President Donald Trump signs an Executive Order in the Oval Office to reorganize the federal government. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
With Breanne Deppisch
THE BIG IDEA: Reading some of the news coverage this weekend, one might get the impression that Donald Trump’s failure to repeal Obamacare is akin to Woodrow Wilson not getting the League of Nations ratified. In other words, a fatal blow to his presidency. That’s hooey.
— Health care is a siren song that has seduced many presidents since Harry Truman called for a national insurance program in 1945. Bill Clinton, for instance, spent far more political capital on the issue than Trump during his first year as president. His party also controlled both chambers of Congress, and he too failed spectacularly. But Clinton bounced back and won reelection.
— Liberals mock Trump as ineffective at their own peril. Yes, it’s easy to joke about how Trump said during the campaign that he’d win so much people would get tired of winning. Both of his travel bans have been blocked – for now. An active FBI investigation into his associates is a big gray cloud over the White House. The president himself falsely accused his predecessor of wiretapping him. His first national security adviser registered as a foreign agent after being fired for not being honest about his contacts with the Russian ambassador. His attorney general, at best, misled Congress under oath.
— Despite the chaos and the growing credibility gap, Trump is systematically succeeding in his quest to “deconstruct the administrative state,” as his chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon puts it. He’s pursued the most aggressive regulatory rollback since Ronald Reagan, especially on environmental issues, with a series of bills and executive orders. He’s placed devoted ideologues into perches from which they can stop aggressively enforcing laws that conservatives don’t like. By not filling certain posts, he’s ensuring that certain government functions will simply not be performed. His budget proposal spotlighted his desire to make as much of the federal bureaucracy as possible wither on the vine.
— Trump has been using executive orders to tie the hands of rule makers. He put in place a regulatory freeze during his first hours, mandated that two regulations be repealed for every new one that goes on the books and ordered a top-to-bottom review of the government with an eye toward shrinking it.
Any day now, Trump is expected to sign an executive order aimed at undoing Obama’s Clean Power Plan and end a moratorium on federal-land coal mining. This would ensure that the U.S. does not meet its commitments under the Paris climate agreement.
The administration is also preparing new executive orders to re-examine all 14 U.S. free trade agreements, including NAFTA, and the president could start to sign some of them this week.
Jared Kushner listens during a White House meeting with business leaders. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
— Trump plans to unveil a new White House office today with sweeping authority to overhaul the federal bureaucracy and, potentially, privatize some government functions. “The Office of American Innovation, to be led by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, will operate as its own nimble power center within the West Wing and will report directly to Trump,” Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker report. “Viewed internally as a SWAT team of strategic consultants, the office will be staffed by former business executives and is designed to … create a lasting legacy for a president still searching for signature achievements. … Kushner’s team is being formalized just as the Trump administration is proposing sweeping budget cuts across many departments, and members said they would help find efficiencies.”
Kushner’s ambitions are grand: “At least to start, the team plans to focus its attention on re-imagining Veterans Affairs; modernizing the technology and data infrastructure of every federal department and agency; remodeling workforce-training programs; and developing ‘transformative projects’ under the banner of Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan, such as providing broadband Internet service to every American. In some cases, the office could direct that government functions be privatized, or that existing contracts be awarded to new bidders.”
Trump is about to sign legislation to make it much easier to kill bears like these on federal land in Alaska. (Jessica Matthews/For The Washington Post )
— The Congressional Review Act had only been used once since it passed in 1996 to get rid of a regulation.
Trump has already used it three times since February to kill regulations put into effect by the Obama administration: He eliminated the Interior Department’s stream protection rule, which barred coal-mining companies from conducting any activities that could permanently pollute streams and other sources of drinking water. He killed an SEC rule requiring oil and mining companies to disclose payments to foreign governments. And he made it easier for the mentally ill to get guns by blocking the Social Security Administration from turning over certain data to the FBI.
Seven more bills to undo Obama regulations have passed both chambers of Congress and will soon be signed by the president. Among them: Rolling back worker safety regulations to track and reduce workplace injuries and deaths, reducing disclosure requirements for federal contractors and abolishing a rule that restricted certain kinds of hunting, such as trapping and aerial shooting, inside national wildlife refuges in Alaska.
Several more are in the pipeline. The Republican Senate last Thursday voted to repeal rules aimed at protecting consumers’ online data from Internet providers. Once the House passes the measure, and the president signs it, it will be vastly easier for broadband companies to sell and share your personal usage information for advertising purposes.
Trump speaks to the press, flanked by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, on Friday. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
— He can’t pass legislation to repeal Obamacare, but Trump is weakening the pillars of the health care system from the inside so that he can blame Democrats for future problems. Although Paul Ryan acknowledged Friday that “Obamacare is the law of the land,” its survival or collapse in practical terms now rests with decisions that are in the president’s hands.
On his first night in office, the president directed federal agencies to ease the regulatory burden that the ACA has placed on consumers, the health-care industry and health-care providers. “So far, the main action stemming from that directive is a move by the Internal Revenue Service to process Americans’ tax refunds even if they fail to submit proof that they are insured, as the ACA requires,” Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin explain.
There are other steps the administration could take: “A major one would be to end cost-sharing subsidies the law provides to lower- and middle-income people with marketplace plans to help pay their deductibles and co-pays,” Amy and Juliet note. “Another question is how the administration will handle the next enrollment season for ACA health plans, which will begin in November. The end of the most recent season coincided with Trump’s first days in office, and the new administration yanked some advertising meant to encourage sign-ups. … While a set of federal essential health benefits, required of health plans sold to individuals and small businesses, will now remain in law, federal health officials could narrow what they require, limiting prescription drugs, for instance, or the number of visits allowed for mental-health treatment or physical therapy. … The administration also could take advantage of a part of the ACA that, starting this year, lets health officials give states broad latitude to carry out the law’s goals.”
Trump visits Michigan, along with EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, to announce that he will roll back fuel efficiency standards because automakers don’t like them. (Evan Vucci/AP)
— Personnel is policy, and Trump has appointed several people who openly oppose the missions of the agencies they lead. “If you look at these Cabinet nominees, they were selected for a reason, and that is deconstruction,” Bannon explained at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Scott Pruitt, for example, spent six years suing the Environmental Protection Agency as Oklahoma’s attorney general. Now he’s running it. He’s already done a great deal to narrow the scope of the agency’s mission and halted inquiries launched by his predecessor. Soon after getting confirmed, for instance, he told operators of oil and gas wells that they could ignore the agency’s previous requests for information about their equipment’s emissions of methane.
Now the White House is taking active steps to starve the bureaucracy of its lifeblood: money and staff. He called for slashing the EPA’s budget by 31 percent, the biggest cut of any federal agency, in addition to eliminating a fifth of its workforce. Efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes are among the more than 50 programs that would be eliminated. (Denise Luo and Tim Meko prepared several visualizations of the impacts such cuts would have on the environment.)
— Sometimes who you don’t hire is just as important as who you do. Trump recently told Fox News that he will not fill all the vacancies he’s entitled to. He explained that not moving to populate the cabinet departments is a feature, not a bug, of his administration. “When I see a story about ‘Donald Trump didn’t fill hundreds and hundreds of jobs,’ it’s because, in many cases, we don’t want to fill those jobs,” the president acknowledged. “Many of those jobs I don’t want to fill.” Those unstaffed jobs will be chokepoints to block action by the administrative state.
Billionaire Robert Mercer speaks on the phone during a conference on climate change last week hosted by The Heartland Institute in D.C. (Photo by Oliver Contreras/For The Washington Post)
— Trump’s biggest donors, who have been briefed on his theory of the case, are giving him a very long leash because they are playing the long game. “The atmosphere was buoyant at a conference held by the conservative Heartland Institute last week at a downtown Washington hotel, where speakers denounced climate science as rigged and jubilantly touted deep cuts Trump is seeking to make to the Environmental Protection Agency,” Matea Gold and Chris Mooney report. “Front and center during the two-day gathering were New York hedge fund executive Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah Mercer, Republican mega-donors who with their former political adviser (Bannon) helped finance an alternative media ecosystem that amplified Trump’s populist themes during last year’s campaign.”
The Heartland Institute embraces views that have long been considered outlier positions by the scientific community. In 2012, the group paid for a Chicago billboard that read, “I still believe in Global Warming. Do you?” alongside a picture of Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber. The Mercers have given this group more than $5 million in recent years.
Half a dozen Trump transition officials and administration advisers attended the gathering, including Myron Ebell, director of energy and global warming policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who headed Trump’s EPA transition team. Ebell, who disputes the scientific consensus that humans are driving the warming of the planet, received Heartland’s “Speaks Truth to Power Award.”
“Many of the people who are now prominent in the Trump administration attended our conferences, even spoke at our conferences, read our publications,” Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast told The Post. “I think we’re seeing the fruit of a decade of hard work on this issue.”
Matt Schlapp, Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus leave the stage after their discussion at the Conservative Political Action Conference last month. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
— Most importantly of all, Neil Gorsuch is poised to secure a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court. Bannon said the president has chosen his appointees with the deconstruction of the administrative state in mind. Nowhere is that more obvious than on the high court.
It is notable that Bannon made his declaration of “deconstruction” during a Q&A with Matt Schlapp, president of the American Conservative Union. Gorsuch, a political operator whose mom ran the EPA under Ronald Reagan, wrote an email to Schlapp right after the 2004 election. He had just volunteered to help George W. Bush in Ohio. “What a magnificent result for the country,” Gorsuch told Schlapp, who was Bush’s political director. “For me personally, the experience was invigorating and a great deal of fun. … While I’ve spent considerable time trying to help the cause on a volunteer basis in various roles, I concluded that I’d really like to be a full-time member of the team.” Gorsuch sent Schlapp a list of jobs he’d be “competent to handle.” He wound up getting a plum appointment in the Justice Department, and then Bush appointed him to the 10th Circuit.
Neil Gorsuch listens during his confirmation hearing before the Judiciary Committee. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)
From the bench, Gorsuch has dependably advanced “the cause.” The most distinctive part of his jurisprudence, which helped ensure his spot on every conservative group’s shortlist, is his opposition to what’s called “Chevron deference.” In 1984, the Supreme Court ruled that judges should generally defer to administrative agencies’ interpretations of federal law in cases where the law may be “ambiguous” and the agency’s position seems “reasonable.” Even Antonin Scalia bought into this standard. But Gorsuch denounces it as “a judge-made doctrine for the abdication of the judicial duty.”
This is one of the reasons Republicans are willing to use the nuclear option, changing the rules of the Senate, to get him confirmed with fewer than 60 votes. They are confident he will facilitate a major rollback of the regulatory state over the next 30 to 40 years, which would be a major part of Trump’s legacy as president.
Progressive outside groups may come to regret not organizing more in opposition to Gorsuch. Betsy DeVos will have only a very small fraction of the impact that Gorsuch will on the trajectory of this country, yet the liberal grassroots mobilized against her nomination to be secretary of education by what felt like a factor of 10. There were literally empty seats at the back of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing room last week.
Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy doubles in two runs against the Astros during a spring training game on Sunday. (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)
— Good morning from West Palm Beach, Florida. I flew down yesterday to meet my dad for spring training. We saw the Nationals play the Astros and are about to get on the road for Port St. Lucie to see them play the Mets this afternoon. The home opener at Nats Park, one of my favorite days of the year, is one week from today.
— Happening Tuesday at 9 a.m.: “The 202 Live” with Tom Perez. The DNC chair, who was secretary of labor and head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under Obama, will discuss his plans for the Democratic National Committee, as well as how the party can reclaim power in upcoming elections. Dan Balz, The Post’s chief correspondent, will fill in as guest host for the program. Register here.
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
Dmitry Medvedev, prime minister of Russia, walks with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., as he arrives at Dulles for the G8 Summit in 2012. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
— Senate Intelligence Committee investigators are planning to question Jared Kushner about the meetings he arranged with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, as part of their broader inquiry into links between Trump associates and the Russian government. The New York Times’ Jo Becker, Matthew Rosenberg and Maggie Haberman report: “The meetings included a previously unreported sit-down with the head of Russia’s state-owned development bank. Until now, the White House had acknowledged only an early December meeting between Mr. Kislyak and Mr. Kushner, which occurred at Trump Tower and was also attended by Michael T. Flynn … Later that month, though, Mr. Kislyak requested a second meeting, which Mr. Kushner asked a deputy to attend in his stead. At Mr. Kislyak’s request, Mr. Kushner later met with Sergey N. Gorkov, the chief of Vnesheconombank, which the United States placed on its sanctions list after [Putin] annexed Crimea and began meddling in Ukraine. A White House spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, confirmed those meetings, saying in an interview that nothing of consequence was discussed and that they went nowhere.”
Jim Mattis stands next to Iraqi Minister of Defense Arfan al-Hayali at a press conference in Baghdad. (EPA/Tech. Sgt. Brigette Brantley)
ESCALATION IN THE MIDDLE EAST:
— Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has asked the White House to lift Obama-era restrictions on U.S. military support for Persian Gulf states engaged in a protracted civil war against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Karen DeYoung and Missy Ryan report: “In a memo this month to national security adviser H.R. McMaster, Mattis said that ‘limited support’ for Yemen operations being conducted by Saudi Arabia and the UAE — including a planned Emirati offensive to retake a key Red Sea port — would help combat a ‘common threat.’ Approval of the request would mark a significant policy shift[:] U.S. military activity in Yemen until now has been confined mainly to counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda’s affiliate there … It would also be a clear signal of the administration’s intention to move more aggressively against Iran. The Trump White House, in far stronger terms than its predecessor, has echoed Saudi and Emirati charges that Iran is training, arming and directing the Shiite Houthis in a proxy war to increase its regional clout against the Gulf’s Sunni monarchies…
“But the immediate question, addressed by Mattis’s memo and tentatively slated to come before the principals committee of senior national security aides this week, is whether to provide support for a proposed UAE-led operation to push the Houthis from the port of Hodeida, through which humanitarian aid and rebel supplies pass. A similar Emirati proposal … was rejected late last year by the Obama administration, on the grounds that Emirati ships and warplanes, U.S. Special Operations forces and Yemeni government troops were unlikely to succeed in dislodging the entrenched, well-armed rebels and could worsen the humanitarian situation.”
Local volunteers carry the bodies of civilians found in the rubble of a building in Mosul. (Photo by Alice Martins for The Washington Post)
— The U.S. military acknowledged for the first time over the weekend that it launched an airstrike against ISIS in Mosul, where residents say more than 100 civilians were killed. (Missy Ryan and Loveday Morris)
— Hamas closed its only civilian border crossing with Israel Sunday amid rising tensions after the mysterious killing of a senior Hamas operative, who was shot in the garage of his home. Hamas has accused Israel of being behind the killing of the officer, who served nine years in an Israeli prison for his part in planning suicide bombings that killed dozens of Israeli civilians. Tensions have quickly ricocheted to their highest levels since 2014. (Ruth Eglash and Hazem Balousha)
— Nature abhors a vacuum. Key U.S. allies are nervous about Trump’s isolationist rhetoric. They don’t feel like they can trust America’s security guarantee the way they could in the past. Anna Fifield reports this morning on an influential group of Japanese politicians who are seeking a stronger military response from Tokyo to North Korea, making the case that the pacifist country should acquire the ability to strike Pyongyang instead of having to rely on Washington. “Japan can’t just wait until it’s destroyed,” said one politician who supports the idea. “It’s legally possible for Japan to strike an enemy base that’s launching a missile at us, but we don’t have the equipment or the capability.”
Injured people are assisted after last week’s attack on London. (Toby Melville/Reuters)
GET SMART FAST:
- British security officials said the Westminster Bridge attacker sent an encrypted WhatsApp message just minutes before carrying out his deadly attack – prompting a contentious debate surrounding privacy rights on the Facebook-owned messaging service. Authorities pleaded with organizations that provide encrypted services to make their platforms accessible to intelligence services and police. “We need to make sure that organizations like WhatsApp — and there are plenty of others like that — don’t provide a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other,” said Home Secretary Amber Rudd. (AP)
- A United Airlines gate agent in Denver barred two women from boarding their flight because they were wearing leggings – citing the airline’s vaguely-stated dress code, which makes no mention of the popular stretchy pants. A third woman was forced to change her outfit before she was permitted to board the aircraft. (Luz Lazo)
- South Korean prosecutors asked the courts to issue a warrant to arrest former President Park Geun-hye for her role in a massive corruption and influence-peddling scandal that led to her impeachment earlier this month. Prosecutors – who grilled Park for 14 hours last week – told the judge they were concerned about Park destroying evidence. (Anna Fifield)
- Congolese rebels are believed to have recently beheaded more than 40 police officers, ramping up violence in the region after a series of clashes between local militia and government forces. The group is also suspected of having kidnapped an American man, a Swedish woman and four Congolese citizens who were working with the U.N. to investigate the violence. (Max Bearak)
- Eight Japanese high school students are presumed dead after being engulfed in an avalanche while on a mountain climbing outing at a ski resort. Some 40 others were also injured. (AP)
- The Final Four is set. North Carolina beat Kentucky 75-73 and will play Oregon. South Carolina beat Florida 77-70 and will play Gonzaga. Both games are Saturday night.
- The U.S. men’s hockey team is reportedly considering boycotting the world championships in solidarity with the women’s team, whose members are currently embroiled in a wage dispute with USA Hockey. (Scott Allen)
- Despite Republican assurances that North Carolina’s “bathroom bill” isn’t hurting the economy, the law limiting LGBT protections will cost the state more than $3.76 billion in lost business over a dozen years, according to an Associated Press analysis. North Carolina could lose hundreds of millions more because the NCAA is avoiding the state.
- One person was killed and another fifteen were injured after gunfire erupted at a Cincinnati nightclub. Police have ruled out the possibility of a terrorist attack, saying the deadly exchange first began as an argument among several men. No arrests have been made, and authorities said they still do not know who the shooters are or whether they were injured in the exchange. (Kristine Phillips)
- The mayor of Louisville has asked the FBI to investigate its police department, after a former participant in a Boy Scouts-affiliated apprentice program said he was sexually abused by officers while they were working with him. The accuser said he was raped and assaulted over a several-year period, and alleged that top department officials — including the police chief and the head of internal affairs — knew about and covered up the assaults. (James Higdon)
- Police officers in Huntington Beach, Calif., had to intervene after a group of Trump protesters crashed an otherwise-peaceful rally supporting the president, prompting a violent scuffle that culminated when one man bashed another over the head with a “Make America Great Again” sign. (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)
- A Georgia couple is suing the state in order to name their daughter “Allah.” Experts say the case hinges on arcane legalities of birth certificates, which could lead to far-reaching changes in the “bizarre legal universe” that determines who is allowed to name a baby what. (Avi Selk)
- A group of veggie-studying scientists are giving the term “heart-healthy” a whole new meaning: they’re using spinach to grow human heart cells that beat. They’re taking advantage of the plant’s vascular network to deliver blood, oxygen and nutrients to grow muscular tissue. In early tests, heart cells were able to beat for nearly a month in the unusual environment! (Ben Guarino)
- A homicide detective has used new scientific information to break open perhaps the “coldest” homicide case of all – the death of Iceman, a mummified man who was killed more than 5,000 years ago. (New York Times)
Protesters gather at Marsivo Field in St.Petersburg, Russia. (AP/Dmitri Lovetsky)
VLADIMIR PUTIN IS ONE BAD HOMBRE:
— Russian police arrested opposition leader Alexei Navalny and hundreds of protesters across the country on Sunday, as thousands gathered to protest corruption in Putin’s government and to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. It was the largest national show of defiance in years. David Filipov reports: “Too angry to be cowed, [demonstrators] poured into the street, fed up with their country’s wide-reaching corruption and a government unwilling, or unable, to stop it. Police responded with barricades, tear gas and mass arrests in cities across Russia. One of the first detained in Moscow was [Navalny] …who called on people to protest in the wake of his allegations that Medvedev has amassed vineyards, luxury yachts and lavish mansions worth more than $1 billion.”
“This is all about corruption. Everyone here knows that all of our leaders are thieves,” said one protester, who wanted to take out a poster but feared arrest. Russian officials had sought to tamp demonstrations before they began, with one senior Russian police official warning Friday that authorities would “bear no responsibility for any possible negative consequences” for people who did show up. Putin’s spokesman said that even telling people to come to the rallies was “illegal.”
“One of Navalny’s associates tweeted that he was told he could face charges of extremism for broadcasting the rally. If that is the case, a lot of people are going to be in trouble: Thousands of iPhones recorded as police closed off central Moscow’s Pushkin Square, lined major streets and hauled anyone carrying signs into large buses. By Sunday evening, riot police in body armor and helmets had hauled in more than 700 demonstrators in central Moscow, as the crowd, numbering in the tens of thousands, cheered, whistled and chanted, ‘Shame! Shame!’”
— The State Department condemned Russia’s handling of the protesters on Sunday, calling it “an affront to core democratic values”: “The United States strongly condemns the detention of hundreds of peaceful protesters throughout Russia on Sunday,” said spokesman Mark Toner. “Detaining peaceful protesters, human rights observers, and journalists is an affront to core democratic values. We were troubled to hear of the arrest of opposition figure Alexei Navalny … as well as the police raids on the anti-corruption organization he heads.” The White House has not yet spoken out against the attacks. (Politico)
The State Department’s remarks came hours after Sen. Ben Sasse released a statement questioning why U.S. leaders were not commenting on the matter: Americans “expect our leaders to call out thugs who trample the basic human rights of speech, press, assembly, and protest,” the Nebraska Republican said.
— Here are some unforgettable scenes from the demonstrations:
From The Guardian’s Moscow correspondent, who was detained in the protests:
— Alec Luhn (@ASLuhn) March 26, 2017
(Alex Luhn/The Guardian)
— Alec Luhn (@ASLuhn) March 26, 2017
(Alec Luhn/The Guardian)
— And Russian state media ignored the demonstrations:
State channel Vesti on why it ignored huge protests yesterday-“An ordinary crush of people formed for a few hours & fizzled out. What news?” pic.twitter.com/DBCEQB58LX
— Alec Luhn (@ASLuhn) March 27, 2017
— Far-right French presidential candidate Marine LePen, who visited the Kremlin on Friday and whose party has reportedly received financing from Russian banks, said at a rally Sunday that the European Union will “disappear” if she wins, seeking to fire up her supporters in the final month before the country’s election. “The European Union will die because the people do not want it anymore … arrogant and hegemonic empires are destined to perish,” Le Pen said to loud cheers and applause. This is exactly what Putin wants, of course. Meanwhile, a Bloomberg Politics composite of French polls show independent candidate Emmanuel Macron holding an edge that is now well within the margin of error — with 26 percent of the vote compared with 25 percent for Le Pen. Republican Francois Fillon, meanwhile, remains in third place with 17.5 percent. (Reuters)
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes speaks to journalists on Friday at the Capitol. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)
THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
— “Chairman and partisan: The dual roles of Devin Nunes raise questions about House investigation,” by Greg Miller and Karoun Demirjian: “[The House Intelligence Committee chairman] was on his way to an event in Washington late Tuesday when the evening’s plans abruptly changed. After taking a brief phone call, [Nunes] swapped cars and slipped away from his staff, congressional officials said. He appears to have used that unaccounted-for stretch of time to review classified intelligence files brought to his attention by sources he has said he will not name. The next morning, Nunes stepped up to a set of microphones in the Capitol complex to declare that he had learned that U.S. spy agencies had ‘incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition.’ Nunes has said he is committed to leading an impartial inquiry into Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election. But [he has] also at times used his position as chair of the intelligence committee in ways that seem aligned with the interests of the White House.”
Ranking committee Democrat Adam Schiff implied that he suspects a White House hand in what he called Nunes’s “dead-of-night excursion” to view classified documents. But to review classified files lawfully, Nunes would likely have needed to do so at a secure facility – and congressional officials said that the Director of National Intelligence, the FBI and the NSA have all indicated they got no late-night visit from Nunes. Nunes has repeatedly refused to say where he went or whether the documents were provided by the White House, including when confronted by committee members during a closed-door meeting. And Sean Spicer has also refused to rule out a White House role: “I don’t know where he got the documents from, so I can’t say anything more than ‘I don’t know,’” he said during Friday’s press briefing.
Tuesday had the potential to be another jaw-dropping day on Capitol Hill, until Nunes intervened to help out Trump. He had invited top Obama national security officials — such as former director of national intelligence James Clapper, former CIA director John Brennan and former deputy attorney general Sally Yates — to testify in a rare public hearing. Then he abruptly canceled it.
— White House aide Boris Epshteyn, who grew up in Moscow and got into the president’s orbit because he was college buddies with Eric Trump, is being moved to a less high profile, public-facing position. “Epshteyn – who in his official role was responsible for overseeing the appearances of all White House officials on television — had rankled television producers and irritated guests in green rooms,” Abby Phillip reports.
Ted Poe speaks to reporters. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
CONGRESS LOOKS AHEAD:
— Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) resigned from the House Freedom Caucus on Sunday, citing the group’s opposition to the health care bill. “In order to deliver on the conservative agenda we have promised the American people for eight years, we must come together to find solutions to move this country forward,” Poe said in a statement. “Saying no is easy, leading is hard, but that is what we were elected to do.” His remarks come just hours after Trump tweeted that Freedom Caucus have helped “save Planned Parenthood” and Obamacare by opposing the bill. (Amber Phillips)
— New York Times A1 –> “Picking themselves up after the bruising collapse of their health care plan, [Trump and GOP lawmakers] will start this week on a legislative obstacle course that will be even more arduous: the first overhaul of the tax code in three decades.” Alan Rappeport reports: “Mr. Trump’s inability to make good on his promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act has made the already daunting challenge of tax reform even more difficult. Not only has Mr. Trump’s aura of political invincibility been shattered, but without killing the Affordable Care Act, Republicans will be unable to rewrite the tax code in the sweeping fashion that the president has called for. The grand plans of lower rates, fewer loopholes and a tax on imports may have to be scaled back to a big corporate tax cut and possibly an individual tax cut. If Republicans intend to act again without the help of Democrats, they will need to use a procedure called budget reconciliation to have the Senate pass tax legislation with a simple majority. Eliminating the $1 trillion of Affordable Care Act taxes and the federal spending associated with that law would have made this easier. Because they failed, Republicans will struggle to reach their goal of cutting corporate tax rates without piling on debt. [And] under pressure to get something done, some Republican deficit hawks appear ready to abandon the fiscal rectitude that they embraced during the Obama administration to help salvage Mr. Trump’s agenda.”
— Awkward: American Action Network ran a series of ads thanking Republican members of Congress for replacing Obamacare after the bill fell apart. Local ads praised Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) for “keeping her promise and replacing the Affordable Care Act.” Similar commercials thanked aired to thank Reps. David Young (R-Iowa), David Valadao (R-Calif.) and Will Hurd (R-Tex.). (Samantha Schmidt)
Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner arrive before a press conference at the White House. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
THE FAMILY BUSINESS:
— Stat du jour: Trump has visited a Trump property one out of every three days he has been president, the equivalent of three weeks of his just-over-nine week tenure as commander in chief. (Philip Bump has a breakdown of all his visits here.)
— Ivanka, who now has an office of her own in the West Wing, is back from a week-long vacation. She will travel to Germany for an economic summit focused on women’s financial empowerment. The White House says Angela Merkel invited her. Catherine Lucey reports: “The W20 summit, a women-focused effort within the Group of 20 countries, will be held in Berlin in late April. Trump’s plans are still being worked out, but she hopes to study successful apprenticeship programs during her visit. The meeting marked the second time foreign leaders reached out to Ivanka to coordinate an economic conversation. During Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit last month, she helped organize a meeting on economic development opportunities for women. That came together at the suggestion of Trudeau’s office.”
— Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, whose committee was responsible for half of the now-defunct health care legislation, announced Friday that the panel would mark up a “resolution of inquiry” into Trump’s tax returns and “other specified information.” But the request is not by choice – Roll Call reports that the vote is being forced by Democrats under a procedural tool that requires either the resolution be marked up by the committee, or the minority can bring it up on the floor.
John Kasich leaves the White House after a meeting with the president. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
SUNDAY SHOW HIGHLIGHTS:
— John Kasich said he will not challenge Trump for the presidency in 2020: “Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, no,” the Ohio governor said on CNN. “So, you’re not running for political office again?” host Dana Bash pressed. “You’re not going to run for president?” “I don’t see it, Dana,” he responded. “I mean, look, I have got other things I have to do. I don’t see it. You don’t close the door on anything, but I have ― I don’t have my eyes on that.” He added: “I don’t intend to go away, I hate to tell you … For those that want me to go away, I’m not going away.”
— Trump shifted blame for his health care collapse to the right on Sunday, shifting culpability to conservative interest groups and Freedom Caucus members after initially faulting Democrats. Sean Sullivan, John Wagner and Amber Phillips report: “His attack [starting with a Sunday morning tweet], marked a new turn in the increasingly troubled relationship between the White House and a divided GOP still adjusting to its unorthodox standard-bearer. And the tweet served as a warning shot, with battles still to come on issues such as taxes and infrastructure that threaten to further expose Republican fractures, that Trump will not hesitate to apply public pressure on those in his party he views as standing in the way.”
The president’s attack had all the hallmarks of a coordinated effort:
- First came Trump’s tweet, sent out right before the Sunday news shows: “Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club For Growth and Heritage, have saved Planned Parenthood & Ocare!” he wrote.
- Within the hour, Reince Priebus appeared on TV to echo Trump’s sentiments – placing blame on the shoulders of the Freedom Caucus and the moderate Tuesday Group, and suggesting that the administration may start simply looking past the GOP majority and try forging more consensus with moderate Democrats in future legislative battles. “We can’t be chasing the perfect all the time,” Priebus said on Fox News Sunday.” “I mean, sometimes you have to take the good and put it in your pocket and take the win.”
- On Saturday night, Trump encouraged his millions of Twitter followers to watch Fox News Channel host Jeanine Pirro, who said during her program that Ryan should resign as speaker. Ryan presided over a failed effort that allowed “our president in his first 100 days to come out of the box like that,” she said.
— But OMB director Mick Mulvaney was at a loss to explain why so many of members of Trump’s party were not prepared to vote for the health care bill. Still, he said that conservatives were not the only ones to blame: “It was a bizarre combination of who was against this bill, some folks in the Freedom Caucus and then moderates on the other end of our spectrum,” he said on “Meet the Press.”
— Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said he will not protest if tax cuts are not offset by new spending cuts or new streams of revenue in tax reform, a rare shift from the leader of the House Freedom Caucus. “I think there’s a lot of flexibility in terms of some of my contacts and conservatives in terms of not making it totally offset,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.” “Does it have to be fully offset? My personal response is no.”
— Bernie Sanders warned Republican lawmakers against invoking the “nuclear” option to confirm Gorsuch, calling on his GOP colleagues to keep existing rules in place that allow for a filibuster. “I certainly hope that the Republicans do not change the rules in order to push Gorsuch through,” the Vermont senator said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” His remarks come just one day after Mike Pence warned Democrats about blocking Trump’s nominee during a speech in West Virginia, saying he and Trump are “confident” that the Senate “will confirm Judge Gorsuch one way or the other.”
WEST WING INTRIGUE:
— As the Trump agenda stalls, the blame game being played out inside the White House is intensifying – with recriminations that extend far beyond last week’s health care implosion. Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reports: “Senior aides are lashing each other over their inability to stem a never-ending tide of negative stories about the president. There is second-guessing of the RNC’s efforts to mobilize Trump’s electoral coalition on behalf of his legislative priorities. At the EPA, a top official quit recently amid accusations the department is failing to advance the president’s campaign promises. And one of Trump’s most generous benefactors, Rebekah Mercer, has expressed frustration over the direction of the administration. [Trump aides and confidantes] … described a distracting and toxic atmosphere, with warring power centers blaming one another for an ever-growing list of setbacks. The dysfunction has further paralyzed an administration struggling to deliver on its blunt promises of wholesale change. The environment, many Trump aides are convinced, has been created by the president himself … As Trump’s health care plan ran into problems, he found ways to divert blame — sometimes turning on his own staff.”
— “Internal White House battles spill into Treasury,” by Politico’s Ben White and Nancy Cook: “The fight for the direction of [Trump’s] presidency between the Goldman Sachs branch of the West Wing and hardcore conservatives is spilling into the Treasury Department, threatening Trump’s next agenda item of overhauling the tax code. Conservatives inside and outside Treasury say the new secretary, [former Goldman banker] Steven Mnuchin … is assembling a team that is too liberal and too detached from the core of Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ platform of ripping up trade deals, gutting the Dodd-Frank banking rules and generally rejecting ‘globalism’ in all its forms. The ideological divide has been brewing for weeks inside the White House as a result of appointing a raft of top advisers with radically different worldviews. The battle at Treasury is simply an extension of that brutal fight.”
— The Juice: “When longtime friends and associates of [Trump] want to reach him, they don’t go directly to the White House. Instead, they call the woman who’s been the gatekeeper at Trump Tower for a quarter century: Rhona Graff.” Politico’s Tara Palmeri reports: “Since Trump took office in January, Graff has become a conduit for those who want to quietly offer advice, make personnel suggestions or get on the president’s calendar when he’s at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. Some of the calls are just a matter of habit for people who have dealt with Graff for decades — but some see her as a way to get around White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and others surrounding Trump in Washington. Roger Stone … described Graff as a favored point of contact for ‘anyone who thinks the system in Washington will block their access.’ The list includes investor Ken Langone and Hank Greenberg, the chairman & CEO of CV Starr whose assistant recently went to Graff about trying to set up a lunch with Trump …” “If I really wanted to whisper something in his ear, I would probably go to Rhona,” said New York grocery billionaire John Catsimatidis.
Barack Obama leaves the National Gallery of Art on March 5. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)
— “Two months out of office, Barack Obama is having a post-presidency like no other,” by Krissah Thompson and Juliet Eilperin: “So far, Obama is … keeping things low-key, despite clamoring from Democrats for him to do more. … Obama is delegating political work to associates — notably former attorney general Eric Holder, whom he has tapped to lead the redistricting project that aims to help Democrats redraw legislative maps … [And] his first major speech as a private citizen will come in May, when he will be awarded a [JFK] Profile in Courage Award as part of a celebration of Kennedy’s centennial. [But] unlike other former first couples, the Obamas do not necessarily have to take to a podium to make a statement. They know their every public movement is plumbed for meaning … To escape the spotlight, the Obamas have taken multiple vacations since leaving the White House — to Palm Springs, the Caribbean and Hawaii. After meeting with tech executives about his presidential center recently, Obama headed to Oahu, where he golfed with friends and dined at Buzz’s Lanikai steakhouse in Kailua. Three days later he jetted off in a Gulfstream G550 to Tetiaroa, a South Pacific island once owned by Marlon Brando. He plans an extended stay there to start writing his White House memoir. … Few believe the Obamas plan to stay in Washington beyond their daughter Sasha’s 2019 graduation from Sidwell Friends School.”
— “Are right-to-try laws a last hope for dying patients — or a false hope?” by Laurie McGinley: “Where’s Jordan?” asked [Mike] Pence as he walked into the White House meeting of terminally ill patients and their families. All eyes shifted, and Pence made a beeline for a 7-year-old boy from Indianapolis with a broad grin. Back home … Jordan McLinn and his battle with Duchenne muscular dystrophy had helped inspire passage of a state ‘right-to-try’ law intended to give the desperately ill access to medications not yet approved by the FDA. Thirty-three states have passed such laws, which ostensibly allow patients to take experimental medicines outside of clinical trials and without FDA oversight … But the increased momentum is raising alarms, with opponents saying that such laws largely offer false hope… The legislation … would forbid the federal government from interfering with the state laws and would exempt doctors and drug companies from liability for prescribing or providing experimental drugs. It also would limit the FDA in an unprecedented way: If a patient were injured or killed by an unapproved treatment under a right-to-try law, agency officials would not be allowed to use the information to delay or block approval of the treatment.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Ivanka Trump and her family visited the zoo:
Making some new friends in DC! pic.twitter.com/D7j4e0IUHW
— Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump) March 26, 2017
— “Veteran broadcast journalist Ted Koppel has long railed against news shows that wear their politics on their sleeves. And on Sunday, he pulled no punches with Sean Hannity. In a tense exchange on ‘CBS Sunday Morning,’ Koppel told the Fox News host and staunch [Trump supporter] that his brand of opinion-based journalism was harming the country.” Derek Hawkins reports.
“You’re cynical” Hannity said.
“I am cynical” Koppel responded.
“Do you think we’re bad for America? You think I’m bad for America?” Hannity asked.
Koppel didn’t miss a beat: “Yeah,” he said, continuing despite multiple interruptions from Hannity. He added: “You have attracted people who are determined that ideology is more important than facts.”
Hannity protested after CBS aired the back-and-forth:
I should thank @CBSNews for providing me the opportunity to unmask “The Anatomy of Edited Fake News!” Stay tuned…Hope David and Ben watch.
— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) March 26, 2017
— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) March 26, 2017
Funny behind the scenes After I answered the first question, Ted said “none of that will air”. So I kept saying “Ted u need to keep this in” https://t.co/137pQ8GfLC
— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) March 26, 2017
— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) March 26, 2017
Here’s how Democrats reacted to Friday’s health care vote:
Hey Republicans, don’t worry, that burn is covered under the Affordable Care Act
— Senator Bob Menendez (@SenatorMenendez) March 24, 2017
— Sean Patrick Maloney (@RepSeanMaloney) March 24, 2017
The mood swing inside the House GOP conference:
Thursday 8pm – cheering, vote!
Friday 3 pm – ???
— Deirdre Walsh (@deirdrewalshcnn) March 24, 2017
The internet reacted to the news that Huma Abedin is staying with husband Anthony Weiner. Here’s the lede from the New York Post:
— ilana kaplan (@lanikaps) March 26, 2017
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
— Washingtonian, “Mary Katharine Ham Is Not Here to Entertain You,” by Elaina Plott: “The right-wing pundit doesn’t much care about shock value or tossing red meat to the base—yet somehow she’s more popular than ever. How she managed to scale the ranks of Washington media while grieving the death of her liberal-activist husband.”
— Buzzfeed, “Donald Trump And America’s National Nervous Breakdown,” by Katherine Miller: “Trump’s presidency currently poses a fundamental question for each person: Is this overall moment weird but ephemeral, maybe not so bad — or is it an emergency? Given the current level of uncertainty (does Trump really mean X?) and the sheer volume of incoming information (what will Trump do tomorrow?), each day demands your judgment. Is this normal? Is this normal? Is this normal? And why are we living this emotionally fraught, all-consuming, fluid yet didactic, meta argument over how to act or think about each day?”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“Trump supporter thought president would only deport ‘bad hombres.’ Instead, her husband is being deported,” from Peter Holley: “When Helen Beristain told her husband she was voting for Donald Trump last year, he warned her that the Republican nominee planned to ‘get rid of the Mexicans.’ Defending her vote, Helen quoted Trump directly, noting that the tough-talking Republican said he would only kick the ‘bad hombres’ out of the country … Months later, Roberto Beristain — a successful businessman, respected member of his Indiana town and father of three American-born children — languishes in a detention facility with hardened criminals as he awaits his deportation back to Mexico, the country he left in 1998 when he entered the United States illegally. Supporters say the 43-year-old has never broken the law and doesn’t have so much as a parking ticket on his record. ‘I wish I didn’t vote at all,’ Helen Beristain told the Tribune. ‘I did it for the economy. We needed a change.’”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“Mother Claims Her Four-Year-Old Was Suspended for Bringing a Shell Casing to School,” from National Review: “[A] preschool in Illinois suspended a four-year-old boy for a week because he brought a spent shell casing to school, according to a Facebook post by the boy’s mother. The mother, Kristy Jackson, explained that her son had been learning about gun safety from his police-officer grandfather over the weekend and must have picked up the casing on the floor and brought it to school without her knowing. ‘I was handed a piece of paper,’ Jackson wrote. ‘No words, just eyebrows raised in disgust at my son, explaining that his behavior warranted a 7 school day suspension.’ (Note: According to Jackson, the officials at the school … had initially told her that her son had brought a bullet to school …) According to Fox 2, the school’s vice principal later e-mailed Jackson to inform her that he was planning to contact the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services in the wake of the incident.”
At the White House: Trump will hold roundtable discussions with women who own small businesses. Later, he will have lunch with Mike Pence and Rex Tillerson before signing bills. Pence will join Trump in the small business roundtable, before the two dine with Rex Tillerson. Later in the day, he will join Trump as he signs bill.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Robert Draper interviewed Trump for a cover story in next week’s New York Times magazine: “When I spoke with Trump, I ventured that, based on available evidence, it seemed as though conservatives probably shouldn’t hold their breath for the next four years expecting entitlement reform. Trump’s reply was immediate. “I think you’re right,” he said. In fact, Trump seemed much less animated by the subject of budget cuts than the subject of spending increases. “We’re also going to prime the pump,” he said. “You know what I mean by ‘prime the pump’? In order to get (the economy) ‘going, and going big league, and having the jobs coming in and the taxes that will be cut very substantially and the regulations that’ll be going, we’re going to have to prime the pump to some extent. In other words: Spend money to make a lot more money in the future. And that’ll happen.’ A clearer elucidation of Keynesian liberalism could not have been delivered by Obama.”
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
— A beautiful day of 70-degree weather – but get outside while you can, because it’s not here to stay. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Dense fog this morning means less than quarter mile visibility at times especially early in the morning commute. A warm front brings back the balmy air mass that was in place Saturday. That means temperatures return to the 70s in the afternoon — although the morning may remain cool and clammy, at least early on. Skies are mostly cloudy and we can’t rule out a stray shower or thundershower, but most of us should stay dry.”
— Lawmakers in Maryland are rushing to pass a package of opioid bills in the final weeks of the legislative session, introducing at least 30 bills aimed at combatting a ballooning drug crisis that, according to a Post-University of Maryland Poll, touches one in three state residents. Two of the most sweeping measures are expected to come up for floor votes this week. (Josh Hicks)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Here’s how late-night hosts covered the health care flop:
And here’s Trump’s response to the vote:
Sean Spicer really wants you to know: This health care thing isn’t Trump’s fault:
This new body-camera footage shows an Illinois police officer taunting – and then punching – a teenager while responding to a domestic dispute call in Springfield.
Watch how a group of scientists are developing spinach leaves that could help grow human heart tissue:
Here’s a time lapse of the first-ever round-trip flight to the Southern Lights:
Trump used to loudly criticize his predecessor for golfing too much — but now, the White House has been forced to defend his own frequent outings:
Former vice president Joe Biden discussed his decision not to run for president in 2016, telling an audience at Colgate University that he believes he could have won. “Do I regret not being president? Yes,” he said.