With Joanie Greve and Mariana Alfaro

THE BIG IDEA: President Trump couldn’t kill Obamacare legislatively. So now he’s trying to do so in a court of law, hoping that conservative judges might do what a Republican-controlled Congress would not.

In a triumphant mood on Tuesday, Trump touted the Justice Department’s unexpected request for an appellate court to fully strike down the Affordable Care Act.

“The Republican Party will soon be known as the party of health care,” he told reporters at the Capitol before lunching with GOP senators. “You watch.”

The reactions to his decision from the political and legal worlds highlighted how elusive Trump’s goal could be.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit is preparing to hear an appeal in a case challenging the law’s constitutionality after a district court judge in Texas, Reed O’Connor, ruled in December that the law is null and void because Republicans eliminated penalties for not carrying health insurance as part of their 2017 tax bill. That’s what prompted 20 GOP state attorneys general to file the suit.

This isn’t some dry academic debate. Court watchers say it’s within the realm of possibility that the very conservative 5th Circuit could strike down Obamacare in toto.

“I’ve been a student and a watchdog of the 5th Circuit for upwards of 50 years. I have great respect for the court, but the 5th Circuit can be a very wild card,” said Louisiana State University law professor Paul Baier, noting that it was this court that declared the Gun-Free School Zones Act unconstitutional. “Sometimes the 5th Circuit sticks its judicial neck out. … It certainly will depend on the panel.”

University of Texas law professor Stephen Vladeck said some of the judges on the court might try to avoid an explosive decision by ruling that the states lacked standing to bring the case in the first place. He can also envision other more limited rulings. But he says the Trump administration’s new stance adds some heft to the plaintiffs’ position and the district court’s decision, even though a lot of commentators from across the political spectrum were skeptical of its reasoning.

“It now has the full backing of the Justice Department,” Vladeck said. “That could give at least some judges on the 5th Circuit … more of a reason to take that logic seriously.”

-- If the circuit struck down the ACA, the Supreme Court would likely feel compelled to take up a case that could determine whether an estimated 20 million people lose coverage, keeping the issue front and center into 2020. Nearly every American would be affected in some way by the outcome.

-- If the high court took up the case, many analysts presume that Chief Justice John Roberts would find a way to save the law again, as he did in 2012. But the dynamics have changed in the past seven years. Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch haven’t ruled on the ACA since joining the high court, but their records lead experts across the ideological spectrum to say there’s a high probability that they’d both vote to kill the law if they could, even if they’re dissenters. This would become a political headache for Republican senators up for reelection next year who voted to confirm them, which they all did.

-- With 2020 looming, right now this is more of a political fight than a legal one. And polls show voters don’t trust Republicans or Trump on health care.

Network exit polls for the 2018 midterms showed that 41 percent of voters nationally considered health care “the most important issue facing the country,” more than anything else. Three in four of them supported a Democratic House candidate.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll in January found that 33 percent of Americans think Trump has done a good job on improving the health-care system since taking office, while 62 percent think he’s done a bad job. This mostly breaks down along partisan lines, but three-quarters of independents have a negative view of his performance on health care.

Another Post-ABC poll conducted on the eve of last fall’s elections found that 50 percent of registered voters trusted Democrats to do a better job of handling health care while 34 percent said they trusted Republicans more.

-- Moreover, fewer people view the Affordable Care Act unfavorably than at any point since it was implemented. The Kaiser Family Foundation released its monthly tracking poll on the subject yesterday afternoon.

-- Even Trump’s top advisers are deeply divided over the shift in legal tactics, which is being quarterbacked by non-lawyers. Both Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Attorney General Bill Barr privately opposed trying to invalidate the entire law, per Politico.

“Driving the dramatic action were the administration’s domestic policy chief, Joe Grogan, and the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, Russ Vought,” Eliana Johnson and Burgess Everett report. “Both are close allies of White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who helped to engineer the move. … Azar argued against backing a lawsuit seeking the full repeal of the health care law at a White House meeting in late December, citing the lack of a Republican alternative, according to two sources briefed on internal discussions, while Mulvaney said that taking a bold stance would force Congress into repealing and replacing the law.”

-- Congressional Republicans, for their part, have no real appetite to talk about health care, and they were caught off guard by this week’s news. The legislative dynamics have changed since 2017. GOP leaders signaled a desire to move on after squandering months of political capital on the unsuccessful repeal effort — when they had unified control of both chambers. Republican offices were notably quiet yesterday. They weren’t blasting out news releases decrying Obamacare, and conservative groups weren’t holding press calls the way they did around similar legal developments in years past.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) didn’t even want to discuss the DOJ filing during his news conference, per the Hill:

A Politico reporter had this exchange with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), one of the Republicans who voted against repeal in 2017:

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), another moderate who voted against the repeal bill two years ago and who is facing reelection in 2020, said she was “very disappointed” in Trump’s position. “It is highly unusual for the Department of Justice not to defend duly enacted laws, which the Affordable Care Act certainly was,” she said.

-- Trump himself still has no replacement plan to rally Republicans behind. “He didn’t offer a plan,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told Bloomberg News after Trump left the Capitol. “He referred to some of the ideas that have been debated in the past.”

-- Unlike when he was a candidate, the president also can no longer speak in generalities. He has a record now. “Trump clearly recognizes, at least in the abstract, that providing affordable health care is a political winner,” Philip Bump writes. “During the 2016 campaign, he embraced his party’s push to repeal the [ACA] but couched it in sweeping, almost Bernie Sanders-ian language. On ‘60 Minutes’ in 2015, he declared that he would ‘take care of everybody … much better than they’re taken care of now.’ How? He’d make a deal with hospitals, and the government would pay the bill. Up until a few days before his inauguration, his rhetoric was similar: ‘We’re going to have insurance for everybody.’ ‘There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it,’ he said in an interview with The Washington Post. ‘That’s not going to happen with us.’”

-- Trump’s move also threw a lifeline to Democrats who have been divided about the future of health care. Now they can be united in opposition to the administration’s efforts. Coincidentally, before the DOJ filing, House Democrats were already scheduled to roll out draft legislation focused on shoring up the law in the face of what they call “sabotage” by Trump.

Bernie Sanders drew a distinction yesterday between the “goal” of universal coverage and the “job” of saving the ACA:

-- Unlike Bob Mueller’s report, this directly affects people’s everyday lives in tangible ways. The government announced on Monday that 11.4 million people signed up for coverage this year under the law, only a slight dip from 2018.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, No. 3 in Democratic leadership, said on CNN that health care is “the No. 1 thing on people’s minds.” “I believe that the Mueller report has been done. That's a chapter that's closed,” said Clyburn, who could also play the role of kingmaker in next year’s South Carolina presidential primary. “This administration opened a new chapter when it moved to completely invalidate the Affordable Care Act. … This is where our focus ought to be, trying to make people's lives better.”

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- Barbara Bush blamed Trump for her “heart attack.” Susan Page’s biography of the former first lady, which she cooperated with, comes out next week. USA Today published an excerpt of “The Matriarch” this morning. “It wasn’t technically a heart attack, though she called it that,” Page writes. “It was a crisis in her long battle with congestive heart failure and chronic pulmonary disease that hit her like a sledgehammer one day in June 2016. An ambulance was called to take her to the hospital. The two former presidents who had been at home with her that day, her husband and her oldest son, trailed in a car driven by the Secret Service. The tumultuous presidential campaign in general and Trump’s ridicule of son Jeb Bush in particular had riled her. ‘Angst,’ she told me.”

  • Bush said she no longer classified herself as a Republican after Trump’s rise. While her husband voted for Hillary Clinton, she wrote in Jeb Bush. “I could not vote for Trump or Clinton,” she wrote in her diary.
  • For many years before he ever ran for office, she viewed Trump with disdain. In her diaries in the 1990s, Bush described Trump as “greedy, selfish and ugly.”
  • A friend in Maine gave her a small plastic clock that counted down the number of days, hours and minutes until the end of Trump’s term in 2021. She liked it so much that she brought it with her to Houston. It was on her bedside the day she died.

-- Five members of the Taliban who were released from Guantanamo Bay as part of the prisoner swap for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl are now sitting across from senior American officials at the negotiating table in Afghanistan as the Trump administration tries to broker peace and withdrawal of U.S. troops. The New York Times’s Mujib Mashal reports: “The five senior Taliban officials were held at Guantánamo for 13 years before catching a lucky break in 2014. … In some of the sessions sitting across the table from the former Guantánamo detainees was Gen. Austin S. Miller, the commander of the American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, in his four-star uniform. … According to several officials on both sides who knew details of the talks, General Miller told the Taliban that he respected them as fighters, but that the war needed to end. He also evoked a mutual need to fight the terrorism of the Islamic State.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Prosecutors in Chicago dropped all charges against Jussie Smollett. The “Empire” actor, who had been indicted on 16 felony counts for allegedly lying to police about a hate-crime attack, was given credit for the community service he has done since his arrest and his agreement to forfeit his $10,000 bond to the city. But Chicago leaders slammed the prosecutors’ decision as a “whitewash of justice,” in the words of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. (Bethonie Butler and Elahe Izadi)

  2. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said there was a financial link between the alleged perpetrator of the Christchurch mass shootings in New Zealand and the far-right Identitarian Movement of Austria. Graz’s spokesman for prosecutors said the head of the movement received 1,500 euros ($1,690) last year from a donor with the same name as the man charged with committing the attack. (Reuters)

  3. NFL owners voted to expand the use of instant replay for reviewing pass interference. The change comes after the New Orleans Saints were robbed of a trip to the Super Bowl because of a bad call at the end of the NFC championship game. (Mark Maske)

  4. Rockland County in New York has banned unvaccinated children from all public spaces. The countywide state of emergency, which will remain in place for 30 days, comes as the state faces its largest measles outbreak in decades. (Lindsey Bever)
  5. A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 was forced to make an emergency landing shortly after departing Orlando. The plane, which was grounded following two crashes of the same type of aircraft in Ethiopia and Indonesia, was on its way to storage and had no passengers aboard when it reported an engine problem. The FAA is investigating. (Luz Lazo)

  6. Immigration authorities have temporarily closed interior highway checkpoints in New Mexico and Texas to reassign agents to the border. The checkpoints are designed to be a final layer of defense against illegal border crossing. (AP)

  7. The founder and staff of a Vatican women’s magazine resigned over complaints that the church has sought to control the publication's coverage of issues like the sexual abuse of nuns. The founder of Women Church World, Lucetta Scaraffia, had recently devoted significant editorial space to covering clergy members’ alleged abuse of nuns, but the Vatican’s newspaper has been running pieces that contradict the magazine’s reporting. (Chico Harlan and Stefano Pitrelli)

  8. The CDC is in a long-running standoff with the drug company that provides the HIV prevention treatment PrEP. It was government-funded researchers who discovered that an older prescription drug called Truvada could also be used to prevent HIV. But Truvada’s maker has argued that the government’s patents for PrEP, which could make the treatment more widely available, are invalid. (Christopher Rowland)

  9. The apparent suicides of two Parkland survivors and the father of a child killed at Sandy Hook spotlight how suicides rates are rising steadily in America. Every suicide is a unique tragedy. But these deaths provide an opportunity to confront a national public health crisis. Researchers who study suicide say that the field is grossly underfunded and that they have minimal understanding of who, exactly, is most at risk. (Joel Achenbach, William Wan and Katie Mettler)

  10. Jeremy Richman, the Sandy Hook father, founded a nonprofit that aims to prevent violence through brain research. Since his death, donations have poured in so the foundation’s work can continue. (Allison Klein)

  11. Flooding in the Midwest could contaminate more than 1 million wells that provide drinking water. The National Ground Water Association said the wells are in 300 flooded counties in 10 states, including Iowa, Kansas, Illinois and South Dakota. (AP)

  12. Older Americans are having fewer heart attacks and are surviving them longer than before. A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows the number of those hospitalized for heart attacks declined by 38 percent between 1995 and 2014. (New York Times)

  13. Boxer Conor McGregor is under investigation in Ireland over a sexual assault allegation. The news came as McGregor, one of the world’s highest-paid athletes, announced his retirement. (New York Times)

  14. Duke University announced that it will pay the federal government $112.5 million to settle a lawsuit over alleged research grant fraud. The Justice Department said that a research technician in Duke’s Airway Physiology Laboratory falsified data for years to obtain federal grants and then embezzled the funds. (Susan Svrluga)

  15. Michelle Obama’s memoir, “Becoming,” has sold almost 10 million copies, putting it in line to become the most successful memoir in history. The former first lady’s book helped German media company Bertelsmann SE earn $20 billion in revenue last year. (Los Angeles Times)

  16. Nine nurses in the labor unit at a Maine hospital are pregnant at the same time. All nine are expected to give birth in rapid succession. (CNN)

  17. An art exhibit in Paris renamed some paintings to focus on their black subjects. The Musée d’Orsay expo attempts to restore the identities of black figures depicted on canvas who were largely written out of history. (James McAuley)

  18. Fred Malek, a top GOP fundraiser and former leader of Marriott Hotels and Northwest Airlines, died at 82. Malek advised four presidents, but his career was marred by his role in President Richard Nixon’s crusade against a “Jewish cabal” in the government. (Harrison Smith)

JUDGES MATTER:

-- Joe Biden lamented his role in the treatment Anita Hill received during Clarence Thomas’s 1991 confirmation hearing — one of his many major liabilities as he prepares to make a third try for the presidency. Biden, 76, said during a speech in New York last night that Hill, who is black, should not have been forced to face a panel of “a bunch of white guys” about her sexual harassment allegations, the AP's Steve Peoples reports. “To this day I regret I couldn’t come up with a way to give her the kind of hearing she deserved,” Biden said. “I wish I could have done something.”

Biden's remarks sparked outrage on social media  since he was Senate Judiciary Chairman and personally oversaw the hearing. Actress and activist Mia Farrow called Biden’s role in the 1991 hearings “shameful,” per the AP. “Love you Joe but you were in a position to do better — and you didn’t,” she said. Jessica Morales Rocketto, a former aide to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign who is now the political director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, tweeted: “It literally does not matter what else Biden says about sexual assault if he cannot acknowledge his own culpability in putting a sexual assaulter on the Supreme Court and then pretending for years like he was powerless to stop it.” (Thomas has always denied the allegations.)

-- Kavanaugh will probably be the deciding vote as the Supreme Court takes up extreme partisan gerrymandering. “At the end of more than two hours of arguments, it seemed Kavanaugh could become the fifth vote to finally say courts have no role in policing partisan gerrymandering, or he could be part of a narrow decision to rein in the most egregious offenders,” Robert Barnes reports

“In the cases at hand, neither conservatives nor liberals seemed to have much doubt that Republicans in North Carolina had pushed through a congressional redistricting plan that would keep their lopsided majority in what has become a purple state; legislative leaders acknowledged as much. Or that Democrats in Maryland had redrawn lines to eliminate one of the two districts (out of eight) where a Republican had a chance to win … But conservative justices wondered how the judiciary should intervene in what is an inherently political process, and what standard would guide how to determine excess ... The Supreme Court regularly scrutinizes electoral districts for racial gerrymandering, but the justices have never found that a state’s redistricting map was so skewed by partisanship that it violates a voter’s constitutional rights. Such a decision would mark a dramatic change for how the nation’s political maps are drawn.”

-- A federal judge ruled that a decades-old North Carolina law that banned women from having abortions after their 20th week of pregnancy is unconstitutional, a decision that will probably be appealed and could become a test case that the post-Anthony Kennedy Supreme Court uses to roll back Roe. Reis Thebault and Emily Wax-Thibodeaux report: The 1973 law made some allowances for medical concerns, but a 2015 amendment that narrowed those exemptions prompted abortion rights groups to file a lawsuit in 2016. U.S. District Judge William Osteen sided with the advocacy groups this week, writing that courts across the country have struck down ‘week- or event-specific abortion bans’ and North Carolina’s is no different. Under the ruling — which will take effect in 60 days, pending an appeal from the state or revised legislation — women will be able to seek abortions at any point before a doctor determines the fetus is ‘viable’ and could be able to survive outside the womb.”

-- The ban on bump stocks imposed by the Trump administration via executive action is going into effect after Chief Justice Roberts rejected a request for a stay by pro-gun groups who are fighting it in lower courts, per Mark Berman. In related news: Because Congress seems so unlikely to enact any new gun-control measures, the leading advocacy groups on the left are increasingly turning their focus toward other ways of reducing gun violence, Katie Zezima reports.

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- In the wake of Bill Barr’s summary of Bob Mueller’s findings, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) maintains that he’s seen evidence that Trump colluded with Russia. “Undoubtedly there is collusion,” Schiff said in an interview with The Washington Post. “We will continue to investigate the counterintelligence issues. That is, is the president or people around him compromised in any way by a hostile foreign power? … It doesn’t appear that was any part of Mueller’s report.”

“House Democrats … continue to rally around Schiff — who refuses to let the matter go until lawmakers can assess the investigative materials that informed Mueller’s findings,” Karoun Demirjian reports. “Schiff said … the intelligence panel might still uncover ‘deeply compromising’ evidence in its counterintelligence investigation that falls outside the scope of Mueller’s criminal probe. He pledged that his panel, in partnership with the House Financial Services Committee, would continue to explore allegations of money laundering involving Trump’s properties and loans his business sought through Deutsche Bank.”

-- The Justice Department told reporters yesterday that it will take Barr “weeks, not months,” to finish reviewing Mueller’s report and make a version available for the public. (AP)

-- Conservative lawyer George Conway, who is married to White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, writes an op-ed for The Post demanding that the American public see Mueller’s full report and making the case that Trump is unfit for the presidency regardless of what it says. Conway writes: “Barr’s letter revealed something unexpected about the obstruction issue: that Mueller said his ‘report does not conclude that the President committed a crime’ but that ‘it also does not exonerate him.’ … At the same time, and equally remarkably, Mueller, according to Barr, said he ‘ultimately determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment’ regarding obstruction. Reading that statement together with the no-exoneration statement, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Mueller wrote his report to allow the American people and Congress to decide what to make of the facts. And that is what should — must — happen now. … If the charge were unfitness for office, the verdict would already be in: guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

-- The Mueller investigation shows the degree to which Trump has erased long-standing norms. The New York Times’s Peter Baker has this take: “After Watergate, it was unthinkable that a president would fire an F.B.I. director who was investigating him or his associates. Or force out an attorney general for failing to protect him from an investigation. Or dangle pardons before potential witnesses against him. … [But] Mr. Mueller’s decision to not take a position on whether Mr. Trump’s many norm-shattering interventions in the law enforcement system constituted obstruction of justice means that future occupants of the White House will feel entitled to take similar actions.”

-- Trump’s lawyers were much more worried that Mueller would accuse him of obstruction of justice than collusion with the Russian government. NBC News’s Ken Dilanian reports: Martin and Jane Raskin “worked in coordination with constitutional lawyer Jay Sekulow, who led the Trump legal team. The Raskins dealt directly with Mueller's office ... And by the time they arrived, Mueller's prosecutors rarely asked probing questions about Russia. … Instead, the special counsel's office wanted to know what was in Trump's head when he fired FBI Director James Comey, and what his intent was when he denounced the Russia investigation on Twitter ... And to find that out, Mueller's team wanted to interview Trump. ... Trump's legal team resisted ... and the subpoena never materialized.”

-- Barr’s letter did not make clear how far Mueller pursued the counterintelligence portion of his probe, which could shed more light on the many interactions between Trump’s campaign and Russian entities. From the Atlantic’s Natasha Bertrand: “Mueller’s mandate, given to him by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, empowered him to investigate not only any ‘coordination’ between the campaign and Russia, but any ‘links’ between them as well. … Generally speaking, the wide aperture afforded by a counterintelligence investigation might be key to understanding some of the biggest lingering mysteries of the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russians in 2016—mysteries that, if solved, could explain the president’s continued deference toward Russian President Vladimir Putin and skepticism about his conduct on the part of the U.S. intelligence community.”

-- Carter Page, the former Trump campaign adviser who was the subject of multiple FBI surveillance warrants, had an “extended dialogue” with staffers on the House Judiciary Committee about providing documents related to the panel’s ongoing investigation into whether Trump obstructed justice. Politico’s Kyle Cheney reports: “Page, who has navigated House and Senate intelligence committee interviews without a lawyer, described his interactions with investigators, Congress and the courts as a fascinating part of his life. ‘I’ve studied a lot of different subjects in my life, but this is by far the most interesting thing I’ve ever worked on,’ he said. Though most subjects of congressional investigations have reason to be dour, Page had a bounce in his step. … Page said the end of the Mueller probe underscored his contention all along: ‘Everything I did was 110% above board. I was triply careful,’ he said of his overseas trips.”

-- Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian lobbyist who attended the infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting, said he is “happy and relieved” that Mueller has wrapped up. “It hit me hard financially and led to baseless personal attacks,” Akhmetshin said in a statement. “As a result, my ability to earn a living has been impaired, my professional standing has been undermined and my personal relationships have suffered.” (ABC News)

-- Former FBI director James Comey said he’s confused about why Mueller decided not to make a final determination on whether Trump obstructed justice. From NBC News’s Julia Ainsley: “The part that's confusing is, I can't quite understand what's going on with the obstruction stuff,’ Comey [said]. … ‘And I have great faith in Bob Mueller, but I just can't tell from the letter why didn't he decide these questions when the entire rationale for a special counsel is to make sure the politicals aren't making the key charging decisions.’ … Comey, who oversaw the beginning of the Russia probe before he was fired by Trump in May 2017, said he has not seen the Mueller report. … Comey also pushed for transparency in the Mueller probe, saying he hoped that as much of it as possible would be made public.” 

THE NEW CONGRESS:

-- The House failed to overturn Trump’s veto of a bill that would have reversed his emergency declaration at the southern border, protecting the executive measure for now. Erica Werner reports: “The vote was 248 to 181, well short of the 288 that would have been required. … At least seven lawsuits have been filed challenging the legality of Trump’s emergency declaration and his plans to spend funds on the wall that have not been appropriated by Congress for that purpose.”

These are the 14 House Republicans who voted to override Trump’s veto: Francis Rooney (Fla.), Thomas Massie (Ky.), Justin Amash (Mich.), Fred Upton (Mich.), Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), John Katko (N.Y.), Greg Walden (Ore.), Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Dusty Johnson (S.D.), Will Hurd (Tex.), Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), Jim Sensenbrenner (Wis.) and Mike Gallagher (Wis.).

-- The Senate voted against a Green New Deal resolution 57 to 0 after 43 Democratic senators voted “present” to defuse the intraparty fight over the proposal. Dino Grandoni and Felicia Sonmez report: “Joining Republicans in voting ‘no’ were Democratic Sens. Doug Jones (Ala.), Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), as well as Sen. Angus King (Maine), an independent who caucuses with Democrats. Forcing the vote was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who called the plan a ‘far-left wish list.’ … Democrats have countered by calling McConnell’s maneuver a ‘sham,’ saying the vote was held without any hearings or expert testimony, all to scuttle meaningful legislative efforts on climate change. … The vote was in part intended to put the six Democratic presidential contenders in the Senate on record. But those 2020 hopefuls — all of whom co-sponsored the legislation — voted ‘present’ on Tuesday, with several decrying the vote as ‘a political game.’”

-- Trump grumbled at length to Senate Republicans about the amount of disaster aid going to Puerto Rico. Seung Min Kim, Josh Dawsey and Paul Kane report: “Trump’s remarks came during an hour-long, freewheeling soliloquy at the Capitol. ... At the lunch Tuesday, Trump rattled off the amount of aid that had been designated for other disaster-hit states and compared it with the amount allocated for Puerto Rico following the 2017 hurricane, which he said was too high ... Trump noted to GOP senators that Texas — also battered by a spate of hurricanes — was awarded $29 billion in aid, while South Carolina got $1.5 billion to recover from storms. Trump then questioned why Puerto Rico was getting $91 billion, according to two people familiar with his comments, indicating that this was too much compared with compensation for states on the mainland. Trump remarked that one could buy Puerto Rico four times over for $91 billion, according to people familiar with his comments. But it’s unclear where Trump got the figure.”

-- The inspector general's office at the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced yesterday that it will review whether the White House has interfered with hurricane relief funding approved by Congress for Puerto Rico, as part of a broader examination of the agency’s administration of disaster grants.

-- Puerto Rico’s governor said Trump has refused to even meet with him to talk about Hurricane Maria recovery. Tim Elfrink reports: “Gov. Ricardo Rosselló late on Tuesday called Trump’s comments ‘below the dignity of a sitting President’ and ‘irresponsible, regrettable and, above all, unjustified,’ while suggesting Trump has dodged meeting him. ‘I invite the President to stop listening to ignorant and completely wrong advice,’ Rosselló said in a statement. ... The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Rosselló’s claims.”

-- Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), the No. 4 Democrat in the House, is expected to jump into New Mexico’s Senate race now that Sen. Tom Udall has announced he’ll retire, even though it would cost him the chance to replace Nancy Pelosi as speaker. Politico’s Heather Caygle and James Arkin report: “While Luján hasn’t decided, he is heavily leaning toward jumping into the race to replace Udall, according to multiple Democratic lawmakers and aides familiar with Luján’s thinking. … Although the timing is unclear, an announcement is expected in the coming weeks. And while it’s also unclear whether other Democrats would run in the primary, given the party’s strong bench and the limited opportunity to move up the ranks in Democratic-leaning New Mexico, Luján would become an immediate front-runner to replace Udall, according to multiple Democrats in New Mexico and Washington.”

-- Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) reintroduced their legislation to give “dreamers” a pathway to citizenship. House Democrats introduced their own version of the Dream Act earlier this month. (Colby Itkowitz)

-- McDonald’s is halting its lobbying against minimum wage hikes, boosting Democrats’ efforts to raise wages. Politico’s Rebecca Rainey reports: “McDonald's' dramatic shift on the issue comes after the U.S. Chamber of Commerce signaled it would be willing to negotiate over raising the hourly minimum, which for a decade has been stuck at $7.25. … McDonald's shift on the hourly wage minimum could help House leaders put down an uprising from several red-state Democrats who during a closed-door meeting Tuesday threatened to oppose their party’s bill to hike it to $15. The dissidents expressed skepticism about whether the bill will pass on the House floor.”

-- Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) recently revealed that she was raped by a superior officer while serving in the Air Force, but her stance that the military chain of command should continue to handle such cases highlights the contradictory nature of the trailblazing senator, the New York Times’s Helene Cooper, Dave Philipps and Richard A. Oppel Jr. report

-- Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.) recounted an experience with sexism during her first weeks in Congress in an interview with The Lily: Caroline Kitchener reports: “It’s very archaic. The other day, I had a member who said something that was just so dumb. He said it as a joke, but it was a sexual comment. And I was just like, ‘You can’t say those kinds of things anymore.’ … We were talking about one-minute speeches on the floor. And I called him ‘Mr. One Minute’ or ‘One Minute Man,’ or something. I didn’t even think about it that way, but he was like, ‘I can also be Mr. Five Minute Man or Mr. Whatever Minute Man You Want.’ It was in front of people, and the rest of us were all looking at each other. One of my young colleagues said, ‘Well, that took a turn.’”

PERSONNEL IS POLICY:

-- Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has requested that Congress cut billions of dollars from her department's budget, including the $17.6 million that supports the Special Olympics. This led to a contentious House Appropriations Committee hearing. Laura Meckler reports: "'I still can’t understand why you would go after disabled children in your budget. It’s appalling,' Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said. Even the top Republican on the panel, Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), said that while some proposed reductions make sense, others are 'somewhat shortsighted.' DeVos responded that she was forced to make difficult decisions to control spending, but appeared to be realistic about her chances. ... Overall, the budget plan cuts more than $8.5 billion, about 12 percent, from the Education Department. Programs that would face cuts include one that supports after-school activities for children in impoverished communities, as well as a grant program for textbooks, equipment, counseling services and other needs for schools.”

-- ESPN personalities slammed DeVos for her plan to defund the Special Olympics. Des Bieler reports: “ESPN’s Julie Foudy, Kevin Negandhi and Jen Lada played major roles in that coverage, and they each took to social media Tuesday to laud the benefits of the Special Olympics. Saying that the 'world needs more' of the organization’s work, Foudy, a soccer analyst and former U.S. team star, tweeted, 'The joy those athletes pass on is absolutely contagious.'" 

-- DeVos refused to directly answer when she was asked repeatedly during the hearing whether she believes schools should be allowed to discriminate against students based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) led the line of questioning. (Valerie Strauss transcribed the back-and-forth.)

-- Senior Trump political appointees, including interior secretary nominee David Bernhardt, intervened to prevent the release of a Fish and Wildlife Service analysis on the threat pesticides pose to endangered species. The New York Times’s Eric Lipton reports: “Their analysis found that two of the pesticides, malathion and chlorpyrifos, were so toxic that they 'jeopardize the continued existence' of more than 1,200 endangered birds, fish and other animals and plants, a conclusion that could lead to tighter restrictions on use of the chemicals. But just before the team planned to make its findings public in November 2017, something unexpected happened: Top political appointees of the Interior Department ... blocked the release and set in motion a new process intended to apply a much narrower standard to determine the risks from the pesticides.” This issue is certain to come up during Bernhardt’s confirmation hearing tomorrow.

-- Several key Republican senators signaled openness to approving Stephen Moore’s nomination to the Fed board, as the former Trump campaign adviser expressed remorse over his past comments on the central bank. Damian Paletta and Erica Werner report: “In a brief interview Monday, Moore said he regretted calling for [Fed Chair Jay Powell] to be fired. He said he’s never met the central bank leader but would look forward to working with him if he’s confirmed. … If he goes to the Fed, Moore said, he hopes to be known as a 'growth hawk,' supporting policies that 'maximize growth and higher wages for workers.'" Republican Sens. Tim Scott (S.C.) and Richard Shelby (Ala.), who serve on the Banking Committee, which would consider Moore’s nomination, both expressed support for the “new voice” he would bring to the Fed.

-- Vice President Pence promised that American astronauts would return to the moon within five years but offered few details on how NASA would accomplish the ambitious goal. Christian Davenport reports: “In a fiery speech in Huntsville, Ala., Pence repeatedly said the space agency needs to act with a renewed sense of urgency to land humans on the moon for the first time since 1972. … Pence did not provide any details on how the agency would achieve landing humans on the moon in the five-year time frame, a monumental goal that NASA had been hoping to achieve by 2028. He provided no details on the cost or how the mission would unfold. He added that he had learned the details of NASA’s plans only five minutes before stepping onstage.”

-- A close adviser to Jim Mattis is writing a book on the former defense secretary’s “complicated relationship” with Trump. “Holding the Line: Inside the Pentagon With General Mattis” is written by the secretary’s former communications director, retired Navy Cmdr. Guy “Bus” Snodgrass, and is expected to be released in October. A press release for the book promises “an insider's sometimes shocking account of how [Mattis] led the U.S. military through global challenges while serving as a crucial check on the Trump Administration.” (NBC News)

-- Trump officials who are leaving the administration, or considering leaving, are increasingly turning to the literary agency Javelin to sell their tell-all books on the White House. The New York Times Magazine’s Jason Zengerle reports: “The problem for these officials is that many of the White House exits have been nailed shut. … Some people who have worked in … more controversial precincts of Trump World have had a hard time even getting job interviews. … [Javelin’s] central insight is that that hoary old fixture of Washington self-promotion, the tell-all, may be the ideal solution to the very new problem of post-Trump rehabilitation. A juicy memoir not only stands to earn a former Trump official a small fortune, thanks to an unprecedented interest in administration intrigue. It also gives officials an opportunity to reposition and redeem themselves."

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- Speaking on the final day of the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) for suggesting that Israel’s allies in America are motivated by money. Colby Itkowitz reports: “‘From this Benjamin: It’s not about the Benjamins,’ Netanyahu said … ‘Those who seek to defame this great organization, AIPAC, those who seek to undermine American support for Israel, they must be confronted … Later in the day, [Omar] chastised Netanyahu in a series of tweets for focusing on her rather than on the global rise of white supremacy.”

-- The British Parliament is seeking to exert influence over the Brexit process and break a political deadlock as Prime Minister Theresa May struggles to get support for her exit deal, Karla Adam and William Booth report: “Lawmakers scheduled several ‘indicative votes’ for Wednesday, designed to assess which way Parliament wants to go and whether there’s a Brexit Plan B or C or D that could command a majority. Critics called it an unprecedented power grab, because the prime minister and her government traditionally control the agenda. But the votes are nonbinding and only express the will of the House of Commons. … May, for her part, has objected that the planned votes ‘overturn the balance of our democratic institutions.’”

-- A mysterious revolutionary group claimed responsibility for the infiltration of North Korea’s embassy in Madrid last month. John Hudson reports: “The group, Free Joseon, which calls for the overthrow of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, said it shared information it obtained with the FBI and characterized it as having ‘enormous potential value.’ ‘This information was shared voluntarily and on their request, not our own,’ said the group, referring to its meeting with the FBI. The group’s claim of responsibility came after a judge in Spain lifted a secrecy order in the case Tuesday and accused an American, a Mexican and a South Korean of participating in the mysterious incident as a part of a 10-member group.”

-- Trump intended to reverse sanctions placed on two Chinese companies who were accused of violating North Korea trade prohibitions, announcing his decision in a Friday afternoon tweet. His officials, however, persuaded him to back off and came up with a cover story for the tweet. Bloomberg News’s Saleha Mohsin, Jennifer Jacobs and Nick Wadhams report: “The president in fact intended to remove penalties Treasury had announced the day before against two Chinese shipping companies that had helped Pyongyang evade U.S. sanctions … Later Friday, in the wake of Trump’s tweet, the administration sought to explain away the move with a statement -- initially requesting no attribution to anyone -- that said the penalties against the Chinese companies hadn’t been reversed but the U.S. wouldn’t pursue additional sanctions against North Korea …Trump’s tweet shocked former Treasury officials, who said it risked undercutting the entire U.S. sanctions effort only to benefit North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s regime.”

-- The former head of Interpol was expelled from the Chinese Communist Party amid corruption charges. Anna Fifield reports: “Meng Hongwei, who is 65, had committed serious violations of law and discipline, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said, accusing him of taking bribes and abusing his power to 'willfully squander national assets to give his family a luxurious life.' ... When he returned to China on a visit in September last year, he vanished. He apparently anticipated trouble, sending his wife a message to 'wait for my call,' accompanied by a knife emoji. ... After Interpol, an international organization facilitating police cooperation across borders which is headquartered in Lyon, France, requested information from the Chinese government, the authorities said he had been detained in connection with an investigation into alleged corruption.” 

-- An airstrike by a Saudi-led coalition is believed to have hit a Yemeni hospital, killing seven, including four children. Sudarsan Raghavan reports: “Tuesday’s attack was the latest of many attacks on nonmilitary targets that have killed thousands of civilians in the Middle East’s poorest nation. But what made this assault remarkable was that it came on the fourth anniversary of the Saudi-led coalition’s entry into Yemen’s civil war to restore its internationally recognized government against northern rebels known as Houthis. The Saudi-led coalition, which is backed by the United States, is the only party in the war using warplanes, mostly American and British-made fighter jets.”

-- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his country has successfully conducted an antisatellite missile test that will advance the country’s space presence. CNN’s Swati Gupta reports: “Modi said the operation, called Mission Shakti – which stands for ‘power’ in Hindi – would defend the country’s interests in space. The country's foreign ministry said that India had ‘no intention of entering into an arms race in outer space.’ Though Modi said Wednesday's test was for India's defense and security, it is likely to be seen as provocative by Pakistan and China.”

2020 WATCH: 

-- Democratic candidates are having little success in Trump country. Bloomberg News’s John McCormick reports: “Only three of the major Democratic contenders hail from states Trump won in 2016, and most of the candidates who’ve run for statewide office haven’t had to -- or been able to -- win where the president was strong, a Bloomberg analysis of county-by-county election results since 2014 shows. … A nominee who could win traditional Democratic-leaning states like Michigan and Pennsylvania might give the party its best shot of retaking the White House, said William Frey, a senior demographer at the Brookings Institution in Washington who studies political trends. ‘There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that if they played it safe this time, that might be the way to go,’ he said.”

-- Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) might be the Democrat with the best chances of challenging Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-Tex.) in the small donors race. Not only has she managed to fundraise large amounts for herself, but she has also raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for fellow Democrats. The New York Times’s Shane Goldmacher reports: “Over the last two years, Ms. Harris has systematically constructed a database of donors and email addresses that raised several million dollars for her fellow Democrats, demonstrating an uncommon potency for a first-term senator, according to federal election records and interviews with numerous political strategists. Now, as she makes her own run for president, her digital following serves as a kind of stealth weapon … Harris sent an email urging donations to Heidi Heitkamp, then a North Dakota senator, after she voiced her opposition to Justice Kavanaugh. It raised more than $450,000, stunning the small world of political operatives who track such things.”

-- In a Post op-ed, former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper said that he supports the “concept” of a Green New Deal but that some current versions of it, including the one promoted by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), are setting the U.S. up for failure: “The resolution sets unachievable goals. We do not yet have the technology needed to reach ‘net-zero greenhouse gas emissions’ in 10 years. That’s why many wind and solar companies don’t support it. There is no clean substitute for jet fuel. Electric vehicles are growing quickly, yet are still in their infancy. Manufacturing industries such as steel and chemicals, which account for almost as much carbon emissions as transportation, are even harder to decarbonize.”

-- In an attempt to earn an NRA endorsement for her 2008 reelection bid, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) — then a member of the U.S. House — signed an amicus brief with Dick Cheney and other lawmakers in support of overturning a D.C. ban on handguns. CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski and Nathan McDermott report: “During her tenure in the US House of Representatives from 2007-2009, then-Rep. Gillibrand fought vigorously in defense of gun rights, including the right to own handguns … Gillibrand has said she regrets her past positions and frames her views on guns at the time as supporting hunting rights. … The brief also bolstered its defense by tying the idea of an individual's right to own a gun with civil rights for African Americans. … Gillibrand's support for such measures was key in her earning the backing of the NRA in her 2008 bid for re-election, with an ‘A’ rating from the NRA indicating she was a ‘solidly pro-gun candidate.’”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

The former counsel for Richard Nixon slammed Trump's emergency declaration after Congress failed to overturn it:

A Guardian reporter noted this from newly released FBI documents:

A CNBC reporter drew attention to another part of the file:

One Trump administration official told a New York Times reporter why the White House is pursuing an ACA lawsuit on the heels of Mueller's investigation ending:

A Wired contributor sought more details on Mueller's report:

The Onion satirized Barr's summary:

A former Trump campaign aide shared this about his experience in prison:

The Senate majority leader touted the results of the chamber's vote on the Green New Deal:

One Republican senator expressed his opposition to the proposal through his clothing:

One of the Green New Deal's architects defended the Democratic senators who voted “present”:

A Post reporter highlighted this Washington moment:

The Romanian prime minister, who stayed at Trump's Washington hotel while attending the AIPAC conference, met Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross:

A GQ writer shared this anecdote from Russia:

Ilhan Omar dismissed Netanyahu's criticism of her comments on Israel:

A New York Times reporter reminded his Twitter followers of this:

Barack Obama tweeted a photo from his meeting with freshman House Democrats:

The vice president pledged to return Americans to the moon:

But an astrophysicist professor was skeptical of the pledge:

Bernie Sanders honored transgender Americans with a flag at his Senate office:

The governor of Michigan celebrated the new brewing season:

Andy Reid stood out as NFL head coaches gathered in Arizona:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- LA Times, “He once tried to kill President Reagan. Now John Hinckley says he’s ‘happy as a clam,’” by Del Quentin Wilber: “Two years after he was discharged from a mental hospital, John W. Hinckley Jr. lives in a modest house on a golf course, runs a small antiques business, adopted a cat named Theo, and drives for his mother and older brother. … But at 63, Hinckley continues to face challenges, some universal and some unique to the man who shot and nearly killed President Reagan outside a Washington hotel on March 30, 1981. … He doesn’t have any close friends and has struggled with dating. Last year, the presidential assailant so badly freaked out a potential romantic interest that she called the police.”

-- New Yorker, “Shrinking Newspapers and the Costs of Environmental Reporting in Coal Country,” by Charles Bethea: “In 1952, American newspaper publishers ranked Louisville’s Courier-Journal as the fourth-most important paper in the nation, behind the Times, the Christian Science Monitor, and the St. Louis Post Dispatch. … [James] Bruggers, a gray-haired, ruddy-cheeked man in his early sixties, was the C-J’s environmental-beat reporter for nearly two decades. He wrote about mining, air quality, water quality, and environmental job hazards around Louisville and in rural parts of Kentucky. … Last May, Bruggers left the C-J, to take a job at the Web site InsideClimate News. He was not replaced.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Sen. Mike Lee says we can solve climate change with more babies. Science says otherwise,” from Colby Itkowitz: “During floor debate ahead of a vote on the Green New Deal, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) told his colleagues that if they really want to address environmental concerns they’ll encourage people to couple off and have more babies. ‘Climate change … is a challenge of creativity, ingenuity and technological invention,’ Lee said. ‘And problems of human imagination are not solved by more laws, but by more humans. More people mean bigger markets for innovation. More babies mean more forward-looking adults — the sort we need to tackle long-term, large-scale problems.’ This recommendation, to add more people to the planet, doesn’t track with science or reason. A 2017 research article determined that one way an individual could contribute to eliminating greenhouse gases is to have one fewer child.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Rachel Maddow, the left’s powerhouse on cable, won’t let the Mueller probe go,” from Paul Farhi: “Rachel Maddow, the queen of collusion, is not backing down. A day after [Barr] said [Mueller] hadn’t found collusion between [Trump’s] campaign and Russian agents, Maddow — prime-time TV’s primary and most tenacious proponent of the conspiracy angle — still was not buying it. Instead, Maddow moved on to two related questions: Did Trump obstruct justice? And did Barr let him get away with it? … Maddow’s monologue suggests that she is unmoved by the many attacks on her for promoting a Russia conspiracy that, at least according to the attorney general, seems to have run aground. Her nightly deconstructions of the case against Trump have made her the signal figure of the anti-Trump left and have abetted her rise to the most popular figure in cable news.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump will have lunch with Pence and present the Medal of Honor.

Pence will meet with Fabiana Rosales, the wife of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, before meeting with Trump. He will later meet with the speaker of the Council of Representatives of Iraq. 

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“Be calm. Take a deep breath. Don’t become like [Republicans]. We have to handle this professionally, officially, patriotically, strategically.” — Nancy Pelosi trying to bolster her caucus’s spirits after the release of the attorney general’s letter on the Mueller investigation. (Politico)

 

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

-- It’s still chilly out, but enjoy the blue skies as we prepare for a warm weekend. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “We can’t quite shake the late-March chill today, although lighter winds are a welcome change from yesterday. By tomorrow afternoon, we’re noticeably milder just in time for Opening Day. Even warmer weather moves in Friday and Saturday, before a cooler Sunday with a chance of scattered showers and storms.”

-- The Capitals beat the Hurricanes 4-1. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)

-- The Wizards lost to the Heat 124-106. (AP)

-- James A. Fields Jr., the self-professed neo-Nazi who rammed his car into a group of counterprotesters at the 2017 white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, killing a woman, will appear in federal court for a plea hearing. Fields has already been found guilty of first-degree murder and multiple counts in connection with injuries to other protesters. (Lynh Bai)

-- Trying to rebuild some public trust after publicly acknowledging that he wore blackface, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) took two actions related to motorists with “race inequities” in mind. Laura Vozzella and Rachel Weiner report: “In Charlottesville, the site of the violent rally by white supremacists in 2017, Northam (D) announced that he had amended the state budget to end license suspensions for unpaid court costs — a practice that disproportionately affects the poor. And in Alexandria, Northam announced another amendment to ban handheld cellphone use while driving — with a requirement that the state track citations to ensure that minorities are not unfairly targeted for enforcement.”

-- Teen boys at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School ranked their female classmates based on looks — and the girls fought back. Samantha Schmidt reports: “Lists like this one had silently circulated among teen boys for generations, and it has happened in more recent years at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, too, the students said. But it was happening now, in the era of the #MeToo movement. … The high school girls, who had been witnessing this empowerment, decided they weren’t going to let the issue slide. They felt violated, objectified by classmates they considered their friends. They felt uncomfortable getting up to go to the bathroom, worried that the boys might be scanning them and ‘editing their decimal points,’ said Lee Schwartz, one of the other senior girls on the list. … Dozens of senior girls decided to speak up to the school administration and to their male classmates, demanding not only disciplinary action in response to the list but a school-wide reckoning about the toxic culture that allowed it to happen.”

-- A D.C. public hospital will need a $40 million taxpayer subsidy to stay afloat. Peter Jamison reports: “United Medical Center — the only hospital east of the Anacostia River and a key provider of medical services for low-income residents of Southeast Washington — is running a projected annual operating deficit of tens of millions of dollars, hospital officials testified at a D.C. Council health committee hearing ... UMC is owned by the city but is expected to be financially independent. Yet the hospital required a $2 million taxpayer subsidy in fiscal year 2017, $29 million in fiscal 2018 and $10 million for the 2019 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. The requested $40 million subsidy would help stabilize a proposed fiscal 2020 budget of $170 million."

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Trevor Noah examined the ways Republicans say they will seek “revenge” for the Mueller report: 

Stephen Colbert broke down the latest developments in Jussie Smollett's case: 

He also predicted that Michael Avenatti may not win the 2020 presidency: 

The Pope went viral for a video of him awkwardly pulling his hands away from people trying to kiss his ring: 

And Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) brought some interesting visuals to argue against the Green New Deal: 

Allyson Chiu broke down the moment and rounded up Twitter's reactions to it.