National Political Correspondent

With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve.

THE BIG IDEA: Congressional leaders unveiled the details last night of a $1.3 trillion deal that will fund the federal government through the end of September. Republicans get a $78 billion increase in defense spending. Democrats get a $52 billion increase in domestic spending. Appropriators almost completely disregarded the austerity budget proposed by President Trump.

We’re still dissecting the 2,232-page bill, which was negotiated behind closed doors and must pass before Friday at midnight to avert another shutdown. It will almost certainly be the last major piece of legislation to get through Congress this year. Here are seven winners and seven losers:

WINNERS:

1. The troops: All military personnel will get a 2.4 percent pay raise. (Civilian federal employees get a smaller 1.9 percent raise.)

2. Defense contractors: The Pentagon gets $144 billion for new hardware, including missile defense. It’s the biggest increase since the Iraq War was launched 15 years ago.

3. Dean Heller: The Nevada Republican is the most vulnerable senator up for reelection in 2018, and he blocked efforts by the Energy Department to revive the unpopular nuclear storage program at Yucca Mountain. The ads write themselves.

4. Chris Van Hollen: The Democratic senator from Maryland blocked all funding for the construction of a new FBI headquarters because the administration has decided it wants the facility in the District, rather than his blue state. Van Hollen is trying to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, Barbara Mikulski, who used her seniority to bring home lots of bacon for Maryland.

5. Big Ag: The tax bill hurt large agricultural corporations by giving special advantages to farmer-owned cooperatives. Their lobbyists got language inserted to level the playing field. To get their support, Democrats secured the expansion of a low-income tax credit.

6. Big Bird: The Corporation for Public Broadcasting will get $465 million in federal funding. Appropriators also rejected Trump’s push to eliminate the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities.

7. The integrity of our elections: “While a Democratic push to win provisions protecting special counsel Robert S. Mueller III did not succeed, the bill does include hundreds of millions of dollars to combat potential interference from Russia or others in the November midterm elections,”  Mike DeBonis and Erica Werner report. “The federal Election Assistance Commission will receive $380 million to dole out to states to improve their election-related cybersecurity. And the FBI is set to receive $300 million in counterintelligence funding to combat Russian hacking."

LOSERS:

1. The Parkland kids: The bill includes the Fix NICS Act, which will modestly improve the background check system for buying guns by incentivizing states and federal agencies to share more records for the national database. Democrats also got language allowing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct research into gun violence.

But these incremental reforms take political pressure off Republicans to pass a stand-alone bill. As tens of thousands of protesters descend on Washington this weekend to agitate for stronger gun control, GOP lawmakers will point to Fix NICS and the CDC rider to inoculate themselves from attacks that they’ve done nothing in response to the Florida school shooting.

This spending deal basically ensures that, among other things, the minimum age to buy an assault weapon won’t be raised from 18 to 21 — which would have stopped Nikolas Cruz, 19, from legally getting the AR-15 he used to kill 17 people on Valentine’s Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Democrats say this is the most they could realistically get, and they argue that doing it in the budget bill stops Republicans from sneaking through concealed-carry reciprocity, a top NRA priority, in a gun-focused package.

2. Trump’s border wall promise: The president wanted $25 billion of funding for the project. He only got $1.6 billion to construct defenses on the U.S.-Mexico border, but most of the money is earmarked for specific projects that would have probably gone forward even if Hillary Clinton was president. “The biggest catch is this: The barriers authorized to be built under the act must be ‘operationally effective designs’ already deployed as of last March, meaning none of Trump’s big, beautiful wall prototypes can be built,” Ed O’Keefe notes in a story with Mike DeBonis and Erica Werner.

Trump nearly derailed the whole package Wednesday because there was not more wall funding, but he relented after Paul Ryan paid an emergency visit to the White House residence. Mitch McConnell dialed in and was on speakerphone. “They argued that he was getting money for the border wall at a level the White House had been signaling was acceptable,” per Robert Costa and Josh Dawsey. “In recent days, he has insisted to associates that congressional Republicans ‘owe’ him more money for the wall since he has raised them millions for their reelection bids and signed the GOP-authored tax bill into law. Tuesday’s dinner gala for the National Republican Congressional Committee — the $32 million that event raised for House lawmakers, in particular — was on the president’s mind.”

3. The “dreamers”: This was also probably the last opportunity before the midterms to protect the undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children, as part of a deal for wall funding. They continue to be left in limbo.

4. Health insurance companies: Trump cut off cost-sharing reduction payments last fall that keep it profitable for insurers to offer plans to poor people. Then the tax bill eliminated the individual mandate, which means many healthy young people will no longer buy insurance plans. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) pushed hard for an amendment to restore some of the money being taken away from the big insurance companies, and Democrats were amenable because they want to shore up the Obamacare marketplaces. But then social conservatives demanded new restrictions on abortion to go along with it, a poison pill that killed the Collins-Alexander plan.

5. The House Freedom Caucus: The group of three dozen hard-line conservatives got rolled, as did Mick Mulvaney, the OMB director who used to be a member and took the lead in crafting the budget proposal Trump unveiled last month. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the Freedom Caucus, decried the deal because it funds Planned Parenthood, does not defund “sanctuary cities” and expands the national debt. He’s also mad that it does not “really” include money for the wall, and he doesn’t like stronger background checks for gun buyers. Many of the members in his caucus will vote no, but leadership does not need their votes. Meadows has Trump’s ear, but this again exposes the limits of his influence.

6. Betsy DeVos: The Education Secretary wanted to spend more than $1 billion promoting vouchers while slashing funding for the rest of her department by $3.6 billion, mostly by taking it from programs that help the poor. She also wanted to make big cuts to the Office for Civil Rights and eliminate grant programs that support student mental-health services.

The final deal basically does the opposite of everything she asked for. Her department’s funding goes up by $3.9 billion, but she gets zero of the dollars she wanted for the school choice program. There’s a $700 million increase in funding for a mental health program that will fund school counselors. There’s $40 million for a D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant that she wanted to eliminate. The Office for Civil Rights, after-school programs and early-childhood education programs all get money she said she didn’t want. (Moriah Balingit and Danielle Douglas-Gabriel have more.)

7. Transparency: The bill was released late on the night before the House votes to pass it. Negotiations were conducted behind closed doors, and dropping it at the 11th hour leaves little time for people to scrutinize the many handouts to special interests until after they’ve gone into effect. This is no way to run a government. (Here’s the full bill if you want to peruse it yourself.)

But, but, but: There are two notable exceptions. The Congressional Research Service now must publish online all the reports it prepares for lawmakers. The Secret Service will be required to release an annual report on travel costs for people under their protection, specifically adult children of the president. This is designed to expose how much taxpayers are spending to safeguard Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump on their overseas business trips.

-- On Capitol Hill, party leaders have shifted from negotiation mode to sales mode. Both sides in both chambers are declaring victory and now trying to whip votes for the bill:

From the president:

“These job-creating, life-saving investments stand in sharp contrast to the Trump Budget,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. 

The Speaker:

The Senate majority leader:

The Senate minority leader:

From Florida’s Republican senator:

From the Democratic congresswoman who represents Orlando:

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- Two alarming stories popped overnight about the influence of foreign governments over members of Trump's inner circle:

-- Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman has been bragging that Jared Kushner is “in his pocket,” according to the Intercept’s Ryan Grim, Alex Emmons and Clayton Swisher: “Until he was stripped of his top-secret security clearance in February, [Kushner] was known around the White House as one of the most voracious readers of the President's Daily Brief. … [The PDB] contained information on Saudi Arabia’s evolving political situation, including a handful of names of royal family members opposed to the crown prince’s power grab. … In late October, [Kushner] made an unannounced trip to Riyadh, catching some intelligence officials off guard. … What exactly Kushner and the Saudi royal talked about in Riyadh may be known only to them, but after the meeting, Crown Prince Mohammed told confidants that Kushner had discussed the names of Saudis disloyal to the crown prince. … Indeed, Kushner has grown so close to the Saudi and Emirati crown princes that he has communicated with them directly using WhatsApp..."

-- George Nader, a political adviser to the United Arab Emirates who is now cooperating with Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, worked for more than a year to turn RNC deputy finance chairman Elliott Broidy into 'an instrument of influence' for Gulf rulers, the New York Times’s David D. Kirkpatrick and Mark Mazzetti report: “Hundreds of pages of correspondence between the two men reveal an active effort to cultivate [Trump] on behalf of [the UAE and Saudi Arabia], both close American allies. High on the agenda of [Nader and Broidy] was pushing the White House to remove [Rex Tillerson], backing confrontational approaches to Iran and Qatar and repeatedly pressing the president to meet privately outside the White House with the leader of U.A.E. … Mr. Nader tempted the fund-raiser, Mr. Broidy, with the prospect of more than $1 billion in contracts for his private security company, Circinus, and he helped deliver deals worth more than $200 million with the [UAE]."

-- Nearly a year before Andrew McCabe was fired by Jeff Sessions for what the attorney general described as a “lack of candor,” the former deputy FBI chief authorized and oversaw a federal criminal investigation into whether Sessions lacked candor when he testified before Congress about his Russia contacts. ABC News’s Mike Levine reports: “Democratic lawmakers have repeatedly accused Sessions of misleading them in congressional testimony and called on federal authorities to investigate, but McCabe's previously-unreported decision to actually put the attorney general in the crosshairs of an FBI probe was an exceptional move. One source [said] Sessions was not aware of the investigation when he decided to fire McCabe last Friday … but an attorney representing Sessions declined to confirm that. Last year, several top Republican and Democratic lawmakers were informed of the probe during a closed-door briefing with [Rod Rosenstein and McCabe].”

-- A lawyer for Sessions said the attorney general is not under investigation for lying to Congress, but his statement appears to confirm that was once an area of interest for Mueller, Matt Zapotosky and Karoun Demirjian report: "Chuck Cooper, Sessions’s personal attorney, said, 'The Special Counsel’s Office has informed me that after interviewing the Attorney General and conducting additional investigation, the Attorney General is not under investigation for false statements or perjury in his confirmation hearing testimony and related written submissions to Congress.'" 

-- The federal government is operating on a two-hour delay as Washington weathers the effects of Wednesday’s spring snowstorm. (OPM)

-- Here is the list of schools experiencing delays or closures Thursday.

-- Washington isn’t expected to get any more snow, but harsh winds are keeping spring at bay. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Be on the lookout for slippery spots from refreezing slush and puddles overnight early on. Clouds break up quickly in the morning but pop back up in the afternoon. Gusty northwest winds keep temps from rising much and make it feel all the colder. Highs only reach the low to mid-40s.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Investigators used cell-tower data and surveillance footage from a FedEx store to track down Austin bombing suspect Mark Anthony Conditt. Authorities said the 23-year-old from the Austin suburbs suspected of sending a string of deadly package bombs to the Texas capital appeared to be frustrated with his life. (Eva Ruth Moravec, Devlin Barrett, Matt Zapotosky, Mark Berman and Kristine Phillips)
  2. Tempe, Ariz., police released footage showing the moments before a self-driving Uber hit and killed a woman. In the video, the safety driver, Rafaela Vasquez, appears to look down several times immediately before Elaine Herzberg was fatally struck. (Michael Laris)
  3. The NYPD spent nearly $4.6 million to guard Trump during his four-day visit to the city last August. During the trip, Trump caused controversy by blaming “both sides” for the violence that broke out following a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. (CBS News)
  4. The Sacramento Police Department released body-cam footage related to Stephan Clark's death. Clark, who was black, was shot 20 times in his own backyard after officers mistook the cellphone in his hand for a gun. (Alex Horton)
  5. For the second time, the Supreme Court delivered a last-minute stay of execution for Missouri killer “Rusty” Bucklew. The justices sided with lawyers who argued that lethal injection could cause rare tumors on his head to rupture — thus constituting a form of “cruel and unusual punishment.” (Avi Selk)
  6. YouTube has tightened its restrictions on videos involving guns. The platform has banned videos that link to websites selling firearms as well as instruction videos on assembling firearms. (Bloomberg)
  7. The FDA said it has seen an uptick in an “unusual” cancer linked to breast implants in the past year, with the number of reported cases rising from 359 to 414. Health officials noted that the death count has remained unchanged. (New York Times)
  8. FX’s “The Americans” held the premiere of its sixth and final season at the Newseum in Washington. One of the lead actors, Keri Russell, expressed relief the show, which focuses on two Russian spies, is ending. “It’s a complicated time, so it’s good that it’s done,” Russell said. (Emily Heil)

THE AGENDA:

-- The Federal Reserve hiked its interest rate from 1.5 percent to 1.75 percent, the highest level in 10 years. Heather Long reports: “The move, the central bank's first major decision under new Chairman Jerome H. Powell, was widely expected as the U.S. economy continues to strengthen and stock markets remain near record highs. The Fed also significantly boosted its forecast for U.S. growth this year and next. The U.S. economy is on track to expand 2.7 percent this year and 2.4 percent in 2019, Fed officials now say, a jump from their previous projection done before the Republican tax cuts were finalized.”

-- A bill aimed at combating sex trafficking overwhelmingly passed the Senate and now heads to Trump’s desk for his signature. From Tom Jackman: “The bill would amend the Communications Decency Act, which websites such as Backpage.com have invoked as immunity from criminal and civil actions when victims of online sex trafficking have tried to stop them from hosting ads for male and female sex workers, some of whom are teenagers.”

-- After an unsuccessful attempt last week, House Republicans passed their “right-to-try” legislation, which would expand critically ill patients’ access to experimental treatments. Elise Viebeck reports: “The legislation failed March 13 after Republicans brought it to the floor under suspension of the rules, an approach typically reserved for noncontroversial bills that requires two-thirds support for passage. The vote was 259 to 140, prompting the Wall Street Journal’s GOP-friendly editorial board to blame Republicans for ‘political malpractice.’ Wednesday’s vote required only a simple majority for passage. The bill now needs approval from the Senate, which passed its own ‘right-to-try’ legislation over the summer by unanimous consent.”

-- With just two days to go until Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs take effect, many countries have no idea whether they’ll be affected — creating confusion for many of America’s closest allies. David J. Lynch reports: “In recent days, top steel suppliers such as Brazil, South Korea and Japan have complained that the office of the U.S. trade representative has yet to establish a process for countries to apply for tariff exemptions, leaving it unclear whether any will be granted in time to forestall billions of dollars in border charges. … The White House promised earlier this month that countries could ask for a waiver of the new import taxes of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum. Only countries with a U.S. security relationship are eligible, and they must propose alternative ways of addressing administration concerns over rising import figures. But with time running out, no official guidance on how to apply has been made public, leaving diplomats baffled.”

-- The Trump tariffs are already leading to layoffs. The Wall Street Journal’s Editorial Board notes: “American Keg Company is the only remaining U.S. manufacturer of stainless steel beer kegs. Despite competition from German and Chinese firms, American Keg has only used domestic steel. But now it’s being punished for this domestic sourcing as [Trump’s] steel tariffs have forced the business to lay off a third of its workforce."

-- The administration is backing a regulation on pooling tips that could allow businesses to skim $640 million a year from workers. Bloomberg Law’s Ben Penn reports: OMB Director Mick "Mulvaney sided with Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta over the government’s rulemaking clearinghouse — a little-known but critical wing of the White House called the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs[.] … Acosta and his team elevated the dispute to Mulvaney, who as Office of Management and Budget director oversees OIRA." 

-- AIDS researcher Robert Redfield has been appointed as the next CDC director. Lena H. Sun reports: “The decision had been expected since Redfield emerged late last week as the front-runner [for the job], for which he also was considered when George W. Bush was president. The position does not require Senate confirmation, and Redfield, a professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and a former Army researcher, is expected to be sworn in and take up his job in only a few days. But the policies he supported decades ago have raised deep concern among some AIDS advocates because they were not considered sound public health approaches to the epidemic. The critics believe they also stigmatized those who were infected and feared being fired — and losing their health insurance.”

THE MIDTERMS:

-- Over the objections of the White House, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) formally appointed state Agriculture and Commerce Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith to succeed retiring Sen. Thad Cochran (R). Sean Sullivan and Josh Dawsey report: "Hyde-Smith said she ‘looked forward to working with [Trump], and nodded to his signature campaign slogan, ‘Make America Great Again.’ Later, she said she will run in the Nov. 6 special election to fill the final two years of Sen. Cochran’s term. But White House officials told Bryant that President Trump did not support the pick … Trump and [McConnell] had urged Bryant to appoint himself." Hyde-Smith, a Democrat until about a decade ago, will be Mississippi's first female senator.

-- Republican Rick Saccone conceded to Democrat Conor Lamb in last week’s Pennsylvania special election. Lamb announced his official win over Twitter. “Just got off the phone with my opponent,” Lamb wrote, “who congratulated me & graciously conceded last Tuesday’s election. I congratulate Mr. Saccone for a close, hard-fought race & wish him the best.” (David Weigel)

-- Several colleagues of Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) who campaigned against him in Tuesday’s primary are insisting that there are no hard feelings. From Politico’s Heather Caygle and Elena Schneider: “But it’s clear that some of the residual feelings about Lipinski’s politics — as an anti-abortion Democrat who has opposed marriage equality and Obamacare, he’s one of the most conservative members of the caucus — still linger. And the outside groups that sided with [Lipinski’s challenger Marie Newman], including NARAL Pro-Choice America, MoveOn and Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said the slim margin should send a signal to other Democrats that they’re not backing down.”

CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA IS UNDER INVESTIGATION:

-- Mueller's team is closely studying the links between Trump’s campaign, the RNC and controversial data firm Cambridge Analytica. ABC News’s Katherine Faulders, John Santucci, Megan Christie and Benjamin Siegel report: “Several digital experts who worked in support of Trump’s bid in 2016 have met with Mueller's team for closed-door interviews. The staffers, most of whom were employed by the RNC, served as key members of the 2016 operation working closely with the campaign and the data firm, the sources said. The company worked closely with the Republican candidate’s political team. … Cambridge Analytica was brought on by then-Trump campaign digital advisor Brad Parscale in early June 2016. ... Cambridge Analytica was one entity involved in creating the voter information and fundraising database now known as Project Alamo, built jointly by staffers from the RNC, the Trump campaign and Parscale's firm ..."

-- Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made his first comments since the story broke last weekend that Cambridge Analytica got access to information on 50 million users. Elizabeth Dwoskin reports: “In a post on his personal Facebook page, Zuckerberg said the company would investigate thousands of apps that used large amounts of data at the time. He said that Facebook will give users easier access to tools to manage how their data is being used and shared, and will further restrict developers' access to data to prevent abuse. … Later Wednesday, Zuckerberg went on a small media tour to elaborate on his views, telling CNN he would consider testifying before Congress about the problems.”

-- Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix told The Post in 2016 that, as a British citizen, he couldn’t be involved in the Trump campaign’s strategy. Britain’s Channel 4 News released footage this week of Nix bragging that his firm’s data “informed all the strategy” of the Trump campaign. Michael Kranish reports: “Nix, in an interview with The Post at the company’s New York City office two weeks before the 2016 election, discussed at length the way the company sought to use Facebook data. He said information gleaned from the site was done so with permission of Facebook and its users. ‘You can collect Facebook data legally with the consent of the Facebook users and the consent of Facebook,’ Nix told The Post, in a portion of the interview not previously reported.”

-- “How Cambridge Analytica’s whistleblower became Facebook’s unlikely foil,” by Craig Timberg and Karla Adam: “Christopher Wylie [awoke early Saturday] to the news that Facebook had published a blog post [suspending him and his former employer in an incident that] had been known to Facebook for more than a year. That explosive moment last weekend turned Wylie, 28, into an unlikely foil to one of the tech industry’s most powerful and lucrative companies. The onetime student of fashion trends with pink hair and a stubborn streak has delivered revelations that have triggered government investigations on both sides of the Atlantic, sent Facebook’s stock price plunging and pushed long-simmering privacy concerns to a boil. … In hours of interviews … Wylie traced his work for the data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica, his growing misgivings before he quit in 2014 and his shock and horror when the company’s most famous client, Donald Trump, won the presidency nearly two years later. He also described previously unreported contact with Corey Lewandowski … And Wylie shared his suspicion — though unconfirmed — that data collected and used by Cambridge Analytica may have fallen into Russian hands …

-- At least one Trump campaign official — Paul Manafort – worried about hiring Cambridge Analytica. CNN’s Sara Murray, Maeve Reston, Dana Bash and Evan Perez report: “Manafort, then the campaign chairman, worried that the data firm was ‘full of s---.’ Manafort emailed a fellow political operative to get his read on Cambridge. The operative, Doug Watts, worked with the firm during Ben Carson's presidential campaign and told Manafort he was unimpressed, according to sources familiar with the exchange. Manafort shared his assessment, the sources said. The Trump campaign hired the firm anyway.”

-- Trump appeared to post about his campaign’s social media prowess in a tweet this morning:

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- Mueller’s prosecutors have indicated four main areas of discussion they want to cover with Trump during a potential face-to-face interview. CNN’s Pamela Brown, Gloria Borger and Katelyn Polantz report: “According to two sources, the areas that the special counsel investigators have indicated they want to pursue with Trump are the President's role in crafting a statement aboard Air Force One that miscast Donald Trump Jr.'s campaign June 2016 meeting with Russians in Trump Tower, the circumstances surrounding that Trump Tower meeting as well as the firings of [James Comey and Michael Flynn].”

-- The House Intelligence Committee will vote Thursday on whether to approve the Republican-drafted report on the panel’s Russia probe. From Karoun Demirjian: “The GOP report, whose public release remains weeks away pending redactions from the U.S. intelligence community, has come to represent the deeply partisan divisions that have overtaken the probe. … Some fear the political division could infect the committee’s other work. Already, the Russia investigation has caused many members to stop speaking to each other outside business meetings, while members of the intelligence community have expressed their frustrations with [the committee’s chairman] and the panel as a whole.”

-- Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee urged DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to take immediate steps to prevent foreign election interference. Karoun reports: “‘We know for certain that Russians were relentless in their efforts and also that those efforts are ongoing — and yet when I listen to your testimony, I hear no sense of urgency to really get on top of this issue,’ Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told [Nielsen.] … Nielsen stressed that her department ‘recognize[s] that the 2018 midterm and future elections are clearly potential targets for Russian hacking attempts,’ saying President Trump shared that view.”

-- Former CIA chief John Brennan suggested that Putin may have “compromising information” on Trump — triggering a wave of furious speculation. The New York Times’s Matthew Rosenberg reports: “In an appearance on [MSNBC’s] ‘Morning Joe’ … [Brennan] speculated that Russians ‘may have something on him personally’ when he was asked if he thought Mr. Trump was afraid of [Putin]. Mr. Brennan was running the C.I.A. when [the salacious Trump-Russia dossier surfaced in 2016.] ... If there were any current or former American officials who might know if there was truth behind the allegations in the dossier, Mr. Brennan would most likely be one of them. But later in the day on Wednesday, Mr. Brennan explained that his comments were speculation based on Mr. Trump’s words and deeds, as well as how Mr. Putin’s government has operated at home and abroad — but not on any inside knowledge.”

-- Senior White House advisers were surprised when Trump told Putin he expected to meet with the Russian leader soon. Karen DeYoung, John Hudson and Josh Dawsey report: “Although Trump told reporters that ‘probably we’ll be seeing President Putin in the not-too-distant future,’ several officials said there are no plans for the two even to be in the same country until November, when both are expected to attend a Group of 20 summit in Argentina. … Trump’s briefing materials for the Putin call, placed in a binder by the staff secretary’s office for Trump’s review, did not include any reference to a meeting … ”

-- Trump defended his congratulatory call to Putin saying that better relations with the Russian strongman are a “good thing, not a bad thing.” John Wagner reports: “In a series of tweets, Trump criticized his predecessors for failing to establish a better relationship with Russia, asserting that [George W. Bush] lacked the ‘smarts’ to get along. … In his tweets, Trump suggested the criticism of his call was being generated by the ‘Fake News Media,’ which he called ‘crazed’ and said would have liked him to ‘excoriate’ Putin. Trump said that [Obama and Hillary Clinton] also tried ‘but didn’t have the energy or chemistry.’ ‘PEACE THROUGH STRENGTH!’ Trump concluded.”

  • Among those who spoke out against Trump’s call was Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa): “I wouldn’t have a conversation with a criminal." He cited the recent poisoning of a former spy in Britain, as well as Russia’s aggressive actions against other nations in its region.
  • Many congressional Republicans reacted more to the leak. “I don’t agree with congratulating #Putin but bigger outrage is this leak that could only come from someone in @POTUS inner circle,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said on Twitter. “If you don’t like President resign, but this ongoing pattern of duplicity holds potential for serious damage to the nation.”

-- The White House issued the clearest statement to date denouncing the poisoning after Trump’s phone call yesterday with French President Emmanuel Macron. From Anne Gearan: “'The Presidents reiterated their solidarity with the United Kingdom in the wake of Russia’s use of chemical weapons against private citizens on British soil and agreed on the need to take action to hold Russia accountable,’ a White House statement on Wednesday’s conversation said. Macron — also an unconventional political figure — has used a mixture of flattery and man’s-man bravado to become Trump’s favorite European leader and a counterpoint to Trump’s affinity for strongmen, including [Putin].”

-- British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson drew ire from Muscovites after he compared Putin’s Russia to Hitler’s Germany, telling members of Parliament that the Russian president would use this summer’s World Cup as a “propaganda tool” much as Hitler did with the 1936 Olympics. His words were a telling example of just how far diplomatic relations have plummeted between the two countries following the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Salisbury. (New York Times)

-- Could the Trump era lead to new arms-control agreements with Moscow? Paul Sonne writes: “Some interpreted Putin’s [recent boasting of new nuclear weapons] as a veiled entreaty for new arms-control negotiations with the United States, talks that the Kremlin has long considered a calling card to revitalize relations with the White House. The Russian leader followed up by giving an interview to NBC’s Megyn Kelly in which he left no doubt that Russia stood ready to hold arms-control talks with the United States. Trump has long been interested in participating in such negotiations, telling The Washington Post in 1984 that he wanted to be the U.S. point person in nuclear arms limitation talks with the Soviets. … [But] any breakthrough could be stymied by high levels of distrust between the two governments … ”

ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN AND WOMEN:

-- Kellyanne Conway is strongly considering accepting Trump’s offer to be White House communications director on an “interim basis." The Atlantic’s Elaina Plott reports: “’It’s becoming increasingly difficult for her to say no,’ said one senior White House official. The official said that [Melania Trump and Mike Pence’s] chief of staff have both encouraged her over the last few days to reconsider Trump’s offer. [Conway said earlier this month] that she wasn’t interested in the job. But Trump has continued to urge her to change her mind, as have many rank-and-file White House communications staffers … ‘He’s basically told her she’s no longer allowed to say no,’ joked another senior White House official.”

-- New York officials launched an investigation into properties owned by Jared Kushner’s family company following an AP investigation that the organization repeatedly filed false paperwork about the properties. The AP’s Bernard Condon reports: “The Department of Buildings is investigating possible ‘illegal activity’ involving applications that sought permission to begin construction work at 13 of the developer’s buildings, according to public records maintained by the regulator. The AP reported Sunday that Kushner Cos. stated in more than 80 permit applications that it had zero rent-regulated tenants in its buildings when it, in fact, had hundreds.”

-- Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke brought a security detail with him when he and his wife vacationed in Greece and Turkey. Politico’s Ben Lefebvre reports: “Unlike Pruitt, Zinke was not conducting government business during his two-week vacation, which included stops in Istanbul and the Greek Isles. [Official] documents do not reveal exactly how many security personnel accompanied the couple, who paid for them, how much they cost or whether they traveled with Zinke and his wife, Lola, for the entire trip. Interior provided U.S. Park Police officers for Zinke’s security because of worries of violence in the region, department spokeswoman Heather Swift said.”

-- Senate Republicans could jeopardize the confirmations of Trump’s picks to lead the State Department and CIA. Paul Kane writes: “With the absence of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) as he battles brain cancer, [Mitch McConnell] begins each confirmation fight knowing that there are, at most, 50 Republican votes he can count on. And already his home-state colleague, Sen. Rand Paul, has jumped out quickly to announce his opposition to Mike Pompeo as secretary of state and Gina Haspel as CIA director to fill Pompeo’s slot. … This is a potential new development in the Trump-Senate relationship. A few nominees were withdrawn because of scandal, but none have actually reached the full Senate for a vote and lost.”

-- Trump attorney Marc Kasowitz confirmed he intends to appeal a judge’s decision allowing Summer Zervos’s defamation case against the president to proceed. "We disagree with this decision, which is wrong as a matter of constitutional law," Kasowitz said. "We intend to immediately appeal and will seek a stay of the case until this issue is finally determined." (CNN)

-- Meanwhile, women’s rights attorney Lisa Bloom is seeking out rich donors to cover the potential legal fees of Trump’s accusers. Frances Stead Sellers reports: “[Bloom,] who says she has been approached by other potential clients with grievances against Trump, called Wednesday for a ‘rich patriot’ to step forward to indemnify any women who make public their complaints against the president. … Bloom said that some women ‘are not yet willing to come out publicly.’ She suggested that a deterrent to speaking out may be legally binding nondisclosure agreements they have signed in the past with Trump’s lawyers. ‘We need a rich patriot to come out and promise to indemnify them for fees and penalties they might incur if they speak,’ Bloom said in an email.”

-- David Nakamura explores the many typos that have become endemic in Trump’s White House: “Amid all the chaos in the White House — including West Wing personnel drama, the Stormy Daniels scandal and Mueller’s Russia investigation — some wayward spellings and inaccurate honorifics might seem minor. But the constant small mistakes — which have dogged the Trump White House since the president’s official Inauguration Day poster boasted that ‘no challenge is to great’ — have become, critics say, symbolic of the larger problems with Trump’s management style, in particular his lack of attention to detail and the carelessness with which he makes policy decisions.” One particularly horrifying example: “Announcing the [January 2017] visit to the White House of British Prime Minister Theresa May, the official schedule misspelled her name three times as ‘Teresa May,’ which the London-based Independent newspaper drolly noted is the stage name of a British pornographic movie actress whose oeuvre includes ‘Whitehouse: The Sex Video’ and ‘Leather Lust.’”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

The president went after his potential 2020 opponent Joe Biden, who recently reiterated his desire to beat Trump up over his treatment of women:

A contributor for Wired reflected on the Jared Kushner story about talking to the Saudi crown prince:

A Post reporter analyzed Mark Zuckerberg's comments about the Cambridge Analytica story:

A reporter for Inside Elections noted this of the new Mississippi senator:

From a New York Times reporter:

A reporter for Bridge Magazine expressed gratitude for the Austin bombing coverage:

A former U.S. attorney mocked Trump's misspellings as he criticized the Mueller probe:

A Politico reporter noted this of Trump's misspellings yesterday:

A reporter for Bloomberg mocked EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's $120,000 in travel expenses:

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) embraced the city's snow day:

A House Democrat looked past Washington's wintry weather:

A Weekly Standard editor cracked a joke after conservative speaker Ben Shapiro's lecture at Georgetown was canceled due to the weather:

And a police dog in D.C. accessorized against the cold:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- GQ, “When Trump Met Stormy Daniels: The Strange Story of Four Wild Days in Tahoe,” by Ben Schreckinger: “Looking back now, the portrait that emerges is a far cry from the confident businessman with whom television audiences were becoming acquainted at the time. Instead, it is one of a lonely Trump racked by private malaise, stumbling into a three-quarter-life crisis that years later he would seek to resolve with a run for the White House.”

-- Politico, “The ‘Worst Bosses’ in Congress?” by Nolan D. McCaskill: “LegiStorm — the online portal that tracks Capitol Hill’s workforce in detail — is putting hard data to the debate over the worst bosses in Congress. The site is out with a new feature — actually titled ‘Worst Bosses?’ — that shows the members of the House and Senate with the highest turnover.”

-- New York Times, “Welcome to Zucktown. Where Everything Is Just Zucky,” by David Streitfeld: “In just a few years, Facebook built a virtual community that linked more than two billion people. … Now the social network is building a real community, the kind you can walk around. It is a project with many precedents in American history, quite a few of them cautionary tales about what happens when a powerful corporation takes control of civic life. … [Now], Facebook is testing the proposition: Do people love tech companies so much they will live inside of them?”

-- Politico Magazine, “Washington’s Most Powerful Anti-Pot Official Is Named Sessions. It’s Not Who You Think.” By James Higdon: “[While] the nation’s top law enforcement officer has made it abundantly clear over the years that he views marijuana as a scourge equal to heroin, it turns out the unofficial title of Washington’s most powerful marijuana opponent belongs to someone else named Sessions: Pete, the longtime congressman from Texas’ 32nd district in Dallas. … What Pete Sessions has, however, that Jeff Sessions doesn’t have is the power to change laws.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“GOP Rep: The ‘Deep State’ Is Responsible for Ordering Ben Carson’s Dining Set,” from the Daily Beast: “Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-NY) appeared to blame the nefarious ‘Deep State’ for ordering a costly dining set for [HUD secretary] Ben Carson. During a recent appearance on [an] upstate New York local radio show, the New York Republican was asked about the decision to buy a $31,000 dining room set for Carson’s office last year. Tenney told the hosts that the ‘Ben Carson story is so misunderstood’ before pointing to a no-named staffer of cryptic origin as the culprit.” “Somebody in the Deep State, it was not one of his people apparently, ordered a table, like a conference room table or whatever it was for a room,” Tenney continued. “And that’s what the cost was …”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT

“GOP lawmaker: ‘Mueller should be fired,’” from the Hill: “Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) said Wednesday that [Mueller] should be fired from his position investigating Russia's election meddling and the Trump campaign. ‘I think Mueller should be fired,’ Gohmert said during the monthly ‘Conversation with Conservatives’ meeting on Wednesday. ‘He should never have been appointed and he should never have accepted.' ... Gohmert clarified that he thinks the president should not actually fire Mueller, because Republicans in Congress might impeach him if he did so. ‘The only reason that he is not going and the president is not going to fire him and that I am not calling for him to be fired now is ... because of all the establishment Republicans that think they would have to come after Trump if he were fired.’”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump will sign a presidential memorandum on “targeting China’s economic aggression” before participating in a panel discussion at Generation Next Summit. He and the first lady will also host a celebration for Greek Independence Day.

Pence will travel to New Hampshire today to give a speech on the GOP tax law for an America First Policies event and later attend a fundraiser for gubernatorial candidate Chris Sununu.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“This is a Great Dane-sized whiz down the leg of every taxpayer,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said of the omnibus spending bill. “Everyone who participates in this process ought to put a bag over their heads.”

 

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

-- The Wizards lost to the Spurs 98-90. (Candace Buckner)

-- D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser proposed raising taxes on Uber and Lyft, among other things, to pay for increased Metro funding. From Fenit Nirappil, Perry Stein and Faiz Siddiqui: “The sales tax would rise from 5.75 percent to 6 percent, smaller than the regional 1 percentage point sales tax increase that District leaders proposed as a permanent Metro funding source. The restaurant and hotels tax would also rise by a quarter- percentage point. And the tax on gross receipts on ‘for-hire’ vehicle services, passed onto customers as city fees on trips, would rise from 1 percent to 4.75 percent. That would mean a dime charge on a $10 trip would become a 47-cent charge.”

-- Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s budget looks almost identical to that of his predecessor, Terry McAuliffe. And that proposal faced opposition in the Republican-led legislature. (Laura Vozzella)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Stephen Colbert worked out with Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Trevor Noah went after Facebook for its role in the Cambridge Analytica controversy:

Seth Meyers mocked Trump for congratulating Putin on his election win:

The CEO of United Airlines addressed the outcry over a dog dying on its flights:

And a woman donated her frozen embryos to those affected by a malfunction at a fertility lab: