With Joanie Greve and Mariana Alfaro

THE BIG IDEA: The pragmatists are preparing to strike back.

Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper (D) identifies as a progressive, but he emphasizes that compromise is needed “to make progress.”

“I’m running for president because we need dreamers in Washington, but we also need to get things done,” Hickenlooper said in a video announcing his candidacy on Monday morning. “I’ve proven again and again I can bring people together to produce the progressive change Washington has failed to deliver.”

Hickenlooper’s rollout should be viewed as the opening salvo in a broader battle to pull the center of gravity in the Democratic debate back toward the middle and to emphasize the importance of electability if President Trump is going to be defeated in 2020.

“If everyone yells at Trump, he wins,” Hickenlooper said on his most recent trip to Iowa, where he’s been testing the waters. “You have to laugh at him and joke along and say, ‘Hey, this is what I did.’”

The first two months of this year have been dominated by the left, starting with Elizabeth Warren’s New Year’s Eve campaign launch and continuing through this past Thursday, when freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez threatened a roomful of House Democrats with primary challenges if they vote with Republicans.

A procession of more moderate figures has been waiting anxiously in the wings. Consider The Five B's:

Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is believed to be leaning toward an impending bid for the Democratic nomination, and the billionaire has signaled that he’s willing to draw heavily on his personal fortune to make his case. His top advisers have reportedly been interviewing potential hires in early states and looking for office space.

It would be very surprising if former vice president Joe Biden decides not to move forward with a third try for the White House. “The timetable remains in question,” Dan Balz wrote in Sunday’s paper. “Biden has been in no rush to declare his intentions. He resisted recommendations from some advisers to announce early in an effort to shape the race in his favor. He has chosen to wait, preferring to make himself less of a target and to see whether any of the other early entrants would significantly change the landscape. … Biden will be betting that this isn’t a normal election but rather one that will turn far more on questions about fundamental values than on the specifics of Medicare-for-all or the Green New Deal — or on votes or actions from three or four decades ago.”

Former congressman Beto O’Rourke, who came surprisingly close to toppling Ted Cruz last year in Texas, is expected to run and may announce later this week. “I’m a capitalist,” O’Rourke told reporters recently when asked about climate change. “I don’t see how we’re able to meet any of the fundamental challenges that we have as a country without in part harnessing the power of the market.”

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who won a second term in 2016 even as Trump carried the state by 21 points, is widely expected to throw his hat in the ring soon. He just wrapped up a term as chairman of the bipartisan National Governors Association.

Michael Bennet, one of the most moderate Democrats in the Senate, also continues to explore a potential run. “We don’t have to settle for disgraceful politics. We don’t have to settle for being as terrible as Donald Trump,” Bennet said during a visit to Iowa the weekend before last. “We don’t have to settle for Freedom Caucus tactics — those guys are tyrants. We don’t have to accept that.”

Interestingly, the senator was Hickenlooper’s chief of staff during his tenure as mayor of Denver. Hickenlooper encouraged Bennet to take over the city’s public schools. Bennet then beat out Hickenlooper to get appointed to the Senate seat that opened in 2009 when Barack Obama appointed Ken Salazar as interior secretary. Both wanted that job. Hickenlooper got elected governor the next year, instead, and just wrapped up his second term. The Denver Post recently highlighted the similarities between them and wondered how they’ll differentiate themselves if both get in.

-- The question now is whether these five white guys, The Five B's, can match the energy level on the left and draw the kinds of crowds that their more progressive competitors have been getting for months. (Sherrod Brown, who has been touring the early states, is one of the more liberal members of the Senate, but he’s gotten elected statewide in Ohio several times and has pushed back recently against the lurch to the left.)

-- Others to watch in the pragmatist lane are former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe and current New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Both are watching carefully to gauge Biden’s intentions. While Cuomo insists he’s deferred to Biden, “it’s obvious to some who’ve talked to him that White House dreams still lurk in his head, and that a part of him would like to be running,” the Atlantic’s Edward-Isaac Dovere reports. “When he looks at the Democrats who are already in the race, he makes a point of noting how many of them he knows, even as he makes clear that he doesn’t think any of them measure up.”

-- The 67-year-old Hickenlooper has figured out how to thread the needle in a swing state. After losing his job as a geologist during the 1980s, Hickenlooper opened a successful brewpub and grew the business. He ran for mayor of Denver after leading a citizen’s campaign to stop the renaming of Mile High Stadium. After two terms, he was elected governor during a wave year for Republicans in 2010 and (narrowly) reelected in 2014 during another wave.

Hickenlooper worked with a Republican-controlled legislature after he took office. “He signed off on austere budgets that attracted bipartisan support; he allied with Republicans to boost natural gas exploration, and with Democrats to legalize civil unions,” Dave Weigel notes. “In 2012, when a man shot and killed 12 people in a suburban Denver movie theater, Hickenlooper began to advocate a ban on extended magazines. … In 2017, he and Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) led a bipartisan group of governors to oppose Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. … In 2018, Hickenlooper threatened to call a special legislative session to undo an anti-fracking ballot measure, if voters passed it; he backed down only after the measure failed.”

In materials sent to reporters, Hickenlooper’s campaign team highlights his efforts to woo GOP support for expanding Medicaid in Colorado and his success as mayor in partnering with Republicans in the suburbs to expand mass transit. He was initially opposed to legalizing marijuana, fearful that it would lead to more kids using drugs, but he’s evolved and worked to make the recreational sale of pot as safe as possible. He supported the death penalty when he ran in 2010 but changed his mind before running for a second term. The issue made his reelection race much tighter in 2014 than it would have been otherwise.

The former mayor and governor will hold a “send-off” rally on Thursday night in the Greek Amphitheater at Denver’s Civic Center Park before flying to Iowa for events on Friday and Saturday. Then he will head to South by Southwest in Austin on Sunday.

-- The narrative continues to cement that the Democratic Party is moving into territory that could make it hard for the eventual nominee to beat Trump. Consider these three stories that posted over the weekend:

-- Pennsylvania Democrats fear the party’s leftward drift could cost them victories next year, Trip Gabriel reports in the New York Times: “It is probably no coincidence that most of the Pennsylvania Democrats who won Republican-held congressional seats last year were moderates who had defeated progressives in primary contests. The one progressive who made it to the general election in a competitive district, Scott Wallace, lost to the Republican, Brian Fitzpatrick, in Bucks County, which Hillary Clinton carried. Leading Democratic and Republican strategists in Pennsylvania said the most likely nominees to carry the state, at this early stage, appeared to be [Biden], a native of Scranton, and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, both of whose centrist policies fit comfortably with the state’s voters.”

-- “When did everyone become a socialist?” That’s the question posed on the cover of next week’s New York magazine: “Coolheaded Obaman technocracy is out; strident left-wing moral clarity is in. And while this atmospheric shift is felt most acutely among the left-literary crowd, it’s also bled into the general discourse, such that Teen Vogue is constantly flacking against capitalism and one of the most devastating insults in certain corners of the internet is to call someone a neoliberal.”

-- John Anzalone, an Alabama-based Democratic pollster, said the perception that the party’s primary voters are enthusiastically liberal is not based on data,” Michael Scherer and Mike DeBonis reported in Saturday’s Washington Post. “‘There is, without a doubt, a myth that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez somehow represents the narrative of Democratic primary voters in the country,’ Anzalone said. ‘Almost half of them identify themselves as moderates or conservative.’

“That appears to be at least somewhat borne out by the midterms, when less-ideological candidates often won when facing purist opponents. Thirty-three of the 40 GOP seats that Democrats picked up were won by candidates who had been endorsed by the moderate NewDem PAC. A November Gallup poll found a pragmatic streak in the party — 54 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents wanted the party to become ‘more moderate,’ while only 41 percent wanted it to be more liberal. That contrasted with the Republicans and their allies, 57 percent of whom wanted a more conservative party.

“In the House, moderates like Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) have been speaking up more about the merits of their approach, which tends to attract smaller audiences on Instagram and Twitter. ‘There are a lot of people that suck up a lot of oxygen,’ Schrader said. ‘And then there’s the people that do the work. … We’re the ones who actually govern and make things happen. And I think we’re content with that.’”

Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster who is advising Hickenlooper, countered: “You can be very progressive, liberal and left and also want to elect people to get things done. Primary voters are very comfortable holding both of those things at the same time. They don’t see it as either-or.”

MORE ON 2020:

-- Iciness between Bernie and Hillary in Selma, Ala. Hillary Clinton appeared at a “unity breakfast” in her honor at a community college named for George Wallace. “The interaction between Sanders and Clinton — their first since they faced off in a sometimes-bitter 2016 Democratic primary — was frosty. While Clinton gave [Cory] Booker an effusive hug, the exchange with Sanders was brief; as he passed by quickly, she reached out and initiated a terse hello,” Matt Viser reports from the annual Bloody Sunday pilgrimage. “Sanders was asked on Friday whether he plans to meet with Clinton, as others seeking the Democratic nomination have done. ‘I suspect not. Hillary has not called me. Look, we have differences,’ Sanders said on ABC’s ‘The View.’ Asked if he was interested in her advice, he responded, ‘I think not.’”

While Clinton struggled to run up her numbers in 2016 among African American voters in places like Detroit, Milwaukee and Philadelphia, there was no lack of enthusiasm on display Sunday: “A small choir serenaded Clinton with a song about moving forward, rising up, and climbing higher mountains. ‘Hillary,’ one verse went, ‘you’re still rising.’ One speaker made a request for ‘when’ she is president. Some wore T-shirts that said, ‘Hillary is my president.’ ‘She was elected president of the United States, and it was stolen from her,’ said state Sen. Hank Sanders, as a breakfast crowd of about 700 rose to its feet. ‘It was stolen from her by the FBI. … It was stolen from her by the Russians.’”

-- With rallies in Brooklyn on Saturday and Chicago on Sunday night, after Selma, Sanders opened up about his personal story more than he ever did in 2016. Sean Sullivan reports: “Sanders highlighted his Brooklyn roots, noting that he grew up in a 3½-room ‘rent-controlled apartment.’ ‘My mother’s dream was that someday our family would move out of that rent-controlled apartment to a home of our own. That dream was never fulfilled. She died young while we still lived in that rent-controlled apartment.’… Sanders also appears intent on expanding his appeal to nonwhite voters. … ‘One of the proudest days of my life was attending the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,’ Sanders said. … ‘We’re still going to lead with the issues that are affecting everyday people’s lives, but we’re going to add in the narrative of his story, which differentiates him,’ said Chuck Rocha, a senior adviser to Sanders.”

-- Cory Booker is running on the proposition that it’s still possible to revive what he repeatedly refers to as the nation’s “civic grace.” Karen Tumulty writes in her column today: “Booker is not answering the populism of the right with an equally fierce version from the left. And he stands in even sharper contrast from the utter lack of grace that has defined the presidency of the White House’s current occupant. ‘I think this campaign is an opportunity to be more than about an election, but trying to return our country to the ability to address persistent injustices that existed long before Donald Trump,’ Booker told me during an interview. … This antidote to cynicism is not the message some Democrats want to hear as they are looking for their champion to take on Trump and the Republicans. ‘Maybe we should think about kicking them out first and loving them later,’ Wendy E.N. Thomas, a state representative from Merrimack, told Booker.”

-- He might be onto something. The nastiness has emerged as a growing concern among Democrats at the grass-roots level. One Democratic voter attending Warren's event in Waterloo yesterday said he's worried that the large field will lead to intraparty attacks that lose sight of the party's ultimate goal of unseating Trump. The man asked the senator whether she would pledge to do her part to avoid a “circular firing squad.” “You bet,” Warren responded, per the Des Moines Register. “I'm not here to attack Democrats. I'm here to try to get our country back on track. I'm going to stay on the issues — that’s what matters to me.”

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- At least 23 people, including children, are dead in Alabama after tornadoes ravaged parts of the Southeast. Others are still missing, and the toll is expected to grow. It was the deadliest day for tornadoes since 2013. Damage from severe weather was also reported across southern Alabama, Georgia and the Florida Panhandle. (Meagan Flynn and Allyson Chiu)

Here's a picture of the devastation that reflects the twister's strength:

-- More extreme weather: An Arctic blast of cold air has sent temperatures nose-diving across much of the United States. Meteorologists say it could be 50 degrees below normal this week in places from Montana to Kansas. Schools are closed today in New York and Boston because of snow sacking the Northeast. (Joel Achenbach)

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. There’s a lot of water beneath the Mojave Desert. Whether to tap it on a commercial scale has become an early test for California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). As the state’s water supply becomes less reliable, partly because of climate change, politicians are debating whether they should open the Rhode Island-size aquifer. (Scott Wilson)
  2. The World Wide Fund for Nature, one of the world’s largest charities, has allegedly funded paramilitary anti-poaching forces that have assaulted and murdered people. The WWF has launched an independent review into the allegations. (BuzzFeed)
  3. A man who said his wife was stabbed to death when she stopped to give money to a panhandler in Baltimore has been charged with her premeditated murder. He and his daughter were arrested yesterday in Texas near the border with Mexico. (Amy B Wang)  
  4. American Airlines apologized after a woman complained about being booted from a flight because of her genetic skin condition. Jordan Flake said that she and her 1-year-old son were asked to leave the plane out of concern for their “rash,” even after she explained that it was a rare condition called ichthyosis. (Deanna Paul)
  5. A teenager who got himself vaccinated in defiance of his parents’ wishes will testify before the Senate tomorrow. Ethan Lindenberger will address the health committee during a hearing on outbreaks of preventable diseases. (Kayla Epstein)
  6. A new lawsuit brought by a former sex worker targets Nevada's legal brothel system. The suit, which claims that Nevada's brothels violate laws that prohibit encouraging anyone to cross state lines to engage in prostitution, highlights the challenges that come with talking about sex work. (Amy Westervelt)
  7. Television stations are increasingly allowing advertisers to highlight their products during news programs without revealing that a sponsor paid to be featured. The content may run afoul of federal regulation, but those rules from the Federal Communications Commission have been very infrequently enforced over the past decade. (Paul Farhi)
  8. The deputy of a liberal Polish mayor murdered last year at a charity event won an election to replace him by a landslide. Aleksandra Dulkiewicz will take over for former Gdansk mayor Pawel Adamowicz, who opposed Poland’s anti-immigrant policies and whose murder shook the country. (Reuters)

ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN AND WOMEN:

-- Trump’s close relationship with Fox News and its chairman, Rupert Murdoch, creates possible legal concerns, Jane Mayer writes in a lengthy piece for the New Yorker that published this morning:

  • Trump reportedly ordered Gary Cohn in 2017 to pressure the Justice Department to challenge AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner. “According to a well-informed source, Trump called Cohn into the Oval Office along with John Kelly, who had just become the chief of staff, and said in exasperation to Kelly, ‘I’ve been telling Cohn to get this lawsuit filed and nothing’s happened! I’ve mentioned it fifty times. And nothing’s happened. I want to make sure it’s filed. I want that deal blocked!’ Cohn, a former president of Goldman Sachs, evidently understood that it would be highly improper for a President to use the Justice Department to undermine two of the most powerful companies in the country as punishment for unfavorable news coverage, and as a reward for a competing news organization that boosted him. According to the source, as Cohn walked out of the meeting he told Kelly, ‘Don’t you ... dare call the Justice Department. We are not going to do business that way.’”
  • Former Fox CEO Roger Ailes allegedly gave Trump advance notice of Megyn Kelly’s question during a 2015 debate criticizing his history of controversial comments about women. “A pair of Fox insiders and a source close to Trump believe that Ailes informed the Trump campaign about Kelly’s question. Two of those sources say that they know of the tipoff from a purported eyewitness. In addition, a former Trump campaign aide says that a Fox contact gave him advance notice of a different debate question, which asked the candidates whether they would support the Republican nominee, regardless of who won. The former aide says that the heads-up was passed on to Trump, who was the only candidate who said that he wouldn’t automatically support the Party’s nominee—[a] position that burnished his image as an outsider.” A former Trump campaign aide and a Fox representative denied the allegation.
  • Murdoch apparently helped kill a story on Trump’s relationship with Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election. Reporter Diana Falzone’s story “didn’t run—it kept being passed off from one editor to the next. After getting one noncommittal answer after another from her editors, Falzone at last heard from [Ken] LaCorte, who was then the head of FoxNews.com. Falzone told colleagues that LaCorte said to her, ‘Good reporting, kiddo. But Rupert wants Donald Trump to win. So just let it go.’ LaCorte denies telling Falzone this, but one of Falzone’s colleagues confirms having heard her account at the time.”
  • Murdoch regularly talks to Trump and speaks to Jared Kushner on an almost-daily basis. “Well-informed sources say that Kushner, an increasingly valued White House adviser, has worked hard to win over Murdoch, showing him respect and asking him for advice. … Kushner now has an almost filial status with Murdoch, who turns eighty-eight this month, and numerous sources told me that they communicate frequently. ‘Like, every day,’ one said.”

-- Former Trump White House staffer Seb Gorka will no longer be a contributor to Fox News. The news comes days after Gorka gave a speech at CPAC warning that Ocasio-Cortez is trying to confiscate hamburgers. (Mediaite)

-- Intelligence officials have refocused their presidential security briefings to highlight economics and trade so they can keep Trump’s interest. The New York Times’s Julian E. Barnes and Michael S. Schmidt report: “Intelligence officers, steeped in how Mr. Trump views the world, now work to answer his repeated question: Who is winning? What the president wants to know, according to former officials, is what country is making more money or gaining a financial advantage. While the professionals do not criticize Mr. Trump’s focus, they do question whether those interests are crowding out intelligence on threats like terrorism and the maneuvers of traditional adversaries, developments with foreign militaries or geopolitical events with international implications. …

The president has also shown less interest in details about potential terrorist plots or cloak-and-dagger spy work — the kind of secret information that excites most officials. … So in security briefings, Mr. Trump peppers officials with questions about economic competition with China, including Beijing’s efforts to gain technological superiority and to achieve trade advantages over the United States. He has also shown a fascination with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, repeatedly asking why she will not cut a deal with him on military spending despite his advisers’ explanation that the German government’s coalition agreement constrains Ms. Merkel’s ability to increase defense funding.”

-- Follow the money: “The Trump re-election campaign sparked widespread confusion inside the Trump administration and the cellular wireless industry on Friday night when it advocated for a nationwide ‘wholesale’ 5G network, which was 180 degrees from official White House policy,” Axios’s Jonathan Swan reports. “Administration officials who work on 5G freaked out. And industry leaders were perplexed. … The Trump campaign is now walking back the statement from Kayleigh McEnany, national press secretary for Trump’s 2020 campaign, saying they did not intend to set new policy. ‘Lots of policy folks were caught off guard,’ a senior Trump administration official [said]. … Another wrinkle was that [2020 campaign manager Brad] Parscale's personal position echoed the talking points of Declan Ganley, the CEO of private wireless company Rivada, which could benefit from Trump supporting the plan. (Peter Thiel and Karl Rove are investors in Rivada.)” A Trump campaign official insisted that Parscale has “no financial interest in Rivada or any 5G provider.” 

-- Trump came close to firing Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen last November, but she stood her ground and has engineered a surprising comeback. From Politico’s Gabby Orr and Daniel Lippman: “More than a dozen former and current administration officials and others close to Nielsen … described the DHS chief as a former dead woman walking whose unexpected survival has opened a new chapter for her management of a powerful cabinet department. Cabinet colleagues and Republican allies now describe her as ... all the stronger for having survived Trump’s wrath. She has managed to forge a stable relationship with Trump and now spends at least as much one-on-one time with him as any other Cabinet secretary. … Twice in recent weeks, Trump has approvingly told Nielsen she’s ‘got a big job,’ leading her to feel as though he now understands the complexities of her position ... according to a close confidant. … People close to Nielsen say she’s resolved to remain in her position as long as possible.”

-- Former White House counsel Don McGahn said that he will return to Jones Day, his former law firm, but continue to serve as an adviser to Senate Republicans on judicial nominations. Robert Costa reports: “McGahn, who left the West Wing last October, was a key figure in the selection and confirmations of Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh, whose nomination last year was roiled by sexual misconduct allegations. According to two Senate GOP aides, McGahn has recently boosted Neomi Rao, Trump’s nominee to replace Kavanaugh on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, in phone calls with lawmakers. … McGahn’s latest practice at Jones Day will focus on related issues, working with private interests on regulatory matters and litigation, as well as on crisis management.”

-- Ivanka Trump addressed the white-tie Gridiron dinner on Saturday night in her father’s absence. “The press seems to think it’s ironic that I, born of great privilege, think people want to work for what they are given,” she joked. “As if being Donald Trump’s daughter isn’t the hardest job in the world.” (Emily Heil)

-- Trump has now made 9,014 false or misleading claims over 773 days, a new balance fueled by the president’s two-hour speech at CPAC. (Glenn Kessler, Salvador Rizzo and Meg Kelly)

THE NEW CONGRESS:

-- Sen. Rand Paul said he would vote to block Trump’s emergency declaration at the southern border, giving the resolution enough votes to pass the Senate. Felicia Sonmez reports: “Paul (R-Ky.) said in a speech Saturday at the Southern Kentucky Lincoln Day Dinner that he ‘can’t vote to give extra-Constitutional powers to the president,’ the Bowling Green Daily News reported. … Paul joins fellow Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Thom Tillis (N.C.) in opposing Trump’s move, a reflection of some resistance within the GOP to what lawmakers see as executive overreach and a test of the constitutional separation of powers. … While the resolution is likely to clear the Senate, an embarrassing rebuke to Trump, lawmakers in both chambers lack the votes to override a threatened presidential veto.”

-- House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) rebuked Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) for suggesting that supporters of Israel are expressing “allegiance to a foreign country,” which Engel said conjured a “vile anti-Semitic slur.” Deanna Paul reports: Engel “has demanded an apology over comments Omar made Wednesday, less than a month after she was condemned by bipartisan leadership for suggesting that pro-Israel lobbying groups and Jewish politicians influence American politics. … In a statement Friday, Eliot said he welcomed debate in Congress but that it was ‘unacceptable and deeply offensive to call into question the loyalty of fellow American citizens because of their political views, including support for the US-Israel relationship.’”

-- Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) set a personal best during an Ironman in New Zealand. The 42-year-old completed the race in just under 13 hours, beating her times at the 2013 Ironman Arizona and 2015 Ironman World Championship by more than two hours. (Arizona Republic)

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said his panel would launch an investigation into Trump’s “obstruction of justice, corruption and abuse of power.” Mike DeBonis and Rachael Bade report: Nadler “said Sunday that he plans to request documents from scores of people and organizations connected to [Trump] … Speaking on ABC News’s ‘This Week,’ Nadler said his panel’s more than 60 targets include the president’s son Donald Trump Jr.; Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization; and the Justice Department. … ‘Impeachment is a long way down the road. We don’t have the facts yet. But we’re going to initiate proper investigations,’ he said. Trump, taking to Twitter after Nadler’s comments, lashed out anew at ‘more than two years of Presidential Harassment.’ ‘I am an innocent man being persecuted by some very bad, conflicted & corrupt people in a Witch Hunt that is illegal & should never have been allowed to start,’ he wrote.”

-- Senate Intelligence Committee ranking Democrat Mark Warner (Va.) said lawmakers have uncovered “enormous amounts of evidence” of potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Politico’s Kelsey Tamborrino reports: “As evidence, Warner cited on NBC's ‘Meet the Press’ ongoing negotiations about Trump Tower and the dump of WikiLeaks material. ‘Where that evidence leads, in terms of a conclusion ... I'm going to reserve judgment, until I'm finished,’ Warner said. … Warner's House Intelligence Committee counterpart, Adam Schiff, said Sunday on CBS‘ ‘Face the Nation’ that there's both ‘direct evidence’ and ‘abundant circumstantial evidence’ of collusion with Russia.”

-- Trump ally Roger Stone might have violated his gag order in an Instagram post in which he accused special counsel Robert Mueller of “framing” him. CNBC's Dan Mangan reports: “Stone deleted the only image in that multi-image post that included 'Who framed Roger Stone' language shortly after CNBC emailed his lawyer to ask about it. Stone's post was put online less than 48 hours after the judge, Amy Berman Jackson, ordered lawyers for the admitted Republican 'dirty trickster' to explain why they did not tell her earlier about the planned publication of a book by Stone that could violate her gag order on him.” 

-- Trump is trying to blame his failure to secure a deal with North Korea on Michael Cohen's testimony. Seung Min Kim reports: “‘For the Democrats to interview in open hearings a convicted liar & fraudster, at the same time as the very important Nuclear Summit with North Korea, is perhaps a new low in American politics and may have contributed to the “walk,”’ he tweeted. ‘Never done when a president is overseas. Shame!’ … Trump has repeatedly complained about the Cohen testimony and the escalating investigations of him since he returned from Hanoi without an agreement with Kim.”

-- In case you missed it: Lawmakers are questioning Cohen about conversations he might have had with the president about potential pardons. Matt Zapotosky, Tom Hamburger and Karoun Demirjian report: “Cohen has said publicly he never asked for — and would not accept — a pardon from Trump. But people familiar with the matter said his knowledge on the topic seems to extend beyond that statement. Privately, lawmakers on the House and Senate Intelligence committees pressed Cohen this week on whether he had had any discussions about a possible pardon and, if so, when and with whom those conversations took place, the people said. … Depending on the details, such pardon talks could be incendiary, suggesting an effort to dissuade Cohen from cooperating with law enforcement. Cohen is to return to talk with the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday.”

ALL EYES ON VENEZUELA TODAY:

-- Opposition leader Juan Guaidó plans on returning to Venezuela today after two weeks of meetings with foreign leaders. He expects nationwide demonstrations against authoritarian President Nicolás Maduro, but Maduro might arrest him when he sets foot back in the country. Mary Beth Sheridan and Mariana Zuñiga report: “Maduro has said that Guaidó will 'face justice' if he returns, noting that he defied a court order barring him from leaving the South American country. Guaidó has not said exactly when or where he will reenter Venezuela. He has been on a tour of Latin American nations and was in Ecuador on Sunday. … Guaidó acknowledged the risk he faced. ‘If the regime tries to kidnap me, to carry out a coup, we know the steps to take,’ he said, urging supporters to respond with mass protests. Any move by Maduro and his government to detain him would be ‘one of the last mistakes they make,’ he added.”

-- The Post’s Lally Weymouth asked Guaidó whether it is possible to oust Maduro without using force. He replied: “In Venezuela, we have tried everything. We have protested, we have continued to push in every direction for a peaceful transition. Right now, I see three scenarios. First, that an election is allowed to take place in a free and transparent manner. That’s what we’re working for as soon as possible. Second is some sort of sui generis transition with Chavismo [parts of the regime]. That’s something that’s difficult to imagine at this point. … Lastly, there is an option where the military could get on the side of the constitution and of Guaidó and of the resistance, and it could stop the usurpation. That’s the option that uses force, but it comes from within.”

-- Colombian President Iván Duque predicted that Maduro’s “days in power are about to end” in an interview with our Kevin Sullivan. “‘Maduro is facing his last days, whether that’s one month or two, or one week, or one day,’ Duque said at a military base in Bogota. He said Maduro’s power has declined precipitously in recent weeks: ‘Nobody has seen Maduro weaker.’ … Duque said ... he would not send Colombian troops into Venezuela, and he said he believed the United States would not, either. U.S. officials have downplayed the idea of any U.S. military involvement.”

  • If Maduro arrests Guaidó, Duque said, “world pressure will pull him out of jail pretty soon”: “It would be like Nero burning Rome.”
  • Duque says that Maduro, if he leaves Venezuela, could find sanctuary in Cuba, which has long had a close relationship with Venezuela and helped build Maduro’s security and intelligence agencies. “I think he would be very happy there; he has a lot of friends there,” Duque said.

-- Elsewhere in the region: A number of police officers in El Salvador are fleeing the country because they fear MS-13. Kevin Sieff reports: “They were bankrolled by the United States and trained by FBI agents. But members of the Salvadoran police have been killed by the dozens in each of the past three years, most in attacks that investigators and experts blame on MS-13, an international street gang. At least nine officers were killed in the first month of this year. … The exodus of Salvadoran police points to how the country’s security forces have failed to break the stranglehold of organized crime. It also shows that among those seeking refuge in the United States during the Trump administration are some of America’s closest security partners.”

MORE ON THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- A month after Trump pulled out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, Europeans are worried about a nuclear arms race. Griff Witte reports: “A request from the United States [for European countries] to store and be ready to use new bombs and missiles would likely spark a furious backlash, while exposing fractures in an alliance already strained by the mistrust between [Trump] and his European counterparts. Meanwhile, Russia could menace the continent and exploit divisions in the West. … Today, although France and Britain remain nuclear powers, they have vastly reduced their arsenals. Meanwhile, Germany, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey host U.S. bombs. (Unlike missiles, bombs were never covered by the INF Treaty.) The 20 nuclear bombs stored at a joint U.S.-German air base in the tiny town of Büchel are largely an afterthought.”

-- The U.S. and China are in the final stage of sealing a trade deal that could lift some tariffs imposed last year. The Wall Street Journal’s Lingling Wei and Bob Davis report: “As part of a deal, China is pledging to help level the playing field, including speeding up the timetable for removing foreign-ownership limitations on car ventures and reducing tariffs on imported vehicles to below the current auto tariff of 15. Beijing would also step up purchases of U.S. goods—a tactic designed to appeal to President Trump, who campaigned on closing the bilateral trade deficit with China. … Others involved in the talks said the U.S. is pressing Beijing to agree not to retaliate—at least in some cases—if the U.S. levies sanctions. That would be a big concession for Beijing negotiators, who say they want to make sure the deal doesn’t turn out to be an unequal treaty for China of the sort imposed by Western powers in the 19th century.”

-- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to say whether he believes Kim Jong Un knew about Otto Warmbier's torture and scoffed at the idea that his domestic travel itinerary, which includes a visit to Iowa, is meant to bolster Trump's 2020 campaign. USA Today's Deirdre Shesgreen reports on a very testy interview: “Pompeo said his 'mission' in Iowa is to talk to the state’s agriculture leaders about Trump’s efforts to eliminate trade barriers that restrict American farmers from selling their commodities in China, a huge and growing market. ... Pompeo dismissed a question about why he would spend time traveling across the U.S. at a time when the Trump administration faces a broad array of global challenges, most notably the collapse of negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear arsenal. Trump met one on one with Kim in Hanoi last week, but the president ended the talks early after he and Kim failed to reach any agreement.

“Pompeo reacted angrily when asked about the North Korean foreign minister's statement, made hours after the talks dissolved, that the offer Kim made in Hanoi was final. 'That’s not what the North Koreans said,' Pompeo responded. 'Don’t say things that aren’t true. ... Show me the quote from the North Koreans that said this was their one and only offer. Where’d you get that?' After he was read a quote from Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho – in which he said 'our proposal will never be changed' – Pompeo fell silent for about six seconds. Then he countered, 'What they said is they’re prepared to continue conversations with us and that’s what we intend to do.'”

-- North Korean hackers have kept up their attacks on American and European businesses, despite Trump calling Kim his “friend.” The Times's Nicole Perlroth reports: “The attacks, which include efforts to hack into banks, utilities and oil and gas companies, began in 2017, according to researchers at the cybersecurity company McAfee, a time when tensions between North Korea and the United States were flaring. But even though both sides have toned down their fiery threats and begun nuclear disarmament talks, the attacks persist. ... The McAfee researchers said they watched, in real time, as the North Koreans attacked the computer networks of more than a hundred companies in the United States and around the globe.”

-- India lost a fighter plane last week after the Pakistani Air Force shot down one of its pilots. The loss said a lot about the state of the Indian military, which the U.S. is now trying to help strengthen. The Times’s Maria Abi-Habib reports: “India’s armed forces are in alarming shape. If intense warfare broke out tomorrow, India could supply its troops with only 10 days of ammunition, according to government estimates. And 68 percent of the army’s equipment is so old, it is officially considered ‘vintage.’”

-- Yago Riedijk wants to return to the Netherlands with his wife, Shamima Begum, even though the pair have spent the past few years supporting the Islamic State in Syria. Emily Tamkin reports: “Riedijk and Begum got married in 2015, days after she arrived in territory controlled by the Islamic State in Syria. Begum, a British national, was 15. Riedijk was 23 … Riedijk said he wanted to bring his wife and child to the Netherlands so they could lead a ‘moderate Muslim life.’ But while Riedijk may see Begum as having gotten married on her own accord, the Netherlands may not recognize their union, because she was underage at the time.” British Home Secretary Sajid Javid has also said he will move to strip Begum of her British citizenship.

-- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad wants to renew his country’s relationship with other Arab states, but the U.S. is standing in the way. Liz Sly reports: The Trump administration “has pressed its allies to hold back, warning that any moves to participate in the rebuilding of Syria would trigger U.S. sanctions designed to pressure Assad into accepting political reforms, U.S. officials say. Many Arab states, meanwhile, are unsure whether they want to rehabilitate a leader who remains bound to Iran by a long and close alliance, according to diplomats in the region. Iran has gained influence in Syria by helping Assad win the war. … Russia is pushing in the opposite direction and urging Arab governments to build bridges with Damascus, say diplomats who have been briefed on the issue. Moscow is trying to persuade Arab governments to reengage with Assad to curtail Iran’s influence, according to the diplomats.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

One of Trump's closest congressional allies went after the House Judiciary Committee chairman:

The billionaire activist leading an effort to impeach Trump replied:

A Democratic congresswoman criticized a freshman colleague for her recent comments about Israel:

Omar responded by claiming she was being asked to “pledge support to a foreign country”:

The former acting solicitor general under Bill Clinton made a suggestion for House Democrats as they continue holding oversight hearings:

Columnist Connie Schultz, who is married to Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), posted a snap of her husband with Bernie in Selma:

Howard Schultz criticized socialism as he weighs an independent presidential bid:

The president's son mocked Elizabeth Warren for bringing her dog on the trail:

A presidential historian tweeted this photo of past and future commanders in chief:

A former attorney at the National Security Agency who is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution was dismayed about the GOP's muted reaction to Trump’s directing aides to give his son-in-law a security clearance despite their concerns:

And a former CIA officer shared this image of Trump at CPAC with a reference to the flag code:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- New York Times, “‘You Have to Pay With Your Body’: The Hidden Nightmare of Sexual Violence on the Border,” by Manny Fernandez: “On America’s southern border, migrant women and girls are the victims of sexual assaults that most often go unreported, uninvestigated and unprosecuted. Even as women around the world are speaking out against sexual misconduct, migrant women on the border live in the shadows of the #MeToo movement. The stories are many, and yet all too similar. Undocumented women making their way into American border towns have been beaten for disobeying smugglers, impregnated by strangers, coerced into prostitution, shackled to beds and trees and — in at least a handful of cases — bound with duct tape, rope or handcuffs.”

-- Mother Jones, “‘Mom, When They Look at Me, They See Dollar Signs,’” by Julia Lurie: “In the standard narrative of the opioid crisis, greedy pharmaceutical companies are the villains and kids like Brianne are the casualties. But now we are in phase two, an addiction epidemic compounded by a treatment network that in many cases sets patients up for failure. Where pill mills proliferated a decade ago, unscrupulous rehabs sprout today. ‘A lot of the talk until this point has involved more money for rehab,’ says Dave Aronberg, the state attorney for Palm Beach County, one of the few jurisdictions that has vigorously pursued lawbreaking treatment providers. ‘Little has been said or done on the issue of patient brokering and insurance fraud that has cost so many lives.’ ... As of 2012, only six states required addiction counselors to have a bachelor’s degree, according to a report from the Center on Addiction. ‘The regulatory requirements for nail technicians are higher in many states,’ says Emily Feinstein, the center’s executive vice president. In California, which has among the nation’s loosest rehab regulations, aspiring counselors must do little more than complete a nine-hour orientation (good for five years) before working in state-certified treatment centers, and anyone can open a sober home just by hanging out a shingle.” 

-- Foreign Affairs, “The End of the Big Cartels,” by Steven Dudley: “These officials all offered variations on a popular drug war narrative: an all-controlling kingpin builds a criminal empire, leaving death and destruction in his wake. Law enforcement tracks, arrests, and incarcerates him—and, in the case of El Chapo, rearrests and reincarcerates him after he escapes—and then convicts him. The public embraces this story, watching it over and over, first as news on CNN and then as fiction on Netflix. It is simple and understandable, and it helps us sleep at night. It is also false. The obsession with El Chapo and his exploits, as well as those of his associates and his cartel, reflects an outdated view of the drug trade. The idea that this trade is dominated by vertically integrated organizations, each run by a single mastermind such as El Chapo, is a myth—and a dangerous one, in that it may undermine international efforts to slow drug trafficking and combat the violence of criminal groups such as the Sinaloa Cartel.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Cindy McCain Defends Husband After CPAC Speaker Blasts ‘Ghost Of John McCain,’” from HuffPost: “Cindy McCain hit back at a conservative pundit on Saturday who attacked ‘the ghost’ of her late husband in remarks at [CPAC]. Right-wing firebrand Michelle Malkin told the CPAC crowd that she blamed congressional Democrats and Republicans ― including ‘the ghost of John McCain’ ― for failing to enact stricter immigration legislation. … After Malkin’s remarks made headlines, McCain’s wife, Cindy, responded to the conservative pundit. ‘You never knew Sen. John McCain,’ McCain wrote on Twitter. ‘You should be so lucky.’ … McCain’s daughter Meghan also made her disdain for those comments known. The ‘View’ co-host responded to conservative podcast host Allie Beth Stuckey on Sunday, accusing Malkin and [Fox News host Jeanine] Pirro of using ‘the ghost’ of her late father as ‘ghoulish and deeply disturbed political propaganda.’”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Ocasio-Cortez leaves parade in 17 mpg minivan — blocks from the subway,” from the New York Post: “Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made her getaway from a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Queens in a for-hire minivan on Sunday. The leading advocate for the proposed ‘Green New Deal’ was less than four blocks from a Queens subway station when she hopped into a white Chrysler Town and County with livery plates at around 1:20 p.m. The 2016 model of the since-discontinued vehicle gets an average of just 17 mpg in the city, according to the US Department of Energy. … Earlier, Ocasio-Cortez (D-The Bronx, Queens) fired off a series of defensive tweets attacking The Post for revealing that her campaign spent nearly $30,000 on more than 1,050 rides in Ubers, taxis and other for-hire vehicles. … ‘Living in the world as it is isn’t an argument against working towards a better future,’ Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump will participate in a photo op with the FCS national championship-winning North Dakota State Bison and have lunch with Pence before receiving his intelligence briefing. He will later sign an executive order and speak at the National Association of Attorneys General.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“How did everyone like the salad? … I thought it was OK, but it needed just a little more scalp oil and a pinch of dandruff.” — Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) at the Gridiron dinner, joking about a New York Times report on her allegedly mistreating employees that included an anecdote about her eating a salad with a comb. (Politico)

 

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

-- The storm is over, but the cold air and wind remain. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Despite sunshine, its feels very January-like, with highs from the upper 30s to low 40s combined with a cold wind from the northwest (sustained at 10 to 15 mph with gusts over 20 mph).”

-- The Wizards beat the Timberwolves 135-121. (Ava Wallace)

-- The Capitals beat the Rangers 3-2. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)

-- D.C. United beat Atlanta United 2-0. (Steven Goff)

-- In the 18 months since the brutal attack on a black man during the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, authorities have identified four of the assailants, but the names of the final two attackers remain a mystery. Ian Shapira reports: “Thanks largely to the photos and videos taken by journalists and activists, three of [DeAndre] Harris’s attackers are serving time in prison or jail for malicious wounding: Jacob Scott Goodwin, of Ward, Ark.; Daniel Borden, of Mason, Ohio; and Alex Michael Ramos, of Jackson, Ga. On Feb. 8, Charlottesville prosecutors secured their fourth victory after Tyler Watkins Davis, of Middleburg, Fla., entered an Alford plea, acknowledging authorities had enough evidence for a conviction. But investigators let it be known they are not done. On Feb. 14, the Charlottesville Police Department tweeted a news release and images of the man with the red beard and the other man with blond hair and sunglasses." 

-- A fight in Arlington over moving a bilingual school has opened up a conversation on race and class. Debbie Truong reports: “Parents are battling for the school’s future after Arlington Public Schools surprised them with a plan to relocate Key [Elementary School], an announcement that animated larger questions about race, class and the purpose of bilingual education. The school district has backed off those plans for now but has not ruled out moving the program in the future, which officials say could be necessary to manage ballooning enrollment, reduce transportation costs and bring the bilingual program to other Spanish-speaking families. ... But the uncertainty has fueled an urgent campaign by parents at Key who view the school as a bedrock for the nearby Hispanic community, which has clung to the school even as the neighborhood gentrified. The tension has stirred mistrust and complaints of discrimination from some Key parents, who accuse the school system of treating them differently because they are not wealthy and do not speak fluent English.”

-- Blackface and sexual assault scandals haven’t dampened interests in working, investing or studying in Virginia. Business executives, university leaders and recruiters said that although the controversies had a brief but intense effect on the state's reputation, the effects weren't long lasting. (Robert McCartney)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Hasan Minhaj looked at the ways the Trump administration has affected civil rights in the past two years: 

John Oliver explored the world of automation and how robots may or may not take over our jobs in the future: 

SNL parodied the Cohen hearing in its cold open:

And we summed up Trump's CPAC speech in three minutes: