With Joanie Greve and Mariana Alfaro

THE BIG IDEA: In Dallas last night, Howard Schultz seized on fellow billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s decision not to run for president as a fresh rationale for his own likely bid.

The retired Starbucks CEO cited the former New York mayor’s announcement as validation for his theory that the ideological gulf between the two major parties will be so wide in 2020 that an independent candidate like him just might be able to prevail.

“The Democrats are pushing an agenda that is extremely so far left that, in my mind, it's very close to a socialistic agenda,” Schultz said at Southern Methodist University. “You saw today that one of the great mayors in modern history … decided not to run for president. He looked at the Democratic platform and realized that, as a centrist, he probably could not get the nomination.”

-- Bloomberg came close to jumping in, by all accounts, but he concluded that his path to the Democratic nomination was too narrow to be worthwhile. “I believe I would defeat Donald Trump in a general election. But I am clear-eyed about the difficulty of winning the Democratic nomination in such a crowded field,” he wrote in a column for his eponymous news site.

His pro-business centrism – including opposition to stricter regulations of Wall Street and a stop-and-frisk approach to criminal justice – would certainly have caused him countless headaches in his quest to become the party’s standard-bearer. “Some have told me that to win the Democratic nomination, I would need to change my views to match the polls,” Bloomberg wrote. “It’s not who I am, nor do I think it’s what voters want in a leader.”

-- Promoting his new book, “From the Ground Up,” on the college campus that houses George W. Bush’s presidential library, Schultz was asked whether he worries about being a spoiler. It’s a question he’s grown accustomed to over the past six weeks. “I think that same question could be asked of the Democratic Party if they put up a candidate that is emblematic of a level of socialism,” the 65-year-old said. “I think it's better than 50-50 odds that President Trump would get reelected. I don't think the American people want to embrace an economic environment in which socialism is going to rule the day.”

The crowd of about 1,000 people, including many students, applauded. “However, however, however,” he continued, “the other side of that is I do not believe that President Trump should be reelected. In fact, I believe he should be fired. My view is that there are millions of lifelong Republicans – based on the president's character and leadership qualities, or lack thereof – who would not go into the voting booth and vote for a Democrat resembling a socialist but might, just might, have an interest in a person who is independent and who is not beholden to either party.”

-- To make the case that his bid would not just peel votes from the Democratic nominee, Schultz promised he’d aggressively compete for Texas – a state no Democrat has carried in a presidential election since Jimmy Carter. “I think it's fair to say that if President Trump does not win the state of Texas, it's highly, highly unlikely that he could be reelected and get to 270” electoral votes, Schultz said. “Texas, for the first time perhaps since 1976, is a state where everyone's vote and everyone's voice would matter.”

He noted that his team has laid the groundwork so that his name can appear on the ballot in all 50 states. “You certainly have a great history here with Ross Perot,” Schultz said, referring to the Dallas billionaire who ran for president in 1992 and 1996. “For the last 30-plus years in presidential politics … only eight to 10 battleground states really define the election. If I decide to run for president, all 50 states for the first time since Ross Perot will matter.”

-- Bloomberg bowed out yesterday with a plea for his adopted party not to lurch too far to the left. “It’s essential that we nominate a Democrat who will be in the strongest position to defeat Donald Trump and bring our country back together,” the 77-year-old wrote. “We cannot allow the primary process to drag the party to an extreme that would diminish our chances in the general election and translate into ‘Four More Years.’”

-- Joe Biden also loomed large in his thinking, and the former vice president’s expected entry into the race was a key factor in Bloomberg’s decision to sit it out. “Bloomberg’s advisers concluded that he appealed to a similar set of primary voters,” Michael Scherer reports from New York.

Bloomberg’s top domestic policy adviser, Bruce Reed, was formerly Biden’s chief of staff.

Biden’s recent struggles to accommodate the restive liberal base of the Democratic Party reflect in miniature the challenges Bloomberg also would have faced. Under pressure from angry LGBT activists, the former vice president apologized last week after offhandedly saying that Vice President Pence is a decent guy. It foreshadowed the pressure moderates will face to pass new litmus tests that did not previously exist.

Schultz didn’t mention Pence, but he went out of his way at SMU to say how many Republicans he admires. “I think there’s great people on both sides of the aisle,” he said last night.

-- Running in the Democratic primary as a billionaire – something Biden doesn’t have to worry about – would unquestionably be a liability in the current climate. Billionaire Tom Steyer, who is much more liberal than Bloomberg, opted not to run in January partly because he saw polling that showed his hedge fund background and wealth would dog him.

Several of the Democratic candidates have made the corrosive influence of big money a centerpiece of their campaigns, especially Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. “He’s old. He’s white. He’s a man. He’s a billionaire. He’s of Wall Street,” a Bloomberg confidante who was involved in his deliberations told Politico last night. “How many strikes against him did he need? Mike Bloomberg wants to make a difference, not a spectacle.”

-- Being a billionaire still might hurt Schultz’s independent bid, as well. He’s trying to appeal to people who don’t like Trump as a billionaire businessman with no prior governing experience. Schultz said he’s focused on helping people living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to pay rising premiums for health insurance and burdened by college debt.

“Although I don’t agree with it, I understand why people are pushing a socialist agenda because there’s a level of inequality in America that needs to be addressed,” he said.

Schultz noted that his first engagement with politics was attending a rally for John F. Kennedy with his mother in 1960. After JFK’s assassination, he said Bobby Kennedy became his hero. “I recently retraced his steps in the Appalachia mountains,” Schultz said. “I wanted to see what he saw. What I was really crushed by – crushed! – is that … nothing has changed. … The government of the United States of America has a moral obligation to solve these complex problems.”

-- When Schultz first publicly expressed interest in running, Bloomberg acknowledged that he too considered independent bids in 2008 and 2016 but concluded that they didn’t make sense. “In 2020, the great likelihood is that an independent would just split the anti-Trump vote and end up reelecting the president,” Bloomberg said in late January. “Given the strong pull of partisanship and the realities of the electoral college system, there is no way an independent can win. That is truer today than ever before.”

-- Schultz said he’s faced more blowback than he anticipated when he first dipped his toe in the water, but he chalked it up to a Democratic establishment that’s desperate to preserve its power. “We expected that we would get a level of pushback, perhaps not to the degree that it’s occurred,” he said. “I'm threatening to some people.”

-- Tuesday was the first of five full days for Schultz in Texas, a swing that’s designed to illustrate how he would not just pull votes from the Democratic nominee. He’s giving a speech in Houston tonight at Rice University’s James Baker Institute, named for George H.W. Bush’s secretary of state. Tomorrow he hosts a veterans-focused town hall in San Antonio. He’ll hold a roundtable discussion with women in Austin on Friday and stick around Saturday for the South by Southwest festival. Several Democratic presidential candidates will also appear this weekend, including Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg.

-- A University of Texas-Texas Tribune poll published yesterday pegged Trump’s approval rating at 49 percent among registered voters in the Lone Star State. Asked about 2020, 45 percent of respondents said they would “definitely vote for someone else,” while 39 percent said they would “definitely” vote to reelect Trump. Another 10 percent said they’ll “probably” vote for Trump, and 6 percent said they’ll “probably” vote for someone else. If you add in the leaners, that indicates Texas really could be in play.

Bolstering Schultz’s argument to some degree, only 24 percent of independents in the poll said they’ll definitely vote for Trump, while 42 percent said they’ll definitely vote against him. Among independent Texans, only 17 percent have favorable impressions of the Republican Party and 14 percent have favorable views of the Democratic Party.

-- Two Democrats from Texas are also expected to run for president: Former San Antonio mayor Julián Castro is already in the race, and former El Paso congressman Beto O’Rourke is expected to announce soon. O’Rourke lost by only 2.6 percentage points to Sen. Ted Cruz (R) last November. He’s viewed favorably by 43 percent and unfavorably by 45 percent statewide. Even though Castro was HUD secretary, he’s relatively unknown in his home state: 42 percent said they don’t have any opinion of him, while 26 percent view him positively and 32 percent see him negatively.

-- As he said he won’t join the crowded field, Bloomberg pledged to stay engaged through 2020. After spending more than $100 million boosting Democrats in the midterms, advisers say he’ll spend even more next year to defeat Trump, register new voters and mobilize people in swing states who stayed home in 2016.

The former mayor will also focus on issues dear to his heart, especially gun violence and climate change. “Bloomberg has drafted, with former Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope, a preliminary policy proposal for what he considers a more achievable climate change plan than the Green New Deal, the proposal promoted by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), which he believes cannot pass Congress,” Scherer reports. “Pope said that Bloomberg intended to be ‘the person who writes the playbook.’ … Bloomberg plans to increase his investment in a philanthropic effort called Beyond Coal, which has worked to shutter coal-fired power plants in recent years, and to launch a new effort called Beyond Carbon, with the goal of largely eliminating the use of gas, oil and coal in the United States by 2050.”

When he took himself out of the running, Steyer likewise pledged to spend at least $40 million on his effort to impeach Trump and even more on his environmental activism.

-- Forbes magazine published its annual list yesterday of the richest people in the world. Bloomberg is No. 9 with a net worth of $55.5 billion. Schultz is No. 617 with $3.6 billion. Trump is No. 715 with $3.1 billion.

-- Unlike Trump, both Bloomberg and Schultz are self-made billionaires. Schultz grew up in public housing and said Jewish Family Services would regularly drop off food so that he wouldn’t go hungry. He transformed Starbucks from a small Seattle chain into a global powerhouse with 30,000 stores in 77 countries.

-- Also like Bloomberg, Schultz doesn’t pretend to be an everyman. He said last night that his go-to order at Starbucks is a doppio espresso macchiato in the mornings and a French press of aged Sumatra during the day. He told the crowd that he diligently reads the print editions of three newspapers every morning: the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. “I don’t watch a lot of TV,” Schultz added. “I’m certainly not reading Twitter, especially given what they’re saying about me.”

-- When a student asked whom he most admires, Schultz named Oprah Winfrey and Pope Francis. “I was fortunate enough over the last few years to really get to know Oprah,” he said. Schultz pointed out at the Methodist school that he is Jewish, but he said watching a video of the Catholic pope humbly “wash the feet of a peasant woman” moved him deeply. “I would like to say there are people I admire currently in government, but I can’t name too many,” he said.

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- It wasn’t just Jared Kushner. CNN reveals that President Trump also pressured his then-chief of staff and White House counsel to grant Ivanka Trump a security clearance over concerns of career professionals. Pamela Brown and Kaitlan Collins report: “Trump pushed [John] Kelly and [Don] McGahn to make the decision on his daughter and son-in-law's clearances so it did not appear as if he was tainting the process to favor his family ... After both refused, Trump granted them their security clearances.” The reporting further challenges the first daughter’s denials to ABC News last month that the president had “no involvement” with her or Kushner’s clearances.

-- Stonewalling, the White House formally rebuffed a request by House Democrats for documents pertaining to its security clearance process. This increases the chances of a subpoena. “In a letter to House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), White House Counsel Pat A. Cipollone said the committee request for the information was ‘without legal support, clearly premature, and suggests a breach of the constitutionally required accommodation process,”’ Rachael Bade reports. Cipollone said his staff would brief the panel and allow it to view some documents, but that’s insufficient for the newly empowered majority.

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. London authorities found three packages containing explosives at Heathrow Airport, London City Airport and Waterloo station. The police’s Counter Terrorism Command said it was treating the packages as a “linked series” and “keeping an open mind” about motives. (BBC)

  2. The FDA approved a new antidepressant for those who don’t respond to other treatments. The nasal spray Esketamine has been shown to act within hours, compared with current treatments that take days or even weeks, if they work at all. (Carolyn Y. Johnson and Laurie McGinley)

  3. Health officials in California say parents sometimes refuse to cooperate with public-health investigators and may lie when they're seeking to stem outbreaks of serious diseases. In some cases, parents resist cooperating because they’re part of the anti-vaccine movement. (Los Angeles Times)

  4. Ethan Lindenberger, a high school senior who defied his mother by getting himself vaccinated after he turned 18, testified to the Senate that she got false information from Facebook. (Michael Brice-Saddler)

  5. The World Wide Fund for Nature was warned years ago about “frightening” raids on indigenous communities by paramilitary forces funded by the wildlife charity. The organization responded to the BuzzFeed News report that anti-poaching guards have tortured and even killed villagers by promising an independent review. But the charity was warned about such violence in an internal 2015 report. (BuzzFeed News)

  6. The Anti-Defamation League reported that white-supremacist propaganda nearly tripled between 2017 and last year. The group recorded 1,187 incidents of propaganda last year, up from 421 in 2017. The spike comes as the FBI has also reported a rise in hate crimes. (Wall Street Journal)

  7. Seven members of one family are among the 23 killed by the Alabama tornado. The victims’ names were released at a news conference two days after the storm struck. (Sarah Kaplan and Katie Mettler)

  8. The government could reduce some of the 22 felonies former congressman Aaron Schock, a onetime rising star of the Illinois Republican Party, faces in a shake-up of the federal case against him. Such a move could give Schock, who resigned from his congressional seat in 2015 after he was accused of using campaign funds for personal expenses, a chance to return to politics. (ABC7)

  9. Two young sisters from Northern California recounted to ABC News how they managed to survive in a forest for two days by relying on tips from their wilderness education class. Leia and Caroline Carrico were found by rescuers this weekend after they disappeared into Richardson Grove State Park on Friday afternoon. (Katie Mettler)

FRESH FALLOUT FROM MICHAEL COHEN’S TESTIMONY:

-- New York state regulators subpoenaed documents from the Trump Organization’s insurance broker, Aon PLC, after the president's former attorney testified last week that the president exaggerated his wealth to insurance companies. David A. Fahrenthold reports: “A spokeswoman for Aon PLC, Trump’s London-based broker, confirmed Tuesday that her company had received a subpoena from New York’s Department of Financial Service. … That department can refer cases of insurance fraud to other agencies for prosecution. ... The scope of the inquiry and the department’s focus is unclear.”

-- Cohen has claimed in private conversations that Trump’s representatives raised with him the possibility of a pardon, but the president's allies insist it was Cohen’s lawyer, Stephen Ryan, who broached the issue. Matt Zapotosky, Tom Hamburger and Philip Rucker report: “Lawmakers are interested in exploring whether Cohen was offered a bargain tying his cooperation with law enforcement to a pardon — which could be illegal. ... A person familiar with the matter characterized the discussions about pardons involving Cohen — and Cohen’s memory of them — as nebulous. Cohen has not alleged that he was offered an explicit quid pro quo that would tie a pardon to his cooperation with law enforcement, the person said. The person said Cohen felt that Trump’s team was using innuendo and suggestion to imply there would be a benefit for his loyalty. "

-- Cohen testified that Trump ordered him to threaten his high school, colleges and the College Board to never release his grades or SAT scores. Marc Fisher has an incredible story on how the president's high school transcript was hidden: “In 2011, days after [Trump] challenged President Barack Obama to ‘show his records’ to prove that he hadn’t been a ‘terrible student,’ the headmaster at New York Military Academy got an order from his boss: Find Trump’s academic records and help bury them. The superintendent of the private school ‘came to me in a panic because he had been accosted by prominent, wealthy alumni of the school who were Mr. Trump’s friends’ and who wanted to keep his records secret, recalled Evan Jones, the headmaster at the time. ‘He said, “You need to go grab that record and deliver it to me because I need to deliver it to them.”’ The superintendent, Jeffrey Coverdale, confirmed Monday that members of the school’s board of trustees initially wanted him to hand over Trump’s records to them, but Coverdale said he refused.” 

Trump’s relationship with NYMA is fraught: In 2010, the school, then on the brink of closure because of financial problems, requested a $7 million donation from Trump, who refused. When school representatives reached out to Cohen with the same request, he “delivered the same message but in a less gracious manner. ‘Cohen told us he would love to have enough money to buy the school so he could bulldoze it,’” a former classmate of Trump’s said. The academy closed in 2015 after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, but it quickly reopened after a nonprofit entity led by a Chinese investor, Vincent Mo, bought it at a bankruptcy auction and said it would pay off the school’s $16 million debt.

-- Trump took the time to write a $35,000 hush-money check to Cohen at some point during a busy day on Oct. 18, 2017. The New York Times’s Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman report: “It was one of 11 occasions that Mr. Trump or his trust cut such checks, six of which were provided this week to The New York Times. … The dates on the newly available checks shed light on the parallel lives Mr. Trump was living by this account — at once managing affairs of state while quietly paying the price of keeping his personal secrets out of the public eye. The president hosted a foreign leader in the Oval Office, then wrote a check. He haggled over legislation, then wrote a check. He traveled abroad, then wrote a check. On the same day he reportedly pressured the F.B.I. director [Jim Comey] to drop an investigation into a former aide, the president’s trust issued a check to Mr. Cohen in furtherance of what federal prosecutors have called a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws at the direction of Mr. Trump.” 

-- Sixty-four percent of American voters believe Trump committed a crime before becoming president, a new Quinnipiac poll showsNearly half of Republicans say the president didn’t commit any crimes before winning the election, but every other group polled believes (by wide margins) that Trump committed crimes before arriving at the White House. U.S. voters are split 45 to 43 percent on whether the president has committed crimes since. The majority of voters, however, believe that Congress should not begin impeachment proceedings against Trump. Instead, 58 percent of voters say Congress has to do more to investigate Cohen’s claims about the president’s behavior.

THE CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS:

-- House Democrats are expected to formally request 10 years of Trump’s tax returns in the coming weeks. Damian Paletta and Erica Werner report: “The exact parameters of the request are still in flux, including whether to seek tax returns related to Trump’s many business enterprises in addition to his personal returns. But Democrats led by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.), along with congressional lawyers, are in the advanced stages of preparing the request. They’re relying on a 1924 law that gives chairmen of House and Senate tax-writing committees broad powers to demand the tax returns of White House officials. They said they are being deliberate so as not to make a mistake that jeopardizes the investigation.”

-- Former senior Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo said he will not comply with requests from Congress. Rosalind S. Helderman and Rachael Bade report: “Caputo told The Washington Post that he has already begun talking with four other Trump associates who received requests from the committee this week to begin a joint strategy of resisting requests for testimony. ‘All four are reluctant to appear because they believe it’s a perjury trap designed to move toward impeachment of the president,’ he said.”

-- But Trump’s friend and the chairman of the inaugural committee, Tom Barrack, said he will comply with the House Judiciary Committee’s request for documents. CNBC’s Brian Schwartz reports: “Barrack, the founder of private equity real estate firm Colony Capital, has been asked to hand over documentation as it pertains to numerous issues involving the president, including foreign governments ‘discussing, offering, or providing, or being solicited to discuss, offer, or provide, any present or emolument of any kind,’ to Trump's inaugural committee.”

-- Speaking of the inauguration, the White House has repeatedly denied that Trump had any role in planning it. But some say that's not true, Bloomberg Businessweek’s Caleb Melby reports: “Trump registered his opinion on inaugural plans big and small, from allocation of broadcasting rights to procurement of tablecloths, according to three people familiar with the planning and the transition effort who requested anonymity to describe the decision-making process. … Barrack told staff that Trump wanted to know everything about the inauguration’s finances, an admonition to keep budgets in check, two of the people said. Trump’s interest in keeping tabs on spending was familiar to anyone who’d worked on the campaign, according to the two sources. … Trump’s involvement in inaugural planning started early. He wanted to give exclusive broadcasting rights to Fox News, with on-air talent that was broadly supportive of his candidacy, according to three people familiar with his thinking. But in a late November phone call with Trump, Jeff Zucker, the president of CNN, argued it would be a mistake to broadcast only to his most loyal supporters, these sources said.”

-- House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) hired a veteran prosecutor who oversaw prosecutions of Russian organized crime networks during his 10 years in the office of the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. Karoun Demirjian reports: “The appointment of Daniel Goldman ... suggests that [Schiff] plans to scrutinize Trump’s finances and foreign contacts as he investigates whether Trump colluded with foreign governments to sway the 2016 election.”

THE SPECIAL COUNSEL:

-- Former White House lawyer Ty Cobb called special counsel Bob Mueller “an American hero.” “He is a very deliberate guy ... but he’s also a class act. And a very justice-oriented person,” Cobb told ABC News. “I don’t feel the investigation is a witch hunt. I wish it had happened on a quicker timetable. But it didn’t.” Cobb also criticized the strategy Trump and his legal team have taken since he left in May of last year, saying they have “ratcheted up the public’s concerns about the investigation and its legitimacy.” (John Wagner)

-- Some elderly Trump critics say they are trying to live long enough to read the Mueller report. NPR’s Tim Mak reports: “Mitchell Tendler began to fade. He had outlived two implantable defibrillators and was on his third. … Doctors gave him some painkillers, and then he had a final thought. ‘It just was quiet for a little while,’ [his son] Walter Tendler recounted, ‘and then he just sits up in bed halfway and looks at me and he goes, 'S***, I'm not going to see the Mueller report, am I?' And that was really the last coherent thing that he said.’ … The story about the World War II vet's last words made its way by word of mouth to Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He tweeted it out without naming the family and was flooded by responses from Americans whose parents or grandparents had similar feelings about Mueller.”

-- The federal judge overseeing Roger Stone’s criminal case, which was brought by Mueller, warned that the president's longtime confidant will be held responsible for any “costs or consequences” stemming from his book that may have violated his gag order. Spencer S. Hsu reports: “The new order by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of Washington does not spell out consequences but bodes ill for the longtime friend of [Trump] and Republican operative, who asked the court for leeway late Friday regarding the ‘imminent release’ of a new version of his book about Trump’s 2016 campaign, retitled ‘The Myth of Russian Collusion.’ Jackson found that, in fact, Stone deliberately waited until after publication to disclose plans that had been underway for weeks, suggesting his defense was using her docket to gin up publicity for the book. … She ordered Stone’s defense to explain by next Monday how he will come into compliance.”

-- Stone deleted two websites that may have run afoul of the gag order. CNBC’s Dan Mangan and Kevin Breuninger report: “One, stonezone.com, was operating as of late Sunday, according to data from the internet archival service the Wayback Machine. … The other site, whoframedrogerstone.com, was operating as of Feb. 6, according to the Wayback Machine. … Another Stone website, stonecoldtruth.com, remained online Tuesday, as does stonedefensefund.com. Both of those active sites contain links for visitors to donate to his legal defense, as does Stone's active Facebook page. However, Stone has significantly changed the language on one of his remaining legal fundraising sites, apparently to comply with the gag order.”

-- Mueller's team disputed Paul Manafort’s claim that he was charged with fraud only because of his relationship with the president. Rachel Weiner reports: “The former Trump campaign chairman, who is set to be sentenced for bank and tax crimes in Alexandria federal court Thursday afternoon, made the claim in a court filing last week asking a judge for leniency. In his filing, Manafort emphasized he had spoken freely to the FBI in 2014 about his work for Russia-backed Ukrainian politicians. ... ‘Manafort has his facts wrong: he was being investigated by prosecutors in this district and the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice prior to the May 2017 appointment of the Special Counsel,’ prosecutors wrote."

THE NEW CONGRESS

-- Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff helped create two political action committees that paid a corporation he owned more than $1 million between 2016 and 2017. These payments are now under scrutiny. Michelle Ye Hee Lee reports: “Brand New Congress LLC, the corporation owned by Saikat Chakrabarti, was also paid $18,880 for strategic consulting by Ocasio-Cortez’s congressional campaign in 2017, records show. The following year, he worked as a volunteer to manage her campaign, according to his LinkedIn profile. … The money that flowed to her chief of staff’s corporation has subjected the first-term congresswoman to critics’ charges of hypocrisy. On Monday, a conservative group filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging that the PACs failed to properly disclose their spending. … ‘There is no violation’ of campaign finance law, Ocasio-Cortez told Fox News on Tuesday. It is unclear whether she had knowledge of the payments to Chakrabarti’s corporation.”

-- House Democratic leaders moved to broaden a resolution condemning anti-Semitism to include other types of religious bigotry after AOC and other liberal lawmakers slammed it for not denouncing anti-Muslim bigotry aimed at Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). The original resolution was drafted in response to Omar’s suggestion that Israel’s supporters have an “allegiance to a foreign country.” Mike DeBonis and Rachael Bade report: “Top Democratic leaders met in [Nancy] Pelosi's office Tuesday to discuss the resolution language. Heading into the meeting, [Steny Hoyer] said the timing of votes was ‘still being discussed.’ Coming out, several members said the resolution would be broadened. Two Democratic aides said language would be added to condemn anti-Muslim bias specifically, while another said it could condemn religious hatred generally.”

THE TRUMP AGENDA:

-- “From $22 an hour to $11: GM job cuts in Ohio show a hot economy is still leaving parts of America behind,” by Heather Long in Lordstown, Ohio: Scott “Mezzapeso earned $22 an hour with good benefits at Magna, a GM supplier that made seats for the Chevy Cruze, but he was laid off last summer as the auto giant scaled back Cruze production and suppliers did the same. Now he makes $11 an hour working part time at Bruno Bros. Pizza, the only job he has found after months of sending out his résumé. With GM set to shut down production here Wednesday, Lordstown shows how the nation’s booming jobs market is still leaving vast segments of America behind. Last year was the best for manufacturing jobs in more than two decades, but the Youngstown, Ohio, region where Lordstown is located has continued to lose manufacturing jobs in recent years. About a quarter of the country’s metro areas have faced the same fate, many in the Rust Belt, according to data provided by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.”

-- The federal deficit grew 77 percent in the first four months of this fiscal year compared with the same period last year. Following the passage of the GOP tax overhaul, tax revenue for October 2018 through January 2019 fell 2 percent, while spending increased 9 percent. (Damian Paletta)

-- Nearly 60 former military and intelligence officials sent Trump a letter objecting to a White House panel aimed at countering the government’s conclusion that climate change constitutes a national security threat. “Imposing a political test on reports issued by the science agencies, and forcing a blind spot onto the national security assessments that depend on them, will erode our national security,” the 58 former military leaders and national security officials said in their letter. “It is dangerous to have national security analysis conform to politics.” (Dino Grandoni)

-- After Hurricane Harvey, NASA tried to fly a pollution-spotting plane over Houston, but the Trump EPA didn't allow it. NASA wanted to check for chemical spills, fires and damaged industrial plants, but the EPA and the Texas government stopped it, arguing that data from the agency could cause confusion and overlap with their own analysis. (Los Angeles Times)

THE NEW WORLD ORDER: 

-- Satellite images show that North Korea is rebuilding a rocket launch site days after Trump's failed attempt to strike a deal with Kim Jong Un. Simon Denyer reports: “The rebuilding work at the ­Sohae Satellite Launching Station began sometime between Feb. 16 and March 2, according to satellite imagery, meaning it began either just before or immediately after the breakdown of a summit meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi on Feb. 28. ... Tongchang-ri is North Korea’s largest missile engine test site. Work to dismantle it began shortly after denuclearization negotiations with the United States began, but stalled from August of last year. Now it has gone into reverse.” 

-- With a flick of his Sharpie marker, Trump backed out of his plan to withdraw troops from Syria. Anne Gearan and Karoun Demirjian report: "'I agree 100%,' Trump wrote in a handwritten notation on a letter sent by members of Congress expressing concern over his withdrawal plan. 'All is being done.' ... White House press secretary Sarah Sanders had previously announced that a small U.S. force would remain in the war-torn country after all, but the letter amounts to Trump’s most definitive statement of his change of heart. Trump penned his response — in bold lettering from the kind of marker he favors — directly on a copy of the letter from Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and a bipartisan group of 11 other lawmakers who had written to the president on Feb. 22. ...  Trump’s response also included hand-drawn bracket marks around a paragraph that began: 'Like you, we seek to ensure that all of the gains made in Syria are not lost, that ISIS never returns, that Iran is not emboldened, and that we consolidate our gains' ahead of potential political negotiations.”

-- After years of shining as a progressive icon, Canada's Justin Trudeau is fighting for his political life after finding himself tangled in accusations of "shady brokering," bullying, sexism and hypocrisy. Emily Rauhala reports: “The scope of the scandal is such that many Canadians are wondering if he will hold on to his majority government the upcoming election. Whatever happens, Trudeau’s rock star status seems like a thing of the past. 'The problem is that this particular scandal goes to his carefully crafted image,' said Christopher Sands, director of the Center for Canadian Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington. ... Nik Nanos, a Canadian pollster, said it was unusual to see Trudeau’s usually savvy team struggle to reshape the narrative. 'They have been on the defensive almost daily,’ he said. ‘We have only really heard one side of the story, plus little snippets from the prime minister.'"

ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN AND WOMEN:

-- FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb resigned. Laurie McGinley, Lenny Bernstein and Josh Dawsey report: “Gottlieb, who has been commuting weekly to Washington from his home in Connecticut, said he wants to spend more time with his family. The 46-year-old physician, millionaire and cancer survivor known for a self-assured, sometimes brash, manner lives in Westport, with his wife and three daughters — 9-year-old twins and a 5-year-old. … The resignation was not sought by the White House. A senior White House official said Gottlieb had spoken to [Trump], and that the president liked the FDA chief and did not want him to leave. … The resignation took some senior FDA officials by surprise, and came as Gottlieb’s signature issue – youth vaping – is being reviewed by the White House Office of Management and Budget. The plan, detailed by Gottlieb last fall, would sharply restrict the sale of flavored e-cigarettes to curb a surge in underage vaping, which he argues could lead to a whole new generation addicted to nicotine.”

-- Trump is expected to nominate the U.S. attorney for D.C., Jessie Liu, as the associate attorney general, the No. 3 Justice position. Devlin Barrett and Spencer S. Hsu report: “Liu, 46, was confirmed in August 2017 to head the country’s largest U.S. attorney’s office, one that often oversees politically sensitive investigations of the executive and legislative branches. … Last month, Trump said he planned to nominate a Transportation Department official, Jeffrey Rosen, to take the job of deputy attorney general currently held by Rod J. Rosenstein. The selections of Rosen and Liu would put in place a new trio of senior officials running the Justice Department, now led by newly confirmed attorney general William P. Barr.”

-- The Senate confirmed Allison Rushing, 37, to a lifetime appointment on the 4th Circuit. Rushing once interned at an anti-LGBTQ group. Eli Rosenberg reports: “Rushing’s nomination drew vocal opposition from a coalition of more than 200 civil rights organizations ... In a letter sent to senators in October, the coalition described Rushing, who clerked for justices Clarence Thomas and Neil M. Gorsuch, as an 'ideological extremist.' ... It noted an internship Rushing had at the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal nonprofit that is designated as an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Rushing also defended 1996′s Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman, and said she supported the four conservative justices who dissented when the Supreme Court struck down the ruling in 2015.” 

-- Mitch McConnell is preparing to again change Senate rules to make it easier to confirm Trump's judicial nominees. From Politico’s Burgess Everett and Marianne Levine: “The Senate is on track to confirm the 34th Circuit Court judge of Trump’s presidency in the next week and the GOP has three more ready for floor action; that would give Trump roughly 20 percent of the Circuit Court seats in the country after just two years in office ... Even more alarming for Democrats, the GOP is also preparing to pull the trigger on the ‘nuclear option’ and change Senate rules once again with a simple majority to allow much quicker confirmation of lower court judges in the coming months. … Republicans believe they have the required 50 votes for the nuclear option but are hoping to achieve complete caucus unity, which might prove difficult. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) could be seen trying to sway Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on the Senate floor on Tuesday during a vote.”

-- Former Milwaukee County sheriff David Clarke, a staunch supporter of the president who used to be a Fox News fixture, is no longer welcome on the network. Clarke hasn't appeared on Fox News in over a year and was banned by the network for unclear reasons. He has also parted ways with pro-Trump super PAC America First Action, which hired him to be the face of the organization. (Daily Beast)

FOLLOW THE MONEY:

-- T-Mobile acknowledged in a letter to congressional Democrats that its patronage of Trump’s D.C. hotel spiked after it announced its planned merger with Sprint. David A. Fahrenthold and Jonathan O'Connell report: “Before news of the megadeal between rival companies broke on April 29, 2018, the company said, only two top officials from T-Mobile had ever stayed at Trump’s hotel, with one overnight stay each in August 2017. But the day after the merger’s announcement, nine of T-Mobile’s top executives were scheduled to check in, The Washington Post reported in January. … The company’s boost in spending at the president’s hotel as its megamerger is being considered by the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission has drawn criticism from Democratic lawmakers, who say it shows that Trump is profiting from his office.”

-- Companies have been hesitant to cash in on Trump’s mentions of them, reflecting how divisive the president can be for a corporate brand. Toluse Olorunnipa reports: “The companies behind some of the president’s favorite products, including Sharpies, Big Macs and Diet Cokes, have kept him at arm’s length, even as he has lavished them with public praise and highlighted their products in the White House. … In the past, consumer brands have been eager to highlight their proximity to presidents, whose endorsements are especially significant because they are presumed to have access to the best products, said Nick Powills, CEO and chief brand strategist of Chicago-based No Limit Agency. … Today, even businesses that once sought out the Trump brand have acted to distance themselves from a president who is opposed by more than half the country in opinion polls.”

THE IMMIGRATION WARS:

-- The White House is privately appealing to Republican senators to stand with Trump on his border wall plans as many GOP lawmakers are still deciding whether to back the president’s emergency declaration. Seung Min Kim and Erica Werner report: “Arguing Trump’s case on Tuesday was Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who met behind closed doors with Republican senators. … inside party lunches, particularly on Tuesday, the administration has made the hard sell to senators by depicting a crisis at the border — underscored by the release of statistics Tuesday that show the number of people apprehended at the southern border spiked an additional 31 percent last month.”

-- This jump in the number of families apprehended at the border pushed unauthorized crossings to the highest levels in a decade. Nick Miroff reports: “Last month, the shortest of the year, was the busiest February at the border since 2007, officials said, with authorities detaining 76,103 migrants, up from 58,207 in January. The percentage of migrants who arrived as part of a family group also reached a new peak, with 40,325 parents and children taken into custody, a 67 percent leap from the previous month.”

The growing numbers present a legal and medical challenge for the Department of Homeland Security, which is facing a backlog of more than 800,000 cases in immigration courts and must provide medical care to families detained at the border.

-- Immigration officials released 12 babies from ICE custody after complaints from advocacy organizations. CBS News’s Kate Smith reports: “In an email Monday, ICE said there were 16 infants younger than a year old held at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas as of Friday, March 1. The status of the remaining four babies is unclear. … It's not clear why the number of detained babies spiked last week. Prior to their arrival, ICE had an ‘unspoken rule’ that mothers with young babies seeking asylum would bypass the usual detainment process,” said Katy Murdza, the advocacy coordinator at the American Immigration Council's Dilley Pro Bono Project.

2020 WATCH:

-- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) signed the Democratic National Committee pledge to serve as a Democrat if elected president. John Wagner and David Weigel report: “The move comes in response to a new rule from the [DNC] that requires all candidates for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination to sign such a pledge — a change that some Sanders allies considered a swipe at the senator. Sanders, who caucuses with Democrats in the Senate and has said he will support the Democratic presidential nominee in 2020 no matter how the nominating contests go, has frustrated some in the party by remaining politically independent.”

-- Several Democratic candidates may be forced to reckon with their past support for charter schools. The LA Times’s Evan Halper reports: “Just a few years ago, the appetite for school privatization ran strong in parts of the Democratic Party. It has waned since, but candidates seeking the Democratic nomination include some of the movement’s biggest backers. They likely will encounter strong headwinds in primaries where voter sympathy for striking educators in Los Angeles, Oakland and West Virginia has positioned teachers’ unions to wield serious power.” The issue could become a vulnerability particularly for Sen. Cory Booker, who backed a radical experiment in school choice while serving as mayor of Newark.

-- Biden’s Senate voting record on economic issues such as tax policy and federal assistance programs could be troublesome if he joins the crowded 2020 field. HuffPost’s Zach Carter reports: “He voted for a landmark Reagan tax bill that slashed the top income tax rate from 70 percent to 50 percent and exempted many wealthy families from the estate tax on unearned inheritances, a measure that cost the federal government an estimated $83 billion in annual revenue. He then called for a spending freeze on Social Security in order to reduce the deficits that tax law helped to create. … The 1996 welfare reform vote divided the party ― 23 Senate Democrats voted against it and 23 voted for it, including Biden. … Biden also spent roughly a decade pursuing an overhaul of American bankruptcy law to discourage debt-strapped households from discharging their financial obligations in court.”

-- Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams said she would decide her next political steps in the next month. The New York Times’s Susan Chira reports: Since her loss, Abrams has “filled her days with activity — speeches; helping to found two organizations; revising her nonfiction book, originally titled ‘Minority Leader,’ for paperback release — ‘and then I’ve got this little decision about what I’m going to do with the rest of my life that’s also hanging over me like the sword of Damocles.’ She said she will run for office again, and will decide whether for senator, governor or president by late March or early April.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

The president posted half a dozen tweets and retweets last night, up until around midnight. In one, he sought to elevate Democratic mega-donor Tom Steyer: 

Steyer replied:

Trump also reveled in Hillary Clinton’s comment to a television reporter that she’s not running for president in 2020:

A New York Times reporter said Clinton’s comments were not intended to be as definitive as news organizations made them out to be:

Conservative lawyer George Conway, who is married to White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, pointed this out regarding the Cohen pardon stories:

A former speechwriter for George W. Bush mocked Trump's claims of presidential harassment: 

A liberal blogger for The Post used the new Quinnipiac poll to push back on the narrative that Democrats are overreaching with their wide-ranging investigations into the president's conduct:

A Forbes reporter summed up Trump's fortune:

Bloomberg had said that he would not want reporters at the news organization he owns, and which is named for him, to negatively cover his potential presidential campaign. Many reporters at Bloomberg News were thus happy when he decided not to run. This is an NBC News reporter:

From a writer for The Fix:

Maryland's Republican governor tweeted from Iowa as he weighs a primary challenge against Trump:

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) complained about news coverage of her personal life:

The digital director of Obama's 2012 reelection campaign said he spotted the House minority leader reading about AOC:

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) mocked comments by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) about vaccines:

As of today, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) has served longer than any other previous Republican in Congress. From a Bloomberg Government reporter: 

And the Virginia National Guard marked a milestone:

GOOD READS:

-- “‘It was everything we had. But all of it is replaceable’: Alabama tornado survivors reckon with ‘Armageddon,’” by Sarah Kaplan: “The moment Troy Hardy heard the sound of the wind — loud and low as a locomotive, and a thousand times more ferocious — he knew what was coming, and he knew it was going to be bad. The Sunday afternoon turned suddenly dark, and Troy ran indoors. ‘Susie!’ He yelled to his wife to grab their grandson, who had been napping in the spare bedroom. … And though he knew she couldn’t hear him, he kept yelling his wife’s name over and over again. Finally he reached the bedroom. Susie was sprawled across 4-year-old Wyatt’s tiny body on the floor. He flung himself atop his family and pulled a heavy mattress over them all. And then the tornado was upon them.”

-- NPR, “How Federal Disaster Money Favors The Rich,” by Rebecca Hersher and Robert Benincasa: “An NPR investigation has found that across the country, white Americans and those with more wealth often receive more federal dollars after a disaster than do minorities and those with less wealth. Federal aid isn't necessarily allocated to those who need it most; it's allocated according to cost-benefit calculations meant to minimize taxpayer risk. Put another way, after a disaster, rich people get richer and poor people get poorer. And federal disaster spending appears to exacerbate that wealth inequality.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Eric Trump Admits Pressure on Family Maybe Not ‘Worth’ Winning Presidency,” from the Daily Beast: “In a new radio interview with Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade, Eric Trump admitted that he sometimes thinks his father becoming president was not worth all of the ‘pressure’ on his family. After giving his guest permission to ‘punt on this question,’ Kilmeade asked, ‘When you and your dad talk with your family around, do you guys ever look at each other and say, was this worth it?’ … While Eric Trump said he has not had those specific discussions with his father, he did admit that it is something that has talked about with his wife, Lara Trump. … ‘I mean, this was a billionaire who gave up an unbelievable life to go get punched on the chin every single day,’ Eric Trump added. ‘To get abused, and quite frankly, as a family we’ve done that as well.’”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Maxine Waters says for Trump 'impeachment is the only answer,’” from Fox News: “California Democrat Maxine Waters attacked [Trump] and said ‘impeachment is the only answer’ on Monday, citing the allegations of obstruction of justice. Waters, who became one of the leading advocates for Trump’s impeachment – even as her own party remains cautious to embrace such position-- has gone to Twitter to announce her latest call for impeachment in the wake of House Democrats’ move to launch an expansive probe into the president. ‘Obstruction of justice reality show: Firing Comey, sending coded messages to Manafort & others that he has the power to pardon; lying abt Trump Tower meeting; threatening Cohen's in-laws; attempting to destroy Mueller,’ Waters wrote in a tweet. ‘What more do we need to know? Impeachment is the only answer,’ she added.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump will meet with Danny Burch, who was held hostage in Yemen. He will later sit down with Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) and participate in an American Workforce Policy Advisory Board meeting.

The president will also head to Alabama on Friday to pay his respects to those affected by the tornado that killed 23 people.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

The federal government is now more than $22 trillion in debt. “If you take 22 trillion miles, total distance, you would fly from Earth to Pluto and back 3,081 times,” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said on the Senate floor. (Damian Paletta)

 

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

-- The days are getting longer and the sun is shining more, but it’s still pretty cold out. The Capital Weather Gang Forecasts: “It continues to feel like the dead of winter today, with a particularly biting wind chill. We’re only a little warmer tomorrow, with a chance of light snow or rain on Friday. Temperatures are moderate this weekend, but with a good chance of rain Saturday night into Sunday.

-- Cherry blossoms are expected to hit peak bloom on April 3. Jason Samenow reports: “The National Park Service announced Tuesday that the blossoms reached the first stage in their bloom cycle as green buds emerged. The average date that green buds appear is March 5 — so this is right on time.” 

-- Virginia’s GOP offered a $1,000 reward for a photo of state Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) in blackface. Laura Vozzella reports: “The party announced the offer Tuesday, one day after Herring said on a radio interview that he is not sure if any photos were taken when he dressed in blackface for a college party in 1980.” 

-- Maryland might soon become the first state to ban plastic foam food containers under a bill that passed the state’s Senate and is now headed to the House. Ovetta Wiggins and Arelis R. Hernández report: “In Maryland, foam is prohibited in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, the state’s two most populous jurisdictions, and in the cities of Baltimore, Annapolis and Gaithersburg. 'Over half the state is living in an area where foam is banned,' Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery), the lead sponsor of the Senate bill, said Tuesday. 'It is the wave of the future.' Support for the foam ban fell largely along partisan lines, with all Democrats backing it except Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier (Baltimore County), who said she worried about the impact on small businesses. ... Opponents of the bill said they were not certain it would help the environment as much as proponents claimed. ‘It’s an unnecessary burden,’ said Sen. Justin D. Ready (R-Carroll). ‘I just don’t think the juice is worth the squeeze.’” 

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Stephen Colbert posed a question: “Do you think Donald Trump ever regrets winning the presidency?: 

Rep. Ilhan Omar dodged questions about her recent comments on Israel:

Oprah Winfrey interviewed the two men who accused Michael Jackson of childhood sexual abuse in the documentary “Leaving Neverland,” as well as the film’s director:

The first lady participated in a Las Vegas town hall on the opioid addiction:

HBO released the trailer for the final season of “Game of Thrones”:

And Travis M. Andrews, our pop culture reporter, has some questions.