With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve.
THE BIG IDEA: Donald Trump could have gotten his border wall. Democrats were willing to cave on that in exchange for saving the “dreamers.” That would have fulfilled the president’s single biggest campaign promise, and he might have taken a triumphant victory lap.
But Trump moved the goal posts, demanded dramatic reductions in legal immigration and then mobilized to kill a bipartisan compromise that would have given him much of what — until very recently — he said he wanted.
The White House demanded all or nothing. For now, he gets nothing.
Savvy insiders from both parties who have worked on this issue for years were taken aback by Trump’s rejection of the deal brokered by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), which Democratic leader Chuck Schumer pushed many members of his caucus to back against their will.
Then, in a stinging rebuke, only 39 senators voted for Trump’s four-prong immigration framework. He needed 60.
The president’s refusal to accept a meaningful victory, because he wanted a bigger one, is just the latest illustration of the degree to which he has fallen under the thrall of his most rigidly ideological advisers. From entitlements to infrastructure and even Russia, Trump has moved toward the hard-liners who work for him this week.
After Trump purged and then disavowed former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, the conventional wisdom on the D.C. cocktail party circuit was that the president would probably move more toward the GOP establishment and perhaps even moderate. That was always wishful thinking on their part. This week has shown it was wrong.
On immigration, domestic policy adviser Stephen Miller — who played a key role in killing the last chance for comprehensive reform in 2013 — has been in the driver’s seat.
“Stephen Miller is an outlier on immigration, he's an extremist and the president — who has turned the keys of the car over to him — will never get anywhere,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) complained to reporters last night.
“A senior White House official,” who wouldn’t let his name be used, had just laced into Graham’s efforts to bring both sides together during a conference call for reporters. “I'm not aware when Lindsey Graham became the chairman of the Democratic Conference,” this person said, calling him “part of the problem.”
This is a far cry from only a few weeks ago when Trump promised to sign any immigration bill Congress came up with. “I will take all the heat you want to give me,” the president told lawmakers during a televised meeting of his quest for a solution, “and take the heat off the Democrats and the Republicans.”
Hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants now face the threat of deportation, starting in just three weeks. Advocates hope the courts intercede to save the dreamers. Several senators are floating the idea of jamming a fix into a must-pass spending bill next month, though they know that could lead to another government shutdown.
“A senior White House official said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wants to move on from immigration, and the White House is inclined to agree,” Ed O'Keefe, David Nakamura and Mike DeBonis report. “McConnell has told White House officials that there is little appetite in his conference for continuing an immigration fight. McConnell has told others that any bill he could pass in the Senate would be unlikely to earn Trump’s support.”
The budget blueprint that Trump unveiled on Tuesday, which called for massive and politically problematic cuts to entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid, was the handiwork of OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, who co-founded the House Freedom Caucus.
Trump has previously expressed deep skepticism of using public-private partnerships to spur infrastructure development. He’s wanted to spend more than $1 trillion in direct federal money to build new roads, bridges and the like. Yet the plan he unveiled earlier this week calls for the very approach that the hard-liners have prodded him toward over the past year: putting up $200 billion in incentives and investments to spur private businesses and local governments to spend the rest. People involved in the process say that the final product was heavily shaped by special assistant Paul Teller, who was formerly Ted Cruz’s chief of staff and once a top official on the right-wing Republican Study Committee.
In a potentially significant development yesterday afternoon that got little attention, the White House sent out perhaps its strongest rebuke of Russia during Trump’s presidency. “In June 2017, the Russian military launched the most destructive and costly cyber-attack in history,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in an official statement. “The attack, dubbed ‘NotPetya,’ quickly spread worldwide, causing billions of dollars in damage across Europe, Asia, and the Americas. It was part of the Kremlin’s ongoing effort to destabilize Ukraine and demonstrates ever more clearly Russia’s involvement in the ongoing conflict. This was also a reckless and indiscriminate cyber-attack that will be met with international consequences.”
What’s interesting is that the CIA concluded with “high confidence” last November that this was the case, but the White House waited until yesterday to say so publicly. The defense hawks in the administration have urged the president to take a harder line since he took office, but just last month he refused to implement the sanctions against Russia that were passed by Congress.
The story everyone was focused on yesterday was the horrific school shooting in Florida.
Only a few years ago, Trump advocated for a ban on assault weapons and longer waiting periods to purchase guns. In a book he wrote in 2000, he called out Republicans who “walk the NRA line” and “refuse even limited restrictions.”
In a six-minute address to the nation yesterday, Trump made no mention of guns but instead — as he has after the other massacres that have occurred during his 13 months in the White House — pledged to “tackle the difficult issue of mental health.”
Around the same time, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin — a former Goldman Sachs partner who has donated heavily to Democrats — said that Congress should look into issues related to gun violence. “I will say, personally, I think the gun violence — it’s a tragedy what we’ve seen yesterday, and I urge Congress to look at these issues,” Mnuchin said in response to a question from Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) during a House Ways and Means Committee hearing.
When it comes to issues like guns, though, Trump is not listening to rich friends like Mnuchin, or his daughter Ivanka, or his son-in-law Jared Kushner. He’s playing to the base. Indeed, the treasury secretary’s spokesman quickly tried to walk back his boss’s comments.
But the hard-liners holding the reins at the White House right now don’t want to focus on mental health either. The budget proposal Trump unveiled Tuesday attempts to cut spending on such care. It also called for slashing school safety initiatives. “Funds targeted for reduction or elimination in the Trump administration's fiscal 2019 request have helped pay for counselors in schools and violence prevention programs,” Politico’s Kimberly Hefling notes. “Such funds were used for mental health aid for students and teachers [following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary]. The budget request calls for a $25 million reduction in funds designated for national school safety activities, compared with 2017. [Trump's] budget would eliminate altogether a $400 million grant program that districts can use, for example, to prevent bullying or provide mental health assistance.”
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- Paul Manafort’s business partner and former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates is finalizing a plea deal with Robert Mueller, indicating he intends to cooperate in the special counsel's Russia investigation. A plea deal would make Gates the third known cooperator in Mueller’s probe. CNN’s Katelyn Polantz and Sara Murray report: “Gates has already spoken to Mueller's team about his case and has been in plea negotiations for about a month. He's had what criminal lawyers call a ‘Queen for a Day’ interview, in which a defendant answers any questions from the prosecutors' team, including about his own case and other potential criminal activity he witnessed. Gates' cooperation could be another building block for Mueller in a possible case against [Trump] or key members of his team. It would also increase the pressure to cooperate on [Manafort], who has pleaded not guilty to Mueller's indictment and is preparing for a trial on alleged financial crimes unrelated to the campaign.”
-- Mitt Romney has made it official on Twitter: He's running for Senate in Utah.
I am running for United States Senate to serve the people of Utah and bring Utah's values to Washington. pic.twitter.com/TDkas6gD2p— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) February 16, 2018
-- A New Yorker piece published this morning by Ronan Farrow provides significant new detail about an alleged affair former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal had in 2006 with Trump — and the lengths to which Trump allies went to silence her (the account includes handwritten notes from McDougal to a friend detailing the relationship). McDougal and Trump allegedly met 11 years ago at a party for “The Apprentice” at the Playboy mansion, after which she began an affair with the married businessman (then married to Melania for two years). Trump denies the affair.
The affair bears some striking similarities to the account of adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, who also allegedly had an affair with Trump during the same time period. McDougal’s account “provides a detailed look at how Trump and his allies used clandestine hotel-room meetings, payoffs, and complex legal agreements to keep affairs — sometimes multiple affairs he carried out simultaneously — out of the press.”
Here’s how it’s alleged to have worked: During the 2016 election, McDougal’s friend suggested she could make a lot of money off her story, Farrow reports. Four days before the election, the Wall Street Journal reported that American Media, Inc., which owns the National Enquirer and is led by Trump friend David Pecker, bought McDougal’s story for $150,000 and proceeded not to run it in what some charge is a common practice by Pecker called “catch and kill.” McDougal, who says she is a Republican, is talking because she believes she is being treated unfairly by AMI, which she argues promised to run her aging and wellness column, feature her on two covers and help establish her skin care line. “I knew that I couldn’t talk about any alleged affair with any married man, but I didn’t really understand the whole content of what I gave up,” she told Farrow.
GET SMART FAST:
- A second federal appeals court struck down the third version of Trump’s travel ban, saying it “is unconstitutionally tainted with animus toward Islam.” The 9 to 4 decision by the 4th Circuit in Richmond, which will have no immediate effect, cited Trump's statements and tweets since he became president, concluded the latest ban was motivated by antipathy toward Muslims and not national security concerns. The Supreme Court has taken up the travel ban and will hold oral arguments in April, ruling by the end of June. (Robert Barnes and Ann E. Marimow)
- Over an eight-year period, two of the nation’s largest drug companies shipped 12.3 million doses of opioids to a single pharmacy in one tiny town in West Virginia, congressional investigators revealed. Lawmakers sent letters to the “Big Three” wholesale drug distributors demanding more information on the steps they took to keep drugs off the black market in a state that has long struggled with opioid abuse. (Lenny Bernstein and Katie Zezima)
- This year’s flu shots are the least effective in a decade, according to a new CDC report, and reduce overall risk of coming down with the flu by just 36 percent. Even so, health officials are stressing the importance of the vaccine — noting that in children under age 9, the shot reduces risk by more than half. (Lena H. Sun)
- Railroad officials told Congress it will take an additional two years for many lines to be installed with a lifesaving automatic braking system, which was first ordered by lawmakers a decade ago and could have prevented more than 130 train wrecks. (Ashley Halsey III)
- A surprising new study finds that everyday chemicals are becoming a dominant source of air pollution — with things like personal-care products, plants and indoor cleaners rivaling cars in terms of emissions output. (Chris Mooney)
- Emmy-winning actor Jeffrey Tambor will not return to “Transparent” for the Amazon show’s fifth season after two cast and crew members accused him of sexual harassment. (Hollywood Reporter)
THE SHOOTER SHOWED ALL THE SIGNS:
-- Nikolas Cruz admitted Thursday to carrying out the shooting rampage at his former high school, which killed 17 students and teachers and injured at least 15 others, police said. Lori Rozsa, Mark Berman and Devlin Barrett report: “Police wrote that [Cruz], who has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder, told officers that he walked into [the school] wielding an AR-15 and began shooting students in the hallways and outside on the school’s grounds. Once students began to flee the carnage, Cruz dropped his rifle and vest packed with additional ammunition ‘so he could blend into the crowd,’ an officer wrote in a probable cause affidavit. Cruz had taken an Uber to the school, officials wrote, so he fled on foot along with those running from the gunfire. An officer found him not long after walking on a residential street.”
-- Neighbors in Cruz’s affluent Florida neighborhood helped sketch a fuller portrait of his life, telling reporters that he “terrorized” fellow residents for years and seemed to delight in torturing animals. William Wan, Kevin Sullivan, David Weingrad and Mark Berman report: “He killed squirrels with a pellet gun. He stole neighbors’ mail. He tried to get his dog to attack and bloody the pet piglets being raised in the house across the street. He picked fights with other kids constantly, biting one kid’s ear. He threw rocks and coconuts, vandalized property. He lurked at late hours along drainage ditches that run alongside the back yards of every house on this block. One neighbor caught him peeking into her bedroom window. Residents said they called police constantly. Every other week, it seemed, police cruisers would pull up to the house to sort out the latest complaint. Things only seemed to get worse ...”
-- Math teacher Jim Gard, who taught Cruz before his expulsion, said school administrators sent out a note with a “vague suggestion of concern” at some point and asked teachers to keep an eye on Cruz. “I don’t recall the exact message,” Gard said, “but it was an email notice they sent out.” Staffers were also told last year that he wasn’t allowed on campus with a backpack on him. “There were problems with him last year threatening students, and I guess he was asked to leave campus,” Gard added.
-- Last September, the FBI was alerted to a disturbing YouTube comment posted by a user named “nikolas cruz.” “Im going to be a professional school shooter,” the comment said. Matt Zapotosky, Devlin Barrett and Emma Brown report: “Two FBI agents interviewed the [tipster], Mississippi bail bondsman Ben Bennight, the next day. The bureau checked public and law enforcement databases for anyone by Cruz’s name who might be of concern, the FBI said, but could not identify the person who left the comment ... Law enforcement officials noted that nothing about the YouTube comment pointed to a Florida resident, and the comment did not include the kind of specificity … that tends to raise greater alarms.”
HEARTBREAKING STORIES ABOUT THE VICTIMS:
-- This is the second-deadliest shooting ever to occur at a U.S. public school. Here are some of the victims' stories:
- Aaron Feis, 37, was an assistant football coach who died after he threw himself between students and the gunman. Douglas head football Coach Willis May described Feis as a “big ol’ teddy bear.” “He was a great guy,” sophomore lineman Gage Gaynor said. “Everyone loved him. Shame he had to go like this. Always gave his all to making us better.”
- Peter Wang, 15. As students began to stream from the school, Peter did not join them — choosing instead to hold a door open and help peers escape. Friends described him as a natural leader and “the big brother everyone wished they had.”
- Nicholas Dworet, 17. He was a competitive swimmer who earned an athletic scholarship to attend the University of Indianapolis in the fall. “He was a vibrant, energetic, confident kid,” said Jason Hite, a swim coach for the university. “He was just the kind of kid you’d want on your team.” Nick’s younger brother also attended Douglas and was injured in the shooting, suffering a graze wound to the head.
- Scott Beigel, 35. “They thought it was a fire drill at first, so the students hurried out of the classroom, and geography teacher Scott Beigel locked the door behind them,” Ellie Silverman reports. “Soon, they heard gunshots, and everyone was running back up the stairs, said Kelsey Friend, 16. As they ran, Kelsey was being shoved, and she told Beigel she was scared. The students heard more gunshots, and Beigel quickly unlocked the classroom door so the students could hide. As Kelsey left school yesterday, she saw Beigel’s body on the floor, as well as the bodies of two students, blood and thrown backpacks.” “He’s my Superman,” she said. “Superman saves lives, and that’s exactly what Mr. Beigel did.” (Read more about the victims here.)
NO COMMUNITY IS SAFE:
-- “Before Wednesday, the town of Parkland was known for being the safest city in Florida, with just seven violent crimes reported last year,” Kevin Sullivan, Samantha Schmidt and David A. Fahrenthold report. “If the students felt safe, it was because they were prepared. There was an armed police officer on campus. The students had practiced to deal with an active shooter.”
-- Police are praising a grandmother in Washington state for foiling a school shooting plot after she discovered her 18-year-old grandson’s journal detailing his plans to launch an attack. Authorities said he performed a coin toss to determine the school where he would open fire and found both a rifle and military-style inert grenades during an investigation of his home. “I’m preparing myself for the school shooting. I can’t wait,” he wrote in his journal. He added: “I can’t wait to walk into that class and blow all those f—— away.” (Lindsey Bever)
-- Police in Montgomery County arrested 18-year-old high school student Alwin Chen on Thursday for bringing a loaded gun to his Maryland high school. The cops are continuing to investigate how Chen got the gun and why he brought it to school. (Clarence Williams)
-- A former New York City high school teacher and his twin brother were accused Thursday of stockpiling bomb-making materials — a months-long operation they undertook in part by paying students to extract gunpowder from fireworks. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said there is no evidence to suggest an ongoing threat to the city or its schools, but agents are “still investigating.” (Devlin Barrett and Keith McMillan)
INACTION IN WASHINGTON:
-- On Capitol Hill, nothing has changed in the wake of another shooting, with many lawmakers falling back into their standard partisan positions on guns. Paul Kane reports: “Democrats reissued demands for enhanced background checks for gun purchases and a possible ban of certain weapons. Republicans brushed those proposals aside and called for a more drawn-out study of the shooter’s motives … ‘This is not a time to jump to some conclusion not knowing the full facts,’ [Paul Ryan said]. ‘We’ve got a lot more information we need to know.’ But there is no real urgency on Capitol Hill to do anything. Republicans generally support gun rights and enjoy the political support of the [NRA]. Democrats, despite polling showing broad support for more gun regulation, seldom campaign on the issue and therefore put almost no fear in GOP lawmakers that they will pay a political price for their inaction.”
-- The convergence of yesterday’s two policy debates — gun control and immigration — is “coincidental but revealing,” The Atlantic’s Ronald Brownstein writes. “Both issues illuminate the central divide between the parties as their political coalitions have sorted and separated along lines of race, generation, education, and geography. On both matters, Republicans are championing primarily non-urban and predominantly white constituencies that want fewer immigrants and more access to guns. Democrats reflect a mirror-image consensus: Their voters coming from diverse urban areas usually support more immigrants and fewer guns.
“The predictability of deadlock testifies to the power of the intertwined cultural, demographic, and economic divide now separating urban and non-urban America — and how closely the nation’s partisan split follows the contours of that larger separation. It also shows how population-distribution patterns that concentrate Democratic strength in the House ... into the largest urban areas, combined with the small-state bias that accords each state two senators regardless of population, elevate rural over urban priorities in these polarized debates.”
MORE ON THE WEAPON:
- “The AR-15: ‘America’s rifle’ or illegitimate killing machine?” from Marc Fisher: “It is, depending on which political and social camp you belong to, ‘America’s rifle,’ a way to ‘Control Your Destiny’ or a killing machine that has no legitimate place in civilian life. Over the past few decades, the military-style rifle has become a symbol not only of the political divide between gun-control people and gun rights people, but also of the cultural gulf between those who believe it is essentially American to take up arms in the service of righteous vengeance and those who believe society should focus instead on less-violent approaches to resolving conflict.”
- “In Florida, an AR-15 Is Easier to Buy Than a Handgun,” by the New York Times’s Richard A. Oppel Jr: “Florida has a three-day waiting period for handgun purchases. But anyone without a felony record, domestic abuse conviction, or a handful of other exceptions … can walk into a gun store, wait a few minutes to clear a background check, and walk out with an AR-15 -style rifle, magazines and ammunition.”
- “No, there haven’t been 18 school shootings in 2018. That number is flat wrong,” from John Woodrow Cox and Steven Rich: “The figure originated with Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit group, co-founded by Michael Bloomberg, that works to prevent gun violence[.] Everytown has long inflated its total by including incidents of gunfire that are not really school shootings …”
- “The Heartbreak and Frustration of Covering One Mass Shooting After Another,” from The New Yorker’s Charles Bethea: “Lulu Ramadan, a breaking-news reporter at the Palm Beach Post, has covered three mass shootings in her career. She’s twenty-three.”
- Trump’s 2019 budget proposal would slash school safety money that assists in crime prevention and helping students recover from tragedies. Politico’s Kimberly Hefling reports: “Funds targeted for reduction or elimination in the Trump administration's fiscal 2019 request have helped pay for counselors in schools and violence prevention programs. Such funds were used for mental health aid for students and teachers [following the Sandy Hook shooting]. The budget request calls for a $25 million reduction in funds designated for national school safety activities, compared with 2017. [Trump's] budget would eliminate altogether a $400 million grant program that districts can use, for example, to prevent bullying or provide mental health assistance.”
THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- Steve Bannon met with Robert Mueller's prosecutors “multiple” times this week. “Bannon spent a total of some 20 hours in conversations with the team led by Mueller,” NBC's Hallie Jackson reports. Trump’s former legal team spokesman, Mark Corallo, also met Thursday with Mueller's team.
-- House Republican leaders are weighing further steps to force Bannon to answer questions in the House Intelligence panel’s Russia investigation — including declaring him in contempt of Congress — after another “frustrating” appearance by the former senior White House aide. Karoun Demirjian reports: “On Thursday, Bannon presented panel members with a list of 25 questions that he would be willing to answer ... But according to the panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the questions had all been ‘literally scripted’ by the White House, and his answer to all of them was ‘no.’ When the committee tried to push Bannon to answer questions that were not on his list, he repeatedly told members that the White House had not authorized him to engage on those queries. At no point … did Bannon voluntarily elaborate on his answers.”
-- A new study found Russia’s 2016 disinformation campaign relied “heavily” on stories by major U.S. media outlets to shape the online political debate. Craig Timberg reports: “The analysis by Columbia University social media researcher Jonathan Albright … showed that obscure or foreign news sources played a comparatively minor role, suggesting that the discussion of ‘fake news’ during the campaign has been somewhat miscast. Some well-chronicled hoaxes reached large audiences. But Russian-controlled Twitter accounts, Albright said, were far more likely to share stories produced by widely read sources of American news and political commentary. The stories themselves were generally factually accurate, but the Russian accounts carefully curated the overall flow to highlight themes and developments that bolstered [Trump] and undermined [Clinton]. Among the tweets Albright studied, the most common links were to Breitbart News, followed by The Washington Post and the San Francisco Chronicle.”
ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN (AND WOMEN):
-- “[VA Secretary David Shulkin] battled for his political survival as he faced ethics questions about a trip to Europe, acknowledging to lawmakers ‘the optics of this are not good’ and lobbying the White House to defend him,” Lisa Rein, Emily Wax-Thibodeaux and Josh Dawsey report. “White House officials refused to do so, however, saying they felt misled by Shulkin over the significance of an inspector general’s report alleging ‘serious derelictions’ by the secretary and his senior staff. Against that backdrop, and amid accounts of a festering power struggle among Shulkin and [Trump’s] other political appointees within the agency, he went to Capitol Hill for a hearing before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, telling lawmakers that he accepted responsibility for the lapses [in the report]. The 10-day business trip to Copenhagen and London … became the focus of an investigation last year … But speaking with reporters after the hearing, Shulkin accused other senior political appointees within the agency of working to undermine him and claimed they might have hacked the email account of his chief of staff, Vivieca Wright Simpson, whom the inspector general accused of doctoring a message to justify covering travel expenses for Shulkin’s wife.”
-- Trump’s inaugural committee paid $26 million for event production services to a firm formed by a friend of Melania Trump, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, who also serves as a volunteer adviser in the White House. Michael Kranish and Ashley Parker report: “The firm passed along the vast majority of the funds — $24 million — to other vendors who provided entertainment, staffing and other services[.] Wolkoff, who employed about a dozen staff members for the event, retained $1.62 million for consulting and executive production … The revelation that Wolkoff controlled such large sums for the event raised eyebrows among some White House officials, who described her East Wing status as unusual. Wolkoff has a pass that allows her access to the White House grounds, but lives in New York and travels to Washington every few weeks for meetings … Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for the first lady, said Wolkoff has never received a government salary and is considered ‘a special government employee.’” “Simply put, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff is a contracted volunteer with the Office of the First Lady and has specified duties as outlined in her contract,” Grisham said.
-- EPA officials said Thursday that verbal confrontations with members of the public prompted Scott Pruitt to switch to first-class travel. Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis report: “Henry Barnet, who directs EPA’s Office of Criminal Enforcement, Forensics and Training, said in an interview that the head of Pruitt’s security detail, Pasquale Perrotta, recommended in May that he fly in either first or business class to provide ‘a buffer’ between him and the public. His memo was prompted by an incident that month when a person approached Pruitt ‘with threatening language’ that was ‘vulgar,’ Barnet said. Barnet said he did not believe any physical altercation was involved. … The EPA did not immediately release details about that May incident or the memo that Barnet received ... The agency also had declined to release the travel waiver that it uses to justify Pruitt’s premium-class flights, or to say who signed off on the decision.”
“As an example, Barnet recounted an incident from October at the airport in Atlanta,” Politico’s Alex Guillén reports. “An individual approached Pruitt with his cell phone recording, yelling at him ‘Scott Pruitt, you’re f---ing up the environment,’ those sort of terms,’ Barnet said. EPA’s independent Office of Inspector General, [said Thursday] that none of the threats it has received have been related to [his] air travel.”
-- Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said he plans to run for Senate against Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D), delivering a boost to the GOP in a state where Trump won big in 2016. Erica Werner reports: “Cramer, who had announced just a month ago that he was passing on the race, told reporters at the Capitol that he had a change of heart in part because of witnessing important legislation, including the tax cut bill, squeak through the closely divided Senate ... With signs that the $1.5 trillion tax cut bill is growing in popularity, Cramer predicted that Heitkamp’s vote against it could prove ‘fatal’ for her, and he said he’d probably be making it a focus of his campaign. ‘The vote that mattered, she failed on,’ he said.”
-- One of Hillary Clinton’s top campaign aides, Amanda Renteria, is leaving her post at the California attorney general’s office to run for governor. The LA Times’s Seema Mehta and Phil Wilson report: “’I wish her a great deal of luck. I obviously hired her because I knew she was pretty capable,’ [Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra said] Wednesday. It's unclear who will work on Renteria's bid — many of the strategists who helped with her unsuccessful 2014 congressional run are working for other campaigns. She does have ties to prominent donors and politicians — during that run, [Obama and Biden] spoke at fundraisers for Renteria, and [Nancy Pelosi] hosted another fundraiser for her.”
-- Politico Magazine, “The President of Nowhere, USA,” by Adam Doster: “Plenty has changed in the intervening years, for [South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg] personally and for the party he represents. In a term-and-a-half, he has overseen an economic and psychological resurgence in South Bend that few were predicting. In 2014, he served a seven-month tour in Afghanistan with the U.S. Naval Reserves, helping disrupt flows of funding to terrorist groups while monitoring South Bend business over sketchy internet connections. Through it all, Buttigieg established himself as a Democrat worth tracking, at a time when the party was desperate for fresh faces … [But] a bitter irony is at play here: At a moment when the faces of the Democratic Party are 67-year-old Chuck Schumer and 77-year-old Nancy Pelosi, when so many novice Democrats are banging at the gate, spurred into action by powerful social currents and opposition to the president, one of the party’s most talented young politicians has nowhere to go. Buttigieg could theoretically lead his party out of the Trump-era wilderness — if only he can find his way out of South Bend.”
-- “The Pentagon has launched a new effort to remove U.S. troops from the ranks who are considered unable to deploy, a sensitive decision that could push thousands of people out of the military.” Dan Lamothe reports: “The decision is in keeping with [Jim Mattis’s] guidance to put the readiness of the military to fight first, according to a memo released Thursday[.] ... Service members can be considered unable to deploy for a variety of reasons, including physical injuries, mental-health concerns, legal action and poor physical fitness.”
-- Nine organizations, including Planned Parenthood, are suing the Trump administration for ending grants to teen pregnancy programs. Ariana Eunjung Cha reports: “On Thursday, the groups filed four separate lawsuits … arguing that approximately $220 million in grants was wrongfully terminated. The Obama-era Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPP) was created by Congress to conduct rigorous scientific research into what approaches work to lower teen pregnancy rates and try to provide the best ones to at-risk youths. It was designed as a five-year program, but grantees reported last summer they had received letters informing them the program would be terminated the following year, at the end of June 2018 — two years ahead of schedule.”
-- Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) will stop blocking nominees for some Justice Department jobs over concerns about the marijuana industry, saying department leaders have “shown good faith” in recent talks on the DOJ’s pot policy. The Associated Press reports: “ ... Gardner used his power as a senator last month to freeze nominations for posts at the agency after [Jeff Sessions] rescinded Obama-era protections for states like Colorado that have broadly legalized recreational marijuana ... Gardner said he was placing holds on nominees until Sessions changed his approach. The holds have created friction both with Sessions, who has complained that critical posts are going unfilled, and some of Gardner's fellow GOP senators who want key law enforcement officials in their states confirmed.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
This represents an editorial shift for one of the papers owned by Rupert Murdoch:
The president’s favorite paper pic.twitter.com/3mfM2O6PtJ— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) February 16, 2018
The survivors of the Florida shooting are urging Congress to act on guns:
Student David Hogg who survived school shooting looks directly in camera, sends message to Trump and lawmakers: “Please, take action. Ideas are great… But what’s more important is actual action… saving thousands of children’s lives. Please, take action” https://t.co/pwO9MLc69E pic.twitter.com/DRxOxemBZJ— CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) February 15, 2018
The GOP governor of Florida is expected to challenge Sen. Bill Nelson (D) this year, and his response to the shooting could become an issue in the race:
Florida Gov. Rick Scott after Orlando massacre: "We will do everything in our power to make sure this never happens again.”— Jon Passantino (@passantino) February 15, 2018
Florida Gov. Rick Scott just now after Parkland school massacre: "I’m going to do everything I can to make sure this never happens again."
The former president weighed in:
We are grieving with Parkland. But we are not powerless. Caring for our kids is our first job. And until we can honestly say that we're doing enough to keep them safe from harm, including long overdue, common-sense gun safety laws that most Americans want, then we have to change.— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) February 15, 2018
From a journalist stationed in Beirut:
Overheard in Beirut: "Things may be crazy over here, but at least we don't have kids walking into schools and shooting other kids." #FloridaShooting— Sulome Anderson (@SulomeAnderson) February 15, 2018
Tom Toles drew this cartoon ... in 2010:
From a Hawaii Democratic senator:
Please turn your anger, your sadness, your frustration, your exasperation, into action. The single most important thing you can do to make a difference is to mobilize for the elections this year.— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) February 15, 2018
From a New York Times reporter:
I've lost count of how many shootings I've covered and how many victims whose lives I've written about, but I never thought it would feel the way it does now, like this is just the latest one and the worst hasn't happened yet.— Katie Rogers (@katierogers) February 15, 2018
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“LeBron James Says Trump Doesn’t ‘Give A F**k About The People,’” from HuffPost: “[LeBron James] says he has little respect for [Trump] because the president has no respect for his constituents. And he’s not mincing words in a YouTube video posted on Thursday featuring him, fellow NBA star Kevin Durant and ESPN’s Cari Champion. ‘The No. 1 job in America, the appointed person, is someone who doesn’t understand the people and really don’t give a [f---] about the people,’ James said. Growing up, James admitted, he never thought he could be president, but he looked to the person in that office for inspiration. Now he doesn’t think that inspiration is possible. ‘And this time right now, with the president of the United States, it’s at a bad time,’ James said. ‘And while we cannot change what comes out of that man’s mouth, we can continue to alert the people that watch us, that listen to us, as this is not the way.’”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“[Berkeley] students are up in arms over a rumor that a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent visited a resident housing complex under the premise that he was an Amazon delivery man.” From the Washington Examiner: “The alleged incident took place at Casa Zimbabwe, commonly referred to as CZ, which is [part of] the Berkeley Student Cooperative. CZ house president Rizza Estacio sent out an email with the subject line: ‘Trigger Warning: Immigration Officers at CZ.’ According to The Daily Californian, it is unclear whether this incidence was a raid by ICE or an attempted robbery. It could also be an entirely fabricated situation, seeing that the Berkeley Police Department says it was never notified that ICE was at Berkeley. That, however, has not kept Berkeley students from freaking out.”
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“Please, take action. Ideas are great. Ideas are wonderful and they help you get reelected and everything … But what's more important is actual action ... that results in saving thousands of children's lives. Please, take action,” said Parkland student David Hogg one day after surviving the massacre.
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- You might want to grab an umbrella – and an extra layer – before heading out the door this morning. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “It’s still a bit balmy and damp in the morning … As a cold front moves through, rain clears out perhaps by late afternoon — but clouds may dominate for the entire day. Temperatures around 60 degrees at sunrise drop toward 50, and ultimately into blustery 40s around sunset.”
-- The Capitals beat the Minnesota Wild, 5-2.
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Remembering the Florida school shooting victims:
Jimmy Kimmel takes on the shooting: