With Joanie Greve and Mariana Alfaro

THE BIG IDEA: Americans, collectively, appear to be in a deeper funk about the future than Beto O’Rourke was after he lost his Senate race.

When adults are asked to think about what the United States will be like in 2050, they see the country declining in stature on the world stage, a widening gap between the haves and the have-nots and growing political polarization. They think health care will be less affordable, public education will be lower quality and retiring will be harder.

They fear the growing national debt, the likelihood of an attack that’s as bad or worse than 9/11 and another 1970s-style energy crisis. Many people also think robots will take their jobs.

Few folks in either party believe the political class is up to the task of addressing the most pressing challenges. Part of the problem is that there is less agreement about what the biggest problems even are than there once was, let alone the best ways to tackle them.

A Pew Research Center study published Thursday is full of sobering data points that underscore the level of unease in the body politic and help explain why every two years brings another change election. The comprehensive poll, released with a 58-page report, paints a grim portrait of Americans who feel trepidation about the day-to-day lives that they and their children will be forced to live in 30 years. The numbers bear out what I’ve heard for years now from voters across the country and across the ideological spectrum.

Seven in 10 Americans are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country right now, higher than at any time in the past year, but there is a more atmospheric crisis of confidence that transcends the daily news cycle or even the Trump presidency. Overall, 56 percent of people say they are somewhat or even “very” optimistic about the future while 44 percent say they are pessimistic. But asking specific questions reveals a deeper, more systemic anxiety.

-- The economy: We’re a decade removed from the Great Recession, yet 62 percent of Americans expect the lower class will increase as a relative share of the U.S. population by 2050. Only 20 percent expect that average families will fare better financially in the future than they do today. Another 44 percent predict that their standard of living to be worse three decades from now.

The poll shows that 73 percent expect the gap between the rich and the poor to grow, including majorities across demographic and political groups. Overall, 54 percent predict that the U.S. economy as a whole will be weaker in 2050 than it is today. And 63 percent worry the national debt will be larger in 2050 than it is now.

These numbers are startling considering the relative strength of the economy. If people are this pessimistic when times are pretty good, what’s going to happen as this economy continues to slow and inevitably dips into a recession?

-- People fear the future of work: 37 percent of all currently employed Americans see automation as a direct threat to their current occupation. Exactly half of workers with no more than a high school diploma think robots and computers will take over the work that they currently do. While many of the highly educated and affluent think artificial intelligence and automation are great, a majority of Americans believe that it will worsen inequality. They don’t see the advantages.

-- There’s growing anxiety about retirement security: Among those who are currently in the workforce, 42 percent expect to receive no Social Security benefits when they eventually retire. Another 42 percent anticipate that benefits will be reduced from what they are today.

Overall, 3 in 4 Americans expect older adults will be less prepared financially for retirement in 2050 than they are today; 83 percent predict that most people will have to work into their 70s to be able to afford to stop working; and 57 percent think people over 65 will have a worse standard of living in 2050 than they do today.

-- More expect the quality of public schools to get worse than better by 2050, and 77 percent of Americans worry about their ability to provide a quality education for the students of tomorrow. This concern is shared across party lines.

-- Six in 10 Americans predict that health care will be less affordable in 2050 than it is today.

-- The same share of people thinks the condition of the planet will be worse in 2050. Only 16 percent think the environment will be better. Meanwhile, 2 in 3 Americans predict a major worldwide energy crisis that will hamper our economy sometime in the next 30 years.

-- About half of Americans believe that a majority nonwhite population will lead to more racial and ethnic conflicts. Many white people especially fear demographic change. By 2050, the Census Bureau predicts the United States will be a majority-minority country. The Pew poll shows that 35 percent believe that’s good, 23 percent say it will be bad and the rest don’t think it’s good or bad. Overall, 40 percent believe race relations will be worse in 2050 than they are now.

-- Six in 10 Americans believe that the United States will be less important in the world in 2050 than it is now. And 53 percent expect that China definitely or probably will overtake us as the world’s main superpower within the next three decades.

-- There are also deep worries about the future of faith, marriage and family: Overall, 43 percent say they are “very” worried about the nation’s moral values while another 34 percent are “fairly” worried. Half the country sees religion being less important to American life in 2050. A 46 percent plurality expects that fewer people will have children. And a 53 percent majority thinks people in 2050 will be less likely to get married than they are today. Only 7 percent predict that people will be more likely to marry in the future.

-- That finding comes amid fresh evidence that America is suffering epidemic levels of aloneness. Another major poll published this week, the General Social Survey, shows that just over half of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 do not have a steady romantic partner. That’s up dramatically from 33 percent in 2004, which was the lowest figure since the question was first posed in 1986, and it’s up from 45 percent in 2016.

“The shift has helped drive singledom to a record high among the overall public, among whom 35 percent say they have no steady partner,” Lisa Bonos and Emily Guskin report. “There are several other trends that go along with the increase in young single Americans. Women are having fewer children, and they’re having them later in life. The median age of first marriage is increasing. … According to the General Social Survey data, 41 percent of Democrats are without a steady partner, compared with only 29 percent of Republicans.”

-- Tribalism alert: Back to the Pew poll, 2 in 3 Americans predict that the country will be more politically divided in 2050 than it is now, including 68 percent of Republicans and 62 percent of Democrats. Only 26 percent of adults think we will be less polarized in 30 years than we are now.

Other surveys have shown similar levels of pessimism about polarization. A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll in 2017 found that 36 percent of Americans were “not proud” of U.S. democracy, for example, at least twice as many as said this in both 2014 and 1996. That survey also found 71 percent saying they think partisan disagreements have reached a dangerous new normal. Most of this group (39 percent) thought this was the new normal, rather than temporary. Seven in 10 respondents thought divisions in this era are at least as big as during the Vietnam War, including 77 percent of people who were adults in the 1970s.

-- Finally, most Americans don’t think solutions to our problems will come from Washington. In fact, 55 percent in the Pew poll said Washington will have a more negative impact than a positive one. The country continues to be divided over the role of government: Six in 10 fear the government will do too little to solve problems, while 39 percent worry that the feds will be too involved in issues that are better left to businesses and individuals. These people are counting on scientists, entrepreneurs and educators to get us out of the malaise.

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- Two U.S. soldiers were killed in Afghanistan on Friday while carrying out operations. Amie Ferris-Rotman and Sayed Salahuddin report from Kabul: “No more details were provided and their names will not be disclosed until 24 hours after their next of kin are notified, according to Department of Defense policy, but their deaths come as the United States plans to withdraw its 14,000-troop advisory mission in Afghanistan. Trump recently tied the withdrawal to progress being made toward a peaceful settlement aimed at ending the 18-year war. Despite the peace talks, Afghanistan is suffering from crippling violence, with a record number of civilian casualties last year. On Thursday, a string of bombs exploded in Kabul as Afghans celebrated the Persian New Year, Nowruz, killing six and wounding 23 more.”

-- South Korea said North Korea is pulling out of a liaison office that was meant to facilitate closer communications between the two neighbors. Min Joo Kim reports: “North Korean staff members at the office withdrew early Friday on ‘instructions from the superior authority,’ according to South Korea’s Unification Ministry. The liaison office opened last September in the city of Kaesong just north of the border between the two Koreas to foster closer bilateral ties. North Korean leader Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in reached an agreement to open the office after their historic summit meeting in April. The surprise withdrawal sends a chill through Moon’s efforts for rapprochement with North Korea.”

-- European leaders allowed Britain a short extension on leaving the E.U. but demanded that Prime Minister Theresa May come up with a solution to the parliamentary impasse by April 12. Michael Birnbaum, William Booth and Quentin Ariès report: “May had promised the British people that Brexit would help them take back control from Europe. Instead, she found that her 27 fellow E.U. leaders took back decision-making from her, dictating a political calendar for the coming weeks that gives both sides time to prepare for the worst-case scenario. If British lawmakers approve a divorce deal they have twice rejected, they can leave the European Union on May 22. If they reject it, they must plan an alternative by April 12 or fall off the same no-deal cliff that evening. Either way, the decisions will be forced earlier than the three-month delay May was seeking in Brussels.”

-- A petition to keep Britain in the European Union attracted so much interest that it crashed the Parliament’s website. Those attempting to sign the petition, which has already attracted more than a million signatures, received a message that the Web page was “down for maintenance.” The technical issues raised suspicions among some Brexit opponents, who encouraged others on social media to keep up efforts to add their names to the petition. (Jennifer Hassan)

-- In an op-ed for The Washington Post, Jennie Willoughby eviscerates the Wall Street Journal for running a piece by Rob Porter, her ex-husband who she says physically abused her and has never apologized for it. His first wife also accused Trump's former White House staff secretary of spousal abuse. Porter has denied the allegations. She writes: “I don’t believe Rob should be forever barred from using his considerable professional skills and knowledge to make a contribution to our society. But Rob’s sudden return to the public eye is deeply troubling to me, because he has yet to candidly address the thing that should — that must — come first: his personal conduct during his two marriages. Rob has yet to publicly show regret or contrition for his actions. Giving him a voice before he has done that critical work elevates his opinions above my and [his first wife] Colbie’s dignity. … We all crave a redemption story. We want to see people take ownership of their inadequacies and sins because we want to believe we, too, can be redeemed for our own. But true redemption is not a given. It is earned.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Cesar Sayoc pleaded guilty to mailing explosive devices to more than a dozen Trump critics, including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The Florida man appeared in a Manhattan courtroom to plead guilty to 65 counts and read a short statement, in which he said he was “extremely sorry” for his actions. (Mark Berman and Edith Honan)

  2. NOAA warned that the devastating floods across the Plains and the Midwest are just a “preview” of an “unprecedented” spring flood season. The feds are forecasting the worst flooding we’ve seen in years. (Jason Samenow)

  3. Mississippi's governor signed into law one of the strictest abortion bans in the country, banning the procedure after a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat during an ultrasound. Heartbeats can be heard just six weeks into a pregnancy, before some women even know they’re pregnant. Antiabortion groups hope that Brett Kavanaugh's elevation to the Supreme Court will pave the way for Roe v. Wade to be overturned. (Reis Thebault)

  4. A Wisconsin judge temporarily blocked several elements of the GOP power grab to limit the power of the Democrat who defeated Scott Walker as governor. Dane County Judge Richard Niess invalidated the legislature’s lame-duck actions, including 82 of Scott Walker’s appointments, ruling that the “extraordinary session” during which they were passed was unconstitutional. Republicans in the legislature will appeal. (Fred Barbash)

  5. A blast at a chemical factory killed at least 47 and injured more than 600 in eastern China. The blast was so violent it was suspected of triggering a 2.2-magnitude tremor in a nearby county that was picked up by China’s earthquake monitors. (Yuan Wang and Gerry Shih)

  6. Three schoolgirls in Burundi spent the weekend in jail and face five years in prison for doodling on the president’s face in their school books. The girls were charged with “insulting the head of state,” according to Human Rights Watch. (CNN)

  7. Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will meet with Google executives next week to discuss his concerns that the company has inadvertently made its most valuable technology available to the Chinese military. Many senior U.S. government officials have expressed alarm that the actions of tech companies in China will allow Beijing to spy on and replicate U.S.-developed technology. (AP)
  8. Facebook revealed that it left “hundreds of millions” of users’ passwords exposed in a readable format. The social media giant said it had not uncovered any evidence that the passwords were seen by an external party or that its employees “internally abused or improperly accessed them.” (Tony Romm)
  9. Teachers in Indiana said they were shot with painful plastic pellets during an active shooter drill. Some teachers were left with bruises and abrasions after the local sheriff's office conducted the training. (Indianapolis Star)
  10. Oxford University hired a team to investigate the school’s connection to colonialism and the British Empire. The St. John’s College said there were “compelling” reasons for institutions of higher education to “face up to the role they played in the British Empire.” (Telegraph)
  11. Several women accused billionaire philanthropist Michael Steinhardt of sexual harassment. The women said that Steinhardt, who has donated millions to Jewish nonprofits, made sexual requests of them while they were seeking his financial support for their organizations. (New York Times)

  12. Marquette and Louisville were two of the first victims of March Madness upsets. No. 12 Murray State defeated No. 5 Marquette 83-64, and No. 7 Louisville lost to No. 10 Minnesota 86-76. (Matt Bonesteel, Jacob Bogage and Des Bieler)
  13. A thief held up a gas station with a machete. Then the clerk pulled out a machete of his own. Police in Alabama released footage of an alleged robbery where both men attacked each other with the machetes. (Angela Fritz)

  14. A truck driver involved in last year's crash with an Amtrak train that was full of Republican lawmakers going to their retreat had both marijuana and a prescription drug in his system, the NTSB said. The truck appears to have bypassed the crossing gates and was on the tracks as the train approached. (Ashley Halsey III)

THE IMMIGRATION WARS:

-- The commandant of the Marine Corps warned in leaked memos that Trump's deployments of troops to the southern border and diversions of money from the military's budget pose an “unacceptable risk to Marine Corps combat readiness and solvency.” The Los Angeles Times’s Molly O'Toole scoops: “Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller said the ‘unplanned/unbudgeted’ deployment along the border that [Trump] ordered last fall, and shifts of other funds to support border security, had forced him to cancel or reduce planned military training in at least five countries, and delay urgent repairs at bases. … He complained about canceling or shrinking the Marines’ participation [in training exercises] ‘at a time where we are attempting to double down on strengthening alliances and attracting new partners.’ While the armed services chiefs often warn of budget shortfalls, independent experts who reviewed Neller’s memos described the language as unusually strong, in particular because it cites the president’s highest-profile political priorities.”

-- The Trump administration’s plans to take money away from military construction projects to pay for the border wall would potentially deal an outsized blow to Puerto Rico and undermine a program that is helping European allies project strength against Vladimir Putin and his revanchist Russia. Paul Sonne and Erica Werner have a sophisticated analysis: “Under pressure from lawmakers, the Defense Department released a list Monday detailing $12.9 billion in military construction projects that had received money from Congress but had yet to be contracted. … The Pentagon hasn’t said which specific projects would be defunded. But it has ruled out taking money from military housing projects or contracts due to award before the end of the fiscal year. When those are stripped out, the refined list decreases to $4.35 billion worth of projects that are actually vulnerable. The Trump administration plans to take up to $3.6 billion, or 83 percent, for the wall, meaning most of the projects on the shorter list face could be defunded.”

On the most-vulnerable list is some $745 million worth of projects for the European Deterrence Initiative, which was launched in 2014 to help shore up the defenses of our European allies after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine: “The 23 European projects in the program at risk are aimed at making it easier for allied forces to respond to any Russian military actions in Europe. ... The initiatives at risk include a plan to build a facility for Special Operations forces and their training in Estonia; projects to construct ammunition and fuel storage facilities and staging areas in Poland; and planned upgrades to aircraft surveillance facilities in Italy and Britain, as well as airfield and fuel storage upgrades in Slovakia and Hungary.”

Puerto Rico is the most affected U.S. territory or state, with 10 projects at a value of $403 million on the smaller list. Here are the others that stand to lose the most under Trump’s plan. Note that only three of the top 10 are red states:

-- The law of unintended consequences: Trump’s fixation on securing the border has caused more attempts by migrants to reach U.S. soil by sea. Dan Lamothe reports: “The migrants enter in various ways, including on personal watercraft and small, open-top motorboats known as pangas that often arrive under cover of darkness, said Jeremy Thompson, [CBP’s] director of marine operations in San Diego. … Chief Patrol Agent Rodney S. Scott, who oversees CBP operations in San Diego, said that he expects smugglers to adjust their tactics as U.S. officials alter theirs, and he believes that the United States is taking away most of the ‘low-risk ways’ to get into the country.”

-- The rising rate of apprehensions at the border is complicating Democratic messaging against Trump’s declaration. Democrats have previously pointed to the low apprehension numbers to deride Trump’s immigration proposals, but the latest surge of migrants has robbed them of a favorite talking point. David Nakamura reports: “Over the first five months of fiscal 2019, CBP had apprehended 268,044 migrants, on pace for more than 643,300 this year. If reached, that total would be the most since 705,005 in 2008 and more than twice as high as the 310,531 migrants taken into custody two years ago. Trump and his supporters have been quick to use the new data to try to heighten tensions about threats at the border and paint Democrats as indifferent to an issue the president plans to make a central issue of his reelection campaign.”

-- But, but, but: The climbing numbers are largely fueled by migrant families who are reaching U.S. soil and seeking asylum, a problem that would not be addressed by a wall. Nick Miroff and Karly Domb Sadof report: “[One] group of 127 Guatemalan migrants had waded through the river to turn themselves in to U.S. agents, the first step in initiating the asylum process. They crossed the border illegally, but they have the legal right to seek asylum because they reached U.S. soil. Border Patrol agents must take them into custody and begin processing their claims. … [I]n private, [Homeland Security officials] acknowledge that the migration surge is likely to continue with or without a wall, and they fear it possibly could accelerate without changes to the U.S. asylum system.”

-- Federal agents set a record for the number arrests of undocumented immigrants with no criminal records who are already in the country. Earlier in his presidency, Trump ordered ICE agents to arrest all undocumented immigrants they encounter, no matter their criminal record. “That has led to a consistent drop in the percentage of people arrested by ICE who have a criminal record,” USA Today's Alan Gomez reports. “According to data released Thursday, that percentage fell to 63.5 percent in December, the lowest monthly figure since ICE started categorizing arrests in 2012. That means 36.5 percent of the arrests were simply undocumented with no criminal history.”

-- One of Rupert Murdoch's former senior executives said he quit his job in 2017 over Fox News's coverage of Muslims, immigrants and race. Former News Corp. Senior Vice President Joseph Azam said he was “fundamentally” bothered by the coverage aired by Fox and other Murdoch news outlets. (NPR)

THE UNFRIENDLY SKIES:

-- Indonesia’s Garuda Airlines canceled an order for 49 Boeing 737 Max jets. This is believed to be the first order cancellation in reaction to the crashes. (Stanley Widianto and Timothy McLaughlin)

-- The jets that went down in Indonesia and Ethiopia lacked two safety features that Boeing charges extra for. It is not uncommon for companies like Boeing to charge extra for plane upgrades, but while some of those add-ons are aesthetic, some of them can affect a jet’s navigation and communication systems. Following the deadly crashes, Boeing intends to make one of the safety features a standard part of its fixes to make planes operable again. (New York Times)

­-- More families of the Indonesia victims are suing Boeing, claiming the plane involved in October's crash was “defective and unreasonably dangerous.” More than 30 relatives of the 189 victims have sued Boeing in its hometown of Chicago, and more lawsuits are expected, including from the families of the Ethiopia victims. (Luz Lazo)

-- Two pilots filed FAA complaints about Ethiopian Airlines’ safety procedures years before this month's crash. Aaron Gregg reports: “The 2015 complaints, filed before the Max 8 was in use, are critical of training and pilot documentation on the 737 in use at the time, as well as two larger Boeing planes. They could also lead to renewed scrutiny of Ethiopian Airlines, a fast-growing international airline that has enjoyed a generally positive safety reputation in international aviation circles. One pilot said the airline didn’t ‘have the infrastructure’ to support the fleet of Boeing and Airbus jets it ordered, and alleged the airline had a ‘fear-based’ management culture in which ‘safety is being sacrificed for expansion and profit margin.’”

TRUMP TIPS THE SCALES FOR BIBI:

-- Continuing his penchant for making major foreign policy announcements via tweet, the president endorsed permanent Israeli control of the disputed Golan Heights, saying the area is of “critical” importance to Israel. Anne Gearan, Loveday Morris and Carol Morello report: “The position is a political boon to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu days before he is scheduled to visit Washington and three weeks before he faces an unexpectedly difficult reelection vote at home. … Trump’s statement marks an important symbolic reversal of official U.S. neutrality on an issue that is akin to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, which was also seized during the 1967 war and is claimed by Palestinians for a future independent state. … Trump decided to announce the new position despite concerns among some in his administration that it would put a finger on the scale of Netanyahu’s election.”

-- Trump’s endorsement came as a shock to members of his own Middle East peace team, the State Department and Israeli officials. “We all found out by tweet,” one Israeli official said. “We’ve been lobbying for this for a long time, but it was not the product of one phone call. There were hints, but we weren’t given advance notice.” (McClatchy)

-- Democrats are wrestling over their support for Israel as members of the party stand accused of anti-Semitism, and Trump upends decades of bipartisan consensus by endorsing Netanyahu’s right-wing priorities. Mike DeBonis, Sean Sullivan and Rachael Bade report: “Few Democratic leaders believe the party is in danger of seeing a mass defection of Jewish voters — a ‘Jexodus’ some Republicans are calling for, including Trump — but many say they need to redouble their efforts to police anti-Semitic rhetoric and prevent further erosion of support for Israel. Jewish voters typically favor Democrats over Republicans by a remarkably consistent ratio of 2 to 1 or better, according to exit polling dating to 1980. … That mission is set to play out next week as thousands of politically active Jewish Americans and allies gather at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference,” with headliners that include Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

-- The latest litmus test from the far left: Several Democratic presidential candidates have announced that they intend to skip the AIPAC conference, bowing to pressure from the liberal group MoveOn.org. Bernie Sanders, Beto O’Rourke, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg and Julián Castro all said they would skip the summit. Even Howard Schultz says he won't participate. (NBC News)  

-- One way House Democrats are attempting to show that their party still supports Israel after the Ilhan Omar donnybrook is by introducing a bipartisan resolution rebuking the global boycott movement against Israel. Rachael Bade and Mike DeBonis report: “House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) and Rep. Bradley Schneider (Ill.) joined with two Republicans to introduce the resolution Thursday. It expresses opposition to any efforts to 'delegitimize' Israel, including the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. … The resolution also reaffirms the need for a two-state solution to the decades-long conflict in the Middle East. Many supporters of the BDS movement back a one-state solution combining both Israel and Palestinian territories, which opponents say would upend the existence of a Jewish state. House Democratic leadership has yet to schedule a vote on the legislation, but the sponsors of the measure have talked to leadership amid a quiet push for a vote.”

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said Jared Kushner’s lawyer told him that the White House adviser and presidential son-in-law uses WhatsApp for official business communications. Tom Hamburger and Josh Dawsey report: “Cummings described the Dec. 19 discussion with Kushner lawyer Abbe Lowell in a letter to the White House counsel in which he requested information about the use of such messaging apps and other communications by White House personnel. Lowell challenged aspects of Cummings’s account, writing in his own letter that he did not say that Kushner used WhatsApp to communicate with foreign leaders. He also said he told Cummings and then-House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy, who was also in the December meeting, that he was not familiar with the details of Kushner’s use of the messaging application and referred them to the White House counsel.

The use of messaging services such as WhatsApp could run afoul of White House policy and the Presidential Records Act, which prohibits White House officials from sending a record ‘using a nonofficial electronic message account’ unless the messages are copied to an official account within 20 days. … According to Cummings’s letter, Lowell said during their December meeting that Kushner was in compliance with records preservations rules because he took screen shots of his communications and forwarded them to his official email or to National Security Council officials. … Cummings said Lowell also told him in their December meeting that Kushner’s wife, presidential adviser Ivanka Trump, was continuing to receive emails related to White House business on her private email account and did not always forward them to her White House account.”

-- A 12-page letter from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to a Republican senator may offer some insight into what Mueller’s final report might look like. ABC News’s Jonathan Karl reports: “The bottom line: Do not expect a harsh condemnation of Trump or any of his associates if they have not been charged with crimes. … In the letter, Rosenstein makes it clear he believes the Department of Justice will not — and cannot without violating long-standing Department of Justice policy — include disparaging or incriminating information about anybody who has not been charged with a crime. … If Mueller follows the guidance of the man who appointed him and supervised his investigation, he cannot publicly disparage those who have not been charged with a crime. Rosenstein is emphatic on this point: ‘In fact, disclosing uncharged allegations against American citizens without a law-enforcement need is considered to be a violation of a prosecutor's trust.’”

-- Former FBI director Jim Comey writes in a New York Times op-ed that he hopes special counsel Bob Mueller’s report serves as an example of the resilience of the U.S. justice system. Comey writes: “Even though I believe Mr. Trump is morally unfit to be president of the United States, I’m not rooting for Mr. Mueller to demonstrate that he is a criminal. I’m also not rooting for Mr. Mueller to 'clear' the president. I’m not rooting for anything at all, except that the special counsel be permitted to finish his work, charge whatever cases warrant charging and report on his work. … I care only that the work be done, well and completely. If it is, justice will have prevailed and core American values will have been protected at a time when so much of our national leadership has abandoned its commitment to truth and the rule of law.”

Comey says he hopes Congress does not try to impeach Trump: “I don’t mean that Congress shouldn’t move ahead with the process of impeachment governed by our Constitution, if Congress thinks the provable facts are there. I just hope it doesn’t. Because if Mr. Trump were removed from office by Congress, a significant portion of this country would see this as a coup, and it would drive those people farther from the common center of American life, more deeply fracturing our country.”

-- Former attorney general Jeff Sessions returned to the Justice Department to literally claim back his old chair. Matt Zapotosky reports: As part of a DOJ tradition, Sessions was presented with the brown leather chair he once sat on when he led the department. “In a gray suit and a red tie, Sessions sat at the head of the Justice Department’s Great Hall, next to William P. Barr, the man Trump picked to replace Sessions. … The moment was one that Sessions missed when he was in the department — and that some of his supporters thought was overdue. … Sometimes attorneys general even get a lavish goodbye. At Eric H. Holder Jr.’s send-off, soul legend Aretha Franklin gave a surprise performance, and President Barack Obama cried. Sessions, by contrast, was forced out in a day. … Trump did not attend the ceremony Thursday, but his presence was felt.”

TRUMP'S DOMESTIC AGENDA:

-- Waging war on states' rights as he seeks to increase oil and gas drilling, Trump is laying the groundwork to weaken a federal law that empowers California and other coastal states to slow down offshore development in federal waters. The Los Angeles Times’s Anna M. Phillips and Rosanna Xia report: “Among other things, the administration appears to be considering limits to the scope of states’ review powers and a shorter period of time to process an appeal. The full extent of its plans is unclear. The goal, officials wrote, is to provide ‘greater efficiency and predictability’ for oil and gas projects — language often used to justify deregulation. The oil industry cheered the administration’s move. ... 'Republicans are always supposed to be in favor of states’ rights,’ said Richard Charter, who has worked on oil issues for 40 years and is a senior fellow at the marine conservation nonprofit Ocean Foundation. ‘But this is in fact an effort to take away states’ rights when it comes to offshore drilling.’”

-- Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie is moving quickly to roll out new rules that would allow more veterans to get their health care from the private sector. Lisa Rein reports: “For Trump, giving veterans more choices will probably be a reelection theme next year as he seeks shorter waits and potentially better care for veterans, a crucial constituency. Democrats now in charge in the House are resisting. They say proposed rules on when veterans could go outside VA are too lenient and would damage the government system — a long-held fear of Democrats who worry that union jobs will be siphoned off and the government system dismantled.”  

-- The bully pulpit works: After days of criticism from Trump over Twitter, GM will announce a $300 million investment at its Orion Assembly Plant in Michigan. Heather Long and Josh Dawsey report: “Trump has berated the company all week for shutting a factory in Ohio, and the announcement is in part driven by an effort to appease the president, according to [two people familiar with the matter].”

Trump called GM CEO Mary Barra on Sunday and demanded that she reopen the Lordstown factory in Ohio, where 5,400 jobs were lost: “Barra tried to tell Trump that she can’t do anything right away because GM and the [United Automobile Workers union] will enter negotiations later this year over a new union contract. The fate of the Lordstown plant will be part of that discussion. Trump said he ‘didn’t care at all about the union rules,’ according to the people familiar with the call, and that he wouldn’t be happy with ‘token’ things. Barra tried to emphasize to Trump that the company has been working to relocate workers at Lordstown to other GM factories across the country. About 800 have transferred, according to the union, but Trump wasn’t satisfied with that, according to people familiar with the conversation.”

-- The president signed an executive order intended to protect freedom of speech on college campuses, surrounded by student activists who have said their conservative views have been silenced at their universities. Susan Svrluga reports: “Trump told the students that people can have different views, ‘but they have to let you speak.’ The president declared it the first in a number of steps the administration would take to defend students’ rights. Universities have tried to restrict free thought and impose conformity, he said.”

-- The House will vote next week on a measure to reject the president’s ban on transgender people serving openly in the military, which could lead to a new congressional rebuke for the White House. Mike DeBonis report: “The announcement comes a week after the Pentagon said it would begin enforcing the transgender troop ban for new applicants starting on April 12. … The House resolution expresses opposition to the presidential order and urges the Pentagon ‘to maintain an inclusive policy allowing qualified transgender Americans to enlist and serve in the Armed Forces,’ but it would not force the military to change its policy if passed. The measure, authored by Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.), has 187 co-sponsors, all Democrats.”

-- Trump is considering Heritage Foundation fellow Stephen Moore for the Federal Reserve Board. Bloomberg News’s Saleha Mohsin and Jennifer Jacobs report: “Moore, 59, was the founder of the conservative Club for Growth and served on the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal. He was a senior economist on the Congressional Joint Economic Committee and was an economic analyst for CNN. … Moore blamed the Fed for slowing the economy while championing Trump’s policies in a March 13 Journal column that he co-authored. He also suggested the Fed stabilize the value of the dollar by adopting a commodity price rule. Also under consideration for the board is Herman Cain, the former pizza company executive who ran for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.” 

2020 WATCH:

-- An AP analysis found that Republicans probably would have lost an additional 16 House seats in 2018 if the congressional maps were not drawn in such a partisan way to favor GOP candidates. “In state House elections, Republicans’ structural advantage might have helped them hold on to as many as seven chambers that otherwise could have flipped to Democrats, according to the analysis,” David A. Lieb reports.

-- Beto O’Rourke is poised to announce that Jen O’Malley Dillon, a deputy campaign manager for Obama’s 2012 reelection, will run his campaign, CNN’s Jeff Zeleny and Eric Bradner report: “O'Malley Dillon, who is seen as one of the party's sharpest data experts, had been planning to head a new data exchange operation for Democrats. The effort was designed to help the party overcome its deficit with Republicans on using voter data to identify supporters and drive turnout. But she decided this week to work for the O'Rourke campaign instead.”

-- Several top Democratic donors, skeptical of whether Joe Biden can win the Democratic nomination, have told the former vice president they won’t help him fundraise in the early stages of his campaign. CNBC’s Brian Schwartz reports: “The donors told Biden they’re not yet convinced he can overtake the younger, more diverse and progressive field, and that they are going to wait to see how he competes in the race.”

-- Biden is actively weighing options to reassure primary voters about his age, including possibly promising to only serve one term or announcing a younger running mate early on. The New York Times’s Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns report: “Such moves would amount to a big play that would send a signal about the seriousness of the election, and could potentially appeal to both liberal activists and general-election voters who are eager to chart the safest route toward defeating [Trump]. But Mr. Biden is not sold on either approach, and both carry significant risks, chiefly that they could call further attention to the age of a candidate who would turn 80 in the White House.”

-- Karen Tumulty argues in her column that it would be a bad idea for Stacey Abrams to go along with being Biden's running mate, if he asks.

-- Sen. Michael Bennet, the Colorado Democrat I recently spoke with in New Hampshire, is expected to enter the crowded 2020 field within the next month. One of Bennet’s longtime advisers said a decision had not been finalized, but Democratic sources say they expect him to announce in the coming weeks. The Denver Post’s Nic Garcia reports that Bennet has been weighing a bid since the fall. “However, his interest accelerated after he delivered a stinging rebuke of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz on the Senate floor during the partial federal government shutdown. That speech catapulted him into the national spotlight and fueled a trip to Iowa and later New Hampshire to meet with voters before making a final decision on a presidential run.”

-- Economic models are predicting a Trump landslide in 2020, but a faltering economy or additional scandals could tip the scales against him. Politico’s Ben White and Steven Shepard report: “While Trump appears to be in a much stronger position than his approval rating and conventional Beltway wisdom might suggest, he also could wind up in trouble if the economy slows markedly between now and next fall, as many analysts predict it will. … Trump’s party managed to lose the House in 2018 despite a strong economy. So the models could wind up wrong this time around. … ‘The economy is just so ... strong right now and by all historic precedent the incumbent should run away with it,’ said Donald Luskin, chief investment officer of TrendMacrolytics, a research firm whose model correctly predicted Trump’s 2016 win when most opinion polls did not. ‘I just don’t see how the blue wall could resist all that.’”

-- Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie praised his friend, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, saying he has a “very bright” future in politics. But Christie would not endorse Hogan's potential candidacy for the 2020 GOP nomination, saying a primary against Trump isn't practical. Rachel Chason reports: “Christie said he sees no current path for a successful primary challenge, noting Trump’s strong support with Republican voters. Hogan has repeatedly stated the same.”

TRUMP UNPLUGGED, CONT.:

-- Trump’s relentless and continuing attacks on John McCain, even seven months after the late senator’s death from brain cancer, appeal to many of his base voters. Robert Costa, Josh Dawsey and Seung Min Kim report: “Inside the powerful and populist wing of the party that is most loyal to Trump, McCain is not a revered war hero but a useful foil — encapsulating everything his core voters have come to loathe about establishment Republicans, from their support for the Iraq War to their opposition to Trump’s nativist agenda to their esteem for the Justice Department as it oversees the ongoing Russia investigation. By attacking McCain, Trump allies said Thursday, the president is stoking his supporters’ rawest emotions and suspicions about the GOP’s political elite. … And there is an audience. On social media, Fox News and other conservative-leaning platforms, Trump’s searing critiques of the late senator are acceptable to many rank-and-rile Republicans.”

-- Arizona Sen. Martha McSally (R) said she spoke with Trump about the attacks against McCain. McSally and fellow Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D) came to McCain's defense after Trump renewed his attacks Wednesday. Of her conversation with Trump, McSally said: “I wanted to make sure he understood how I felt about Sen. McCain and how Arizona felt about Sen. John McCain. And he heard me.” (Politico

-- Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), running for reelection, became the latest Republican senator to criticize Trump’s attacks on McCain. She said during a town hall, “I do not appreciate his tweets. … John McCain is a dear friend of mine. So, no I don’t agree with President Trump and he does need to stop.” (Politico)

-- A spokesman for Washington National Cathedral contradicted Trump’s claim that he had to approve McCain’s funeral arrangements. “All funerals and memorial services at the Cathedral are organized by the family of the deceased,” a cathedral spokesman said in a statement. “Only a state funeral for a former president involves consultation with government officials. No funeral at the Cathedral requires the approval of the president or any other government official.” (BuzzFeed News)

-- Joe Lieberman op-ed: “John McCain probably wouldn’t have responded to Trump’s comments. As his friend, I will.”

THE CONWAYS, A REALITY TV SHOW:

-- Top Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said on Fox News that her husband, George Conway, told her she should resign. But she said she has no intention of doing so. John Wagner reports: “’What message would that send to the feminists everywhere who pretend they’re independent thinkers and men don’t make decisions for them?’ Conway said during a morning television appearance. ‘They can talk it, and I can walk it. I can live it.’ … Conway told Fox host Maria Bartiromo that Trump continues to be supportive of her. … Conway said she can ‘appreciate’ Trump’s efforts to defend himself against her husband. She has been surprised that her husband has chosen to air his concerns about Trump so publicly, she added.”

-- The Conways’ feud has landed the president in the middle of a marital mess, writes Petula Dvorak: “This devil’s triangle of a married couple and a president has taken one of Washington’s standard story lines — the madcap misadventures of a mixed marriage — and twisted it into something unrecognizable, cringey and on display for an audience of millions. … A mixed marriage is one of those D.C. cultural curiosities, normally a red and blue pairing, a Capulet and a Montague, a fiery, bipartisan union that means every Sunday brunch is their own, private, ‘Meet the Press’ panel, and it’s passion, not politics, that keeps them together. … This latest D.C. marriage show — the triangle of the Conways and Trump — is dark dysfunction, not lovable sitcom. A twisted reality show that’s appalling to watch.”

-- Is George Conway the Martha Mitchell of our time? The outspoken wife of Richard Nixon’s attorney general John Mitchell was dismissed as “crazy” for her wild claims about the Nixon administration — which turned out to be true — and even issued a public ultimatum to her husband to choose her or the president. Gillian Brockell recalls one of the wildest episodes in modern politics. It’s a good read:

“In the spring of 1972, John Mitchell resigned as attorney general to become Nixon’s campaign manager for his reelection. And in June, Martha joined her husband in California for several campaign events. It was there, on the night of June 17, that John Mitchell got a call about some arrests made at the Watergate Hotel. … Mitchell realized that if his wife found out that she knew one of the men arrested, James McCord, she might become upset and tell reporters about it, thus tipping them off to the connection between the burglars and the president. So as he headed back to Washington, he instructed security guards working for the campaign to keep his wife in the dark in California — and to stop her from calling members of the media. But find out she did, and just as her husband predicted, she soon called UPI’s Helen Thomas. ‘The conversation ended abruptly when it appeared that somebody had taken the phone from her hand,’ Thomas reported. ‘She was heard to say, ‘You just get away.’’

“Martha Mitchell later said one of the guards discovered her and ripped the phone from the wall. She was kept in the hotel room for days, she said, where the guard held her down as a doctor injected her with sedatives, her young daughter watching the whole time. ‘I’m black and blue,’ she told Thomas days later. ‘I’m a political prisoner.’ … [T]he man Mitchell accused of roughing her up and ‘kidnapping’ her, Stephen King, is now Trump’s ambassador to the Czech Republic.)”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

All eyes are on Mueller:

Roger Stone says he's expanding his legal team to deal with discovery:

Wisconsin's Democratic governor celebrated a judge's ruling blocking state Republicans' lame-duck legislation:

John McCain's youngest daughter defended her late father amid the president's escalating attacks:

Meghan McCain expressed support for her sister taking a stand against Trump:

George Conway kept the focus on Trump's mental fitness for the presidency:

A writer for Time magazine sees the Conway drama as emblematic of something more:

A New York Times reporter reflected on the op-ed written by Jennie Willoughby, the ex-wife of Rob Porter:

A Naval War College professor commented on Jared Kushner's questionable communications choices:

Democratic lawmakers cheered New Zealand's decision to ban military-style semiautomatic weapons:

A Commentary magazine editor mocked Beto's campaign style:

A Refinery29 writer reacted to Beto's plans to visit Puerto Rico:

A CNN anchor shared this interesting but creepy bit of trivia:

A Texas Tribune editor came across this throwback story:

Both Barack Obama and HUD Secretary Ben Carson chose Duke to win the NCAA tournament:

And Jimmy Carter celebrated a new milestone:

GOOD READS:

-- ABC repeatedly urged Roseanne Barr to stop sending controversial tweets before the network canceled her show, Geoff Edgers reveals in a profile of the former sitcom star. “The network didn’t propose a no-tweet clause in Barr’s contact. Instead, as revealed by interviews with people close to the show and messages shown to The Washington Post, they spent months nudging her to stop while also trying to keep from offending her. … Despite repeated warnings — and even after her youngest son briefly hid her Twitter password — Barr stayed online. ‘I admit it,’ she says, in her hotel room. ‘I’m a troll. I’m the queen of the f‑‑‑ing trolls.’”

-- New York Times, “A New Age of Warfare: How Internet Mercenaries Do Battle for Authoritarian Governments,” by Mark Mazzetti, Adam Goldman, Ronen Bergman and Nicole Perlroth: “Today even the smallest countries can buy digital espionage services, enabling them to conduct sophisticated operations like electronic eavesdropping or influence campaigns that were once the preserve of major powers like the United States and Russia. Corporations that want to scrutinize competitors’ secrets, or a wealthy individual with a beef against a rival, can also command intelligence operations for a price, akin to purchasing off-the-shelf elements of the National Security Agency or the Mossad. ... A months-long examination by the New York Times, based on interviews with current and former hackers for governments and private companies and others as well as a review of documents, uncovered secret skirmishes in this burgeoning world of digital combat.” 

-- Wired, “Inside Airbnb’s ‘Guerrilla War’ Against Local Governments,” by Paris Martineau: “‘Read my lips: We want to pay taxes,’ Chris Lehane, Airbnb’s global head of public policy, told the nation’s mayors in 2016. … But when Palm Beach County, Florida, a popular tourist destination, passed an ordinance in October 2018 requiring Airbnb and other short-term rental companies to collect and pay the county’s 6 percent occupancy tax on visits arranged through their sites, Airbnb sued. … Similar dramas are playing out around the country. … In the past five months alone, the company has spent nearly $1 million to overturn regulations in San Diego and has sued Boston, Miami, and Palm Beach County over local ordinances that require Airbnb to collect taxes or remove illegal listings.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“South Carolina Republican Endorses QAnon: ‘They’re Legit,’” from the Daily Beast: “The wacko pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy theory has some friends in high places in South Carolina, where State Rep. Lin Bennett (R) has been posting on Facebook about her belief in QAnon. QAnon is a kind of mega-Pizzagate, premised on anonymous internet posting that that claim that Trump is about to arrest top Democrats and either ship them off to Guantanamo Bay or just have them executed. … Bennett, who represents a Charleston-area district, has been posting about QAnon on Facebook since at least last year, even helping to ‘decode’ the QAnon ‘clues’ for her Facebook friends. … Bennett is arguably the highest ranking politician to promote QAnon so far.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Pence offers olive branch to California lawmakers, state assembly speaker responds with sarcastic rebuke,” from Fox News: “Vice President Mike Pence recently sent a letter to the leader of the California State Assembly in an attempt to ease the tensions between the White House and the Democrat-controlled statehouse in Sacramento. The sarcastic reply from Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon was probably not what he expected in return. … While Rendon does thank Pence for reaching out, he also says the Trump administration and its policies ‘have already done quite a bit to help’ the state’s Democrat-controlled Assembly. ‘Thanks to your policies, voters in California added five Democrats to the Assembly in the last election,’ Rendon wrote.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump will fly to Mar-a-Lago and participate in a working visit with Caribbean leaders.

Looking ahead to Monday: Barack Obama will meet with freshman House Democrats at an evening reception hosted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. (Colby Itkowitz and Rachael Bade)

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“But, Mr. President, he's dead. He can't punch back. I know you punch back, but he's dead.” — Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo addressing Trump’s attacks on John McCain during her interview with the president. (USA Today)

 

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

-- You might want to keep your jacket around today as the wind will gain some strength and might come with some snow throughout the day. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Watch radar with us through this evening, if you want to avoid some precipitation spits here and there. Winds kick up today and could stick with us through tomorrow. Bundle up! Calmer on Sunday, but cloudier. Need snow? Look to the Blue Ridge!”

-- The Wizards fell to the Nuggets 113-108. (Candace Buckner)

-- Charlottesville schools will remain shut down Friday after a threat of racial violence surfaced online. Debbie Truong reports: “In a message to families, Rosa Atkins, superintendent of Charlottesville City Schools, said an investigation involving state and federal authorities remains active, necessitating the unusual step of keeping schools closed. ... Authorities declined to further describe the threat, but images circulating on Reddit and other social media sites referred to a post on 4chan, an anonymous online messaging board. The post included a racist meme, used slurs for blacks and Latinos, and threatened to attack students of color at Charlottesville High.” 

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Trevor Noah looked at the emergence of reparations as a new litmus test for 2020 Democratic candidates trying to out-woke one another: 

Jimmy Kimmel got his viewers up to speed on all the people Trump has been lashing out against this week:

The Mooch, who was briefly Trump's White House communications director, condemned the president's attacks on McCain:

The conservative Washington Free Beacon imagined the 2020 Democrats as Michael Scott quotes from “The Office”:

Los Angeles residents thought they spotted a meteor during this week's supermoon. But it turned out to be a film shoot for the energy drink Red Bull:

A Texas man stretched Petco's idea of a leashed pet:

And Saudi Arabia's first female basketball team at the Special Olympics won gold: