With Joanie Greve and Mariana Alfaro

THE BIG IDEA: Democrats have been celebrating the defeat of Scott Walker since November, but the GOP governor lost by only 29,000 votes out of 2.7 million ballots cast. Donald Trump carried Wisconsin in 2016 — but by fewer than 23,000 votes out of 3 million. Now, a state Supreme Court election, held on Tuesday, remains too close to call.

Liberal judge Lisa Neubauer was expected to win, but conservative Brian Hagedorn is leading in preliminary returns by 5,960 votes out of 1.2 million ballots cast. He says his margin is insurmountable, but she hasn’t conceded and is entitled to request a recount. The Associated Press hasn’t declared a winner.

A win is a win, of course, but the closeness of the past few statewide contests showcases the purple state’s emergence as what strategists in both parties predict will be the tightest battleground in 2020. By several metrics, the Badger State appears to be as close to a 50-50 state right now as any other in the nation, and operatives on both sides agree that it will be a top target for the next 19 months.

“In many ways, it’s the Florida of the Midwest,” said Democratic pollster Matt Canter, a Wisconsin native who has worked on several races in the state.  

Trump was the first Republican presidential candidate to carry Wisconsin since Ronald Reagan in 1984, but that factoid diminishes the state’s up-for-grabs status. George W. Bush lost by less than one percentage point in 2000 and 2004, meaning that three of the past five presidential races have been decided by fewer than 23,000 votes.

The Badger State does not have party registration, but the number of registered voters identifying as Republicans and Democrats in polls has moved back toward parity in the past few years after slightly favoring Democrats in 2012.

“It’s not just that Wisconsin is a very close state. It’s also, from the electoral college point of view, potentially the pivotal state,” said Charles Franklin, who directs the Marquette University Law School poll.

Barack Obama made Wisconsin look like a solid brick in the “Blue Wall.” He won it by 14 points in 2008 and seven points in 2012, even after Mitt Romney tapped Wisconsinite Paul Ryan as his running mate. This was because Obama ran up huge numbers with African Americans in urban Milwaukee while not getting blown out in rural areas the way that Hillary Clinton did and holding his own in the suburbs. It also helped that, unlike Clinton in 2016, he made time to campaign in the state.

“Obama was the anomaly,” said GOP strategist Brian Reisinger, who worked on Sen. Ron Johnson’s reelection in 2016 and for Walker in 2018. “For anyone who wanted additional evidence that Wisconsin is the ultimate battleground, the case is now closed after this week.”

-- 2020 is shaping up to be the Big Ten Election: In 2016, every political strategist and reporter obsessed over the SEC Primary, named for the Southeastern Conference in college sports. The Southern primaries on March 1 of that year were inflection points, after which neither Trump nor Clinton could realistically be stopped from winning the nominations of their respective parties. Next year, the general election will come down to the Big Ten division.

 “Success for the president is going to run through Big Ten country — Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota,” said Keith Gilkes, Walker’s former campaign manager and chief of staff, who has consulted on races around the region for the Republican Governors Association. “In previous elections, the Big Ten was called the Blue Wall. But the dynamics and the demographics have changed. … The Big Ten has been the region of the country that’s suffered the most in the last several decades. The Big Ten region feels like the country has enjoyed prosperity — and they’ve been left behind. … The more Trump can visit the Big Ten states, the better his chances of winning reelection.”

-- To show his seriousness about winning back Wisconsin, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez last month announced that Milwaukee will host the party’s convention next year.

As governor, Walker supported Milwaukee’s bid to host the Democratic convention — which he thinks will be a boon for the local economy and showcase the area’s renaissance. “Their money is not red or blue,” he said. “It’s green!”

Walker, who is keeping the door open to a run for Senate or governor in 2022, predicts that Democrats will nominate an extremely liberal candidate in 2020, and he hopes the convention will showcase the party’s leftward lurch. “It will motivate our base with everything happening in our backyard, and I think it will be positive for us with independent swing voters, who will see the extremist left up close,” Walker said in an interview. “That’s the kind of stuff that will scare suburban swing voters in and around Milwaukee.”

The former governor noted that Clinton lost Pennsylvania in 2016 after Obama lost North Carolina and Romney lost Florida in 2012. “I’m a creature of history, as well as politics: In three of the last four national conventions, the party lost the state where it held its convention,” he told me. “Having said that, I think it shows how serious they are about winning Wisconsin. … Hopefully the 2018 cycle woke our voters and activists up.”

Last November, Walker — the former Milwaukee county executive — had roughly the same vote totals in the collar counties outside Milwaukee that he did in 2014, when he won, but his margin of victory in these suburbs was smaller because of higher Democratic turnout and backlash to Trump.

“Republicans have been going on for a while now about us just being the party of [Madison] and Milwaukee … and while those are the two most populous cities in the state, we are getting a lot of support elsewhere,” said Courtney Beyer, the communications director for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. “People were saying in 2016 that Wisconsin was a red state forever, and we have shown that that’s not the case. We have voters here, and we’re going to turn them out to vote. We’re not going to leave them behind. … We’ve been saying since Day One that the path to the presidency is going to run through Wisconsin, and Tuesday night again confirms that.”

Charles Nichols, the research and communications director for the Republican Party of Wisconsin, noted that many people in Wisconsin voted for Walker in the June 2012 recall and then Obama that November. Similarly, people who voted for Obama in 2016 flipped to Trump in 2016. But he noted that elections often come down to which party gets its core supporters out. “Losing Governor Walker, for Wisconsin Republicans, was an eye-opener and, really, an awakening,” Nichols said. “We’re beating the drum that this is not going to be an easy election in 2020 for President Trump, that we need to start getting people energized now, that we need to get infrastructure in place and that it’s going to be a knockout fight.”

Turnout surged last year in the Democratic strongholds, but Walker almost made up for it by running up his score in rural swaths of the state. “We’re hitting numbers out there we never thought were possible,” said Gilkes, who was the general consultant on Walker’s 2018 campaign. “The rural voter is turning against the Democratic Party. Democrats decided to refocus on cultural issues, and the rural electorate is socially conservative. The liberals have reminded those voters why they don’t vote for Democrats anymore.”

-- Wisconsin has long been not just a microcosm of the Midwest but a state that can swing erratically between extremes. The Badger State sent to Washington both Bob La Follette, the avatar of the progressive movement, and Joe McCarthy, the notorious redbaiter, during the 20th century. It was the beating heart of the labor movement — and then ground zero in the rollback of union power, thanks to Walker. But it’s also where the Republican Party was founded in 1854, along with Michigan.

Just last April, for instance, liberal candidate Rebecca Dallet won a race for the state Supreme Court by 12 points. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Craig Gilbert crunched the numbers to figure out where the swing toward the conservative judicial candidate emanated from compared with last year:

Hagedorn got his biggest boosts from northeastern and north central Wisconsin. In the 18-county Green Bay media market in northeast Wisconsin, the swing in the margin was roughly 20 points … In the 11-county Wausau media market in north central Wisconsin, the swing in the court margin was 17 points, from a conservative deficit of 3 points in 2018 to an advantage of 14 points this time. Those two regions, which happen to be areas where Trump performed well in 2016, also saw some of the state’s biggest turnout increases over April 2018 … Of the 20 counties with the biggest swings in a conservative direction over the 2018 court race, all but two were in those two northern TV markets. …

Big nonpartisan court races have become more and more politicized over the past decade or two. But it was still striking how closely the election map Tuesday resembled the one from last fall’s partisan race for governor,” Craig notes. “Of the 53 counties carried by [Walker] last fall, Hagedorn won at least 49 … And of the 19 counties carried by [now-Gov. Tony Evers] last fall, Neubauer won all but one.”

-- The bases of both parties are ginned up, and maybe conservatives are regaining some advantage on enthusiasm after the big Democratic pickups in the midterms. More than 1 in 4 eligible voters turned out to vote in Tuesday’s state Supreme Court race, impressively high for a technically nonpartisan judicial election being held in April of the off-year.

The redistricting group led by former Obama attorney general Eric Holder made a significant investment for the liberal judge. Then the Republican State Leadership Committee came in late and put more than $1 million into commercials that linked the conservative not just to Trump but also to Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Republicans also argue that attacks against Hagedorn over a Christian school he founded — which prohibited teachers, students and parents from being in gay relationships — backfired because social conservatives interpreted them as an attack on his faith.

“One clear takeaway is that progressive overreach can backfire by motivating conservative voters,” said Charlie Sykes, a legendary conservative talk radio host in Wisconsin who has emerged as one of the right’s most articulate critics of Trumpism. “In Wisconsin, this [also] included … a sweeping court ruling that invalidated the entire lame duck special session, which reminded folks why they disliked liberal, activist judges, and a Democratic governor who just proposed more than $1 billion in tax hikes in his first budget.”

Asked what it means for 2020, Sykes emailed with what he called an “important” caveat: “Conservatives have long had an edge in these relatively low turnout elections. In April 2008, for instance, the conservative candidate for state Supreme Court, Michael Gableman, defeated incumbent liberal justice Louis Butler with about 51 percent of the vote. That November, Obama won Wisconsin with more than 56 percent of the vote.”

-- Democrats say they cannot count on the pendulum swinging back their way next November, and earnest discussions are now underway at the highest levels of Democratic politics about what lessons should be learned from Hagedorn’s apparent victory. “We clearly can’t bank on the level of enthusiasm we had in November 2018,” said a Democratic strategist working for a top-tier 2020 presidential candidate.

Patrick Rodenbush from the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, the Holder-led group, said grass-roots activists need to pay more attention to down-ballot races, including state legislative contests coming up later this year in Virginia, Kentucky and Louisiana.

“We can’t just get caught up in this high-profile presidential primary and lose sight of these races that are really going to determine the next decade of our politics,” he said. “No matter who we nominate as a party in 2020, if we do not fix the underlying problem of gerrymandering in the House of Representatives and state legislatures, he or she — if they are elected president — will be dealing with a House that gets pulled to the extremes by gerrymandering and state legislatures that are picking apart their agenda. … We can’t just throw our hands up and say, ‘We won the House of Representatives. We’re okay.’”

-- The Trump campaign is already devoting significant time and money to the Midwest generally and Wisconsin, particularly, as Democrats duke it out with one another. Johnson, Wisconsin’s senior senator, was left for dead in the fall of 2016 by national GOP outside groups, who wrote him off, but he pulled off an unexpected victory in his rematch against Russ Feingold because of a strong grass-roots campaign and Trump’s popularity with nontraditional Republican voters. Trump, whose 2016 campaign was dysfunctional and disorganized, benefited from the get-out-the-vote operation that the state party built for Johnson. In 2020, the Trump campaign is much more organized and building out infrastructure early. That’s important because the presidential race is the only statewide contest in Wisconsin in 2020.

“Tuesday’s result should warm Republican hearts with the hope that maybe the president, despite everything, is becoming a slight favorite for reelection,” said conservative columnist Henry Olsen. “If Trump wins Wisconsin, he is almost certain to win reelection. That’s because a win for Trump in Wisconsin would likely mean victories for him in swing states that he carried that are more Republican than Wisconsin — such as Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Iowa. … Democrats might feel somewhat assured about their chances in Wisconsin, given that recent polls put Trump’s job approval there in the low 40s, but they should think again. The 2018 exit polling showed the president’s job approval in Wisconsin was 48 percent, higher than what other polls were reporting at the time, suggesting that current polls are missing a lot of silent Trump backers.”

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- British Prime Minister Theresa May said she is beginning preparations to hold elections for the European Parliament despite her country’s desire to quit the European Union, an acknowledgment that its divorce efforts could be significantly delayed. From Karla Adam in London and Michael Birnbaum in Brussels: “In a letter to a top E.U. official, May asked for Britain’s departure date from the European Union to be delayed until June 30 and said that she would order that European elections be held in late May assuming Britain is still an E.U. member. Without a reprieve from the other 27 leaders of E.U. nations, Britain is due to crash out of the club without a safety net on April 12. … Many hardline Brexit advocates loathe the idea of participating in the elections. The decision opens the door to a longer extension from E.U. leaders, who said that Britain could not continue to be a member of the European Union beyond May 22 if it did not hold the elections."

-- The U.S. economy added 196,000 jobs in March, the Labor Department reported this morning, in line with expectations and a strong rebound from the anemic 33,000 jobs added in February. “Experts see little sign of an imminent recession as hiring remains robust and the unemployment rate stayed at 3.8 percent,” Heather Long reports. The low level of hiring in February now seems like an anomaly, possibly been caused by employers’ hesitation to bring on new employees in the deep of winter and an economic hangover from the lengthy government shutdown.The labor market remains healthy, and last month is just an outlier,’ said Brad McMillian, chief investment officer at Commonwealth Financial Network. Job gains were strong in health care, restaurants and professional services such as computer services. But blue-collar hiring decelerated in recent weeks with manufacturing shedding 6,000 jobs. … The pace of construction jobs also slowed after months of robust gains. Experts are watching to see if this is a temporary easing or the beginning of a wider slowdown in certain parts of the economy.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Boeing found an additional software problem in its 737 Max plane’s flight control system. The Federal Aviation Administration has ordered the company to fix the issue, which affects the plane’s flaps and other hardware. (Aaron C. Davis, Luz Lazo and Paul Schemm)
  2. The Mormon Church issued a new policy allowing the children of LGBT parents to be blessed or baptized. This reverses a 2015 decision barring such children from church rituals until they were 18. (Sarah Pulliam Bailey)

  3. A New Zealand court ordered that the alleged perpetrator of the attack on two mosques in Christchurch undergo mental-health tests to determine whether he’s fit to stand trial. Brenton Tarrant appeared via video from prison to face 50 counts of murder and 39 counts of attempted murder. (Emanuel Stoakes, Rick Noack and James McAuley)

  4. University of North Carolina women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell is under investigation over allegations that she made racially offensive comments about players. Several parents of team members said that Hatchell threatened players about being “hanged from trees with nooses” if their performance didn’t improve. She was also accused of pressuring players to play through serious injuries. (Will Hobson)

  5. A Philadelphia nonprofit aiming to open a safe injection site to limit opioid overdoses intends to move forward with the project despite a federal lawsuit. The group and its supporters argue the site is necessary to combat the opioid epidemic, which they say has claimed the lives of more than 2,300 Philadelphians in the past two years. (Katie Zezima)

  6. A New Jersey Superior Court judge might be suspended without pay after asking an alleged sexual assault victim if she tried closing her legs to prevent the attack. A review committee concluded the comments from John Russo Jr., a family court judge, were inappropriate. (Michael Brice-Saddler)

  7. An NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll out this morning found that 6 in 10 Americans do not trust Facebook. The survey shows that about the same percentage say Twitter and Facebook are dividing the nation. (NBC News)

  8. The 29-year-old suspect in the murder of rapper Nipsey Hussle has been charged. Los Angeles police allege that Eric Holder knew Hussle and that there was a dispute between them. (Sonia Rao)

  9. A man who claimed to be Timmothy Pitzen, who went missing in 2011 at age 6, was revealed to be 23-year-old Brian Michael Rini of Ohio. Rini, who was identified through a DNA test, may be charged with falsely reporting an incident to authorities. (Eli Rosenberg, Kyle Swenson and Deanna Paul)

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS

-- The revelations that special counsel Bob Mueller’s report may contain damaging information about the president ignited a new round of political fighting. Ashley Parker, Ellen Nakashima, Devlin Barrett and Carol D. Leonnig report: Attorney General Bill Barr “has pledged as much transparency as the law and Justice Department policies allow, but House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) cited ‘troubling press reports’ in a Thursday letter calling for Barr to ‘immediately release to the public any ‘summaries’ contained in the report that may have been prepared by the Special Counsel.’ Nadler also asked Barr to turn over to the committee ‘all communications’ between the Justice Department and Mueller’s office related to the report. … While the White House has publicly given Barr wide leeway to handle the Mueller report as he sees fit, congressional Democrats have been increasingly critical of his role, questioning whether he is trying to protect the president through his public letters and statements while he continues to review and redact portions of the Mueller report.”

-- Some members of Mueller’s team say the report contains “more acute” evidence that Trump obstructed justice than what Barr has suggested. The New Yorker reports that, in 1992, when he was George H.W. Bush’s attorney general, Barr supported the then-president's decision to pardon six officials from the Reagan administration who had been charged with or convicted of crimes connected with covering up the Iran-contra affair. The pardons, which many observers still believe were part of another coverup to protect Bush, left many questions unanswered. 

-- The White House seems intent on blocking the release of Trump’s tax returns to congressional investigators, teeing up a dispute that could go to the Supreme Court. House Democrats have invoked a 1924 law that gives the IRS little, or no, wiggle room to refuse their request. Erica Werner, Damian Paletta and Jeff Stein: “Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) on Wednesday formally requested that the Internal Revenue Service turn over six years of Trump’s personal and business tax returns ... The law does not appear to give the treasury secretary any legal mechanism to deny the request.” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin hasn’t commented yet, but even if he provided the tax returns, they would probably not be made immediately available to the public.

-- Trump pressed Mitch McConnell to prioritize Michael Desmond’s confirmation vote to become IRS chief counsel earlier this year, indicating to the Senate majority leader that it was a higher priority for him than a vote on Barr’s nomination as attorney general. The New York Times’s Maggie Haberman and Nicholas Fandos report that the request, made in February, raised questions about whether the president had personal motivations related to concealing his tax returns. As IRS chief counsel, Desmond would advise Mnuchin on “all matters pertaining to the interpretation, administration and enforcement of the Internal Revenue Code, as well as all other legal matters.”

-- Three powerful House Democrats asked Capital One Financial last month for Trump’s financial records, including any that were given to Mueller during his investigation. The bank said it would turn over the documents only if compelled to do so by a subpoena. (Rachael Bade and Colby Itkowitz)

-- The House Oversight Committee has “dozens” of whistleblowers who are tattling on wrongdoing by the Trump administration, a senior staffer told the Atlantic’s Russell Berman: “The Oversight Committee, like many committees in Congress, has a long history of working with federal whistle-blowers regardless of which party is in charge. … Committee veterans [said], however, that the number of whistle-blowers who’ve come forward since Trump became president is far higher than the number who cooperated with the panel during previous administrations. … Democrats began hearing from whistle-blowers almost immediately after Trump was sworn in, the aide said, beginning with a report that then–National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had been exchanging text messages with his business partner during the inauguration.”

-- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is calling for an investigation into whether the White House is overruling Secret Service recommendations at Mar-a-Lago after a Chinese woman carrying two passports and malware gained access to the resort’s reception area. Warren and Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) sent the request to the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, citing a recent Government Accountability Office report that said the White House ultimately determines who sees the president after vetting by the Secret Service. (John Wagner and David A. Fahrenthold)

-- Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen is offering Democrats new information in an attempt to stay out of jail. CNN’s Jeremy Herb reports: “Cohen's attorneys Lanny Davis and Michael Monico told lawmakers in a letter Thursday that Cohen has discovered substantial files on a hard drive that might be helpful to investigators. Cohen is asking for additional time — and congressional help — to persuade the Southern District of New York to allow him to postpone reporting to jail in order to review the files. Cohen's lawyers wrote in the letter, obtained by CNN, they hoped Cohen would receive a reduced term, and that the May 6 date Cohen is scheduled to report to prison ‘will be substantially postponed’ … He is asking top Democrats on the committees where he testified to write letters outlining his cooperation that he could use to lobby prosecutors for a lesser sentence.”

-- Current Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani's international consulting business has drawn both scrutiny from American watchdogs and interest from potential foreign clients as his speaking fees go up. He's been globe-trotting to places like Armenia, Brazil and Ukraine. Bloomberg News's Stephanie Baker writes: “Giuliani is still courting clients for security contracts such as the one in Kharkiv. He’s made millions of dollars while acting as Trump’s unpaid consigliere—$9.5 million in 2017 and $5 million in 2018, according to disclosures from his ongoing divorce proceedings with his third wife, Judith Nathan. At the age of 74, Giuliani has eschewed a quiet retirement in favor of life in the limelight. 'If I retired, I would shrivel up,' he said. 'What I do is enormously exciting.'"

THE IMMIGRATION WARS:

-- The White House unexpectedly withdrew the nomination of Ron Vitiello to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement, causing confusion. The AP's Colleen Long reports: “Vitiello had been scheduled to travel with [Trump] to the border on Friday, but was no longer going, one official said. He will still remain acting director, they said. One Homeland Security official insisted it was nothing but a paperwork error that had later been corrected. But other, higher-level officials said the move did not appear to be a mistake, even though they were not informed ahead of time.”

-- Trump backed off his threat to close the border and said he will give Mexico “a one-year warning” on drugs and migrants. David Nakamura and Felicia Sonmez report: “Trump had issued an ultimatum on Twitter late last week that he would move to seal the border to trade and travel if Mexican authorities did not halt illegal immigration. … Trump, in an exchange with reporters at the White House, suddenly shifted gears, saying that if Mexico does not stem the flow of drugs and migrants into the United States within the next year, he will impose first tariffs on cars and then, possibly, close the border. ‘We’re going to give them a one-year warning, and if the drugs don’t stop or largely stop, we’re going to put tariffs on Mexico and products, particularly cars,’ Trump said. ‘And if that doesn’t stop the drugs, we close the border.’”

-- South Texas residents fear that Trump's threatened border closure would be catastrophic to their towns. Maria Sacchetti reports: “Gabriel Bustamante Garza crosses in and out of Mexico so often that the border checkpoint here seems more like a tollbooth than an international boundary. … While the border delays have Garza worried that his trucks might miss crucial delivery deadlines, a bigger concern looms: If President Trump ever were to follow through on his threats to close the U.S. border — now, a year from now, or at any point — it could also cause his factory to close. Shutting the door between these symbiotic sister communities probably would force many Americans out of work and out of daily routines. ‘The past few days have been horrible,’ Garza, 59, said in an interview at his local bank. ‘If you close the border, Eagle Pass will die, totally die.’”

-- Fox News contributor Lawrence Jones wore a protective vest at the border, even though he was reporting from one of the safest spots in America. Alex Horton reports: “To a viewer, it was not clear from the segment whether Jones faced any threat of violence as he spoke under bright television lights in an area apparently secured by border agents. In other moments of the segment, Jones and his border agent escort wore no vests as they stood on the banks of the Rio Grande. … When commentator Roland Martin criticized it, Jones tweeted: ‘Did I say it was a war zone or did you ignorantly assume that because I was wearing a vest?’ Other people who have done similar segments called Jones out. ‘This is totally ridiculous. I have never once worn a bulletproof vest at the border, nor has CBP ever asked me to — even while on a chase with Border Patrol to apprehend migrants in remote Arizona desert in the middle of the night,’ said Jacob Soboroff, an MSNBC correspondent. ‘Because. The. Border. Is. Not. A. War. Zone.’”

-- A federal technology manager admitted to conspiring with a former DHS acting inspector general to steal a data­base managing more than 150,000 internal investigations and containing the personal data of nearly 250,000 DHS employees. Spencer S. Hsu reports: “The manager gave copies of the database — valued at more than $3.1 million and including ‘critical, confidential information,’ a federal judge said at a plea hearing — to a former DHS acting inspector general to develop a commercial version of the management system and sell that back to other government agencies. Sonal Patel, 44, of Sterling, Va., faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit theft of government property, and agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors regarding a scheme that ran from 2014 to 2017.”

-- DHS employees were warned not to leak “nonpublic information” or they would face criminal, civil or administrative offenses, an agency official said in an email to staff obtained by BuzzFeed News.

-- The National Institutes of Health is requiring all visitors to disclose their citizenship as a condition of entry, a policy that led to at least two Iranian scientists to be blocked from campus. From Lenny Bernstein, Lena H. Sun and Lisa Rein: “In one incident, a Georgetown University graduate student arriving for a job interview was held up at security, then allowed to proceed to one of the campus buildings. But as he prepared to make a presentation, NIH police arrived, removed him from a lab and escorted him off campus, according to a complaint Monday to a group that represents staff scientists. In another, a brain researcher said he was told to leave, then delayed at security for nearly an hour filling out online forms. … Both men had green cards and U.S. driver’s licenses and had previously visited NIH without incident. The two seem to have come under particular scrutiny as citizens of Iran, one of four countries classified as state sponsors of terrorism by the State Department.”

-- The Republican-dominated board of supervisors in San Diego filed a federal lawsuit against the Trump administration, claiming that federal policy changes regarding asylum seekers have strained the city’s finances and health services. Eli Rosenberg reports: “The Trump administration ended the so-called ‘Safe Release’ program in October, which gave asylum seekers who had crossed the border assistance in reaching final destinations with family members and friends, the lawsuit noted. … The county board voted in February to sue the Trump administration over the program’s end.”

-- During the 11 months after Trump’s travel ban was implemented, only 6 percent of those subject to it were granted waivers by the U.S. government, an allowance meant to prove the ban was not motivated by hostility toward Muslims. Reuters's Yeganeh Torbati reports: “Between Dec. 8, 2017 and Oct. 31, 2018, State Department officers ruled on nearly 38,000 applications for non-immigrant and immigrant visas filed by people subject to the travel ban who otherwise qualified for the visas and needed waivers to get them. They determined that just 6 percent -- or 2,216 applicants -- met the criteria for a waiver. Of those, 670 had not yet received their visas but were expected to do so.”

-- Maryland legislators inched closer to expanding the state’s Dream Act to increase the number of undocumented students eligible for in-state tuition breaks. Ovetta Wiggins and Erin Cox report: “A Senate bill was sent to the governor’s desk for his signature and a companion bill is scheduled to receive final approval on Friday. The governor has not said whether he will sign the legislation.”

THE NEW CONGRESS:

-- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi questioned whether Medicare-for-all, an idea being championed by several Democratic presidential candidates, would be too expensive and fail to provide the same coverage as the Affordable Care Act. Instead, the Democrat from California suggested she would rather build on the ACA.

“I’m agnostic. Show me how you think you can get there,” Pelosi said during an interview with The Washington Post. “We all share the value of health care for all Americans — quality, affordable health care for all Americans. What is the path to that? I think it’s the Affordable Care Act, and if that leads to Medicare-for-all, that may be the path. … When most people say they’re for Medicare-for-all, I think they mean health care for all. A lot of people love having their employer-based insurance, and the Affordable Care Act gave them better benefits.”

-- The House voted to end U.S. participation in Yemen’s civil war, setting the stage for Trump's expected second veto. Karoun Demirjian reports: “The resolution passed in the Senate last month with the support of seven Republicans. Thursday’s action in the House marked the first time both chambers have voted to invoke the same war-powers resolution to end U.S. military engagement in a foreign conflict — and is the latest instance of Congress’s challenging Trump’s decisions as commander in chief.”

-- A Democratic bill to help victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse forced House Republicans to choose between renewing the 1994 Violence Against Women Act or standing with the National Rifle Association. “The GOP mostly sided with the NRA, which strongly opposed the bill over its expansion of gun control,” Mike DeBonis reports. “Drawing the NRA’s opposition were Democratic changes to the measure. The legislation closes what gun-control advocates call the ‘boyfriend loophole’ — barring gun sales to convicted abusers of current or former dating partners. The bill would also, for the first time, prohibit gun sales to people found guilty of stalking misdemeanors and those under one-party restraining orders.”

PERSONNEL IS POLICY:

-- Trump said he would nominate former presidential candidate Herman Cain to the Fed board. Damian Paletta, Heather Long and Tracy Jan report: “Cain, a restaurant industry executive, rose to national prominence during the 2012 GOP primary as his campaign became famous for a simplified tax plan, known as 9-9-9. But his candidacy unraveled over complaints that he sexually harassed multiple women. … The prospect of Cain’s nomination unsettled some in the party. A Senate GOP leadership aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the nominee’s prospects, predicted Cain would not have the support to be confirmed.”

-- Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) brushed off the prospect of Trump officially nominating Cain, saying that “if Cain were on the Fed, you’d know the interest rate would soon be 9-9-9.” (Politico)

-- Trump said he will nominate U.S. Treasurer Jovita Carranza as head of the Small Business Administration. Carranza worked as the deputy administrator of that agency during the George W. Bush administration and would join Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta as one of two Hispanics in Trump's predominantly white and male Cabinet. (Colby Itkowitz)

-- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved David Bernhardt’s nomination as interior secretary. Despite accusations that the former lobbyist was using his position to benefit his former clients in the oil and gas industry, the panel voted 14 to 6 to advance his nomination to the full Senate. (AP)

-- The Interior Department is dropping its effort, spearheaded by former secretary Ryan Zinke, to block oil drilling in a Montana area considered sacred by a Native American tribe. The agency had been attempting to appeal a federal court’s decision reinstating an oil and gas lease on public lands near the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, a move that was cited as one of the few instances of the Trump administration putting the brakes on the oil and gas industry. Zinke said he considered the site in his home state of Montana an “inappropriate” place for energy development, but the agency has shown little desire to continue the appeal in his absence. Tribal and conservation groups are still looking to reverse the judge’s ruling. (E&E News)

-- Scott Gottlieb, who is stepping down today as FDA commissioner, will return to the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute to focus on lowering drug prices. Gottlieb said he wanted to analyze “market failures” that are keeping drug prices high, adding that he would write about FDA-related issues but try to avoid “causing grief” for the incoming acting commissioner. (Laurie McGinley)

THE COLLEGE ADMISSIONS SCANDAL: 

-- The parents indicted in the college admissions scandal expressed anger over losing something they believed was rightfully theirs, writes the Atlantic’s Caitlin Flanagan. “Anyone can understand a parent’s disappointment if he had thought for 17 years that his child would go to Yale one day, only to learn that it’s not in the cards. But what accounted for the intensity of emotion these parents expressed, their sense of a profound loss, of rage at being robbed of what they believed was rightfully theirs? They were experiencing the same response to a changing America that ultimately brought Donald Trump to office: white displacement and a revised social contract.” 

-- In the wake of the scandal, Harvard is probing the unusually lucrative sale of a fencing coach’s house to a Maryland businessman shortly before the businessman’s son was admitted to the university. The transaction was first reported by the Boston Globe, which noted that the town assessor said it made “no sense” for someone to buy a house at twice its assessed value. (Susan Svrluga)

-- Actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman made their initial court appearances as part of the admissions imbroglio. Loughlin arrived at a federal courthouse in Boston to the sound of fans screaming “Aunt Becky!” in reference to her “Full House” character. The actress, who was among a dozen people who appeared in court in connection to the case, stopped to sign autographs on her way in. (BuzzFeed)

-- Some parents are so desperate to get their kids into certain colleges that they’re attempting to sabotage other students by feeding false information to their high schools. Caitlin Gibson reports: “The message was stern, no-nonsense … ‘Dear parents of the class of 2019,’ began the December email from Patrick Gallagher, director of college counseling at Sidwell Friends School, one of the country’s most prestigious private schools. … ‘The College Counseling Office will not answer phone calls from blocked numbers. … The College Counseling Office will not open any mail without a recognizable return address. … If a parent ever feels the need to inform me or my colleagues regarding the actions of a child that is not their own — I will ask you to leave my office or end the phone conversation.’ … The message seemed to confirm the vague rumors that had circulated for weeks — murmurs about parents behaving badly, even going so far as to disparage other students, presumably to give their own teens a leg up in the high-stakes college admissions competition.”

2020 WATCH:

-- Joe Biden hasn’t offered a full-throated apology for his treatment of Anita Hill in the 1990s. He hasn’t backed away from his view that busing was the wrong way to integrate schools in the 1970s. He also hasn’t denounced his decades-old positions on banning federal funding for abortion services. And now that several women have complained that he made them uncomfortable with unnecessary touching, he has adopted a tone of defiance and contrition. Matt Viser reports: “Biden allies defend his refusal to apologize for actions he said were not meant to be offensive, and they point toward women who have rushed to his defense. But if he decides to enter the presidential race, Biden’s limited response will test whether Democratic voters are willing to accept a candidate who not only has held positions or done things that have fallen out of favor but has yet to fully answer for them. To make it even more complicated, Biden’s actions have touched most directly two giant Democratic constituencies, blacks and women.”

-- Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) officially announced his presidential bid. In an interview on ABC'S “The View,” Ryan pitched himself as a “progressive who knows how to talk to working-class people,” emphasizing education, health care and the economy as the key issues of his campaign. But Ryan’s long-shot bid will have to overcome his low name recognition, a crowded field and his past speakership bid against Pelosi. (Sean Sullivan and John Wagner)

-- Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) plans to announce his long-shot presidential bid on Stephen Colbert’s show Monday night. Swalwell intends to center his campaign on gun control and will host a town hall next week with Parkland shooting survivor Cameron Kasky. At 38, the California congressman will be one of the youngest candidates to jump into the race. (The Atlantic)

-- Stacey Abrams said she is still considering jumping into the crowded Democratic 2020 field but added that it is “probably third on the list” of her opportunities, behind challenging Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) next year and running for governor again in 2022. “I’m excited by the fact that so many have reached out to me about running for the presidency,” she said. “It’s probably third on the list, but it’s an important consideration because I think we need the right kind of campaign for 2020 to ensure not only that we win but that we win across the country.” Republican strategists fear Abrams’s name recognition, combined with Georgia’s shifting demographics, could make 2020 the year that the GOP stronghold goes blue. (Wall Street Journal)

-- Howard Schultz said during a Fox News town hall that he plans to announce a formal decision on whether to run as an independent in 2020 this summer. The former Starbucks CEO didn’t go into specifics about his policy proposals but said he would “absolutely” release his tax returns if he decides to run. (Fox News)

-- Billionaire Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase’s CEO, spent much of 2018 considering a 2020 presidential run but decided against it given that the Republican nomination was presumed to be unavailable and the Democratic Party’s leftward lean would make the election of a Wall Street tycoon unlikely, CNBC reports.

-- Dimon announced that JPMorgan made $3.7 billion in additional profits solely because of the Republican tax cuts. JPMorgan posted a net income of $32.5 billion for 2018. The rich get richer. (Business Insider)

-- Pete Buttigieg is on the defensive after questioning the sincerity of Trump’s Christian faith. The mayor of South Bend, Ind., was asked how questioning whether someone believes in God squares with his calls for reviving “decency” in American politics. “I work very hard to make sure when we oppose this president we’re not emulating him, but we do need to call out hypocrisy when we see it,” he said. (John Wagner)

-- A forecasting model with a successful track record for predicting the outcome of presidential contests suggests the 2020 race will be incredibly close. Alan Abramowitz writes for Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball: “Given a net approval rating of -10, approximately where Trump’s approval rating has been stuck for most of the past year, and real GDP growth of between 1% to 2%, in line with most recent economic forecasts, the model predicts that the president would receive between 263 and 283 electoral votes. Of course, it takes 270 electoral votes to win.” It's also 10 months before the first caucus and primary ballots will be cast, and it matters immensely whom the Democrats nominate. The model’s final projection will come out next summer. 

-- Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) has told colleagues he is considering moving to Alabama to run against Democratic Sen. Doug Jones next year. The Hill’s Scott Wong reports: “Some of those discussions took place as recently as Thursday. The rumor had been bouncing around the Capitol for weeks but took a more serious turn in recent days when Gaetz began privately discussing the idea with fellow lawmakers. … Sources close to Gaetz, 36, said that ‘people in Trump's orbit’ are personally encouraging the sophomore congressman to run for the Senate seat … Those Trump allies are pointing to Alabama’s liberal requirement that people can run for the Senate so long as they are 30 years old and have been a resident for a minimum of one day.”

-- The Texas Democratic Party is launching a multimillion-dollar campaign to unseat Sen. John Cornyn (R) next year. The Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek reports: “Emboldened after their gains in 2018 — including the closer-than-expected Senate race — the state party is establishing a ‘Cornyn War Room’ to ‘define Cornyn before he defines himself,’ according to a memo. It is unlike anything the party has done in recent history surrounding a U.S. Senate race, and it reflects the urgency with which Texas Democrats are approaching a potentially pivotal election cycle. … Cornyn responded to the initiative Thursday morning on Twitter, saying he hopes Democrats ‘spend every last penny they get from their out-of-state puppet masters.’”

-- Sen. Joe Manchin (D) is mulling a run for West Virginia governor against Republican Gov. Jim Justice. Politico’s Burgess Everett reports: “‘I think about it every minute of every day. Now, thinking about it and doing it are two different things,’ Manchin said. ‘I’ll make a decision this fall sometime. I don’t think there’s any hurry at all.’”

-- What does Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) do all day now that his party's leadership has shunned him? Ben Terris tried to find out: “Today, King has less goodwill and more free time than ever. One thing he’s doing today is avoiding discussing what he’s doing. 'I’m done talking,' King said, waiting for an elevator outside of his Capitol Hill office, after this reporter stuck a recorder in his face. King tapped his foot impatiently and scratched at his comb-over. He looked up with his glacial blue eyes to watch the floor numbers change, the air gently whistled through his nose hairs. A silent Steve King was once a rare thing. He’s known to speak his mind, and to do so with just about anyone who will listen. The gabbing used to be a big part of his schedule, but now he’s operating under what he called 'new rules.' 'Let’s just end this so you don’t have to go through any more frustration,' he said. 'And I can pay attention to what I’m doing.' Which, again, is what, exactly?”

-- Angelina Jolie hasn’t totally ruled out the idea of running for office one day. “Never say never,” the actress said. (People)

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Trump tweeted this parody video of Biden addressing accusations of inappropriate behavior toward women:

Biden swung back against Trump several hours later:

Biden was spotted in his hometown in Pennsylvania, likely recording a campaign announcement video: 

Trump's altered video of Biden appears to have come from Reddit, per a New York Times writer:

Columnist Connie Schultz, who is married to Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), bristled at pundit Nate Silver's comparison of her husband to Tim Ryan, who has flip-flopped on gun control and abortion rights in the past few years as he developed ambitions beyond Youngstown:

MacKenzie Bezos disclosed some of the conditions of her divorce from Amazon founder and Post owner Jeff Bezos:

A Republican senator came out in favor of releasing Mueller's full report:

A former federal prosecutor dismissed some claims from the Justice Department about the report:

A Post reporter provided this behind-the-scenes detail on House Democrats' request for Trump's tax returns:

A New York Times reporter noted this of Trump's hesitation to nominate Cain to the Fed board:

A Wall Street Journal reporter shared this exchange with a Republican senator:

A White House spokesman tried to deflect attention from security concerns about Mar-a-Lago:

A Politico reporter called out a former adviser to Hillary Clinton for mocking Mitch McConnell after the Senate majority leader tripped going up a set of stairs:

A House Republican apologized for his behavior toward a Politico reporter:

The secretary of state welcomed his new spokeswoman:

A Post reporter highlighted this New Yorker cartoon:

2020 candidate Andrew Yang had a few thoughts about the race: 

(Same.)

"Veep” star Julia Louis-Dreyfus confirmed that the first episode of the new season was inspired by a real-life situation:

And the hosts of “Queer Eye” made a visit to Capitol Hill:

GOOD READS:

-- The search for water in Venezuela is a daily struggle. Arelis R. Hernández and Mariana Zuñiga report: “Analysts say 20 million people — two thirds of the population — have suffered shortages or lost water completely in the past two weeks. The water scarcity has driven people out of their homes and into the streets in search of any source, potable or not. Adults and children carry empty bottles and buckets down steep slum streets and across dangerous highways to public fountains, muddy streams, urban wells that smell of sewage. Maria Eugenia Landaeta, who heads the infectious-disease department at the University Hospital of Caracas, said physicians are seeing surges in diarrhea, typhoid fever and hepatitis A. … Landaeta’s hospital has spent months without regular water or power. It has relied on cisterns and generators. ‘We had many cases of postpartum infections in women because of terrible hygiene and use of non-sterile water,’ Landaeta said.”

-- A good listen for the weekend: “Voices of the Movement,” by Jonathan Capehart: “The veterans of the civil rights movement made history, but they are eager for you to know something: They didn’t set out to be heroes or icons. On two occasions this year, these brave men and women gathered to reflect on their experiences and the legacy they're leaving — for people like me who benefited from their courage and for the kids growing up in today’s shifting world. Some of them are names you know, some aren’t — but all of them have stories that need to be told while they're still here to tell them.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“FBI director says white supremacy is a 'persistent, pervasive threat' to the US,” from CNN: “FBI Director Christopher Wray said Thursday that white supremacy presents a ‘persistent’ and ‘pervasive’ threat to the United States, breaking from [Trump], who has sidestepped questions of whether white nationalists present a growing problem. ‘The danger. I think, of white supremacists, violent extremism or another kind of extremism is of course significant,’ Wray said at a House hearing. ‘We assess that it is a persistent, pervasive threat. We tackle it both through our joint terrorism task forces on the domestic terrorism side as well as through our civil rights program on the civil side through hate crime enforcement.’”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“De Blasio Wouldn’t Say Who Was Hosting His Boston Fund-Raiser. We Found Out,” from the New York Times: “The invitation was sent to a select group of well-heeled potential donors, who were asked to attend a Friday morning fund-raiser at a construction company in Boston. Donations of up to $5,000 were expected. The guest of honor would be the mayor — of New York City. For Mayor Bill de Blasio, the quick fund-raising stop in Boston was the latest in a series of out-of-town trips aimed at raising cash and boosting his national profile as he toys with a 2020 presidential run. For the company hosting him, Suffolk Construction, the fund-raiser offered a chance to help Mr. de Blasio at a time when the business is aggressively trying to extend its footprint in the city.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump will travel to Calexico, Calif., to visit the border and tour new portions of the wall.

Pence and the second lady will travel to Houston to meet with Department of Homeland Security agents. Later in the day, he will meet with Venezuelan families at Rice University, where he will deliver remarks. 

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

Trump told the Washington Times that he understands why Barbara Bush loathed him: “I have heard that she was nasty to me, but she should be,” he said. “Look what I did to her sons!" Referring to “Low Energy Jeb,” the president mused: “I hit him very hard in South Carolina. Remember? He was supposed to win South Carolina, and I won it in a landslide.” The president was reacting to “The Matriarch,” Susan Page's new biography of the former first lady. (Colby Itkowitz)

 

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

-- Today's weather will be clammy and chilly, but a warmer weekend with slightly clearer skies is on the way. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Spring is settling in. For some positive spin, it turns warmer and drier after our damp chill today. Clouds may dominate more than half of the weekend, but at least daytime hours Saturday and Sunday attempt to stay dry.”

-- The Capitals beat the Canadiens 2-1. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)

-- The Nationals beat the Mets 4-0. (Jesse Dougherty)

-- The D.C. government failed to reapply for millions in federal AmeriCorps dollars, putting at risk the future of several education programs across the city. Fenit Nirappil and Perry Stein report: “The situation has left the city and several nonprofit organizations scrambling to make up for more than $3.5 million that the organizations requested. That money would have been used in the next school year to fund 57 tutors through Reading Partners and the Literacy Lab, as well as 190 City Year staffers who serve as mentors and help manage classrooms in high-need schools. Representatives of the nonprofit groups say they are hopeful they can find money to keep their programs running.”

-- D.C. police arrested a suspect they say sexually assaulted at least five women at Dupont Circle on Wednesday night. Police identified the suspect as Jamar Christopher Tillman and charged him with assault with intent to commit first-degree sexual abuse, robbery and five counts of misdemeanor sexual abuse. (Peter Hermann)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Seth Meyers took a look into the Mueller team's reaction to Barr's summary of the special counsel's report: 

Stephen Colbert wants to reintroduce you to Herman Cain: 

And Trevor Noah once again acknowledged that there's so much news and so little time: 

A freshman House Democrat shared her mother's story to speak out in favor of the Violence Against Women Act:

And the Internet fell in love with the story of a man who adopted a cat while cycling around the world: