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The Daily 202: Trump’s increasingly confrontational approach to Mueller enabled by congressional GOP timidity

Andrew McCabe's firing met heated reactions, with supporters calling the special counsel's probe "corrupted" and opponents criticizing the firing as "petty." (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

with Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve.

THE BIG IDEA: Republican congressional leaders have no appetite for a showdown with Donald Trump over legislation to protect Robert Mueller, even as the president has begun attacking the special counsel by name and hired a new lawyer who publicly alleges a vast FBI conspiracy to bring him down.

While GOP leaders say Mueller should be allowed to do his work, their relative acquiescence both enables and emboldens Trump’s defiance. The president will likely continue to test the limits and push the boundaries to see what he can get away with. That’s how he’s always operated.

The lack of urgency to do anything to protect Mueller reflects a recognition on Capitol Hill that Republican fortunes are now inextricably linked to the president in 2018, for better or (more likely) worse. They’ve made their bed with him, and now they must lie in it.

This calculus has changed over the past nine months. Republicans who introduced legislation to protect Mueller have slowly backed away from trying to get it through. A must pass spending bill is one logical avenue to force Trump’s hand. The president would be hard pressed to explain shutting down the government at the end of this week as a means to preserve his ability to fire Mueller without judicial review. It would be much easier for him to veto a stand-alone bill that had the same effect. But Trump need not worry. Republicans are not going to take up any such bill, and they won’t include any language in the omnibus. The White House knows this.

Jeff Flake has become a cautionary tale. Lawmakers who are not retiring don’t want to draw the president’s ire and the enmity of his core supporters. Most Republicans in Congress, even those facing tough reelection campaigns in places where Trump is not popular, are under intense pressure from their base to wholeheartedly support the president.

-- Mostly, Republican leaders just don’t want to talk about Mueller. “A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) never furnished a comment, while House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) spokeswoman AshLee Strong simply noted that ‘as the speaker has always said, Mr. Mueller and his team should be able to do their job,’” Karoun Demirjian and Seung Min Kim report.

Prominent Republicans insist they’ve received private assurances from the White House that Trump won’t fire Mueller, so no action is necessary. They cite constitutional concerns with the proposed bills to protect Mueller. And they express hope that he’s smart enough not to risk the blowback.

  • “I’ve got zero concerns that the president or his team is going to fire Mueller,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said yesterday. (On Sunday, he explained that ousting the special counsel “would be the beginning of the end of his presidency because we're a rule-of-law nation.”)
  • “I don’t think the president is going to do anything to Bob Mueller,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).
  • “Obviously legislation requires a presidential signature, and I don’t see the necessity of picking that fight right now,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said of bills to protect Mueller.

The issue didn't even surface at a House Republican Conference meeting or the Senate GOP leadership huddle on Monday evening. And the leaders are expected to refrain from criticizing the president Tuesday at news conferences,” per Politico’s Rachael Bade, Burgess Everett and Kyle Cheney.

-- Ryan and McConnell are facing growing criticism from elites for not declaring that firing Mueller would cross a red line. “The president treats government as purely a tribal battle between one side and the other and expects public servants to put loyalty to him before loyalty to country or the rule of law. Republican congressional leaders should not remain complicit in this debasement,” The Washington Post’s Editorial Board argues this morning.

“If Trump does try to fire Mueller, [Ryan] and [McConnell] should get much of the blame,” writes columnist Eugene Robinson. “They have given Trump no reason to believe they will ever stand up to him.”

“Such passivity only encourages Trump to malign and menace Mueller and his investigation — and at some point words might lead to action,” writes Los Angeles Times editorialist Michael McGough.

-- On the other hand, though, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs attacked McConnell and Ryan for not being sufficiently loyal to Trump on his show last night. “This is an ignorance within the Republican Party that I really think has to be confronted,” he said.

-- “The historical record also suggests a Republican majority will leave the president essentially unrestrained,” notes Post opinions editor James Downie. “When Democrats wanted an investigation into President Richard Nixon’s White House and the break-in at the Watergate Hotel, Republicans dismissed the allegations. They even suggested probes instead look into the 1964 and 1968 elections, misdirection similar to modern Republicans’ calls for a probe into the FBI. The difference? Democrats, not Republicans, controlled the House and the Senate. They forced Nixon to greenlight appointing an independent prosecutor, and they were the party that held Nixon accountable. Even in July 1974, one month before Nixon’s resignation, a majority of Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee voted against every article of impeachment. Only one Republican voted for all three approved articles: Maryland Rep. Lawrence Hogan — and he lost the GOP primary for Maryland governor because of that courageous stand.”

No, it doesn’t control national security policy, and it’s not evading oversight. This week, author Marc Ambinder tackles five myths about the “deep state.” (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

-- The reality is that public opinion is protecting the special counsel right now more than Republicans on Capitol Hill. “Mueller is largely seen as running a fair investigation, and confidence has held steady or even grown over recent months,” our in-house pollster Emily Guskin notes:

A Pew Research Center poll released last week found that 61 percent of Americans are very or somewhat confident that Mueller ‘will conduct a fair investigation,’ up six percentage points from … January, and from 56 percent in December. The rise is modest but statistically significant. … Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents fueled the rise in support … Just under half of Republicans, 46 percent, express confidence in Mueller's probe this month, hardly changed from 45 percent two months ago.

A Marist poll last month found that 53 percent considered Mueller's investigation to be fair, up five points from January, while 28 percent said it was not fair, and 20 percent had no opinion: “A 70 percent majority of Americans said Mueller should be allowed to finish the investigation, while 16 percent said he should be fired. Republicans, who largely approve of Trump's performance, opposed firing Mueller by roughly 2 to 1, 55 percent to 27 percent.”

-- The Fix’s Aaron Blake highlights one metric the president is moving: “Trump's Russia defense increasingly hinges upon the idea that it's a baseless ‘witch hunt’ … A necessary piece of that argument: There is a ‘deep state’ working to take him down that isn't operating in good faith. … A new poll from Monmouth University shows 74 percent of Americans believe some form of the ‘deep state’ probably exists. And that belief is completely bipartisan, with 72 percent of Republicans and 72 percent of Democrats subscribing to it. … The numbers are significantly higher than they were a year ago in a Washington Post-ABC News poll. Back then, 48 percent believed there was a ‘deep state,’ while 35 percent dismissed it as a conspiracy theory.”


-- “The half-dozen key lawyers tasked with defending Trump are increasingly operating with conflicting information, feuding internally, and pursuing strategies that many legal analysts and friends of the president view as dubious — if not downright dangerous,” Ashley Parker, Josh Dawsey, Carol D. Leonnig and Robert Costa write in a story that you should read in full. “Members of the legal team — which the president has already overhauled once — dispense legal advice and counsel while also serving as Trump’s publicists and therapists … The lawyers employ a range of strategies to try to manage the impulses of their uncooperative client … But the attorneys also often find themselves in conflict, both among their team and with the president.”

The announcement on Monday that Trump has hired former U.S. attorney Joe diGenova caught many of his own aides by surprise: “Trump is not consulting with top advisers, including Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and chief White House lawyer Donald McGahn, on his Russia legal choices or his comments about the probe … He is instead watching television and calling friends … The president continues to complain that his lawyers are not protecting him and that Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein — who is supervising the probe — is up to mischief…

Ty “Cobb has largely counseled caution and cooperation, while [John] Dowd has most frequently urged the oppositeThe hiring of diGenova … infuriated Dowd, who responded angrily to the development … Dowd views diGenova as pushing him to be the second chair rather than top dog on Trump’s legal team … Dowd, however, has lost the confidence of many in the president’s orbit, both inside and outside the White House.

McGahn and Cobb have also had their share of tension. While Cobb has urged the president to cooperate with Mueller and hand over documents to his investigators, McGahn has pushed a more aggressive approach … McGahn has said the legal team should make the special counsel subpoena every document, explain every interview and fight for every piece of information … But McGahn and Trump have also clashed repeatedly since entering the White House, and one former administration official said the president mused at least three times that perhaps he should hire a new counsel. … McGahn has told associates that he is exhausted and frustrated at times in the job, but that he … would like to be around for a second Supreme Court opening …

Emmet Flood, a white-collar defense lawyer who was interviewed by Trump a few weeks ago, continues to be eyed as a possible deputy to McGahn, two Trump aides said. … Some of Trump’s closest friends, including Tom Barrack and former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, have told the president that he needs a legal heavyweight on his personal team, or someone with a record of defending clients in hot water with the Justice Department and winning …”

-- Trump has “weighed aloud in recent days to close associates” whether to fire Cobb, Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman report in the New York Times. “The president reassured Mr. Cobb that he had no plans to fire him, according to a person who spoke with the president late Monday, in part to prevent a narrative that his team was in disarray … [Dowd] has contemplated leaving his post because he has concluded that he has no control over the behavior of the president …”

-- The president has been looking more and more to television personalities to fill key jobs. So it should not have surprised the lawyers already on the case that Trump brought one of his staunchest defenders on Fox News into the fractious legal team. In just the last month, diGenova told Tucker Carlson that Comey is “America’s best-known dirty cop,” and he called for Trump critics at the Justice Department to be locked up: “Every one of these people should be put in a wanted poster at a post office, even though they may never be arrested.” He told Lou Dobbs that a federal grand jury should “investigate the investigators”: “It wasn't the Russians who corrupted the presidential election; it was the American officials at the Department of Justice and the FBI,” he said. And he told Sean Hannity that what’s going on at DOJ is the “largest law enforcement scandal in history.”

-- Fun fact: Back in 1997, when Bill Clinton was president, diGenova wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal arguing that the Constitution allows for the indictment of a sitting president. “The nation, in fact, could conceivably benefit from the indictment of a president,” he wrote. “It would teach the valuable civics lesson that no one is above the law.”

President Trump railed against special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation on March 18, prompting a swift response from lawmakers. (Video: Elyse Samuels/The Washington Post)


-- “Trump’s attorneys have provided the special counsel’s office with written descriptions that chronicle key moments under investigation in hopes of curtailing the scope of a presidential interview,” Carol D. Leonnig scooped last night. “Trump’s legal team recently shared the documents in an effort to limit any session between the president and [Mueller] to a few select topics … The lawyers are worried that Trump, who has a penchant for making erroneous claims, would be vulnerable in an hours-long interview. The decision to share materials with Mueller’s team is part of an effort by Trump’s lawyers to minimize his exposure to the special counsel …

“The written materials provided to Mueller’s office include summaries of internal White House memos and contemporaneous correspondence about events Mueller is investigating, including the ousters of national security adviser Michael Flynn and FBI Director James B. Comey. The documents describe the White House players involved and the president’s actions …

Trump has told aides he is ‘champing at the bit’ to sit for an interview, according to one person. But his lawyers, who are carefully negotiating the terms of a sit-down, recognize the extraordinarily high stakes.”

-- The president’s lawyers met with Mueller’s representatives last week for a face-to-face discussion about interview topics. “It was the first in-person meeting after several weeks of informal discussions between the two sides,” CNN reported last night. “Mueller's team added granularity to the topics it originally discussed with the defense team months ago, like the firing of [Comey] … This time around, for instance, the prosecutors said they would ask about … Jeff Sessions' involvement in the Comey dismissal and what Trump knew about national security adviser Michael Flynn's phone calls with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in late December 2016. The meeting makes clear that Mueller's investigation … still may focus on Trump and what he knew.”

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Austin Police confirmed the suspect in the multiple package explosions killed himself with an explosive device on March 21. (Video: Patrick Martin, Amber Ferguson, Taylor Turner/The Washington Post)

-- A package believed to be bound for Austin exploded at a FedEx facility near San Antonio. Meagan Flynn and Mark Berman report: “The explosion happened shortly after midnight at the facility in Schertz, Tex., just northeast of San Antonio. … One person was treated by medical teams and released at the scene, the police said in a posting on its Facebook page. A law enforcement source said that police were investigating whether the explosion was related to the other four in Austin, which have killed two people and injured others. That ‘is definitely a concern of ours,’ said the official[.] … Authorities believe [the recent explosions] are the work of a sophisticated ‘serial bomber’ who has been terrorizing Austin with increasingly complex devices.”

Th National Transportation Safety Board said March 19 they are sending teams to Tempe, Ariz. to investigate an accident involving a self-driving Uber vehicle. (Video: Reuters)


  1. Uber halted the testing of its self-driving cars on public roads after one of its autonomous vehicles struck and killed an Arizona woman attempting to use a crosswalk. Her death appears to be the first known pedestrian fatality caused by a self-driving vehicle. (Faiz Siddiqui and Michael Laris)
  2. Florida International University reopened four days after the fatal bridge collapse near its campus. Students and faculty held a moment of silence at 1:47 p.m. to mark the time the bridge fell. (Susan Svrluga)
  3. The Pentagon said it will not shrink the scale of its annual military drills with South Korea this year, despite the planned meeting between Trump and Kim Jong Un. The joint exercises have typically infuriated the Kim regime, which launched four ballistic missiles toward Japan last year in response to the drills. (Dan Lamothe)
  4. The brother of Parkland gunman Nikolas Cruz was arrested for allegedly trespassing onto Marjory Stoneman Douglas’s campus. Zachary Cruz bypassed locked doors and defied warnings from school administrators who told him to stay away. The 18-year-old told officers he skateboarded through the school grounds because he wanted to “soak it in” and “reflect” on the shooting that left 17 dead last month. (Marwa Eltagouri and Mark Berman)
  5. Mississippi’s law banning abortion after 15 weeks became the center of a lawsuit less than an hour after the governor signed it. The state’s only abortion clinic argued the law violated federal court rulings saying abortion cannot be restricted before a child can survive on its own outside the womb. (AP)
  6. The D.C. council member who claimed the Rothschilds control the climate previously contended the European dynasty controlled the World Bank and the federal government. Trayon White Sr. made the remarks during a gathering last month attended by top city officials, including D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D). (Fenit Nirappil and Paul Schwartzman)
  7. NASA is coming up with a plan to prevent an asteroid the size of the Empire State Building from striking Earth on Sept. 22, 2135. Astrophysicists are exploring how to push the large asteroid out of its current path using a nuclear device. (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)

Facebook's actions and public statements are facing inquiries from several federal agencies regarding the mishandling of millions of users' personal data. (Video: Elyse Samuels, Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)


-- Britain’s Channel 4 News broadcast undercover footage of Cambridge Analytica chief executive Alexander Nix talking about using unethical methods — including “honey traps” involving prostitutes — to swing elections around the world. From Craig Timberg, Tony Romm and Karla Adam: “Nix appears to suggest the company could ‘send some girls around to the candidate’s house.’ He later added that he favored Ukrainian women in particular: ‘They are very beautiful, I find that works very well.’ … [T]he chief executive appears to float the idea that they could entrap candidates with potential bribes, ‘instantly having video evidence of corruption, putting it on the internet.’ Nix later added, ‘Please don’t pay too much attention to what I’m saying because I’m just giving you examples of what can be done, and what has been done.’” The broadcast included no evidence that such methods were used on the Trump campaign, which paid $5.9 million to Cambridge Analytica in 2016. 

-- At least two sitting GOP senators directly benefited from the firm's misuse of ill-gotten data:

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) used Cambridge Analytica before the firm began working for the Trump campaign. The Dallas Morning News’s Todd J. Gillman and Katie Leslie report: “The Cruz presidential campaign touted its collaboration with Cambridge Analytica as a sign of a cutting edge run for the White House, allowing the Texan to carefully identify likely supporters. The firm shifted allegiance to Trump once the Texan dropped out of the GOP primaries. … Cruz continued work with Cambridge Analytica for six months after allegations surfaced in December 2015 that the firm was using Facebook data it had received illicitly.”

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and the state GOP paid $345,000 for Cambridge Analytica’s services in 2014. The Raleigh News & Observer’s Brian Murphy and Lynn Bonner report: “Cambridge Analytica put a page about Tillis’ race on its website, touting its work and listing the race as a case study. ‘Our telecanvassing program contacted 123,138 individuals, resulting in an increase in turnout of 12.57% among those called, which is equivalent to over 15,478 voters,’ Cambridge Analytica says. Tillis won by 48,511 votes. … Cambridge Analytica’s data told Tillis to highlight [Kay] Hagan’s absences on the Senate Armed Services Committee to reach a certain group of voters. Tillis hammered Hagan in ads and debates on her absences and the rise of ISIS and jumped on her acknowledgment that she skipped a national security meeting to attend a fundraiser. … Tillis declined to answer questions about Cambridge Analytica on Capitol Hill on Monday evening.”


-- Facebook’s security chief Alex Stamos is leaving the company following internal clashes over how the platform should deal with its role in spreading disinformation. The New York Times’s Nicole Perlroth, Sheera Frenkel and Scott Shane report: “Mr. Stamos had been a strong advocate inside the company for investigating and disclosing Russian activity on Facebook, often to the consternation of other top executives, including Sheryl Sandberg … After his day-to-day responsibilities were reassigned to others in December, Mr. Stamos said he would leave the company. He was persuaded to stay through August to oversee the transition of his duties because executives thought his departure would look bad, the current and former employees said.”

-- A growing bipartisan group of lawmakers is clamoring to haul top Facebook executives before Congress. Tony Romm and Craig Timberg report: “The increasingly sharp and personal tenor of the requests — many of which sought an appearance by chief executive Mark Zuckerberg — raised the odds for a fresh round of potentially contentious hearings, following lawmakers’ intense questioning of Facebook and two other technology companies last fall. … Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) urged the Federal Trade Commission on Monday to investigate Facebook.”

-- Facebook shares closed down 7 percent yesterday amid the furor, sending the overall stock market tanking. (Thomas Heath)

-- Looking ahead: This scandal is another nail in the coffin for any future political aspirations that Zuckerberg and Sandberg might harbor.

-- Cambridge is not alone in its methods of scraping Facebook users’ data without their knowledge. Elizabeth Dwoskin and Tony report: “[T]housands of other developers, including the makers of games such as FarmVille and the dating app Tinder, as well as political consultants from President Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, also siphoned huge amounts of data about users and their friends, developing deep understandings of people’s relationships and preferences. Cambridge Analytica — unlike other firms that access Facebook’s user data — broke Facebook’s rules by obtaining the data under the pretense of academic use. But experts familiar with Facebook’s systems and policies say that the greater problem was that the rules for accessing the social network’s information trove were so loose in the first place.

-- YouTube briefly removed a video showing alt-right leader Richard Spencer proclaiming, “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer reports: “The moment was captured on video by Daniel Lombroso, a journalist at The Atlantic. In the days after the speech, Lomboro’s footage of Spencer’s declaration—and the Nazi salutes that followed—would be viewed more than 50 million times on Facebook and YouTube. … YouTube recently curtailed the video’s spread on its platform and categorized it as borderline hate speech[.] … After The Atlantic challenged the deactivation, YouTube allowed the video to appear in public searches again and reopened comments on Monday afternoon. In a statement, a YouTube spokeswoman said that the video’s delisting was a mistake.”


-- The Supreme Court denied a request by Pennsylvania Republicans to stop new congressional maps from going into effect before this year’s midterms, a decision that will likely net Democrats at least three House seats and probably more. Robert Barnes reports: “The practical impact is the 2018 elections are likely to be held under a map much more favorable to Democrats, who scored an apparent victory last week in a special election in a strongly Republican congressional district. The 2011 map that has been used this decade has resulted in Republicans consistently winning 13 of the state’s 18 congressional seats. … Under the map drawn by a nonpartisan expert and adopted by Democratic justices of Pennsylvania’s elected Supreme Court, analysts say Republicans start with an edge in 10 of the 18 districts.” Taking into account the new Keystone State map, there are now 25 Republicans sitting in districts carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Actress and activist Cynthia Nixon announced via Twitter on March 19 that she will run for governor of New York. (Video: Reuters)

-- Former “Sex and the City” actress and liberal activist Cynthia Nixon is running for governor of New York, mounting a primary challenge to incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) from the left as he seeks a third term. David Weigel reports: “Nixon, 51, has never sought office before but has become increasingly involved in liberal politics, especially on issues such as public school funding. She was an early endorser and surrogate for [Bill de Blasio], and has spoken at fundraisers for Planned Parenthood ... If elected, she would be the first female governor of New York and the first openly gay governor of any state. Cuomo … has mocked the idea of a Nixon challenge since it was rumored last month. Asked by reporters this month why she might run against him, Cuomo joked that she was put up to it by his enemies.” “It was either the [mayor] or Vladimir Putin,” Cuomo said. “Normally name recognition is relevant when it has some connection to the endeavor. If it’s just about name recognition, then I’m hoping Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Billy Joel don’t get into the race.”

-- Illinois will hold its primaries today, with most of the focus on the governor's race and the stiff challenge facing moderate Democrat Dan Lipinski. Mark Guarino reports: “Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrat J.B. Pritzker, both billionaire businessmen seeking their party’s nomination in [the] gubernatorial primary, are fighting insurgencies that their combined campaign spending of $127 million hasn’t been able to tamp down. Rauner, who made his money as a venture capitalist and private equity manager, is trying to fend off a challenge from state Rep. Jeanne Ives, a hard-right Republican who is getting some help from Democrats who see her as easier to beat in a general-election matchup.”

-- The Democratic race in the 3rd District between incumbent Dan Lipinski and progressive newcomer Marie Newman will be read for signs of, as one strategist put it, “who is winning the battle for the soul of the Democratic Party.” The Chicago Tribune’s Eric Zorn writes: “The 3rd is solidly Democratic, so the winner of the primary is all but guaranteed to win in November. And it is traditionally more of a working-class area — home to the sorts of voters that the party needs to energize in the midterm elections and beyond ... The outcome is likely to have national implications for the sorts of candidates the party recruits in the coming months.”

-- This year’s midterms could also see the election of the first Native American congresswoman, the New York Times’s Julie Turkewitz notes. “In all, there are at least four indigenous women running for Congress, three more are bidding for governors’ offices and another 31 are campaigning for seats in state legislatures — from both sides of the aisle. The numbers far outstrip past election cycles, longtime observers of native politics say, and they are only partly driven by the liberal energy and #MeToo declarations that have flourished since President Trump’s election.”

Trump has frequently called out China for currency manipulation, shirking duties with North Korea, bad trade deals and even "raping our economy." (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)


-- Trump is slated to hit China with $60 billion in annual tariffs, following through on a longtime threat to “punish” the country for theft of intellectual property. Damian Paletta, Steven Mufson and Josh Dawsey report: “Senior aides had presented Trump with a $30 billion tariff package that would apply to a range of products, but Trump directed them to roughly double the scope of the new trade levies. The package could be applied to more than 100 products, which Trump argues were developed by using trade secrets that China stole from U.S. companies or forced them to hand over in exchange for access to its massive market. The situation remains fluid, and Trump has previously in his presidency backed off economic threats.”  

-- Trump laid out his plan to combat the opioid epidemic in a New Hampshire speech. John Wagner and Katie Zezima report: “Trump touched on the need for greater access to treatment, praised companies that are making ‘lifesaving overdose-reversing drugs’ and promised a public-awareness campaign to deter youths from taking drugs. He also reiterated his call to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, saying that it would help reduce the flow of illegal narcotics, a claim many experts dispute. But the president was most animated in his advocacy to ‘get tough’ on drug crime, saying it was central to his goal of ending ‘the scourge of drug addiction in America once and for all.’”

-- Lawmakers are rushing to finalize a $1.3 trillion spending bill before the March 23 deadline. Erica Werner and Mike DeBonis report: “Health care remained a sticking point, as Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) pushed for inclusion of provisions aimed at lowering premiums for people purchasing health insurance in the Affordable Care Act’s individual marketplace. President Trump spoke with Collins and Alexander on a conference call Saturday and offered his support for their efforts, but a partisan dispute over abortion funding looked poised to derail the push. …

On another front, it was looking unlikely that a deal could be made on immigration. The White House had been exploring trading border-wall funding for a temporary extension of protections for those enrolled in [DACA]. But congressional appropriators have recommended only $1.6 billion in border-security funding for a tightly restricted set of infrastructure improvements. … The White House continued pushing through the weekend for more funding — $25 billion in exchange for extending DACA through September 2020 — according to two congressional aides familiar with the talks. But Democrats, who are seeking a permanent resolution to the issue, rejected that offer.”

-- Three Koch-backed organizations are encouraging Trump to accept the Democrats’ immigration deal, which would create a pathway to citizenship for “dreamers” in exchange for $25 billion in wall funding. (Politico)

-- Language aimed at overhauling Congress’s system for reporting sexual harassment appeared unlikely to be included in the bill. Republicans excised the language in the latest draft, and some congressional aides were pessimistic about the potential for inclusion of reforms to the system, per Elise Viebeck and Erica.

-- Education Department staffers say Secretary Betsy DeVos tried to hide her agency’s budget plan from Congress. The New York Times’s Erica L. Green reports: “The budget request calls for a 5 percent spending cut, eliminates dozens of programs and pitches a $1 billion school choice proposal. … Among the proposals outlined in the 56-page plan, obtained by The Times, was the consolidation of a number of administrative offices, cutting the number of regional offices in the Office for Civil Rights and acquiring several programs run by the Department of Labor. Department officials said they have since abandoned the civil rights proposals[.] … Details of the plan surfaced amid a bitter contract dispute between the DeVos administration and the union that represents the department’s 3,900 employees. Union leaders believe the contract gutted all protections that would allow its members to defend themselves in the department’s overhaul.”

-- The private school attended by Barron Trump, St. Andrew’s in Maryland, signed a letter urging the president to enact “vigorous” gun-control measures. Leaders of 125 schools took out a full-page ad in Sunday’s Post reading, in part, “We need a robust system of registration and background checks, with a particular eye toward weapons capable of rapidly firing a vast number of deadly shots. We need stronger mental health services and more effective communication among agencies responsible for the well-being of children, adults and families. What we do not need is to arm our teachers with guns, which is dangerous and antithetical to our profession as educators.” (Valerie Strauss)


-- “How Jared Kushner forged a bond with the Saudi crown prince,” by Carol D. Leonnig, Shane Harris, Josh Dawsey and Greg Jaffe: “As their countries’ chief negotiators on Israeli-Palestinian peace, Kushner and [Prince Mohammed bin Salman] were both seeking to prove their worth on the international stage. They consulted with one another frequently in private calls[.] … Kushner successfully pushed the president to make Saudi Arabia his first foreign visit last spring, against objections from other senior administration officials, and then personally visited Mohammed again last fall in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. … In courting the Saudi prince, Kushner has displayed an unorthodox approach to diplomacy that has unsettled national security and intelligence officials — relying on personal relationships instead of standard government channels to tackle complex problems[.] … Some officials fear the president’s son-in-law has been freelancing foreign policy in one of the most volatile regions in the world.” Trump will sit down today with the Saudi prince at the White House.

-- Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen talked to Vanity Fair’s Emily Jane Fox about his role in the Stormy Daniels saga: “Cohen told me that he had never threatened Clifford. ‘In fact, I have never spoken to her. I have never e-mailed her. I have never met her. I have never texted her,’ he told me. ‘Every interaction with Ms. Clifford was always through her previous attorney.’ I asked if he knew whether she was threatened by anyone with any connection to Donald Trump. ‘I can only speak for myself,’ he said. ‘I reiterate: I have never threatened her in any way and I am unaware of anyone else doing so.’ Cohen denied reports from earlier in the week claiming that he was considering legal actions in an attempt to stop CBS from airing Clifford’s sit-down.”

-- Daniels’s lawsuit has been assigned to a George W. Bush appointee. Los Angeles-based U.S. District Judge S. James Otero, a Republican, will hear Daniels’s case seeking to invalidate her NDA. (Politico)

-- The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee pledged Monday to hold hearings on what led to the firing of former deputy director of the FBI Andrew McCabe — but only after the inspector general’s report on him is publicly released,” per Karoun Demirjian. “Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) … did not commit to bringing in Attorney General Jeff Sessions for questioning — as some Republican panel members, including [Graham and Cornyn] have said he should do.”

-- CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s wife, Susan, has attracted praise and criticism for fashioning herself as the unofficial “first lady” of the spy agency. Shane Harris reports: “Pompeo, who is a volunteer at the CIA, uses office space on the seventh-floor headquarters in Langley, Va., where senior leaders, including the director, have their offices. A support staff of CIA employees assists her in her duties, although that is not their full-time job. And Pompeo travels with her husband … including on trips he takes overseas to meet with foreign intelligence officials. While it is not unheard of for directors’ spouses to take on volunteer work … Susan Pompeo’s presence at the agency, along with her use of office space and help from staff, has raised questions internally about the nature of her duties and why agency resources are being used to support her …”

-- The wife of Trump's golf caddie turned White House social media director Dan Scavino filed for divorce. HuffPost’s Yashar Ali reports: “Jennifer Scavino filed for divorce on Jan. 18, 2018 in Dutchess County, New York, where the Scavinos own a home. In county records, she is listed as the plaintiff, while her husband is listed as the defendant. Not much else is known about the cause of divorce, as the state of New York keeps divorce records under seal."


-- Celebrity chef Mike Isabella is being sued by a former manager, who claims she was repeatedly subjected to sexual harassment by the “Top Chef” alum and his partners in the workplace. Danielle Paquette reports: “In the lawsuit, [Chloe] Caras alleges that Isabella and his partners called her ‘b—ch’ [and other degrading names] … commented on the size of her buttocks and touched her without permission. … Caras said she reached her breaking point on the night of Dec. 5 when she was sitting in a booth with Isabella … and a male sous chef asked to join them. Caras said Isabella replied, ‘If you sleep with Chloe, you can,’ … ‘I told him to stop, and he immediately got angry,’ Caras said[.]” “As Ms. Caras reached the door to exit the restaurant,” the complaint states, “Mr. Isabella chased after her and continued calling [explicit names] and tauntingly shouted, ‘Love you, Chloe. Nice working with you.’” Another former pastry chef said Isabella kissed her on the cheek without consent in December 2017 and described the workplace as “degrading” for women. “It’s just not for me — to be treated in a way that feels like the workplace is a frat house,” Sara Hancock said.

-- Former Tronc chairman Michael Ferro, a media mogul and Chicago power broker, was accused by two women of making inappropriate advances toward them between 2013 and 2016. Fortune’s Kristen Bellstrom and Beth Kowitt report: “Ferro would regularly make sexual comments about women’s clothing and appearances … telling female staffers they looked ‘hot’ or that he liked it when they wore short skirts. He once grabbed the bottom of a woman’s leg to more closely examine what he described as her ‘sexy’ high heels. And he hired young women as his assistants — dubbed ‘Ferro’s Angels’ by some employees.”

-- The Weinstein Co. has filed for bankruptcy and is releasing Harvey Weinstein’s alleged victims from their NDAs. The AP reports: “The company said it ‘expressly releases any confidentiality provision’ to the extent that it has prevented anyone who ‘suffered or witnessed any form of sexual misconduct’ by Weinstein from telling their stories. The company said it has entered into a sale agreement with Lantern Capital Partners, subject to approval by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware.”

-- Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) fired a top staffer who was found last year in a car with a 17-year-old boy and no shirt on. Politico’s Natasha Korecki and John Bresnahan report: “Nick Provenzano, 56, was dismissed by Hultgren over the weekend, the sources said. … The Hultgren spokesperson said the office only find out about the incident ‘late Wednesday and immediately placed him on leave before his eventual termination.’ … [An incident report] shows police investigated Provenzano for public indecency and other potential criminal acts following the episode, but no charges were ever filed.”

-- Maryland’s House of Delegates passed a bill overhauling the state legislature's process for addressing sexual harassment complaints. Ovetta Wiggins and Rachel Chason report: “The legislation — which among other things would allow alleged victims of harassment to request an independent investigator and mandate anti-harassment training for lobbyists as well as lawmakers — was not expected to advance when the General Assembly session opened in January. But a detailed report by the Women Legislators of Maryland caucus that described specific incidents of harassment and called it a persistent problem in the State House … appear to have given the bill momentum.” Senate chances are unclear.

-- “Years before Vanessa Trump filed for divorce from Donald Trump Jr., their marriage was rocked when — around the time she was pregnant with their third child — he cheated on her with a contestant from ‘The Celebrity Apprentice,’” reports Page Six. The president’s son allegedly pursued Danity Kane star Aubrey O’Day in 2011.


A Senate Republican sat down with the secretary of state nominee:

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) commended Trump's plan to combat the opioid epidemic:

Nancy Pelosi was skeptical:

Congress recognized the loss of a longtime member:

Actor Jim Carrey shared a portrait assumed to be White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders:

Sanders's father, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, struck back against Carrey:

But Carrey followed up with another cartoon:

Comedian Kathy Griffin defended Carrey after some described his depiction of Sanders as sexist:

A New Yorker writer made this joke after a D.C. council member claimed the Rothschilds controlled the climate:

The founder of Amazon (and the owner of The Washington Post) has a new pet:


-- New York Times, “Extensive Data Shows Punishing Reach of Racism for Black Boys,” by Emily Badger, Claire Cain Miller, Adam Pearce and Kevin Quealy: “White boys who grow up rich are likely to remain that way. Black boys raised at the top, however, are more likely to become poor than to stay wealthy in their own adult households. Even when children grow up next to each other with parents who earn similar incomes, black boys fare worse than white boys in 99 percent of America. And the gaps only worsen in the kind of neighborhoods that promise low poverty and good schools. According to the study, led by researchers at Stanford, Harvard and the Census Bureau, income inequality between blacks and whites is driven entirely by what is happening among these boys and the men they become.”


“Trump highlighted a Clinton Foundation initiative in outlining his opioid policy,” from Mic: “During a speech Monday in New Hampshire outlining his administration’s policy to combat the ongoing opioid crisis in the United States, ... Trump spoke about Adapt Pharma’s pledge to give free doses of Narcan — a brand of the life-saving drug naloxone that can treat someone suspected of overdosing on opioids — to colleges and universities across the country. In April, Adapt Pharma partnered with the Clinton Foundation to provide 40,000 doses of Narcan to colleges and universities, and on Monday, Adapt Pharma announced its plans to expand on that program to give high schools across the country two free cartons of the drug, amounting to four doses.”



“Congressman suggests Second Amendment as means of opposing Trump,” from the New York Post: “A Democratic congressman from Long Island implied that Americans should grab weapons and oppose [Trump] by force, if the commander-in-chief doesn’t follow the Constitution. Rep. Tom Suozzi made the remark to constituents at a town hall last week, saying that folks opposed to Trump might resort to the ‘Second Amendment.’ ‘It’s really a matter of putting public pressure on the president,’ Suozzi said ... ‘This is where the Second Amendment comes in, quite frankly, because you know, what if the president was to ignore the courts? What would you do? What would we do?’”


Chelsea Clinton applauded Trump's endorsement over Twitter:


Trump will meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He will then host a law enforcement roundtable on “sanctuary” cities and later attend the NRCC’s March dinner at the National Building Museum.


During his speech on the opioid crisis, Trump pledged a marketing campaign emphasizing the dangers of drug use: “That’s the least expensive thing we can do, where you scare them from ending up like the people in the commercials. … And we’ll make them very bad commercials -- we’ll make them very unsavory situations.” (John Wagner and Katie Zezima)



-- Welcome to spring: Expect wintry slush that will last into the afternoon and pick up again tomorrow morning. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Cold rain and sleet greet us this morning. The sleet, possibly mixed with snow and freezing rain, develops first in our northwest areas and spreads southeast toward Interstate 95 by midmorning. Precipitation could be heavy at times. … Precipitation eases by midafternoon tapering to drizzle/flurries or light sleet at times into the evening. Highs are only in the 30s today, which is well below normal.”

-- Tickets for the Kennedy Center’s production of “Hamilton” will go on sale March 26. Peggy McGlone reports: “Kennedy Center officials say a significant number of tickets are available for the 112 performances. Prices range from $99 to $199, with premium seats selling for $625.”


Stephen Colbert would have liked a Facebook notification about Cambridge Analytica:

Trevor Noah speculated on the odds of Trump firing Mueller:

Trump visited a “safe station” in New Hampshire:

President Trump visited a "safe station" at a firehouse in Manchester, N.H., on March 19, and talked about fighting the opioid crisis. (Video: The Washington Post)

Cynthia Nixon's announcement caused this video of her accepting an Emmy award from Trump to recirculate:

Two Broadway stars released a song in support of the pro-gun control movement March for Our Lives:

Lin-Manuel Miranda and Ben Platt, two of Broadway's biggest stars, teamed up to release a song on March 19 in support of the "March for Our Lives" movement. (Video: Reuters)

And this Portuguese chocolate costs $9,000 a piece:

Shaped like a diamond and made of edible gold, saffron threads and white truffle, the world's most expensive chocolate goes on display at a fair in Portugal. (Video: Reuters)