With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve.

THE BIG IDEA: President Trump boasted on Tuesday morning that the Oscars were the lowest rated in history.

The “problem,” he tweeted, is “we don’t have Stars anymore — except your President.”

“Just kidding, of course,” he added.

Except he wasn’t, of course.

Politics is downstream of culture. Trump’s election would never have been possible without systemic cultural shifts, enabled by reality TV and social media, that increased the premium average Americans place on celebrity for celebrity’s sake.

Expertise, personal integrity and public service have all been debased and devalued by the culture. That’s how we wound up, for the first time in American history, with a president who had no prior governing or military experience but lots of liabilities that would have crippled previous candidates.

Trump became famous in New York by playing along with the tabloids and gossip magazines as they covered him cheating on his first wife with the woman who became his second, sometimes even pretending to be another man on the phone to dish dirt on himself. His roles hosting “The Apprentice” and then its spinoff, “The Celebrity Apprentice,” later catapulted him to national fame.

“When you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump told “Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush in 2005, as he bragged about kissing, groping and propositioning a married woman.

The tape of that conversation emerged in October 2016. A few days later, as several women publicly accused Trump of misconduct, his personal lawyer Michael Cohen agreed to pay porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet about her alleged affair with the GOP nominee. On Tuesday, she sued the president and asked a court in Los Angeles to declare that the nondisclosure agreement she signed to get that money is void. She argues that Trump deliberately never signed the document so that he could later disavow knowledge of it.

“Cohen has previously denied that the payment breached campaign finance law. But the lawsuit raises new accusations against Cohen, saying that ‘through intimidation and coercive tactics,’ he caused Daniels this year to sign a statement denying the affair. The suit says Cohen has continued to try to ‘intimidate’ Daniels into keeping quiet in recent weeks,” Beth Reinhard, Frances Stead Sellers and Emma Brown report.

The most read story on The Washington Post’s website this morning is not about Daniels's lawsuit. Or Trump’s top economic adviser resigning over his opposition to new tariffs. Or a counselor to the president violating the Hatch Act. Or the special counsel’s sprawling investigation into potential obstruction of justice at the highest levels of government. It’s certainly not about the Senate advancing a bill to weaken Dodd-Frank, the law enacted to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis. Few people have seemed to care much about the methodical rollback of consumer protections over the past 13 months.

Even though it’s buried low on our home page, the most read story right now is about the season finale of “The Bachelor.” (Spoiler alert: The “Bachelor” contestant Arie Luyendyk Jr. dumped the woman he first proposed to on national television and then proposed to the woman he dumped in the first place. Trump couldn't have scripted a better moment himself.)

-- The Trump phenomenon was an outgrowth of the times, and his presidency has seemed to supercharge many of the trends that allowed him to win in the first place. From Oprah Winfrey to Kanye West, Mark Cuban, Mark Zuckerberg and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, many celebrities have watched Trump, looked at the mirror and wondered: If he can get elected president, why not me?

Cynthia Nixon, who played Miranda on “Sex and the City,” is actively exploring a primary challenge against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). She’s reportedly had conversations with two veteran Democratic strategists, Bill Hyers and Rebecca Katz, who previously worked for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. She’s even boning up on transportation policy.

“Law & Order: SVU” actress Diane Neal, who portrayed Novak on the NBC series, announced last month that she’s running for Congress.

Miss America 2013, Mallory Hagan, quit her job in local TV news last month to launch a longshot bid against Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.). She is a 29-year-old, and Rogers’s smallest victory margin in his past four races was 19 percentage points.

Caitlyn Jenner and Kid Rock both mulled Senate bids this election cycle before taking a pass. Jerry Springer almost ran for governor of Ohio.

-- Celebrities seeking elected office isn’t new. Ronald Reagan was an actor before getting into politics, though he served two terms as governor of California before becoming president. Others like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sonny Bono and Clint Eastwood made the transition.

Minnesota elected professional wrestler Jesse Ventura as governor in 1998 and then “Saturday Night Live” alumnus Al Franken to the Senate in 2008, though it must be said that neither of their tenures ended well.

In 2010, Sean Duffy got elected to Congress from Wisconsin. He was only known because he had appeared on MTV shows like “The Real World: Boston” and “Road Rules: All Stars.” His wife, a cast member on “Real World: San Francisco,” parlayed her celebrity into a gig as a talking head on Fox News.

-- What’s changed is that celebrity is no longer a dirty word in politics. In 2008, John McCain ran a brutal attack ad against Barack Obama that melded footage of him greeting huge crowds with b-roll of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. “He’s the biggest celebrity in the world,” a narrator noted. “But is he ready to lead?” The Obama team saw this as a potent line of attack and ran a response ad that described McCain as a “Washington celebrity.”

The line between pop culture and political culture has become much more amorphous over the intervening decade. Anthony Scaramucci, the former White House communications director, appeared on “Dr. Phil” Tuesday to discuss his troubled marriage. He said getting fired after 11 days “saved” his relationship with his wife, who accused him on the show of not consulting with her before accepting the job. “It was an awakening for me, and, frankly, I learned the hard way how important it was for me to put my marriage back together and to be focused on the right priorities,” the Mooch said.

Just weeks after she was fired from the administration, Omarosa Manigault Newman became a contestant on CBS’s “Celebrity Big Brother.” Before finishing in fifth place, she compared the White House to a plantation, said that the president tweets in his underwear and described herself as “ratings gold.” With tears in her eyes, she declared that she is “haunted” by Trump’s tweets “every single day.” She said she wouldn’t vote for Trump again “in a million years.” Asked for reassurance that America will be okay, she said: “It’s gonna not be okay. It’s not. It’s so bad.”

-- Putting it politely, none of this dignifies the presidency. Try imagining Anita Dunn on “Celebrity Big Brother” or Karen Hughes on “Dr. Phil.” It’s inconceivable.

But Trump continues to fancy himself as a reality TV star. He’s told associates that he thinks of every day like a new episode. Even after assuming the most powerful position in the world, Trump insisted on continuing to hold the title of executive producer for “The Celebrity Apprentice.” His name is still listed in the credits of the NBC show.

Trump opened his first Cabinet meeting of this year by looking to the television cameras. “Welcome back to the studio,” he said.

At a news conference yesterday, he outlined an approach to management that sounded like something he might have once said on his TV show.

“I like conflict,” he told reporters. “I like having two people with different points of view. And I certainly have that. And then I make a decision. But I like watching it. I like seeing it. I think it’s the best way to go.”

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- Texas held the first primaries of the 2018 midterm season, with results pointing to widespread liberal enthusiasm in the deeply red state. Mike DeBonis and Michael Scherer report: “Turnout appeared to be up for both parties, but the Democrats showed the greatest growth. From Houston to the border with Mexico, they voted in numbers far greater than in 2014 primaries, motivated by a surplus of candidates, concern over one-party control of Washington and dissatisfaction with President Trump. Republicans continued to have a clear advantage in the state, with more Texans voting in their primary than in Democrats’. But party leaders sent out a warning call to their own supporters about the growing Democratic engagement.

“[Ted Cruz] easily won his party’s nomination for a second term in the Senate, but he all but admitted that he would have a far more difficult general-election campaign this time around against Democratic nominee Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who has cast his campaign as a movement and boasted of 10,000 volunteers in the state.”

-- Cruz began attacking O’Rourke even before polls closed yesterday. From Ed O'Keefe: “Cruz called out O’Rourke by name in a conference call with reporters before polls closed and then repeated his criticisms of O’Rourke’s support of gun-control measures, the Affordable Care Act and ‘amnesty and open borders’ in a TV interview after results were in. ‘The good news is that there are a lot more conservatives in Texas than liberals,’ Cruz said. ‘If conservatives show up in November, we’ll be just fine.’ … O’Rourke, 45, a three-term congressman, still faces an uphill battle. But there are signs he could at least keep November’s election close …”

-- George P. Bush, son of Jeb Bush, won his primary to continue serving as Texas land commissioner by embracing Trump. “To date, there is perhaps no greater symbol that the Republican Party now belongs to President Trump,” Amber Phillips writes. “Bush's come-around to Trump is remarkable, considering he probably didn't need the president. If there's one candidate that could have successfully run without embracing Trump, it probably would have been Bush. He obviously had the name recognition to stand alone, as well as the money. … Voters might have understood why he would have been wary of embracing the president, after Trump called his father ‘weak’ and ‘an embarrassment to the family.’ … But this is Trump's world, even in what was once Bush country.”

-- Democrat Laura Moser, who was targeted with negative messaging by the DCCC, secured a spot in her district’s primary runoff to determine who will face off against Rep. John Culberson (R). The Texas Tribune’s Abby Livingston reports: “She came in second, behind attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, who was leading the crowded Democratic field with 30 percent of the vote, late Tuesday. Moser trailed with 24 percent of the vote. The runoff is likely to be a brutal fight that will viscerally divide west Houston – but also the national Democratic Party. … Democrats locally and nationally have expressed doubts about Moser's electability in a general election, worrying that she is too liberal to carry the swing district …”

-- Here are the full Texas results.

-- How it's playing locally:

  • Dallas Morning News: “Senate race opens: Ted Cruz slams Beto O'Rourke as 'left wing liberal,' shrugs off anti-Trump anger.”
  • Texas Tribune: “Texas poised to send its first two Latinas to Congress.”
  • Austin American-Statesman: “Far-right groups spend big for small gains in Texas GOP primaries.”
  • KTRK-TV: “Fletcher in runoff, but laser focused on unseating Culberson in November.”
  • Fort Worth Star-Telegram: “Primary runoffs expected in battle for Joe Barton's congressional seat.”
  • Fox 4: “Ex-Dallas Co. Sheriff Lupe Valdez advances to runoff in gubernatorial race.”
  • Houston Chronicle: “Groups call for Harris County election reforms, citing 'a number' of problems reported Tuesday.”

-- George Nader, a UAE adviser with ties to current and former Trump aides, is cooperating in Robert Mueller's investigation. He attended the meeting in January 2017 between a Putin-linked investor and Blackwater founder Erik Prince on the Seychelles islands. The New York Times’s Mark Mazzetti, David D. Kirkpatrick and Adam Goldman report: “Mr. Nader represented the crown prince in the three-way conversation in the Seychelles [in] the days before Mr. Trump took office. At the meeting, Emirati officials believed Mr. Prince was speaking for the Trump transition team, and [Kirill Dmitriev] represented [Vladimir] Putin … Mr. Nader, [who once worked as a consultant to Blackwater], introduced his former employer to the Russian. Mr. Mueller [also] appears to be examining the influence of foreign money on Mr. Trump’s political activities and has asked witnesses about the possibility that [Nader] funneled money from the Emirates to the president’s political efforts ...

“Mr. Nader was first served with search warrants and a grand jury subpoena on Jan. 17, shortly after landing at Washington Dulles International Airport … He had intended to travel on to [Mar-a-Lago] to celebrate the president’s first year in office, but the F.B.I. had other plans, questioning him for more than two hours and seizing his electronics. Since then, Mr. Nader has been questioned numerous times about meetings in New York during the transition, the Seychelles meeting and meetings in the White House with [Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon].”

-- The Justice Department sued California, arguing the state’s “sanctuary” jurisdictions violate the Constitution. Matt Zapotosky reports: “In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Sacramento just after 9 p.m. Eastern time, the Justice Department alleged that three recently enacted California laws obstruct enforcement of federal immigration law and harm public safety. The Justice Department asked a federal judge to block the California laws, which restrict how state businesses and law enforcement agencies can cooperate with immigration authorities. … It sets up a clash not just on what is the best immigration policy to promote public safety, but also on what power the federal government should exert over the states. … A senior Justice Department official said department lawyers are still evaluating other places’ laws and could bring other lawsuits …”

The governor of California struck back:

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Nashville Mayor Megan Barry pleaded guilty to theft of property and agreed to resign — a stunning fall from power that comes just five weeks after she admitted to having an affair with her former head of security. As part of her plea deal, Barry was sentenced to three years of probation and has agreed to reimburse the city $11,000 in “unlawful expenses.” (Tennessean)
  2. The nine-day teachers' strike in West Virginia ended after the state Senate unanimously approved a bill to increase teacher salaries by 5 percent. The massive strike swept across all of West Virginia’s 55 counties and kept more than 277,000 public-school students out of classrooms. (Sarah Larimer)
  3. The opioid crisis is continuing to worsen at an alarming rate. According to new CDC data, more than 142,000 Americans were taken to emergency rooms for opioid overdoses in a single 15-month span — or a 30 percent increase from the previous period. The trend applied to every region and demographic group, authorities said, and in the states of Wisconsin and Delaware, overdose-related E.R. visits more than doubled. (Lenny Bernstein)
  4. Puerto Rico estimates an additional 200,000 island residents will have settled in the mainland United States by the end of the year. The exodus follows the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria, but even before the storm, nearly a half-million Puerto Ricans left the island over the past decade as it struggled financially. (Arelis R. Hernández)
  5. Ryan Lizza, who was dismissed from the New Yorker for what the magazine called “improper sexual conduct” has been picked up by Rolling Stone as a contributor. Lizza denies wrongdoing, and CNN retained him as an on-air contributor after an investigation. (Vanity Fair)
  6. The creator of “Pepe the Frog” is suing Infowars for copyright infringement. Artist Matt Furie alleges his smiling green cartoon has been unlawfully coopted by the alt-right conspiracy site to “promote a message of hate.” Furie has previously attempted to distance his creation from fringe groups: launching a #SavePepe campaign and attempting to metaphorically “kill” Pepe by drawing a picture of him at his own funeral in 2017. (BuzzFeed News)
  7. Three day-care workers in Illinois were arrested after allegedly feeding a group of rambunctious 2 year olds gummy bears laced with melatonin before naptime. It’s unclear how much of the sleep-inducing hormone supplement the toddlers unwittingly ingested — or for how long.  (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)

ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN AND WOMEN:

-- Trump’s top economic adviser Gary Cohn is headed for the exits after failing to prevent Trump's announcement he'll impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. From Damian Paletta and Philip Rucker: “His resignation as National Economic Council director will leave the White House without a financial heavyweight who business executives and foreign leaders believed had served as a counter to Trump’s protectionist impulses and as a moderating force in other areas. … The president could cast a wide net in searching for a replacement, though he has told advisers that he wants to consider Larry Kudlow, a media personality and 2016 campaign adviser[.] … Cohn’s departure rattled a number of business executives around the country, many of whom saw the Wall Street veteran as a free-market capitalist who would speak out against those who wanted to pick fights with global trading partners.”

-- “Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson privately warned senior trade officials on Tuesday that [Trump’s proposed tariffs]  could endanger the U.S. national security relationship with allies, according to five people familiar with the meeting," per Damian Paletta and Josh Dawsey. “The morning meeting came as Republican lawmakers grasped for a strategy to persuade Trump to change his mind, with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.), who had loudly criticized the plan on Monday, telling members in a closed-door meeting not to bully Trump on the decision. He said it could backfire and make things even worse. ... 'We are urging caution,' Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday.”

-- Cohn’s announcement came hours after he refused to offer his support for the tariff proposals during an Oval Office meeting, according to Bloomberg News's Jennifer Jacobs. “Trump ... asked for an update on the legal paperwork that will make the tariffs official and discussed the timing of the signing of the tariffs order. He then sought confirmation that everyone — and especially Cohn — was willing to stand behind him. According to one source with knowledge of the exchange, Trump specifically asked Cohn: We’re all on the same team, right? He then asked if Cohn was going to support the president on the issue. Cohn didn’t answer...”

-- The news sent Dow futures tumbling as Wall Street’s fears of a trade war escalated. “Buckle your seat belts. We are adding uncertainty, which is the enemy of the markets,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton. “The chances of NAFTA failing also just rose.” (Heather Long)

-- An eye-popping statistic from the New York Time’s Kate Kelly and Maggie Haberman: “More than one in three top White House officials left by the end of Mr. Trump’s first year and fewer than half of the 12 positions closest to the president are still occupied by the same people as when he came into office, according to a Brookings Institution study. Mr. Cohn’s departure will bring the turnover number to 43 percent, according to updated figures compiled by Kathryn Dunn Tenpas of the Brookings Institution.”

-- A federal investigator concluded that White House adviser Kellyanne Conway twice violated the Hatch Act last year by commenting on Alabama’s special election. From Michelle Ye Hee Lee: “The remarks, in a pair of televised interviews, amounted to a violation of [federal law], which prohibits public employees from using their official capacity to conduct political activity, special counsel Henry J. Kerner said in a report. The White House on Tuesday rejected the findings, saying Conway was only reflecting the president’s views when she spoke against Doug Jones, the Democrat running for the Senate seat, and in favor of Roy Moore, the Republican candidate. … But in an 11-page report, the Office of the Special Counsel concluded that Conway ‘impermissibly mixed official government business with political views about candidates in the Alabama special election’ and advised Trump to consider disciplinary action against Conway.” (Spoiler alert: He won't.)

-- Aides to HUD Secretary Ben Carson said they would comply with congressional inquiries into expenses tied to the redecoration of his office. (Juliet Eilperin)

-- Senate Democrats are pressing for answers about how an associate to the head of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s security detail received an agency contract. Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis report: “Pasquale ‘Nino’ Perrotta — who heads Pruitt’s security detail and also serves as a principal of Rockville-based Sequoia Security Group — advised EPA officials to hire a member of the management team at Sequoia, Edwin Steinmetz[.] … The $3,000 ‘communications audit’ contract to sweep Pruitt’s office on March 3 for concealed listening devices was conducted by Edwin Steinmetz Associates, according to records obtained by the Post. … Sens. Thomas R. Carper (Del.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee are seeking documentation that Perrotta obeyed federal conflict-of-interest rules.”

THERE'S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- Mueller’s team has requested documents and interviewed witnesses about two episodes related to Trump’s longtime attorney, Michael Cohen, who spent a decade as the Trump Organization’s top lawyer. Rosalind S. Helderman, Tom Hamburger and Josh Dawsey report: “One area of focus has been negotiations Cohen undertook during the campaign to help the Trump Organization build a tower in Moscow. Cohen brought Trump a letter of intent in October 2015 from a Russian developer to build a Moscow project. Later, he sent an email to [Putin’s] chief spokesman seeking help to advance the stalled project. … Another area that Mueller’s team has explored is a Russia-friendly peace proposal for Ukraine that was delivered to Cohen by a Ukrainian lawmaker one week after Trump took office, the people said.

-- Cohen has figured into a Ukrainian peace proposal with Felix Sater. It's also being investigated by Mueller. “The back-channel proposal offered a pathway for resolving the Ukrainian dispute that could have led to the lifting of U.S. sanctions on Russia and given Putin a prize he has long sought — undisputed control over Crimea … The plan was presented to Cohen a few weeks after then-national security adviser Michael Flynn was heard in an intercepted phone call telling the Russian ambassador that the Trump administration would roll back sanctions imposed by [Obama].”

-- Cohen also received inside information from the House Intelligence Committee’s closed-door interview with David Kramer, a former aide to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) involved in bringing the Trump-Russia dossier to the FBI’s attention. The Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff and Spencer Ackerman report: “A few days after Kramer’s testimony, his lawyer, Larry Robbins, got a strange call … from Stephen Ryan, a lawyer who represents [Cohen]. He featured prominently in the Steele dossier — the document that Kramer handled — and is currently suing Buzzfeed for publishing it. Ryan told Robbins he reached out because someone from the House told him that Robbins’ client, Kramer, had information about the Steele dossier that could help Cohen. Robbins declined to help. Ryan then asked Robbins not to tell the House intelligence committee about their conversation. Robbins told the committee anyway.”

-- U.S. intelligence leaders told the Senate that sanctions against the 13 Russians indicted by Mueller would be unveiled “within a week.” From Karoun Demirjian: “Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin ‘very shortly will be bringing out a list of sanctions on those individuals that had been complicit’ in the cyber-measures described in the charges announced by [Mueller’s] office. Coats also said the list would go beyond those 13 names in the indictment."

-- Mitch McConnell dismissed the accusation from Obama’s former chief of staff Denis McDonough that the Senate leader “dramatically watered down” the language of a letter to states on Russian election interference. Ed O’Keefe reports: “‘This is the same old thing they’ve been saying for weeks,’ he told reporters at a weekly media availability. ‘I’ve issued a statement on that a couple of weeks ago, and I’d be happy to send it to you again.’ ... Asked whether he wished he had handled the accusations about Russian interference differently ahead of the 2016 elections, McConnell said, ‘No, I’m perfectly comfortable with the steps that were taken back then.’”

-- Trump reaffirmed the intelligence community’s findings on Russian election interference and vowed to “counteract whatever they do” in future elections. From Philip Rucker: “Though Trump has at times doubted that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, he told reporters Tuesday that ‘certainly there was meddling’ and that the U.S. government must be vigilant to prevent foreign intrusions in future elections. ‘I think you have to be really watching very closely,’ Trump said. ‘We won’t allow that to happen. We’re doing a very, very deep study, and we’re coming out with, I think, some very strong suggestions on the ’18 election. I think we’re going to do very well in the ’18 election, although historically those in the White House have a little bit of a dip.’”

-- Some Russian trolls extracted personal information from their targets, report the Wall Street Journal’s Shelby Holliday and Rob Barry. “[Ajah Hales] was told her cosmetics company, and her fellow African-American entrepreneurs, would receive free promotion on social media and in a new and influential directory of black-owned businesses. Ms. Hales soon turned over basic information about her company, as well as names, phone numbers, email addresses and websites of dozens of black business owners in and around Cleveland. … The fake directory is one example of the elaborate schemes that Russian ‘trolls’ have pursued to try to collect personal and business information from Americans, the Journal has found.”

-- The Charlotte Observer spoke to Andrew Fede, a local activist who organized a 2016 “Charlotte Against Trump” rally that was allegedly hacked by Russian operatives: “[It] began with a friend request on Facebook. The message to [Fede] came from a woman who identified herself as an activist with a group named BlackMattersUS. … When he went to the woman’s Facebook page to learn more about her, he found that she had already been befriended by dozens of his existing Facebook friends. The BlackMattersUS page on Facebook had some 400,000 followers. … Fede says he had no idea that BlackMattersUS was reportedly a Russian front and that at least one of the people volunteering to help him promote his event is believed to have been part of the election conspiracy.” “We were duped. We were all duped,” Fede said. “They took our freedoms – freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, a free press – and they used them against us.”

THE REST OF TRUMP’S AGENDA:

-- The Senate advanced a plan to weaken Dodd-Frank, with more than a third of Democrats joining Republicans in voting to advance the proposal. Erica Werner and Renae Merle report: “Days of contentious wrangling on the Senate floor lie ahead … But the level of bipartisan support Tuesday, with 17 members of the Senate Democratic caucus voting ‘yes’ suggested the measure will ultimately get the chamber’s approval. If passed, the measure would mark the most significant revision of banking rules since Congress passed a sweeping financial regulatory law in response to the 2008 economic crisis. It is also a rare instance of bipartisan legislating in the Senate, something that’s occurred infrequently under the Trump presidency.”

-- The tension between progressive and moderate Democrats over banking regulation “has been building for several years,” Politico’s Zachary Warmbrodt reports. “’The people in Congress may have forgotten the crash 10 years ago, but I guarantee that people across this country have not forgotten the pain that these giant banks caused,’ Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said … ‘They do not want to see Congress move toward deregulating these banks.’ She accused her colleagues of backing the legislation because of years of sustained bank lobbying in the wake of Dodd-Frank’s enactment. To make her point, Warren said she had more than a dozen amendments ready to go, and she previewed the topics she would focus on in the debate: consumers, big banks and the broader ‘history of deregulation efforts in Congress.’”

-- The Trump administration has led a systematic rollback of consumer protections that could affect nearly every aspect of Americans’ spending habits, report Renae Merle and Tracy Jan. “At the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, for example, enforcement actions have dropped from an average of three-to-five each month during the past four years down to zero since a Trump appointee took charge of the agency in late November. The Labor Department has delayed full implementation of a rule requiring financial advisers to act in their clients’ best interest. And the Department of Education has withdrawn Obama-era regulations meant to strengthen protections for student borrowers. The new approach — welcomed by banks and business leaders — has alarmed consumer advocates who fear it gives an advantage to Wall Street and other powerful industries while leaving ordinary Americans more susceptible to fraud, discrimination and predatory lending.”

-- An HHS official with a long history of promoting abstinence will be the final decision-maker for a program that distributes federal family planning funds. Politico’s Jennifer Haberkorn reports: “Conservatives have long criticized the $286 million Title X program, which funds family planning services, mostly for low-income women, because it gives money to Planned Parenthood and other groups that provide abortions, even though there is a prohibition on using those dollars for abortions. Now, for the first time, the final decision of who gets the funding will be in the hands of one person — Valerie Huber, the acting deputy assistant secretary for population affairs at HHS, a longtime advocate of abstinence.”

-- The former CEO of a payday lending company once investigated by the CFPB pitched Mick Mulvaney on leading the agency. The AP’s Ken Sweet reports: “Under [former director Richard] Cordray, the CFPB opened in investigation into lending practices at World Acceptance. On Jan. 22, the company said the investigation had been completed without enforcement action. It also said CEO Janet Matricciani had resigned after 2 ½ years in that position. Two days later, Matricciani sent an email to what appears to be Mulvaney’s personal email address to pitch herself as a candidate to lead the CFPB."

-- The Trump administration will allow some elephant hunting trophies to be brought back to the United States. From Eli Rosenberg: “The decision, announced quietly in a March 1 memorandum from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, withdrew previous rulings on trophy hunting and said the agency would allow sport hunters to receive permits for the trophy items on a ‘case-by-case basis.’ The move contrasts sharply with the position taken by Trump in November. After the Fish and Wildlife Service announced a repeal of the ban on the importation of elephant-hunt trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia, wide public outcry prompted Trump and Ryan Zinke ... to put the repeal on hold until further review.”

-- Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao confirmed Trump has personally intervened to block funding for New York’s Gateway project. Mike DeBonis reports: “Under questioning before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Tuesday, Chao told lawmakers that state officials in New Jersey and New York need to make firmer commitments to financing the project, which altogether is expected to cost $30 billion. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) pressed Chao on the president’s involvement and whether he personally asked [Paul] Ryan to block Gateway funding, which could exceed $900 million in the coming spending bill. Chao at first declined to say, … [b]ut Maloney returned to the question: ‘Is the president of the United States personally intervening with the speaker to kill this project?’ ‘Yes,’ Chao replied. ‘The president is concerned about the viability of this project and the fact that New York and New Jersey have no skin in the game.’”

-- Chao also told lawmakers there has been “no resolution [within the administration] on how to pay” for Trump’s infrastructure proposal. “I think the good news is … that everything is on the table and this administration is open to considering all revenue sources,” Chao said. “We need the help and counsel of the Congress on this.” (Ashley Halsey III)

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- The White House responded with “cautious optimism” after North Korea reportedly agreed to hold talks on denuclearization. Karen DeYoung and Anna Fifield report: “’I think they are sincere,’ said [Trump], who attributed the apparent change in attitude to the tough sanctions and other actions that the United States has applied and pushed others to impose on North Korea ... ‘We don’t know yet’ the full parameters of the dialogue, said a senior administration official ... Senior officials from Seoul are expected to travel to Washington this week to provide more details.”

-- As the Wall Street Journal’s Gerald F. Seib wrote, it’s imperative the Trump administration first straighten out its own process before sitting down with North Korea — including incentives it is prepared to offer Pyongyang in exchange for denuclearization: “Potentially, there could be two big ones. One would be a peace treaty with North Korea. A second could be to offer help developing what Mr. Kim [Jong Un], in his own ham-handed way, sometimes seems to want: more of a market economy that can keep up with South Korea’s economic juggernaut. … [And] longer term, what would Washington accept?”

-- Post columnist Anne Applebaum notes key differences between Italy’s Five Star Movement and the standard anti-immigration, anti-European parties surging to power in Europe. “[The eclectic Five Star Movement] is instead another version, albeit different in its language and attitude, of Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche party … But if they are alike in having a virtual-world base, they are different in what they intend to do with it. En Marche is a pro-European movement that seeks to modernize France, raise the tone of French politics and prepare the French to live in a globalized world. The Five Star Movement’s language was from the beginning darker and more nihilistic. … Vaccine skepticism has spread in Italy through Facebook … some of Five Star’s candidates have taken advantage of the wave and called for the abolition of mandatory vaccines. The Movement has also been linked in the past to a network of conspiracy sites peddling pro-Kremlin disinformation and recycling stories from Sputnik, the Russian state news site."

MORE ON THE MIDTERMS:

-- Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) announced he would not appoint himself to the seat Sen. Thad Cochran (R) is vacating. Both Trump and Mitch McConnell had encouraged Bryant to consider appointing himself, believing he would be a heavy favorite to retain the seat in the November election. Republican insiders fear Democrats could have an opening in the race if the GOP nominee is too far outside the mainstream, such as conservative insurgent Chris McDaniel, who has expressed interest in a bid. (Sean Sullivan)

-- Joe Biden campaigned for Democrat Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania’s special election. From David Weigel and Josh Dawsey: “‘If [Lamb] wins you’re probably going to see another half-dozen Republicans say they’re not running again,’ Biden said as he and the candidate shook hands at a union apprenticeship shop in the Pittsburgh suburbs. ‘He has the capacity to do what I’ve spent my whole life doing, and that is getting back working-class people supporting us again, because he cares about them.’ Within hours of Biden’s appearance, the National Republican Campaign Committee plowed another $619,664 into the race, bringing its total ad buy to more than $3.5 million. … ‘[Lamb] reminds me of my son Beau,’ Biden said at an afternoon rally, referring to his late son, the former Delaware attorney general who died of cancer in 2015. ‘I hope the Republicans find some candidates — even if it means we lose some races — who are cut from the same cloth.’”

-- Former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick (D) told reporters a possible 2020 presidential campaign is “on his radar screen.” Patrick, who has largely avoided politics since his time in the governor’s mansion, used some of his most direct language to date in acknowledging a possible White House bid. (Boston Globe)

-- Deborah Wesson Gibson, who said she dated failed Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore as a 17-year-old, is running for office in Florida as a Democrat. In a statement, Gibson said the past five months “have crystallized what's been coming to me for a decade … [that] the Republican Party is no longer the right fit for me.” Gibson is a Palm Beach County resident and will be running for the seat held by Republican Rep. Bill Hager. (Tampa Bay Times)

-- Donna Shalala, who served as Bill Clinton’s HHS secretary, kicked off her campaign to fill the seat of retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.). Alex Daugherty and David Smiley report for the Miami Herald: “Shalala, 77, has never run for elected office, but her presence shakes up a crowded Democratic primary in a district that includes most of Miami Beach, downtown Miami and coastal Miami-Dade County. The district favors Democrats, as Hillary Clinton defeated [Trump] by 19.7 percentage points there in 2016.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

The special counsel was spotted in the wilds of Washington:

An Obama-era Justice Department spokesman mused about Roger Stone's lack of communication with Mueller:

A Wired contributor added this:

House Republicans continue trying to muddy the waters by demanding a second special counsel:

Trump claimed many candidates are vying for Gary Cohn's job:

Trump's budget director had this to say about his working relationship with Cohn:

George W. Bush’s former chief strategist responded to Cohn's resignation:

From a writer for the Atlantic:

The Onion parodied Cohn's departure:

Obama's former ethics czar commented on Conway violating the Hatch Act:

A Senate Republican expressed frustration with Trump's work style:

Mark your calendars:

The host of the Oscars responded to Trump's tweet about the Oscars' low ratings:

A CNN editor posed a theory on the Trump era:

A London newspaper got punny on tariffs:

And Michelle Obama met the little girl who was transfixed by her portrait at the National Portrait Gallery:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- Business Insider, “A small contingent of senators are still refusing to participate in a time-honored Capitol Hill tradition,” by Joe Perticone: “In addition to press conferences and speeches, one of the easiest ways for journalists working in the US Capitol Building to get quick reaction from senators is by conducting short hallway interviews on the fly. But a small few from both sides of the political aisle refuse to take questions in hallways.”

-- Politico, “Franken’s replacement tries to turn the page,” by Reena Flores: “Sen. Tina Smith doesn’t want to talk about Al Franken. When asked about her Democratic predecessor, who resigned the Minnesota seat amid allegations of sexual misconduct, she avoided even saying his name[.] … Franken’s checkered history on sexual harassment is an issue Smith hardly wants to focus on, given her intention to run a campaign for office this fall – a feat that can typically take up to two years – even as she acclimates to her new job. Adding to the task: It’s also her first solo run for elected office. It’s a daunting enough task that it had Smith questioning whether it could be done.”

-- New York Times, “Once Wary of Facebook and Apple, a Mill Town Tells Them to Keep Expanding,” by Keith Schneider: “A decade ago, when five shuttered sawmills and 20 percent unemployment defined Crook County, Ore., nobody envisioned that the path to recovery would be tied to Facebook and Apple. But on the rimrock summit overlooking [Prineville] … Facebook is sinking the footings for the first of two 450,000-square-foot data centers that together will cost $1 billion when completed in 2021. The presence of two big Silicon Valley companies once unnerved Prineville … [but has since] been replaced by relief …” “We were a cowboy and timber town,” said Steve Forrester, Prineville’s city manager and a former sawmill executive. “We went from ‘I got to go feed my cows’ to the most technically advanced companies in the world siting data centers in our little town. It freaked some people out.”

HOT ON THE LEFT

“Utah Republicans want to name highway after Trump. Dems propose 'Stormy Daniels rampway,’” from CNN: “On Monday, a bill to rename Utah National Parks Highway to ‘Donald J. Trump Utah National Parks Highway’ cleared a House committee 9-2. The measure, introduced by GOP Rep. Mike Noel, is a nod to the President's scaling back of Bears Ears National Monument by about 85% and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to almost half its size. … If the bill reaches the state Senate, Democratic Sen. Jim Dabakis told the Salt Lake Tribune he would propose an amendment to name a frontage road that runs alongside the National Parks Highway ‘Stormy Daniels rampway.’ … Democrats, however, make up less than 20% of the Senate body, suggesting the amendment is a long shot.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT

“Dick’s and Walmart raised the age for gun purchases. This 20-year-old is suing,” from Marwa Eltagouri: “Last week, as the nation reckoned with the school shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 people dead, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart decided to raise the minimum age for buying a firearm and ammunition to 21 from 18. Now the retailers are being sued. Tyler Watson, 20, alleges he encountered age discrimination when he tried to purchase a .22 caliber Ruger rifle on Feb. 24 — four days before the companies announced their new policies — at Field & Stream, an outdoors sports store in Medford, Ore., owned by Dick’s. In Oregon, state law allows residents to purchase firearms at age 18.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump will address the Latino Coalition Legislative Summit.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“[Democrats] are mobilizing in a powerful way,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) warned after his state’s primaries yesterday. “At the end of the day, the good news is that there are a lot more conservatives in Texas than there are liberals.” (Mike DeBonis and Michael Scherer)

 

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

-- Washington will see more snow this morning, but it’s unlikely to stick. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “We’ve got spotty rain and snow showers through early-to-mid afternoon. Snow could accumulate a light coating on grassy areas in our northern suburbs. But temperatures — in the mid-30s this morning, before reaching afternoon highs in the low-to-mid 40s — should be too warm for any snow to stick to roads and sidewalks in the immediate metro area.”

-- The Wizards beat the Heat 117-113 in overtime. (Candace Buckner)

-- The Capitals lost to the Ducks 4-1. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)

-- A poll found Virginia Democrats are more enthusiastic about this year’s midterms than their Republican counterparts. From Jenna Portnoy: “60 percent of [Democrats] are ‘very enthusiastic’ about voting in November, compared with 45 percent of Republicans who say the same, the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University found. … The poll also found voters would rather elect a Democrat to Congress than a Republican, when given a generic choice, by 45 percent to 33 percent. The results are more pronounced among voters who consider themselves moderates, with 49 percent preferring Democrats and 24 percent preferring Republicans. Voters overall want Democrats to control Congress after the election, 51 percent to 38 percent, the poll found.”

-- Fallout from the District’s diploma scandal has left many local high school seniors wondering whether they’ll be able to graduate on time. Perry Stein reports: “Kidist Deneke is supposed to be seated in her first-period class by 8:45 each morning. But most days, the Roosevelt High senior is dropping off her younger sister at school then, before catching a bus to her own school. She almost always arrives late, but it has never posed much of a problem — until now. … Deneke said she was informed by administrators near the end of the second term that she had been tardy too many times and could fail her D.C. history class — which is required to graduate — if she did not get her absences excused. She got lucky; the late arrivals were excused. Other students, she and classmates said, are discovering they will not receive their diplomas. They want city leaders to realize that it is students who stand to face the steepest consequences over the graduation scandal and the stricter enforcement of standards for receiving a diploma.”

-- Authorities confirmed Friday’s high-speed winds caused a train derailment in Maryland. Four cars of a freight train fell about 80 feet into the Susquehanna River in northern Maryland. (Martin Weil)

-- Hundreds of Baltimore students walked out of class and marched to City Hall to demand stricter gun laws. “I’m missing a day of school because 17 are missing the rest of their lives,” one student’s sign read. (Baltimore Sun)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Jimmy Kimmel used his monologue to offer a more expansive response to Trump's attack on the Oscars' ratings:

Stephen Colbert followed up on Sam Nunberg's television appearances:

The Post fact-checked DNC Chairman Tom Perez's numbers on the committee's January fundraising haul:

The Post's Heather Long explained the debate on Trump's tariffs:

And Virginia McLaurin, who famously danced with the Obamas in 2016, turns 109 next week: