With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve.
THE BIG IDEA: Donald Trump’s reality television presidency may be getting more star power for season two.
Trump has decided to remove H.R. McMaster as his national security adviser and is actively discussing Fox News contributor John Bolton as a potential successor.
A leading contender to replace Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin is Pete Hegseth, the co-host of “Fox and Friends Weekend.”
The president named CNBC analyst and former host Larry Kudlow to replace former Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn as his chief economic adviser on Wednesday.
Heather Nauert, a former co-host of “Fox and Friends,” got promoted on Monday from being a spokeswoman for the State Department to acting undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs. She replaced Steve Goldstein, who was fired because he publicly contradicted the White House’s claim that Rex Tillerson knew he was being fired before Trump announced it on Twitter. (Is it any coincidence that Mike Pompeo got elevated from Langley to Foggy Bottom the morning after he aggressively went to bat for Trump on the Sunday shows?)
— Trump’s plot to poach from green rooms is an additional proof point that validates two important themes I’ve written about: Trump has debased the value of expertise and supercharged the celebrification of American politics.
— The president expressed interest in bringing Bolton, Hegseth and Kudlow on board during the transition, but he was dissuaded by traditionalists who said they weren’t qualified for such powerful posts. The VA secretary, for instance, manages the government’s second-largest bureaucracy, which employs 360,000. But Hegseth is just 37. The Iraq War veteran previously served as the executive director of Concerned Veterans for America, which is in the constellation of groups bankrolled by the billionaire Koch brothers. He ran for Senate in Minnesota against Amy Klobuchar in 2012, but his campaign was such a disaster that he unexpectedly lost the GOP nomination to a random Ron Paul supporter — who went on to lose in the general election by 35 points.
Hegseth’s views on reforming VA “are considered extreme even by some Republicans in Congress,” but Trump frequently calls him to discuss veterans’ policy, Lisa Rein reports: “Hegseth has dined at the White House and, during an Oval Office meeting between Trump and Shulkin last week, the president called Hegseth to seek his counsel on pending legislation that would expand private care. He also is disliked by traditional veterans’ advocacy groups, which fear a downsized VA and a privatized system, and which would probably mount a strong campaign against his nomination.”
— Bolton, an outspoken hawk who had a tumultuous and short-lived tenure as George W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations, is also seen as too extreme by many Republicans on Capitol Hill, but he wouldn’t need to get confirmed to become national security adviser. “Trump is now comfortable with ousting McMaster, with whom he never personally gelled, but is willing to take time executing the move because he wants to ensure both that the three-star Army general is not humiliated and that there is a strong successor lined up,” Ashley Parker, Josh Dawsey, Philip Rucker and Carol D. Leonnig reported last night. “Bolton has met with Trump several times and often agrees with the president’s instincts. Trump also thinks Bolton … is good on television.”
Another finalist for the job is Keith Kellogg, the chief of staff of the National Security Council. “Kellogg travels with Trump on many domestic trips, in part because the president likes his company and thinks he is fun,” my colleagues report.
— One reason Kudlow was attractive to Trump is that he can go on business news channels to promote his agenda. Ostensibly, Bolton and Hegseth could do the same. “The president likes me as a media communicator, so I will be more than happy to oblige,” Kudlow said Wednesday night on CNBC. He added that the president had phoned him a few hours earlier when the news broke of his selection to be director of the National Economic Council. “The president called and he said, ‘It’s out,’” Kudlow recalled. “And he said, ‘You’re on the air … I’m looking at a picture of you … Very handsome!’ So Trumpian.”
— But installing cable pundits in decision-making jobs has not worked out very well for Trump thus far. Foreign policy pros were aghast when Trump named K.T. McFarland as his deputy national security adviser during the transition. She had appeared frequently on Fox as an analyst and anchored her own program called “DEFCON3.” But the last time she’d worked in government was more than three decades earlier, as a junior Pentagon spokeswoman and speechwriter.
McFarland got marginalized after Michael Flynn went down. Then Trump nominated her to be ambassador to Singapore, but her nomination needed to be withdrawn when damning emails implicated her in the Russia scandal and imperiled her Senate confirmation.
Trump initially named another Fox talking head, Monica Crowley, as the senior director of strategic communications for the NSC. He stood by her for more than a week as news stories revealed egregious examples of plagiarism over several years, from a 2012 book to her PhD dissertation and op-eds. Just before the inauguration, under pressure, the president-elect dumped her.
Former Navy SEAL Carl Higbie, 34,was forced to resign two months ago as the chief of external affairs for the Corporation for National and Community Service after CNN uncovered bigoted statements he had made about African Americans, immigrants and gays as the host of an Internet radio show. He got the patronage because he had been a go-to Trump defender on Fox, CNN and MSNBC during the 2016 campaign.
America First Priorities, a Trump-sanctioned outside group, hired the 34-year-old on Thursday as its new advocacy director, with the expectation that he’ll again appear on TV to promote the president. “The fact that I’m coming back into the fray does not mean that the president endorses those comments by any stretch,” Higbie told the Hartford Courant yesterday. “We’ve all said something we’ve regretted. I just happened to say it on the radio. … But I’m committed to this administration and its policies.”
— The president reportedly has fewer events on his schedule than he did during the opening year of his presidency so that he can have extra “executive time” in the residence, which appears to be a euphemism for watching television. That’s only intensified the cable news feedback loop. Trump’s tweets routinely echo messages, sometimes word for word, that he heard on Fox minutes earlier. Remember Trump’s tweet about North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s “button”?
The president just threatened a nuclear strike while live-tweeting a Fox News segment.
Left, Fox, 7:37 pm
Right, Trump, 7:49 pm pic.twitter.com/vJciYH6LIA
— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) January 3, 2018
The president’s cable habit almost led him to torpedo a compromise his own administration had negotiated to reauthorize Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act in January. “Trump issued an early morning tweet in response to Judge Andrew Napolitano’s criticism on a ‘Fox and Friends’ segment,” Tufts University professor Daniel Drezner notes. “Only direct intervention from the chief of staff, national security adviser, director of national intelligence, CIA director, and House Speaker Paul Ryan convinced Trump to post a follow-up tweet clarifying his position.”
Last Friday, Trump pardoned a former Navy sailor whose conviction for unauthorized retention of national defense information had made him a cause celebre on Fox. Commentators have often argued that the year he served in prison for taking pictures aboard a submarine showed Hillary Clinton was treated too leniently for how she mishandled classified material.
Kristian Saucier, 31, who is now a garbage collector in Vermont, had appeared on “Fox and Friends” earlier in the week to press his case. “Obviously, there’s two different sets of laws in this country, for the political elite and for, you know, those lower-level, individuals, Americans, like myself,” he said. “I think my case draws a very clear example of that.”
Former Navy Sailor Kristian Saucier: I mishandled classified info, pled guilty to that mistake and continue to be punished, meanwhile Hillary Clinton gets to run for president pic.twitter.com/YKx8dgeKQ3
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) March 4, 2018
“A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on its involvement, if any, in the process,” Matt Zapotosky reports.
The only other pardon Trump has issued since taking office was for Joe Arpaio, who also frequently appears on Fox shows. The former Arizona sheriff was convicted of criminal contempt of court for ignoring a federal judge’s order to stop racially profiling Latinos.
— Trump plainly enjoys the company of people he sees on TV. Trump invited Sebastian Gorka, a lightning rod who got fired from the White House last year but now spends a lot of time defending the president on Fox, over for dinner last week. Jesse Watters, a co-host of Fox’s “The Five,” joined them. “According to a White House official and two other sources familiar with the meeting, Trump invited Gorka and Watters because ‘he couldn’t get enough of them on TV,’ as one source put it, and wanted to confab with them about what he’d seen on Fox News, politics, gossip, and his administration,” The Daily Beast reported.
Watters tweeted a picture of the menu afterward:
— The embattled president also appears to be putting a greater premium on loyalty as he makes personnel decisions. He clearly feels burned by some of his early hiring decisions. For example, Trump interviewed Jeanine Pirro, the host of Fox’s “Justice with Judge Jeanine,” to be deputy attorney general. Instead, he went along with Rod Rosenstein, a respected DOJ insider who he had no prior relationship with. That’s a decision he’s repeatedly said that he regrets.
— Trump’s embrace of talking heads has become a punchline in popular culture. “To help find [Gary Cohn’s] replacement, the president turned to his most trusted confidante: the TV in his bedroom,” Comedy Central host Trevor Noah said on “The Daily Show” last night. “Basically, if Trump sees you on TV, there’s a really good chance that he’ll hire you. By the time his term is done, his attorney general is going to be ‘Judge Judy’ and his housing secretary will be ‘Bob the Builder.’”
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
— The death toll rose to six in the bridge collapse near Miami. The new pedestrian bridge hailed for its novel construction collapsed onto moving traffic, crushing at least eight vehicles and leaving rescue workers racing to free victims. Francisco Alvarado, Susan Svrluga, Faiz Siddiqui and Aaron C. Davis report: “The bridge was designed to connect the city of Sweetwater with the sprawling campus of Florida International University, and to make it safer for students to cross a frenetic roadway. ‘It was going to be a significant project,’ Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Thursday night. ‘To see it on the ground and underneath it those who died and who were injured is a tragedy.’ He said the cause of the collapse will be fully investigated. ‘The victims and their families deserve to know what went wrong.’”
GET SMART FAST:
- It’s official: Vanessa Trump has filed for divorce from Donald Trump Jr. Page Six reports that the former model filed for an uncontested proceeding from the president’s eldest son, meaning she’s not expecting a legal battle over assets or for custody of their five children.
- CBS plans to air its “60 Minutes” interview with Stormy Daniels on March 25. But the date isn’t set in stone, likely due to ongoing legal issues tied to Daniels’s nondisclosure agreement. (Frances Stead Sellers and Sarah Ellison)
- A helicopter carrying U.S. service members crashed in western Iraq. The accident likely killed at least some of the seven passengers on board. (Missy Ryan)
- Broward County police released 27 minutes of surveillance footage from last month’s high school massacre in Parkland, Fla. The video appears to capture the campus’s only armed officer, Scot Peterson, standing outside as a gunman rampaged inside the school.(Mark Berman)
- The 18-year-old sister of Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof was released from jail on a $5,000 cash bond and prohibited from returning to her South Carolina school. She was charged with drug possession and carrying weapons on school grounds. A school administrator first alerted police to Morgan Roof’s behavior after she posted a Snapchat that police said “caused alarm” to fellow students. (WISTV)
- Former ESPN chief John Skipper said he resigned in December after one of his cocaine dealers tried to extort him. “They threatened me, and I understood immediately that threat put me and my family at risk, and … would put my professional life at risk as well,” Skipper told the Hollywood Reporter. (Matt Bonesteel)
- An undocumented immigrant was named to a statewide post in California. Lizbeth Mateo will serve on an advisory committee seeking to improve access to higher education for the state’s low-income students. (Amy B Wang)
- Facebook said it has banned Britain First, a far-right political group that gained notoriety after Trump retweeted several of its anti-Muslim videos. Two of the group’s leaders were suspended from Twitter three months ago and are currently serving jail time for religiously aggravated harassment. (NBC News)
- A 13-year-old from Flint, Mich., died this week after relatives say a sinus infection spread to his brain. He allegedly sought treatment several weeks ago at an urgent care center, where doctors told him to let the infection “run its course.” (Lindsey Bever)
- A Washington state woman allegedly attempted to murder her boyfriend with a samurai sword after she saw a dating app on his phone. Police say she used the sword to stab him repeatedly in his sleep. Remarkably, he survived. (Kyle Swenson)
- The Buffalo Bulls delivered one of March Madness’s first major upsets. The 13th-seeded team defeated the No. 4 Arizona Wildcats, 89-68. CBS Sports said that 60.5 percent of the brackets filled out on its website had the Wildcats in their Sweet 16. (Cindy Boren, Jacob Bogage, Des Bieler and Matt Bonesteel)
THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
— Robert Mueller has issued his first known subpoena to the Trump Organization, ordering the company to turn over all documents related to Russia and other areas of its investigation. The New York Times’s Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman report: “The breadth of the subpoena was not clear, nor was it clear why Mr. Mueller issued it instead of simply asking for the documents … There are few other publicly known examples of Mr. Mueller using subpoenas. … [But it] is the latest indication that the investigation, which Mr. Trump’s lawyers once regularly assured him would be completed by now, will drag on for at least several more months. Word of the subpoena comes as Mr. Mueller appears to be broadening his investigation to examine the role foreign money may have played in funding Mr. Trump’s political activities.”
— The Trump administration imposed new financial sanctions against Russian hackers and spy agencies in response to a spate of cyberattacks. Ellen Nakashima reports: “Sanctions also were imposed on individuals known as ‘trolls’ and the Russian organizations — including the [Internet Research Agency]— that supported their efforts to undermine the election. Additionally, the administration alerted the public that Russia is targeting the U.S. energy grid with computer malware that could sabotage the systems. Taken together, the moves represent the administration’s most significant actions to date against Russia for its aggression against the United States, though analysts say their impact is mostly symbolic.”
— The new sanctions fall well short of what lawmakers authorized last year. Anne Gearan and Ellen Nakashima write: “Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the sanctions announcement a ‘long overdue response’ but noted that the administration has failed to implement six other mandatory provisions of the law enacted last year, including penalties affecting Russian defense and other industries.”
— Scary: “American officials and private cybersecurity experts uncovered a series of Russian attacks aimed at the energy, water and aviation sectors and critical manufacturing, including nuclear plants, in the United States and Europe,” the New York Times’s Nicole Perlroth and David Sanger report. “In [an urgent June report], the Department of Homeland Security and the F.B.I. notified operators about the attacks but stopped short of identifying Russia as the culprit. By then, Russian spies had compromised the business networks of several American energy, water and nuclear plants, mapping out their corporate structures and computer networks. They included that of the Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corporation, which runs a nuclear plant near Burlington, Kan. … Forensic analysis suggested that Russian spies were looking for inroads — although it was not clear whether the goal was to conduct espionage or sabotage, or to trigger an explosion of some kind.”
— The United States, France and Germany joined Britain in denouncing Russia for the brazen assassination attempt of a former Russian spy and his daughter,saying the poisoning was the “first offensive use of a nerve agent” in Europe since World War II. “The joint statement signaled another step in the mounting international pressure on Russia over apparent ties to the assault,” Karla Adam and Matthew Bodner report, though it did not spell out any possible further reprisals by the U.K. or its allies. Russia plans to retaliate in similar fashion, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov telling reporters “of course, we will” when asked whether the country would expel British diplomats.
— Democrats believe a longtime NRA lawyer expressed concerns about the organization’s ties to Russia, McClatchy’s Peter Stone and Greg Gordon report: “Cleta Mitchell, a former NRA board member who has done legal work for the organization, is on a newly disclosed list of people whom Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee are seeking to interview. Democratic investigators for that committee’s Senate counterpart also are interested in what she may know about relationships between the NRA or its allies and wealthy Russians …Mitchell told McClatchy in an email that any suggestion she has concerns about the NRA’s Russia connections is a ‘complete fabrication.’”
— House Republicans fear they fumbled the rollout of their Russia report. Politico’s Kyle Cheney reports: “The blaring headline the GOP wanted from this week’s rollout was clear: After a year of searching, Republicans on [House intel] found no evidence that [Trump] or his associates aided Moscow’s scheme to interfere in the 2016 election[.] … Instead, much of the focus has been on lawmakers’ startling conclusion that the nation’s intelligence agencies botched their analysis when they determined Russia wanted Trump to defeat Hillary Clinton.The finding once again pitted the committee’s Republicans against the leaders of the intelligence community and led to a frenzy of news coverage that put members on the defensive.”
— Based on 19 interviews with presidential advisers and administration officials, Ashley Parker, Josh Dawsey, Philip Rucker and Carol D. Leonnig paint a must read portrait of the turmoil: “The mood inside the White House in recent days has verged on mania, as Trump increasingly keeps his own counsel and senior aides struggle to determine the gradations between rumor and truth. At times, they say, they are anxious and nervous, wondering what each new headline may mean for them personally. But in other moments, they appear almost as characters in an absurdist farce — openly joking about whose career might end with the next presidential tweet. … The president is enjoying the process of assessing his team and making changes, tightening his inner circle to those he considers survivors and who respect his unconventional style, one senior White House official said.”
Here are five of the juiciest nuggets from the piece:
Chief of Staff John Kelly’s ouster has been widely speculated about for weeks: “But two top officials said Trump on Thursday morning expressed disbelief to Vice President Pence, senior advisers and Kelly himself that Kelly’s name was surfacing on media watch lists because his job is secure. Trump and Kelly then laughed about it … But others in the West Wing say Kelly’s departure could be imminent, and Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, has been mentioned as a possible new chief of staff.”
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt “has made no secret inside the West Wing of his ambition to become attorney general should Trump decide to fire Jeff Sessions”: “White House officials have grown agitated that Pruitt and his allies are privately pushing for the EPA chief to replace Sessions, a job Pruitt has told people he wants. On Wednesday night, Kelly called Pruitt and told him the president was happy with his performance at EPA and that he did not need to worry about the Justice Department, according to two people familiar with the conversation …
“With Hope Hicks resigning her post as communications director, the internal jockeying to replace her has been especially intense between Mercedes Schlapp, who oversees the White House’s long-term communications planning, and Tony Sayegh, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s top communications adviser.
“Another episode haunting [VA secretary] Shulkin was a trip to the Invictus Games in Canada last September with first lady Melania Trump’s entourage. Shulkin fought with East Wing aides over his request that his wife accompany him on the trip because he was eager for her to meet Britain’s Prince Harry, who founded the games, according to multiple officials familiar with the dispute. The first lady’s office explained there was not room on the plane for Shulkin’s wife, and officials said the secretary was unpleasant during the trip …
“Trump has sometimes expressed confusion about what agencies and secretaries are in charge of what duties, a senior administration official said. For example, this official said, he has complained to Pruitt about regulatory processes for construction projects, although the EPA is not in charge of the regulations.”
ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN:
— Trump’s personal aide John McEntee lost his White House job after a security clearance investigation revealed he was a frequent gambler who bet tens of thousands of dollars at a time. Carol D. Leonnig and Josh Dawsey report: “There was no indication his gambling was illegal, but there was concern that the 27-year-old could be vulnerable to outside influence … McEntee, who had been one of the first staffers to join the Trump campaign … was escorted off the White House grounds Monday after being notified that he was being let go. McEntee was ‘very upset’ … and complained he had done nothing improper. Two White House advisers said they learned about McEntee’s gambling habit after his dismissal. His hasty exit … upset a number of staffers in the building, who described him as a loyal aide who deserved a more ceremonious departure.”
— Newly released documents showed Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s military flights have cost taxpayers nearly $1 million. From Politico’s Victoria Guida: “That includes a one-week trip to the Middle East in late October, which cost $183,646 for flights on military aircraft. That trip came on top of $811,797.81 in previously reported expenditures for government-funded military aircraft.”
— Former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe went to the Justice Department to make a final plea that he not be fired before his retirement benefits kick in. The bureau’s disciplinary officer recommended that McCable be fired, but it’s up to Jeff Sessions. Matt Zapotosky reports: “McCabe has become a lightning rod in the partisan squabbling over the Russia investigation and the political probes involving [the Clintons]. … If the veteran FBI agent is not terminated, that might upset conservatives and Trump, who feel he has been given undeserved leniency. If he is, supporters in the FBI might feel he has been treated too harshly because of pressure from the president.” Sarah Huckabee Sanders attacked McCabe from the podium during yesterday’s briefing: “We do think that it is well documented that he has had some very troubling behavior and by most accounts a bad actor.”
— A senior adviser at the Department of Housing and Urban Development resigned amid allegations that he committed fraud and exaggerated his biography. The Guardian’s Jon Swaine reports: “In November 2013, a judge ordered [Naved] Jafry and a fuel company he chaired to repay more than $800,000 to the family of Alfred Oglesby, a former NFL player and investor in [Jafry’s] fuel firm, who died in 2009. Oglesby’s widow accused Jafry of fraud. Jafry has not paid the money. Debt collectors said they had been trying to locate him for years. … During an interview, Jafry described himself as a veteran of the US army and said he was deployed to Kosovo. When confronted with his service record, though, he said he in fact served as a reservist in the army national guard, and remained in California while giving logistics support to colleagues in Kosovo.”
— Trump’s top trade adviser Peter Navarro received backing from an American steel company to produce a documentary on the dangers of China’s trade policy. The Wall Street Journal’s Nick Timiraos and Rebecca Ballhaus report: “Nucor made payments to fund the film through a San Diego nonprofit then led by a friend of Mr. Navarro. The arrangement was examined as part of a broader 2012 FBI investigation of the nonprofit’s finances, according to three former employees of the nonprofit. No charges were filed.”
— Top House Democrats said they have proof State Department employees were ousted because they were viewed as “disloyal” to Trump. From Karoun Demirjian and Carol Morello: “The ranking Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs and Oversight and Government Reform committees sent a letter to White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, writing that they received documents [from a whistleblower] ‘indicating that high-level officials at the White House and State Department worked with a network of conservative activists to conduct a “cleaning” of employees they believed were not sufficiently “supportive” of President Trump’s agenda.’”
— Emails reveal administration officials and conservative agitators, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, specifically tried to oust Sahar Nowrouzzadeh from State over her role in negotiating the Iran nuclear deal. Politico’s Nahal Toosi reports: “A conservative website had published an article depicting Nowrouzzadeh as a Barack Obama loyalist who had ‘burrowed into the government’ under Trump and even had ties to the hated Iranian regime itself. … The emails show that State Department and White House officials repeatedly shared such misleading information about Nowrouzzadeh, deriding her as an Obama cheerleader and strong advocate for the nuclear deal with Iran … Later, after Nowrouzzadeh was reassigned to another job, some [State] officials tried to mislead a POLITICO reporter about whether she’d completed her full tenure [on the Policy Planning Staff].”
— The White House has refused to comply with all three Republican-led House committees seeking information on top Trump top aides — including Cabinet leaders and Jared Kushner. McClatchyDC’s Anita Kumar reports: Republicans on the House Oversight Committee “are being criticized for accepting no for an answer rather than subpoena the documents. The investigations involve three of the biggest controversies at the White House since Trump took office — aides using private email for government business, spending taxpayer money on costly private airplane travel and holding interim security clearances for long periods of time … Now, the highest-ranking Democrat on the committee, [Rep. Elijah Cummings], wants to go further, [and is urging Gowdy to issue subpoenas].”
— Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) wants to declassify documents from the Senate report on the CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation” related to Gina Haspel, Trump’s pick to take over the agency. From Karoun Demirjian: “[Feinstein] wrote in a letter Thursday that senators need ‘the complete picture’ of Haspel’s involvement to ‘fully and fairly’ review her fitness for the job. … ‘The American people deserve to know the actual role the person nominated to the director of the CIA played in what I consider to be one of the darkest chapters in American history.’”
THE REST OF TRUMP’S AGENDA:
— The Trump administration is finalizing a plan urging stronger law-enforcement measures for drug dealers — including the death penalty. The plan has alarmedhealth advocates and some GOP lawmakers, who warned that capital punishment will only worsen efforts to reduce the drug crisis. Politico’s Dan Diamond reports: “The ambitious plan … could be announced as soon as Monday when [Trump] visits New Hampshire, a state hard hit by the epidemic … According to language circulating this week, the Trump administration will call for the death penalty as an option in ‘certain cases where opioid, including Fentanyl-related, drug dealing and trafficking are directly responsible for death.’ However, the plan could cost billions of dollars more than Trump budgeted — and likely far more than any funding package that Congress would approve — raising questions about how much of it can actually be put into practice.”
— The White House defended Trump’s false claim the United States has a trade deficit with Canada. Josh Dawsey and Damian Paletta report: “‘The president was accurate because there is a trade deficit and that was the point he was making,’ said [Sarah Huckabee Sanders], who later referred to a figure that includes only goods and not services. ‘He didn’t have to look at the specific figures.’ … Canadian government spokesmen repeated U.S. government statistics pointing out that Canada has a trade surplus with their American neighbor. ‘Canada and the United States have a balanced and mutually beneficial trading relationship,’ said Adam Austen, a spokesman for Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, pointing to official U.S. statistics.”
— The International Wildlife Conservation Council, a new Interior Department advisory board entrusted to help rewrite regulations on importing hunting trophies, includes several trophy hunters. The AP’s Michael Biesecker, Jake Pearson and Jeff Horwitz report: “One appointee co-owns a private New York hunting preserve with Trump’s adult sons. … Appointees [also] include celebrity hunting guides, representatives from rifle and bow manufacturers, and wealthy sportspeople who boast of bagging the coveted ‘Big Five’ — elephant, rhino, lion, leopard and Cape buffalo. Most are high-profile members of Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association, groups that have sued the Fish and Wildlife Service to expand the list of countries from which trophy kills can be legally imported.”
— The Bureau of Land Management distributed cards for its employees to wear depicting an oil rig and cattle ranching. Dino Grandoni and Juliet Eilperin report: “The cards, which feature artwork then-acting director Mike Nedd commissioned after President Trump took office, reflect the bureau’s renewed focus on energy and agricultural development on public lands … In an email Thursday, bureau spokeswoman Michelle Barret said ‘employees have been given vision cards, which the BLM has had off and on over the years.’ Wearing the cards, Barret said, is voluntary.”
— Congress has one week to pass a government spending bill, with funds set to expire on March 23. From Mike DeBonis: “The crucial flash points are border security, immigration policy and abortion rights, with a few other issues at play — including health care and one major infrastructure project.”
— Senior immigration officials are moving to create a new internal division overseeing its own caseworkers. Nick Miroff reports: “Plans for the new oversight division have not been widely disclosed to the 19,000 employees and contractors of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), but the agency has been quietly reassigning personnel to staff it[.]”
— The ACLU and other groups filed a class-action lawsuit against the Trump administration for allegedly jailing asylum seekers with credible cases. From Maria Sacchetti: “[The groups] filed the class-action lawsuit on behalf of nine detained asylum seekers from Haiti, Venezuela and other countries. They are asking a judge to order the administration to follow a 2009 policy that allows officials to release foreigners while they await their immigration court hearings, a process that can take years. … Lawyers argue the Trump administration’s approach is endangering lives by forcing people to choose between staying and risking danger or fleeing and enduring severe conditions while jailed in the United States.”
— Republicans may seek a recount in this week’s Pennsylvania special election. Dave Weigel and Mike DeBonis report: “Attorneys for [Republican Rick Saccone] have asked for ‘immediate injunctive relief’ in federal court after a campaign lawyer was not allowed to observe the counting of ballots in Allegheny County, where Democrat Conor Lamb won massively. They sent letters to election offices in Allegheny and the district’s other counties requesting that ballots and voting machines be preserved, a step often taken before a recount or challenge.”
— Weigel, who spent time on the ground in the 18th District says Lamb didn’t run “like a Republican,” as the GOP claims. “Lamb did not run as a Trump supporter. He ran against the tax cuts, not for them. His abortion stance was a lot like that of Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) — while personally opposing abortion, he was against new restrictions on the procedure, a position that inspired a Family Research Council ad comparing him to Kim Jong Un. But even on the left, Lamb’s victory has been viewed warily, with plenty of worry that Democrats would shove aside more left-wing candidates in favor of moderates, and some hasty adoption of the ‘Republican lite’ myth.”
— The Illinois governor’s race has been the costliest campaign of 2018 in terms of ad spending so far, according to the Wesleyan Media Project. “[In Illinois,] an estimated $30 million has been spent on over 46,000 [commercials] … Democratic candidates have aired over 28,000 ads in their attempt to earn their party’s nomination on March 20, while Republicans have aired over 17,000 ads. … Six Senate races have seen more than 500 ad airings in 2018[.] … The list is topped by the Senate race in Indiana where about 6,700 ads have aired at an estimated cost of $1.9 million.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Meghan McCain hit back against Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who accused John McCain of committing “slander” against those who carried out “enhanced interrogation”:
My father doesn’t need torture explained to him. https://t.co/ajrtr7Vn5A
— Meghan McCain (@MeghanMcCain) March 15, 2018
Mitt Romney visited Utah State:
Mitt Romney standing on Utah State’s iconic A… where thousands of students kiss every year to become “True Aggies.” pic.twitter.com/ax4R7BgGtm
— Natalie Andrews (@nataliewsj) March 15, 2018
A former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia criticized the latest sanctions:
Furthermore, such narrowly targeted sanctions have little to no impact on the operations of Russia’s intelligence services or its proxies, since these organizations don’t transact (at least overtly) through the U.S. financial system. <2 of 3>
— Michael Carpenter (@mikercarpenter) March 15, 2018
The White House press secretary sought to push back on The Post’s McMaster scoop, even as other news outlets — including the Wall Street Journal — confirmed it:
Just spoke to @POTUS and Gen. H.R. McMaster – contrary to reports they have a good working relationship and there are no changes at the NSC.
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) March 16, 2018
A Wall Street Journal reporter noted this of McMaster’s expected departure:
Confirmed: Trump has told Kelly he has decided to oust McMaster, administration officials tell me @MichaelCBender. Trump doesn’t yet have a replacement in mind and wants a more graceful exit for McMaster than he afforded Tillerson, whom he fired via tweet.
— Rebecca Ballhaus (@rebeccaballhaus) March 16, 2018
A New York Times reporter replied:
Trump could fire him by pressing a button on his desk that makes a trap door open beneath him on the floor and it would be a more graceful exit than he afforded Tillerson https://t.co/Eu79KH5Psp
— Alex Burns (@alexburnsNYT) March 16, 2018
From an NBC News editor:
Mission accomplished! nothing says “soft landing” like a front-page WaPo hed about your imminent firing https://t.co/Eh4DIRaATg
— Rebecca Sinderbrand (@sinderbrand) March 16, 2018
A Times reporter lampooned the rotating door of administration officials:
Could MadLibs help?
Pres. Trump may fire ____ on _____ as his staff is consumed by chaos in the wake of ____. Officials said the replacement is ___ but said frustration with ___ could lead him to change his mind. The ouster was orchestrated by ____. https://t.co/tAx2Oq5W7S
— Michael D. Shear (@shearm) March 15, 2018
From a Post reporter:
Four people could be ousted tomorrow. Or zero. And I would not be shocked at this point either way.
— Josh Dawsey (@jdawsey1) March 15, 2018
A pro-Trump super PAC hired a former administration staffer, per a reporter for Mic:
Trump’s super PAC, America First Policies, just hired Carl Higbie as Director of Advocacy. Higbie made such racist comments that he was fired from the Trump administration. https://t.co/AWyoWmG29ypic.twitter.com/fYBPjUWnP2
— Emily C. Singer (@CahnEmily) March 15, 2018
Canada’s ambassador to the United States pushed back on Trump’s claims on trade between the two countries:
From the Office of the United States Trade Representative: “The U.S. goods and services trade surplus with Canada was $12.5 billion in 2016” … (including energy and lumber) https://t.co/9ZZFGebNHMpic.twitter.com/XFIen13R4s
— David MacNaughton (@AmbMacNaughton) March 15, 2018
Chelsea Clinton asked her followers to respect Trump’s younger relatives:
Please respect the privacy of President Trump’s grandchildren. They’re kids and deserve to not be your clickbait. Thank you.
— Chelsea Clinton (@ChelseaClinton) March 15, 2018
From a Daily Beast reporter:
Really weird and upsetting to see folks acting gleeful at the Don Jr. divorce news. It’s his private life and he has five kids. Leave it alone.
I don’t care how bad my ratio ends up.
— Sam Stein (@samstein) March 15, 2018
A Weekly Standard editor marked a historic anniversary:
50 years ago tomorrow, March 16, 1968: Bobby Kennedy enters the presidential race. 1968 will go down in history as the last time until 2020 that a president was in effect denied renomination by his own party.
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) March 15, 2018
A familiar face returned to the White House for the Irish prime minister’s visit:
— Margaret Talev (@margarettalev) March 15, 2018
The former governor of Virginia swam with the sharks, literally:
Have been swimming with sharks for years. Time to try the real thing. Sharks lost! pic.twitter.com/dG36IacLum
— Terry McAuliffe (@TerryMcAuliffe) March 15, 2018
And a sports writer for the Green Bay Press-Gazette summed up March Madness:
I picked Arizona for the Final 4.
My 3 children each picked Buffalo. Because they thought buffalos were cool.
I hate March.
— Ryan Wood (@ByRyanWood) March 16, 2018
— “‘I’m constantly asking: Why?’ When mass shootings end, the painful wait for answers begins,” by The Post’s William Wan and Mark Berman: “Long after the sirens, vigils and cable news debates, the question remains. It nags at survivors and their families. It haunts investigators as they comb through the gunman’s belongings, text messages and the scattered pieces of his life. … Even as our attention as a society fades, the mystery of motive lingers like an open, forgotten wound until the next shooting, the next cycle of grief … In the wake of such killings, there is often a rush to point to mental illness as an explanation, but [almost all psychiatrists] say that knee-jerk reaction is wrong[:] In a 2015 study that examined 235 people who committed or tried to commit mass killings, only 22 percent of them could be considered mentally ill. ‘We like to think that anyone who kills others as somehow mentally ill,’ [said forensic psychiatrist Phillip Resnick, who served on the cases of Timothy McVeigh and Ted Kaczynski.]. … In the absence of definitive answers, experts who research mass shootings talk instead in terms of patterns.”
— Politico Magazine, “‘God Made Me Black on Purpose,’” by Tim Alberta: “Concerned about narrowing his brand, [Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.)] long has tried to downplay his ethnic exceptionalism and avoid the role of race-relations ambassador for the GOP. And yet Scott, now more than ever, cannot seem to escape being perceived as such. He is not just a generic black Republican in a generic period of history; he is the most powerful and prominent black elected official in America, serving at a time of heightened racial tension and widespread accusations of xenophobia against his own party and the president who leads it. This ensures that Scott wears a target on his back regardless of the issue or crisis at hand.”
— Vox, “Ryan Seacrest was accused of sexual misconduct. Hollywood shrugged,” by Caroline Framke: “[I]n an age when everyone in Hollywood and beyond is grappling with the ramifications of coming forward about sexual violence and what to do with those accused, it’s worth taking a step back to understand why Seacrest managed to sidestep his own controversy.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“Venture capitalist visits 200 schools in 50 states and says DeVos is wrong: ‘If choice and competition improve schools, I found no sign of it,’” from Valerie Strauss: “Ted Dintersmith is a successful venture capitalist and father of two who has spent years devoting most of his time, energy and millions of dollars of his personal fortune to learning about — and advocating for — public education and how it can be made better for all children. Dintersmith traveled to every state to visit schools and see what works and what doesn’t[.] … In this post, he writes about what he saw and offers advice to [Betsy DeVos], who recently said … she had never ‘intentionally’ visited an underperforming school.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“Matt Damon moving family to Australia because of Trump,” from Page Six: “Matt Damon is moving his family to Australia — in part because the liberal star’s fed up with President Trump. Damon, 47, reportedly has purchased a property in Byron Bay, New South Wales, according to Sydney’s Sunday Telegraph. The home’s next door to a place owned by Chris Hemsworth — with whom Damon recently appeared in ‘Thor: Ragnarok.’ A source exclusively tells Page Six: ‘Matt’s telling friends and colleagues in Hollywood that he’s moving the family to Australia’ because the activist actor disagrees with Trump’s policies.”
Trump will have lunch with Pence, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.
In the morning, Pence will sit down with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who is openly gay. The vice president and the second lady will then host a St. Patrick’s Day breakfast with Varadkar. Pence also has an afternoon meeting with the Japanese foreign minister.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“[I]n most parts of the world, this is a Washington, D.C., story,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said of Rex Tillerson’s departure as secretary of state. “It’s not about whether the United States is still an ally to the countries I’ve been, or the countries I’ve been talking to. … The job goes on.” (Dan Lamothe)
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
— Another cold, windy day in Washington, but temperatures may perk up a bit starting Sunday. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Wind. That’s the day’s story. A familiar story. It’s wintry behind our cold front, but thank goodness for some sunshine. High temperatures near 40 to mid-40s are likely. And, yes, with northwesterly winds around 20 mph at times gusting toward 30 mph, bundle up a bit. An isolated sprinkle or flurry can’t be ruled out!”
— The Capitals beat the Islanders 7-3. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)
— As 30,000 city employees undergo training to prevent sexual harassment, D.C. taxpayers have recently paid at least $735,000 to settle complaints (and that’s not the total bottom line). Fenit Nirappil reports: “[T]he city has spent $295,000 since 2015 to resolve three lawsuits — two against the D.C. police force and one involving female Department of Corrections employees alleging that male co-workers exposed themselves, offered promotions for sex and mistreated women who complained about harassment. The list did not include one of the most high-profile sexual harassment cases against the city, a 27-year complaint that the city settled last year for $90,000. It also did not include several cases disclosed by city agencies to the D.C. Council, including a $350,000 settlement in October involving the D.C. police department.”
— D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) promised “reinforced” oversight of the school system. From Peter Jamison and Fenit: “Bowser’s remarks during her annual address were perhaps her most candid and wide-reaching acknowledgment of problems that over the past three months have shaken the public schools in the nation’s capital and tarnished the city’s national image as a leading laboratory of education reform.”
— A group of D.C. council members backed away from their opposition to Virginia’s dedicated funding plan for Metro. The move clears the way for the District to contribute $178.5 million a million to the transit system. (Robert McCartney)
— A longtime admirer of the Kennedy clan bought the home on Q Street NW where JFK first met Jacqueline Bouvier at a 1951 garden party. “I like to think that the first couple … talked longingly about their first date and the house,” Scott Stewart said. “It’s neat to be woven into that fabric.” (Sarah Polus)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Seth Meyers encouraged Robert Mueller to speed up his investigation:
The Post fact-checked Trump’s claim that a border wall would pay for itself:
The Irish prime minister visited the White House and said Irish Americans, including those who are undocumented, “love this country dearly”:
A civil servant proposed in Britain’s House of Commons:
And a Florida man hopped a fence to steal a dog after responding to a Craigslist ad about buying it: