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Surrounded by Democratic leadership and laughing about a President Donald Trump comment, House Democratic Minority Leaders Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) spoke to journalists after the failure of the GOP health-care plan on March 24, 2017. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

With Breanne Deppisch

THE BIG IDEA is by David Weigel. James will be back on Monday:

A specter is haunting Republican candidates: The specter of Nancy Pelosi. Six-and-a-half years after the party wiped out the Democrats’ House majority, the 77-year old Californian has become the only constant in Republican campaign ads. Last week, in Kansas, Democrats fell seven points short of an upset in a House race; this week, in Georgia, Democrats won the first round of a congressional race that they hoped to win outright.

In both cases, Republican voters were woken up with images of Pelosi the way a hero in a B-movie is woken up by a bucket of water being thrown at his face. The National Republican Congressional Committee’s ads in Kansas tied Democrat James Thompson to Pelosi’s agenda of “higher taxes” and “Obamacare.” The Congressional Leadership Fund’s ads in Georgia painted Democrat Jon Ossoff as a Pelosi enabler, too.     

And a mailer from the Georgia Republican Party slapped Pelosi on its mailers, next to Hillary Clinton, with the dark slogan “They’re still looking for a win.”

Victory has a thousand fathers, and in their post-game analysis, Republicans say their strategies have been flawless. The CLF, said executive director Corry Bliss, will “continue to make sure Georgia voters know that [Ossoff] is nothing more than a liberal rubber stamp for Nancy Pelosi’s failed agenda.”

There are a few ways to look at this:

  1. Democrats, instead of giving their party a fresh start for 2018, re-elected a leader who remains deeply unpopular among Republicans. 
  2. The potency of attacking Pelosi has been fading lately. 
  3. Three: It’s striking that the campaigns to bail out Republicans this year have focused so little on what Republicans would do in office, and so much on the tribalism of beating Democrats.

Let’s start with the Democrats. Pelosi had them over a barrel in November 2016. Having considered whether to retire after what she and almost every other Democrat expected to be Hillary Clinton’s victory, she stuck around and easily defeated Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) for an eighth term as leader.

In the short run, this was obviously a boon for Republicans. Pelosi has been well-known since 2006 and unpopular since 2009. In the new Harvard/Harris poll, Pelosi is saddled with a net negative favorable rating of 17 points, or 31 to 48 favorable/unfavorable.

Democrats argue that the focus on Pelosi is missing something – the unpopularity of Republicans. In the same new poll, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who has periodically received very favorable coverage, has a net negative favorable rating of 13 points, or 34 to 47.

“When they can’t win the public argument on the strength of their positions, Washington Republicans make the same tired, personal attacks,” said Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill. “They don’t work, but they have nothing else to talk about since their President is such an epic disaster, their agenda is non-existent, and their internal dysfunction continues to cripple them.”

Sure, “our leader is about as unpopular as yours” is not a gangbuster argument. But it’s worth looking at how Republicans have politicked Pelosi. In a memo from three weeks ago, the CLF told donors that it had stopped Jon Ossoff cold by branding him a rubber stamp for Pelosi.

“In just one week, Ossoff has stalled on the ballot, and most importantly, he is now underwater with more voters viewing him unfavorably (38% favorable, 47% unfavorable),” wrote Bliss. Three weeks later, Ossoff won 48 percent of the vote.

That suggests that Pelosi, once an anchor for Democrats, may in 2017 be more of a deflated bike tire – not ideal, but something they can move with. And that raises the question of what else Republicans may run on. In Kansas and Georgia, as the party fought to get out its base vote, the messaging was heavily negative with no mention of the Republicans’ Washington agenda.

In Kansas, Republican Ron Estes ran just one commercial touting his agenda, which he defined as “banning politicians from becoming lobbyists” and “ending special perks for elected officials.” Every other spot was negative; even a (much-derided) spot that portrayed him in waders, ready to “drain the swamp,” focused on how he was facing “liberal groups” allied with Pelosi.

In Georgia, Republicans were just as blank about what they’d do with power. Trump-backing GOP businessman Bob Gray said in his ads that voters needed “to drain the swamp.” Karen Handel, the Republican who made the run-off, mocked the glibness of that pitch with her own ad against “gimmicks.” But in it, she cited two accomplishments; when she balanced Fulton County’s budget, and when she “took on the Obama administration and won” on the state’s voter ID law.

There hasn’t been much about the Republican agenda in Congress. And that’s telling. Estes, who did little public campaigning, said he was not inclined to support the version of Obamacare repeal that died in the House. Handel, at the final debate before the April 18 election, also rejected the repeal bill, saying she wanted a plan that more closely resembled former Rep. Tom Price’s (R-Ga.) health care model, before he left to join the Trump administration.

According to every poll, Republican voters remain broadly supportive of the president. Issue-to-issue, they’re less supportive – and they have been flummoxed so far by the actions of the Republican Congress. No Republican has yet run and won as the candidate who’ll come to D.C. and help the president and speaker get things done. They’ve run harder on the promise never to let Pelosi back to power.

Can that last for 19 more months?

Political commentator/author Ann Coulter speaks onstage at The Comedy Central Roast of Rob Lowe at Sony Studios on August 27, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

— “Conservative firebrand Ann Coulter is vowing to go ahead with an appearance at the University of California at Berkeley next week despite a decision by officials to cancel her planned speech amid safety concerns after politically charged riots and violence in recent months.” William Wan reports: “It was unclear whether Coulter would follow through with her campus visit on April 27, but it would likely put security officials on high alert and spark another showdown in struggles over campus safety, student views and ideological openness.” “What are they going to do? Arrest me?” she said late Wednesday … adding that she “called their bluff” by agreeing to rules set by the university seeking to prevent violence. In a letter Wednesday, university officials said they made the decision to cancel Coulter’s appearance after assessing the violence that flared on campus in February in response to a planned speech from right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos – which earned national attention and forced university officials to put the campus on lockdown.”

“They can’t stop me,” Coulter told The Hollywood Reporter in an interview Wednesday. “I’m an American. I have constitutional rights.” 

Anti-government protesters in Caracas. (Frederico Parra/Getty) 

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Anti-government demonstrators poured into the streets of Caracas on Wednesday, clashing with riot police and national guard troops as they rallied against the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. The scene quickly erupted into violence and chaos, with officials firing plumes of tear gas at protesters. At least two people were shot dead by unidentified attackers. And some were seen scrambling down embankments into a badly-polluted river to escape. (Mariana Zuñiga and Nick Miroff)
  2. Middle Eastern airline Emirates cut its flights to the United States by 20 percent Wednesday, blaming a drop in demand on tougher U.S. security measures and the Trump administration’s attempts at a travel ban.The airline’s decision comes as the strongest sign yet that the newly-implemented travel measures could be taking a financial toll on fast-growing Gulf carriers. (AP)
  3. The Secret Service said it will further restrict public access to areas around the White House, moving to bolster perimeter security one month after a mace-carrying intruder scaled the White House fence and briefly roamed its grounds, uninterrupted. (Mark Berman)
  4. Jeb Bush is joining forces with Derek Jeter in his bid to buy the Miami Marlins, forming an alliance with the former Yankees star and former competing bidder as they seek to acquire the team from current owner Jeffrey Loria. Bids for the Marlins were due last week and offers range from $1.2 billion to $1.3 billion. (Miami Herald)
  5. Women who take antidepressants early in pregnancy are not at a higher risk of having children who develop autism or ADHD, according to a newly-published study of more than 1.5 million children. The report comes as an important reversal from previous studies. (Jia Naqvi)
  6. A 10-year-old autistic boy was arrested at his Florida school for an event that reportedly occurred in October – prompting outrage after video of his arrest went viral. In the footage, filmed by his mother, the boy is seen being placed into cuffs as he tells officers that he does “not want to be touched.” “Please don’t touch me,” he repeats, growing increasingly frantic as he is escorted by officers to a squad car. “I don’t know what’s going on, Mama!” he screamed. “I don’t understand.” Autism advocates said they have been in contact with the family, and could possibly call on the Justice Department and Education Department for further investigation. (Lindsey Bever)
  7. Drifts of floating waste that humans have dumped for years into the world’s oceans have migrated to the Arctic, scientists said – the result of strong ocean currents that have left an estimated 300 billion pieces of plastic waste submerged in the otherwise-pristine waters. (Chris Mooney)
  8. Starbucks on Wednesday released its Unicorn Frappuccino – a long-awaited, color-changing beverage that combines mango with “sour blue powder topping,” and, inexplicably, a bright neon hue. Though it was released to heavy fanfare, our resident food critic says it tastes like “sour birthday cake and shame.” (Maura Judkis)

Bill O’Reilly poses on set in New York. (AP/Richard Drew, File)

THE NO SPIN ZONE IS DEAD:

— Fox News ended its association with Bill O’Reilly on Wednesday, cutting ties with the chart-topping commentator and linchpin in the cable network’s rise as a powerful political player. In the end, his downfall was both “swift and steep,” coming less than a month after a string of sexual harassment complaints against him were revealed. Paul Farhi reports: “After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Bill O’Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel,” the network’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, said in a statement. Tucker Carlson, who currently hosts a 9 p.m. discussion program, will move to take over O’Reilly’s 8 p.m. slot.

O’Reilly stood by his denial of the allegations Wednesday, saying in a statement that his ousting was provoked by “completely unfounded claims.”  “But that is the unfortunate reality many of us in the public eye must live with today,” he continued. “I will always look back on my time at Fox with great pride in the unprecedented success we achieved and with my deepest gratitude to all my dedicated viewers. I wish only the best for Fox News Channel.” Representatives for O’Reilly said he received the news while awaiting his return flight from Italy, and, having monitored the failing negotiations during his trip, was “resigned” to the news. (Earlier, he spent the final moments of his vacation briefly meeting the pope in St. Peter’s Square, shaking hands with the religious leader whom he once lectured on immigration, the New York Times reports.)

— “The reactions to the news of O’Reilly’s departure were decidedly mixed in the newsroom,” Vanity Fair’s Sarah Ellison writes. “Some staffers cried. Others were elated. And the day was filled with an ominous tension as the elder Murdoch, the network’s C.E.O., moved from one closed-door meeting to another to inform on-air talent of their new jobs … The most unsettling feeling among some at Fox News, however, is that Wednesday’s events are only the beginning[:] ‘There’s more to come,’ [said] one Fox News insider …suggesting that there are more women with stories of harassment who have not come forward publicly.”

— O’Reilly “was the front-facing spokesman for the modern-day conservative movement, just as now-deposed Fox boss Roger Ailes was its behind-the-scenes architect,” CNN’s Chris Cillizza writes. “For the generation of conservatives who came into their political prime from the late 1990s through, well, today, O’Reilly was a North Star of sorts. He was a clear break from the intellectual stuffiness of Irving Kristol or William F. Buckley. He was a tough-talking populist, willing to stare down the so-called ‘mainstream media’ and skewer political correctness. What O’Reilly and Ailes built was something that not only succeeded beyond their wildest dreams financially speaking but also had a profound impact on how conservatives thought of themselves. Democrats became the party of Hollywood and elites … [while] Republicans were the ones fighting for the little guy who felt left behind and scolded by those very people.

“Trump was the logical endpoint of what O’Reilly and Ailes had begun together almost two decades prior … That [he] has risen to the nation’s highest office, even as O’Reilly and Ailes have fallen from grace, is the stuff of great fiction. But it should also serve as a reminder to detractors of the duo that their progeny is now the president of the United States.”

It may not be over. This, from New York magazine’s national affairs editor, this morning:

Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) is seen before a business meeting at the Rayburn House Office Building on Monday Feb. 13, 2017. (Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

HOUSE’S CHIEF INVESTIGATOR MOVES ON:

— House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz announced he will not seek reelection in 2018, stirring speculation that the Utah Republican harbors higher political ambitions – namely, the 2020 governor’s race. Elise Viebeck reports: “Chaffetz, who was first elected in 2008 and has considered running for the Senate, is the target of rising criticism over his lack of interest in aggressively investigating [Trump]. He said Wednesday that he plans to return to the private sector, though he did not provide more detail.” His announcement comes as a wave of anti-Trump energy has buoyed Democratic hopes of retaking the House next year. Nine House Republicans have resigned or announced plans to retire in 2018 (four joined Trump’s administration), and a well-funded Democratic challenger has emerged to run for Chaffetz’s now-open seat.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks at a news conference Wednesday, April 19, 2017, in East Chicago, Ind., following a tour of a public-housing complex where roughly 1,000 people were ordered evacuated because of lead contamination. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)

DISMANTLING GOVERNMENT, CONT.:

— The EPA said it will begin the process of shrinking its 15,000 employee workforce through buyouts, following Trump’s executive order last month aimed at shrinking the federal workforce. Brady Dennis reports: In a letter, EPA acting deputy administration Mike Flynn said the White House had asked federal agencies to begin taking “immediate action” aimed at reducing their workforce. “In light of this guidance, we will begin the steps necessary to initiate an early out/buy out … program,” Flynn said, adding that the goal is to complete the program “by the end of the fiscal year.” He also noted that while a government-wide hiring freeze had been lifted, hiring at the EPA would remain at a standstill due to a lack of resources – with “very limited exceptions”… The memo comes as the EPA has been a central target of the Trump administration, with Trump having previously vowed to reduce the agency to “tidbits.” 

— Politico, “Trump plans executive order on steel imports,” by Doug Palmer and Adam Behsudi: “[Trump] is expected to sign an executive order as early as Thursday directing the Commerce Department to investigate whether steel imports into the U.S. should be blocked on national security grounds … A number of steel industry executives have been invited to the White House for an event with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Representatives from ArcelorMittal, Nucor, U.S. Steel, AK Steel and Timken are expected, along with the president of the United Steelworkers union. China’s excess capacity to produce steel is seen as a long-term threat to the U.S. steel industry’s viability, but it’s unclear if the order will single out any country or be global in scope. The proposed order would direct Ross to launch an investigation under a provision of U.S. trade law that requires the Commerce secretary to report to the president within 270 days whether a certain product is being imported in sufficient quantities or under such circumstances that it threatens to impair national security.”

— As lawmakers prepare to return to Washington next week, Trump is facing a critical decision on the Affordable Care Act — and must decide whether to throw the health-care law a line. Paige Winfield Cunningham reports: “The White House and Republican lawmakers are facing key decisions that could either improve the insurance marketplaces established by the ACA next year or prompt insurers to further hike rates or withdraw from those marketplaces entirely. Republicans had hoped to protect those with marketplace coverage while lawmakers replaced Obamacare. But with that effort hitting a wall, Trump and his health-care decision-makers are in a bind: They can either let the current system fail and risk raising the ire of 11 million Americans who use the marketplaces, or help stabilize Obamacare and potentially make it harder for Republicans in Congress to abandon the law itself. [And ] if the marketplaces further deteriorate, Republicans may take the fall … That reality is forcing Republicans, including Trump, to seriously consider a half-dozen actions that could help improve — or at least sustain — the marketplaces where Americans without employer-sponsored plans buy coverage.”

Sheldon Adelson attends the final day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016. (Photo by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

WHILE…DRAINING THE SWAMP?

— Trump’s inaugural committee raised a record-shattering haul of $107 million this year — an effort bolstered by GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson, who donated $5 million, as well as corporate interests and lobbyists, according to newly-filed FEC documents. Rosalind S. Helderman and John Wagner report: “The filing showed that more than 1,500 people and companies gave money to the effort. But more than two-thirds of the money raised came from big-dollar donors who contributed at least $500,000 … In all, more than 45 individuals and companies donated at least $1 million each to the effort as Trump broke with the practice of most recent inaugural committees and placed no limits on corporate or individual donors. The committee has said it would donate leftover funds to charities but has not identified which charities will receive money or how much ... But the new filing provides a window into the flood of support from wealthy individuals and major corporations that helped support the event, despite Trump’s campaign promises to ‘drain the swamp’ and limit the role of money in Washington.”

Trump honors the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots at the White House. (Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

TIME OUT:

— Trump hosted the New England Patriots at the White House on Wednesday, recalling a list of his favorite memories from their Super Bowl victory even as a number of key players were absent from the ceremony. Kent Babb reports: “The flashbacks came and went, players and moments of the finest comeback in Super Bowl history relived on the White House’s South Lawn. There were a few omissions, though, including this big one: Trump made no mention of the New England players absent for the day’s celebration, including quarterback Tom Brady, the Patriots’ most famous and important player — and the most valuable player of the very game they were here to celebrate. It was a strange moment in a highly unusual day surrounding the NFL’s most successful franchise …”

Social media quickly pounced on this side-by-side comparison of turnout following their 2015 victory when Obama was in office: 

A woman, holding a French flag, walks to a campaign event being held by French far right candidate, Marine Le Pen, in La Trinité-Porhoët, France on March 30, 2017. LePen is polling strongly and many see her as within striking distance of winning the second round of voting on May 7, 2017. (Photo by Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

THE FRENCH PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION BEGINS SUNDAY:

— As France enters the final stretch of its presidential campaign, Marine Le Pen’s hopes of winning the presidency may rest on her appeal among young voters. Griff Witte and James McAuley report: “[A]ll was still in this one-boulangerie town in the French countryside when Marine Le Pen strode to the lectern and, with the unwavering force of a freight train, vowed to save the country on behalf of its forgotten young. ‘Our youth are in despair,’ [she] thundered. ‘I will be the voice of the voiceless.’” Now, as the country hurtles toward an election that could alter the course of European history, Le Pen’s once-longshot, now undeniably viable campaign rests heavily on an unlikely source of support – the young voter – whose votes could make her the next president of France. 

“Populist triumphs in Britain and the United States came last year despite young voters, not because of them. It was older voters who sought to overturn the existing order with nationalist answers to the problems of a globalized world. But France is a land of youthful revolts … And with youth unemployment stuck at 25 percent, Le Pen’s reactionary call to return the country to an era of lost glory by closing borders, exiting the European Union and restoring the national currency has fired the passions of young voters craving radical change. [And] the National Front’s strength among millennials suggests the populist wave that’s unsettled the West may be more durable than many may assume …”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks at the Meeting of the Ministers of the Global Coalition on the Defeat of ISIS in Washington. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

ROWING IN THE SAME DIRECTION?

— Exxon Mobil applied to the Treasury Department for a waiver from U.S. sanctions on Russia in a bid to resume its join venture with state oil giant PAO Rosneft, the Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon and  Bradley Olson report: “Exxon has been seeking U.S. permission to drill with Rosneft in several areas banned by sanctions and renewed a push for approval in March, shortly after its most recent [CEO] Rex Tillerson became secretary of state … The company originally applied for a waiver to gain access to the Black Sea in July 2015 but its application wasn’t approved, the person said. Mr. Tillerson during his time at Exxon forged a close working relationship with [Putin] and with Rosneft, a company that is critical to Russia’s oil-reliant economy. The waiver request is likely to be closely scrutinized by members of Congress who are seeking to intensify sanctions on Russia in response to what the U.S. said was its use of cyberattacks to interfere with elections last year.”

— White House officials denied misleading the public last week about the location of the USS Carl Vinson – the aircraft carrier that officials suggested was headed toward the Korean Peninsula when, in fact, it was thousands of miles away in the Indian Ocean. “What part is misleading? I’m trying to figure that out,” Sean Spicer said Wednesday. “We were asked a question about what signal it sent. We answered the question on what signal it sent. I’m not the one who commented on timing.”

 “But military officials struggled to give a firm answer for why officials from the Pentagon and other agencies failed to correct at least a week of widespread media reports stating that the ship was already headed north toward the Korean Peninsula,” Missy Ryan, Thomas Gibbons-Neff and John Wagner report. “According to officials … the misperception began after U.S. Pacific Command (Pacom) made its April 9 announcement, which stated that the ship would cancel scheduled stops in Australia and head toward the ‘Western Pacific’ from Singapore. Although the statement did not mention North Korea explicitly, when asked about it, Pacom officials made a direct link between the carrier’s re-routing and the North Korean threat. The decision to send the carrier north was a ‘prudent’ measure as North Korea posed ‘the number one threat in the region,’ one official said. Some officials suggested that U.S. Pacific Command was to blame for the way it communicated its unusual decision to telegraph the future movements of one of its ships, an announcement that appeared to have taken at least some officials by surprise …”

— Meanwhile, analysts tasked with examining satellite images of North Korea  said they spotted some unexpected activity at Pyongyang’s nuclear test site: volleyball games. The New York Times’ William J. Broad reports: “The surprising images were taken on Sunday as tensions between the United States and North Korea seemed to spike. The Korean Peninsula pulsed with news that the North was preparing for its sixth atomic detonation and that American warships had been ordered into the Sea of Japan as a deterrent, even though the ships turned out to have sailed in the opposite direction. The volleyball games, played in the middle of that international crisis, were probably intended to send a message, analysts said, as the North Koreans are aware that the nuclear test site is under intense scrutiny. But what meaning the North wanted the games to convey is unclear.” One veteran North Korean analyst emphasized the ambiguity of North Korean intentions. “They’re either sending us a message that they’ve put the facility on standby, or they’re trying to deceive us,” he said. “We really don’t know.”

— And North Korea unveiled a new video simulating a missile attack on the U.S. and leaving the generic “city” destroyed in a giant fireball. It was released during a musical performance attended by Kim Jong Un, and ends with a burning American flag, superimposed over a cemetery of white crosses. (Amanda Erickson)

— Rex Tillerson slammed Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism responsible for “alarming, ongoing provocations” across the Middle East on Wednesday, suggesting that the U.S. is considering whether to reimpose sanctions lifted under the 2015 nuclear agreement.

He also said the deal failed squash Tehran’s “ability and determination” to develop atomic weapons, comparing the country to North Korea as he argued that the country’ ambitions still threaten international peace and security. Carol Morello reports: “An unchecked Iran has the potential to follow the same path as North Korea and take the world along with it,” Tillerson said … ‘The United States is keen to avoid a second piece of evidence that strategic patience is a failed approach.’ Tillerson’s strong criticism of Iran and the nuclear deal came one day after the State Department officially notified Congress that Iran has met all its commitments under the agreement, a certification required every 90 days.” White House officials are now reviewing the policy, though it remains unclear whether they plan to take any action on the agreement – once characterized by Trump as the ‘worst deal ever negotiated.'” 

THE BIGGER PICTURE –> Trump’s early efforts to appear decisive and unequivocal in responding to fast-moving global crises have been undermined by confusing and conflicting messages from within his own administration, David Nakamura and Karen DeYoung report. Senior Trump aides have issued policy pronouncements at odds with one another. In other recent cases, White House statements conflicted with messages from government agencies — even on the same day. “Even when there is unanimity in the messaging — such as Trump’s boast … that a U.S. Navy ‘armada’ was headed toward the Korean Peninsula — the administration was forced into the embarrassing admission a few days later … Although every administration experiences growing pains, the recent succession of mixed signals over key national security issues has stood out, painting a picture to some of an administration that has not fully developed its policies or a broader international agenda and whose key agencies are not communicating with one another — or the White House.”

“Former national security officials … emphasized that the Trump administration has been hampered by a president who has been slow to appoint hundreds of mid-level managers at Cabinet agencies … and who has at times expressed disdain for the traditional interagency decision-making process. The result is that the normally meticulous care that goes into formulating and coordinating U.S. government policy positions or even simple statements is often absent. Institutional memory is lacking, these former officials said, and mistakes and contradictions easily slip through the cracks. Former officials and [analysts] viewed some of the administration’s policy reversals … as the natural evolution from inexperience and lack of knowledge to confrontations with reality. Still, events of the past week have raised concerns about consequences in a volatile world, where such missteps can be costly.”

Carter Page, an adviser to U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, speaks at the graduation ceremony for the New Economic School in Moscow, Russia, Friday, July 8, 2016. Page is a former investment banker who previously worked in Russia. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

PERSONNEL IS POLICY:

— New York Times, “Trump Adviser’s Visit to Moscow Got the F.B.I.’s Attention,” by Scott Shane, Mark Mazzetti and Adam Goldman: “Ever since F.B.I. investigators discovered in 2013 that a Russian spy was trying to recruit an American businessman named Carter Page, the bureau maintained an occasional interest in Mr. Page. So when he became a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign last year and gave a Russia-friendly speech at a prestigious Moscow institute, it soon caught the bureau’s attention. That trip last July was a catalyst for the F.B.I. investigation into connections between Russia and [Trump’s] campaign … Mr. Page’s relationship with Mr. Trump appears to have been fleeting. But last spring, when Republican foreign policy experts were distancing themselves from Mr. Trump, Mr. Page served a purpose for the flailing Trump campaign. Dismissing the notion that his campaign was bereft of foreign policy expertise, the candidate read aloud a list of five people who had offered to advise him on world affairs — including ‘Carter Page, Ph.D.’ [Otherwise], Mr. Page’s role in the Trump campaign appears to have been minimal. Former campaign officials play down his significance almost to the vanishing point, saying Mr. Page had no ID badge, desk or email address from the campaign.”  

“If the Russians were attempting to collude with him, they were attempting to collude with someone who had no influence on the Trump campaign,” said longtime Trump ally Roger Stone. 

— Todd Ricketts withdrew his nomination as deputy commerce secretary, becoming the latest in a string of would-be Trump appointees who stepped aside before being confirmed to join the administration. Ricketts, whose family owns the Chicago Cubs and threw $1 million behind Trump’s political bid, reportedly struggled to reconcile his family’s complicated finances. (CNN)

Roger Stone sits in his office in Oakland Park, Florida. (Andrew Innerarity/For The Washington Post)

— “Roger Stone helped Donald Trump get elected president. Now he’s helping himself,” by Manuel Roig-Franzia: “The directions to Roger Stone’s worldwide headquarters of conspiracy theories, self-promotion and Nixonian arcana are — like much about Roger Stone — confusing and mysterious. The first version … leads to a blanched, deserted parking lot next to a vacant building behind a chain-link fence in Oakland Park, north of Fort Lauderdale. A place called Scandals Saloon sits across the street, but it turns out Stone has sent the wrong address. ‘Well, you will have to kill that lede,’ says the man who knows enough about this dance with the journalistic profession to recognize what might have been a resonant detail in a first paragraph. Stone, after all, has seldom met a scandal he couldn’t curl up with and adore. In the early 1970s, Stone became a master of the darker political arts, meddling surreptitiously with the Democrats, as part of Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President, nicknamed CREEP. More than 4½ decades later, Stone still likes to think of himself as a man who operates in the shadows.

“‘P.S.: I have no boring clients,’ he tantalizing says one evening, without naming names or explaining exactly what he does. But the darkened office of this buddy of [Trump] is also buzzy because the old trickster is having a very public moment …”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Oohhhh snap, from this congresswoman:

More:

Maxine Waters continues her Twitter activism:

This:

Should The Donald get his wish of meeting The Pope:

Harsh words on Jon Ossoff:

Alaska Rep. Don Young has an active day at home:

HRC staffers were all over social media trying to refute the narrative in “Shattered:”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

After using n-word in front of black colleagues, Fla. state senator faces calls to resign,” from Derek Hawkins: “A Republican state senator from Miami is facing pressure to resign after he used the n-word to criticize several of his colleagues during an alcohol-fueled rant in front of two black lawmakers. Over drinks at a private club in downtown Tallahassee, State Sen. Frank Artiles referred to six white senators as ‘n‑‑‑ers’ and spewed other obscenities while complaining about the chamber’s GOP leadership, local media reported Tuesday. In response, the Florida Democratic Party called on him to resign Tuesday night, saying his conduct was ‘disgusting, unacceptable and has no place in our democracy or our society.’” After, Artiles tried to defend himself to the two colleagues, saying he meant to use a different version of the n-word ending with “as” rather than “ers” — which he said was acceptable “because he hailed from a largely Hispanic city” in Miami-Dade County.

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“McMullin owes nearly $670,000 for his failed presidential bid,” from the Salt Lake Tribune: “Evan McMullin ran a long-shot — and ultimately failed — campaign last year to deny Donald Trump enough Electoral College votes to keep him from the presidency, but now the Utah native faces a hefty bill that will be challenging to pay off and could hamper efforts to enter the political arena again. McMullin … still owes some $670,000 to vendors who helped his campaign, including more than half a million dollars to a law firm.”

DAYBOOK:

At the White House: Trump will lead a signing event for the Memorandum Regarding the Investigation Pursuant to Section 232(B) of the Trade Expansion Act before meeting with national security adviser H.R. McMaster. Later, Trump will welcome Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni to the White House for meetings and a joint press conference.

Mike Pence is in Indonesia: Pence will meet with U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Joseph R. Donovan Jr. and participate in a bilateral meeting and joint press conference with Indonesian President Joko Widodo. Later in the day, he will participate in a bilateral meeting with Vice President Jusuf Kalla, take a walking tour of Istiqlal Mosque, and participate in a discussion with interfaith religious leaders. Following that, Pence will travel to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Secretariat to participate in a series of meetings with ASEAN Secretary General Lê Lương Minh, ASEAN Permanent Representatives, and Young Southeast Asian Leaders.

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

— Get ready for another heat spike this afternoon. Today’s Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “An early morning shower is possible, but clouds are likely to break up as the morning progresses. They’ll pop up increasingly during the afternoon, however, with a decent chance for a few showers and storms to zip across the area. Shower coverage is likely spotty and overall amounts paltry. Highs reach the upper 70s to lower 80s, with mainly light winds out of the southwest.”

–The Washington Wizards clinched the second game of their playoff series with the Atlanta Hawks in an exciting home game last night. From Candace Buckner: “Then, in the closing moments of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference first-round playoff series, there were the Wizards — complete and exulting in their 109-101 win over the Hawks. ‘It’s great to have all five guys on the floor at the same time when we’re able to, you know we’re very successful,’ Bradley Beal said. ‘Throughout the course of the game we weren’t worried at all because we weren’t playing good nor have we had our core guys on the floor at the same time. It’s ‘ust a matter of just being patient and just keeping ourselves in the game.’” Read about the game’s best and worst moments.

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Julia Louis-Dreyfus says Obama is a fan of VEEP:

Jimmy Kimmel explores how Trump spent his inauguration money:

Conan talks to Chris O’Donnell about how Trump may have been cut from “Scent of a Woman:”

Stephen Colbert spoofs Alex Jones:

He also says goodbye to Bill O’Reilly:

Here’s more on O’Reilly:

Pennsylvania police talk about the final hours of their manhunt for the Facebook killer: