With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve.
THE BIG IDEA: National Republicans threw the kitchen sink to hold a House seat in Pennsylvania that President Trump won by 20 points. But while the special election remains too close to call, Democrat Conor Lamb clings to a narrow lead and declared victory early this morning.
The media will focus today on what an embarrassment it is for Trump to lose in the heart of his geographic base of support. He went to Pittsburgh twice in the closing weeks to boost Republican Rick Saccone, including on Saturday, and tweeted his support again on Tuesday. The White House also deployed Don Jr., Ivanka, Kellyanne Conway, Mike Pence and even Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to help.
The bigger reason that the savviest GOP operatives in town are freaking out right now, though, is that the results underscore the degree to which the party has been unable to hone in on a message that can reliably win races in this environment.
Trump administration officials told reporters that they thought the tariffs could tip the race their way. Eighteen thousand members of the United Steelworkers union live in the district. But both candidates embraced the new levies, and the unions backed the Democrat because Saccone supports right-to-work legislation. So the issue was a wash.
Republicans tried to run on the tax cuts, which they’ve promised for months will be the centerpiece of their 2018 messaging. Commercials highlighted Lamb’s opposition to reform and relief for the middle class. When these spots didn’t move the needle, GOP groups stopped talking about them. Politico’s Kevin Robillard pulled the data to show what was on the airwaves: “For the weeks of Feb. 4 and Feb. 11, roughly two-thirds of the broadcast television ads from Saccone’s campaign, the Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC and the National Republican Congressional Committee mentioned taxes … For the week of Feb. 18, that dropped to 36 percent, and to 14 percent the week after. … Since the beginning of March, tax ads have been essentially nonexistent.”
These groups then hammered Lamb, a Marine Corps veteran and former prosecutor, as pro-sanctuary cities. Then they accused him of letting dangerous drug dealers get off the hook for their crimes with lenient sentences. (The dark turn the ads took in the final weeks foreshadows a particularly nasty fall campaign. If you live in a battleground and have young children, you might want to keep them away from the tube.)
Something similar happened in last year’s Virginia governor’s race. Republican Ed Gillespie initially made a proposal for tax cuts the centerpiece of his campaign. When that failed to excite conservatives, he embraced divisive wedge issues. Gillespie defended Confederate monuments, attacked his opponent on sanctuary cities and called him weak on the MS-13 street gang. Democrat Ralph Northam won anyway.
Money was essentially no object in Pennsylvania. National Republicans spent at least $10.7 million to help Saccone, more than five times as much as their Democratic rivals. They will not be able to do that in every close race this fall.
What’s wild about that spending is this race was almost entirely for bragging rights. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has struck down the Republican-drawn map as unconstitutional and ordered redistricting. The district won’t look anything like it currently does come November.
But with 100 percent of precincts reporting, Lamb has 49.8 percent of the vote to Saccone’s 49.6 percent. There are thousands of absentee and provisional ballots outstanding, and a recount is possible if the candidates are separated by 0.5 percentage points or less. Saccone, with the support of the NRCC, said around midnight that “it’s not over yet.” Around 1 a.m., Lamb declared victory at his watch party.
It’s always dangerous to overinterpret the results of any single special election. Remember, Republican Karen Handel prevailed in a much-ballyhooed special election last year in the Atlanta suburbs – in which both sides spent even more. But if Democrats can win in a district where they didn’t even bother to field a candidate the past two election cycles, they can triumph anywhere.
Moreover, there are not many — if any — real opportunities for Republican incumbents to score meaningful legislative achievements between now and November.
The GOP’s struggles are remarkable because the economy is so strong. A solid jobs report came out last Friday, and the stock market is still up big since Trump took office, even after the recent correction.
But it’s not puzzling what’s going on: Trump’s approval rating is hovering below 40 percent, and he sucks up all the oxygen. He did it again yesterday, when he fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson over Twitter.
Saccone wanted Trump’s help because it was such a red district. In many competitive House races, the incumbent Republican won’t. The Air Force veteran promised to be Trump’s “wingman” in the House. “I was Trump before Trump was Trump,” Saccone said over and over again.
Lamb ran a cautious campaign, but he offered a clear contrast to the constant chaos that has defined the past 14 months. “People are so tired of the shouting on TV and in our politics,” Lamb said during his speech early this morning, encapsulating the tack he took.
Driven by Trump, last night’s returns offered another illustration of the problem Republicans have in the suburbs. The 18th District, as it’s presently drawn, stretches from the more well-to-do suburbs outside Pittsburgh into coal country, reaching Pennsylvania’s borders with Ohio and West Virginia. Everywhere moved toward Democrats, but many raw votes came from Allegheny County, which includes the closer-in suburbs. This reflects a motivated liberal base, as well as moderate women who are grossed out by Trump, his crudeness and alleged philandering.
Note the light blue districts in this map below. These are precincts that flipped from Trump to Lamb, and they’re concentrated outside the city:
— J. Miles Coleman (@JMilesColeman) March 14, 2018
From the House editor of the Cook Political Report:
Story of the result: Lamb (D) & Saccone (R) both hit roughly the %s they needed in each county of #PA18. But here’s the difference:
Allegheny Co. (Dem) turned out at 67% of ’16 levels, Westmoreland Co. (GOP) turned out at just 60% of ’16. Another pro-Dem enthusiasm gap.
— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) March 14, 2018
If this district’s composition had been just a little more suburban, Lamb probably would have won a decisive victory. There are 23 Republican-held districts that also voted for Hillary Clinton. Most are in the suburbs.
In the suburb of Mount Lebanon, dental hygienist Janet Dellana said after voting on Tuesday that she was outraged by Trump’s wobbly reaction to the deadly school shooting in Florida. She disagrees with his push for arming teachers instead of limiting access to semiautomatic weapons. “He flip-flops on everything, but in the end, he caters to the extreme right,” the 64-year-old told Dave Weigel. “I am a registered Republican, but as this party continues to cater to the extreme right, they push me left.”
“We should be able to elect a box of hammers in this district. If we’re losing here, you can bet there is a Democratic wave coming,” said veteran Republican consultant Mike Murphy, a Trump critic, in an interview with Robert Costa.
Republicans and White House aides are scapegoating Saccone, saying he ran a bad campaign. Indeed, the four-term state representative was uninspiring. He was a terrible fundraiser — forcing the national party to bail him out — and he ran a lackluster, disorganized campaign that never effectively introduced him to voters. But, but, but: He’s not a lightning rod like Roy Moore, the Republican who blew a special Senate election in Alabama in December. In every way, Saccone is a generic, standard issue Republican.
GOP operatives also say Lamb has a superb resume, ran a stellar campaign and didn’t face a primary to force him to the left the way that many Democrats will later this year.
“The reality is that plenty of mediocre, uninspiring candidates get elected to the House from typically-safe districts,” writes National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar. “The difference this year isn’t the caliber of candidates. It’s that Trump is driving the Republican party rank-and-file off the proverbial political cliff. At this point, there have been enough off-year elections, polling data and candidate recruiting successes to render a clear verdict: Democrats are solid favorites to retake the House this year.”
Eight months is an eternity in politics, especially in this tumultuous era when each day feels like a week. The underlying dynamics could certainly change. Trump could negotiate a grand bargain with the North Koreans, for example. On the other hand, special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation could reach even deeper into the Oval Office. There will be an October Surprise. Who it benefits we won’t know until November.
Rick Saccone supporters watch election results at his party in McKeesport, Pa. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)
— Republican thought leaders sounded the alarm.
From the GOP’s focus group guru:
Make no mistake: It is a leaning Republican district that is leaning no more.
— Frank Luntz (@FrankLuntz) March 14, 2018
1. They’ve lost some of their past support.
2. Thousands of Trump voters are staying home.
They can keep Congress if they fix one of those. If both stay broken, they will certainly lose in November.
— Frank Luntz (@FrankLuntz) March 14, 2018
A veteran GOP operative in Richmond, who was a senior adviser to Gillespie’s gubernatorial campaign in Virginia last year:
And the reason for these Republican losses? Starts with a T; ends with a P; rhymes with Drump. No more hints though. Would ruin the after action reviews https://t.co/uEOafWfelL
— Tucker Martin (@jtuckermartin) March 14, 2018
A former RNC communications director and House GOP leadership aide:
Regardless of who ultimately wins, this is not a good result for the GOP. Look for more retirements to come.
— Doug Heye (@DougHeye) March 14, 2018
A former Florida Republican congressman who lost in 2016:
Rep. Tom Foley of Washington served for 30 yrs. He was elected Speaker of the House in 1989.
In 1990 he was re-elected w 69%. In 1992 he was re-elected w 55%. In 1994, he lost w 49%, becoming the first sitting Speaker since 1862 to be defeated for re-election.
— David Jolly (@DavidJollyFL) March 14, 2018
A former Illinois Republican congressman who lost in 2012:
One last time: #PA18 IS NOT SUPPOSED TO EVEN BE CLOSE!
Wake up Republicans. A blue wave is coming. Don’t dismiss the blue wave. Respect the blue wave. Or we won’t defeat the blue wave.
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) March 14, 2018
The conservative editor of Commentary and New York Post columnist:
it doesn’t matter what happens now. what matters is that the Dem surge/GOP depression is very, very real
— John Podhoretz (@jpodhoretz) March 14, 2018
2006: The Thumpin’
2010: The Shellacking
— John Podhoretz (@jpodhoretz) March 14, 2018
The political editor of the conservative site TownHall.com got attacked by some of his followers after he said on Fox News that the results are problematic for Republicans:
I see my analysis has upset some of you, but look: I’m not gonna go on tv and serve up the lame spin you may prefer to hear. *Regardless* of outcome, an effectively tied race in a deep red district despite GOP spending huge resources is a really worrisome sign. Period. #PA18
— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) March 14, 2018
From the former Breitbart writer who now edits the conservative DailyWire.com:
Worth noting: all the normal factors should be cutting in GOP favor, outside of being the party in power. The economy is good, and we have no serious foreign crises. Which says that the popularity of the president is a serious factor in Democratic turnout.
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) March 14, 2018
— Here are a few other interesting nuggets from analysts.
The editor of Vox:
There are 118 House Republicans in seats that went for Trump by less than this district. Democrats need to win 24 seats to win back the House. https://t.co/wcAri1Jf1O
— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) March 14, 2018
“This outcome is tantamount to a Democrat winning (or tying) a statewide race in Louisiana or Kansas or Montana, which also voted for Trump by 20 points,” tweeted FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver. One of his colleagues added:
I’ll say the swing we have seen in the special elections as a whole so far looks every bit like you’d expect in a Democratic wave based on cycles dating back to 1994. https://t.co/gknU08wG2y
— (((Harry Enten))) (@ForecasterEnten) March 14, 2018
A political scientist at the University of Chicago who closely tracks House races:
Lamb’s big gains come in 2 ways:
—Compared to Obama, he gained more in suburban Allegheny than in rest of #PA18, building on 2016 anti-Trump backlash.
—Compared to Clinton, he gained far more in the more blue-collar counties than in Allegheny, countering Dems’ longtime erosion.
— Taniel (@Taniel) March 14, 2018
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
— Celebrated physicist Stephen Hawking died at 76. Joel Achenbach and Boyce Rensberger write: “Unable to move a muscle, speechless but for a computer-synthesized voice, Dr. Hawking had suffered since the age of 21 from a degenerative motor neuron disease similar to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Initially given two years to live, a diagnosis that threw him into a profound depression, he found the strength to complete his doctorate and rise to the position of Lucasian professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge, the same post held by Isaac Newton 300 years earlier. … His scientific achievements included breakthroughs in understanding the extreme conditions of black holes, objects so dense that not even light can escape their gravity.” “My goal is simple,” Hawking once said. “It is complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.”
Adult film star Stormy Daniels arrives at the 2008 Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. (Chris Pizzello/AP)
— A Florida radio host said Stormy Daniels discussed her alleged affair with Trump on his show in 2007, the earliest known instance of the adult-film star publicly discussing the relationship. CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski reports: “Bubba the Love Sponge Clem … played portions of the interview on his radio show Friday and Monday, in which Daniels was asked to write down the names of famous men she had slept with. Clem says the first name on that list was Donald Trump. Although neither Daniels nor the host says Trump’s name in the 2007 audio, she can be heard describing key details that match the description of her alleged affair with Trump. Clem said on his nationally syndicated radio program that Daniels was talking about Trump, and later verified the same information to CNN. CNN independently corroborated the story with another person who was in Clem’s studio that day … ”
GET SMART FAST:
- The family of slain DNC staffer Seth Rich is suing Fox News. Rich’s parents allege the network “aided and abetted the intentional infliction of emotional distress” by fueling conspiracy theories that their son was tied to WikiLeaks’s DNC email dump before his 2016 murder. (ABC News)
- Former attorney general Eric Holder is traveling to Wisconsin to campaign in a state Supreme Court race. The April 3 election will likely become the next nationalized race after last night’s Pennsylvania matchup. (Politico)
- Democratic senators facing tough reelection races distanced themselves from Hillary Clinton’s claim that she “won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward.” “Those are kind of fighting words for me, because I’m partial to Missouri voters,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said. “I may not have agreed with their choice, but I certainly respect them. And I don’t think that’s the way you should talk about any voter especially ones in my state.” (Michael Scherer)
- Federal authorities say a former aide to Rep. Bob Brady (D-Pa.) was targeted in a murder-for-hire plot. Prominent Arkansas lobbyist Milton Russel “Rusty” Cranford was allegedly trying to keep Brady aide Donald “D.A.” Jones from cooperating in a corruption probe. (Philadelphia Inquirer)
A California teacher trained in gun use accidentally discharged his firearm in class. The weapon was pointed at the ceiling during a class devoted to public safety. A male student sustained non-life-threatening injuries from the incident. (Fred Barbash)
- The third package in the Austin bombings was addressed to a different home nearby. That package severely injured a 75-year-old Hispanic woman who had no apparent connection to the first two victims, who both had ties to the city’s African American community. Austin’s police chief said his team was not ruling out the possibility the attacks were racially motivated. (Eva Ruth Moravec, Eli Rosenberg, Mark Berman and Matt Zapotosky)
- A powerful nor’easter knocked out power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses. Some communities received up to two feet of snow. (AP)
Five women accused celebrated architect Richard Meier of sexual misconduct. Two of the women described being sent to Meier’s New York apartment, where he exposed himself to them. (New York Times)
- A 10-month-old puppy suffocated after being place in the overhead compartment during a United flight. Passengers on the plane claim a flight attendant insisted the dog be placed in the compartment, telling a woman and her two children they would not be allowed to travel if they refused to stow their pet. (Martine Powers)
- Charles Manson’s grandson won possession of the cult leader’s remains. Manson’s body stayed on ice under a fake name in a California coroner’s office for four months as multiple parties claimed their right to bury him. (Kyle Swenson)
— “Fired via Twitter: How Trump soured on Tillerson as his lead diplomat.” Ashley Parker, Philip Rucker, John Hudson and Carol D. Leonnig have the ticktock behind Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s final moments in a job that never seemed to suit him (in Trump’s eyes anyway): ” … Tillerson was asleep in his Nairobi hotel room early Saturday morning fighting a stomach bug when White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly called to wake him around 2 a.m. to relay a terse message from President Trump: The boss was not happy. The president was so eager to fire Tillerson that he wanted to do so in a tweet on Friday, but Kelly persuaded Trump to wait until his secretary of state was back in the United States from Africa, two people familiar with the conversation said …
But Kelly had also warned Tillerson to possibly expect a pejorative tweet from Trump over the weekend, a State Department official said. Tillerson failed to fully understand that the chief of staff was gently signaling to him that he was about to be fired. And so, just over four hours after Tillerson’s government plane touched down at Joint Base Andrews on Tuesday morning, the secretary of state learned of his dismissal from a tweet …
“More than three hours after his tweet, Trump finally called Tillerson from Air Force One. The call was brief and cordial, according to people with knowledge of it, and Trump decided to make it to try to defuse more tensions. Trump reiterated that Tillerson would be happier outside the department, and the secretary of state was diplomatic, a senior White House official said.”
— Trump and Tillerson never got along, a fact exacerbated by the former ExxonMobil chief publicly contradicting his boss on key policy issues (never mind that he never directly denied calling the president a “moron“). More from Ashley, Phil, John and Carol: “Trump and Tillerson have disagreed over strategy in key areas of foreign policy, such as the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, how to handle China and the Middle East, the Paris climate accord, the approach to North Korea, and the overall tone of U.S. diplomacy. The president was disdainful of his secretary of state for being “too establishment” in his thinking and for disagreeing with him in meetings.”
— Kiss of death: “Tillerson was ousted Tuesday just as he seemed to be hitting his diplomatic stride. In recent weeks, he grew even more outspoken in criticizing Russia, more confident that his patient pressure on North Korea was bearing fruit and more comfortable that he would outlast his many critics in the West Wing. In the end, no one was more surprised that Tillerson was fired than Tillerson himself,” write Anne Gearan and Carol Morello.
“Clearly shaken, his voice thin, Tillerson appeared at a State Department lectern shortly after 2 p.m. to read a statement thanking colleagues and tying up some administrative details. He thanked the American people ‘for your devotion to a free and open society; to acts of kindness toward one another; to honesty and the quiet hard work that you do every day.’ He did not thank President Trump individually, or even mention him beyond saying that Trump had called him two hours before.”
— A State Department spokesman who contradicted the White House’s version of events was swiftly fired. Ashley, Phil, John and Carol note: “Steve Goldstein, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, said that Tillerson was ‘unaware of the reason’ for his firing and had not spoken directly with Trump. … [Goldstein’s dismissal] came just before he was scheduled to brief reporters about the shake-up at Foggy Bottom … ”
— The Wall Street Journal recounts another smaller but still telling illustration of how Trump humiliates people who work for him: “In a private room in China’s Great Hall of the People in November, [Tillerson] sat with [Trump] and other U.S. officials as their hosts delivered plates of wilted Caesar salad. Mr. Trump, in the midst of a five-country tour of Asia, grew concerned the untouched greens would offend the Chinese, according to people familiar with the matter. So he ordered Mr. Tillerson to start. ‘Rex,’ he said, ‘eat the salad.’ Mr. Tillerson laughed off the remark, but the moment illustrated the at-times awkward relationship between [the two men].” (Michael C. Bender and Felicia Schwartz)
CIA Director Mike Pompeo. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
— Sucking up pays dividends: CIA Director Mike Pompeo is Trump’s choice to replace Tillerson. “Pompeo, assuming that the Senate confirms him in time, will face a confluence of foreign policy decisions and potential national security crises this spring that would challenge even the most experienced diplomats,” write Karen DeYoung and John Hudson. “Pompeo is likely to be more amenable to Trump’s way of doing business. As a congressman from Kansas and a tea party leader, he sharply opposed the Iran nuclear deal, tweeting just before his CIA nomination his determination to ‘roll back’ the agreement.”
–“The danger is that Pompeo, so much in sync with Trump, will remove the dampers that have sometimes checked the president’s disruptive instincts,” warns Post columnist David Ignatius. “Tillerson offered solid, traditional foreign policy counsel[.] He operated in tandem with [Defense Secretary Jim Mattis]; this axis of caution has now been broken, perhaps leaving Mattis in a more vulnerable position … The center-weight is now likely to shift to Trump and Pompeo … [and] for better or worse, the White House and Foggy Bottom will be going in the same direction.”
— State Department rank-and-file employees rejoiced over Tillerson’s departure. The Daily Beast’s Asawin Suebsaeng, Noah Shachtman and Spencer Ackerman report. “State Department staffers … described the secretary of state’s downfall as a liberation — even as they grimly recognized that recent history, literal and metaphorical, suggests that what follows liberation is chaos and occupation. … State Department officials were horrified by what they perceived as his disdain for them. His reforms left many experienced diplomats internally marginalized — with little to do but vent to reporters about Tillerson presiding over a decline of American diplomacy that many felt was the entire point of his tenure.”
— How it’s playing:
- “The Foreign Capital Rex Tillerson Never Understood: Trump’s Washington,” by Susan B. Glasser in Politico Magazine: “Secretaries of state are supposed to be able to master complex diplomatic puzzles. But in the end, Tillerson couldn’t even read his own boss.”
“In Replacing Tillerson With Pompeo, Trump Turns to Loyalists Who Reflect ‘America First’ Views,” by the New York Times’s Mark Landler, Maggie Haberman and Gardiner Harris: “Mr. Tillerson’s dismissal, on the heels of Gary D. Cohn’s resignation as Mr. Trump’s chief economic adviser after a dispute over steel tariffs, pulls the Trump administration further out of the economic and foreign policy mainstream and closer to the nationalist ideas that animated Mr. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.”
- “‘You’re fired’: A timeline of Trump administration departures,”by Katie Mettler, Callum Borchers and Nick Kirkpatrick.
- “Rex Tillerson’s last act: Leave quietly or go down fighting,” by Alexandra T. Evans and Evan D. McCormick.
- “How Mike Pompeo went from one of Trump’s biggest critics to one of his biggest fans,” by Amber Phillips: “This time two years ago, Mike Pompeo was warning GOP voters that Trump would be an authoritarian leader.”
THE FIRST FEMALE CIA DIRECTOR?
— Trump tapped Gina Haspel to be the next CIA director, selecting a woman who spent multiple tours overseas and is respected within the CIA. But she also has deep ties to the agency’s use of brutal interrogation measures. Greg Miller and Shane Harris report:“Haspel’s selection faced immediate opposition from some lawmakers and human rights groups because of her prominent role in one of the agency’s darkest chapters. Haspel was in charge of one of the CIA’s ‘black site’ prisons where detainees were subjected to waterboarding and other harrowing interrogation measures widely condemned as torture. When those methods were exposed and their legality came under scrutiny, Haspel was among a group of CIA officials involved in the decision to destroy videotapes of interrogation sessions that left some detainees on the brink of physical collapse. Jameel Jaffer, formerly deputy legal director of the ACLU, said Tuesday on his Twitter feed that Haspel is ‘quite literally a war criminal.’
“[But] current and former U.S. intelligence officials who have worked with Haspel praised her as an effective leader who could be expected to stand up to the pressures that Trump has often placed on spy agencies — including his denunciations of the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. Officials … said CIA employees would greet her appointment with some relief, because an intelligence veteran would be back in charge.”
— “The confirmation of [Trump’s] picks for secretary of state and CIA director is likely to be hampered but not stymied by a mostly partisan backlash to their past statements and [actions],”Karoun Demirjian, Seung Min Kim and Mike DeBonis report from Capitol Hill. “Leaders of both parties predicted it could take a while to confirm [Pompeo and Haspel], leaving the State Department officially rudderless at a time when the administration faces pressing [national security] challenges … ‘It’ll obviously take some time and effort,’ said [Sen. John Cornyn] (R-Tex.). ‘I’m confident we’ll get them confirmed, but … it just adds two other high-profile nominations to our workload.’
Senate Democrats excoriated Trump: “Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called Trump ‘a commander in chaos,’ and some of Tillerson’s harshest Democratic critics rushed to defend him. … The widespread criticism from Democrats ensures that GOP leaders will have difficulty confirming Pompeo and Haspel expeditiously. But the backlash is not expected to upset their eventual chances of confirmation — [Sen. Chuck Schumer] (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday that at this point he has no plans to ask Democrats to oppose their nominations.”
ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN AND WOMEN:
— Trump is also souring on VA Secretary and Obama-era holdover David Shulkin, and has told advisers he could replace him “within days” as part of a broader Cabinet shake-up. Lisa Rein and Josh Dawsey report: “The president is considering Energy Secretary Rick Perry, an Air Force veteran, to replace Shulkin … Trump invited Perry to the White House for lunch on Monday, but did not formally offer him the job. A physician and former hospital executive who won unanimous confirmation by the Senate last year … Shulkin … has taken a moderate approach to expanding a program called Choice, which gives veterans the option to see private doctors outside the system. But conservatives at the agency and in the White House, backed by the billionaire Koch brothers, have pushed for more private care — and say Shulkin has hindered that goal.”
— John McEntee joined Trump’s reelection campaign less than 24 hours after being fired from the White House over security clearance issues. David Nakamura and Josh report: “The White House did not say why McEntee was let go, but a senior U.S. official said he lost his security clearance and could no longer perform his role. Trump wanted to keep him around so a spot was made for him at the campaign, this person said. Also Tuesday, the Trump campaign announced that Katrina Pierson, who served as the campaign’s 2016 national spokeswoman, will rejoin the effort as a senior adviser. … Trump has had a record rate of turnover in his senior staff. Before McEntee’s departure, 43 percent of the president’s executive staff had left in the first 13½ months …”
— McEntee is under investigation by the Secret Service due to problems over online gambling and mishandling his taxes, report the Wall Street Journal’s Michael C. Bender and Rebecca Ballhaus.
— What’s going on? In recent weeks, Trump’s decisions appear to be guided by his gut rather than the advice of more cautious White House advisers, who previously convinced him to walk back some of his more impulsive inclinations. David Nakamura and Damian Paletta report: “Trump’s moves have shaken and alarmed a West Wing staff who fear the president has felt less restrained about acting on his whims amid the recent departures of several longtime aides … depleting the ranks of those the president feels he can trust. [White House allies] suggested that Trump has been liberated to manage his administration as he did his private business, making decisions that feel good in the moment because he believes in his ability to win — regardless of whether they are backed by rigorous analysis or supported by top advisers. This, they said, is the real Trump — freewheeling by nature, decisive in the moment, unafraid to chart his own course.”
People familiar with Trump say he becomes more erratic when under pressure: “When he’s under pressure is when he tends to do this impulsive stuff,” said Jack O’Donnell, former president of the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino. “That’s what I saw in the business. When he began to have pressure with debts, when the [Taj Mahal casino] … was underperforming, is when he began acting very erratically.”
— Newly released emails revealed Candy Carson, who is married to HUD Secretary Ben Carson, consulted on the redecoration of her husband’s government office. The secretary’s wife weighed in on the purchase of a replacement conference table and set of chairs costing $31,561. (Juliet Eilperin and Jack Gillum)
— The president of the Heritage Foundation said former Trump adviser Omarosa Manigault “blocked” her from serving in the administration. “The way it was described to me is she approached the whole thing like it was ‘The Apprentice,‘” Kay Coles James added. “So she looked around Washington and said, ‘OK, who do I need to get rid of first?’” (Politico)
THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
— Remarkable: Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee appeared to back away from their finding that Russia was not trying to assist Trump by meddling in the 2016 election. Karoun Demirjian reports: “Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.) told reporters Tuesday that ‘it’s clear [Russian officials] were trying to hurt Hillary [Clinton]’ by interfering in the 2016 election and that ‘everybody gets to make up their own mind whether they were trying to hurt Hillary, help Trump, it’s kind of glass half full, glass half empty.’ That equivalence stands in sharp contrast to the conclusions of a 150-page GOP-drafted report Conaway announced to the news media on Monday that concludes that the intelligence community ‘didn’t meet the standards’ of proof necessary to determine that Russia meddled in the 2016 election with the aim of helping Trump.”
— Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said panel Democrats will try to continue their investigation regardless of the GOP shutting it down, releasinga list of 30 witnesses that Democrats still want to call. CNN’s Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb report: “Schiff said that Republicans ‘prematurely shut down the Russia investigation’ … [calling the GOP report] ‘another Nunes memo in long form,’ and said the Democrats were drafting their own long-form report that will be released with witness transcripts attached. The 21-page status report document … also argues the committee failed to investigate matters like Trump’s finances and failed to answer questions like whether the Trump campaign had advance knowledge of Russia’s email hacking. The Democrats say there are 20 entities they should request documents from and 15 subpoenas that should be issued.”
— A federal judge in Virginia said Paul Manafort could face more than 300 years in prison for charges stemming from Robert Mueller’s investigation. CNN’s Katelyn Polantz reports: “’Given the nature of the charges against the defendant and the apparent weight of the evidence against him, defendant faces the very real possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison,’ federal judge T.S. Ellis III of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia wrote Tuesday. Ellis last week placed Manafort under home incarceration while wearing a GPS monitor and set a $10 million unsecured bail. … Ellis said Manafort has the financial resources and international connections to help himself flee before his trial and stay at large, ‘as well as every incentive to do so.’” His trial in Virginia is scheduled to begin Sept. 17.
Russian President Vladimir Putin walks through St.George’s Hall to take part in an inauguration ceremony in Moscow. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP )
MORE RUSSIAN AGGRESSION ACROSS THE POND:
— Britain’s counterterrorism unit is investigating the death of Russian exile Nikolai Glushkov, who was found dead on Monday in his London home.Glushkov was an associate of the late Putin critic, Boris Berezovsky, and was granted political asylum in the United Kingdom in 2004.The Guardian’s Luke Harding reports: “[Metropolitan police] said the counter-terrorism command unit was leading the investigation into the death ‘as a precaution because of associations that the man is believed to have had.’”
— Russia vowed to retaliate if the U.K. imposes sanctions in response to the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal. Authorities also demanded access to the sample of a nerve agent British officials have identified as Russian. Matthew Bodner reports: “Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also said Russia does not intend to comply with British [Theresa May’s demand] for an official explanation of how a nerve agent identified as Novichok … allegedly came to be used in the poisoning attack in southern England[.] Lavrov insisted that Russian experts should be able to examine the British evidence but again denied Russian involvement in last week’s attack.”
— Skripal’s attempted assassination represents a “whole new level of defiance” from Russia, Post columnist Anne Applebaum writes. “But why are they doing this? Just like the attack on the journalist Anna Politkovskaya … the hit may have been meant as a warning to other potential double agents: You don’t have to murder every journalist, or every spy, to frighten the rest. … More ominously, it may have been designed to expose Britain’s new isolation: Now that it is leaving the European Union, the United Kingdom no longer has a set of allies it can rely upon to help craft a response.”
THE REST OF TRUMP’S AGENDA:
— Trump made his first visit to California, viewing border wall prototypes and insulting the state’s governor. John Wagner reports: “The visit, which drew protesters on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, came at a time of escalating acrimony between Trump and Democratic leaders of the nation’s most populous state, who have sought through legislation and lawsuits to counter Trump on immigration and other policies. Even against that backdrop, Trump’s swipe at Gov. Jerry Brown (D) was remarkable coming from a sitting president. As Trump toured the site of eight prototypes of the border wall, he told onlookers that Brown ‘does a very poor job of running California.’ ‘They have the highest taxes in the United States,’ Trump said. ‘The place is totally out of control. You have sanctuary cities where you have criminals living in the sanctuary cities.’”
— A federal appeals court largely upheld Texas immigration enforcement law targeting “sanctuary” cities. The Texas Tribune’s Julián Aguilar reports: “As passed, Senate Bill 4 allows local law enforcement officers to question the immigration status of people they detain or arrest and punishes local government department heads and elected officials who don’t cooperate with federal immigration ‘detainers’ — requests by agents to turn over immigrants subject to possible deportation — in the form of jail time and penalties that exceed $25,000.”
— An immigration bill from conservative Republicans could become more generous to “dreamers” in the hopes of attracting moderates’ support. From Mike DeBonis: “The bill sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and others would grant legal status to those who have been protected under [DACA]. But as written, Goodlatte’s bill would grant that status for only three years at a time, forcing recipients to deal with a constant cycle of renewals and a potential lifetime of uncertainty regarding their future in the United States.”
— Trump wants tougher tariff proposals to punish the Chinese, David J. Lynch reports. “The order came after Trump last week rejected as inadequate a proposal from U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer to levy import taxes on $30 billion in Chinese imports, the people said. The president’s message to his trade chief was ‘make it bigger,’ said one lobbyist familiar with the discussion. ‘The president told him it wasn’t enough,’ said a second executive.”
— Trump has left the Federal Election Commission shorthanded, despite his promises to “drain the swamp.” Michelle Ye Hee Lee reports: “So far, Trump has nominated just one new commissioner to fill the two open spots on the panel. He has the opportunity to name an entirely new slate. The remaining four commissioners are serving on expired terms, two of which ended as long as a decade ago. If one more leaves without being replaced, the FEC will lack a quorum and be effectively paralyzed.” If Trump does choose a new slate of commissioners, they could play a pivotal role in determining whether his team violated campaign finance rules by paying Stormy Daniels.
— Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke acknowledged offshore drilling may not happen along the Pacific coast. Darryl Fears reports: “[Zinke said] California, Oregon and Washington have ‘no known resources of any weight’ for energy companies to extract. Discussing the Atlantic coast while testifying before the Senate Energy Committee, the secretary similarly described Maine as a state with little recoverable oil and gas. Zinke stopped short of saying that the three Pacific states would be exempted from the president’s plan to offer leases on 95 percent of the outer continental shelf.”
— Several Democratic senators called on the Trump administration to uphold the ban on importing elephant hunting trophies. In a letter to Ryan Zinke, the senators highlighted past comments from Trump supporting the ban. “We must conclude that either [the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service] is willfully ignoring the direction of the President, or the President is ignoring the necessary policy, regulatory, or legal considerations, and misleading the American people as to the position of his Administration on the trophy hunting of endangered species,” the senators wrote. (I wrote last week about Trump’s reversal on the trophy ban — and how it emphasizes the need to watch what he does, not what he says.)
— The House rejected “Right to Try” legislation to allow terminally ill patients easier access to experimental treatments. Laurie McGinley reports: “The vote came after a spirited debate in which GOP lawmakers portrayed the measure, which was strongly backed by [Trump] and Vice President Pence, as a last chance at survival for desperately ill patients. Democrats said the bill would weaken critical FDA protections without addressing the fundamental obstacles to experimental drugs.”
— Broward County prosecutors will seek the death sentence for alleged Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz. Mark Berman reports: “In a notice filed Tuesday in circuit court, Michael J. Satz, the Broward state attorney, said the state intended to seek the death penalty for Cruz and would prove that the crime ‘was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel.’ Satz’s filing included multiple aggravating factors he said warranted a death sentence, including that Cruz knowingly created a risk of death to many people and that the killings were ‘a homicide … committed in a cold, calculated, and premeditated manner.’”
— Students at thousands of schools nationwide are expected to walk out of class today to mark one month since the Parkland shooting. Joe Heim and Susan Svrluga write: “The nationally organized walkouts, most of which will last 17 minutes in symbolic tribute to the Florida victims, are unprecedented in recent American history. … In the Washington region, high school students from local districts are planning to stand in silence for 17 minutes in front of the White House and later march to the Capitol, where they hope to meet with lawmakers.”
— Permit requests have been approved for the pro-gun control “March For Our Lives” later this month. From Justin Wm. Moyer: “[The rally] will be held March 24 along Pennsylvania Avenue beginning at noon, although organizers expect participants will start to gather hours earlier. More than 700 ‘sibling marches’ are also being planned around the world that day, according to the event’s website.” As many as 500,000 people are expected to attend.
— YouTube announced it would link to Wikipedia articles under conspiracy theory videos to better inform viewers. BuzzFeed News’s Blake Montgomery, Ryan Mac and Charlie Warzel report: “The feature will roll out in the coming months. The Wikipedia links will not appear solely on conspiracy-related videos, but will instead show up on topics and events that have inspired significant debate.”
— About 7,000 pairs of shoes were displayed on the Capitol lawn representing children killed by gun violence since Sandy Hook. Marissa J. Lang reports: “Avaaz, a global activist network that organizes campaigns involving social issues, solicited donations from around the country to fill the lawn with children’s shoes and send a message to Congress about the toll that gun violence takes. … Tom Mauser, whose son, Daniel, was killed in the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School, was among several who put the shoes of slain family members on display.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Tillerson’s firing dominated the Twitter conversation for much of the day. From Obama’s former White House ethics czar:
Tillerson committed the 1 unpardonable sin in Trump world: telling the truth about Russia. Pompeo won’t make same mistake. Having him as Secretary is the next worst thing to having Nunes (his former House colleague and friend). Confirmation hearings should & will be explosive.
— Norm Eisen (@NormEisen) March 13, 2018
From Hillary Clinton’s running mate:
Why would President Trump fire his Secretary of State at such a grave moment? He’s about to meet with North Korea, the Russian threat continues to pervade the globe, and key ambassadorships go empty. Chaos at the top may make for good reality TV but it’s dangerous foreign policy.
— Tim Kaine (@timkaine) March 13, 2018
From the executive editor of Bloomberg View:
Trump’s two most notorious firings, Comey and now Tillerson, occurred when both men were out of town. Courage. pic.twitter.com/xs2H26cvXX
— Tim O’Brien (@TimOBrien) March 13, 2018
From Trump’s hometown paper:
No love lost here:
Congratulations to my friend and soon to be Secretary of State Mike Pompeo! Great decision by the President. 🇺🇸
— Nikki Haley (@nikkihaley) March 13, 2018
An Obama-era Justice Department spokesman made a recommendation for Mike Pompeo’s confirmation hearing:
Pompeo has never explained what happened, and what he did, when Trump asked him to intervene with Comey on the Russia probe. Should be a major focus of his confirmation hearing.
— Matthew Miller (@matthewamiller) March 13, 2018
This old Pompeo tweet attracted scrutiny:
Here is the since-deleted tweet from Mike Pompeo on July 24, 2016 pushing stolen Democratic emails and Wikileaks. Pompeo was head of House Intelligence Commitee at the time. 3 days later, Trump called on Russia “if you’re listening” to get Clinton’s email. pic.twitter.com/ZE5dLqrtI9
— Dafna Linzer (@DafnaLinzer) March 13, 2018
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) signaled Pompeo’s replacement at the CIA may have trouble getting confirmed:
The torture of detainees in U.S. custody during the last decade was one of the darkest chapters in American history. The Senate must do its job in scrutinizing the record & involvement of Gina Haspel in this disgraceful program. https://t.co/p2eZfMDF5N
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) March 13, 2018
Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) called on Trump to fire his VA secretary:
I really hope that @POTUS@realDonaldTrump finally fires @DeptVetAffairs Secretary @SecShulkin as he will never clean up the incompetence and corruption at the VA. As the only Member who has made this call, our VETS deserve better!! #FireShulkin now.
— Rep. Mike Coffman (@RepMikeCoffman) March 13, 2018
The Onion satirized the rotating door of Trump’s senior staff:
— The Onion (@TheOnion) March 13, 2018
Trump’s visit to the Marines in California got political, per a Bloomberg News reporter:
Trump speech at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar came pretty close to full-on political rally. 1) Said “you wouldn’t have been going to Mars if my opponent won,” 2) attacked “fake news” (crowd cheered 1 and 2) and 3) ended with “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
— Jennifer Epstein (@jeneps) March 13, 2018
California’s governor confronted the president:
— Jerry Brown (@JerryBrownGov) March 13, 2018
Here’s what the White House served yesterday, per an NPR reporter:
As President Trump flew to San Diego today to visit border wall prototypes, in-flight lunch was…taco bowls.
— scott horsley (@HorsleyScott) March 13, 2018
House Republicans’ campaign arm played up Democratic infighting:
Stormy Daniels’s attorney clarified a detail of her nondisclosure agreement:
To be clear and dispel the rumors, the “paternity” language in the NDA is boilerplate. There are no paternity issues here. We want to ensure the truth and only the truth – on ALL issues – is always reported. #basta
— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) March 11, 2018
And NASA paid homage to Stephen Hawking:
Remembering Stephen Hawking, a renowned physicist and ambassador of science. His theories unlocked a universe of possibilities that we & the world are exploring. May you keep flying like superman in microgravity, as you said to astronauts on @Space_Station in 2014 pic.twitter.com/FeR4fd2zZ5
— NASA (@NASA) March 14, 2018
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
— Politico, “Schumer struggles to quell Warren-led rebellion,” by Burgess Everett, Elana Schor and Zachary Warmbrodt: “For Schumer, the banking bill and its rollback of some of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law’s regulations has been quite the tightrope to walk. The minority leader has to balance the needs of moderate caucus members who are desperate for a bipartisan accomplishment heading into brutal reelection races, and the priorities of liberals like Warren who believe they are fighting for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party. Plus, the New Yorker is already viewed with suspicion by liberals for his own ties to Wall Street.”
— New York Times, “Why Is U.S. Health Care So Expensive? Some of the Reasons You’ve Heard Turn Out to Be Myths,” by Margot Sanger-Katz: “Compared with peer nations, the United States sends people to the hospital less often, it has a smaller share of specialist physicians, and it gives people about the same number of hospitalizations and doctors’ visits, according to a new study. … If you’ve been listening to many of the common narratives that seek to explain the high costs of America’s health system and the nation’s relatively low life expectancy, those results might surprise you.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“Only Half Of Trump Voters Say Affair With Porn Actress Would Be Immoral,” from HuffPost: “Conservatives have long given Trump a pass on his less-than-stellar record on so-called ‘moral’ values … [and] only about half of the people who voted for [Trump] say it would be immoral if he had an affair with pornographic film actress Stormy Daniels. The other half say it is not immoral, or they are not sure, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov survey … Three-quarters of Trump voters also contend that, even if Daniels’ allegations are true, they are not relevant to Trump’s presidency. In fact, they claim to be barely concerned about a president’s private life at all: Seventy percent say an elected official who has committed an ‘immoral act’ in his or her personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill duties in the public and professional sphere.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT
“‘Vice President Pence is right’: Joy Behar publicly apologizes for mocking Christianity,” from Marwa Eltagouri: “Joy Behar, a co-host of ABC’s ‘The View,’ apologized Tuesday for mocking Vice President Pence’s Christian faith last month and suggesting his religious views made him mentally ill. ‘I think Vice President Pence is right. I was raised to respect everyone’s religious faith, and I fell short of that,’ Behar said. … Her apology came after weeks of protests by viewers who were outraged by Behar’s remarks. … By Tuesday, Pence had already forgiven Behar. He told Fox News Host Sean Hannity Monday that his faith had taught him ‘grace.’ ‘I give Joy Behar a lot of credit. She picked up the phone. She called me. She was very sincere. And she apologized,’ he said. ‘One of the things my faith teaches me is grace. Forgive as you have been forgiven.’”
Trump will travel from California to St. Louis today, where he will take a tour of the Boeing Company and attend a fundraiser. He gets back to D.C. later tonight.
Pence will participate in deputy OMB Director Russ Vought’s swearing-in ceremony.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt questioned whether states like California should be able to establish their own stricter emissions standards. “California is not the arbiter of these issues,” Pruitt said, adding that while California set state limits on greenhouse gas emissions, that “shouldn’t and can’t dictate to the rest of the country what these levels are going to be.” (Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis)
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
— Cold and windy conditions are sticking around Washington. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Spring continues missing in action today, with temperatures well below normal and a chilly wind. We’re partly cloudy as morning readings rise into and through the 30s, with afternoon highs only in the low-to-mid 40s. Winds come from the west-northwest around 15-25 mph, with gusts around 30-40 mph. Can’t rule out a few flurries.”
— The Wizards lost to the Timberwolves 116-111. (Candace Buckner)
— Footage was released that a Maryland state senator cited as proof of a lobbyist groping her in an Annapolis pub. Ovetta Wiggins reports: “The video shows lobbyist Gil Genn approaching Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D-Montgomery) near a crowded bar at Castlebay Irish Pub, putting his hand on Kagan’s back and moving it around. The physical contact is brief, and it is hard to tell exactly when Genn — who previously denied touching Kagan at all — removes his hand. At a hastily called news conference, Kagan held up her laptop to play the 86-second video, saying it showed how Genn put his hand on her back and slid ‘it down my body.’ … Genn, meanwhile, demanded an apology from Kagan, saying in a statement that the video shows ‘beyond dispute that I did not grab or grope her.’”
— D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) signed a law approving publicly financed elections. The law will first affect elections in 2020 and will steer millions of dollars toward local campaigns. (Peter Jamison)
— Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) called a special session for the state’s legislature to continue budget negotiations, which stalled over the Medicaid expansion debate. (Laura Vozzella)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Late night hosts laughed at Rex Tillerson’s abrupt firing:
A bipartisan pair of senators called for an end to U.S. military action in Yemen:
The Post fact-checked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s numbers on Palestinian authorities paying “terrorists and their families”:
Austin residents expressed fear after the recent bombings:
And nearly four years after a U.S. marshal killed a gang member lunging for a witness testifying in court, a federal judge released the video of the deadly exchange: