With Joanie Greve and Mariana Alfaro

THE BIG IDEA: One of the reasons that so many conservatives who support smaller government fought so hard and for so long against Obamacare is that they understood there are no examples in American history of Congress clawing back a major entitlement program once its benefits go into effect.

The Affordable Care Act has passed a tipping point. This is why the legislative branch narrowly failed to repeal the law in 2017 despite Republican promises to do so – and majorities in both chambers.

More than any other policy issue, the GOP lost control of the House in the midterms because of a pending lawsuit by Republican attorneys general that puts millions of people with preexisting medical conditions at risk of losing protections they received as a result of the 2010 law.

The popularity of other provisions, like letting young adults stay on their parents’ health plans until they turn 26, explains why GOP leaders on Capitol Hill are so anxious and angry that President Trump has picked a fresh – and they say futile – fight to replace the law.

Rolling back entitlements once they’re expanded is politically perilous because there are always oodles of humanizing stories about individuals who would suffer, and people who stand to lose what they’ve grown accustomed to care more about protecting their benefits than critics who don’t want their tax dollars to pay for them.

This was true after Franklin Roosevelt created Social Security, Lyndon Johnson established Medicare and, now it seems, after Barack Obama expanded Medicaid. Republicans initially campaigned on overturning the New Deal and the Great Society. They relented only after public opinion hardened against doing so. This week we’re seeing how that’s starting to happen with Obamacare.

Ignoring the advice of Vice President Pence and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the president ordered the Justice Department this week to ask an appellate court to fully invalidate the Affordable Care Act as part of the lawsuit brought by Republicans in the states. Trump is now pressing GOP senators to come up with a replacement plan, something few have any appetite for.

-- Two rulings issued last night by the federal district court in D.C. illustrate the human dynamics that make it so incredibly difficult to cut holes in the safety net. Judge James Boasberg threw sand in the gears of the Trump administration’s campaign to compel poor people who depend on Medicaid to hold jobs in exchange for health benefits. For the second time, he rejected Kentucky’s work requirement program and declared the rules that recently took effect in Arkansas “cannot stand.”

Boasberg, an Obama appointee, said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar behaved in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner when he signed off on the plans without considering the human impact and the intent of Congress when it established Medicaid. While his rulings technically apply only to the two states, they could also impact six other states that have received permission from the Trump administration to begin work requirements and seven other states that have applications pending.

The judge opened his 35-page Arkansas decision with an anecdote about one of the approximately 18,000 people who were denied coverage between September and December for failing to comply with the state’s new requirements.

“Adrian McGonigal is 40 years old and lives with his brother in Pea Ridge, Arkansas,” Boasberg wrote. “He used to have a job working in the shipping department of Southwest Poultry, a food-service company located nearby, although he received no medical insurance through his employer. Like many Americans, he has several serious medical conditions. Beginning in 2014, McGonigal was able to receive medical care — including regular doctor visits and numerous prescription drugs — through the state’s expanded Medicaid program. In mid-2018, however, McGonigal learned that he would be subject to new work requirements. …

“Despite his lack of access to, and difficulty working with, computers, he was able to report his employment in June 2018, but he did not know he needed to continue to do so each month. As a result, when he went to pick up his prescriptions in October, the pharmacist told him that he was no longer covered, and his medicines would cost him $800. In the absence of Medicaid, he could not afford the cost of the prescriptions and so did not pick them up. His health conditions then flared up, causing him to miss several days of work, and Southwest Poultry fired him for his absences. He thus lost his Medicaid coverage and his job.”

-- My colleague Amy Goldstein, coincidentally, published a powerful piece yesterday morning from the small town of Marianna, Ark., about how hard it is for poor people in a job-starved region to comply with rules that may sound easy to you but turn out to be quite onerous: “Computers are so scarce that even the public library has a sign out front saying it does ‘not offer the Internet’ — a problem for the work requirement’s first several months, when people could not yet phone in their monthly reports.” Amy’s story includes these two particularly evocative examples:

Elizabeth Cloinger, 47, who lives in a trailer next to her cousin’s house just outside town, thought she was complying with the new rules. She has been on Medicaid for years and already had a job, working seven days most weeks as a home health aide. Her wages — 9.25 an hour, with 50 cents more for hospice patients — and her hours met the new rules. Yet she received a June letter saying she needed to verify that her income made her eligible, or she would be cut off.

“She called the listed phone number and faxed information to a state employee in Pine Bluff. She was told that, like many people, she was exempt from the work requirements — in her case, because she was caring for her 20-year-old daughter recovering from a car accident and her 3-year-old granddaughter. But on Aug. 18, she received another letter, saying she had been terminated because she had not verified her income. In December, four letters arrived saying she needed to update her email address, then 11 more in January. Each letter told her to create an online account. She doesn’t have a computer and didn’t realize that the program requires everyone to get an email address.

“In all these months, Cloinger hasn’t seen a doctor for the swelling in her right foot, which makes it hard to stand for long. Nor has she addressed the throbbing around the scar from her hysterectomy two years ago. ‘I won’t go’ to the doctor, she said, having just finally paid off — in $10 monthly installments — a hospital bill for the X-rays she needed for a torn tendon before she got onto Medicaid. ‘I am just putting it in God’s hands,’ Cloinger said. ‘He is going to let me stay on this Earth to see my grandbaby be raised.’”

Conisha Gatewood, 31, also got caught up in the confusion. She was referred to an obstetrician-gynecologist for nonstop menstrual bleeding caused by ovarian cysts: “But when she arrived for a September checkup, she was told she no longer had insurance. ‘I was like: ‘Yes, I do. They sent me the papers in June.’’’ She thought she had done everything right, creating a password and an online account. The state had used an automated system to fill in her child-care job and work hours. A letter from the state confirmed that, she thought, telling her she did not need to search for a job because she already worked. But then another letter came, telling her she needed to do a job search after all. ‘I was so confused,’ Gatewood said. ‘I already had a job. No one could tell me what I needed to do.’

“By the time she was cut off, she had found a better-paying position, selling cellphones inside a Walmart. In January, she reapplied to Arkansas Works — and was rejected because her December phone sales, high for the holidays, put her just over the income limit. She should go to her doctor this month, but she hasn’t made an appointment. She has also stopped filling prescriptions, including for the birth control pills that correct her bleeding.”

-- Back to health care writ large: The White House has no proposal in the works, according to administration officials, but Trump wants Republicans to pass a bill before his reelection effort that would do what Obamacare does — provide coverage to millions of Americans,” Rachael Bade, Josh Dawsey, Seung Min Kim and John Wagner report. “Trump spoke with Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) on Tuesday evening and listed his priorities in a phone call with Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) on Wednesday morning. … White House aides said they are looking at a Barrasso plan that pushes short-term, limited-duration health insurance … Also in the mix is legislation from Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) that would provide block grants to states to provide coverage.”

  • “If Republicans refuse, Trump is ready to force them by trying to create a ‘crisis moment’ in the courts, according to one lawmaker in close contact with the White House who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the strategy.”
  • House Republicans privately worry it will cripple their attempts to reclaim the chamber and could even cost them additional seats in 2020. … McCarthy has complained privately to donors that the last GOP attempt to gut Obamacare …. was the main reason the party lost 40 House seats.”

-- In conversations with his members, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has also argued for the party to move on. His former chief of staff tweeted this:

-- Mick Mulvaney is pulling the strings and pushed Trump to pick this fight. From Dawsey, Ashley Parker and Damian Paletta: “His pitch came during scheduled ‘policy time’ with Trump on Monday and spanned several meetings throughout the day. It was met with resistance from some on the president’s legal team and his Justice Department, as well as with skepticism from [Pence] … The behind-the-scenes role played by Mulvaney — who in Congress was a member of the hard-right Freedom Caucus and earned a reputation for frustrating Republican leadership — highlights the way he has operated as a top aide to Trump, first as budget director and now as acting chief of staff.”

  • A Republican strategist in frequent touch with the White House said some in the administration were frustrated with Mulvaney for his ‘ham-handed move,’ describing Mulvaney as abiding by ‘Freedom Caucus and club for dopes rules.’”
  • “Earlier this year, following a partial government shutdown he supported, it was Mulvaney who helped aggressively engineer the controversial emergency declaration plan to fund large sections of a border wall without congressional approval — and dubbed it ‘D-Day,’ White House officials said. It was a move that deeply frustrated many Senate Republicans, but Mulvaney told the president that senators wouldn’t override him.” He was right.
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GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. James A. Fields Jr., the neo-Nazi accused of killing Heather Heyer when he drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters during the August 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, pleaded guilty to federal hate crimes. Fields reached a deal with prosecutors to avoid the death penalty by admitting guilt to 29 of the 30 counts in his federal indictment. He already faces a life sentence for his first-degree murder conviction in a state court last year. (Paul Duggan and Justin Jouvenal)

  2. Boeing is working on an overhaul of its flight control system that it hopes will restore public confidence in the 737 Max 8 aircraft. The company has invited more than 200 pilots and leaders in the aerospace field to meetings in Renton, Wash., to get their input on the overhaul, which Boeing hopes to submit to the FAA for review this week. (Aaron Gregg, Douglas MacMillan and Julia Duin)

  3. The Supreme Court’s conservative justices appeared to want to scrap Auer v. Robbins, a unanimous 1997 decision that advised judges to defer to government agencies’ interpretations of their own regulations. But the court’s liberal justices defended the decision, which was written by the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, as showing necessary deference to agency expertise. (Robert Barnes)

  4. The FDA proposed requiring mammogram providers to inform patients of how breast density can affect test results. Dense breasts, a condition that affects nearly half of women over 40, can make it harder to detect the presence of cancer. Under the FDA’s proposal, providers would be told to urge such patients to receive follow-up tests. (Laurie McGinley)

  5. Trump awarded the Medal of Honor to Staff Sgt. Travis Atkins, who was killed in Iraq in 2007 when he jumped on a suicide bomber to protect his fellow soldiers. Atkins was previously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions, but he received an upgrade after the Pentagon conducted a review of how infrequently the Medal of Honor had been issued to service members who fought in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. (Dan Lamothe)

  6.  Jake Patterson, the Wisconsin man who abducted 13-year-old Jayme Closs after killing her parents, pleaded guilty to two counts of homicide and one count of kidnapping. One of Patterson’s attorneys told the court that the 21-year-old “wanted to enter a plea from the day we met him.” (Deanna Paul)

  7. Florida spent $69 million on mental-health services in school districts following the Parkland shooting, but there was little discussion over how schools should consider and increase suicide prevention efforts. Though districts spent those dollars to hire hundreds of counselors and other mental-health experts, only a handful of plans explicitly made suicide prevention programs a central effort. (Tampa Bay Times)

  8. A National Rifle Association official corresponded with a Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist to question the Parkland shooting. The officer, Mark Richardson, emailed Wolfgang Halbig, who harassed the parents of Sandy Hook Elementary School victims to float a conspiracy theory about the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. (Sebastian Murdock)

  9. Catholic universities are establishing research grants and conferences to explore the causes of sexual abuse in the church. Georgetown University has held four public dialogues on clerical abuse, and Notre Dame is offering up to $1 million on research related to the crisis. (Michelle Boorstein)

  10. A shooting and carjacking in Seattle left two dead and two in critical condition. The alleged perpetrator shot both the driver of the car he was hijacking and the driver of a public bus that was approaching. (Reis Thebault and Michael Brice-Saddler)

  11. A truck slammed into a crowd in Guatemala, killing 30. The group had gathered around a person who was killed in a separate accident when the semitrailer slammed into them. (AP)

  12. Contractors' efforts to rebuild the Virgin Islands after Hurricanes Irma and Maria have been plagued by complaints of unpaid bills and shoddy work. One argument over a contractor’s allegedly slow performance even escalated to an armed standoff between the crew and security guards. (Tim Craig)

  13. The Weather Channel was sued for $125 million in connection with the death of storm chaser Corbin Lee Jaeger. Two of the network’s star storm chasers, Kelley Williamson and Randy Yarnall, were speeding down a Texas highway in search of a tornado when they collided with Jaeger, killing all three instantly. Jaeger’s mother is suing the network, alleging that it ignored warnings about Williamson and Yarnall’s reckless driving. (Meagan Flynn)

BIG TECH:

-- The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced this morning that it is charging Facebook with housing discrimination, alleging its targeted advertising platform violates the Fair Housing Act by “encouraging, enabling, and causing” unlawful discrimination by restricting who can view housing ads. Tracy Jan reports: “The charges caught Facebook off guard, coming one week after the social media giant agreed in a sweeping settlement with civil rights groups to overhaul its microtargeting ad system for job, housing and loan advertisements after discrimination complaints. ‘We’re surprised by HUD’s decision, as we’ve been working with them to address their concerns and have taken significant steps to prevent ads discrimination,’ said Joe Osborne, a Facebook spokesman. He said a breakdown occurred when the government requested total and unfettered access to the company’s user base, a request Facebook denied because it would have set a dangerous precedent."

-- Facebook announced it will begin blocking white-nationalist and white-separatist posts, photos and other content in response to criticism that a loophole on the platform allowed racism. Previously, the site only prohibited users from sharing messages that glorified white supremacy, but civil rights advocates argued that wasn’t enough. (Tony Romm and Elizabeth Dwoskin)

-- Twitter won’t remove the president’s tweets that violate the platform’s rules. But it will begin to label them. Faiz Siddiqui reports: “The next time a politician, dignitary — or perhaps a president — makes an utterance that violates Twitter standards, the message might be accompanied by a note that expands on the 280-character tweet, a top official with the company said Wednesday. Twitter is exploring how it can annotate offensive tweets that break its rules but remain in the public interest, said Vijaya Gadde, the company’s head of legal, policy, and trust and safety. … ‘One of the things we’re working really closely on with our product and engineering folks is, ‘How can we label that?’’ Gadde said. ‘How can we put some context around it so people are aware that that content is actually a violation of our rules and it is serving a particular purpose in remaining on the platform.’”

-- Google's CEO met with the president yesterday:

-- The British government released a scathing assessment of the security risks posed by the Chinese telecom company Huawei to Britain’s telecom networks, as London weighs whether to heed U.S. calls to bar the firm from the next-generation 5G network over fears it will enable spying by the Chinese government and potential cyberattacks. Ellen Nakashima reports: This is the second consecutive year the Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ — the British spy agency equivalent to the U.S. National Security Agency — has identified serious problems. This year, officials said they have found ‘further significant technical issues’ in the firm’s engineering processes, as well as continued ‘concerning issues’ in Huawei software, ‘leading to new risks’ in Britain’s 4G telecom networks. Most ominously, the spy agency, which oversees a center that vets Huawei hardware and software for bugs and security vulnerabilities, said it can provide ‘only limited assurance’ that the long-term national security risks can be managed in the Huawei equipment deployed in Britain, and that ‘it will be difficult’ to manage the risk of future products until the current defects are fixed.”

-- A Chinese gaming company is seeking to sell Grindr, a popular gay dating app, after U.S. officials raised security concerns about its ownership. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States told the company, Beijing Kunlun Tech, that its ownership of the California-based app constitutes a national security risk. (Reuters)

-- Two former top CIA officials compiled an unclassified report on the major national security challenges facing the United States and are offering it to every candidate running for president so they can counteract “fake news” and foreign election interference. Shane Harris reports: “The report, which former acting CIA directors Michael Morell and John McLaughlin call a 'briefing book,' is modeled on the classified oral briefing that the intelligence community provides to the nominees of each major political party running for president, usually after the nominating conventions. The former officials said they’re distributing their briefing now, more than a year before nominees are selected, in response to 'the recent rise and abundance of fake news and foreign election interference,' according to a copy reviewed by The Post."

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- Attorney General William Barr will almost certainly miss the deadline set by House Democrats for handing over special counsel Bob Mueller’s full report. Karoun Demirjian reports: “Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said that during a Wednesday phone call with Barr, the attorney general said it would be ‘weeks, not months’ before lawmakers can see the report, making it ‘apparent that the department will not meet the April 2 deadline that we set’ earlier this week. Barr would not promise that ‘an unredacted full report with the underlying documents, evidence, would be provided to Congress and to the American people,’ Nadler said. ‘We’re not happy about that, to put it mildly.’ Though Nadler would not say whether lawmakers will issue a subpoena, he told reporters that April 2 was ‘a hard deadline that we set and we mean it.’”

-- Trump told Sean Hannity that he hasn't ruled out pardoning Michael Flynn and other campaign aides. Colby Itkowitz reports: “Trump called into Hannity’s show Wednesday night and talked for 45 minutes with the host. ... Most of that time was spent denigrating the investigation into whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to influence the 2016 election. Trump’s victory lap ... included bashing the FBI as 'dirty cops,' former FBI director James B. Comey as 'a terrible guy,' and former CIA director John Brennan as a 'sick person.' Trump called Barr ... 'a great gentleman' and said 'had he been there initially, this all wouldn’t have happened.'" The president also repeated the demonstrably false statement that Russia preferred Hillary Clinton over him in 2016.

-- Fox News judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano, a stalwart Trump ally, warned viewers that the still-confidential Mueller report might contain evidence pointing to conspiracy and obstruction. The Daily Beast’s Justin Baragona reports: “'We saw on Sunday a four-page summary of a 700-page report,’ the Fox analyst said. ‘The 700-page report is a summary of two million pages of documents, of raw evidence.’ … ‘In the 700-page summary of the two million pages of raw evidence, there is undoubtedly some evidence of a conspiracy and some evidence of obstruction of justice, just not enough evidence.’ … Napolitano went on to note that if ‘there were no evidence of conspiracy and no evidence of obstruction, the attorney general would have told us so,’ adding that Barr didn’t, so 'there is something there' that Democrats and Trump opponents want to see. And they’ll have a ‘field day’ with it.”

-- Meanwhile, a grand jury that worked with Mueller is still impaneled and working on related matters, including an ongoing investigation of a foreign state-owned mystery company that refused to comply with a subpoena from Mueller. Spencer Hsu reports: “Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell of Washington on Wednesday held the first public hearing involving the secret subpoena fight by the foreign company since it rebuffed a grand jury request last July for documents. Howell asked David Goodhand, senior counsel to U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu of the District, whether the grand jury impaneled by Mueller remained active. Subpoenas and contempt proceedings related to a grand jury expire when a grand jury ends. ‘It’s continuing robustly,’ Goodhand said.”

The hearing was held to consider a request by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press to unseal materials related to the case, including the identity of the mystery company: “Howell said she would issue an order granting a ‘huge chunk’ of the Reporters Committee’s request to make records public after she gave each side at least one month to confer about potential redactions to the sealed court motions and hearing transcripts in the case.”

-- House Democrats are seeking access to 10 years of Trump’s financial records after Michael Cohen claimed the president had inflated his net worth. David A. Fahrenthold and Colby Itkowitz report: “Last week, Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) sent a letter to Victor Wahba, the chairman and chief executive of the audit firm Mazars USA, asking for copies of 'statements of financial condition' and audits prepared for Trump and several of his companies … The news … leaked after top Republicans on the panel sent a letter to Wahba Wednesday expressing their displeasure over Cummings’s request and his lack of consultation with them before making it.”

-- Cohen testified that Trump submitted a false insurance claim regarding a fresco on the ceiling of Melania Trump’s bathroom in Trump Tower. Jacqueline Alemany reports: “Lawmakers are looking into Cohen’s claim, which would be the first example of insurance fraud that has surfaced following his public testimony that Trump often exaggerated his personal wealth in financial documents provided to banks and insurers.” The White House responded by saying “no one should believe a word” Cohen says.

-- The special counsel's office interviewed Russian agent Maria Butina, but we still don't know what she said because the report remains confidential. Butina, who’s been in jail since her arrest last year, spoke to Mueller’s investigators for about an hour. They were interested in her interactions with J.D. Gordon, a former national security aide on the Trump campaign, per CNN.

THE POLITICAL FALLOUT:

-- Trump will visit Grand Rapids, Mich., tonight for his first campaign rally since Mueller submitted a report that has only inflamed passions on both sides of the political divide. Greg Jaffe and Jenna Johnson report: “Karen Dunnam, 62, will be taking part in a protest that she helped organize. She will be demonstrating against Trump but also the ‘Magahats,’ which she pronounces ‘maggots,’ who have come to support him. … Inside the arena, which is likely to be packed with more than 12,000 people, Liz Johnson, a law student and mother of three boys, will be volunteering on behalf of her president. She wonders about the damage done by the long investigation and why it couldn’t have been completed sooner. … Many Republicans, like Johnson, said that the report proved definitively that Trump was the victim of a baseless two-year vendetta brought on by a deep-state Washington establishment that he had vowed to dethrone. Many Democrats, like Dunnam, said the real truth about Trump was buried somewhere in the unreleased details of Mueller’s report.”

-- A majority of Americans say Barr’s letter did not exonerate Trump of collusion, according to a new CNN-SSRS poll. CNN’s Jennifer Agiesta reports: “A majority (56%) says the President and his campaign have not been exonerated of collusion, but that what they've heard or read about the report shows collusion could not be proven. Fewer, 43%, say Trump and his team have been exonerated of collusion. … Republicans and Democrats are on opposite sides of this question: 77% of Republicans say the President has been exonerated, 80% of Democrats say he has not. Independents break against exoneration -- 58% say the President and his campaign were not exonerated. … Nearly 6 in 10 Americans want to see Congress continue to pursue hearings into the findings of Mueller's report.”

-- According to a CBS poll, 3 in 4 Americans — including majorities of both Republicans and Democrats — want the full report released to the public.

-- An NBC News poll out this morning shows Americans split over who would win if the 2020 election were today: Forty-three percent think Trump would prevail, the same percentage of people who think the Democrat would win.

-- Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who is considering a primary challenge against Trump, said he is still “anxiously waiting” to see more details from Mueller’s report. But Hogan acknowledged that Barr’s summary of Mueller’s findings was “good news” for Trump that does not make the president more vulnerable to a primary upset next year. (Rachel Chason)

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- British Prime Minister Theresa May suggested she would resign if her Brexit deal passed, as a number of alternative proposals failed in Parliament. William Booth and Karla Adam report: “In a special late-night session of ‘indicative votes,’ an effort to find new ways to break the impasse, the House of Commons could not produce a majority for any of eight Brexit proposals put forth by members. … May offered no timetable for her possible departure. Some Tory lawmakers said a leadership election within the party could happen over the summer, with May leaving 10 Downing Street by the autumn. … While May’s offer to step aside encouraged a number of Conservative rebels to say they now will support her twice-defeated Brext deal, she still may not have enough votes for the deal to pass this divided Parliament. Crashing out of the European Union without a deal as well as a long delay, a general election or a second referendum all remain options as the chaos of Brexit continues.”

-- The British environment secretary Michael Gove and former foreign secretary Boris Johnson are considered two front-runners to replace May. Karla Adam reports: “Gove, a prominent Brexiteer and one of the Conservative Party’s more cerebral figures, played a key role in the 2016 Vote Leave campaign. He has been loyal to May since returning to the cabinet, but his reputation took a hit after he was accused of betraying Johnson in the 2016 leadership contest. … Johnson is that rare politician who has cross-party appeal. He served two terms as the mayor of London — an impressive feat in a city that typically votes Labour. But his popularity began to slump after the 2016 European Union referendum, especially in pro-E.U. cities such as London, and he received mixed reviews for his time as foreign secretary.”

-- While testifying on Capitol Hill, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo deflected questions about whether Kim Jong Un bears responsibility for North Korea’s human rights abuses. When asked whether Kim was responsible for his country’s labor camps, Pompeo repeatedly said, “He’s the leader of the country.” In response to a question about Otto Warmbier, Pompeo chose to blame “the North Korean regime” for the American student’s death rather than Kim himself. (Aaron Blake)

-- New Zealand's swift response to the Christchurch shootings and its decision to increase restrictions on the types of weapons used on the attacks appear to have inspired more people to move there. The New York Times's Charlotte Graham-McLay reports: “New Zealand’s immigration agency said on Thursday that registrations of interest to live and work in New Zealand — the first step toward applying for a visa — had increased in the 10 days after the March 15 attack compared with the 10 days leading up to it. Peter Elms, the assistant general manager of Immigration New Zealand, said in a statement that there were 6,457 registrations after the shooting, and 4,844 in the 10 days before. The largest increase came from the United States, which had 1,165 expressions of interest compared with 674 in the same period leading up to the attack.” 

-- Trump called on Russia to pull its troops from Venezuela during a meeting with Fabiana Rosales, the wife of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, days after two Russian air force planes carrying nearly 100 troops landed outside Caracas. While Trump has thrown his support behind Guaidó, Russia and China remain loyal to Nicolás Maduro. From Al Jazeera: “The US government says the Russian troops include special forces and cybersecurity personnel. ‘They've got a lot of pressure right now. They have no money, they have no oil, they have no nothing. They've got plenty of pressure right now. They have no electricity,’ Trump said. ‘Other than military, you can't get any more pressure than they have ... All options are open.’”

THE PRESIDENT'S DOMESTIC AGENDA:

-- The Trump administration is scrambling to defend itself from bipartisan pushback against its proposal to kill federal funding for the Special Olympics. Laura Meckler reports: “Trump’s proposed 2020 budget marked the third year that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has proposed the cut. But as word spread following Tuesday’s hearing, attacks poured in from Capitol Hill, the presidential campaign trail and Twitter. DeVos defended the proposal, saying Special Olympics benefits from private philanthropic support. … That did little to calm the storm. … The proposal appeared dead again this year. Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the top Republican on the Senate panel that oversees appropriations for the Education Department, said in a statement that his chamber’s bill will not cut the funding.” The cost of five of the president’s trips to Mar-a-Lago would cover DeVos’s proposed cuts to the Special Olympics, Philip Bump notes.

-- The commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection warned that the country has hit a “breaking point” at the border amid a surge of immigrants. Nick Miroff and Maria Sacchetti report: “Kevin McAleenan … said that for the first time in more than a decade, his agency is ‘reluctantly’ performing direct releases of migrants, meaning they are not turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, they are not detained, they are not given ankle bracelets to track their movements and they are allowed to leave with just a notice to appear in court at a later date. He said that this is a ‘negative outcome’ but that it is ‘the only current option we have’ because of overcrowding at detention facilities as Central Americans stream to the border knowing they will be able to gain entry with asylum claims.”

-- Not much is behind many of the executive orders that the president signs with much fanfare. The Los Angeles Times’s Noah Bierman reports: “For a president who relishes pomp and shows of executive action, unchecked by Congress, signing ceremonies have become a hallmark, a way to convey accomplishment for a man who asserts he has done more than any president in history. The Times reviewed 101 executive orders Trump has signed since inauguration day, and interviewed experts, advocates and administration officials about their effects. Many were geared toward favored political constituencies, including veterans, blue-collar workers and evangelical Christians. Few moved policy significantly; generally the orders created committees or task forces, demanded reports or pressed for enforcement of existing laws.”

-- Stephen Moore, Trump’s nominee for a seat on the Federal Reserve, owes more than $75,000 in taxes and other penalties. Bloomberg News’s Christopher Condon and Joe Light report: “A federal tax lien filed in the circuit court for Montgomery County, Maryland, where Moore owns a house, says that the government won a judgment against Moore for $75,328.80. The January 2018 filing said it was for unpaid taxes from the 2014 tax year and could accrue additional penalties and other costs. … Moore referred questions about the tax debt to his wife, Anne Carey.”

2020 WATCH:

-- During his CNN town hall last night, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) promised to go to war against the NRA if elected president as he explained that gun violence is very personal to him. CNN’s Gregory Krieg and Dan Merica report: “I am tired of going to funerals where parents are burying their children,” Booker said before referencing the death of Shahad Smith, a 28-year-old man killed in Newark. “I live in Newark, and my mayor is doing a great job in lowering crime, but there are shootings … Shahad Smith was killed with an assault rifle on my block last year, on the top of the block where I live.” 

Booker also expressed frustration at the way his Democratic rivals are debating reparations, saying the issue has been reduced to “a box to check on a presidential list”: “This is so much more of a serious conversation,” he said. “So do I support legislation that is race-conscious about balancing the economic scales? Not only do I support it, but I have legislation that actually does it.” The senator then slammed “horrible crime bills” signed in the 1990s by some of his fellow 2020 candidates. The most notable was the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act in 1994 that former vice president Joe Biden wrote when he was a senator and that gained support from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee when they were representatives.

-- While Booker was mayor of Newark, the city’s police force attracted numerous complaints of racial profiling. The New York Times’s Nick Corasaniti and Stephanie Saul scrutinizes his record: Booker “had swept into office in 2006 pledging a safer city through zero tolerance on crime. And while killings actually rose in his first year, over the next three they fell to historic lows. Yet grievances against the police were piling up in the city’s black wards, with allegations of racial profiling, unlawful stops and excessive force. The A.C.L.U. and local activists pressed for reforms, complaining about pushback from Mr. Booker, whose administration was promoting the plunging homicide rate.”

-- As California’s attorney general, Kamala Harris championed a war against truancy. Now some of the parents who were caught up in it are speaking out against the Democratic senator. Cheree Peoples was arrested six years ago after her daughter, Shayla, repeatedly missed school because of complications caused by sickle cell anemia. Despite plenty of evidence given to Shayla’s school about her illness, Peoples was still detained. “Peoples was caught up in the hugely complex forces Harris and her tough-on-truancy stance unleashed more than a decade ago,” HuffPost’s Molly Redden reports. “Harris has since replaced her punitive stance with the message that parents of truant children need help, not scare tactics … Peoples’ arrest wasn’t a freak occurrence -- it was the inevitable outcome of Harris’ campaign to fuse the problem of truancy with the apparatus of law enforcement. ... There are still hundreds of families across California entering the criminal justice system under the aegis of Harris’ law.”

-- Former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe (D) is inching closer to a 2020 presidential run. He has reportedly been telling allies that he will probably jump into the race next month. (CNN)

-- Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) released her 2018 tax returns and encouraged fellow presidential candidates to do the same. The New York Times’s Alexander Burns reports: “Ms. Gillibrand stated that she earned $167,634 from her salary and an additional $50,000 through a book that she reported as business income. She paid $29,170 in federal taxes. Ms. Gillibrand, who is currently at the bottom of the polls, recorded a video touting the disclosure of her taxes as a step toward political transparency.”

-- “Many of the Democrats vying to challenge Trump in 2020 haven’t been quick to disclose their own personal tax returns, saying it will take some time for the documents to be assembled or offering vague explanations for the delay,” Holly Bailey notes. Other than Gillibrand, only Sen. Elizabeth Warren has offered an extensive look at her tax records — posting filings on her campaign site dating back to 2008, when the then-Harvard Law professor was appointed to a congressional panel overseeing the government’s response to the 2008 financial crisis. Warren, who prepares her own taxes, has yet to file her 2018 return but plans to make it public when she does, according to her campaign.”

-- Warren unveiled a plan to take on farm consolidation by demanding changes from the largest corporate agricultural firms, a proposal that could attract a lot of interest in Iowa. The Des Moines Register’s Brianne Pfannenstiel and Kim Norvell report: Warren’s plan “would address consolidation in the agribusiness industry, ‘un-rig’ the rules she says favor its largest players, and elevate the interests of family farmers. … The companies she names in her plan — Tyson, Dow-DuPont and Bayer-Monsanto — are some of the key players in Iowa's economy. … Rural Iowa, in particular, has felt the effects of farm consolidation, which creates ripple effects through local economies. According to data for the U.S. Agriculture Census, Iowa lost 32,600 farms during a 30-year period that ended in 2012.”

-- Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) proposed a trillion-dollar plan to rebuild infrastructure across the nation. In a Medium post, Klobuchar’s campaign presented the proposal as the senator’s “top budget priority” if she were elected president. It will target, among other issues, the repair of roads, highways and bridges and the construction of protection against flooding, as well as the modernization of airports and seaports and the expansion of public transit options.

-- “Democrats’ 2020 policy proposals almost certainly require middle class tax hikes," Jeff Stein notes.

-- Former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams predicted a female or minority candidate would win the Democratic nomination. Abrams added later in an appearance on “The View” that she is “open to all options,” including a presidential bid. She also said that although she has spoken to Biden, serving as his running mate “was not the core issue.” On the possibility that she would enter the 2020 field to get a vice-presidential nod, she said, “I think you don’t run for second place.” (John Wagner)

THE NEW CONGRESS:

-- In response to the Green New Deal, Nancy Pelosi unveiled a limited bill to combat climate change that would keep the United States in the Paris accord. Mike DeBonis reports: “A day earlier, as some Democrats have embraced Medicare-for-all, Pelosi (D-Calif.) rolled out legislation to shore up the Affordable Care Act … In both cases, the bills are much more in line with the centrist platforms of freshman lawmakers who unseated Republicans in dozens of suburban and rural districts that will be crucial to the party holding its majority in 2020. Pelosi has been careful not to openly disparage the left-wing proposals on health care and climate change, lest she open a fissure inside her caucus. At a closed-door meeting Tuesday, for instance, she said she was not ruling out broader legislation.”

-- Senate Democrats revealed their own ethics and elections overhaul bill, but it has no chance of receiving a vote. Mike DeBonis reports: “Dubbed, like the House bill, the For the People Act, the Senate legislation includes a vast suite of proposals — including measures meant to expand voting, provisions aimed at unmasking and diluting the power of moneyed interests, new ethical strictures for federal officials and a new public financing system for congressional campaigns.” Mitch McConnell has called the proposals a “power grab” and vowed to never bring them up for a vote.

-- Republican senators warned the president that his trade war could fuel a recession ahead of the 2020 election. Politico’s Burgess Everett and Adam Behsudi report: “Behind closed doors, GOP senators push back on Trump consistently when he brings up existing tariffs on steel and aluminum or potential tariffs on automakers, according to Republican senators. But Trump doesn’t back down from his position: He says the threat of tariffs gets the attention of trading partners — like China — who need to permit more imports of American products.”  

-- Rep. Richie Neal (D-Mass.), the House Ways and Means Committee chairman, spoke to Trump about a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package. But Trump, Neal said, rejected the proposal, saying, “We can go bigger than that”: “But when asked what Trump or White House officials have done since then, Neal laughingly said, 'That I don't know.'" (Politico)

-- If he decides to run for the seat of retiring Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), who is Hispanic, could potentially join a chamber that has a dearth of Hispanic members. Paul Kane reports: “The Latino Victory Fund jumped on Udall’s announcement Monday that he planned to retire at the end of 2020 by declaring that ‘it’s crucial that the next U.S. senator from New Mexico be Hispanic.’ By Wednesday afternoon the PAC devoted to increasing Hispanic elected officials launched a website trying to draft Luján into the Senate race … Hispanic leaders have often felt that, when it comes to statewide office, particularly Senate races, that establishment Democrats often favored the ‘electability’ of a white candidate over a rising star Latino.”

-- Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) is hosting frequent town halls to avoid losing his seat next year, but both Republicans and Democrats smell blood in the water after the congressman was stripped of his committee assignments earlier this year. The New York Times’s Catie Edmondson reports: “Hoping to win over prominent conservatives tired of putting out Mr. King’s fires, three Republicans — widely considered the most serious challengers Mr. King has faced in years — have already pledged to run in the 2020 primary race, including an assistant majority leader of the Iowa State Senate, Randy Feenstra, who represents one of the most conservative swaths of the district. The campaign arm of the House Democrats has also put a target on his back, and the state Democratic Party has deployed an organizer to set up a ground game for next year, the earliest Democrats have ever begun such efforts in a district that backed [Trump] by nearly 30 percentage points.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

The president started the day tweeting about his distaste for “fake news” and said he might tell the world one day how he “learned to live” with it:

Trump may like this week's Time cover:

The House Freedom Caucus chairman threw this challenge to his Democratic colleagues:

One of those Democratic congressmen replied:

He added:

A Post reporter shared this scene from the border in El Paso:

Maria Shriver slammed the Trump administration's efforts to defund the Special Olympics, which was founded by Shriver's mother, Eunice:

A former Republican governor demanded that the administration reconsider the decision:

A New York Times reporter shared this moment from Capitol Hill:

A Reuters White House reporter lodged this noise complaint:

And a writer for a D.C. sports talk radio show mocked Bryce Harper's new ads for the Phillies:

GOOD READS:

-- “Their parents dragged them into the college bribery scandal. Can a PR expert pull these kids out?” by Roxanne Roberts: “Say you’re a rich parent caught in the college bribery scandal. You need a lawyer, of course. And your kid just might need their own public-relations expert. That’s where Juda Engelmayer, a crisis communications manager, comes in. He’s already been retained by two wealthy families accused of bribing college officials to help their children, including an Ivy League senior with great grades whom no one wants to hire. ‘He’s been rejected at job after job,’ Engelmayer says. … Wait, what’s that squeaky sound you hear? The world’s smallest violin playing for these privileged children, who probably deprived qualified applicants a spot at these universities.”

-- LA Times, “For Michael Avenatti, a luxury lifestyle built on a purported house of cards,” by Michael Finnegan and Mark Z. Barabak: “Long before he was Stormy Daniels’ lawyer, well before he was accused of trying to shake down Nike for millions of dollars, Michael Avenatti was an Orange County plaintiff’s attorney living a luxe life adorned with fast cars, high-end properties and expensive jewelry. He flew in a private jet, lived in a mansion overlooking the Pacific and rang up six-figure receipts at Neiman Marcus and other sumptuous retailers. That his wealth might in fact be illusory, built on a flimsy and teetering financial foundation, slowly grew clear to some who knew Avenatti and hounded him for years in Bankruptcy Court and other venues in search of money he owed.”

-- Scientific American, “Why Losing Our Newspapers Is Breaking Our Politics,” by Matthew P. Hitt, Joshua Darr and Johanna Dunaway: “There are no doubt many reasons for the rise of partisanship, but our research, using voting data from across the country over a four year period, recently uncovered an important one: the loss of local newspapers. As local newspapers disappear, citizens increasingly rely on national sources of political information, which emphasizes competition and conflict between the parties. Local newspapers, by contrast, serve as a central source of shared information, setting a common agenda. Readers of local newspapers feel more attached to their communities. Unless something is done, our politics will likely become ever more contentious and partisan as the media landscape consolidates and nationalizes.” 

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“GOP legislator prays to Jesus for forgiveness before state’s first Muslim woman swears in,” from Reis Thebault: “State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz was on the ninth ‘Jesus’ of her opening prayer in the Pennsylvania statehouse when other lawmakers started to look uncomfortable. Speaker Mike Turzai, a fellow Republican, glanced up — but Borowicz carried on, delivering a 100-second ceremonial invocation that some of her colleagues decried as an offensive, divisive and Islamophobic display shortly before the legislature swore in its first Muslim woman. … By the time she said ‘Amen,’ Borowicz had invoked Jesus 13 times, deploying the name between prayerful clauses as though it were a comma. … ‘It blatantly represented the Islamophobia that exists among some leaders — leaders that are supposed to represent the people,’ [said] Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell, the newly sworn-in Democrat who is Muslim.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“MSNBC’s Trump-Russia Ratings Fizzle: ‘Time to Pivot to 2020,’” from the Daily Beast: “Within MSNBC, there’s an acknowledgement that the Trump-Russia narrative on which the cable network—and especially its primetime star [Rachel] Maddow—built monster ratings has fizzled for the moment. … And it’s also possible that the Mueller disappointment drove loyal viewers away in much the same way that people avoid looking at their 401(k)s when the stock market is down. Maddow, who has consistently vied for the first or second top-rated cable news program, was sixth on Monday evening, down almost 500,000 total viewers from the previous Monday … The hope now is that Trump’s conduct as president, along with the ramping up of the 2020 presidential campaign, will prove powerful storylines that will give MSNBC the opportunity to regroup.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump will meet with the secretary of state before traveling to Grand Rapids, Mich., for a rally. He will end the day at Mar-a-Lago.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg was asked about speculation that James Buchanan, the 15th president, was gay: “My gaydar is not great to begin with, and it definitely doesn’t work over long stretches of time, so I think we’ll have to let the historians figure that one out.” (The Hill)

 

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

-- Plenty of sun today as we swing into spring. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Be sure to mark these next few days down as an honest-to-goodness visit by spring! Showers crash the party Sunday and notably cooler air settles in to start the first week of April. At least we seem to be safe from any immediate jump into summer.”

-- Today’s conditions make perfect opening day weather as the Nationals gear up for the first game of the season. (David Streit)

-- The Wizards beat the Suns 124-121. (Candace Buckner)

-- A 17-year-old pleaded guilty to threatening gun violence at a Charlottesville school, which forced schools in the city to close last week. Peter Hermann reports: “Joseph D. Platania, the Charlottesville commonwealth’s attorney, said in the statement that investigators concluded the youth’s 'sole motivation and intent was to seek attention and cause disruption within our community.' That is why, he said, authorities decided juvenile court was appropriate.” 

-- Maryland’s aid-in-dying bill failed to advance in the state Senate. The majority-Democratic chamber deadlocked in a 23-to-23 vote on the measure, which would have given a dying patient the option of asking a doctor for a lethal injection of drugs. Supporters of the proposal complained that changes from the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee created so many roadblocks in the legislation that few people would take advantage of it even if it became law. (Ovetta Wiggins)

-- Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) vetoed a $15 minimum wage bill that may now go into an override fight in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly. Erin Cox and Ovetta Wiggins report: “Hogan (R) also vetoed bills allowing school districts to set their own calendars and stripping power to regulate alcohol and tobacco from the state comptroller. All three bills passed by veto-proof majorities, and lawmakers could attempt to overturn the vetoes as soon as Thursday. ... The governor has repeatedly said that a $15 wage could ultimately end up hurting the low-earning workers that the bill is designed to help. Hogan criticized Democrats for not acting on his alternative proposal for a smaller wage increase, which he said would allow Maryland to remain competitive with surrounding states.” 

-- The Maryland House of Delegates reprimanded Del. Jay Jalisi (D) after allegations that he emotionally abused his staff. Joint Ethics Committee Chairman Sandy Rosenberg (D) said that an investigation into Jalisi’s behavior revealed he had engaged in “a pattern of verbal abuse, controlling and belligerent behavior.” In one particularly memorable incident from the ethics report on his conduct, Jalisi allegedly called someone “stupid” and made the person “stand in the delegate’s office and repeat, ‘I am incompetent. I am incompetent.’” (Erin Cox)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Samantha Bee took a deep dive on Mick Mulvaney: 

Stephen Colbert highlighted Trump's moves to kill Obamacare and cut funding for the Special Olympics: 

Colbert also mocked Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and his unique arguments against the Green New Deal: 

Trevor Noah did a segment on Buttigieg: