The United States this week ordered the largest expulsion of Russian spies in U.S. history, which prompted the Kremlin to retaliate on Thursday with the expulsion of 60 American officials. Two weeks ago, Trump agreed to impose sanctions on 19 Russians for alleged interference in the 2016 election. In December, he authorized the export of lethal weapons to help Ukraine fend off Russian-backed separatists — going further than Barack Obama ever would.
But just 10 days ago, the president called Putin and congratulated him for securing another term even after his national security team gave him briefing material that said, “DO NOT CONGRATULATE.” Trump caught aides off guard by inviting Putin to meet soon, and he did not broach the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter on British soil — the brazen attack that has prompted the Western powers to kick out so many Russian officers.
Two fresh stories offer a revealing window into Trump’s psychology and how he’s been persuaded to take a harder line toward the Kremlin despite his personal reticence to do so:
-- John Hudson, Shane Harris and Josh Dawsey have inside-the-room reporting from the session at which Trump made his decision about how to respond to the poisoning of Skripal: “The three options presented to the president were described as ‘light, medium and heavy’ by one administration official … The ‘light’ option called for expelling roughly 30 spies while leaving the Seattle consulate intact … The ‘medium’ option, which the president ultimately chose, expelled 48 officials at the embassy in Washington and 12 at the U.N. mission in New York and shuttered the Seattle consulate. … U.S. officials declined to spell out the ‘heavy’ option, to avoid previewing steps the president could take in response to Moscow’s retaliation, but one official noted that U.S. counterintelligence is aware of well over 40 Russian spies operating in the United States who were not included in the initial purge.”
The administration official described the internal debate using boxing metaphors: “If you go heavy now and the Russians really retaliate, we would be more limited in what we can do later,” this person said. “With the medium option, you’re throwing a solid punch but withholding a fist. The president was persuaded by that option.”
-- A new report from NBC quotes multiple senior administration officials saying on background that the puzzling divide between Trump's policy decisions and public posture on Russia stems from his stubborn refusal to be seen as appeasing the media or critics who question his silence or kind words for Putin: “Behind the scenes, however, Trump has recently taken a sharper tone on Putin, administration officials said, but the shift seems more a reaction to the Russian leader challenging the president's strength than a new belief that he's an adversary,” per Carol E. Lee, Courtney Kube and Kristen Welker.
A pivotal moment came at the start of this month when Putin, in the Russian equivalent of our State of the Union address, boasted about new nuclear-capable weapons that can bypass any missile defense system. To make his point, he showed an animated video simulating an attack on the United States — including missiles raining down on the part of Florida where Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club is located. That “really got under the president's skin,” a White House official told NBC, prompting him to call up the leaders of France, Germany and the U.K. to say Putin sounded dangerous and the four of them must stick together.
During the same call he congratulated Putin, Trump also told him that he hoped his announcement about the missiles was just rhetoric designed to get reelected. The president noted that he just got $700 billion for defense in the new omnibus spending bill.
“If you want to have an arms race, we can do that,” Trump told Putin, according to NBC. “But I'll win.”
-- A sign of the times: Russia’s new ambassador to the United States is having trouble securing meetings with senior U.S. leaders, who are afraid of appearing too friendly. From Politico’s Burgess Everett: “In a letter to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) earlier this month, Anatoly Antonov asked for help in obtaining meetings with a slew of U.S. lawmakers and officials. … Antonov went on to list 20 top U.S. elected and administration officials that have refused or ignored his requests for meetings. White House chief of staff John Kelly, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Defense Department undersecretary of defense for policy John Rood are all listed as ‘officially’ declining Antonov’s overtures.” The ambassador’s list also included the vice president and several Cabinet members.
-- Some good news: Poisoning victim Yulia Skripal has just come out of critical condition. Her father, Sergei, remains in stable but critical condition. (New York Times)
-- “Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday rebuffed — at least for now — a call from Republican leaders to appoint a second special counsel to look into the FBI’s handling of its most high-profile probes and announced that he has asked the U.S. attorney in Utah to spearhead a broad review,” Matt Zapotosky reports. “He revealed he had named U.S. Attorney John W. Huber to lead a review of the topics that the legislators had requested he explore. Those topics include aspects of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and several matters related to Hillary Clinton and her family’s foundation. … Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz already has been probing aspects of the Clinton email case, and he announced Wednesday that he would review the surveillance of [Carter] Page.”
-- Ted Malloch, who last year claimed he was the president’s pick for E.U. ambassador, was detained for FBI questioning upon arrival to the United States and issued a subpoena to testify before Mueller’s probe. The Guardian’s Stephanie Kirchgaessner reports: “[Malloch] said he was interrogated by the FBI at Boston’s Logan airport on Wednesday following a flight from London and questioned about his involvement in the Trump campaign. In a statement sent to the Guardian, Malloch, who described himself as a policy wonk and defender of Trump, said the FBI also asked him about his relationship with Roger Stone, the Republican strategist, and whether he had ever visited the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where the Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has resided for nearly six years.”
-- Robert Mueller’s prosecutors told Rick Gates last year they didn't need his cooperation against Paul Manafort, his former business partner. Instead, they wanted his help with investigating contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. From CNN’s Katelyn Polantz and Evan Perez: "[Gates] never grew close to Trump, but he had ties with other members of Trump's inner circle, including Manafort and Tom Barrack, a fundraiser and close friend of Trump's. He also developed a reputation for keeping tabs on what others were up to … So while he may not have participated in the Trump Tower meeting with the Russians, he may still have knowledge of the meeting or whether those Russians were ever introduced to Trump himself.”
-- The FBI looked into Trump’s efforts to do business deals in the former Soviet Union years earlier than was previously known, according to the Guardian’s Jon Swaine: “In 2010, a small group of businessmen including a wealthy Russian supporter of Vladimir Putin began working on plans to build a glitzy hotel and entertainment complex with Donald Trump in Riga, the capital of Latvia. … [T]alks with Trump’s company were abandoned after [the Russian] and another of the businessmen were questioned by Latvian authorities as part of a major criminal inquiry there … [T]he FBI later looked into Trump’s interactions with them at Latvia’s request.”
-- Mueller is exploring events at the 2016 Republican National Convention, including how the party's platform was changed to become more pro-Russia, per Reuters. The special counsel’s team is looking into a convention-related event attended by both Sessions and then-Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak.
-- The Senate Judiciary Committee requested communications from two Trump campaign advisers who went on to work in the White House. From Karoun Demirjian: “In a letter to Trump campaign lawyer Ben Ginsberg, Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) requested the ‘responsive emails’ of John Mashburn and Rick Dearborn. Mashburn, who served as policy director for the Trump campaign, now works as deputy Cabinet secretary in the Trump administration, while Dearborn, who joined the campaign after several years as an aide to [Sessions], worked as the president’s deputy chief of staff until announcing his resignation in December.”
-- A GoFundMe page set up to help fired FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe’s legal defense fund raised nearly $300,000 in seven hours. (Reuters)
GET SMART FAST:
- Zachary Cruz, the brother of the Parkland shooting suspect, was sentenced to six months’ probation. He pleaded no contest to trespassing at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High and was forbidden from returning to the school during his probation. (Lindsey Bever and Marwa Eltagouri)
- A new report found the majority of mass violence incidents were preceded by behavior from attackers that worried others. The U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center looked at 28 mass attacks carried out last year and found 4 out of 5 attackers “engaged in communications or exhibited behaviors that caused concern in others.” (Mark Berman)
- Facebook has started fact-checking photos and videos. The effort, meant to combat fake news, was rolled out in France with Agence France-Presse and will soon expand to other countries. (Bloomberg News)
- A battle over a pension fund has divided the Pennsylvania town where Peeps are made. Just Born Quality Confections, which produces the popular Easter candy, wants to block new employees from enrolling in the multi-employer pension previously offered to workers, which could jeopardize funds for retirees. (Damian Paletta)
- Arizona teachers are threatening to strike for a pay increase. The educators, who are among the lowest paid in the nation, are demanding a 20 percent raise and a restoration of school funding to 2008 levels. (Moriah Balingit)
- Adnan Syed, whose case was featured on the podcast “Serial,” had his conviction vacated. An appeals panel ruled Syed should be granted a new trial in the murder and kidnapping case of his former girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. (New York Times)
- Health officials in England reported a super-resistant strain of gonorrhea. According to a case report from Public Health England, a man with the sexually transmitted disease still tested positive after being treated by two common antibiotics. The case follows warning from health officials that the common infection is becoming harder to treat. (Lindsey Bever)
- A California judge ruled coffee companies must carry a cancer warning label. A nonprofit had sued Starbucks and 90 other companies for failing to properly disclose information on acrylamide, a carcinogen produced in the roasting process. In recent years, other health organizations have expressed eased concerns about the effects of coffee, with some even saying it may be beneficial for one’s health. (AP)
-- Many were caught off-guard by the nomination of White House physician Ronny Jackson to be VA secretary — including Jackson himself. Lisa Rein, Seung Min Kim, Emily Wax-Thibodeaux and Josh Dawsey report: “Jackson was taken aback by his nomination, said senior White House officials … After aides gauged his interest in recent days, he hesitated to take on such a big job. But the president continued to push and told his senior staff Monday that the doctor was his top choice. A senior White House official described an informal interview process, without the extensive vetting that typically accompanies a Cabinet selection.”
-- White House Chief of Staff John Kelly “had spoken with David Shulkin by phone Wednesday morning, reassuring the now-former VA secretary that he wouldn’t be fired by tweet that afternoon. Hours later, Kelly had to phone Shulkin again telling him plans had changed,” per Politico’s Lorraine Woellert, Eliana Johnson and Connor O’Brien.
-- That's part of a pattern: Kelly continues to lose standing with Trump, as the president makes more major decisions without asking for his chief's guidance. From Bloomberg News's Jennifer Jacobs: “Kelly wasn’t with the president last week when Trump abruptly decided to oust H.R. McMaster as national security adviser and replace him with John Bolton. Just two people were in the room for that decision: Trump and Bolton. And Kelly is rarely on the line any more when Trump calls foreign leaders. Last week, when Trump spoke with [Putin] days before the U.S. decided to expel dozens of Russian diplomats, Kelly wasn’t on the call.”
A HOPE-LESS WHITE HOUSE:
-- Hope Hicks has officially left the White House, leaving no direct successor to serve as a check on Trump’s impulses. The New York Times’s Katie Rogers and Maggie Haberman report: “From time to time, she advised him on whether an angry Twitter post he wanted to send would be in his best political interests. From time to time, according to a former White House official, she would tell him that it was. … There is a palpable worry among those in the West Wing about who the president will now confide in — and how many other people might be able to occasionally pull him back — now that Ms. Hicks is gone. She is also among the people the staff relied on to bolster flagging morale — one White House official described her departure as a mother leaving her children behind. To cut the tension in a chaotic workplace, Ms. Hicks baked cookies for aides on Valentine’s Day, swapped country music song recommendations and texted her colleagues funny video clips.”
Kelly has told several people he may leave the role of communications director open for now: “But Tony Sayegh, a spokesman for the Treasury Department, is said to be up for consideration for the job, along with Mercedes Schlapp, the director of strategic communications. Another possible choice is Kellyanne Conway, who, crucially, is one of few senior aides able to communicate on Mr. Trump’s wavelength, as Ms. Hicks could. For now, at least, the small office next to the Oval Office, a space reserved for a Trump confidante, will be filled by Dan Scavino, the director of social media … ”
-- Conway’s husband has deleted a string of tweets critical of Trump as his wife is considered for Hicks's role. From CNN’s Jeremy Diamond: “George Conway, a conservative lawyer Trump once considered nominating as solicitor general, deleted several tweets that called attention to Trump's legal woes, his difficulty in finding his next communications director and the White House's later debunked denials of staff shake-ups. Most notably, Conway deleted a tweet that called Trump's denials of reports that later turned out to be true ‘absurd’ and sarcastically noted that ‘people are banging on the doors to be his communications director.’”
-- Several of Trump’s outside advisers have told him he does not need a communications director or even a chief of staff. From CNN’s Kevin Liptak: “Trump has absorbed the advice, but offered little indication whether he's interested in taking it ... He's been warned by other confidants that it's impossible to run the West Wing without a chief of staff. There are no signs Trump is ready to dismiss [Kelly]. But the option of running his White House without a chief of staff has been planted in Trump's mind, and he's not rejected it outright ...”
ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN:
-- “Wooing Saudi Business, Tabloid Mogul Had a Powerful Friend: Trump,” by the New York Times’s Jim Rutenberg, Kate Kelly, Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Mike McIntire: “In July, David J. Pecker, the chairman of the company that owns The National Enquirer, visited his old friend President Trump at the White House. The tabloid publisher took along a special guest, Kacy Grine, a French businessman who advises one of Saudi Arabia’s richest men and sometimes acts as an intermediary between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Western businesses. … Before moving on to dinner with the group, the president had a photographer snap pictures of the guests standing with him behind his desk [in the Oval Office]. Mr. Pecker has long used his media empire to protect Mr. Trump’s image. … The night of the dinner, Mr. Pecker got something from Mr. Trump: an unofficial seal of approval from the White House.”
-- EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt spent much of his first year in Washington living in a townhouse co-owned by the wife of a top energy lobbyist. ABC News’s John Santucci, Matthew Mosk and Stephanie Ebbs report: “The price tag on Pruitt’s rental arrangement is one key question when determining if it constitutes an improper gift, ethics experts [said]. … [The lobbyist, J. Steven Hart,] confirmed … that Pruitt had lived in the flat, which is owned by a limited liability company that links to an address listed to Hart and his wife Vicki Hart, a lobbyist with expertise in the healthcare arena.”
-- Pruitt’s lease allowed him to pay $50 a night for a single bedroom – but only on nights he slept there. Bloomberg’s Jennifer A Dlouhy and Jennifer Jacobs report: “White House officials are growing dismayed about the questions surrounding Pruitt’s living arrangement, including his initial inability to produce any documentation about his lease or his actual payments, according to three officials. The landlord provided EPA officials with a copy of the lease and proof of the payments Pruitt made. … In all, Pruitt paid $6,100 to use the room for roughly six months, according to copies of the checks reviewed by Bloomberg. Those checks show varying amounts paid on sporadic dates -- not a traditional monthly ‘rent payment’ of the same amount each month.”
-- The EPA’s senior counsel for ethics said in a statement the living arrangement was “a routine business transaction and permissible even if from a personal friend.”
-- The new CDC director addressed the agency and vowed to uphold science in his new role. Lena H. Sun reports: “The 66-year-old [Robert Redfield Jr.], a longtime AIDS researcher appointed to the job a week ago, was overcome by emotion twice during his brief remarks and a question-and-answer session. The University of Maryland medical professor had sought the top job at the CDC and the National Institutes of Health for more than a decade. … Several staff members noted his strong embrace of science and said they were especially gratified to hear him say that if the CDC has evidence to support a public health intervention, the intervention should be applied.”
-- Molly Ball interviewed Sessions for a Time Magazine cover story: “The broken relationship [with Trump] has turned the job of a lifetime into an exercise in humiliation. Rumors that Sessions’ neck is on the chopping block are constant … As Sessions and I spoke on [a government] plane, he was headed to Nashville to give a speech to a police chiefs’ convention … All the while, Fox News played on mute above his head, its chyrons questioning whether Sessions was about to be fired.”
The profile describes the A.G. as “the most effective enforcer of the President’s agenda”: “Even if his tenure ends tomorrow, Sessions would leave a legacy that will affect millions of Americans. He has dramatically shifted the orientation of the Justice Department, pulling back from police oversight and civil rights enforcement and pushing a hard-line approach to drugs, gangs and immigration violations. He has cast aside his predecessors’ attempts to rectify inequities in the criminal-justice system in favor of a maximalist approach to prosecuting and jailing criminals. He has rescinded the Obama Administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and reversed its stances on voting rights and transgender rights. … He stepped up deportation orders and sued California over sanctuary cities. He has embraced Trump’s call to impose the death penalty on some drug dealers … Emphasizing treatment for drug addicts isn’t just ineffective, according to Sessions — it’s dangerous.”
THE REST OF TRUMP’S AGENDA:
-- Trump traveled to Ohio to discuss his infrastructure initiative but ended up veering way off script. Philip Rucker reports: “Trump threatened to delay finalizing his renegotiated trade deal with South Korea until after he meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and resolves the nuclear confrontation with Kim’s rogue nation. … Regarding his still-unscheduled upcoming meeting with Kim, Trump said, ‘If it’s no good, we’re walking, and if it’s good, we will embrace it.’ … [H]e zigzagged from his prepared text on infrastructure policy to his thoughts on issues of the day, such as this week’s debut of the remake of ‘Roseanne.’ ‘Look at her ratings!’ the president said of Roseanne Barr, the Trump supporter who is the show’s star.”
-- The administration is abandoning the policy of automatically releasing pregnant immigrants from detention. From CNN’s Tal Kopan: “The change in policy could pave the way for more pregnant women to be held in detention facilities while they await lengthy court proceedings about whether they can stay in the US, facilities that are already decried by critics for tough conditions.”
-- Trump administration officials are debating rolling back Obama-era regulations on federal fuel-efficiency standards despite objections from automakers. Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis report: “The internal negotiations over relaxing carbon-emissions limits for cars and SUVs slated to be sold in model years 2022 to 2025 underscore the challenge officials face in trying to fulfill President Trump’s 2017 promise to ease the regulatory burden on Detroit. Some of the same companies that had pressed for action worry that they will be forced to comply with two standards: the stricter specifications that California imposes on its massive auto market and a separate requirement for the rest of the country.”
MEN BEHAVING BADLY:
-- Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.) retained her chief of staff for three months after learning he left a death threat for a co-worker he previously dated. Elise Viebeck reports: “‘You better f-----g reply to me or I will f-----g kill you,’ Tony Baker said in the May 5, 2016, [voice mail] left for Anna Kain, a former Esty aide Baker had once dated. … According to emails obtained by The Post, Esty found out about the episode within a week. … Baker did not leave for three months. By his last day on Aug. 12, according to documents Esty provided to The Post, he and Esty had co-written a positive recommendation letter he could use in a job search and signed a legal document preventing her from disparaging him or discussing why he left.” In response to the story, Esty said she would improve how she runs her office and reimburse the U.S. Treasury for the roughly $5,000 Baker received in severance.
-- A federal judge denied Stormy Daniels’s request for an expedited jury trial and a deposition from Trump in her case against the president. From Mark Berman and Frances Stead Sellers: “The request for an expedited jury trial and limited discovery — including a deposition of Trump and his personal attorney, Michael Cohen — was deemed ‘premature and must be denied’ because some questions may wind up being answered by a future petition from Trump and Cohen.” But Daniels’s attorney, Michael Avenatti, vowed to refile the motion.
-- Cohen’s lawyer asserted Trump did not know about the $130,000 hush-money payment made to Daniels, which could undermine the adult-film star’s nondisclosure agreement. Aaron Blake explains: “Schwartz argued on CNN that the NDA would still be valid because Trump was merely a third-party beneficiary, but some experts are dubious. … David Super, a law professor at Georgetown University, said Schwartz's admission was ‘amazing’ and could even lead to legal jeopardy. ‘If true, that opens up Cohen and anyone else involved in soliciting the agreement to fraud charges because the agreement certainly purports to make commitments, beyond the money, that only Trump could make,’ Super said.”
-- John Kricfalusi, the creator of the cartoon “Ren & Stimpy,” was accused of preying on his underage fans. BuzzFeed News’s Ariane Lange writes: “In the summer of 1997, before [Robyn Byrd’s] senior year of high school, [Kricfalusi] flew her to Los Angeles again, where Byrd had an internship at Spumco, Kricfalusi’s studio, and lived with him as his 16-year-old girlfriend and intern. After finishing her senior year in Tucson, the tiny, dark-haired girl moved in with Kricfalusi permanently at age 17. She told herself that Kricfalusi was helping to launch her career; in the end, she fled animation to get away from him.” The animator confirmed the relationship through an attorney’s statement reading, in part, “For a brief time, 25 years ago, he had a 16-year-old girlfriend. Over the years John struggled with what were eventually diagnosed mental illnesses in 2008.”
-- Fox News host Laura Ingraham apologized after seven companies announced they would pull ads from her show because she taunted Parkland survivor David Hogg for being rejected by several colleges. Amy B Wang, Allyson Chiu and Tracy Jan report: “[Hogg] mustered the collective power of social media — and his more than 630,000 Twitter followers — and urged them to ‘tweet away’ at her top sponsors to call on them to boycott her TV show, ‘The Ingraham Angle.’ Within 24 hours, several companies responded — among them the pet food brand Nutrish and the home goods retailer Wayfair — announcing over Twitter and in media interviews that they would pull their ads from Ingraham’s show.”
Hogg did not accept the apology:
-- Some Parkland survivors are considering delaying college to focus on their activism. The New York Times’s Audra D. S. Burch reports: “Samantha Fuentes, who was wounded by a bullet and shrapnel in the Parkland attack, is contemplating sitting out the first semester or even the full year to continue the campaign to promote more rigorous gun safety laws. ‘The truth is, us kids, we just want to be the voice for the people we lost, or for people who don’t think they have a voice,’ said Ms. Fuentes, who would like to eventually become an elementary schoolteacher. … Hogg said he was leaning toward taking a gap year to focus on the midterm elections, hoping to rally young voters and target politicians supported by the National Rifle Association.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
The former director of the CIA criticized Trump's pick to lead VA:
A reporter for the New York Times commented on Trump's affinity for advisers who “look the part”:
Barack Obama's former chief strategist analyzed reports that outside advisers have told Trump he doesn't need a chief of staff:
A writer for the New Yorker noted this of how the Trump Organization was run:
A House Democrat responded to reports of Trump trying to silence aides about anti-Russia moves:
Republican lawmakers applauded Trump's infrastructure speech:
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) criticized a “balanced-budget amendment” being proposed by House Republicans as a purely political symbol:
One of Al Franken's best friends, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, attacked Kirsten Gillibrand for leading the charge to push him out of the Senate:
A Times reporter pushed back:
Women of the Senate pushed for change to the chamber's process for addressing sexual harassment complaints:
Americans predicted Trump's chances of winning reelection:
But a CNN anchor provided this reality check:
Lawmakers recognized National Vietnam Veterans Day:
A Senate Democrat looked back at the Women's March:
And the District's cherry blossoms season has begun:
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- Politico, “Federal workers spill on life in Trump’s Washington,” by Andrew Restuccia: “One Health and Human Services employee swore off online dating after potential suitors repeatedly got upset that he worked for the Trump administration. An Education Department fellow eagerly returned to teaching after listening to Betsy DeVos bash public schools. And one Environmental Protection Agency official said staffers are distraught at having to personally dismantle regulations they spent years crafting. This is Donald Trump’s government 14 months into his presidency.”
-- BuzzFeed News, “Growth At Any Cost: Top Facebook Executive Defended Data Collection In 2016 Memo — And Warned That Facebook Could Get People Killed,” by Ryan Mac, Charlie Warzel and Alex Kantrowitz: “‘So we connect more people,’ [VP Andrew Bosworth] wrote in [one] section of the memo. ‘That can be bad if they make it negative. Maybe it costs someone a life by exposing someone to bullies. Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools.’ … The Bosworth memo reveals the extent to which Facebook’s leadership understood the physical and social risks the platform’s products carried — even as the company downplayed those risks in public. It suggests that senior executives had deep qualms about conduct that they are now seeking to defend.”
-- Politico Magazine, “How the Bernie Wing Won the Democratic Primaries,” by Charlie Mahtesian: “Even though only two states have actually voted so far this primary election season — Texas, a red-state redoubt, and Illinois, a blue-state stronghold — the battle for supremacy this primary season is all but complete. In state after state, the left is proving to be the animating force in Democratic primaries, producing a surge of candidates who are forcefully driving the party toward a more liberal orientation on nearly every issue.”
-- New York Times, “Kathy Griffin Is Returning to TV, and Still Taking On Trump,” by Dave Itzkoff: “Almost a year after Kathy Griffin appeared in a widely condemned photograph that depicted her holding the severed head of President Trump, this comedian and actress is making a TV comeback of sorts. Ms. Griffin will appear on Tuesday in a special episode of the Comedy Central series ‘The President Show,’ in which she will play Kellyanne Conway, the president’s counselor, the network announced on Thursday. ‘I am kicking the hornet’s nest, as much as I can,’ Ms. Griffin said … ”
HOT ON THE LEFT
“Milo Yiannopoulos' charity for 'white boys' winds down as mystery remains over the $100,000 raised,” from NBC News: “A charity meant to provide college scholarships for white men started by Milo Yiannopoulos, self-described libertarian and professional internet troll, has shuttered its operations, Yiannopoulos confirmed to NBC News. After two years and multiple scandals that include allegations from former employees of mismanagement, the most basic details of the $100,000 Privilege Grant Foundation fund — its donations, disbursements, and scholarship winners — remain a mystery.” Yiannopoulos said in a statement, “As a gay man happily married to an African-American, I got tired of explaining to my husband why people on the TV kept calling me a racist.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT
“U.S. Jobless Claims Decline to Lowest Level Since January 1973,” from Bloomberg News: “U.S. filings for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week to the lowest level since January 1973, further evidence that the labor market remains tight, Labor Department figures showed Thursday. … Jobless claims decreased by 12k to 215k[.] … Applications for jobless benefits below the 300,000 tally are typically considered consistent with a healthy labor market. Other aspects of the job market remain robust, with payrolls continuing to exceed expectations and an unemployment rate near the lowest since late 2000. Steady employment will help to sustain consumer spending, the biggest part of the economy.”
Trump and Pence have no publicly scheduled events today.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“We’re getting that sucker built!” Trump said of the border wall during his Ohio speech. “That’s what I do. I build. I was always very good at building. It was my best thing. I think better than being president, I was always very good at building.” (Philip Rucker)
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- Washingtonians will see rain and perhaps even thunder today. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Several batches of rain may move through, with the heaviest and longest lasting perhaps being the early morning batch. Thunder is even possible. While heavier rain should clear after rush hour, it may snarl some things during your morning commute. Allow extra time, and keep an umbrella handy for most of the day. While shower chances do lower by sunset, we can’t rule out more showers before then. … [C]ooler air is trickling in, but not before midday high temperatures in the low-to-mid 60s.”
-- The Capitals clinched their place in the playoffs thanks to the Penguins’ win against the Devils. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)
-- The Wizards lost to the Pistons 103-92. (Candace Buckner)
-- Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) visited a Richmond middle school to pitch Medicaid expansion. From Laura Vozzella: “If a school seemed like an odd venue for a health-care discussion, that was quickly cleared up. The governor and former governor … said Virginia would have more money for K-12 education and many other priorities if the state expands its Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act. That’s because the federal government would pick up certain health-care costs the state now pays, freeing up $421 million over two years that could be spent elsewhere … ”
-- Republican lawmakers in Virginia who have backed the expansion say the backlash has been much milder than they expected, Laura reports. Despite negative ads from conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity, the Republicans say they have not heard criticism from their constituents.
-- A group of Howard University students occupied an administration building in response to the school’s recent financial aid scandal. (Sarah Larimer and Danielle Douglas-Gabriel)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Stephen Colbert had Michael Bolton sign the policy positions of John Bolton:
The secretary of defense met the new national security adviser:
The Post examined Trump's past depositions for clues as to how he'll respond to current legal requests:
A group of veterans are running for Congress as Democrats this year:
Al Sharpton delivered a eulogy at the funeral of Stephon Clark, the unarmed black man shot at least 20 times by police in his backyard: