With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve.

THE BIG IDEA: President Trump said in an interview that aired on Fox News this morning that “the NFL owners did the right thing” by altering the league’s national anthem policy. Football players will no longer be required to appear on the field when the anthem plays before games, but teams and the league will now be allowed to impose discipline for those who protest publicly during the song.

“I don’t think people should be staying in the locker rooms, but still I think it’s good,” Trump said on “Fox & Friends.” “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem!”

The president added that athletes who don’t stand “shouldn’t be playing.”

“Maybe they shouldn’t be in the country,” he mused.

Even by Trump standards, that’s a truly jarring statement from the president of the United States.

Vice President Pence, who went to an NFL game last season just so he could make a scene of walking out in disgust after players knelt during the anthem, tweeted “#Winning” with an image of the American flag.

The president’s son added:

-- The league’s new policy, unveiled publicly yesterday in Atlanta, is a compromise that’s not as punitive toward the players as earlier drafts, but it nonetheless represents some of the richest men in the country caving to political pressure placed upon them by Trump. After initially standing in solidarity with their players when Trump reignited the controversy around an issue that had moved to the back burner, the owners came to capitulate to the power of the presidential bully pulpit. Attendance and viewership dropped off after Trump called for his supporters to boycott games.

-- So this is a political win for Trump. But it can also be viewed as a Pyrrhic victory in the sense that it underscores the extent to which the president has divided Americans and exacerbated preexisting tensions.

Most presidents see unifying the country as one of their core job responsibilities. Not this one. He seized on the wedge issue almost by accident last year when he mentioned it as an aside during a meandering speech at a rally in Huntsville, Ala. The crowd loved his criticism of the protesters, and his suggestion that they anyone who disrespects the flag should be fired. He knew he was definitely onto something when he watched the cable coverage on the flight home.

-- The fact the NFL backed down will embolden Trump and make him feel more confident in his political instincts.

-- But consider how the issue divides Americans along racial, partisan, ethnic and generational divides. In a Washington Post-Kaiser survey conducted earlier this year, 42 percent of U.S. adults said it is sometimes appropriate to protest by kneeling during the anthem while 53 percent said it is “never appropriate.”

  • “By a 69 percent to 22 percent margin, more African Americans said protests of the anthem were acceptable than not. Yet over half of white (58 percent) and Hispanic adults (54 percent) said anthem protests are never appropriate,” pollsters Scott Clement and Emily Guskin note.
  • “Among adults ages 50 and older, 63 percent say kneeling during the anthem is never appropriate, compared with 50 percent among those ages 30-49 and 38 percent of people ages 18-29. Among this youngest group, a 57 percent majority say anthem protests are appropriate.”
  • While 86 percent of Republicans said it’s never appropriate to kneel, 66 percent of Democrats said it’s sometimes appropriate.

-- Post sports columnist Jerry Brewer faults the NFL for resorting to “Trump-pacifying language” in its announcement. The phrase “respect for the flag and the anthem” is used four times. The words “social justice” are used just once.

“The protesting players have spent months trying to dispel the idea that their protests are indicative of a lack of respect for the country, but what does the NFL do when given the opportunity to write a thoughtful policy statement? It goes back to that tired narrative, which makes it seem as if the players are protesting merely for the sake of protesting,” Brewer notes. “The league could have used this news event to show what it had learned amid all the fuss and prove the power of compassionate discourse. Instead, it chose to talk about ‘respect,’ as if giving a shout-out to Trump, the man who hijacked the issue and turned it into an oversimplified referendum on patriotism.

You can go back 75 years and read the relevant words of Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. In 1943, he wrote for a 6-3 majority that the state could not make students salute the flag: ‘To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous, instead of a compulsory routine, is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds. We can have intellectual individualism and the rich cultural diversities that we owe to exceptional minds only at the price of occasional eccentricity and abnormal attitudes.’

“The athletes must adhere to league policies, and most of them will follow this latest one. This is what’s best for the NFL’s multibillion-dollar monopoly, and the players make millions from it, too. So on the surface, the issue will get shoved out of the limelight. For now, at least. But if this has been a window into how the NFL tries to solve complicated matters, you should definitely fear for its dwindling status as an invincible institution.”

-- “If you have to threaten someone into showing respect, whatever they end up showing isn’t respect but a simulation of it for someone else’s consumption,” argues columnist Elizabeth Bruenig. “Kneeling isn’t a sign of disrespect, and nobody brought up in a country with the faintest hint of Christian culture actually thinks it is. … Kneeling during the anthem was always a kind of plea — for an America that works the way the civics textbooks say it does. But making the plea raises the fact that America doesn’t, in fact, function according to its founding story … Some are protected more than others, and some better than others, and some at the expense of others, and it isn’t clear that our representative bodies are interested in doing anything about it. All Colin Kaepernick and others ever did was ask.”

The moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press” added:

The American Civil Liberties Union went further:

-- Los Angeles Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke has a different take. He calls it “a decent compromise to an indecently messy situation”: “The NFL is a private corporation that has decided players protesting the national anthem, in public, while in uniform, is bad for business. Remove the rhetoric, examine the bottom line and understand that this divisive issue is actually about the one simple thing that everyone understands: It's all business.”

-- The NFL owners voted 31-0 in favor of the new policy. San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York abstained.

New York Jets Chairman Christopher Johnson said he “seriously struggled” with his decision and announced afterward that he’ll personally pay the fines imposed by the league on any of his players who continue to protest. He told Newsday that no members of the Jets organization will suffer “repercussions” for being “on the front lines” of “some big, complicated issues that we’re all struggling with.” He added that he prefers if players stand, but: “I understand if they felt the need to protest.” This is notable because Johnson is the younger brother of Jets owner Woody Johnson, who temporarily turned over control of the team to become Trump’s ambassador to the United Kingdom.

-- The NFL Players Association complained it was not consulted before the announcement. Union leaders said they will challenge the new rule if they decide it violates their collective bargaining agreement.

-- Some of the players are angry. Consider these two reactions from stars on the Philadelphia Eagles. From safety Malcolm Jenkins:

Defensive lineman Chris Long said the new policy “is not patriotism” and predicted “it’s only going to get messier.”

Both Jenkins and Long have previously said they will not join their teammates at the White House on June 5 to celebrate their Super Bowl win because they don’t want to appear with Trump.

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- In this morning's interview with "Fox & Friends," Trump said history would look kindly on his treatment of former FBI director James Comey, whose ouster led to the appointment of a special counsel to examine Russian influence in the 2016 election. “I think of the things that I’ve done for the country, the firing of James Comey is going to go down as a very good thing,” the president told Brian Kilmeade, saying the former FBI director was a “rotten apple” in that organization. “I think of the things that I’ve done for the country, the firing of James Comey is going to go down as a very good thing.”

-- The president is weighing a 25 percent tax on imported cars in a bid to force concessions in negotiations about the future of NAFTA. David J. Lynch and Josh Dawsey report: “Officials may cite national security grounds to justify [it] … Trump used the same provision of U.S. trade law in March when he called for tariffs on foreign-made steel and aluminum. … The threat to impose an import tax on cars was seen as an attempt to press Mexican officials to accept a U.S. demand for a higher percentage of auto content to be made in American factories.”

-- North Korea threatened to reconsider Kim Jong Un’s participation in a summit with Trump next month, saying it is up to the U.S. whether the two countries meet at a table or in a “nuclear showdown.” Anna Fifield reports: “The punchy statement comes a day after Trump suggested there was a ‘substantial chance’ that he would postpone or cancel the summit [if] North Korea did not meet ‘certain conditions,’ without elaborating on what those conditions were. A close aide to Kim unleashed a torrent of invective against the Trump administration Thursday morning, calling [Mike Pence] a ‘political dummy’ for remarks he made to Fox News on Monday.” 

Despite the brinkmanship and squabbling, North Korea is expected to still blow up one of its nuclear testing sites on Thursday afternoon — a mostly symbolic gesture intended to show seriousness about making peace. “The North Korean regime took a group of foreign journalists to the Punggye-ri nuclear testing site in the mountainous northeast of the country to document the closure of the site. However, it did not allow in any experts, making it difficult to assess what, exactly, they had done,” Anna adds.

Trump continued to waffle on whether there would be a summit in the Fox interview: “We have certain conditions. We’ll see what happens. But there’s a good chance," he said, adding that a phase-in of denuclearization in North Korea “may be a little bit necessary.”

-- The Washington Capitals are heading to the Stanley Cup Finals after extinguishing the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-0 in Game 7 of the conference championship. Alex Ovechkin scored a minute into the game. Andre Burakovsky got two more goals in the second period and then the Caps scored on an empty net at the end. Game 1 of the finals is next Monday.

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Milwaukee police released body camera footage from the arrest of NBA rookie Sterling Brown, who was thrown to the ground and tased over a routine parking violation in January. Brown sharply criticized officers for their “attempt at police intimidation, followed by the unlawful use of physical force,” and said he plans to file a civil rights lawsuit. (Cindy Boren and Des Bieler)
  2. Cameras can also exonerate cops: A 37-year-old woman from Texas said after being charged with a DWI this weekend that a state trooper sexually assaulted her. Her story went viral on social media, promoted by civil rights activists. Then the Texas authorities released two hours of body camera footage undercutting her claims. (Marwa Eltagouri)
  3. A federal judge ruled that Trump cannot block Twitter followers. In a 75-page decision, Naomi Buchwald said the president uses the social media site as a “public forum” for governmental business, which has First Amendment implications. (Brian Fung and Hamza Shaban)
  4. Three Ebola patients in Congo escaped a hospital isolation ward and reentered the general population, which could fuel the spread of the deadly outbreak in an urban area. (Siobhán O'Grady)
  5. A Wyoming wildlife commission voted unanimously to approve the state’s first grizzly bear hunt in more than four decades, a proposal that could lead to the killing of as many as 22 bears just one year after Yellowstone-area grizzlies were removed from the endangered species list. The decision, which opens the door for the largest grizzly hunt in the Lower 48 and the state’s first since 1974, marks a major milestone in a divisive debate over protections for one the West’s most iconic animals. (Karin Brulliard)
  6. An appeals court upheld a ruling against California’s assisted suicide law, which was put on hold last week because a judge said it was improperly passed during a special legislative session. (NPR)
  7. A robot submarine discovered a shipwreck from 1708 off the coast of Colombia with booty that’s worth billions of dollars. (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)
  8. A Minnesota couple’s dream fishing trip to Iceland turned tragic, after one of them was swept into an icy lake, and the other jumped in to try to help. Both were eventually pulled from the water, but they could not be resuscitated. (Lindsey Bever)
  9. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the star of “Veep,” will receive the Kennedy Center’s 2018 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. (Sonia Rao)

THERE'S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- “Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, was notified Wednesday that he has been granted a permanent security clearance to view top-secret material — an indication that he may no longer be under scrutiny by the special counsel, who had been investigating his foreign contacts and other activities,” per Philip Rucker, Carol D. Leonnig, Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett.

Last month, Kushner sat for about six hours of questioning by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team on a wide range of topics, including his meetings with foreign officials during Trump’s transition and Trump’s firing of FBI Director James B. Comey, according to Abbe Lowell, Kushner’s attorney.

Kushner’s permanent clearance was granted by career White House and intelligence officials after the completion of his FBI background check, according to a person familiar with the matter … Current and former law enforcement officials said it would be very unusual for someone to get a full security clearance if there were an ongoing criminal investigation that had the potential to result in charges for that person.”

-- A federal judge agreed to begin the process of preparing to sentence George Papadopoulos, a former adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign. Rosalind Helderman reports: “Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in October to lying to the FBI about Russian contacts during the campaign and has been cooperating with the investigation. In the filing Wednesday, prosecutors with the special counsel’s office asked the judge to refer Papadopoulos’s case to U.S. probation officials to prepare a pre-sentencing report — the first step to bringing his case to a close. They indicated that they would update the court on that process on June 22. Prosecutors’ willingness to start the sentencing process for Papadopoulos may be a sign that their need of assistance from the young oil and gas consultant is coming to a close.”

-- “Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, received a secret payment of at least $400,000 ... to fix talks between the Ukrainian president and President Trump, according to sources in Kiev close to those involved,” the BBC’s Paul Wood reports. “The payment was arranged by intermediaries acting for Ukraine's leader, Petro Poroshenko, the sources said, though Mr Cohen was not registered as a representative of Ukraine as required by US law. Mr Cohen denies the allegation. The meeting at the White House was last June. Shortly after the Ukrainian president returned home, his country's anti-corruption agency stopped its investigation into Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort. A high-ranking Ukrainian intelligence officer in Mr Poroshenko's administration described what happened before the visit to the White House. Mr Cohen was brought in, he said, because Ukraine's registered lobbyists and embassy in Washington DC could get Mr Poroshenko little more than a brief photo-op with Mr Trump. Mr Poroshenko needed something that could be portrayed as ‘talks.’”

INVESTIGATING THE INVESTIGATORS:

-- Relenting to Democratic criticism that the White House is politicizing intelligence gathering, the Trump administration agreed last night to brief a bipartisan group of lawmakers in addition to two House Republicans about the FBI’s confidential intelligence source in the Russia investigation. From CNN: “The Justice Department announced Wednesday evening that it will hold back-to-back meetings on Thursday, one for House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes and Oversight Chair Trey Gowdy and another immediately after for the bipartisan ‘Gang of Eight’ and Gowdy. The ‘Gang of Eight’ consists of the top Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate intelligence committee as well as congressional leaders from both parties.” Initially, the White House was adamant that only Republicans would get the briefing.

-- In a reversal, White House chief of staff John Kelly will attend the two briefings. Despite previous White House assurances that no one from Trump’s team would be at the briefing, Kelly’s presence ensures that Trump “will have a high-level emissary there for a discussion of sensitive evidence connected to his associates," Politico’s Kyle Cheney reports.

-- The Post’s Editorial Board: “If Republicans want to uncover FBI misconduct, they sure aren’t acting like it.

-- A winery partially owned by Nunes, the California Republican, was sued after a 2015 event which allegedly involved a yacht, cocaine and prostitutes. The Fresno Bee’s Mackenzie Mays reports: “The guests aboard the yacht that night — described in [a] 2016 lawsuit as 25 of the Napa Valley-based winery’s top investors, all men — were openly using what appeared to be cocaine and ‘drawing straws’ for which sex worker to hire, according to the lawsuit. [When a female employee] called the winery seeking help … a higher-up employee told her to ‘lie low’ to avoid harassment, the lawsuit says. When the cruise ended, the men ‘lined the prostitutes up on the deck of the yacht, reviewed out loud and in detail the sexual services performed and paid them in front of Plaintiff,’ according to the lawsuit. … The winery is owned by Robin Baggett, a major benefactor of Cal Poly, and its investors include his friend Rep. Devin Nunes. … It's unclear how much of Alpha Omega Nunes owns, if he was aware of the lawsuit or was affiliated with the fundraiser.”

-- Nunes attacked the paper:

WHAT THE PRESIDENT IS THINKING:

-- “Trump has branded his latest attempt to discredit the special counsel’s Russia investigation as ‘spygate,’” the AP’s Mary Clare Jalonick and Jonathan Lemire report. “Trump told one ally this week that he wanted ‘to brand’ the informant a ‘spy,’ believing the more nefarious term would resonate more in the media and with the public. He went on to debut the term ‘Spygate’ on Wednesday, despite its previous associations with a 2007 NFL scandal over videotaping coaches.”

-- “Trump has begun telling allies that he thinks Democrats would overplay their hand if they tried to impeach him — and has begun asking confidants and associates how likely they think an impeachment would be,” Sean Sullivan, David Weigel and Josh Dawsey report. “One senior White House official said the president has mentioned the ‘Trump Derangement Syndrome’ — the conservative argument that Democrats are so against Trump that they view everything he does as a scandal. ‘He is not afraid to mention the word,’ said one adviser who frequently speaks to him…

On Wednesday, the left-leaning watchdog organization Media Matters compiled information on all 487 segments that Fox News’s Sean Hannity, who speaks regularly to the president, had run about the Mueller investigation. Thirty-eight percent of segments pivoted the discussion to debunked accusations that Hillary Clinton’s State Department gave a sweetheart deal to a Russian-Canadian uranium company. Another 29 percent of Hannity’s segments accused Mueller’s team of ‘conflicts of interest,’ a theme the president has echoed repeatedly.”

-- Rudy Giuliani said he would prefer Trump sit for an interview with Mueller — reversing course from a Wall Street Journal interview just 24 hours earlier. “I guess I’d rather do the interview. It gets it over with it, it makes my client happy,” he told Josh Dawsey. “The safe course you hear every lawyer say is don’t do the interview, and that’s easy to say in the abstract. That’s much harder when you have a client who is the president of the United States and wants to be interviewed.” The former New York mayor said the president seesaws on whether he wants to do it. “There have been a few days where he says, ‘maybe you guys are right,’" Giuliani said. “Then he goes right back to, ‘why shouldn’t I?'" 

Giuliani added that he is concerned the president will become a target or that the interview will be a perjury trap because the “truth is relative.” He added that the president’s legal team continues to try to set limitations on an interview, including the duration and questions posed. “They may have a different version of the truth than we do,” Giuliani said.

The president's lawyer also said Trump is “unlikely” to make changes at the Justice Department and has “no intention” of ousting Mueller, Rod Rosenstein or Jeff Sessions. “I don’t think he is going to make changes. I wouldn’t advise it,” he said. “Before I was his lawyer, more of his political adviser, we might talk about it. We don’t talk about it at all now.”

VLADIMIR PUTIN IS NOT MESSING AROUND:

-- “A Dutch-led international team of investigators said Thursday that a missile that downed a Malaysian Airlines jetliner over eastern Ukraine in 2014 came from the Russian military, opening the possibility that Dutch prosecutors could sue the Kremlin in connection with the attack that killed all 298 on board,” Michael Birnbaum reports. “The long-running inquiry already established that a Russian-made Buk antiaircraft missile downed flight MH17, but it had not previously made a direct link to the Russian military. The Kremlin has always denied involvement in the incident. Criminal charges against the Russian military or Russia’s government would likely exacerbate tensions between the Kremlin and the West even further, implicating Russian officials in the death of European tourists who were on their way to Kuala Lumpur.”

-- “Russia will try again this fall. Congress doesn’t seem to care,” by Karen Tumulty: “When top intelligence officials went to Capitol Hill one morning this week to give House members a classified briefing on the security of the upcoming elections, only 40 or so bothered to show up. In other words, 9 out of 10 lawmakers thought they had better things to do than listen to an assessment of threats to the integrity of a closely contested midterm that is less than six months away. ‘Well, it was at 8 o’clock,’ Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) said. The handful who attended did not come away reassured that much is being done to harden defenses and prevent a repeat of what happened in 2016, when Russian hackers made an effort to infiltrate voter-registration files and balloting sites in 21 states.”

-- Our Cybersecurity 202 asked 100 security experts — a panel from across government, academia and the private sector — whether state election systems are sufficiently protected against cyberthreats. Ninety-five percent of survey respondents said no.

-- U.S. law enforcement is trying to seize control of a network of hundreds of thousands of wireless routers and other devices infected by malicious software and under the control of a Russian hacking group, Derek Hawkins reports in this morning's Cybersecurity 202. “In a statement issued late Wednesday, the Justice Department said the FBI had received a court order to seize a domain at the core of the massive botnet, which would allow the government to protect victims by redirecting the malware to an FBI-controlled server. The DOJ attributed the hacking campaign to the group known as Sofacy, also known as Fancy Bear. While the statement did not explicitly name Russia, Fancy Bear is the Russian military-linked group that breached the Democratic National Committee in the presidential election.”

-- Federal agencies are struggling to comply with a law banning Kaspersky Lab software from U.S. government networks by October, the Daily Beast reports: “Multiple divisions of the U.S. government are confronting the reality that code written by the Moscow-based security company is embedded deep within American infrastructure, in routers, firewalls, and other hardware — and nobody is certain how to get rid of it. ‘It’s messy, and it’s going to take way longer than a year,’ said one U.S. official. ‘Congress didn’t give anyone money to replace these devices, and the budget had no wiggle-room to begin with.’”

-- Yulia Skripal, the daughter of the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, spoke for the first time since a Russian-linked nerve agent nearly killed them in Salisbury. “We are so lucky to have both survived this attempted assassination,” said Yulia, who was in a coma for 20 days following the attack. Both she and her father have been released from the hospital and are now under the protection of U.K. authorities. (BuzzFeed News)

-- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged — only after prodding from lawmakers on the House Foreign Affairs Committee — that he backs the finding by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential campaign to hurt Clinton and ultimately help Trump. (Bloomberg News)

CHECKING CHINA:

-- The Pentagon disinvited China from participating in a major naval exercise, signaling growing U.S. anger over Beijing’s expanded militarization in disputed areas of the South China Sea. Missy Ryan reports: “A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Christopher Logan, said the Defense Department reversed an earlier invitation to the Chinese navy to participate in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) drills, biennial naval exercises that involve more than two dozen nations, over Beijing’s decision to place anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles and electronic jammers on the contested Spratly Islands. China has also landed bomber aircraft at Woody Island, farther to the north in the disputed Paracel Islands."

-- The State Department issued a warning to U.S. citizens in China after a government employee in Guangzhou reported unusual “sensations of sound and pressure” and was diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury — an incident that resembled the string of “sonic attacks” on U.S. diplomats in Cuba. The State Department also said it will dispatch a medical team to China next week to conduct baseline medical evaluations of all employees. (Emily Rauhala and Carol Morello)

-- “Sen. Marco Rubio has emerged as one of the loudest Republican critics of Trump’s policies on China, the latest in a series of splits with party leadership by the Florida lawmaker,” Sean Sullivan and John Wagner report. “For the fourth day in a row, Rubio took to Twitter on Wednesday to argue that China was besting the Trump administration in critical negotiations. He has used an assortment of hashtags to take aim at a developing deal to free a Chinese telecommunications firm from punitive action. Some, such as ‘#NotWinning,’ play off the president’s signature catchphrases.

We’ve seen this movie before: “During Trump’s presidency, Rubio has strayed from party leaders a few times, including on gun laws, taxes and Trump’s first pick for secretary of state. But he has backed down from many of those challenges and fallen in line, raising questions about where his latest show of defiance will lead. Like other ambitious Republicans in the Trump era, Rubio is looking for a way to craft his own, distinct image and sphere of influence in the party. Friends and associates say they believe the 46-year-old Rubio might wage a second presidential bid.”

THE IMMIGRATION WARS:

-- “House GOP holds last-ditch immigration talks as showdown looms,” by Mike DeBonis: “House Republican leaders have at least temporarily blunted an internal rebellion to force votes next month on protecting young undocumented immigrants from deportation while they negotiate with the GOP renegades on an alternate path forward. But with conservatives and moderates far apart on crucial provisions, there was little sign Wednesday that the warring factions would be able to reach a workable agreement on a compromise immigration bill.

Republicans spent more than an hour in (Paul) Ryan’s office Wednesday trying to forge a solution, with plans to reconvene on Thursday. The backdrop for the negotiations is months of failed internal GOP talks — dating to last August, when Trump announced he was canceling DACA — aimed at assembling a Republican-only immigration bill that could win the necessary 218 votes to pass the House. That has so far proved to be impossible, though negotiators acknowledge the discharge petition has forced them to give it one last go.”

Another vulnerable Republican signed the discharge petition yesterday: Rep. Erik Paulsen of Minnesota. Four more GOP signatures are necessary, should all 193 Democrats sign: “The proponents had informally aimed to complete the petition by Thursday, when Congress is set to leave Washington for a week-long recess, which would force votes on June 25 — one of a limited number of days this year when discharged measures can be considered under House rules. But a Democrat who is working closely with the Republicans leading the effort said GOP leaders had succeeded in slowing down the push.It’s become tougher,’ said Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.). ‘We continue to be optimistic that we’ll get there, but it’s hard — it’s hard to get to 25 or 26 [Republicans]. ... Leadership’s working them to try to keep them from signing.’” (I wrote a Big Idea last week about how this issue is tearing Republicans apart.)

-- It might not matter as Trump doesn't seem on board with the effort (for now), per his Fox interview this morning. “Unless it improves a wall, and I mean a wall, a real wall, and unless it improves very strong border security, there’ll be no approvals from me ... There are bills going through, I’m watching one or two of them. We’ll see what happens.”

-- Kevin Schaul and Kevin Uhrmacher made a cool infographic that looks at all 21 House Republicans who have signed the discharge petition and what motivated them. Each of the lawmakers is placed into one of three categories: They represent heavily Hispanic districts. They face very competitive reelections or are retiring. They’re acting on behalf of farmers who need Hispanics to work their fields.

-- “Civil rights groups slammed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for saying that schools can decide whether to report undocumented students to immigration enforcement officials, saying her statements conflict with the law and could raise fears among immigrant students,” Moriah Balingit reports. “DeVos’s answers came during testimony before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who was at one time undocumented, pressed the secretary for her positions on immigration enforcement. … ‘Sir, I think that’s a school decision,’ DeVos responded. ‘That’s a local community decision. And again, I refer to the fact that we have laws and we also are compassionate, and I urge this body to do its job and address or clarify where there is confusion around this.’”

Here’s the truth: “The Supreme Court made clear in Plyler v. Doe that public schools have a constitutional obligation to provide schooling for children, regardless of immigration status. That means schools also cannot enforce measures that would deter undocumented children from registering. They cannot ask about immigration status.”

-- Trump and his top aides repeatedly warned about the dangers of unaccompanied migrant children on Wednesday, arguing that they could potentially expose the nation to gang crime. “They look so innocent,” Trump said of the children. “They’re not innocent!” Seung Min Kim reports: “Immigrant advocates have long said that the children, primarily from Central America, are fleeing violence in their home countries and seeking safe harbor in the United States. But the Trump administration has used their plight to justify cracking down on policies that allow these migrants to be released and obtain hearings before immigration judges, rather than being deported immediately. ‘We have the worst immigration laws of any country, anywhere in the world,’ Trump said at [an event in New York.] ‘They exploited the loopholes in our laws to enter the country as unaccompanied alien minors.’

Other federal statistics paint a somewhat different tale. From October 2011 until June of last year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials arrested about 5,000 individuals with confirmed or suspected gang ties, according to congressional testimony from the agency’s acting chief, Carla Provost, in June. Of the 5,000 figure, 159 were unaccompanied minors, Provost testified, and 56 were suspected or confirmed to have ties with MS-13.”

-- Meanwhile, dozens of undocumented immigrants were found inside the trailer of an 18-wheeler truck Tuesday night in South Texas, less than 50 miles from the border with Mexico. Kristine Phillips reports: “The 86 people, including four unaccompanied children, ranged in age from 3-years-old to 59. Two suspected smugglers were arrested, authorities said Wednesday. The immigrants were ‘packed like sardines’ inside the refrigerated trailer, said Frank Torres, emergency medical services manager for Willacy County. It was also carrying several loads of avocados.”

THE REST OF THE AGENDA:

-- The Senate gave overwhelming approval to a massive bill that expands access for veterans to private doctors at taxpayer expense, sending Trump a victory that helps cement one of his biggest campaign promises. Lisa Rein reports: “The VA Mission Act, which cleared the Senate by a vote of 92 to 5 and the House by a wide margin last week, was expected to reach the president’s desk as soon as Memorial Day. The $55 billion package makes a five-year commitment to addressing shortcomings in the country’s largest health system, which still struggles with delays after a 2014 scandal in which VA employees were found to have fudged patient wait lists.”

-- Congress is moving closer to revamping its laws on sexual harassment and other workplace misconduct after Senate negotiators unveiled a compromise plan that would prohibit controversial taxpayer-funded settlements. Paul Kane reports: “Under the new proposal, lawmakers would be personally liable for any settlements from their own misconduct, similar to the version passed by the House in February, and it would eliminate the cumbersome, 90-day process that alleged staff victims currently have to undergo before an administrative hearing. … The new proposal does not require those lawmakers who used taxpayer funds previously to repay the funds, according to congressional aides. … House leaders, who have been briefed on the small differences from their legislation, are reviewing the Senate version and would most likely approve the bill early next month.”

-- White House officials last year weighed whether to simply “ignore” climate research produced by the government’s own scientists, according to an internal memo. Chris Mooney and Juliet Eilperin report: “The document, [drafted by Michael Catanzaro, Trump’s] special assistant for domestic energy and environmental policy at the time, highlights the dilemma the administration has faced over climate change[.] Even as Trump’s deputies have worked methodically to uproot policies aimed at curbing the nation’s carbon output, the administration’s agencies continue to produce reports showing that climate change is happening, is human-driven and is a threat to the United States. Catanzaro … asked whether the Trump administration should ‘consider having a firm position on and a coherent, fact-based message about climate science — specifically, whether, and to what extent, anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are affecting the climate system, and what level of concern that warrants.’ The memo presented three options without endorsing any of them: conducting a ‘red team/blue team’ exercise to ‘highlight uncertainties in climate science’; more formally reviewing the science … or deciding to just ‘ignore, and not seek to characterize or question, the science being conducted by Federal agencies and outside entities.’”

THE MIDTERMS:

-- “Stacey Abrams, Democrats’ newest Southern hope, looks to Virginia, Alabama for path to victory in Georgia,” by Michael Scherer and Vanessa Williams: “Party strategists are hoping she can follow in the footsteps of two recent Democratic winners, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama, who succeeded by appealing to suburban Republicans disaffected by President Trump and energizing minority voters in the Democratic base. But she will attempt that feat without two big advantages they enjoyed: In Northam’s case, the blue tilt of Virginia, and in Jones’s, the accusations against his GOP opponent of sexual contact with teenagers when he was an adult.Creating a buzz during the primary is awesome, but you cannot stop there,’ said Jones, who is scheduled to address the Georgia Democratic Party on Thursday, where he hoped to meet Abrams. ‘You have to roll past Democrats to make the case that you will be the candidate for all people.’”

-- Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.) has abruptly parted ways with his chief of staff and is considering not seeking reelection in November. Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reports: “Garrett, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, split with his chief of staff Jimmy Keady on Tuesday evening, according to the sources. Keady declined to comment when reached by phone on Wednesday. Garrett’s office also declined to comment. The first-term Garrett represents a conservative district that stretches from southern reaches of the state to more northern areas. His seat has become more competitive this election year in part because he’s posted anemic fundraising totals. In recent months, the congressman has struggled to keep pace on the fundraising front with his Democratic opponent, journalist and filmmaker Leslie Cockburn. Garrett’s totals have alarmed House GOP leaders, who see districts such as his as critical to preserving their imperiled majority.”

-- Three women in Iowa accused gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. Nate Boulton (D) of inappropriate sexual conduct. The Des Moines Register’s Brianne Pfannenstiel reports: “One woman told the Des Moines Register that Boulton, now 38, repeatedly grabbed her buttocks at a bar in 2015. Two others told the Register that when Boulton was in law school more than a decade ago, he rubbed his clothed crotch against them … Boulton [did] not deny the allegations.” “I don’t have the same recollection,” he said. “But I am not going to offer any additional context to this, other than to say if someone’s perspective is that it was inappropriate and I crossed a line and I misread a situation in a social setting, I do apologize.”

-- Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign tapped GOP strategist Chris Carr to serve as political director, in an effort to help coordinate various Republican groups ahead of the midterm elections. Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reports: “Since Trump took office, there‘s been grumbling within the diffuse world of Republican super PACs, outside groups and down-ballot campaigns that the party lacks a singular figure who can drive the unwieldy GOP apparatus. Carr’s hire is aimed at adding political muscle and organizational know-how. He has been charged with helping to coordinate Republican activities and will work as an intermediary between Trump’s political operation and GOP campaign committees and candidates, according to people briefed on the move. He will also work with White House political director Bill Stepien. Carr has a long history in Republican politics. During the 2016 campaign, he served as political director at the [RNC]. He worked at the RNC in 2012 and at the National Republican Congressional Committee during the 2010 midterms.”

-- Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who has emerged as Trump’s most vocal conservative critic in Congress, said during a commencement speech at Harvard Law School that Trump has “debased” the presidency and that the nation’s leadership “may have hit bottom.” Congress, he said, “is failing its constitutional obligations to counteract the power of the president, and in so doing is dishonoring itself, at a critical moment in the life of our nation.”

-- Flake also said yesterday that he is not ruling out a 2020 primary challenge against Trump: “There’s a lot of time between now and 2020,” Flake said in an interview with our Sean Sullivan. “It’s not in my plans, but I’m not ruling anything out. … I do hope that somebody challenges the president in the primary — if only to remind Republicans what Republicans stand for. … I am concerned that we are sounding too much like the president’s Cabinet. And we’re not.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Former FBI director Jim Comey responded to the president's showdown with the Justice Department:

From a former Justice Department spokesman:

A former attorney for the National Security Agency, who now runs Lawfare, reacted to Kushner receiving a security clearance: 

A judge ruled the president cannot block Twitter users. One of the plaintiffs in the case, Daily Kos's Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza, celebrated:

A Daily Mail reporter posted this close-up of Mike Pompeo’s to-do list that he was holding during a House hearing:

A longtime Trump observer at Bloomberg News said his M.O. is to try discrediting everyone:

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) tweeted out an internal poll that showed him leading:

The executive director of the NRSC mocked him:

Democrats are trying to draw public attention to rising gas prices:

The mayor of West Hollywood, Calif., gave Stormy Daniels a key to the city last night (yes, that actually happened):

National Journal's political editor offered this take on 2018: 

Two notable anniversaries —

flagged by a presidential historian:

And the French ambassador to the United States:

A GOOD READ FROM ELSEWHERE: 

-- “George Conway’s Tweets Raise West Wing Eyebrows,” by Annie Karni in Politico Magazine: "[S]ince Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey and special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed by the Justice Department, George Conway has become a man in turmoil. A serious, conservative attorney who believes in the rule of law, he has been torn, people who know him say, between the loyalty he feels toward his wife [Kellyanne] and an assault on his profession and his ideals that he did not anticipate when he cheered on Election Night — delivered by her boss ... [He] has become a Twitter phenom — tweeting and retweeting critiques of the president and support for the Mueller probe that his wife’s employer calls a 'witch hunt.' Many in the White House have noticed, including Kellyanne and, according to multiple administration officials, the president himself. The pushback coming from inside the house of Trump’s lead cable news defender has become one of Washington’s favorite family dramas.”

-- “Security troops on US nuclear missile base took LSD,” by the Associated Press’s Robert Burns: “One airman said he felt paranoia. Another marveled at the vibrant colors. A third admitted, ‘I absolutely just loved altering my mind.’ Meet service members entrusted with guarding nuclear missiles that are among the most powerful in America’s arsenal. Air Force records … show they bought, distributed and used the hallucinogen LSD and other mind-altering illegal drugs as part of a ring that operated undetected for months on a highly secure military base in Wyoming. After investigators closed in, one airman deserted to Mexico. … A slipup on social media by one airman enabled investigators to crack the drug ring at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in March 2016.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Arizona GOP Congressional Candidate Compares Abortion To Holocaust,” from HuffPost: “Wendy Rogers, a retired Air Force pilot seeking the GOP nomination in the state’s 1st congressional district, made the comparison during a campaign event in Maricopa, Arizona, on Monday after she was asked about restricting federal funding to Planned Parenthood. ‘The callousness that our country has for life is very disturbing,’ Rogers said[.] ‘I have visited Auschwitz twice — maybe three times; three times. I have visited the killing fields in Cambodia. This is what happens to a country when the callousness for life erodes to that depth.’” “As someone who is 100% pro-life, I think what the Democratic Party has done to promote a Culture of Death is very much like the Holocaust - Planned Parenthood and other abortion doctors have killed millions of babies this decade alone - barbaric!” Rogers said in response to a request for comment.

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“MSNBC Panelists Compare Anthem Protesters to Rosa Parks, MLK, and Muhammad Ali,” from the Washington Free Beacon: “Commentators on MSNBC’s ‘Deadline: White House’ compared NFL players protesting during the national anthem to civil rights icons. Discussing the NFL’s new rule to levy fines for kneeling during the national anthem, the panelists said former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and others are continuing the battle for civil rights. Comparing the protesters to Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., MSNBC legal analyst and law professor Paul Butler said they exemplify American values. ‘What these players are doing is in the proudest tradition of not only civil liberties and civil rights, but what it means to be an American. Dissent is an act of faith,’ he said. ‘These dissenters are in the tradition of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks.’ ‘In many ways, they are expressing their belief in our democracy way more than [Trump and Pence],’ Butler added."

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump signs a policy directive “to streamline regulations on commercial use of space” at 11 a.m. Then at 11:30, he has the signing ceremony for the bill that weakens Dodd-Frank. He presents a Medal of Honor at 2:30 p.m. and meets with the superintendent of the Naval Academy and chief of Naval Operations at 3:20 p.m.

Mike Pence flies to New London, Conn., to deliver the commencement address at the Coast Guard Academy’s graduation at 11:30 a.m. Then he flies back to D.C. for a 4:30 p.m. meeting with the prime minister of Georgia at the Naval Observatory.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“I don't know what the Republican Party is right now, in general.”

-- Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) at a Washington Examiner event on trade

 

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

-- The Nationals lost 3-1 to the Padres.

-- It’ll be another beautiful day, with lots of sun and a high temperature of 84 degrees, according to the Capital Weather Gang.

-- For planning purposes: “More than 1 million people who live in and around Washington say they plan to head elsewhere this Memorial Day weekend, the official kickoff of summer, according to AAA, and if you are one of them you might want to pick a time other than Thursday afternoon to hit the road,” writes Ashley Halsey III. The worst time to travel: Between 4:30 and 7 p.m. on Thursday, according to John B. Townsend II of AAA Mid-Atlantic. The best time to travel will vary but keep in mind: “Those headed for beaches in Maryland and Delaware also will find their route snarled by traffic in Annapolis for the U.S. Naval Academy’s annual commissioning week,” Halsey writes. 

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Trump promised to drain the swamp. The swamp seems to be doing fine.

Samantha Bee did a segment on the women of color who won in Tuesday's primaries:

She also made the case for abolishing ICE:

Stephen Colbert made fun of Trump for “spygate”:

And he spent five minutes on the court ruling that Trump cannot block people on Twitter:

Seth Meyers took a closer look at Trump's “spygate” claims, as well:

Trevor Noah joked about the lava in Hawaii: