Joined onstage by Golden State Warriors basketball star Steph Curry, Obama decried bullying and selfishness while imploring young people who are involved in his My Brother’s Keeper initiative to pursue causes greater than themselves. He explained the concept of self-worth and touted the virtues of being sensitive to other people’s feelings. He criticized materialism and encouraged monogamy.
“If you are really confident about your financial situation, you probably are not going to be wearing an eight-pound chain around your neck because you know, ‘I got bank. I don’t have to show you how much I’ve got because I feel good,’” Obama said. “If you are very confident about your sexuality, you don't have to have eight women around you twerking … because [you know], ‘I’ve got one woman, who I am very happy with. And she’s a strong woman.’”
Obama blamed pop culture for amplifying toxic messages about modern masculinity. “Let’s face it: A lot of hip-hop and rap music is built around me showing how I got more money than you, I can disrespect you and you can’t do nothing about it, I’m going to talk about you and punk you,’” he said. “Ironically, that actually shows the vulnerability that you feel!
“We tend to rise to the expectations that are set for us,” added Obama. “If a young boy is taught early on, ‘You are going to be kind to people, not bully people,’ that will have an impact. If you say, ‘You treat young women with respect. They are not objects. They are humans with the same aspirations and desires, and they are just as worthy of respect as you are,’ that has an impact. We’ve got to set that tone early in life.”
The town-hall-style Q&A offered a timely reminder of the moral authority that’s traditionally been vested in our presidents, both current and former. Obama repeatedly touted the importance of respecting, and listening to, women and then discussed race in a candid way. “Often times, historically, racism in this society sends a message that you are less than and weak, so we feel like we’ve got to compensate by exaggerating certain stereotypical ways that men are supposed to act,” he said. “That’s a trap that we fall into, that we have to pull out of. If you’re confident about your strength, you don’t need to show me by putting someone else down. Show me how strong you are in that you can lift someone else up and treat someone well and be respectful.”
-- The event was held to mark the fifth anniversary of My Brother's Keeper, an initiative Obama started after the shooting death in 2012 of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old. “Some of you remember, although some of you were so young you may not,” the former president said. “As somebody who is the head of federal law enforcement, I could not comment on the particulars of the case, but what I could say was that Trayvon could have been my son. … It required us as a society to wake up.” (Left unsaid was that President Trump does not feel so reticent about weighing in on active federal law enforcement investigations.)
The singer John Legend, who performed a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” for the crowd, led a panel discussion with the mothers of Martin, Oscar Grant and Jordan Davis. “It’s not about Trayvon anymore; it’s about the young people in here,” said Sybrina Fulton, Martin’s mother. “Although Trayvon is not here for me to watch grow, to watch him excel, I want all those things for you. … I want you to be educated. I want you to be strong. I want you to be leaders, not followers.”
-- Obama has grown plainly more comfortable discussing issues related to race since leaving office liberated him. “What we want to do is create a space in which young men of color, and young men generally, do not feel as if, ‘For me to be respected in my community, I’ve got to act a certain way,’” he said. “A lot of the violence and pain that we suffer in our communities arises out of young men who nobody has said to them what it means to be respected. So they are looking around and thinking, ‘Well, I guess being respected means [that] I can make you back down.’ Or, ‘I can disrespect you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.’ That is a self-defeating model for being a man! So we have to constantly lift up examples of the successful men who don’t take that approach. That’s hard to do in this society.”
-- Discussing criminal justice policy, Obama made clear that law enforcement can be a force for good. “In fact, some communities need more police, not fewer police,” he said. The former president said it’s important that cops get training and build relationships on their beats so that they understand just because someone is “wearing a hoodie does not mean they’re a criminal.” “That’s just the style,” Obama said.
-- The graying 57-year-old, who for eight years was the most powerful man on the planet, tried earnestly to relate and connect with an audience of black, Latino and Native American teenage males who are fighting to escape cycles of poverty, dependency and violence. The goal of the public-private initiative, which is now part of the Obama Foundation and has spread to nearly 250 cities, is to help minority boys who face a variety of systemic disadvantages. Obama noted that government alone cannot fix problems, and that local governments often play a more important role than the federal government. He said he’s now focused more on the civil society elements of the work because he doesn’t hold elected office. “I’m going to be working on these issues, along with a host of other issues, for the remainder of my life,” Obama said.
A teenager from a Native American school in Albuquerque asked what struggles he went through as a kid. “I didn’t know my father very well. I met him once, and that was it,” Obama said. “I was all kinds of screwed up when I was in high school. I was a good kid in the sense that I think I was always kind to people. I didn’t have a mean spirit. But I did not have a sense of purpose or a clear sense of direction through a big chunk of my high school years. In retrospect, I recognize some of it was I was angry about my father not being there. Some of it was I was growing up in an environment as an African American boy where we didn’t have a large African American community. So there were all sorts of reasons for why I was acting out the way I did. …
“What ended up being the most important thing is when I stopped thinking about myself, and I started thinking about how I could be useful to other people,” he continued. “I didn’t grow up and become the person I am until I was less focused on me and I was more focused on how I could be useful and who I could help. … When you’re helping somebody … and you see the impact, that gives you confidence.”
Obama said a lot of dads want to be around for their families, but they are not because of mass incarceration, discrimination and the lack of job opportunities. “We can all be surrogate fathers,” said the dad to two daughters. “My father might not have been in my house, but there were a whole bunch of men who taught me something and guided me.”
-- In honor of Black History Month, Obama shared a nonfiction reading list ahead of the event to help people “better understand our country’s past and our evolving, persistent struggles with race.” The former president’s list has some great titles that complement the syllabus I prepared for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) last week:
- “The Warmth of Other Suns,” by Isabel Wilkerson
- “Stamped From the Beginning,” by Ibram X. Kendi
- “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,” by Bryan Stevenson
- “A Stone of Hope: A Memoir,” by Jim St. Germain with Jon Sternfeld
- “The Fire Next Time,” by James Baldwin
- “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” by Martin Luther King Jr.
- “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom,” by David W. Blight
Obama also shared a link to a New York Times story from March 2018 about data showing the “punishing reach of racism for black boys.”
-- The former president mostly steered clear of politics, though he noted at one point that the Trump administration has reversed the guidance his administration issued to local school districts to lower suspension rates among communities of color. The crowd booed. “Nobody hears your boos,” Obama answered. “They’ll hear your vote.”
He said it’s ultimately up to young people to get involved and change the system. “The truth of the matter is that nothing changes if citizens living in communities aren’t paying attention and aren’t educating themselves about how decisions are made about a school board, how decisions are made about police oversight, how decisions are made about drug laws,” said Obama. “You can have a bunch of politicians or celebrities talk all they want, but ultimately what will actually bring about change is when all of you go back to your respective communities and activate and educate yourselves and then insist whoever it is that’s in charge of making those decisions is making them … for the right reasons and in the right way. And if there are people who aren’t doing that, they should be replaced. And if there’s nobody to replace them, then you should step up and prepare yourself to replace them.”
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- Federal offices in Washington, along with schools and universities in the area, will be closed today because of a winter storm. Two to four inches of snow will probably accumulate in the immediate metro area this morning before turning into sleet and freezing rain. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Hazardous road conditions are likely through the morning hours, with gradual improvement from south to north later this afternoon into the evening. But that’s only after a period of sleet and freezing rain covers parts of the area, mainly north and west of D.C., with a glaze of ice in time for what’s left of an afternoon commute. The worst icing and potential for scattered power outages is north and west of the Beltway.” Metrorail is expected to operate trains every 12 minutes on all lines. Metrobus service will begin on a limited basis. (Find the full list of closures here.)
-- The White House is planning to assemble the Presidential Committee on Climate Security, a panel that will assess whether climate change poses a national security threat. Juliet Eilperin and Missy Ryan report: “The committee, which would be established by executive order, is being spearheaded by William Happer, a National Security Council senior director. Happer, an emeritus professor of physics at Princeton University, has said that carbon emissions linked to climate change should be viewed as an asset rather than a pollutant. The initiative represents the Trump administration’s most recent attempt to question the findings of federal scientists and experts on climate change."
GET SMART FAST:
Republicans in the West Virginia legislature tabled a bill expanding vouchers for charter and private schools hours after the state’s teachers went on strike to protest the proposal. The rapid reversal underscored the influence West Virginia teachers hold a year after they won a 5 percent raise by walking off the job. (Moriah Balingit)
The Food and Drug Administration, drug companies and doctors mishandled distribution of a fentanyl painkiller, allowing widespread prescriptions to be distributed to ineligible patients, according to a paper in the medical journal JAMA that relies on nearly 5,000 pages of documents obtained from the government. Over time, the report said, the FDA and drug companies became aware of the practice but failed to take action. (Lenny Bernstein)
Trump followed the Pentagon's advice as he signed a policy directive to create the Space Force as part of the Air Force rather than as its own separate branch of the military. But a Pentagon spokesman said the Defense Department will soon submit a proposal to Congress authorizing the establishment of the Space Force as the sixth branch of the U.S. military. (Dan Lamothe)
Senior Catholic Church officials, including Pope Francis, stand accused of ignoring sexual abuse at a boarding school for the deaf in Argentina. Some of the school’s former students, who generally came from low-income families that were extremely devout, said the priests would try to prevent their victims from disclosing the abuse by discouraging the use of sign language. (Anthony Faiola, Chico Harlan and Stefano Pitrelli)
A political consultant for North Carolina Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris testified under oath that he was shocked by accusations that a campaign operative directed a scheme to collect, forge, fill out and submit mail-in ballots. Andy Yates emphatically denied any knowledge of the alleged tactics of Leslie McCrae Dowless, who is at the center of an election-fraud investigation unfolding at an evidentiary hearing in Raleigh this week. Yates also said he’d seen no evidence that Harris, the candidate, knew of the alleged fraud. (Amy Gardner)
The family of a Covington Catholic High School student who was involved in an encounter with a Native American advocate at the Lincoln Memorial filed a defamation lawsuit against The Post, seeking $250 million in damages for its coverage of the incident. The lawsuit alleges that The Post “targeted and bullied” 16-year-old Nicholas Sandmann to embarrass Trump. A Post spokeswoman said the news organization plans to “mount a vigorous defense.” A plaintiff must show that a defendant acted with “reckless disregard” to sustain a defamation action. (Paul Farhi)
Former congressmen Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), who went down in the Democratic primary last year to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, joined the white-shoe lobbying firm Squire Patton Boggs, along with ex-congressman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.). (Politico)
Former NBA marketing executive Li Li Leung was named the president of USA Gymnastics. The former gymnast will become the organization’s fourth president in four years as it continues to struggle from the fallout of the sexual abuse scandal connected to Larry Nassar. (Liz Clarke)
The University of Central Florida’s president bowed to pressure and tendered his resignation amid investigations into the misappropriation of nearly $85 million in construction funds. Dale Whittaker got the job less than a year ago and had pledged to fight through the scandal. (Orlando Sentinel)
Don Newcombe, a pitcher who helped integrate Major League Baseball and who won the league’s first Cy Young Award, died at 92. Newcombe, who blamed alcohol abuse for prematurely ending his career, went on to run the Los Angeles Dodgers’ substance-abuse program. (David Marino-Nachison)
THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- Today's New York Times identifies previously unknown instances in which Trump reportedly tried to stymie investigations into his campaign, family business and associates. Mark Mazzetti, Maggie Haberman, Nicholas Fandos and Michael S. Schmidt report. Here are the most interesting details:
- Trump asked then-acting attorney general Matt Whitaker whether he could replace with a loyalist the head of the New York probe into Michael Cohen's activities. Trump asked Whitaker “whether Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York and a Trump ally, could be put in charge of the widening investigation, according to several American officials with direct knowledge of the call. Mr. Whitaker, who had privately told associates that part of his role at the Justice Department was to ‘jump on a grenade’ for the president, knew he could not put Mr. Berman in charge because Mr. Berman had already recused himself from the investigation.”
- Whitaker testified differently on the Hill: “Mr. Whitaker, who this month told a congressional committee that Mr. Trump had never pressured him over the various investigations, is now under scrutiny by House Democrats for possible perjury.” The Justice Department denied that the White House asked Whitaker to interfere in any investigations.
- The Flynn factor: White House lawyers privately expressed concern about false statements by Trump and his senior advisers related to the resignation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn. “Lawyers in the White House Counsel’s Office met with [then-press secretary Sean] Spicer about what he should say from the White House podium about what was a sensitive national security investigation. But when Mr. Spicer’s briefing began, the lawyers started hearing numerous misstatements — some bigger than others — and ended up compiling them all in a memo. The lawyers’ main concern was that Mr. Spicer overstated how exhaustively the White House had investigated Mr. Flynn and that he said, wrongly, that administration lawyers had concluded there were no legal issues surrounding Mr. Flynn’s conduct.”
- Priceless: “The president even called his former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, over the Fourth of July weekend to ask him to pressure [then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions] to resign. Mr. Lewandowski was noncommittal and never acted on the request.”
-- The FBI developed a backup plan to protect evidence from its Russia investigation after Trump fired Jim Comey, the AP’s Eric Tucker reports: “The goal was to ensure that the information collected under the investigations … would survive the firings or reassignments of top law enforcement officials. Those officials included [Bob Mueller], who was appointed eight days after Trump fired Comey in May 2017. Andrew McCabe, who became acting director after Comey was fired, asked investigators to develop a plan to ensure evidence would be protected.”
-- The federal judge overseeing Roger Stone’s criminal case has scheduled a hearing for tomorrow to consider whether his conditions of release should be modified or revoked after he posted (and later deleted) a photo of the judge with what looked like a gun’s crosshairs near her head. Reis Thebault, Manuel Roig-Franzia and Rachel Weiner report: “In a text message to The Washington Post on Tuesday, Stone wrote: ‘I will be present for the hearing as ordered.’ He also offered another explanation for the image in the photo, writing that ‘it is evidentially more correctly a Celtic symbol.’ … In an appearance Monday on Infowars, the conspiracy-minded website, Stone described the image in the photo he posted as an ‘occult symbol.’”
-- Trump last night nominated Jeffrey Rosen, the deputy secretary of transportation, to replace Rod Rosenstein as deputy attorney general. Rosen used to work at Kirkland & Ellis with William Barr, the new AG. “Some Justice Department employees say Barr, who has not publicly addressed the president’s latest criticisms of the Russia investigation, has buoyed spirits in a department that has had a rocky two years,” Philip Rucker and Matt Zapotosky report. “Barr, people who know him say, is laboring to maintain his reputation as a relatively independent and principled leader while simultaneously reacting to pressure from his boss, who demands loyalty from his appointees and nominees and frequently disparages the Justice Department as it investigates his campaign and conduct.”
Sidebar: “Complicating Barr’s position is the fact that his son-in-law, Tyler McGaughey, a Justice Department lawyer, recently began working in the White House Counsel’s Office. McGaughey, who had been prosecuting major crimes in the U.S. attorney’s office in Alexandria, was among several lawyers there who have been detailed to the White House.”
-- Trump is so angry at Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats that White House staffers and senior Hill Republicans worry the president might fire the former GOP senator. Shane Harris, Josh Dawsey and Ellen Nakashima report: “Trump is still ‘enraged’ about Coats’s congressional testimony on national security threats last month, believing that the director undercut the president’s authority when he shared intelligence assessments about Iran, North Korea and the Islamic State that are at odds with many of Trump’s public statements, said one adviser who spoke with the president over the weekend. … A White House official said the president’s frustration with Coats was real but didn’t believe he would be fired anytime soon. ... Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee were upset by the prospect of Coats’s firing. ...
“Last July, Coats was being interviewed onstage at the annual Aspen Security Forum when the White House announced via tweet that Russian President Vladimir Putin had been invited to Washington. Coats was clearly taken by surprise and made little effort to hide his displeasure. … Coats also said no one had asked him if it was a good idea for Trump to meet privately with Putin at a summit meeting in Helsinki. … Coats said that he hadn’t been told what happened in the meeting. If asked, he said, he’d have advised the president against speaking one-on-one with Putin and that U.S. security officials were concerned there were no notes taken. … Trump was livid, and believed that Coats was trying to embarrass him in a room filled with high-ranking current and former national security officials … Two days later, Coats publicly apologized for what he called an ‘admittedly awkward response’ to the news of the Putin invitation.”
-- Speaking of Putin, the Russian president said this morning that Russia's new missiles will target the United States if Washington ever deploys missiles in Europe. In a nationally televised speech, Putin said Russia has a new nuclear-capable glider and underwater drone that have been tested and that the weapons are ready to be added to the country's arsenal. (Developing.)
-- Microsoft publicly identified a second Russian operation that targeted prominent think tanks before the midterms. Elizabeth Dwoskin and Craig Timberg report: “The group targeted more than 100 European employees of the German Marshall Fund, the Aspen Institute Germany, and the German Council on Foreign Relations, influential groups that focus on transatlantic policy issues. The attacks, which took place during the last three months of 2018, come ahead of European parliamentary elections in May. They highlight a continuously aggressive campaign by Russian operatives to undermine democratic institutions in countries they see as adversaries.”
FOLLOW THE MONEY:
-- “Key members of the Trump administration pushed a plan to sell nuclear power plants to Saudi Arabia in the months after the inauguration despite objections from members of the National Security Council and other senior White House officials, according to a new report from congressional Democrats,” per Tom Hamburger, Steven Mufson and Ellen Nakashima. “The 24-page report from the House Oversight and Reform Committee is based on internal White House documents and the accounts of unnamed whistleblowers. It said the objectors — including White House lawyers and National Security Council officials — opposed the plan out of concern that it violated laws designed to prevent the transfer of nuclear technology that could be used to support a weapons program.
“The possible sale of nuclear power plants to Saudi Arabia was discussed in the Oval Office just last week. The meeting included Energy Secretary Rick Perry, representatives from the NSC and State Department, and a dozen nuclear industry chief executives, one of the people present told The Washington Post.
“The report, key elements of which were confirmed by people directly familiar with the matter, cites whistleblowers who said that the Trump appointees ‘ignored directives from top ethics advisers who repeatedly — but unsuccessfully — ordered senior White House officials to halt their efforts.’ …
“The report released Tuesday notes that one of the power plant manufacturers that could benefit from a nuclear deal, Westinghouse Electric, is a subsidiary of Brookfield Asset Management, the company that has provided financial relief to the family of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and a senior White House adviser. Brookfield Asset Management took a 99-year lease on the Kushner family’s deeply indebted New York City property at 666 Fifth Ave. Kushner is preparing for a trip to the Middle East to discuss the economic component of his Middle East peace initiative … A lawyer for Kushner did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.”
-- Deutsche Bank executives were so worried the Trump Organization would default on about $340 million of loans after the 2016 election that they considered extending payment rates past 2025, when the president’s potential second term would be completed. From Bloomberg News’s Gavin Finch, Steven Arons and Shahien Nasiripour: “The bank ultimately decided against restructuring the loans to the Trump Organization, which come due in 2023 and 2024, and chose instead not to do any new business with Trump while he is president … The outstanding Deutsche Bank debt includes $125 million for the Trump National Doral Miami resort, which matures in 2023, according to federal records and mortgage documents. The company also owes $170 million for the Trump International Hotel in Washington and has another loan against a Chicago tower, both of which come due in 2024. ... In the four years before his election, Trump borrowed more than $620 million from Deutsche Bank and a separate lender, Ladder Capital, to finance projects in Manhattan, Chicago, Washington and a Miami suburb."
ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN AND WOMEN:
-- The Office of Government Ethics declined to certify Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s financial disclosure form, which it described as “not accurate.” CNN’s Gregory Wallace, Ellie Kaufman and Donna Borak report: “Emory Rounds, the director of the Office of Government Ethics, wrote that Ross reported in his annual financial disclosure that he sold bank stock that other reports indicate he did not sell. That meant ‘the filer was therefore not in compliance with his ethics agreement at the time of the report,’ Rounds wrote. The watchdog group that drew attention to the report, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said OGE declining to certify a report ‘does not normally happen.’”
-- In response, Ross said he didn't mean to file incorrect financial disclosures. Reis Thebault reports: “Ross said he mistakenly believed he had sold the assets in question — 100 shares of BankUnited stock — in May 2017. When he realized his error, he said, he sold the stock and disclosed the sale in October 2018. The shares, Ross said, were worth $3,700, an amount that federal regulations deem 'below the threshold of a possible conflict of interest.' (According to a Bloomberg News report, that threshold is $15,000 for publicly traded securities.) "'Therefore, even if a BankUnited matter had come before the Department while I owned the shares — and I have not been made aware of any such matter — I would not have been disqualified from working on it,' Ross said. He called the inaccuracy 'the only known error in my annual report.'"
-- Congressional Democrats accused a senior official at the Education Department of trying to oust the agency’s inspector general over her attempts to investigate Secretary Betsy DeVos. NBC News’s Heidi Przybyla reports: “Lawmakers from four House and Senate committees who oversee the department sent a letter to DeVos on Tuesday, suggesting that the effort to replace the department’s acting inspector general, Sandra Bruce, had been related to her duties in overseeing the probe of DeVos’ decision to reinstate ACICS, an accreditor that had been stripped of its certification by the Obama administration.”
-- Sarah Isgur, Jeff Sessions’s former chief spokeswoman at Justice, will join CNN as a political editor overseeing coverage of the 2020 campaign. Politico’s Eliana Johnson and Michael Calderone report: “Isgur joined the administration in 2017 after overcoming resistance from the president, who balked at bringing on a political operative who had trashed him on the campaign trail. As deputy campaign manager for Carly Fiorina’s presidential campaign, and in the months after Fiorina bowed out of the race, Isgur repeatedly laced into Trump. … While it is common for departing administration officials to join cable news networks as analysts or contributors, it is less common for them to oversee news coverage. Isgur has no experience in news but a long history as a political operative.” CNN staffers had a generally negative reaction to the opaque process for hiring Isgur, which one employee described to the Daily Beast as “extremely demoralizing.”
-- Former White House legislative affairs director Marc Short will serve as the vice president’s new chief of staff. Josh Dawsey reports: “The hire marks the first time an aide who left the Trump White House has returned to work in a West Wing known for its chaotic environment and staff turnover. … Short left the administration last year after working as Trump’s first legislative affairs director but has kept in touch with the vice president, White House officials said. … While Trump grew frustrated with Short over a spending bill last year that he signed but did not like because it did not provide the amount he wanted for his border wall, he was largely on good terms with the president and is well-liked in the administration, current and former administration officials said.”
-- “After his departure, Mr. Short was occasionally blamed by name by the president for the administration’s failure to secure more money to pay for a border wall, White House officials said. But that relationship has been repaired in recent weeks due in large part to Mr. Short’s defense of Mr. Trump on CNN, appearances the president has kept an eye on,” the Wall Street Journal’s Michael Bender adds.
THE IMMIGRATION WARS:
-- The Trump administration canceled $929 million in federal grants for California's high-speed rail project, which Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) sees as political payback for the state leading a lawsuit to block the president's national emergency declaration. From the Los Angeles Times's Ralph Vartabedian and Matthew Ormseth: “The Transportation Department also said it was 'actively exploring every legal option' to get back an additional $2.5-billion grant that is being used to finance the construction of 119 miles of rail line in the Central Valley. The two federal grants represent about one-fourth of all the funding for the project to date — money critical to completing the Central Valley portion and finishing environmental reviews for other segments between San Francisco and Los Angeles.”
-- “Trump insisted to reporters Tuesday afternoon that he had an ‘absolute right’ to declare an emergency and said that it is an ‘open and closed case’ that he can use the declaration to circumvent Congress to fund long-sought barriers at the border,” John Wagner reports. “Trump sounded more confident of his standing. ‘I think in the end, we’re going to be very successful with the lawsuit,’ he said, adding that it’s possible he might even prevail within the 9th Circuit.”
-- Senate Republicans remain divided over Trump's declaring emergency powers to build a wall: Ten are on the record supporting it, 17 have expressed concerns, and four have spoken in opposition to the order. The other 22 GOP senators have avoided taking any public stance on it. (Kate Rabinowitz is keeping a whip count for us.)
-- Border Patrol agents are growing accustomed to their new role as relief providers, as they are often the first to meet Central American families as they arrive. CBP has strengthened medical teams at border facilities, and agents have been stocking up on powdered milk and even offering cookies to migrant kids. Maria Sacchetti reports: “The deaths of two Guatemalan children in December and the massive groups of Central American families crossing the border are increasingly transforming the Border Patrol’s role from national security to humanitarian relief. ... Well over half the people taken into custody in recent months have been parents and children, with hundreds surrendering at a time, often in isolated locations. …
“Agents say they are frustrated that parents are using children to gain entry into the United States, and they fault smugglers for taking them on risky journeys. Agents were horrified to find a 6-year-old boy abandoned in the Arizona desert last year, in 100-degree heat. He carried a lunchbox and said he was looking for his mother in the United States. Children as young as toddlers have been heaved over high border fences to the desert sand below.”
THE SUPREME COURT:
-- For the second time in as many weeks, Chief Justice John Roberts sided with his liberal colleagues on how to interpret Supreme Court precedent. Robert Barnes reports: “Roberts was pointed in saying the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has ‘misapplied’ a 2017 ruling that instructed that court to reconsider its analysis of whether death-row inmate Bobby James Moore was intellectually disabled, and thus ineligible for execution. Less than two weeks ago, Roberts joined the liberals in stopping a Louisiana abortion law that was nearly identical to a Texas law the court had struck down in 2016. … Roberts’s role in the abortion and death penalty cases were notable partly because he had been in dissent in the original decisions.”
-- Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg returned to the bench for the first time since her December cancer surgery. Barnes and Mark Berman report: “Ginsburg, 85, was the first justice to ask a question during the oral arguments in a case centering on whether the government could be considered a ‘person’ able to challenge a patent. … For much of the time, Ginsburg remained still as her colleagues alternately leaned back in their seats, swiveled in place or rubbed their faces. Her head slightly bowed, she peered out over the court and appeared focused on the arguments. … She entered and left the courtroom without any assistance. Her appearance seemed to be the main attraction for some of the journalists who gathered into the crowded courtroom; two quickly left once she had appeared and asked her first question.”
-- Justice Clarence Thomas criticized New York Times v. Sullivan, the court’s landmark libel ruling, as a “policy-driven” decision “masquerading as constitutional law,” somewhat echoing Trump’s complaints on the issue. Barnes reports: “Some media law experts expressed concern over Thomas’s concern. Jonathan Peters, a professor of media law at the University of Georgia, said New York Times v. Sullivan ‘is essential to our modern understanding of press freedom.’ … But Thomas and the late Justice Antonin Scalia have said the court may have intruded into a space in which it was not needed. … 'The States are perfectly capable of striking an acceptable balance between encouraging robust public discourse and providing a meaningful remedy for reputational harm,’” Thomas wrote.
-- The high court declined to intervene in the criminal trial of former congressman Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) on corruption charges. Politico’s Josh Gerstein reports: “In an order issued Tuesday morning, the justices rejected Schock’s request that the high court hear his arguments that the case charging him with fraud, making false statements and theft of government funds unconstitutionally intrudes into the internal affairs of the legislative branch.”
-- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has hired Faiz Shakir, the ACLU’s national political director, as his presidential campaign manager. The Daily Beast’s Gideon Resnick, Spencer Ackerman and Sam Stein report: “In hiring Shakir, Sanders brings into the fold one of the Democratic Party’s better-traveled operatives—an official with limited campaign experience but with ties to the party’s think tank infrastructure, its Hill operations, and the larger progressive universe. … Before joining the ACLU, he was a senior adviser to then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and before that he worked with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). … Shakir, 39, is almost certainly the first campaign manager of a major presidential campaign who identifies as a Muslim.”
-- The ACLU intends to capitalize on its expanded influence during the Trump era by hosting events for Democratic presidential candidates. HuffPost’s Kevin Robillard reports: “The ACLU’s revenue has doubled and its members have quadrupled since [Trump’s] election. … And it will soon get more involved in the presidential contest. The ACLU wants to host debates and forums featuring the candidates in order to probe their stances on issues critical to the group, including criminal justice reform, voting rights and freedom of speech. … [The group’s executive director] said that while the group won’t officially endorse any candidate, he does expect some of the many Democratic hopefuls, if not most, to fall short of its standards.”
-- The Sanders campaign said it raised $4 million from 330,000 donors on his first day as a candidate.
-- The rest of the Vermont congressional delegation — Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy and Rep. Peter Welch — endorsed Sanders’s bid. Welch also supported Sanders in 2016, but Leahy endorsed Hillary Clinton that year. (VPR)
-- Democrats in the 2020 field are battling two challenges simultaneously: Trump and his anti-socialist rhetoric, and an intraparty struggle to figure out how far left their policies can go. Sean Sullivan and Annie Linskey report: “The dynamic has put a squeeze on the Democratic candidates as they begin to lay out their messages. They are being pressed from one side by core Democratic voters hungry for leftist policies favored by the most energized activists and, from the other, by the need to court centrist voters who could be alienated by the party’s turn to the left. …
“Most of the presidential field doesn’t identify as socialist. Some candidates are actively rejecting the label or putting a bit of distance between their campaigns and policies such as Medicare-for-all and the Green New Deal, which many of them support. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) told reporters she is not 'a democratic socialist' while Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said passing Medicare-for-all in the Senate would be difficult: ‘I’m not going to be one of these presidential candidates that’s not going to tell you the hard truth,’ Booker said.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said she’s not purposely avoiding talking about the Green New Deal or Medicare-for-all: “Asked how she can combat the ‘false news going around’ that equates universal health care with ‘socialism or communism,’ Warren turned the question back on Trump. ‘We’re caught in this moment where the very foundations of democracy are under attack,’ Warren said. ‘This is a scary moment for our country.’ … Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) … praised the Green New Deal, which she co-sponsors, as a ‘multifaceted approach’ and argued that Democrats should embrace the difficult challenge of creating a ‘green economy.’”
-- Former vice president Joe Biden, who still won’t say whether he’s running, took aim at Trump during a speech at the University of Pennsylvania. During a Q&A in front of hundreds of students, Biden shared his vision of reversing Trump’s foreign policy and said he’s now more optimistic about the country than ever, saying, “It is time to restore America’s soul.” (Michael Scherer)
-- The self-help author Marianne Williamson has launched a long-shot bid for president based on her philosophy that Americans are responsible for ensuring the health of our democracy. Anna Peele profiles the motivational speaker: “Williamson and Trump have quite a bit in common. Both are wealthy non-politicians who sought (or seek) the presidency without previously holding public office. Both are charismatic speakers who avoid teleprompters. … Williamson says she’s not actually trying to beat Trump. … Trump, she says, is ‘simply a symptom’ of a condition the other candidates aren’t qualified to heal. … Williamson traces many of our nation’s psychic wounds to slavery, for which she believes we need to make reparations in the form of a $100 billion, 10-year investment disseminated by a panel of black leaders across fields.”
-- The Trump campaign is tackling 2020 in an un-Trumpian way. Politico's Alex Isenstadt reports: “President Donald Trump is assembling a sprawling, corporate-style reelection campaign with 10 divisions reporting to a single senior adviser, campaign manager Brad Parscale — a top-down structure that represents everything Trump’s improvisational 2016 effort was not. ... The plan isn’t without potential downsides. With such a large payroll at such an early stage of the campaign, the campaign runs the risk of over-spending before Democrats have even picked their nominee. ... And in another break from precedent, the campaign, with the RNC, is planning an early and aggressive effort to brand the Democratic field as being out-of-the mainstream and socialist.”
-- Oregon lawmakers are pushing a bill that would lower the voting age to 16. From the Oregonian's Douglas Perry: “Younger Oregonians should have 'a chance to participate in the ballot -- about decisions that affect their homes, their clean air, their future, their schools and, as we’ve seen, their very lives,' Democratic state Sen. Shemia Fagan said at a Monday press conference announcing the measure. Teens are 'begging us to take action to protect their future,' she added. OPB reported that she referenced the student activists from Parkland, Florida, who launched the 'Never Again' movement in the wake of the 2018 mass shooting at their high school.”
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
-- Trump said he is in “no rush whatsoever” to see North Korea denuclearize. Felicia Sonmez reports: “Trump and [Kim Jong Un] will meet on Feb. 27 and 28 in Hanoi, following on their meeting in Singapore last June. Trump told reporters in the Oval Office that he had a ‘great conversation’ about the trip with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday morning. Moon’s administration has said it is hopeful that Trump and Kim can achieve ‘specific’ progress toward denuclearization, although some observers have voiced skepticism about the effectiveness of Trump’s approach. Trump said that while he would ‘ultimately’ like to see North Korea denuclearize, he has ‘no pressing time schedule’ because ‘the sanctions are on.’”
-- Trump may attempt to persuade the North Korean leader to commit to denuclearization during their second summit by promising him an announcement of peace and an end to the Korean War. From the AP's Eric Talmadge: “Such an announcement could make history. It would be right in line with Trump’s opposition to 'forever wars.' And, coming more than six decades after the fighting essentially ended, it just seems like common sense. But, if not done carefully, it could open up a whole new set of problems for Washington. ... If done right, it would be a huge boost to Kim’s reputation at home and abroad. And, of course, to the cause of peace on the Korean Peninsula at a time when Pyongyang says it is trying to shift scarce resources away from defense ... Washington has a lot to gain, too. Trump has said he would welcome a North Korea that is more focused on trade and economic growth. Stability on the peninsula is good for South Korea’s economy and probably for Japan’s as well.”
-- Japan’s Fukushima is getting back on its feet eight years after a nuclear meltdown, but the public’s trust has not recovered. Simon Denyer reports: “Radiation levels in the prefecture’s capital city, Fukushima, are comparable to the super-safe readings in places such as Hong Kong and London, monitors say. And a massive decontamination effort is still underway. But facts and spreadsheets supplied by the government are one thing. Rebuilding trust among locals may be significantly harder… at least 24 countries and territories ban some produce from Fukushima. Taiwan, South Korea and China still impose a total food ban. The United States prohibits Fukushima produce such as mushrooms, leafy vegetables and broccoli. Fishermen now only ply the seas two days a week.”
-- The White House is launching an effort to end the criminalization of homosexuality around the world. NBC News’s Josh Lederman reports: “U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, the highest-profile openly gay person in the Trump administration, is leading the effort, which kicks off Tuesday evening in Berlin. The U.S. embassy is flying in LGBT activists from across Europe for a strategy dinner to plan to push for decriminalization in places that still outlaw homosexuality — mostly concentrated in the Middle East, Africa and the Caribbean. … Narrowly focused on criminalization, rather than broader LGBT issues like same-sex marriage, the campaign was conceived partly in response to the recent reported execution by hanging of a young gay man in Iran, the Trump administration’s top geopolitical foe.”
-- Egyptian officials detained a New York Times reporter and then forced him to return to London. The Times’s Declan Walsh reports: “The move against the correspondent, David D. Kirkpatrick, is an escalation of a severe crackdown against the news media under Egypt’s strongman leader, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Egyptian journalists have borne the brunt of Mr. el-Sisi’s repression, with dozens imprisoned or forced into exile. But of late, a lack of pushback from the United States has emboldened Egypt’s security forces to take stronger action against representatives of Western news outlets, including expulsion.”
-- Two American women who left the country to marry Islamic State militants want to return home after escaping the self-declared caliphate together and surrendering to American troops in the Syrian desert. From the Times’s Rukmini Callimachi and Catherine Porter: “Both women … said they were trying to figure out how to have their passports reissued, and how to win the sympathy of the two nations they scorned. … In a tweet this weekend, President Trump criticized allies including Britain, France and Germany for not taking back hundreds of ISIS prisoners captured on the battlefield. … The president made no mention of American women who had married ISIS fighters and whom the United States had not returned home. Both [women] said they had not been visited by American officials since their capture last month.
“A small number of Americans — as few as 59, according to data tracked by the George Washington University Program on Extremism — are known to have traveled to Syria to join ISIS. Nearly all the American men captured in battle have been repatriated, but it is unclear why some of the American women and their children — at least 13 known to The Times — have not been.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
A libertarian congressman who has previously expressed opposition to some of Trump's policies posed this question:
Bernie Sanders touted his fundraising haul after he launched his second presidential campaign:
A Times reporter criticized Bernie's theory of the case:
An NBC News reporter shared this piece of trivia after Sanders picked up an endorsement from his fellow senator from Vermont:
A Burlington Free Press editor noted that Elizabeth Warren is paying to run ads for herself when someone does a Google search for Bernie Sanders:
Donald Trump Jr. suggested Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) should end her campaign:
This reporter revisited an overlooked bit from Trump's speech in El Paso last week:
An NPR reporter cautioned against getting too excited about Trump's new Space Force plans:
Many on Twitter decried CNN's decision to hire a longtime Republican spokeswoman to direct the network's political coverage:
The first lady paid homage to Karl Lagerfeld:
Crowds flocked to a New York hotel to catch a glimpse of Meghan Markle as she celebrated her baby shower:
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- Foreign Affairs, “A Battle Plan for the World Bank,” by David Miliband: “Extreme poverty and conflict go hand in hand. By 2030, some 85 percent of extremely poor people—those living on less than $1.90 a day—will live in fragile settings, affected or threatened by war and other shocks. The number of armed conflicts around the world is 65 percent higher today than it was a decade ago. Many of these conflicts are civil wars, which tend to last longer than interstate wars and are much more likely to recur after a peace agreement has been reached. As a result, displacement is lasting longer—at least ten years for the average refugee. During those years, many of the displaced are unable to work or go to school. The host countries are often overburdened: almost 90 percent of the world’s 24.5 million refugees live in low and middle-income countries, which already struggle to educate their populations and expand their economies. An influx of refugees can threaten tentative progress toward development. And when host countries do develop, refugees are often left behind.”
-- New York Times, “Housing Is Already in a Slump. So It (Probably) Can’t Cause a Recession,” by Conor Dougherty: “The gist is this: The United States may or may not enter a recession this year, but if it does, housing is unlikely to be the cause, because it never really recovered in the first place. 'Housing is not in a position to lead this thing down,' said Edward Leamer, an economics professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. How much it can help prolong the overall recovery is another matter. Home sales and prices have been sluggish in the face of rising interest rates. Still, the pace of construction, combined with pent-up demand from young adults, suggests that the sector should at least remain stable in the face of uncertainty elsewhere.”
-- American Interest, “The Long Freedom Slump,” by Larry Diamond: “If you look past the seven advanced industrial democracies among [the world’s] 27 largest countries, you find four democracies straining under the weight of corruption and crime (Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines, and South Africa); four countries where elected leaders have stifled democratic institutions or possibilities (Russia, Turkey, Bangladesh, and Tanzania); four countries where, in different ways, the military effectively dominates (Pakistan, Thailand, Myanmar, and Egypt); three entrenched dictatorships (China, Vietnam, and Iran); three huge arenas of political pluralism (India, Indonesia, and Nigeria); one African country where the door to democratic reform seems to be closing again (the DRC); and one—just one—with a real but tenuous possibility of democratic progress (Ethiopia).”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“Burberry sweatshirt featuring noose for drawstrings condemned for evoking suicide, lynching,” from Reis Thebault: “Another fashion debut, another designer brand facing accusations of insensitivity. This time around, the offending label was Burberry, a company best known for its distinctive check pattern — at least, until it showed off one of its latest items at London Fashion Week on Sunday: a hooded sweatshirt that featured, instead of the usual drawstrings, a rope tied into a noose. Observers quickly condemned the sweatshirt and accused the fashion house of evoking racist lynching imagery and of being insensitive to suicide. Burberry later responded with an apology and said it was removing the sweatshirt from its collection.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“In blow to Obama Presidential Center backers, judge allows lawsuit challenging Chicago's Jackson Park location to proceed,” from the Chicago Tribune: “In a setback to plans to build the Obama Presidential Center on Chicago’s South Side lakefront, a federal judge ruled Tuesday that a lawsuit challenging its location can proceed. U.S. Judge John Robert Blakey said in a written ruling that the environmental group Protect Our Parks has enough legal ground to bring some of its objections before him. … The ruling to allow the suit to proceed is significant because it could delay construction for months, and potentially raise the question of whether the $500 million sprawling presidential campus can be built at all on lakefront property in Jackson Park.”
Trump will have lunch with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and welcome the Austrian chancellor to the White House.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“The issue I'm concerned about is he has a very low reelect number, I think in the 30s, high 30s, low 40s. So the chance of him losing a general election are pretty good. I'm not saying he couldn't win, but he's pretty weak in the general election.” — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who has been eyeing a potential primary challenge to Trump, on the president’s reelection prospects. (CBS News)
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- Announcing a snow day can catapult a local government official into legend status in thousands of teenagers’ eyes. Here’s what the decision-making process is like for officials who call those shots. Debbie Truong reports: “An elaborate calculus lies behind each call to close schools in large systems with sprawling geographies, such as in Northern Virginia. It involves monitoring weather forecasts, testing road conditions — and very early mornings. ‘Second-guessing weather decisions is Washington’s favorite sport,’ said Matthew Guilfoyle, an associate superintendent for Prince William County Public Schools. ‘It’s just really important folks understand that the goal is student safety.’”
-- Freshman Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), a member of the centrist, bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, visited the conservative heart of her district and was quizzed on immigration during her first town hall meeting. Jenna Portnoy reports: “The room at a recreation center in the rural county 30 miles outside Richmond was full of tea-party-style Republicans, some of whom said they did not vote for Spanberger but still came to hear her out. Three out of 10 questions focused on immigration … Stan Corn of Goochland wanted to know why Spanberger didn’t support the $5.7 billion Trump wanted to build the wall. … [Asked] about sanctuary cities, Spanberger said she worried about local jurisdictions enforcing federal immigration law without the necessary training and certification. ‘I don’t support sanctuary cities,’ she said. ‘I don’t support safe haven for criminals. But I do also support ensuring that jurisdiction is upheld.’”
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
John Oliver thinks it's too early to start talking about the 2020 election:
Stephen Colbert discussed Bernie Sanders's 2020 chances:
Karl Lagerfeld, the iconic designer who reinvented Chanel, has died. Here's a look back at his long career: