with Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve
It is one of more than 200 high-profile appointments that Trump has left vacant over the past 13 months, far more than his predecessors. But this opening has become especially glaring against the backdrop of the White House’s botched response to revelations that former senior aide Rob Porter allegedly assaulted both of his ex-wives, top officials learned about it months ago from the FBI and he was allowed to stay until the press found out.
Cindy Dyer, who served as director of the Violence Against Women office during George W. Bush’s second term, thinks Trump nominating someone to the job would be an effective way to show that he’s serious about addressing domestic violence after the lapses on Porter.
“Boy, talk about an opportunity,” she said in an interview yesterday. “To do it right now, in light of what’s going on, I think it’d be a powerful statement and a great opportunity to set an example. It’s perfect timing, and it’s an opportunity to make a statement that violence affects us all and we’re not going to stand for it.”
Susan Carbon, who held the post during Barack Obama’s first term, said being a presidential appointee who has been confirmed by the Senate “brings with it clout and credibility and speaks volumes — within and outside the administration — about the importance of the issue.”
“[They] also can exercise a greater degree of independence in the work of the office, ensuring that its mission is maintained and promoted appropriately,” she said.
Asked about the delay, a White House spokesperson emailed Wednesday: “The individual identified for this position is currently in the clearance process and will be announced when the process is completed.”
Katie Sullivan, who spent the past decade as a county-level judge in Colorado, started last month as the principal deputy director of the office. This is a political appointment that does not require Senate approval, so there’s less scrutiny and no confirmation hearing, but Sullivan can function as acting director until someone else gets nominated and confirmed to be her boss. Her biography notes that she’s a former deputy district attorney and has “presided over multiple domestic violence sentencings and jury trials.”
Trump’s team at the Justice Department notes that the office has not been led by a Senate-confirmed director since 2012 because Obama never nominated a permanent replacement when Carbon left. “In the absence of a director, the … Principal Deputy Director can and has served as the head of the office,” emailed DOJ spokeswoman Nicole Navas Oxman. “The Justice Department is excited to have Katie Sullivan onboard … The Principal Deputy has the same authority as the Director. We also look forward to having a nominee for the Director’s job sometime soon.”
Carbon, who is now a New Hampshire circuit judge, was the last director confirmed by the Senate. Obama formally nominated her on Oct. 1, 2009, eight months into his term, and she was approved the following February. She partnered often with Vice President Joe Biden, who has a special interest in the issue, and she worked closely with the FBI to change the legal definition of rape for the first time since 1929, broadening an archaic standard to make it easier to prosecute rapists when the victim is incapable of giving consent. Physical resistance is now no longer required to demonstrate lack of consent.
Bea Hanson held the job on an acting basis during Obama’s second term and stepped down when Trump was inaugurated.
Dyer, who ran the office under Bush, thinks it’s “a shame” that interim leaders have filled in for so long because they have less juice inside the department. “It deserves to have a more senior person that can get into these closed conversations that occur in order to maintain the high profile,” she explained. “The Justice Department is so large that if the office loses its status and loses this importance, because it’s seen as a less senior position, I really think it’d have ramifications all around.”
Dyer had been the longtime chief prosecutor in the Dallas County, Texas, district attorney’s family violence division when Bush tapped her to come to Washington. “I really felt that having been approved by the president and confirmed by the whole Senate in this bipartisan way gave me more credibility, and allowed me to be involved in conversations and decisions that I would not have otherwise been invited to attend,” she said. “That nomination and confirmation process really does give you more gravitas and allows you to be involved in more conversations. And I think that’s what we need.”
One truism in Washington is that “personnel is policy.” Because the president has so much on his plate, consequential decisions get made by the people in roles like this one.
Among the other Senate confirmable jobs that Trump has not nominated anyone for is the ambassador at large for global women’s issues. By law, this person is supposed to be the secretary of state’s principal adviser on foreign policy matters related to women’s empowerment. They forge partnerships with organizations and foreign governments to coordinate advancing the rights of women and girls.
The Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, have been working together to track the status of 626 top jobs like this in the executive branch. As of today, 226 have no nominee and another 150 have nominees that are still awaiting confirmation. (Check out our database here.)
“You sequence by priority,” said Max Stier, the president of the Partnership. “Historically administrations have been slow, but not slower than this one.”
In that vein, the vacancy at the Violence Against Women office is especially notable because of the president’s personal liabilities in this area. “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful [women] — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait,” Trump said on a hot microphone during a 2005 taping of “Access Hollywood,” after he had married the first lady. “And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. … Grab them by the p---y. You can do anything.”
(Here’s a list of 13 women who have publicly come forward with claims that Trump physically touched them inappropriately in some way, and the witnesses they provided. Trump has denied doing anything wrong.)
“Trump tells friends that he deplores the #MeToo movement and believes it unfairly exposes CEOs to lawsuits from their female employees,” Axios’s Jonathan Swan reported Sunday. “The fact that women frequently face sexual predation in the workplace doesn’t impact his view on this.”
The president was roundly criticized over the past week for not explicitly condemning domestic violence. Trump praised the work Porter did as a staffer last Friday, wishing him well and emphasizing that he maintains his innocence. Then he tweeted over the weekend that men deserve due process.
Trying to turn the page, Trump made a brief statement at the White House yesterday afternoon. “I'm totally opposed to domestic violence of any kind,” he said. “Everyone knows that. And it almost wouldn't even have to be said. So, now you hear it, but you all know.” Then reporters were shooed out of the room. The president ignored follow-up questions.
THE PORTER FALLOUT CONTINUES:
-- “More than 130 political appointees working in the Executive Office of the President did not have permanent security clearances as of November 2017, including the president’s daughter, son-in-law and his top legal counsel,” according to internal White House documents obtained by NBC News. “Of those appointees working with interim clearances, 47 of them are in positions that report directly to [the president]. About a quarter of all political appointees in the executive office are working with some form of interim security clearance. … It is unclear whether some employees have had their clearance levels changed since mid-November.
- “On the National Security Council, 10 of 24 officials listed in the documents — about 42 percent — had only interim security clearances as of November.
- “A total of 34 people who started their government service on Jan. 20, 2017, the first day of the Trump presidency, were still on interim clearances in November. Among them are White House counsel Don McGahn, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah, who had only interim clearances.”
- CNN obtained the same information from November, suggesting that sources with access to this sensitive information are eager to push back on what they see as a false narrative being pushed by the White House press shop.
-- A senior official on the National Economic Council resigned after being told he would not qualify for permanent security clearance. Politico's Andrew Restuccia reports: “George David Banks, who had served since February 2017 as special assistant to the president for international energy and environmental policy, [said] he was informed by the White House counsel’s office Tuesday that his application for a permanent clearance would not be granted over his past marijuana use.”
-- The Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee announced he has launched an investigation into why Porter was allowed to stay in such a powerful job despite credible allegations of spousal abuse. From Herman Wong and Mike DeBonis: “Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), the panel’s chairman, sent letters Wednesday to FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly asking for information on what they knew about the allegations against Porter and when they knew it ...‘I have real questions about how someone like this could be considered for employment,’ Gowdy said on CNN … adding that ‘the chronology is not favorable for the White House.’”
Breanne Deppisch contributed to the Big Idea.
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- The death toll in yesterday's shooting at a South Florida high school rose to 17. Police identified a 19-year-old former student as the alleged assailant. Lori Rozsa, Moriah Balingit, William Wan and Mark Berman report: “The violence unfolded at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, a school of more than 3,000 students in an affluent suburb northwest of Fort Lauderdale where houses sit on broad lots. The Broward County sheriff identified the suspect as Nikolas Cruz, who had recently attended the school but had been kicked out for ‘disciplinary reasons.’ He was captured after a manhunt that transfixed the region and forced a nearby school into a lockdown, said Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel. … Authorities who were beginning to analyze his motives had unearthed social media postings that ‘are very, very disturbing,’ Israel said. An Instagram account that appeared to belong to the suspect showed several photos of guns.”
-- Cruz was booked on 17 counts of “murder premeditated” early today.
-- “I think everyone in this school had it in the back of their mind that if anyone was supposed to do it, it was most likely gonna be him,” one of Cruz’s former classmates said. From William Wan, David Weingrad and Fred Barbash: “A teen who went to middle school with [Cruz] at first thought there was maybe something ‘a little off about him. But it was nothing alarming.’ Then, as Cruz transitioned into high school, he ‘started progressively getting a little more weird,’ said 17-year-old Dakota Mutchler. Cruz, he said, was selling knives out of a lunchbox, posting on Instagram about guns and killing animals, and eventually ‘going after one of my friends, threatening her.’”
-- Trump commented on Cruz’s mental state this morning:
So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 15, 2018
-- A self-dubbed “Common Sense Caucus” of bipartisan senators reached an immigration deal consistent with some of Trump’s demands — but the proposal was preemptively undercut by the president himself. Ed O'Keefe, David Nakamura and Mike DeBonis report: “The [proposed legislation] would fulfill Trump’s calls to grant legal status to 1.8 million immigrants and would authorize $25 billion for southern border security construction projects over the next decade — not immediately, as Trump wants.
“The bill also would curb family-based immigration programs, but not to the extent Trump is seeking, and would not end a diversity visa lottery program that he wants eliminated. In a White House statement, Trump urged the Senate to back a proposal unveiled this week by a GOP group led by [Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)] … saying it accomplishes his vision for immigration. At the same time, the president rejected any limited approach that deals only with ‘dreamers’ … and border security. His full-throated demand was released by the White House just minutes before a group of Democrats and Republicans gathered to negotiate an agreement.”
- “Democrats were gauging support for the plan in their caucus late Wednesday, with the realization that Trump may reject it. ‘He created this problem, and he’s making it clear today he has no intention of solving it,’ said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.).”
- “Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a leader of the bipartisan group, was more hopeful[:] ‘I know that the president wants a result,' she said, 'and my experience in the Senate is that you’re more likely to be able to get a result when you have a bipartisan plan — and that’s what we’re seeking.’”
-- American Mikaela Shiffrin took home Olympic gold in the women’s giant slalom event. Rick Maese reports: “After windy conditions delayed her ambitious — and perhaps historic — Olympic schedule, Shiffrin finally stepped into a pair of skis Thursday and gave the screaming crowd at Yongpyong Alpine Centre the sizzling performance it had hoped for, winning the giant slalom and capturing her first gold medal of the PyeongChang Games.”
-- Shaun White issued a statement about sexual harassment allegations against him from his band's former drummer, part of a settlement White reached with Lena Zawaidei in 2016. “Representing Team USA at the Olympics in a sport that I love is a true honor and I was thrilled to win Gold,” White said. “I regret my behavior many years ago and am sorry that I made anyone — particularly someone I considered a friend — uncomfortable. I have grown and changed as a person, as we all grow and change, and am proud of who I am today.” (Rick Maese)
GET SMART FAST:
- Three men are in custody after an unauthorized SUV attempted to enter the heavily secured National Security Administration campus. The incident prompted an exchange of gunfire, leaving one police officer and one bystander injured. Authorities said they are still working to determine the cause of the incident, but that it did not appear to be linked to terrorism. (Lynh Bui, Dana Hedgpeth and Peter Hermann)
Physicians concluded U.S. diplomats in Havana “appeared to have sustained injury to widespread brain networks.” But the doctors could find no cause for their injuries, which included headaches, dizziness and hearing, vision, sleep and mood disorders. (Karen DeYoung)
- Jacob Zuma resigned as the president of South Africa. His departure ended a standoff with the country’s ruling party, as well as a nine-year tenure marred by corruption allegations and mismanagement. His deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, is expected to become the country’s acting leader. (Kevin Sieff)
The federal government is investigating how the casing ripped apart around one of the engines of a United aircraft. The mechanical failure forced an emergency landing in Honolulu, where the plane landed safely. (Avi Selk)
- A climber died this week on Oregon’s Mount Hood after treacherous, wind-swept conditions trapped a group of several climbers. The harsh weather caused one of climbers to fall as many as 1,000 feet to his death. One witness described the conditions as a “bowling alley,” with rocks and sheets of ice tumbling down the mountain. (Lindsey Bever)
- An Ethiopian marathoner and Olympic hopeful was reunited with his family in the United States after his career was cut short following torture by the government for peacefully protesting it. In Ethiopia, he had been an elite marathon champion 30 times over. Here, he works in the food service industry and clocked extra hours at a 7-Eleven. But after spending nearly two years trying to bring his wife and children to the United States, Demssew Tsega Abebe could only count his blessings. “Exceptional feeling,” he said in a text from Dulles International Airport. “So thrilled, so happy.” (Allison Klein)
ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN:
-- VA Secretary David Shulkin’s chief of staff altered an email and misled ethics officials to create a pretext for a 10-day, taxpayer-funded trip to Europe for Shulkin and his wife last summer, according to the agency’s inspector general. Lisa Rein reports: “Vivieca Wright Simpson, VA’s third-most-senior official, altered language in an email from an aide coordinating the trip to make it appear that Shulkin was receiving an award from the Danish government, then used the award to justify paying for his wife’s travel … VA paid more than $4,300 for her airfare. … Shulkin also improperly accepted a gift of sought-after tickets to a Wimbledon tennis match, the investigation found, and directed an aide coordinating the trip to act as what the report called a ‘personal travel concierge’ to him and his wife.”
“Although the [inspector general’s office] cannot determine the value VA gained from the Secretary and his delegation’s three and a half days of meetings in Copenhagen and London at a cost of at least $122,334, the investigation revealed serious derelictions by VA personnel,” the watchdog concluded. He is one of five current and former Trump Cabinet members under investigation for their travel expenses.
-- Shulkin will almost certainly face questions over the report when he attends a previously planned House hearing this morning. (Emily Wax-Thibodeaux)
-- The EPA can’t get its story straight about why Scott Pruitt needs to fly first-class, so far refusing to release the waiver allowing such travel. From Brady Dennis and Juliet Eilperin: “[O]fficials would not disclose on Wednesday who approved the waiver or how long it has been in effect, saying reporters would need to file a Freedom of Information Act request for more details. The EPA this week told reporters that Pruitt had a ‘blanket waiver’ allowing him to bypass coach class whenever possible. Federal regulations, however, say that ‘blanket authorization of other than coach-class transportation accommodations is prohibited and shall be authorized on an individual trip-by-trip basis.’ On Wednesday afternoon, the agency backed away from its earlier statements, saying it actually submits the same security-related waiver for each trip. … 'Pruitt’s explanation is absurd and assumes that it’s easier to protect someone in first class than in economy,’ said Chris Lu, who served as White House Cabinet secretary during Barack Obama’s first term. ‘Members of Congress who routinely fly coach should be offended by his lavish travel habits.’”
-- After the president’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen confirmed a $130,000 payment to adult-film star Stormy Daniels to keep an alleged affair with the president quiet, Daniels’s manager declared, “Everything is off now, and Stormy is going to tell her story.” From the AP’s Jake Pearson and Jeff Horwitz: “At the same time, developments in the bizarre case are fueling questions about whether such a payment could violate federal campaign finance laws. … The case was reminiscent of the 2012 prosecution of former Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards, who faced six criminal charges after a pair of his wealthy friends spent nearly $1 million to support his pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter, during his 2008 presidential run. Jurors eventually acquitted Edwards on one charge of accepting illegal campaign contributions, but were unable to reach a verdict on the five remaining counts including conspiracy and making false statements. The case ended when prosecutors elected not to retry Edwards.”
-- Tax authorities have requested documents on real estate projects managed by Jared Kushner’s family. Bloomberg’s David Voreacos reports: “They have gathered information from people who lent money and assembled investors for some Kushner Cos. real estate projects in New York and New Jersey[.] … The Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department issued the subpoenas within the past year, according to the person. The tax inquiry appears unrelated to other investigations that have since burst into public view. It began before Special Counsel Robert Mueller was appointed in May[.] … [I]t’s unclear whether authorities are looking at Kushner business associates or the company itself.”
-- New reality: Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s daily press briefing Wednesday was scheduled for 1 p.m., then at 2 p.m. was postponed until 4 p.m., then at 4 p.m. was abandoned entirely. “The menu of topics — scandals at the EPA and VA, confirmation of a payoff to porn actress Stormy Daniels and, by midafternoon, another horrendous school shooting — was hardly appetizing. And the unpalatable entree was sure to be [Rob] Porter,” Dana Milbank notes.
-- In April, Trump asked White House lawyer Don McGahn to call a senior Justice Department official and “get him to persuade the FBI director to announce that Trump was not personally under investigation” in the Russia probe, Josh Dawsey, Rosalind S. Helderman and Matt Zapotosky report. “[McGahn] made the call in April to acting deputy attorney general Dana Boente but failed to convince him that [James Comey] should make the statement. ... The refusal further frustrated a president who had already twice appealed directly to Comey, who told him he should have McGahn call instead.
“The previously unreported episode underscores McGahn’s precarious position in the Russia probe as he seeks to both mollify and protect his client, the commander in chief. He has served as an adviser, a participant and most recently a witness in the continuing Russia investigation — a complex role that puts him at the center of [Mueller’s investigation of whether Trump] sought to obstruct justice. ... McGahn’s central role in such controversies, and his failure to shape events to the president’s wishes, have led to ongoing tensions with Trump and left him increasingly isolated in the West Wing. 'It’s a complicated relationship,' said one person close to McGahn. 'I don’t think Trump dislikes him . . . . But the big problem between them is that Trump has always seen lawyers as facilitators for him. He doesn’t see lawyers as people who say no to him.'”
-- Trump is seriously considering replacing John Kelly as his chief of staff, and every White House faction has a different suggestion for who should get the job. Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman reports: “In recent days, Trump has floated names like White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and longtime friend Tom Barrack, a real estate developer. … The situation remains fluid. Last night, for instance, three Republicans told me that Trump had offered the job to Gary Cohn. But in a conversation with Sean Hannity yesterday, Trump said he had not chosen Cohn, a person close to Hannity told me. … Trump has also discussed House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. … In the past, McCarthy has expressed interest in being chief[.] … But people who have recently spoken to McCarthy say he’s lost interest. …
“Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner have aggressively pushed for Cohn, sources said. They’ve also been advocates for David Urban, the lobbyist and political strategist who helped steer Trump’s win in Pennsylvania[.] … Meanwhile, Hannity is part of a faction pushing Wayne Berman, a senior adviser to private-equity giant Blackstone. … People close to Steve Bannon have been advocating for House Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows.”
-- Author Chris Whipple released an excerpt from his forthcoming book, “The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency,” that included quotes from former chief of staff Reince Priebus describing the early days of the Trump administration.
Here are some of the buzziest bits from the excerpt, published in Vanity Fair:
- “Take everything you’ve heard and multiply it by 50,” Priebus said. “No president has ever had to deal with so much so fast[.]”
- On Trump’s Twitter habit: “We had many discussions involving this issue. We had meetings in the residence. I couldn’t stop it. [But] it’s now part of the American culture and the American presidency.”
- Shortly after Trump fired Comey: “Don McGahn came in my office pretty hot, red, out of breath, and said, ‘We’ve got a problem.’ I responded, ‘What?’ And he said, ‘Well, we just got a special counsel, and [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions just resigned.’ I said, ‘What!? What the hell are you talking about?’” Priebus said he, along with Vice President Pence and Steve Bannon, later convinced Sessions not to resign.
- On the hiring of Anthony Scaramucci: “When he accused me of a felony,” Priebus recalled, “I thought, What am I doing here? . . . I went in to the president and said, ‘I gotta go.’ ” Whipple adds, “Priebus had hoped to exit gracefully within a week or two, but the next day, as Air Force One sat on the tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base, Trump tweeted, ‘I am pleased to inform you that I have just named General/Secretary John F Kelly as White House Chief of Staff. He is a Great American . . . . ' The sudden shake-up was vintage Trump; the timing blindsided Priebus, who stepped off the plane into a drenching rain and was whisked away by car.”
- Priebus’s thoughts on Trump now: “I still love the guy. I want him to be successful.”
THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- Steve Bannon is scheduled today for another sit-down with the House Intelligence Committee, and members of the panel are pushing for a contempt citation if he once again refuses to answer their questions. From Karoun Demirjian: “Bannon has successfully delayed several attempts to reschedule the interview while his lawyers coordinate with the administration, and according to members of the committee, he still maintains he will not answer questions about his time on Trump’s transition team or in the White House. … ‘If you don’t [issue a citation], I mean, what kind of precedent is that sending? For not just our committee, but every committee?’ said Rep. Thomas J. Rooney (R-Fla.), who was deputized to help run the committee’s Russia probe. He surmised that the panel’s leaders, including its chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), would have to sign off on such a drastic move.”
-- House Democratic leaders are recommending over $1 billion in funding to protect state election systems. Karoun reports: “The proposals are part of a new report from a task force House Democrats convened last year to examine responses to Russian meddling in the 2016 election. They include establishing grant programs to help states update voting machines and improve cybersecurity protocols, adopting basic standards for voting systems, requiring the federal government to issue regular pre-election threat assessments, and designing a national strategy to counter foreign interference."
-- A federal judge criticized both the prosecution and defense teams in the case of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates for “unacceptable” delays in setting a trial date. The most recent delay stems from changes in Gates’s representation. Spencer S. Hsu reports: “‘I believe that this case needs a trial date,’ [U.S. District Judge Amy Berman] Jackson said Wednesday. ‘I realize there’s some circumstances that make that impossible today, but it needs to happen soon.’ … Jackson said she wanted to stick to a Feb. 23 deadline for the defendants to file motions to toss any charges. It remains unclear if prosecutors would bring new charges amid any plea discussions.”
-- Trump’s personal attorney Jay Sekulow has been using his weekday radio show as an almost nonstop assault on Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. Politico’s Darren Samuelsohn reports: “Fourteen of the past 19 episodes of 'Jay Sekulow Live' have involved freewheeling conversations about the Trump-Russia saga and what he calls the 'deep state' bureaucrats out to get the president. Sekulow also piles on during his regular appearances on Fox News.’ 'You cannot make this stuff up!' Sekulow said in December, following a report alleging anti-Trump bias at the Justice Department. ‘I think the significance of this cannot be understated,’ he said last month about a House Republican memo … On the mid-January news that FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe was resigning, he declared: ‘I cannot underscore how big this is!’” “Whenever you’re representing the president, obviously the line between politics and the law is a blurry one,” said Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz. “There’s both a tactical line and an ethical one. He seems to be walking it.”
-- The House Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, Adam Schiff (Calif.), said this yesterday of the panel’s Russia probe: “There is certainly an abundance of non-public information that we’ve gathered in the investigation. And I think some of that non-public evidence is evidence on the issue of collusion and some … on the issue of obstruction.” (The Guardian)
-- Trump’s budget director estimated the president’s proposed military parade could cost between $10 million and $30 million. Erica Werner reports: “Mulvaney offered the estimate during questioning at the House Budget Committee. He said the White House hasn’t yet budgeted for the parade and would either rely on Congress to appropriate funds or use money that already has been approved. … [Mulvaney said,] ‘Obviously an hour parade is different from a five-hour parade in terms of the cost and the equipment and those types of things.’”
-- Trump is trying to talk Republicans into raising the gas tax. Heather Long reports: “In a closed-door meeting on infrastructure with members of both parties, Trump pitched the idea of a 25-cent increase in the gas tax, which hasn't been raised since 1993. … Republicans, who just passed major legislation to reduce taxes on businesses and families, are lukewarm on the idea of turning around and raising taxes at the pump. … Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chairman of a key Senate committee that is working on infrastructure, attended the meeting with Trump and reiterated that a gas-tax increase remains a nonstarter.”
-- “‘We would literally not survive’: How Trump’s plans for the social safety net would affect America’s poorest,” by Caitlin Dewey and Tracy Jan: “The president’s budget proposal, released Monday, would slash nearly half a trillion dollars over the next 10 years from the three main pillars of the social safety net: Medicaid, federal housing assistance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps. Anti-poverty advocates say the cuts and a radical restructuring … could make life more precarious for 90 million low-income Americans who rely on at least one of those programs, potentially pushing millions off the programs and reducing benefits for the ones who are left.”
-- The House will likely approve legislation today that advocates argue would gut the Americans With Disabilities Act. Mike DeBonis reports: “The ADA Education and Reform Act would require those who sue businesses in federal court to first deliver a specific written notice to that business detailing the illegal barrier to access, and then give that business 60 days to come up with a plan to address the complaints and an additional 120 days to take action. That, the bill’s supporters say, would keep small-business owners from being targeted for legal shakedowns. But the bill’s opponents say it would in effect gut the ADA by removing any incentives businesses have to comply with the law before a complaint is filed.”
-- Jeff Sessions and Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) are at loggerheads over legislation meant to reduce mandatory prison terms for drug offenders. Karoun reports: “[Sessions and Grassley] have long been at odds over the bill, which would reduce the length of mandatory minimum sentences for repeat nonviolent drug offenses, eliminate the ‘three strike’ provision that requires a life sentence, and give judges expanded authority to issue shorter-than-mandatory minimum sentences for low-level crimes. The changes, championed by Grassley, fly in the face of Sessions’s bid to wage a new war on drugs from the Justice Department — something he made clear in a letter to Grassley Wednesday, writing that passing the bill would be a ‘grave error.’”
Grassley hit back over Twitter:
Incensed by Sessions letter An attempt to undermine Grassley/Durbin/Lee BIPARTISAN criminal justice reforms This bill deserves thoughtful consideration b4 my cmte. AGs execute laws CONGRESS WRITES THEM!— ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) February 14, 2018
(The Judiciary Committee will vote on – and likely pass – the bill today.)
-- Trump has taken longer to name a White House science adviser than any president since World War II. “It’s mind-boggling,” John Holdren, who held the job for all eight years Obama was president, told the Boston Globe from Harvard, where he’s now teaching. “It’s vital for the president to get the best science advice, and right now, he isn’t getting that. His decisions are being made without the benefit of science.”
THE ROAD TO NOVEMBER (AND 2020):
-- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) took on her claims of Native American ancestry at the National Congress of American Indians, denouncing Trump's dubbing of her as “Pocahontas.” The Boston Globe’s Matt Viser and Liz Goodwin report: “Warren did not apologize for her undocumented claims that her mother’s family had Cherokee blood — instead, reaffirming: ‘My mother’s family was part Native American. And my daddy’s parents were bitterly opposed to their relationship. So, in 1932, when Mother was 19 and Daddy had just turned 20, they eloped.’ ‘The story they lived will always be a part of me,’ she said, as tears came to her eyes. ‘And no one — not even the president of the United States — will ever take that part of me away.’ But she told the gathered tribal leaders from around the country that she drew a distinction between claiming native ancestry, as she does, and claiming tribal membership, which she does not.”
-- Mitt Romney delayed an announcement on his probable Senate run due to the tragedy in Florida. From Robert Costa: “Romney is likely to face plenty of questions from reporters — and from within his own party — about his views on Trump and his past statements criticizing the president. … If Romney’s expected [soft launch] is any indication — a social media push in which the former Massachusetts governor will reintroduce himself to Utah voters by video — he is not seeking out those questions as he begins his campaign. The video, produced by veteran Romney advisers and running over two minutes in length, will recall Romney’s role leading the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and put an emphasis on ‘Utah values.’”
-- In a possible preview for what’s to come from some of his fellow Republicans, the Utah GOP chairman slammed Romney’s expected run as “essentially doing what Hillary Clinton did in New York.” “I think he’s keeping out candidates that I think would be a better fit for Utah because, let’s face it, Mitt Romney doesn’t live here, his kids weren’t born here, he doesn’t shop here,” Rob Anderson said. (The Salt Lake Tribune)
-- Trump ally Harold Hamm is expected to be tapped as finance chair for Rep. Kevin Cramer if the North Dakota Republican launches a Senate bid against Heidi Heitkamp (D). Sean Sullivan reports: “Hamm, who has been friends with [Trump] since bonding over his brand of neckties in 2012, is a longtime political donor with a deep Rolodex that would be an asset to Cramer if he challenged Heitkamp. Still, he might face questions about his record of political patronage. As recently as 2015, federal campaign finance records show, Hamm donated $5,400 to Heitkamp, the maximum contribution allowed.”
-- Republican megadonor Rebekah Mercer penned a Wall Street Journal op-ed entitled, “Forget the Media Caricature. Here’s What I Believe:” “I supported Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign because he promised to tackle entrenched corruption on both sides of the aisle. I continue to support President Trump, which does not mean I agree with every position he has taken or every thought he has tweeted. I remain hopeful that he will continue striving to fulfill his campaign promises. I own a minority stake in Breitbart News (where I have no editorial authority) because I believe it adds an important journalistic voice to the American conversation. Stephen Bannon, its former chairman, took Breitbart in the wrong direction. Now that Mr. Bannon has resigned, Breitbart has the opportunity to refine its message and expand its influence.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
A Republican House member called on the VA secretary to resign:
It's exactly corruption and abuses like this that doesn't help our veterans. @SecShulkin must RESIGN now. @realDonaldTrump ran on accountability, it starts here. VA chief Shulkin, staff misled ethics officials about Eurotrip, report - The Washington Post https://t.co/hJ3slooxQr— Mike Coffman (@RepMikeCoffman) February 14, 2018
The Washington bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News commented on Scott Pruitt's rationale for traveling first-class on taxpayers' dime:
That doesn't seem to be an option on the pulldown menu for my expense reports.— Todd J. Gillman (@toddgillman) February 14, 2018
A Time editor cited this argument against Michael Cohen's payment to Stormy Daniels:
The House member representing Parkland, Fla., thanked the heroes from yesterday's shooting:
A word of thanks and deep appreciation to the teachers and staff who tried so desperately to protect their kids today. You are heroes.— Rep. Ted Deutch (@RepTedDeutch) February 15, 2018
One student sent this text to their parent, per a local Florida outlet:
Another House member from Florida:
The loss of life today in #Parkland is every parent's worst nightmare. My heart breaks that another community has been traumatized by gun violence. I believe that we are capable of both empathy AND action. We must act to keep our families, community & nation safe.— Stephanie Murphy (@SMurphyCongress) February 14, 2018
From a Wall Street Journal reporter:
Every time this happens now, I think of John McKinney, standing alone in the firehouse hallway at Sandy Hook, hearing the wail go up as the governor broke the news.— Ted Mann (@TMannWSJ) February 14, 2018
And then the same thing happening, in some other town, over and over again. pic.twitter.com/9sJ2EVoKKb
Another news outlet added Parkland to an unfortunate list:
The president offered his condolences:
My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting. No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 14, 2018
A Post reporter contextualized the shooting:
A veteran journalist added this:
Another school shooting. Multiple casualties reported. Situation still fluid. But can we at least acknowledge that this is a particularly American crisis? Can we all agree that this should not be normal?— Dan Rather (@DanRather) February 14, 2018
The House majority whip commended an American hero:
The president's son responded to a report about Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon:
And Rippon offered this reply:
With everything going on in the media about me this Valentine’s Day I don’t want people to get distracted and forget how beautiful I am (on the outside)— Adam Rippon (@AdamRippon) February 14, 2018
Lawmakers and their loved ones celebrated Valentine's Day:
Per a CBS News reporter:
And the Virginia senator got a Valentine's Day message in response:
My first day on Twitter - I hear this place can be a little negative, so I’ll start with this message of joy:— Anne Holton (@AnneHolton) February 14, 2018
Sending all my love to my favorite Valentine - missing you but glad you are doing the Lord’s work on immigration up there in DC. Looking forward to our weekend getaway! pic.twitter.com/6cjHDMVrk5
A cautionary note from the FBI:
And from Barack Obama:
But the former first lady one-upped him with a playlist:
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- The New Yorker, “Trump and Rahm Emanuel Both Love a Fight, Especially Against Each Other,” by Susan B. Glasser: “[I]f you’re a Democratic mayor in a Democratic city, Trump-bashing is good for business. And Emanuel, who has revelled in political brawls since he was a young enforcer in Bill Clinton’s White House, has taken to it with even more vigor than most. … A feud between these two almost theatrically combative politicians was perhaps inevitable. Both love a fight, and both believe that if you are punched in politics, the only correct course is to punch back.”
-- Politico, “Mark Meadows may be the most frustrated man in Washington,” by Ben White: “Meadows said he’s more hopeful now that Republicans can retain the House given improved poll numbers. But he said if they don't, it could spell the end of the Freedom Caucus. ‘Certainly if we are in the minority the Freedom Caucus becomes less influential,’ he said. ‘The Freedom Caucus when you are in the majority has an out-weighted influence here on Capitol Hill. In the minority I don't see that as being a direct correlation to power because everybody can be unified and be against something when you are in the minority.’”
HOT ON THE LEFT
“An immigrant called 911 to report a crime. Police took him to ICE in handcuffs,” from Samantha Schmidt: “At 5:30 a.m. Thursday, as Wilson Rodriguez Macarreno was getting ready for work, he noticed a stranger peering into his Tukwila, Wash., home. … Within minutes, police arrived at the home outside Seattle. They determined that the suspect had indeed trespassed onto Rodriguez’s property, but they had no probable cause to arrest him, they said. Then the officers asked Rodriguez for his identification. For about 14 years, Rodriguez had been living in the country illegally. … Moments later, the officers handcuffed Rodriguez and placed him into the back of a patrol car. A search for his name in the National Criminal Information Center database indicated an outstanding warrant against Rodriguez, police said. Rodriguez overheard an officer discussing by speakerphone with someone on the other end of the line. It was Immigration and Customs Enforcement[.]”
HOT ON THE RIGHT
“Krystal Ball's Democratic PAC gives less than 3 percent of money raised to candidates,” from the Washington Examiner: “A PAC run by progressive media personality Krystal Ball has paid more money for her salary than it has given in support of Democratic congressional candidates. The stated mission of the Ball-run People's House Project is to support ‘working- and middle-class Democratic House candidates in the Midwest and Appalachian states.’ But Federal Election Commission records show that of the nearly $120,000 the group raised last year, $69,500 was paid out to Ball. Of $115,000 in total expenditures, only $3,250 — less than 3 percent of all money raised — was donated to Democratic House candidates. … The $69,500 that Ball received as pay stands as 60 percent of the total expenditures by the group. Overall, 75 percent of the $115,000 handed out went to payroll expenses.”
Trump has an afternoon meeting with U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) explained her recent hesitation to hug constituents in the #MeToo era: “I do have concerns now that a pat on the shoulder might be taken the wrong way,” Ernst said. “It’s possible that you could be accused of something. You know, I’m a big hugger, and I love to hug people, and that’s just who I am, and I have given pause to that now, even. I don’t like that. But I don’t want to be accused of hugging somebody who didn’t want a hug. So it’s unfortunate in some aspects.” (Carroll Daily Times Herald)
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- District residents could see temperatures stretch into the 70s today. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Overnight showers should be out of the area by dawn, and any return of showers is likely to be late in the day, if at all. Despite a healthy dose of clouds, temperatures surge higher. While the records at Reagan National Airport and Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport (77) look safe, the 68 at Dulles International Airport could fall as most highs reach the lower 70s.”
-- The Wizards beat the Knicks 118-113. (Candace Buckner)
-- D.C. Council member Jack Evans attracted scrutiny over a bill to benefit an outdoor advertising company after it offered a paid summer internship to Evans’s son. Fenit Nirappil reports: “[Digi Outdoor Media] offered to hire Evans’s son, then 19, shortly before Digi’s founder ran into trouble with city regulators, who found his company’s LED-illuminated signs downtown were illegally constructed. The younger Evans ultimately didn’t take the internship. But months later, his father proposed a bill to legalize the type of signs Digi wanted to install. Evans withdrew the legislation because of a lack of support.”
-- The D.C. DMV sent hundreds of erroneous notices fining residents up to $2,500 for supposedly lapsed car insurance. (Peter Jamison)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy once again called for stricter gun-control measures in the wake of the Florida shooting:
Sen. Chris Murphy addresses Florida school shooting on Senate floor: "Let me just note once again for my colleagues...We are responsible for a level of mass atrocity that happens in this country with zero parallel anywhere else." https://t.co/fl7GP76ZB1 pic.twitter.com/SSU76XwVuB— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) February 14, 2018
One CNN commentator struggled to discuss the shooting:
The Post fact-checked Trump's claim that the tax bill was bringing major investments to the United States:
Jimmy Kimmel expanded upon his line of White House Valentine's Day cards:
And snowboarder Chloe Kim reflected on her Olympic victory: