widespread storms. A mostly cloudy canopy dominates our day and highs hit the middle to upper 70s. Humidity levels are moderate.”

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

See Trump's full Memorial Day speech:

Trump tells every Gold Star family, "God is with you:"

Watch Trump lay a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier:

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis talks to West Point grads: