National Political Correspondent

THE BIG IDEA: As Joe Biden put it a little differently when Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act eight years ago, Virginia’s expansion of Medicaid on Wednesday is a big dang deal. And not just because 400,000 low-income citizens will now have access to government health insurance.

It’s another nail in the coffin for efforts to repeal Obamacare and a fresh reminder of how difficult it is to scale back any entitlement once it’s created. Many Republicans, in purple and red states alike, concluded that Congress is unlikely to get rid of the law, so they’ve become less willing to take political heat for leaving billions in federal money on the table.

Years of obstruction in the commonwealth gave way because key Republicans from rural areas couldn’t bear to deny coverage for their constituents any longer, moderates wanted to cut a deal and, most of all, Democrats made massive gains in November’s off-year elections.

As President Trump steps up efforts to undermine the law, from repealing the individual mandate to watering down requirements for what needs to be covered in "association health plans," the administration’s willingness to let states impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients has paradoxically given a rationale for Republicans to flip-flop on an issue where they had dug in their heels.

-- Effective Jan. 1, Virginia will join 32 other states and the District in expanding Medicaid coverage under the ACA. There are indications that several more will soon follow.

Maine became the first state to expand Medicaid by ballot initiative last fall, but Republican Gov. Paul LePage has blocked funding for its implementation and continues to fight the will of the voters in court. But he’s term limited and deeply unpopular, and it seems more likely than not that his successor will open the door for 70,000 poor Mainers to get insurance.

Utah will vote on a referendum in November to further expand Medicaid to an additional 150,000 residents. The measure officially qualified for the ballot on Tuesday.

Enough signatures have been submitted to qualify a ballot measure in Idaho. They’re now being reviewed by elections officials to make sure they meet that state’s strict requirements.

Nebraska’s governor opposes Medicaid expansion, but there is a grass-roots campaign underway to get enough signatures to put the measure on the November ballot. Organizers say they’re on track to get what they need before the deadline.

In blue states, meanwhile, Democratic governors are taking steps to protect the expansion. Yesterday in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signed a law creating an individual mandate for people in his state to offset the repeal of the federal mandate (which was included in the December tax bill). This will help keep insurance markets stable in the Garden State.

-- Expanding Medicaid in Virginia wasn’t easy. Big things never are. Four Senate Republicans defected to allow the measure to pass 23 to 17 in a special session. Then the House of Delegates, which passed its own version of expansion earlier in the year, approved the Senate’s measure 67 to 31.

There were 10 hours of procedural moves in the Virginia capitol on Wednesday. Police had to separate protesters who got into a shouting match. Former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), of all people, even held a news conference to speak out against expansion. The majority leader of the state Senate tried a last-ditch parliamentary gambit to pigeonhole expansion during a Finance Committee hearing on Tuesday. But that was nothing compared to the five years of steadfast GOP obstruction. 

Opposition in the House crumbled after Democrats nearly won control of the chamber in November, amid a blue wave widely viewed as a rebuke to Trump,” Laura Vozzella and Gregory S. Schneider report from Richmond. “A chastened House Speaker M. Kirkland Cox (R-Colonial Heights), seeking to rebrand Republicans as results-oriented pragmatists, came out in favor of expansion if work requirements, co-pays and other conservative strings were attached. In February, 19 of the 51 Republicans in the House joined Democrats to pass a budget bill that expanded Medicaid, apparently concluding that they have more to fear from energized Democrats and independents than from potential primary challengers on the right.”

Easing their evolution was Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s assumption of the governorship in January: “The former state senator and lieutenant governor, a soft-spoken pediatrician and former Army doctor once wooed by Republicans, has close friends on both sides of the aisle. His predecessor, Terry McAuliffe (D), tried to expand Medicaid for four years but did not enjoy the same respect and trust from Republicans in Richmond.”

Virginia’s bill requires that most adult recipients who don’t qualify for disability either work or volunteer as a condition of receiving Medicaid. Cox, the Republican speaker, said the Trump administration’s openness to work requirements “was probably the biggest key” in garnering Republican support.

-- Rural conservatives also provided critical support. One of the four Republican senators who supported expansion, Ben Chafin, is a cattle farmer from a rural district where health care is hard to find. “I came to the conclusion that ‘no’ just wasn’t the answer anymore, that doing nothing about the medical conditions, the state of health care in my district, just wasn’t the answer any longer,” he told my colleagues.

The first Republican in the House of Delegates to explicitly endorse expansion was Del. Terry G. Kilgore, the chairman of the powerful House Commerce and Labor Committee. He broke the dam of GOP opposition when he announced in mid-February that the struggling swath of coal country he represents in southwest Virginia would get a desperately needed “hand up” if the uninsured could access Medicaid. “For my district, for my part of the state, it’s the right thing to do,” Kilgore said. Others from poor parts of the state quickly followed his lead.

-- These GOP defectors have experienced few repercussions back home. Americans for Prosperity, a political arm of the network led by the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers, ran ads attacking several of the 19 GOP delegates who voted for expansion in hopes that they would change their minds when the issue came up again in the special session. It showed that the anti-expansion effort was more bark than bite.

In Kilgore’s district, which went heavily for Trump, AFP radio ads broadcast his office phone number and urged people to call. “No calls, no comments,” Kilgore told Vozzella back in March. “I’ve been to Republican mass meetings. I’ve been out and about, ballgames, this and that. What I’ve heard people say is, ‘Hey, what you said made sense. We don’t mind helping people if they’re helping themselves.’”

The milder than expected blowback for those who walked the plank emboldened additional Republicans to break ranks. (To be sure, some of these incumbents might wind up drawing primary challengers in low-turnout 2019 elections.)

-- Another pivotal moment came in early April when state Sen. Frank Wagner (R-Virginia Beach), who unsuccessfully sought the GOP gubernatorial nomination last year and has served a quarter century in the legislature, announced that he had changed his mind. He said he could support Medicaid expansion on two conditions: that recipients not suddenly lose coverage if their earnings rise and that new tax credits be created to help middle-income people who already have insurance but are struggling to pay soaring premiums. Wagner played a key role negotiating the final deal.

“This is not just about helping this group of people,” Wagner said yesterday. “This is about getting out there and helping to bend the cost of health care for every Virginian. … It is the number one issue on our voters’ minds. By golly, it ought to be the number one issue on the General Assembly’s mind.”

-- Some Virginia GOP strategists have been eager to take the Medicaid issue off the table. The most recent credible survey is from Christopher Newport University in January and February, which found that 58 percent of registered Virginia voters supported the expansion while 38 percent opposed it. The survey provided detailed arguments for and against the idea, which can lead to different results than a simple support-oppose question.

That poll corroborated a Quinnipiac University poll in April 2017, which found a similar 59 percent of registered Virginia voters saying a Medicaid an expansion is a “good idea” while 30 percent said it was a “bad idea.” Support was similar, 57 percent, when respondents were told the federal government will cover 90 percent of the costs while the state would cover just 10 percent.

-- Democrats believe they can play offense on health care in 2018 for the first time. Republicans used Obamacare to their advantage in 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016. But the law has become more popular as the GOP tried to repeal it, and the fear of losing coverage might galvanize lower-propensity voters to turn out in the midterms.

More than half of all ads run by Democratic House candidates since the start of this year have mentioned health care (53.3 percent), according to data from Kantar Media. That’s more than any other issue, including anti-Trump messages (which have appeared in 43 percent of Democratic commercials).

-- Democrats are taking a victory lap after Virginia’s vote last night:

-- But the war is not over. “Some conservative activists unable to surrender their long-held dream of repealing Obamacare are poised to release a long-shot plan next month to resurrect their failed effort, despite massive political odds against such a measure ever becoming law anytime soon,” Paige Winfield Cunningham wrote Tuesday in The Health 202. “But these conservatives are right about one thing: Republicans don’t have a coherent health-care message this election cycle. And they need one. The plan isn’t likely to garner much — if any — attention from GOP House and Senate leaders, who after last year’s repeal-and-replace debacle resigned themselves to the impossibility of fully ditching the law as they’d promised for so long. Now, health care is one of the last policy issues Republicans want to discuss at this point in the midterm election season, although most of them won’t admit it.”

-- A wild card, as always, is Trump. He said yesterday that he’s not giving up on his efforts to eviscerate Obama’s signature domestic achievement. During a signing ceremony for right-to-try legislation at the White House yesterday, he said he’ll make a health-care related announcement in the next two to four weeks. “We’ll get rid of the individual mandate. Without that, we couldn’t be doing what we’re doing in a few weeks,” he said. “We’re going to have great, inexpensive, but really good health care. … We’re going to have two plans coming out. For the most part, we will have gotten rid of a majority of Obamacare.” As the crowd applauded, Trump added: “[We] could have had it done a little bit easier, but somebody decided not to vote for it, so it’s one of those things.”

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- The Capitals won Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals, tying the series at 1-1. Washington defeated the Las Vegas Golden Knights 3-2. Isabelle Khurshudyan, Roman Stubbs, Jesse Dougherty, Scott Allen, Dan Steinberg and Neil Greenberg report: "The Capitals took a 3-1 lead in the second period on a power-play goal by Alex Ovechkin and another even-strength tally by Brooks Orpik, however the Golden Knights added a power-play goal of their own to make it 3-2. Washington sweated it out in the third period, but after a stunning save by Braden Holtby and a 5-on-3 penalty kill by the Capitals, they emerged with the win."

  • The upper-body injury of Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov last night will complicate Washington’s path to victory as the series returns to Washington on Saturday.
  • The Caps won despite having two players in the penalty box for a harrowing stretch in the third period.

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Russian journalist and fierce Kremlin critic Arkady Babchenko stunned the world after he showed up at a news conference in Ukraine -- less than 24 hours after government officials announced his death. Ukrainian officials said they faked Babchenko’s murder in an attempt to foil what they said was a real plot against his life by Moscow. Unsurprisingly, Russia dismissed the charge, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov describing the incident as part of an “anti-Russian campaign.” (Amie Ferris-Rotman)
  2. Trump’s net worth fell $100 million over the past year to $2.8 billion, according to Bloomberg. The figure represents Trump’s lowest net worth since Bloomberg began tracking Trump’s assets during the campaign.
  3. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) laid out a slate of proposals to make schools safer from guns, including increasing school security and keeping guns away from people who shouldn’t have them. Abbott unveiled the recommendations a day after visiting Santa Fe High School on its first day of classes since a shooting there killed 10 people earlier this month. (NPR)
  4. Before the Feb. 14 massacre in Parkland, Fla., Nikolas Cruz recorded three cellphone videos. The 19-year-old discussed his plan to murder students and faculty members. "With the power of my AR-15 you will all know who I am," Cruz said in one video. The videos were released as prosecutors prepare to possibly seek the death penalty. (Miami Herald)
  5. Former congressman Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) lost his appeal to throw out his criminal indictment. The federal appeals court’s decision means criminal proceedings against Schock on corruption charges is likely to advance. (Politico)

  6. Harvey Weinstein was indicted on charges of rape and a criminal sexual act in Manhattan. At least 70 women have now come forward to accuse the disgraced movie mogul of sexual assault and misconduct. (Reuters)
  7. A Southern Baptist seminary has terminated its president, Paige Patterson, following a flurry of controversial statements he made about women – as well as his failure to properly handle an earlier allegation of sexual abuse. A student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary said she went to Patterson in 2003 with her complaint – and he encouraged her not to go to police but to “forgive her assailant.” (Michelle Boorstein and Sarah Pulliam Bailey)
  8. Pharmaceutical company Allergan issued a national recall of nearly 170,000 sample packs of Taytulla birth control after a packaging error misplaced the order of placebo and hormone pills – a mistake that health officials said could cause “unintended pregnancies.” (Allyson Chiu)
  9. The American Cancer Society is now recommending adults undergo colorectal cancer screenings beginning at age 45 instead of age 50, after “extensive” analysis found that lowering the starting age – even by just five years – would save lives. (Laurie McGinley)
  10. Walmart announced it will pay for its employees to go back to school to obtain degrees in business or supply-chain management as part of a bid to improve employee retention rates and attract new talent. The retailer said it will cover the costs of tuition, textbooks and other fees, and it will require employees to pay $1 a day during the duration of their studies. (Abha Bhattarai)
  11. A serial con man from Bogota pleaded guilty to impersonating a Saudi prince for decades as part of an elaborate ruse. Before his arrest, authorities said Anthony Gignac was living a charmed life – draping himself in Rolexes, speeding around town in a Ferrari and inhabiting a penthouse apartment accessible only by helicopter or ferry. (Kyle Swenson)

WATCH WHAT THEY DO, NOT WHAT THEY SAY:

-- The Federal Reserve voted to ease financial crisis-era rules preventing big banks from making some risky trading decisions. Renae Merle reports: The decision delivers “Wall Street one of its biggest victories yet in the Trump era. The changes will give big banks, including Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, a reprieve nearly a decade after risky trading was blamed for contributing to the near collapse of the U.S. financial sector. It will also provide another boost to an industry already reporting record profits — $56 billion during the first three months of this year. … The proposed new rule … would continue to ban proprietary trading, regulators stressed and would not allow Wall Street to return to its trading heydays. But it would simplify the process for determining which types of trading are permitted and which aren’t.”

-- The administration is placing a growing number of migrant children in long-term foster care. Nick Miroff reports: “The number of beds available for such long-term foster care has doubled, to nearly 600, since May 2016, according to a care provider who works with the Department of Health and Human Services … [I]n the past six months, according to HHS data, the percentage of migrant children in custody without a sponsor increased to 10 percent, up from 7 percent during the government’s 2017 fiscal year, when the agency assumed custody of more than 40,000 underage migrants. … The latest figures also indicate the average amount of time that children spend in HHS shelters has increased to 57 days in recent months, up from 51 days last year.”

-- “Going home after half a lifetime,” by Maria Sacchetti: “At 36, [Guillermo Mendoza] had achieved his version of the American Dream: Married, with two children, a work permit, a six-figure salary as a construction safety manager, a sprawling house in Silver Spring, Md. But his permission to live in the United States was soon to expire, because of the Trump administration’s decision to end federal programs that allow Mendoza and some 300,000 other immigrants from El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti to work legally on U.S. soil. So Mendoza had to consider where else he might go. Among the options: Whether he could begin again — with his American-citizen wife and U.S.-born son and daughter — in the small, troubled country he fled half a lifetime ago.”

-- Abortion rights activists are warning the White House is quietly pursuing a multipronged attack on reproductive services for women. From the AP’s Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and David Crary: “Most of the changes involve rules and regulations under the administration’s direct control, such as a proposal to forbid federally funded family planning clinics from referring women for abortions and separately allowing more employers who cite moral or religious reasons to opt out of no-cost birth control for women workers. Trump also is appointing numerous new federal judges endorsed by anti-abortion groups. … A recently proposed rule would make major changes to Title X, the family-planning program."

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- A senior North Korean official met with his American counterpart – kicking off a series of three bilateral meetings as officials seek to hash out details and salvage the summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un. John Hudson and Michelle Ye Hee Lee report: “The meeting in Singapore … dealt purely with logistics but has been shrouded in secrecy. Although most logistics teams would be led by a low-level bureaucrat, Kim sent his de facto chief of staff, Kim Chang Son, one of the country’s most powerful officials, to head the North Korean team. The U.S. team is led by White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin. ... Hotel security guards blocked journalists from the premises of the resort off Singapore’s southeastern coast, and the White House and the State Department declined to confirm even mundane details.”

  • The meeting came amid fresh doubts over the possibility of North Korean nuclear disarmament. "The two teams in Singapore are tasked with working out the logistics of the summit, including venue spaces, transportation [and security]. They face a daunting target date of June 12 and the knowledge that a failed meeting could increase the chances for military confrontation. …”
  • “Kim has expressed an unusual degree of interest in the summit’s logistics, asking [Secretary of State Mike Pompeo] during his visit to Pyongyang this month about fuel for the 6,000-mile round-trip flight to Singapore and how many bodyguards he could bring. ...
  • "The discussions resumed when Pompeo met with North Korean official Kim Yong Chol for dinner in New York on Wednesday." Pompeo and Kim Yong Chol are expected to meet again this morning, Carol Morello and Anne Gearan report.

-- Pompeo posted pictures from the dinner on Twitter:

-- Trump could today announce (or not) tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada, Mexico and the European Union. David J. Lynch and Damian Paletta report: “Frustrated over the failure of those U.S. trading partners to agree to a range of demands, the president chose to sharply escalate his global trade war rather than grant further tariff waivers. The import taxes could take effect as soon as Friday. The move is likely to have an immediate impact on global trade in steel and aluminum, particularly between the United States and Canada, the nation’s largest source of imported steel. The decision also invites retaliation from each of the trading partners, which have vowed to erect new barriers to a range of U.S. products. The White House process remains fluid, and the people cautioned that Trump has been talked out of imposing tariffs at the last minute. … Trump’s move threatens to upend negotiations over a new North American trade deal.”

-- Italy’s political turmoil has refueled doubts about the future of the European Union. Michael Birnbaum reports from Brussels: “The worries came after Italian President Sergio Mattarella on Sunday blocked an academic who once called Italy’s adoption of the euro a ‘historic error’ from becoming finance minister. That appeared to blow up a coalition deal between two populist parties that have been seeking to form a government since Italy’s March elections. Now, backlash to Mattarella’s move may deliver the opposite of what he intended when he said he was defending Europe and Italy’s constitution. If fresh elections are required, furious Italians could be expected to vote in even greater numbers for the same anti-establishment politicians who nominated [the] euro­skeptic minister in the first place."

-- Ben Rhodes’s new memoir, “The World as It Is,” recounts the “multiple emotional stages” that Barack Obama went through after Trump won in 2016. The New York Times’s Peter Baker has a preview of the former deputy national security adviser's book: “Few moments shook Mr. Obama more than the decision by voters to replace him with a candidate who had questioned his very birth. At times, the departing president took the long view, at other points, he flashed anger. He called Mr. Trump a ‘cartoon’ figure. … And he expressed rare self-doubt, wondering whether he had misjudged his own influence on American history. … In handing over power to someone determined to tear down all he had accomplished, Mr. Obama alluded to ‘The Godfather’ mafia movie: ‘I feel like Michael Corleone. I almost got out.’”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Obama that she felt more obliged to run for another term because of Trump’s election so that she could defend the liberal international order. When they said their goodbyes, Rhodes writes, Merkel had a single tear in her eye. "She’s all alone," Obama said. The outgoing president also urged Canadian leader Justin Trudeau "to take on a more vocal role defending the values they shared." And Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apologized for breaching protocol by meeting with Trump in Manhattan after the election.

THE MIDTERMS:

-- Democrats are blaming each other as they face the possibility of being shut out of House races in California in the November general election, imperiling their chances of retaking the House majority. David Weigel and Amy Gardner report: “In three Orange County districts, a surfeit of enthusiastic candidates and conflicting messages from Democratic organizations and allies have converged to complicate the party’s road to victory. … Democrats have had internal conflicts in other states, but the circumstances in California are far more convoluted because of the state’s ‘top two’ nominating system, in which the two highest vote-getters are elevated to the November ballot, irrespective of party affiliation. … The result, say activists, party officials and some candidates, has been anger among voters who fear destructive splits in the Democratic vote — and a level of chaos not seen in congressional primaries here in years, if ever. Candidates are scrambling to set themselves apart, Democratic groups are urging unity to gain control of the House — and many voters are wondering how to contend with the despair they would feel if Democrats were locked out in this liberal state.”

-- Republicans have grown frustrated with Trump’s apparent fondness for Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), a top target as the Senate GOP attempts to increase its majority. From Politico’s Alex Isenstadt and Burgess Everett: “As the president signed a banking deregulation bill into law [last week] before a national audience, Heitkamp was right next to him, the only Democrat in the room. … At a time when many in the GOP fear that the president’s unpredictable style will undercut their best-laid midterm plans, the relationship has given Heitkamp — who is seeking reelection in a state where Trump won nearly two-thirds of the vote — fodder to portray herself as a presidential ally. … Trump aggressively recruited [Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.)] to give up his House seat to take on Heitkamp, and his actions since have left some of Cramer’s closest allies feeling snubbed.

-- Cramer took a swipe at the White House yesterday, blaming legislative affairs director Marc Short for Congress’s failure to pass key legislation. Politico’s Everett reports: “Cramer told North Dakota radio host Rob Port that he had done some digging and believes that there ‘are some people in the White House that think, you know, the president’s too friendly to her.’ Then Cramer laid into [Short] for two prominent failed GOP efforts in the Senate: Repeal of Obamacare and the rollback of an Obama-era regulation that would limit flaring and venting from oil and gas wells. Heitkamp voted against both and Cramer has criticized her in particular over the flaring vote.”

-- Trump praised Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) as he signed the “right-to-try” legislation into law. John Wagner and Sean Sullivan report: “Trump emphasized [that the bill] had languished in Congress under his predecessors. The new law, which [Donnelly] helped write with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), allows people with life-threatening illnesses to bypass the Food and Drug Administration to obtain experimental medications.” Trump offered surprising praise for Donnelly, who’s facing a difficult reelection and was recently criticized by the president as “Sleepin’ Joe.” “Senator Donnelly, thank you very much,” Trump said. “That’s really great. Appreciate it. Thank you.”

-- There's been a surge of LGBTQ candidates, but they continue to struggle with how much to reveal about their personal lives. Karen Tumulty writes: “The LGBTQ Victory Fund, an advocacy group, says it counts nearly 400 vying for offices from school board to governor. For straight candidates, it is expected — practically demanded — that they write spouses and children into the narrative of their lives and testaments of their values. … But for LGBTQ people entering the rough environment of politics, the choice of what, if anything, to tell voters about the people most central to their lives is more fraught than for straight couples. That remains true even in an era when gay marriage is legal across the country and supported by nearly two-thirds of Americans.”

-- Utah Senate candidate Mitt Romney revealed that he voted for his wife, Ann Romney, in the 2016 election. "I wrote in the name of a person who I admire deeply, who I think would be an excellent president," the U.S. Senate candidate said in an interview with two local editorial boards. "I realized it wasn't going to go anywhere, but nonetheless felt that I was putting in a very solid name." Romney had previously declined to say who he voted for in the 2016 race, other than to say he did not cast his ballot for Trump. (Deseret News)

-- An exhaustive investigation in New Hampshire found virtually no evidence of potential voter fraud -- refuting claims made by Trump after he narrowly lost the state. WMUR’s John DiStaso reports: “Secretary of State William Gardner, other officials from his office and a top election law attorney from the attorney general’s office made a more than two-hour presentation to the state Ballot Law Commission, which is charged with resolving disputes related to election laws. The review consumed 817 work hours by members of the attorney general's office with help from the Department of Safety.” Among the key results: “Out of more than 94,000 names of people with the same first and last names and dates of birth who voted in New Hampshire and at least one of the other 27 states in the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck program, all but 142 were accounted for as being different voters in each state.”

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- Despite Trump’s repeated public attacks on Jeff Sessions – who he says made “a very terrible mistake for the country” by recusing himself from the Russia probe –  top advisers say the president is unlikely to fire the attorney general. Matt Zapotosky, Josh Dawsey and Robert Costa report: “People familiar with the president’s thinking said Trump feels bound to keep Sessions because firing him could have damaging political consequences. When Trump ousted [FBI Director James Comey], the move became a piece of [Robert Mueller’s] investigation. ... The president also has been told by high-ranking lawmakers that the GOP-controlled Senate would be unlikely to have the time or the political capital to confirm a successor this year. …

"A senior White House official said Wednesday there is no expectation that Trump will fire Sessions or that he was ‘doing anything more than blowing off steam.’ ‘He hates the guy,’ the official said. ‘Everyone in the building knows it.’ Inside the Justice Department, some officials have become numb to the president’s tweets, though others wonder why Sessions does not respond more forcefully."

-- Since Trump threatened to fire Sessions last July, “the Republican campaign to save Sessions has continued and — at least for now — succeeded,” the AP’s Jonathan Lemire, Eric Tucker and Lisa Mascaro report. “In private meetings, public appearances on television and late-night phone calls, Trump’s advisers and allies have done all they can to persuade the president not to fire a Cabinet official he dismisses as disloyal. The effort is one of the few effective Republican attempts to install guardrails around a president who delights in defying advice and breaking the rules.”

-- “In recent weeks, Mr. Trump has gone so far as to tell people not to raise Mr. Sessions’s name with him in conversation,” per the Times’s Eileen Sullivan. “The two men rarely speak outside of cabinet meetings.”

-- Last spring, acting FBI director Andrew McCabe wrote a confidential memo recounting a conversation that offered “significant” behind-the-scenes details on Comey's firing. That memo has since been turned over to Mueller's team. The New York Times’s Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman and Michael S. Schmidt report: “In the document … Mr. McCabe described a conversation at the Justice Department with [Rod Rosenstein] in the chaotic days last May after Mr. Comey’s abrupt firing. Mr. Rosenstein played a key role in the dismissal, writing a memo that rebuked Mr. Comey over his handling of an investigation into Hillary Clinton. But in the meeting at the Justice Department, Mr. Rosenstein added a new detail: He said the president had originally asked him to reference Russia in his memo. … Mr. Rosenstein did not elaborate on what Mr. Trump had wanted him to say. To Mr. McCabe, that seemed like possible evidence that Mr. Comey’s firing was actually related to the F.B.I.’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, and that Mr. Rosenstein helped provide a cover story by writing about the Clinton investigation. In conversations with prosecutors, Mr. Trump’s lawyers have cited Mr. Rosenstein’s involvement in the firing of Mr. Comey as proof that it was not an effort to obstruct justice[.] That argument has only made Mr. Rosenstein’s position even more peculiar: He oversees an investigation into the president, who points to Mr. Rosenstein’s own actions as evidence that he is innocent. And Mr. Rosenstein could have the final say on whether that argument has merit.”

Trump appeared to address the Times story this morning:

 

Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt last year of his decision to fire Comey, “And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, 'You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.'"

-- Friends of Paul Manafort have launched a legal-defense fund to help the former Trump campaign chairman pay his bills. Spencer S. Hsu reports: “In a statement released Wednesday, unnamed friends of the longtime lobbyist said the Paul Manafort Defense Fund was created because Manafort and his family are ‘struggling to pay legal bills’ arising from his prosecution in the special counsel’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. … A person familiar with Manafort’s situation confirmed that the fund is legitimate. However, it is unclear who organized the effort. The fund’s website — which promises to maintain the ‘strict confidentiality’ of those who donate — does not list its trustees.”

-- The state-owned Russian bank VTB, under U.S. sanctions since 2014, attempted to boost its image with members of the Obama and Trump administrations as it lobbied to get sanctions lifted. From the Center for Public Integrity’s Carrie Levine: “Less than two months before a 2016 presidential election marked by Russian interference, senior State Department official Daniel Fried received an invitation to a private gala featuring an exclusive performance by the Bolshoi Ballet and a post-event reception. … Fried, the State Department’s sanctions policy coordinator, declined. ‘I won’t be attending,’ he replied to the trade association head. ‘We’re not interested in advancing their corporate reputation.’ … VTB provides an illuminating example of what Americans learn — or don’t — under [the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires the disclosure of foreign influence efforts]. The bank’s hired lobbyists failed to disclose a series of June 2016 meetings with government officials on behalf of the sanctioned bank until months after U.S. law required them to.”

-- A federal judge has given Michael Cohen’s attorneys until June 15 to finish reviewing materials seized from his Manhattan office and home during an FBI raid in April. Philip Bump and Mark Berman report: “The [deadline] was set during a hearing in Manhattan that focused on the status of these seized materials and featured sparring between Cohen’s attorneys and Michael Avenatti, an attorney for Stormy Daniels[.] Avenatti had sought to join the case but withdrew his motion after U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood warned that Avenatti would have to end his ‘publicity tour’ if she granted him standing."

-- Meanwhile, federal investigators sorting through material seized from Cohen said they need more time to piece together the contents of a shredder taken during the FBI's raid. NBC News’s Tom Winter, Charlie Gile and Adam Edelman report: “[Prosecutors told the judge] that they'd turned over most of the materials seized during the April 9 raids … with the exception of two BlackBerry devices and the shredded documents. Prosecutors explained, however, that they would need two to three more weeks to finish reconstructing what was in the shredder, and that they were still trying to access the BlackBerrys.”

ROSEANNE FALLOUT:

-- Trump reacted to ABC’s cancellation of “Roseanne” over Twitter, asking why the CEO of Disney, which owns ABC, never apologized to him as he did to Valerie Jarrett. “Bob Iger of ABC called Valerie Jarrett to let her know that ‘ABC does not tolerate comments like those’ made by Roseanne Barr," Trump wrote. "Gee, he never called President Donald J. Trump to apologize for the HORRIBLE statements made and said about me on ABC. Maybe I just didn’t get the call?”

Emily Heil explains: “Trump might have been referring to anti-Trump comments by Keith Olbermann, who recently returned to Disney-owned ESPN, late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel’s mocking of Melania Trump’s accent or ‘The View’s’ Joy Behar calling Vice President Pence mentally ill because of his faith.”

Trump reiterated his demands for an apology this morning:

Fact-check: ABC did issue an apology after Ross incorrectly reported Trump directed Michael Flynn to make contact with the Russians before the 2016 election. The network also suspended Ross for four weeks without pay.

-- "Trump entered the conversation not by condemning (Roseanne), but by making it about himself,” Eugene Scott writes. “The Trump administration has proved that it doesn’t mind weighing in on racial matters when it is to attack political opponents or affirm those praising the president. But when it comes to racist comments and ideas from those supportive of the administration, there is no time — until, it seems, there is a Trump-centric angle."

-- The “Roseanne” cancellation is the latest in a series of controversies for Disney as the entertainment company “finds itself grappling with the realities of being a conglomerate this large in a time this divisive,” Steven Zeitchik writes. “Conservative voices accused the company of taking a political position by applying a more lenient standard to liberals. … Yet the right is not the only group that has been incensed by Disney actions. In March, ABC declined to air an episode of ‘Black-ish’ in which members of the show’s family debated NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. Some left-wing commentators criticized Disney for playing to a white working-class base that fuels its popular ‘Monday Night Football’ program on ESPN. … The incidents highlight how tripwires are inevitable in a culture of constant content and social media anger. They also point to a problem faced by Disney, which wants to be the main source of content for the 21st century while also avoiding the era’s pitfalls...”

-- Meanwhile, Barr returned to Twitter to blame her colleagues for the show’s demise. From Emily Heil: “She reposted a tweet by Sara Gilbert, the actress who played her daughter, Darlene, on the show and served as executive producer. Gilbert had called Barr’s initial comments ‘abhorrent,’ saying they ‘do not reflect the beliefs of our cast and crew or anyone associated with our show. I am disappointed in her actions to say the least.’ ‘Wow! unreal,’ Barr wrote in response. Later, she moderated her stance on Gilbert: ‘no, I understand her position and why she said what she said. i forgive her. It just shocked me a bit,’ Barr wrote. … And Barr pointed a finger at Wanda Sykes, the show’s consulting producer, for ultimately causing the show’s demise. Sykes had responded to Barr’s invective by announcing via Twitter that she wouldn’t return to the show. She wrote of Sykes, ‘her tweet made ABC very nervous and they cancelled the show.’”

-- The maker of Ambien had this to say after Roseanne claimed her original racist tweet about Valerie Jarrett was caused by tweeting on the sleep aid: “People of all races, religions and nationalities work at Sanofi every day to improve the lives of people around the world,” the U.S. division of pharmaceutical giant Sanofi said in a tweet. “While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.” (Kristine Phillips)

PALACE INTRIGUE:

-- The White House communications team is suffering low morale and potential firings as leaks continue. The latest debacle followed an Oval Office meeting with press aide Kelly Sadler, accused of making an offensive remark about Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), and director of strategic communications Mercedes Schlapp. The Daily Beast’s Lachlan Markay and Asawin Suebsaeng report: “Trump let it be known that he was displeased before asking Sadler whom she thought were prominent leakers in the ranks. As first reported by Axios, Sadler shocked those in attendance by pointing to, among others, Schlapp. … Schlapp recoiled in indignation, aghast that anyone would suggest she would betray the president—least of all a more junior aide whom she had given increasing responsibilities within the administration. Trump sat behind the Resolute Desk, watching the drama unfold in real time. The meeting adjourned shortly after the tense—even for the Trump White House—exchange.

“But the drama didn’t end there. Two sources recounted that Schlapp remained heated, saying that in separate conversations detailing what happened in the Oval, she referred to Sadler as ‘a b----.’ Schlapp vehemently denied saying the word and insinuated that any suggestion she had done so was, itself, a malicious leak designed to undermine her."

-- Sadler was also criticized for failing to blind-copy recipients who were emailed a set of talking points on the administration’s Iran policy. And the list of recipients revealed a surprising range of ideological diversity. Politico’s Annie Karni reports: Those emailed included “former Obama administration officials, advisers to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, and [Trump] critics … Many who received the email said they were left deeply confused about what the White House expected them to do with the information. … Some recipients said it wasn’t the first time they’ve been included in Trump administration blasts. A few have also been invited to off-the-record ‘expert’ calls with senior administration officials, and participated out of curiosity, but wondered how they had been invited — and why.”

-- The new NSC chief of staff, the latest in a flurry of hires by national security adviser John Bolton, comes from a group that argues Muslims are plotting to take over the U.S. government. From Abigail Hauslohner: “The appointment of Fred Fleitz drew condemnation from civil rights groups this week. The Anti-Defamation League criticized what it described as ‘his senior leadership role with the Center for Security Policy, an Islamophobic, conspiracy-promoting organization.’ … Fleitz has also promoted the myth of European ‘no-go zones’ — places the CSP casts as being governed by Islamic law — as well as a widely debunked CSP survey that suggested a quarter of Muslims support violence against Americans.”

-- HUD Secretary Ben Carson has hired the son of his close friend and business associate to be his deputy chief of staff. CNN’s Gregory Wallace and Rene Marsh report: “Alfonso Costa Jr., 29, is expected to join the department in the coming weeks. … The arrival comes as one of Carson's closest political aides, deputy chief of staff Deana Bass, leaves the department and shortly after a relative novice to housing policy, Andrew Hughes, was promoted to chief of staff. ... Costa's father is a dentist-turned-real-estate-investor who Carson has described as ‘one of my closest, if not my very closest friend.’ Carson and his wife were involved in a 2007 real estate deal with the senior Costa. Later that year, after the elder Costa was convicted for health care fraud, Carson wrote on his behalf to the federal judge sentencing him”: 'I could literally trust him with all of my earthly possessions and rest assured that I would get all of them back with interest,' Carson wrote. 'To sum it up, next to my wife of 32 years, there is no one on this planet that I trust more than Al Costa.' "

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

The first lady addressed questions about the fact she hasn't been seen in public since a recent kidney procedure:

Trump quoted Rush Limbaugh’s take on the FBI’s use of a campaign informant:

He later added this:

Trump endorsed a sitting House Republican over Michael Grimm, a convicted felon who formerly held the seat and has tried to claim the Trump mantle. But Donovan didn't vote for the president's tax bill:

A House Democrat complained about Trump's tweeting priorities:

Jimmy Kimmel stood by Barr:

Writer Roxane Gay replied:

A Post reporter recounted his eventful (and successful) attempt to report on the latest developments in Trump-Kim summit negotiations:

Another Kim meeting happened in the White House (the reality TV star is lobbying for a pardon for a low-level drug offender).

Trump's hometown papers had some fun with the story:

The Post reporters and editors who won the Pulitzer Prize for their Russia reporting were honored at Columbia University:

Reporters from the Alabama Media Group congratulated the Post reporters who received a Pulitzer for unearthing sexual misconduct allegations against Roy Moore:

And Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) wished a Capitol Hill reporter happy birthday:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- “The Man Who Would Be Speaker,” by the Atlantic's Elaina Plott: “House Majority Whip Steve Scalise is chronically late. He’s constantly caught up in conversation — with anyone, really — while his aides wait like children whose parents have stumbled upon friends in the produce aisle. When he finally arrived to the prayer breakfast, flanked by his security detail, he beamed as though he’d never seen a place so special — this hairspray-scented ballroom in a two-star hotel below an overpass. He strode toward the makeshift stage, aided by two purple crutches, and suddenly all was forgiven. People stood and applauded, as though Scalise weren’t late, the rest of us just early. … In the span of a year, Scalise has gone from being an otherwise nameless lawmaker … to someone who, his supporters now believe, is an essential component of God’s plan for America. Last June, Scalise was standing near second base at a congressional baseball practice … when [a] 7.62-caliber bullet scissored through Scalise’s left hip[.] His trauma surgeons told me it was ‘astounding’ he made it to the hospital alive. Scalise prefers the word ‘miraculous.’ ‘I know He has a plan for me,’ he [said] … ‘I don’t know what it is just yet.’

“Scalise now finds himself at the coveted intersection of political clout and electoral opportunity. Last month, [Paul Ryan] told his conference that he would not seek reelection. The announcement sparked whispers across the conference about who would succeed him for the gavel. Scalise’s name was chief among them. Which is to say that for one of the first times in his congressional career, Scalise might be right on time. He just can’t say that out loud.”

-- New York Times, “For ‘Columbiners,’ School Shootings Have a Deadly Allure,” by Manny Fernandez, Julie Turkewitz and Jess Bidgood: “Interviews with law enforcement officials, educators, researchers, students and a gunman’s mother, as well as a review of court documents, academic studies and the writings of killers and would-be killers, show that the school-shooting copycat syndrome has grown more pervasive and has steadily escalated in recent years. And much of it can be traced back to the two killers at Columbine, previously ordinary high school students who have achieved dark folk hero status — their followers often known as ‘Columbiners’ — in the corners of the internet where their carefully planned massacre is remembered, studied and in some cases even celebrated.”

-- The Daily Beast, “What Happened to Jill Stein’s Recount Millions?” by Charles Davis: “Shortly after the 2016 election, Jill Stein raised more than $7 million from shell-shocked liberals eager to pursue a swing-state recount. Nearly two years later, the U.S. Green Party’s last candidate for president is still spending that money. Ongoing litigation, travel costs, and staff salaries are also likely to eat up whatever is left, meaning those who donated to Stein are unlikely to receive a once-promised chance to vote on how the post-recount money would be spent.”

-- CityLab, “The Hidden Costs of Losing Your City's Newspaper,” by Kriston Capps: “According to a new working paper, local news deserts lose out financially, too. Cities where newspapers closed up shop saw increases in government costs as a result of the lack of scrutiny over local deals, say researchers who tracked the decline of local news outlets between 1996 and 2015.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Former Trump Aide Michael Caputo Wants to Give Roseanne Reboot a New Home,” from the Daily Beast: “Less than 24 hours after the Roseanne reboot was canceled, former Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo began plotting ways to get her back on air. Caputo is the chief marketing officer of an online streaming TV startup called Bond, which aims to fund film and television programming through ‘crowd-investing.’ He told The Daily Beast that he and his colleagues plan ‘to reach out to Roseanne [Barr] immediately’ in the wake of the cancellation of her ABC show on Tuesday … ‘We always planned on reaching out to Roseanne eventually,’ Caputo [said]. ‘Now it’s sooner rather than later.’ A show on Caputo’s streaming service would be a major step down in terms of audience size for Barr … But Roseanne has become persona non grata in Hollywood … [and] a new home at Bond would, potentially, insulate Barr from backlash to her consistently controversial politics and public statements.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Joy Reid Promoted An Infamous 9/11 Conspiracy Documentary On Her Old Blog,” from BuzzFeed News: “MSNBC host Joy Reid encouraged readers of her now-defunct blog to watch an infamous 9/11 conspiracy documentary, according to recently discovered posts … A March 22, 2006, post to her weblog, Reidblog, [titled] ‘The official story,’ links to Loose Change 9/11, a viral 80-minute web video … which was produced in part by Infowars’ Alex Jones, [and alleged] that the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center were in fact planned by the US government. The fundamental question is: do you believe the official story of 9/11?’ the post reads. ‘If you do, great. If you don't, then everything that happened after that is called into serious question. ….’  The Loose Change post isn’t the only skepticism on her blog about the attacks[.] In a March 2006 post … Reid’s blog notes that the US government identified the plotters suspiciously soon. It then repeats common truther questions about the collapse of the WTC 7 building, which was not hit by an airplane.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump is in Texas Thursday. He will first meet with family members and community leaders affected by the Santa Fe school shooting. He will then give a speech at a National Republican Senatorial Committee fundraiser. Trump will also travel to Dallas, where he will attend an event with supporters. Vice President Pence has no events scheduled.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

Sarah Huckabee Sanders got choked up responding to a question from a young student about what the administration is doing to prevent school shootings. “I think that, as a kid and certainly as a parent, there is nothing that could be more terrifying — for a kid to go to school and not feel safe," Sanders said, her voice slightly cracking. "So I'm sorry that you feel that way." She went on to describe the activities of the president’s School Safety Commission but did not lay out specific legislation the administration supports. (Anne Gearan)

 

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

-- D.C. will see on-and-off showers today, turning into thunderstorms later in the day. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Patches of fog start the day as humidity is high. Temperatures climb to the mid-80s despite considerable cloud cover. Light south winds provide little relief. Passing showers are possible through the day, but the main activity is likely to hold off until later in the day when thunderstorms are also possible, capable of heavy downpours. Believe it or not, this may be the driest day of the next several so enjoy the available rain-free windows.”

-- The Nationals beat the Orioles 2-0. The sixth straight win launched the Nationals to first place in the National League East. (Jorge Castillo)

-- Maryland’s Democratic gubernatorial candidates focused their fire on Gov. Larry Hogan (R) rather than each other during a debate Wednesday. From Robert McCartney: “In the second of five scheduled televised debates, the crowded field of candidates stuck to their pattern of promoting their own records and qualifications without attacking one another in public. That’s partly because they agree on most of the issues, especially on the importance of increasing funding for K-12 public education. They also were in accord that Hogan has not spoken up enough to counter what they decried as President Trump’s divisive racial rhetoric. And some alleged — without offering evidence — that his neglect of storm-water management contributed to the Ellicott City tragedy.”

-- Valerie Ervin, the gubernatorial candidate who took over the top of the ticket after her running mate died of a heart attack, is suing the Maryland State Board of Elections to get new ballots printed before the Democratic primary next month. The current ballots include the name of Ervin’s former running mate, the late Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. State election officials argue there isn’t enough time before voting begins to print new ballots. (Arelis R. Hernández)

-- A new federal study found D.C. students using vouchers to attend private schools perform worse in math than their public-school peers. From Perry Stein: “This week’s study from the Institute of Education Sciences, part of the U.S. Education Department, found that math scores were 10 percentage points lower for students who used vouchers compared with students who applied for the scholarship program but were not selected through a lottery. The students who were not chosen for the voucher program typically attend public schools in low-income neighborhoods.”

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.)’s reelection campaign will launch a statewide ad today highlighting his efforts to expand Project SEARCH, which helps students with disabilities enter the workforce. It’s part of what a Walker strategist describes as an “aggressive positive ad strategy” that has thus far included spots about workforce development, opioids and jobs. Here's a sneak peek:

Dan Helmer, running in a crowded Democratic primary in Virginia’s 10th District to challenge GOP Rep. Barbara Comstock, released an incendiary new political ad comparing Trump to Osama bin Laden. "After 9/11, the greatest threat to our democracy lived in a cave," says Helmer, over an image of bin Laden. "Today, he lives in the White House."

Samantha Bee looked at migrant children being separated from their parents at the border:

Trevor Noah said even the "anti-PC brigade" criticized Roseanne Barr:

Kendrick Lamar accepted his Pulitzer Prize in Music:

And an adorable young boy won the president's first pen at the "right-to-try" bill signing: