With Joanie Greve and Mariana Alfaro
THE BIG IDEA: The third time wasn’t the charm. President Trump has asked Congress to cut federal funding for the Special Olympics in all three budgets that he has submitted. But, facing a firestorm, he insisted on Thursday afternoon that he didn’t learn about the controversy until that morning.
“I have overridden my people,” Trump told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House. “The Special Olympics will be funded. I just told my people: I want to fund the Special Olympics.”
This is a textbook case of an unforced error. Congress was never, ever going to get rid of the money for the Special Olympics, a popular program that enjoys bipartisan support and allows people with intellectual disabilities to compete in athletics.
Trump’s sudden reversal, after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spent three days publicly defending the cut, highlighted 10 deeper truths about his presidency:
1. The president vs. the presidency: It actually seems plausible that Trump didn’t know he had signed off on a budget request that cut the Special Olympics until he saw cable news coverage yesterday of people criticizing him for doing so. If he was telling the truth on the South Lawn, it reflects the extent to which he has outsourced most policymaking to conservative ideologues like acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.
2. The buck stops with ... who exactly? DeVos released a statement last night insisting that she was against the Special Olympics cuts all along, and her staff blamed the Office of Management and Budget for including the proposal. “This is funding I have fought for behind the scenes over the last several years,” she said. “I am pleased and grateful the president and I see eye to eye on this issue, and that he’s decided to fund our Special Olympics grant.”
Even by Washington standards, this took chutzpah. During testimony earlier in the day before a Senate appropriations panel, DeVos defended the cuts as necessary and argued that private donors like her – she married into the billionaire Amway fortune – would step up to fill the gap. Then she took umbrage at Democratic criticism. “I hope all of this debate encourages lots of private contributions to Special Olympics,” she told Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “So let’s not use disabled children in a twisted way for your political narrative. That is just disgusting, and it’s shameful.”
3. Trump is constantly looking to get credit for cleaning up messes of his own making: The president declared that he had decided to save the Special Olympics as he left the White House to fly to Michigan for a rally to support his reelection campaign. Then, in Grand Rapids last night, Trump announced that he’s going to make sure the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is fully funded. Trump’s budget earlier this month proposed slashing that program, which funds the cleanup of the Great Lakes, by 90 percent – from $300 million to $30 million.
“We have some breaking news! You ready? Can you handle it? I don’t think you can handle it,” he said, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I support the Great Lakes. Always have! They are beautiful. They are big, very deep, record deepness, right? And I am going to get, in honor of my friends, full funding of $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which you have been trying to get for over 30 years. So we will get it done.”
During his first year in office, Trump called for eliminating the program entirely. Last year and this year, he asked Congress to cut it by 90 percent. But Republicans and Democrats on the Hill teamed up to fully fund it over White House objections.
This is part of a pattern. Remember when Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and then attacked Democrats for not protecting the “dreamers” from deportations that he put them at risk for?
4. Trump, in reelection mode, makes decisions through a political prism: The president has better raw political instincts than the guys on his staff who wear the green eyeshades. He likely recognized that the Special Olympics cut could be used as fodder in campaign commercials to portray him as callous and heartless. The 2020 Democratic candidates have already been driving this argument.
Likewise, he’s understandably fixated on winning the industrial Midwest. His opposition to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative threatened to cost him votes in Michigan and Ohio, where the program is overwhelmingly popular across the ideological spectrum.
It’s a fresh reminder of how Trump can turn on a dime. He pivoted effortlessly from portraying Bob Mueller as the leader of a “witch hunt” to describing him as an honorable man, for example. The conventional wisdom that Trump never backs down is also wrong. He often folds when he decides it makes sense politically.
5. Audacity, always audacity: The president has stocked his political team with operatives who share his zeal for counterpunching. It’s this mentality that prompted the Trump reelection campaign’s deputy communications director, Matt Wolking, to accuse Democrats of hypocrisy yesterday for wanting to fund the Special Olympics while simultaneously supporting abortion rights.
“I’m sure Democrats who see abortion as the cure for Down syndrome and other disabilities are sincerely concerned about kids having the chance to be in the Special Olympics,” Wolking tweeted. “The Special Olympics proves people with disabilities can live meaningful, fulfilling lives. It’s a powerful monument to the value of all lives — the same lives Democrats are fine with seeing snuffed out.”
These comments offended many Democrats who identify as pro-choice and who have children or relatives with Down syndrome. Moreover, they came just hours before Trump changed course.
6. No one can really speak for Trump – but Trump: He routinely contradicts or otherwise undercuts his top aides. Trump has often said that his own spokespeople cannot speak for him, which makes it harder for people like Wolking to spin reporters. DeVos is far from the first Cabinet secretary to get thrown under the bus. That makes it hard for presidential emissaries, even Vice President Pence, to negotiate credibly on his behalf when they’re on Capitol Hill or in foreign capitals. When Rex Tillerson was secretary of state, recall how Trump publicly chastised his own diplomat’s efforts to engage with North Korea. He called it a waste of time – a few months before doing so himself.
7. It’s still not clear that Trump understands how the appropriations process works: “I just authorized a funding,” the president told reporters of the Special Olympics. But Trump does not get to appropriate funds. The Constitution makes clear that this is Congress’s most important function. This has come up recently with the president’s declaration of a national emergency to try building a border wall that a majority of the House has explicitly rejected.
8. Budget proposals are statements of principles and values. By definition, they’re aspirational. And this was just the tip of the iceberg. The Special Olympics line item is only $17.6 million. The Trump budget released this month asked Congress to cut Education Department spending by more than $8.5 billion from this year, or about 12 percent.
Among the initiatives that Trump said should go on the chopping block: the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Program, which underwrites school safety efforts, including mental-health services. He also wants to take the ax to after-school activities for children who live in impoverished communities, which are designed to keep at-risk teens off the streets and out of trouble. And he wants a $7.5 million cut to the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, a $13 million cut for Gallaudet University in the District and a $5 million cut for the American Printing House for the Blind, a federal program that produces books for blind students.
During a House subcommittee hearing to review the Trump budget on Tuesday, Republican Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) said that, while some of the proposed reductions make sense, others are “somewhat shortsighted.”
9. “One of the reasons the special education cuts drew fire this week was because DeVos had found money to support her own pet projects,” Valerie Strauss explains. “She proposed creating a controversial new federal tax-credit program, which, capped at $5 billion, would allow the use of public money for private and religious schooling. She also proposed adding $60 million to the Charter Schools Program, which funds the creation and expansion of charter schools. Some critics said they were angered that DeVos found money to support the expansion of alternatives to traditional public school districts, which enroll most U.S. schoolchildren, while cutting special education.”
10. Outside the Education Department, the Trump budget advocates slashing a host of other programs that benefit the disabled. “The administration wants to zero out funding for Department of Health and Human Services programs relating to autism, including a developmental disabilities surveillance and research program, autism education, early detection and intervention, and the interagency autism coordinating committee,” Jacqueline Alemany reports in her Power Up newsletter, citing figures provided by the Arc, a nonprofit advocacy group. “Trump proposed various cuts to Development Disabilities Act Programs within HHS over the past two budgets. His current budget proposal is seeking a 30 percent cut to the Office of Disability Employment within the Department of Labor and a $10 billion dollar cut to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program, which provides benefits to disable workers. … The 2020 budget also proposes cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, which provides health care coverage to those with disabilities.”
-- Overshadowed by the Special Olympics donnybrook: During her Senate appearance yesterday, DeVos also acknowledged that she has not begun implementing an Obama-era regulation designed to ensure children of color are not disproportionately punished or sent to special-education classrooms – despite a judge’s rebuke and a court order to do so. “Three weeks ago, a federal court ruled that the Trump administration must implement the rule immediately,” Laura Meckler reports. “DeVos (said) the Education Department was still ‘reviewing the court’s decision and discussing our options.’ Published in the final days of the Obama administration, the rules were supposed to have taken effect in 2018. DeVos moved last summer to delay them for two years. … Under the regulation, states face tighter rules about how they tabulate data about the demographics and treatment of children in special education to ensure there are not racial disparities.”
-- On today’s opinion page, Helaine Olen makes an extended case that DeVos is “the worst member of Trump’s Cabinet.” Not because of the Special Olympics, Olen says, but because of her friendliness toward predatory lenders. The Education Department stalled Obama-era rules intended to make it easier for people who racked up tens of thousands of dollars in student loans attending for-profit colleges that lured them in with phony come-ons and job placement statistics to receive relief, and backed down only when a court stepped in last year, Olen explains: “Now DeVos’s department is moving slower than a tortoise. According to reporting by CNN, the Department of Education did not review any requests for loan dismissal under ‘borrower defense’ provisions between June and September of last year, and is refusing to answer questions about how many it has signed off on since. …
“DeVos is also supporting eliminating the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which permits borrowers who can show they worked for a nonprofit or the government — think teachers and librarians and firemen — for 10 years while making regular and on-time student loan payments to see the remainder of their balance forgiven. … There is something particularly distasteful about DeVos, whose wealth is inherited, essentially kicking sand in the faces of people who are trying to get ahead by doing what society tells them to do — get an education.”
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- Trump’s effort to rework a major trade deal with Canada and Mexico is showing signs of faltering on Capitol Hill, straining under a variety of angry complaints from lawmakers of both parties who won’t commit to backing the plan. Erica Werner, David Lynch and Emily Rauhala report: “Trump reached agreement with Canada and Mexico last year to update the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. But Congress must approve the deal, and the White House has been unable to mollify the growing complaints. The administration’s goal is to get the pact approved ahead of Congress’s annual August recess. It’s not clear if that timeline is realistic. But delaying action past Labor Day could greatly increase political risk because of the accelerating presidential campaign.
“In the latest obstacle, key Republican senators including Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) have begun insisting stridently that Trump lift steel and aluminum tariffs imposed on Canada and Mexico as a precondition to any congressional vote. Grassley said in an interview Thursday that he’d made the case directly to Trump at a recent meeting, but that the president refused to budge. Nonetheless, Grassley predicted Trump would have no choice but to give in if he wants the new NAFTA deal — one of the signature promises of his presidential campaign — to advance.
“Trump’s top advisers, including U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer, are refusing to cancel the tariffs until Canada and Mexico accept quotas on their metals exports. But for Canada, too, the tariffs are the biggest sticking point to consideration of a deal. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, weakened by domestic political controversy, faces voters in October. Canada’s House of Commons has an ever-narrowing window to ratify the deal on their end, and it could be near impossible if the tariffs remain.
“Support from House Democrats would be crucial for the new trade deal to advance, but they have raised a host of issues. Some liberals have insisted the deal is a nonstarter because of a provision related to prescription drugs — an uncompromising stance that has irked a group of their fellow Democrats who are more oriented toward free trade. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) can single-handedly determine the pact’s fate by deciding whether to put it on the floor. But she said Thursday that she needs to see stronger enforcement provisions in the deal before agreeing to embrace it.”
-- A federal judge appointed by President George W. Bush ruled last night that the Trump administration’s push to make health insurance plans available outside the Affordable Care Act that avoid the requirements of the law is illegal. This is a big win for the 11 Democratic-led states, plus D.C., that filed the suit, though it will certainly be appealed.
“The final rule is clearly an end-run around the ACA,” wrote U.S. District Judge John Bates of the District. “Indeed, as the president directed, and the secretary of labor confirmed, the final rule was designed to … avoid the most stringent requirements of the ACA.”
“The 43-page ruling … blocks new rules from the Trump administration overseeing ‘association health plans,’ which would allow small businesses to combine their forces to offer plans outside the ACA that would be both less expensive and provide fewer health protections,” Timothy Bella explains. “It marks the second significant legal defeat in as many days on the issue for Trump. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg … blocked the administration’s plans for some Medicaid recipients in Kentucky and Arkansas to be subject to work requirements in exchange for health benefits.”
-- Trump said last night that Republican senators are working to craft a "spectacular" replacement plan for Obamacare. He named Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) as the point people on Capitol Hill. “Trump claimed that Republicans ‘will take care of preexisting conditions better than they’re taken care of now,” Colby Itkowitz reports. “Trump also sounded triumphant about a lawsuit brought by 20 states seeking that Obamacare be ruled unconstitutional.”
-- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put the onus on the White House to come up with a plan and made clear he has no interest in spending political capital on Trump's latest push to kill the popular law. “I look forward to seeing what the president is proposing and what he can work out with the speaker,” the Kentucky Republican told Politico’s Burgess Everett. “I am focusing on stopping the ‘Democrats’ Medicare for none’ scheme.'"
GET SMART FAST:
The Supreme Court halted the execution of a Texas inmate because the state refused his request to have a Buddhist spiritual adviser with him. The decision contrasted with another last month in which the court allowed the execution of a Muslim prisoner in Alabama who was denied his request to have an imam at his side. (Robert Barnes)
- The Supreme Court also formally declined to stop the administration’s ban on bump stocks. (Mark Berman)
The Commerce Department revised its estimate of GDP growth in the final quarter of last year from 2.6 percent down to 2.2 percent. Experts say the U.S. economy is showing clear signs of slowing growth, despite Trump’s promises of 3 percent growth every year for the next decade. (Heather Long)
The Virgin Islands are facing a shortage of affordable housing as residents continue to dig out from two Category 5 hurricanes that hit the U.S. territory in 2017. The storms destroyed nearly 19,000 houses and businesses in the island, sweeping away about half of its housing stock. (Tim Craig)
- The U.S. government has collected only $6,790 of the more than $200 million in fines it has levied for illegal robo-callers. Tens of billions of unwanted robo-calls were made last year, a sign of how the government’s spotty enforcement of telemarketing laws has failed to deter bad actors. (Wall Street Journal)
The Virginia Cavaliers outlasted the Oregon Ducks in the March Madness tournament. They will now play the Elite Eight against the No. 3 seed, Purdue. (Des Bieler)
The Icelandic budget airline Wow Air abruptly ceased operations, leaving passengers stranded all over the world. Refunds for those holding unused Wow tickets will probably be few and far between. (Hamza Shaban)
Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan stepped down abruptly after spending more than two years struggling to convince lawmakers that the bank is no longer taking advantage of its customers. The bank disclosed this month that he earned $18.4 million last year. (Renae Merle)
A single ticket sold at a gas station in Wisconsin matched all six numbers for the $768.4 million Powerball jackpot, the third-largest in U.S. lottery history. The winner can choose to take the full $768.4 million over 29 years or $477 million in cash. (Lindsey Bever and Alex Horton)
A fungal disease called chytridiomycosis has contributed to declines in at least 501 amphibian species. The new estimate is more than twice the number of species previously thought to be affected by the disease, and 90 species are believed to have gone extinct because of it. (Jason Bittel)
The E.U. Parliament passed a ban on single-use plastics, including straws and cutlery. The move paves the way for E.U. member states to ban single-use plastics by 2021. (Emily Tamkin)
THERE’S STILL A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- Trump inflated his net worth to lenders and potential business partners by producing “Statements of Financial Condition” that included a number of errors about his financial holdings. David A. Fahrenthold and Jonathan O'Connell report:
- The documents, which ran up to 20 pages in length, often omitted information about Trump’s debts or exaggerated the properties he owned. “Trump’s financial statement for 2011 said he had 55 home lots to sell at his golf course in Southern California. Those lots would sell for $3 million or more, the statement said. But Trump had only 31 lots zoned and ready for sale at the course, according to city records. He claimed credit for 24 lots — and at least $72 million in future revenue — he didn’t have. He also claimed his Virginia vineyard had 2,000 acres, when it really has about 1,200. He said Trump Tower has 68 stories. It has 58.”
- Both the House Oversight Committee and investigators in New York are probing whether Trump’s reliance on these documents could constitute fraud. “Earlier this month, the New York state Department of Financial Services subpoenaed records from Trump’s longtime insurer, Aon. A person familiar with that subpoena ... said ‘a key component’ was questions about whether Trump had given Aon these documents in an effort to lower his insurance premiums.” The probes stemmed from testimony last month by Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen.
- “Financial and legal experts said it’s unclear at this point whether Trump will face any legal consequences. They said it depends on whether Trump intended to mislead or whether the misstatements caused anyone to give him a financial benefit.”
-- Bob Mueller’s decision not to subpoena Trump for an interview remains one of the lingering questions from his investigation. Philip Rucker, Carol D. Leonnig, Josh Dawsey and Matt Zapotosky go behind the scenes to explain why Mueller chose not to:
- The special counsel repeatedly tried to schedule an interview for a year. “The president was initially inclined to sit for an interview with Mueller. He thought he could deliver a convincing performance and put a swift end to the probe. Negotiations between the sides began around Thanksgiving 2017, and an interview was scheduled for January 2018. ... But John Dowd, then the president’s lead attorney, canceled the session. He had argued against it because he feared Trump could misspeak or even lie. … Over the next 12 months, Mueller tried repeatedly to reschedule the interview, to no avail.”
- Mueller brought up a possible subpoena during a meeting with Trump’s lawyers in March 2018. “Dowd erupted angrily. ‘You’re screwing with the work of the president of the United States,’ he told Mueller, according to two people briefed on the discussion. After that meeting, the special counsel team changed its approach: trying to coax Trump to sit for an interview voluntarily.”
- “Central to the Trump strategy ... was to cooperate fully with every request for documents and witnesses from Mueller, including Trump’s written answers to some questions. Their goal: to satisfy Mueller’s hunt for information to the extent that the special counsel would not have legal standing to subpoena the president’s oral testimony.”
- White House lawyer Emmet Flood wrote a memo emphasizing the power of the president’s executive privilege. “While it made broad arguments, the document could have been construed to pertain to Mueller’s push to interview the president ... Notably, Flood sent the memo not just to Mueller’s office, but also to [deputy attorney general Rod] Rosenstein by way of his top deputy, Edward O’Callaghan.”
-- Jared Kushner met yesterday with the Senate Intelligence Committee behind closed doors. The president’s son-in-law and senior adviser was spotted leaving the committee’s secure space around noon after speaking to several senators and their staffers for more than two hours. (BuzzFeed News)
-- House Democrats threatened to accuse Attorney General Bill Barr of a “coverup” if he does not detail the grand jury information in Mueller’s report, which we've confirmed runs more than 300 pages long. Karoun Demirjian and Devlin Barrett report: Democrats “have begun to express suspicion that the attorney general intends to prevent the public disclosure of information within Mueller’s findings that may be unflattering or otherwise problematic for the president. … House Democrats also said Thursday that they are prepared to authorize a subpoena for Mueller’s full report if Barr misses the Tuesday deadline lawmakers set for him to deliver it to Congress. They stopped short, however, of promising to issue a subpoena.”
-- Trump claimed the “Russia hoax” is “finally dead” while speaking at a campaign rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., last night. David Nakamura and Colby Itkowitz report: “After three years of lies and spin and slander, the Russia hoax is finally dead,’ Trump said to cheers from the crowd. ‘The special counsel completed its report and found no collusion and no obstruction. I could have told you that 2½ years ago. Total exoneration. Complete vindication.’ … He called the investigation an ‘elaborate hoax’ that amounted to an effort to ‘illegally regain power by framing innocent Americans.’” Barr's summary notes Mueller did not establish a criminal conspiracy between Trump associates and Russia but said the special counsel did not make a determination about whether he obstructed justice.
-- Some of Trump’s closest allies are trying to steer him away from the idea of issuing pardons to his former advisers who have been implicated in Mueller’s probe. The AP’s Jonathan Lemire reports: “Trump has ... privately complained about what he believes is the unfair treatment a number of his former aides have received, according to a White House official not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations. The president has expressed sympathy for [his former campaign chairman Paul] Manafort, believing his sentence of seven-plus years for a variety of financial crimes was unjust, according to the official.”
-- Since Barr released his letter, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has focused on keeping her caucus disciplined. Robert Costa reports: “Pelosi’s role as the Democrats’ steadying force began hours after Mueller’s report was issued to the Justice Department last Friday, when she attended her granddaughter Bella’s birthday party at a bowling alley in San Francisco. She ended up corralling not only the exuberant children but Democrats uncertain and on edge about Mueller’s finish. Pelosi — donning a pink plastic lei to play along with Bella and sitting near the clacking lanes — called up committee chairmen and other allies. Pelosi’s message: Stay cool and concentrate on the need for transparency, oversight and a full public release of Mueller’s findings — and not on the frenzied speculation on social media and elsewhere.”
-- Prominent Democratic lawyer Greg Craig is widely expected to be charged soon in a case that originated from Mueller’s investigation. Craig, who served as White House counsel in the Obama administration, allegedly provided false statements to investigators who were looking into his work for Ukraine. The investigation, now in the hands of the Justice Department's national security division and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia, demonstrates how far-reaching and long-lasting the ramifications of Mueller’s probe will be. (CNN)
-- Maria Butina will be sentenced April 26 after she pleaded guilty to acting as an undeclared Russian agent. Spencer S. Hsu and Rosalind S. Helderman report: “U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan set sentencing in Washington, D.C., after Assistant U.S. Attorney Erik Kenerson said prosecutors were ready, signaling Butina had completed her cooperation with investigators probing her efforts on behalf of the Russian government to forge ties with gun rights advocates at the National Rifle Association and other U.S. conservatives leading up to the 2016 U.S. election.”
-- Manafort will get to keep the infamous couture items that prosecutors showcased during his trial. CNN’s Katelyn Polantz reports: “The FBI, in searching Manafort's home and other possessions, had taken photos of dozens of hangers full of custom House of Bijan and Alan Couture clothing, including animal skin outerwear that was worth thousands -- the python bomber worth $18,500, a camel hair sportcoat for $6,500, an ostrich track jacket at $15,000, an ostrich vest for $9,500. And the government and Manafort never agreed for him to hand over the menswear as part of his forfeiture.”
-- In a Post op-ed, Rob Goldstone, the New York publicist who set up the notorious Trump Tower meeting in June 2016, insists he was not pushing any agenda when he connected the Trumps to Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya: “Throughout this ordeal, I have always held out hope that my role in this complex puzzle would ultimately be seen for what it was: that my email and the subsequent meeting were not acts of collusion but of naivete. … Night after night, I would awaken in a cold sweat and with a sense of dread. I relived the email, the meeting, the testimony on Capitol Hill, and with every passing month, I prayed for a speedy end to the investigation. Never once, however, did my nightmares include a scenario in which Mueller and his team would find evidence that my email or the Trump Tower meeting amounted to collusion.”
THE NEW CONGRESS:
-- McConnell is preparing to once again change the rules of the Senate so that he can more rapidly confirm hundreds of Trump nominees, including some controversial picks for federal judgeships. Seung Min Kim reports: “Senate Republicans had drafted a rules change that would significantly cut the time allotted for floor debate on numerous non-Cabinet agency officials and dozens of district court judges who have stalled on Capitol Hill. … ‘This is a change the institution needs,’ McConnell said Thursday. … Five years ago under Obama, the Democratic-led Senate adopted these pending changes with overwhelming support, but only temporarily. Frustrated Senate Republicans want to adopt these changes permanently, but have encountered resistance from Democrats who want the new rules to go into effect in January 2021.”
-- House lawmakers will introduce a proposal to make Puerto Rico the 51st state as Trump continued his feud with the territory’s officials over hurricane relief aid. Jeff Stein reports: “The legislation, set to be introduced by Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.), comes as several Democratic presidential candidates have embraced calls to grant statehood to the island, which has been mired in economic stagnation as it struggles to recover from Hurricane Maria in September 2017. … Soto’s legislation is the first in Congress that would automatically make Puerto Rico a state, rather than call for additional statehood referendums on the island or allow admission only after certain conditions were met. … Soto said the bill will be supported by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), former chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee that oversees Puerto Rico issues, as well as other House Republicans. GOP Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott of Florida, home to thousands of Puerto Rico expats, have previously expressed support for statehood if that is what Puerto Rico chooses.”
-- Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló had this warning for the White House: “If the bully gets too close, I'll punch the bully in the mouth." CNN’s Jim Acosta and Kevin Liptak report: “Rosselló's top aides told CNN that during a tense encounter at the White House on Wednesday they were warned by senior White House officials that representatives for the US territory were pushing too hard to arrange a meeting aimed at discussing the island's dire situation with the President. … According to Puerto Rican officials, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, along with other senior officials, all but threatened the island's representatives during the meeting.”
-- The House voted to condemn Trump’s ban on transgender people openly serving in the military. Mike DeBonis reports: “The resolution condemns the ban as discriminatory and rejects ‘the flawed scientific and medical claims upon which it is based,’ but it does not move to actually change the policy. It instead ‘strongly urges’ the Defense Department to not implement the ban and to ‘maintain an inclusive policy’ on allowing qualified transgender people to serve in the military. The resolution passed 238 to 185, with five Republicans joining Democrats in backing the measure. There is no indication the GOP-majority Senate will take up the measure, though binding changes to the policy could be debated as part of the yearly defense authorization process.”
-- The House Oversight Committee will expand its investigation into allegations of voter suppression efforts in Kansas and Texas during the midterms. Rachael Bade and Colby Itkowitz report: “The committee, led by Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), already launched an investigation earlier this month into such allegations in Georgia where Democrats allege GOP officials enacted policies that disproportionately suppressed voting among people of color. … On a related matter, Cummings has also pressed Trump officials about a new citizenship question on the 2020 Census. House Democrats worry the move is aimed at intimidating immigrants and will have a chilling effect on reporting, giving the census an inaccurate picture of population in Democratic-leaning areas and thus fewer Democratic seats in the House.”
PERSONNEL IS POLICY:
-- Acting interior secretary David Bernhardt's past as a lobbyist prompted many questions during his Senate confirmation hearing. Senators expressed concern about his ability to avoid conflicts of interest while leading an agency that regulates the very oil and gas companies he's previously worked for. Darryl Fears and Juliet Eilperin report: “Since his arrival at the Interior Department in summer 2017, he has had to recuse himself from matters directly affecting at least 26 former clients to adhere to the Trump administration’s ethics requirements. His critics say he should have recused himself from far more. Bernhardt has wielded influence over the department’s most important agencies. Within months of becoming [Ryan] Zinke’s deputy, Bernhardt played a role in decisions to increase national park fees, roll back endangered species protections enforced by the Fish and Wildlife Service, open massive amounts of public lands to more drilling, and weaken safety rules for ocean oil production platforms.
“During the hearing, under questioning from Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), Bernhardt acknowledged human-caused climate change even as Interior attempts to roll back rules seeking to limit the emission of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas operations. ‘I recognize that climate is changing and that man is contributing to that,’ he said. But he went on to note that the fourth National Climate Assessment, a major federal report published in November, pointed out the 'uncertainty' of ‘projecting future climate conditions.’”
-- “Swamp creatures” protested silently during the hearing. Felicia Sonmez reports: “Activists from the Clean Water Fund, Environment America and Public Citizen staged the demonstration to draw attention to Bernhardt’s ‘long list of conflicts of interest with the oil & gas industry, and highlighting his historic anti-environmental past,’ the groups said in a statement. The environmental group Greenpeace also took part in the protest.”
-- D.C.’s U.S. attorney was forced to withdraw from consideration for the No. 3 job at the Justice Department after some Republican senators objected to her membership more than a decade ago in an association of female lawyers. The National Association of Women Lawyers supported abortion rights and opposed the nomination of Sam Alito to the Supreme Court, Devlin Barrett reports: “Barr, in a statement Thursday, called [Jessie Liu] ‘one of the finest, most impressive people serving in the Department of Justice. She has been an outstanding United States Attorney and would have made an outstanding Associate Attorney General. I have zero doubt she would have faithfully executed my priorities and advanced my rule-of-law agenda.’ Barr said he was appointing her instead to lead the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee.”
-- Stephen Moore, Trump’s pick to join the Federal Reserve’s board of governors, said he wants to take the central bank in the direction the president supports. Heather Long and Damian Paletta report: Moore “went on conservative radio to sell his message, saying he would advocate lower interest rates, a position Trump has demanded but that most Fed officials, including Chair Jerome H. Powell, oppose. ... Moore’s long history of making combative — and sometimes factually incorrect — statements is likely to be a key focus if he moves forward in the Senate confirmation process. … Moore could also face scrutiny over $75,000 in unpaid taxes and a $350,000 penalty the Club for Growth paid to settle Federal Election Commission violations when he was president of the political advocacy organization.”
-- Trump’s appointee to oversee Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare spent millions of taxpayer dollars in contracts to Republican consultants during her tenure atop the agency. Politico's Adam Cancryn and Dan Diamond report: “The communications subcontracts approved by CMS Administrator Seema Verma — routed through a larger federal contract ... — represent a sharp break from precedent at the agency. … Her agency’s use of outside contracts and subcontracts is legal, but experts and current officials say it is not transparent and raises ethical questions. … ‘The head of Obamacare doesn't need outside consultants to get reporters to talk to her,’ said one CMS official, who asked for anonymity. ‘The job pitches itself.’”
-- Trump will name a former Fox News contributor as the State Department's spokeswoman. Morgan Ortagus, a Naval Reserve officer, previously served as a public affairs officer for the U.S. Agency for International Development and also worked at the Treasury Department during the Obama administration. (NBC News)
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
-- The Trump administration kept secret its authorization for nuclear energy companies to share sensitive technological information with Saudi Arabia. Steven Mufson reports: “The Energy Department and State Department have not only kept the authorizations from the public but also refused to share information about them with congressional committees that have jurisdiction over nuclear proliferation and safety… Members of Congress are upset about the administration’s stance and are trying to learn whether the United States has been sharing information with Saudi Arabia even after the October killing in Istanbul of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen and U.S. resident.”
-- During a visit to Puerto Rico in 2017, Trump pointed to the “nuclear football,” the briefcase always in the president’s vicinity that can be used to authorize a nuclear attack, and said he could use it on North Korea whenever he wanted to. CNN’s Jim Acosta and Kevin Liptak report: “'This is what I have for Kim,’ he said, according to three people familiar who witnessed the remark. … The episode came amid an increasingly acrimonious period that saw Trump boast of the size of his ‘nuclear button’ and threaten to rain ‘fire and fury’ on North Korea. Since then, he and Kim have developed a warm friendship and met for two summits.”
-- The group that carried out a raid on the North Korean Embassy in Spain now fears exposure. Adam Taylor and Min Joo Kim report: “The covert group was behind the remarkably brazen act of defiance against the North Korean government. But as details of the raid became publicly known over the past few days, the group has pushed back against media attention, apparently fearful not only of the Spanish legal system but also the potential to be targeted by North Korea.”
-- Maria Ressa, a Philippine journalist critical of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration and one of Time’s 2018 people of the year, was arrested again, Regine Cabato reports.
-- A new document raises questions over the State Department’s decision to rescind an honor to Jessikka Aro, a Finnish journalist with a history of breaking stories on Russian propaganda efforts who is also a Trump critic. CNN’s Manu Raju and Jennifer Hansler report: “After a Foreign Policy report suggested that the State Department may have retaliated against her because of her criticism of President Donald Trump on social media, State Department deputy spokesperson Robert Palladino asserted it was a miscommunication and that she had been ‘incorrectly notified’ of her award. … But internal communications reviewed by CNN show that the State Department and US embassy officials in Finland had been in talks with Aro for several months, extensively communicating with her about the award. …Then, two weeks after an official asked her to provide a list of her social media accounts, the honor was abruptly rescinded and the invite to attend the event was canceled.”
THE IMMIGRATION WARS:
-- Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen will ask Congress for the authority to deport unaccompanied migrant children. NBC News’s Julia Ainsley reports: “In a letter to Congress, Nielsen said she will be seeking a legislative proposal in the coming days to address what she called the ‘root causes of the emergency’ that has led to a spike in border crossings in recent weeks. The letter has not yet been sent. … Under current law, children who enter from noncontiguous countries, which effectively means children from Central America, are transferred to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services, which works to reunite them with a relative or sponsor in the U.S.”
-- The Trump administration will no longer charge first-time illegal border crossers with a crime along a stretch of West Texas. The Wall Street Journal’s Alicia A. Caldwell reports: “Prosecutions of single migrant adults caught crossing the border for the first time in and around Del Rio, Texas, were suspended in February amid lack of jail space, said a U.S. Border Patrol official. The policy change hasn’t been previously reported. Instead of being charged with a misdemeanor, most single migrants, or adults traveling without children, apprehended crossing the border illegally for the first time will face swift deportation without criminal charges. … Misdemeanor prosecutions will resume if more detention space becomes available, the border official added.”
-- The Department of Defense is scouting sites to build new portions of the border wall. CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez, Ryan Browne, Geneva Sands and Tammy Kupperman report: “Small teams of engineers and experts … are on the ground in Yuma, Arizona, and the New Mexico part of the El Paso sector, which also includes Texas, looking at sites, the officials said. Jay Field, a spokesperson for the US Army Corps of Engineers, later confirmed the teams' presence on the ground, telling CNN that the eventual plan is to install 11 miles of fencing at Yuma and 46 miles at El Paso. … Actual construction could begin by late May, depending on whether the Department of Homeland Security issues environmental waivers, which is sometimes done to expedite construction.”
-- Trump granted a last-minute, year-long extension to Liberian immigrants living in the U.S. since at least 2002 under a little-known temporary immigration program. Orion Donovan-Smith reports: “The 12-month extension to the Deferred Enforced Departure program was announced in a memorandum on the White House website Thursday, a reversal after Trump declared a year ago that he would not continue the nominally temporary reprieve that previous presidents, Republicans and Democrats, had routinely extended. … Congress must now decide whether to grant permanent status to this group of Liberians. Multiple bills have been introduced in the House to give the immigrants a path to permanent residency, including bipartisan legislation introduced Wednesday by Reps. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.).”
-- Cubans have long had an easier time migrating to the U.S. than others in Latin America. But policies by Obama and Trump have changed that. WLRN’s Daniel Rivero reports: “Cuban immigrants have long been a protected class of immigrants in the United States thanks to a series of Cold War-era policies meant to give haven to people escaping Communism in this hemisphere. But various overlapping policy changes and particular circumstances have all happened one after another, leading to Cubans increasingly finding themselves in the same circumstances as other immigrants from places like Mexico, El Salvador and Haiti who are routinely deported for a variety of reasons that go from illegal entry to committing serious crimes. In recent years the number of Cubans who have been deported has skyrocketed. In fiscal year 2016, a total of 64 Cuban nationals were deported back to the island, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Two years later, in 2018, that number had shot up to 463 -- more than a sevenfold increase.”
-- The first Democratic debates will be held in Miami on back-to-back nights: June 26 and 27. The participants will be staggered and picked at random so that top-tier candidates will appear on both nights. NBC News, Telemundo and MSNBC will host. (NBC News)
-- The fallout from Joe Biden’s latest remarks about Anita Hill continues, as women’s rights groups demand that he take more responsibility for his starring role in the way she was treated during Clarence Thomas's 1991 hearings. Felicia Sonmez reports: “As Biden inches toward a 2020 presidential run in which female and black voters will play an outsize role, some are urging him to extend a personal apology to Hill, something he is not believed to have done in the nearly 30 years since the hearing took place. Others are calling for him to publicly demonstrate that he understands he made mistakes at the time as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. But few are satisfied with his remarks about Hill at an event in New York on Tuesday night, at which he said he still regretted he ‘couldn’t come up with a way to get her the kind of hearing she deserved.’”
-- Richard Azzopardi, a senior adviser for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), is under fire for referring to three female legislators who criticized the governor’s fundraising tactics as “idiots.” The New York Times’s Vivian Wang reports: “The flare-up began on Wednesday evening, when the three lawmakers held an impromptu news conference in a Capitol hallway. Senators Alessandra Biaggi and Jessica Ramos, who took office last year by defeating powerful Democratic incumbents, and Yuh-Line Niou, a second-term assemblywoman, said they were outraged by a New York Times article that detailed a mid-March fund-raiser by Mr. Cuomo where entry for a couple cost $25,000.”
-- Wayne Messam, the mayor of Miramar, Fla., became the latest long-shot candidate to enter the 2020 race. Messam touted his biography as the son of Jamaican immigrants and his leadership of Miramar, which has 140,000 residents, in a video announcing his bid. During Messam’s interview with CNN, anchor John Berman noted that Miramar is larger than South Bend, Ind., whose mayor, Pete Buttigieg, is also seeking the Democratic nomination. (John Wagner)
-- Buttigieg’s profile is rising, according to a new national poll from Quinnipiac. The poll found Buttigieg garnering 4 percent of the national vote among Democrats, tying him with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) for fifth place. Biden still leads the pack at 29 percent. (CNN)
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Conservative lawyer George Conway, who is married to White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and who went to Yale Law School, reacted to The Post's latest reporting about Trump's financial statements:
people go to prison for things like this https://t.co/2YZUvDetSd— George Conway (@gtconway3d) March 28, 2019
He also offered this backhanded compliment to Trump:
I mean, if there were a Lombardi Trophy for lying, a Pulitzer Prize for prevarication, a FIFA World Cup for fibbing, a Medal of Honor for mendacity, a Distinguished Service Cross for deceit, *you* would be the perennial winner. https://t.co/BBxvk7yMqE— George Conway (@gtconway3d) March 28, 2019
The former managing editor of Time magazine critiqued media coverage of the Barr summary of Mueller's report:
I’m kind of dumbfounded by the journalistic pivot away from the Mueller report. If someone gave you a brief synopsis of War and Peace written by a hostile critic, do you then think that you have read the book?— Richard Stengel (@stengel) March 28, 2019
An NBC News reporter reacted to reports of how long Mueller's report is:
300 page is right around that sweet spots of books I actually finish, this works well https://t.co/8a10eyKsuV— Benjy Sarlin (@BenjySarlin) March 28, 2019
Developer Douglas Durst, whose brother Robert has been accused of multiple murders, reflected on the end of Mueller's investigation:
Here's developer Douglas Durst, as the question of Trump not being exonerated by Mueller on obstruction of justice plays out, talking about his rather famous brother >>> https://t.co/nviVQqG6p2— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) March 28, 2019
Hillary Clinton drew attention to gender and racial pay inequality:
It's pretty simple: Men and women in the same job should get the same pay. The House has passed the #PaycheckFairnessAct to help make equal pay a reality. It's 2019! Let's get it done. pic.twitter.com/8wg0yRR3ck— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) March 28, 2019
An ABC News reporter provided this statistic from the Pentagon:
Today marks 300 days since a Pentagon spokesperson briefed on camera in the Pentagon Briefing Room. It's been 211 days since a Defense Secretary briefed there.— Elizabeth McLaughlin (@Elizabeth_McLau) March 27, 2019
Sen. Elizabeth Warren met with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, per a CNN reporter:
WARREN and AOC had lunch today in Washington, two sources confirm— Greg Krieg (@GregJKrieg) March 28, 2019
Warren also chimed in:
One of Florida's Republican senators tweaked Democrats for holding their first primary debate in Miami:
The first Democratic presidential debate will be in Miami.— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) March 28, 2019
Which means we will have over a dozen candidates for President promoting socialism in a city which is home to hundreds of thousands of victims of socialism in #Cuba #Nicaragua & #Venezuela
A New York Times reporter drew attention to Sen. Bernie Sanders's tax returns, which he has not disclosed:
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) remains more than 15,000 donors short of qualifying for the Democratic debates:
49,624! Thank you to everyone reaching out to your friends and family, being a voice for peace in your community. It takes all of us, together. pic.twitter.com/QMg536dvBu— Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiGabbard) March 28, 2019
A co-founder of Vox noted these numbers from a new 2020 poll:
The Post's satirical writer distinguished between two Democratic candidates' campaign platforms:
Why Is No One Talking About Substance, asks the brave Commentator, glowering at Beto, as Elizabeth Warren’s thirty-eighth detailed policy proposal flutters to the ground behind him unregarded— Alexandra Petri (@petridishes) March 27, 2019
And a presidential historian tweeted this photo in honor of Opening Day:
-- “In small towns across the nation, the death of a coal plant leaves an unmistakable void,” by Brady Dennis and Steven Mufson: “The vanishing of coal plants from the American landscape began years ago, but it has persisted under [Trump], who came into office promising to revitalize the coal industry. … The slow retreat of coal plants has brought what many scientists, environmental advocates and policymakers say is much-needed change. … But in places like Adams County, with a population of about 28,000 and already one of the poorest corners of Ohio, the death of a coal plant also can leave an unmistakable void. When the Stuart and Killen stations closed last year, with them went the area’s highest-paying jobs, its largest employers, its biggest taxpayers and, in many ways, its lifeblood.”
-- BuzzFeed News, “Italy Is Ground Zero For The War On Women — Which Is Why These Far-Right Groups Are Meeting There,” by J. Lester Feder and Giulia Alagna: “An alliance of far-right Italian politicians, Putin-affiliated Russians, and anti-LGBT activists from the US are gathering in an Italian city at the heart of the war on women.”
-- Los Angeles Times, “How a couple worked charter school regulations to make millions,” by Anna M. Philips: “The Parkers have cast themselves as selfless philanthropists, telling the California Board of Education that they have 'devoted all of our lives to the education of other people’s children, committed many millions of our own dollars directly to that particular purpose, with no gain directly to us.' But the couple have, in fact, made millions from their charter schools. Financial records show the Parkers’ schools have paid more than $800,000 annually to rent buildings the couple own. The charters have contracted out services to the Parkers’ nonprofits and companies and paid Clark Parker generous consulting fees, all with taxpayer money, a Times investigation found.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“Majority Says Trump Has Done ‘Too Little’ to Distance Himself From White Nationalists,” from the Pew Research Center: “In a new survey, a 56% majority says Trump has done too little to distance himself from white nationalist groups; 29% say he has done about the right amount to distance himself from such groups, while 7% say he has done too much. These views are virtually unchanged since December 2016, shortly before Trump took office. As with other attitudes about Trump, views on whether he has done enough to distance himself from white nationalism are deeply divided by party. Democrats are more than three times as likely as Republicans to say Trump has not done enough to distance himself from white nationalist groups (83% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents vs. 26% of Republicans and Republican leaners).”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“The Economist issues retraction after associating Ben Shapiro with the 'alt-right,’” from the Washington Examiner: “The Economist created a furor on social media when it mischaracterized conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro as part of the ‘alt-right’ in a story published Thursday. The article, which features a question-answer discussing his political views and his new book, The Right Side of History: How Reason and Moral Purpose Made the West Great, initially featured the headline ‘Inside the mind of Ben Shapiro, the alt-right sage without the rage.’ As soon as the story hit the web, its assertion that Shapiro was associated with the alt-right — a loose affiliation known for extremism, racism, and hate — drew ire over Twitter, ultimately leading to The Economist apologizing and changing the headline.”
Trump is at Mar-a-Lago today. He will make a brief afternoon visit to Lake Okeechobee and Herbert Hoover Dike in Canal Point, Fla.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“I think they are just scaredy cats,” Nancy Pelosi said of Trump and Republicans calling on House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) to resign. “They just don't know what to do, so they have to make an attack. They did the wrong thing, the American people know that. … It's their own insecurity, their own fear of the truth, their fear of the facts.” (CBS News)
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- There will be some clouds out today, but we’ll be enjoying temperatures of 70 degrees or higher. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “You know it’s March when 70s and 20s are mentioned in the same forecast. Warmth comes with clouds and occasional rain chances in the coming days, but we should clear out late Sunday and enjoy full sunshine by Monday. However, as you may have guessed, fairer weather comes with cooler temperatures!”
-- Baseball season has begun! But the Nationals lost their Opening Day game to the Mets 2-0. (Jesse Dougherty)
-- Former Virginia governor L. Douglas Wilder (D) was accused of sexual harassment. Jenna Portnoy reports: “Sydney Black, 22, said Wilder, 88, also suggested she could live at his house and offered to take her on foreign trips and pay for her law school in 2017, while she still worked as an office assistant at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. … Black said in interviews that on her 20th birthday on Feb. 16, 2017, Wilder took her to dinner to celebrate, gave her alcohol and invited her back to his Richmond condo, where he kissed her. She was a student at VCU at the time, working at the Wilder school as an hourly employee. Three months after that encounter, Wilder told Black that funding for her hourly position had lapsed, Black said. She withdrew from college in the fall of 2018 and re-enrolled this semester.”
-- Maryland adopted a $15 minimum wage despite Republican Gov. Larry Hogan's veto. Ovetta Wiggins and Rachel Chason report: “The House of Delegates and state Senate easily mustered the three-fifths vote needed to override Hogan’s veto, fulfilling a promise legislative leaders made at the start of the session and achieving a goal that labor unions and other liberal advocates have worked toward for years. Under the bill, companies with 15 or more employees must pay workers at least $15 an hour by 2025. The legislature agreed to give smaller companies, with fewer than 15 employees, until July 2026 to comply with the law.”
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
The Post's Fact Checker explained Beto O'Rourke's 1998 DWI arrest:
Donald Trump Jr. attacked Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez during his father's rally last night, prompting the crowd to chant “AOC sucks,” Isaac Stanley-Becker reports.
The House Intelligence Committee chairman pilloried the Trump campaign's interactions with Russians after his Republican colleagues called on him to resign:
I say this to the President, and his defenders in Congress:— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) March 28, 2019
You may think it’s okay how Trump and his associates interacted with Russians during the campaign.
I think it’s immoral. I think it’s unethical. I think it’s unpatriotic. And yes, I think it’s corrupt. pic.twitter.com/nTdgRVfssQ
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos ignored a reporter's questions about the Special Olympics:
Trevor Noah tackled the day's top news, including St. Louis's bizarre bagel-eating ways:
Jimmy Kimmel and his sidekick Guillermo aren't sure Gonzaga University, which has advanced to the Elite Eight in this year's March Madness tournament, exists: