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Power Up: Trump budget guts White House drug control office -- again

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING: Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) last night issued a moratorium on the death penalty in California, "calling it discriminatory and immoral, and is granting reprieves to the 737 condemned inmates on the nation’s largest Death Row,” The San Francisco Chronicle's Bob Egelko annd Alexei Koseff report. 

“I do not believe that a civilized society can claim to be a leader in the world as long as its government continues to sanction the premeditated and discriminatory execution of its people,” Newsom said in a statement accompanying an executive order. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) on March 12 called for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) to schedule a vote on President Trump’s budget. (Video: The Washington Post)

At the White House

THE OPIOID CRISIS: Every year since taking office, President Trump has proposed gutting the office charged with coordinating the response to the nation's opioid crisis. His 2020 budget is no different: it seeks to slash the Office of National Drug Control Policy by 95 percent — even as a record high of 70,000 people died from overdoses in 2017.  

Trump has proposed moving two major grant programs out of ONDCP and sharp cuts to Medicaid, the core program providing health care for people suffering from substance-abuse disorder. The president also wants to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients while slashing drug prevention efforts at the Justice Department, moves that fly in the face of Trump's 2016 campaign promise to solve the opioid epidemic. 

  • Overall, Trump's budget proposes slashing prevention efforts by 5 percent across agencies and increasing interdiction efforts. 
  • “The budget plan does propose some new funding to fight the opioid crisis, including $245 million over 10 years to let states 'extend Medicaid coverage for pregnant women with substance use disorder to one year postpartum,” Vox's German Lopez reports. “Last year, his budget plan called for an additional $7 billion for 2019. This year’s budget proposal drops that request — with no explanation as to why that money is no longer necessary.”
  • Reminder: The White House Council of Economic Advisers has previously stated the opioid epidemic has cost the U.S. $504 billion in economic losses. 

Congress has consistently rejected proposals to dismantle ONDCP and lawmakers have argued that moving major grant programs like the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) and the Drug Free Communities grants to DOJ and the Health and Human Services Department would deprioritize them.

  • Trump's latest drug czar, Jim Carroll, told lawmakers last year during his confirmation hearing that he “would have pounded on the table to keep HIDTA at ONDCP.” 
  • “Last week, however, Carroll declined to say whether he still supports keeping HIDTA and DFC under the office,” Politico's Brianna Ehley reports
  • “Once again, Team Trump has proven they only care whether people *think* they're trying to end the opioid crisis,” a former government official who worked on the opioids' issue under Trump told Power Up. “It's a real letdown for the people who were counting on President Trump to actually help people struggling with opioid addiction.”
  • “This is the administration once again articulating its skewed priorities on manufactured crises like border security and defense at the expense of real ones like overdose and the spread of infectious disease," Leo Beletsky, an associate professor of law and health sciences at Northeastern University, told us. 
  • “Nothing in the President’s budget would threaten the proven, effective counter-drug programs ONDCP oversees," ONDCP spokesperson Peter Hoffman told Politico's Dan Diamond. "In fact, the overall drug control funding request is an increase of more than a billion dollars from the previous year."

Last week during a hearing before the House Oversight Committee, Triana McNeil, the acting director of strategic issues at the Government Accountability Office, told Congress that the ONDCP's National Drug Control Strategy released in January is “completely void of any performance measurement system” and lacked accountability.  

  • “There is both a leadership vacuum and a competence vacuum at the head of ONDCP,” Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) told Carroll at the hearing. 
  • Carroll also acknowledged "there wasn't really that much money associated with the declaration" a national emergency on opioids, but it was meant to ensure "Americans understood what we're facing."
  • Republicans, meanwhile, “used the opportunity to argue passionately for President Trump's national emergency declaration to build a border wall,” according to my colleague Paige Winfield Cunningham. 

Big: The Post is out with this morning with an investigation on the failure of the Obama administration to contain the fentanyl crisis.

  • My colleagues Scott Higham, Sari Horowitz and Katie Zezima report that in May 2016, 11 public health officials urged the Obama administration to declare a national emergency to train a laser-like focus on the deadly synthetic drug.
  • "The administration considered the request but did not act on it," they write in a piece titled "The Fentanyl Failure."
  • "The decision was one in a series of missed opportunities, oversights and half-measures by federal officials who failed to grasp how quickly fentanyl was creating another — and far more fatal — wave of the opioid epidemic," my colleagues write.
  • "If current trends continue, the annual death toll from fentanyl will soon approach those from guns or traffic accidents."

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Global Power

#BREXITSHAMBLES CONTINUES: British lawmakers *still* haven't been able to reach agreement on how to leave the European Union. Three years after the original Brexit vote and two weeks before the deadline for leaving the European Union on schedule, the British parliament rejected Prime Minister Theresa May's tweaked Brexit deal. 

  • “Last-minute negotiations with the E.U. were not enough to secure the support of hard-liners in the prime minister’s own Conservative Party — 75 Tories voted against their leader,” my colleagues across the pond, William Booth and Karla Adam, report. 
  • Next steps: “Parliament will vote Wednesday on whether to leave the E.U. on schedule, on March 29, without a deal — a scenario that could create economic havoc for Britain and, to lesser degree, Europe.”

Boris Johnson, a leading Brexiteer and the former British foreign secretary, continued to push for a no-deal Brexit calling it “the only safe path to self-respect.” Lawmakers are still seeking “a managed withdrawal,” per Booth and Adam. However, both May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, appeared to have reached their limits on negotiations. 

  • “There will be no new negotiations,” Juncker told reporters after meeting with May in Strasbourg on Monday nightm signaling the E.U. was done with talks.
  • “I profoundly regret the decision that this House has taken tonight,” May said, addressing parliament after Tuesday's vote. “Let me be clear: Voting against leaving without a deal and for an extension does not solve the problems we face. The E.U. will want to know what use we mean to make of such an extension and this House will have to answer that question,” she added. 
  • Key: “Anti-Brexit lawmakers hope that if Britain’s departure is delayed, momentum will build for a second referendum — a do-over — to ask voters whether they really want to leave. Although Labour has endorsed a second referendum, there does not appear to be majority support for it in Parliament,” Booth and Adam report. 

So, what happens to May? Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn said that May had “run down the clock” and that he deal was “dead.” and Conservative political Charles Walker told the BBC that he believed there would be a general election “within a matter of days or weeks” if May's deal was rejected. 

What's the hold up?: “Much of the dissent — and last-minute wrangling — over Mrs May's deal revolved around the so-called backstop. Both sides have committed to avoiding the return of a hard border — physical checks or infrastructure — between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland,” per the BBC. “At present, goods and services are traded between the two jurisdictions on the island of Ireland with few restrictions. The UK and the Republic of Ireland are both part of the EU single market and customs union, so products don't need to be inspected for customs and standards. If the UK leaves, that changes.”

And what happens next?!: “Trying to predict how Brexit will play out is a bit like trying to hit a moving dartboard while wearing a blindfold — it’s difficult and you’ll probably end up looking very silly,” Richard Chew, a former special adviser to May and ex-prime minister David Cameron told the Atlantic Council. Other issues to be resolved, said Chew, include: "the question of a second referendum," "the issue of customs union," and "an extension to Article 50 needs to be sought.”

In the Agencies

"UNCONSCIONABLE”: The Federal Aviation Administration announced last night that the Boeing 737 Max 8 can continue to fly, even as at least 10 other countries around the world have grounded the plane that has killed over 300 people.

  • “Thus far, our review shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft,” FAA Administrator Daniel Elwell said in a statement. “Nor have other civil aviation authorities provided data to us that would warrant action.”

An investigation by the Dallas Morning News, however, begs to differ. 

  • “Pilots repeatedly voiced safety concerns about the Boeing 737 Max 8 to federal authorities, with one captain calling the flight manual 'inadequate and almost criminally insufficient' several months before Sunday's Ethiopian Air crash that killed 157 people,"  Cary Aspinwall, Ariana Giorgi and Dom DiFurio report. “The News found at least five complaints about the Boeing model in a federal database where pilots can voluntarily report about aviation incidents without fear of repercussions.”
  • “The disclosures found by The News reference problems during Boeing 737 Max 8 flights with an autopilot system, and they were all during takeoff and nose-down situations while trying to gain altitude. While records show these flights occurred during October and November, the information about which airlines the pilots were flying for is redacted from the database.”
  • “Records show a captain who flies the Max 8 complained in November that it was 'unconscionable' that the company and federal authorities allowed pilots to fly the planes without adequate training or fully disclosing information about how its systems were different from other planes,” they report. 

On K Street

BOEING'S INFLUENCE: Democratic and Republican lawmakers — including Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) — urged Boeing to follow the world's lead and ground the 737 Max 8.

The president, a self-proclaimed expert in aviation who counts a former Boeing executive as a member of his cabinet, tweeted following the crash in Ethiopia that "Airplanes are becoming far too complex to fly" and that he wanted "great flying professionals that are allowed to easily and quickly take control of a plane," perhaps hinting at "where Trump might stand as the U.S. government faces pressure to ground the Boeing 737 Max 8 plane," writes my colleague Toluse Olorunnipa. 

Other senators calling for the aerospace giant to stop flying the planes: Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas). 

  • “Further investigation may reveal that mechanical issues were not the cause, but until that time, our first priority must be the safety of the flying public,” Cruz told Politico's Melanie Zanona and Brianna Gurciullo.
  • “Warren, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, also called on Congress to hold hearings and noted that the Boeing 737 Max 'is a major driver of Boeing profits,” reported The Post's John Wagner. 
  • Zinger: “In the coming weeks and months, Congress should hold hearings on whether an Administration that famously refused to stand up to Saudi Arabia to protect Boeing arms sales has once again put lives at risk for the same reason,” Warren said.

Boeing is a major player in Washington with a direct line into the president — they spent $15 million on lobbying efforts in D.C. last year:

  • Boeing chief Dennis Muilenburg “has worked to cultivate a relationship with the president, although it has sometimes been uneasy," the New York Times reports. Muilenburg visited Trump in Mar-a-Lago after he criticized Boeing for the cost of building new Air Force One planes. 
  • “It was a terrific conversation,' Mr. Muilenburg told reporters after the meeting, explaining that he had given Mr. Trump 'my personal commitment' that Boeing would build new Air Force One planes for less than the $4 billion estimate.” 
  • “Weeks after the conversation, Boeing donated $1 million to Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee. The company had donated the same amount to help finance President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2013.” 

Soft money: Boeing mainly flexed its financial muscle during the 2018 cycle through large contributions to outside groups and party committees, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, including:

  • $250,000 to the GOP-backed Senate Leadership Fund
  • Party Committees: $173,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee; $129,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee; $125,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee; and $115,00 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee
  • Home court advantage: The individual lawmaker receiving the most from Boeing in the 2018 cycle was Sen. Maria Cantwell (D) of Washington state, who collected $54,000.
  • Ranking second among individuals was then-Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) with $48,000 and placing third was Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) with $38,000.
  • Lobbying: Boeing's lobbying investment dipped slightly in 2018 compared to previous years. The company spent $15 million on persuasion campaigns last year compared to $16.7 million in 2017; $17 million in 2016 and a recent high of $22 million in 2015.
  • FaceTime: Receiving the most amount of Boeing's lobbying largesse in 2018 was Norm Dicks & Assoc., headed by ex-Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), a longtime House Appropriations panel member and former chair of the Defense Appropriations subcommittee.

Kicker: Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao appears fine with the Max, having flown on the plane back from Austin on Tuesday.


"Operation Varsity Blues": A biopic I would watch: "Desperate Housewives" and "Full House" intersect at the center of an allegedly widespread multimillion dollar bribery scheme -- the largest ever college admissions scam -- that allowed underperforming kids from wealthy families entrance to prestigious universities. Actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were among 50 people charged Tuesday in in an operation accidentally uncovered last year by the FBI, according to my colleagues Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky.

"The scheme’s chief architect, William Singer, pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday. Officials described Singer as a well-connected college admissions adviser and say he disguised the bribery scheme as a charity, enabling parents to deduct the bribes from their taxes."

Check out Loughlin's daughter, Olivia Jade, in a tour of her dorm room at USC: