Sunday, February 18News That Matters

The Daily 202: Trump budget highlights disconnect between populist rhetoric and plutocrat reality


With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve.

THE BIG IDEA: President Trump campaigned like a populist, but the budget he proposed Monday underscores the degree to which he’s governing as a plutocrat.

Many of his proposals are dead on arrival in Congress, but the blueprint nonetheless speaks volumes about the president’s values — and contradicts many promises he made as a candidate.

“This is a messaging document,” Trump budget director Mick Mulvaney told reporters at the White House.

Here are eight messages that the White House sends with its wish list:

1. Touching third rails he said he wouldn’t:

As a candidate, Trump repeatedly said he would never cut Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security.

Now he proposes cutting Medicare by $554 billion and Medicaid by around $250 billion over the next decade.

His plan includes new per-person limits on the amount of health care each Medicaid enrollee can use and a dramatic shift toward block grants, which would allow states to tighten eligibility requirements and institute work requirements that would kick some off public assistance.

Impacting the middle class, Trump also calls for cutting the subsidies that allow more than four in five people with marketplace health plans to afford their insurance premiums under the Affordable Care Act.

2. Scaling back support for the forgotten man:

Many displaced blue-collar workers in the Rust Belt took the president at his word when he promised to bring back their manufacturing jobs. But Trump’s budget calls for cutting funding for National Dislocated Worker Grants — which provides support to those who lose their jobs because of factory closures or natural disasters — from $219.5 million in 2017 to $51 million in 2019.

Also at the Labor Department, the president wants to slash support for the Adult Employment and Training Activities initiative, which serves high school dropouts and veterans, from $810 million last year to $490 million in 2019.

3. Giving up on a balanced budget:

Trump repeatedly promised that he would balance the budget “very quickly.” It turns out that a guy who has often described himself as the “king of debt” didn’t feel that passionately about deficits. Last year, he laid out a plan to balance the budget in 10 years. This year he didn’t even try. Trump now accepts annual deficits that will run over $1 trillion as the new normal.

Going further, the president also promised on the campaign trail that he’d get rid of the national debt altogether by the end of his second term. But his White House now projects that the national debt, which is already over $20 trillion, will grow more than $2 trillion over the next two years and by at least $7 trillion over the next decade. The administration repeatedly denied this in December as officials pushed to cut taxes by $1.5 trillion.

“After Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts in the 1980s, deficits exploded in the same range as Trump’s now, when calculated as a percentage of the economy, or gross domestic product. But Reagan’s famous ‘riverboat’ gamble came when the total national debt was a fraction of what it is today. Trump is pushing the envelope when debt is already near 80 percent of GDP, leaving far less room to maneuver if the economy turns downward,” David Rogers writes in Politico. “Economists and politicians alike don’t know what happens next. There’s all the edginess of breaking new ground. But also, as with Faulkner’s famous line, there is a sense that the past ‘is not even past.’ … Nothing now seems obvious, except red ink.”

4. Relying on fuzzy math:

Trump’s team knows full well that they’ll never get most of the spending cuts they’re proposing, but they’re using them to make the deficit look less bad than it really is. Just last Friday, the president signed into law an authorization bill that blows up the sequester and increases spending by more than $500 billion.

The White House also makes the unrealistic assumption that the economy will grow by more than 3 percent every year between now and 2024, which makes its projections for revenue growth rosier than they should be. No serious economist thinks that level of growth can be sustained. A recession seems probable in the next decade.

Senate Democrats noticed that Trump’s budget plan, if it was enacted, would actually result in a net decrease in federal spending on infrastructure. Chuck Schumer’s office identified more than $240 billion in proposed cuts over the coming decade to existing infrastructure programs, which is higher than the $200 billion Trump simultaneously proposed in new spending. “The cuts identified by Schumer’s office include a $122 billion reduction in outlays over the coming decade to the Highway Trust Fund, which pays for road projects and mass transit,” John Wagner reports. “Other proposed reductions would target an array of programs that fund rail, aviation [and] wastewater …”

5. Paying for tax cuts that mostly benefit the rich by cutting holes in the safety net for the poor:

In 1999, then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush denounced a House Republican plan to save $8 billion by deferring tax credit payments for low-income people. “I don’t think they ought to balance their budget on the backs of the poor,” he said at a campaign stop. “I’m concerned for someone who is moving from near-poverty to middle class.”

That sentiment seems quaint now. While Trump has never claimed the mantle of “compassionate conservatism,” his budget validates several of the negative stereotypes that Bush tried to shed.

This is a budget for the haves. The have-nots get left behind.

Trump wants to cut $214 billion from the food stamp program in the next decade, a reduction of nearly 30 percent.

The budget shows Ben Carson has no suction at the White House. Despite his efforts, the secretary of housing and urban development was unable to stop Trump from reducing Section 8 federal housing subsidies by more than $1 billion, zeroing out community development block grants and eliminating a $1.9 billion fund to cover public housing capital repairs. The 14 percent cut at HUD is even deeper than what Trump proposed last year.

The budget cuts 29 programs at the Education Department, many of which are designed to help needy children — including after-school activities to keep kids off the street and a grant program for college students with “exceptional financial need.” Trump’s plan also gets rid of a tuition initiative that makes college affordable for underprivileged D.C. residents, who don’t have access to strong in-state universities.

6. Deconstructing the administrative state:

Trump wants to neuter the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by starving it of resources, limiting its enforcement power and changing its funding stream so that it’s more vulnerable to pressure from Wall Street.

He seeks to cut more than $2.5 billion from the annual budget of the Environmental Protection Agency, which is about a quarter of its spending. He’d eliminate funding for state radon-detection programs and end partnerships to monitor and restore water quality in the Gulf of Mexico, Puget Sound and other large bodies of water.

“Funding for the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay would fall from $72 million to $7 million, and a similar program for the Great Lakes would be cut from $300 million to $30 million — although neither would be wiped out,” Brady Dennis reports. “In addition, the Trump budget would eliminate — or very nearly eliminate — the agency’s programs related to climate change. Funding for the agency’s Office of Science and Technology would drop by more than a third, from $762 million to $489 million. And funding for prosecuting environmental crimes and for certain clean air and water programs would drop significantly.”

7. More guns, less butter:

Make no mistake, Trump is not calling for a reduction in the size of government. He seeks to spend $4.4 trillion next year, up 10 percent from last year. He’s calling for spending less on the homefront to cover a massive military buildup.

Trump asks for $716 billion in defense spending in 2019, a 13 percent increase. “The Trump plan provides more money for just about everything a general or admiral might desire,” Greg Jaffe notes. “The United States already spends more on its military than the next eight nations combined.”

Meanwhile, Trump proposes slashing the State Department’s budget by 23 percent. As Secretary of Defense James Mattis told Congress in 2013, when he was a Marine general leading Central Command: “If you don’t fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition.”

Another campaign promise Trump is making good on: building his “Deportation Force.” The budget allocates $2.8 billion to expand immigration detention facilities so that 52,000 beds are always available, $782 million to hire 2,750 additional border agents, and $1.6 billion for the construction of 65 miles of border wall in Texas. (Whatever happened to Mexico paying?) He also adds $2.2 billion for the Secret Service to hire 450 more people.

8. Leaning in on privatization:

Trump wants to outsource as many public functions as possible to private, for-profit companies.

His budget calls for selling off scores of prized federal assets, from Reagan National and Dulles Airports to the George Washington Memorial Parkway and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. “Power transmission assets from the Tennessee Valley Authority; the Southwestern Power Administration, which sells power in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas; the Western Area Power Administration; and the Bonneville Power Administration, covering the Pacific northwest, were cited for potential divestiture,” Michael Laris reports. “It was not immediately clear what public or private entity might buy those roads, whether they might be tolled, or other details. Some state officials said they were uncertain about how their residents would benefit from such a proposal.”

The White House is re-upping its plan to shift the nation’s air traffic control system out of government hands, even though it went nowhere in Congress last year.

Trump proposes to end funding for the International Space Station after 2024 by privatizing the orbiting laboratory.

Finally, he wants to increase spending by more than $1 billion on private school vouchers and other school choice plans while slashing the Education Department’s budget by $3.6 billion and devoting more resources to career training, at the expense of four-year universities.

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

Chloe Kim, of the United States, smiles during the women’s halfpipe finals at the 2018 Winter Olympics. (Lee Jin-man/AP)

— American Chloe Kim took home gold in the women’s halfpipe at the Olympics. The 17-year-old entered the event as the overwhelming favorite, with some saying Kim would have earned a gold medal in Sochi if she had not been too young to compete. Kim’s teammate, Arielle Gold, took home the bronze. (Adam Kilgore)

She posted this on Twitter in between her rides:

Wish I finished my breakfast sandwich but my stubborn self decided not to and now I’m getting hangry

— Chloe Kim (@chloekimsnow) February 13, 2018

— The U.S. women’s hockey team may have to remove Statue of Liberty imagery from its goalie masks over concerns it constitutes “political messaging.” The International Olympic Committee’s guidelines allow “national colors, name, flag and emblems” that are used “to visually enhance the national identity of their Items.” But they also state: “No Item may feature the wording or lyrics from national anthems, motivational words, public/political messaging or slogans related to national identity.” (Rick Maese)

Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) talks to two people as his then-fiancee Majida Mourad laughs at his side during a happier time. (Kate Warren for The Washington Post)

— “Rep. Darrell Issa was a groomsman in Rep. Mike Turner’s wedding to Majida Mourad in December 2015. Now, Turner is locked in a contentious divorce with Mourad — and he wants Issa deposed by his attorneys,” Politico’s John Bresnahan, Jake Sherman and Rachael Bade report. “Turner (R-Ohio) approached Issa (R-Calif.) in the Capitol last week and handed him a letter seeking a deposition as part of his divorce proceedings … Mourad’s attorney, Sanford Ain, said in a statement Monday that Turner ‘may have’ told ‘third parties’ that she was unfaithful, ‘thinking it would advantage him in the divorce.’ But any claim of infidelity by Mourad ‘has no basis in fact,’ Ain said. Issa, who has been married for 38 years and has one son, also rejected any suggestion of an inappropriate relationship with Mourad. ‘There is no truth whatsoever to these allegations,’ Issa said in a statement. The San Diego Republican announced his retirement in January.”

Ambulances at the entrance of an electric substation after an explosion and fire caused a blackout in parts of San Juan. (Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images)

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Power has been restored to the majority of customers in metropolitan San Juan after an exploded breaker at the city’s power station knocked out electricity for more than 175,000 households and businesses. The outage emphasized the fragility of Puerto Rico’s power grid nearly six months after Hurricane Maria ravaged the U.S. island. (Arelis R. Hernández)
  2. Tropical Cyclone Gita roared into the islands of Tonga in the South Pacific as a rare Category 4 cyclone. The storm was whipping up winds of up to 145 mph and prompted the government to declare a state of emergency. Forecasters say the cyclone could strengthen to a Category 5 as it continues to trek toward Fiji, but don’t expect it to make direct landfall there. (Angela Fritz)
  3. Nevada gambling regulators created a new online system to deal with the high volume of reports they have received about Steve Wynn. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department has also received multiple complaints about Wynn following reports of alleged sexual misconduct by the casino magnate. (Wall Street Journal)
  4. Steven Cohen’s investment firm faces a discrimination lawsuit from a woman alleging pay inequality and a sexist work environment. Internal recruiter Lauren Bonner claims the firm paid her roughly two-thirds less than her male colleagues. (Wall Street Journal)
  5. Desperate to solve its fentanyl crisis, Canada is doubling down on supervised drug-consumption sites. And several U.S. cities have announced they will follow suit. But in doing so, they’re putting themselves at risk of numerous legal battles and setting up a possible confrontation with the Justice Department. (Lenny Bernstein)
  6. A group of influential Catholics are warning of a possible church schism in China following reports the Vatican could soon split the responsibility of bishop appointment with the Chinese government. Senior Vatican officials contend that any deal would help Chinese Catholics practice and evangelize their faith. (Simon Denyer)
  7. A union trying to organize campaign workers has reached collective bargaining agreements with several Democratic congressional campaigns. The Campaign Workers Guild announced yesterday a union contract with Wisconsin Democrat Randy Bryce, who is challenging House Speaker Paul Ryan. (Bloomberg)
  8. A Republican challenging Ryan was suspended from Twitter after circulating an image of Cheddar Man over the face of biracial American Meghan Markle, who will marry Prince Harry in May. Cheddar Man is the dark-skinned man believed to be the first modern Briton, a finding that Republican Paul Nehlen has decried as a means of “disappearing whites or dispossessing whites of their homelands.” (Kristine Phillips)
  9. Uber is mandating a six-hour rest for its drivers after every 12 hours of driving to combat drowsy driving. If a driver has been working for 12 hours, the Uber app will automatically shut off and not reopen until six hours have passed. (Faiz Siddiqui)
  10. Bill and Melinda Gates released their foundation’s annual letter, entitled “10 tough questions we get asked.” The philanthropic couple answered questions on everything from why they work with corporations to why they don’t give more money to U.S. causes. (Jena McGregor)
  11. A local Chicago news network confused PyeongChang, site of the Winter Olympics, with P.F. Chang’s, the Asian-inspired chain restaurant. WLS-Ch.7 conducted a segment on the political backdrop of the Olympics with a graphic that read “P.F. Chang 2018.” (Chicago Tribune)

TRUMP’S AGENDA:

— Trump’s nominee to run the 2020 Census has withdrawn. Mother Jones’s Ari Berman reports: “In November, Politico reported that the administration planned to put Thomas Brunell, a political-science professor who has defended Republican redistricting efforts in more than a dozen states, in charge of the decennial census count. He was supposed to begin in late November[.] … But civil rights advocates and Democratic members of Congress pushed back against the appointment. Now Brunell has withdrawn from consideration, according to two sources who were informed of his decision.”

— The Education Department officially said it will reject complaints filed by transgender students seeking to use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. BuzzFeed News’s Dominic Holden reports: “When the Education Department and Justice Department withdrew Obama-era guidance on transgender restroom access in February 2017, Trump’s officials said in a memo and court filings that they would ‘consider the legal issues involved.’ For the past three weeks, BuzzFeed News called and emailed Education Department officials attempting to pinpoint the agency’s position. Finally on Thursday, Liz Hill, a spokesperson for the agency, responded ‘yes, that’s what the law says’ when asked again if the Education Department holds a current position that restroom complaints from transgender students are not covered by [Title IX]. She added that certain types of transgender complaints may be investigated — but not bathroom complaints.”

— The administration moved to repeal a restriction on methane emissions implemented in the final days of the Obama presidency. The New York Times’s Lisa Friedman reports: “The rule, which applied to companies drilling for energy on federal land, has been the subject of intense court battles and delay efforts, as well as one surprise vote last year in which Senate Republicans temporarily saved it from being torpedoed. … Under the rule, oil and gas companies would have been required to capture leaked methane, update their equipment and write new plans for minimizing waste when drilling on government property.”

— DOJ is nixing long-held plans to relocate FBI headquarters to the D.C. suburbs. From Jonathan O’Connell: “[T]he FBI is now proposing that it keep some of its employees exactly where they are — on Pennsylvania Avenue in downtown D.C. — and moving 2,300 out of the Washington area altogether, to Alabama [the attorney general’s home state], Idaho and West Virginia. The proposal is a dramatic about-face from the stance the government took under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. For years the General Services Administration … had insisted to lawmakers and the public that the FBI required a suburban Washington campus where it could consolidate 11,000 FBI personnel in a modern and secure facility.”

— Lawyers came to the defense of Attorney General Jeff Sessions after he referenced the “Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement” during a speech. Marwa Eltagouri reports: “Organizations such as the NAACP deemed Sessions’s language his latest act of racism. Lawyers, however, have been quick to point to the term’s regular appearance in case law, saying that ‘Anglo-American law’ — also known as common law — is a widely used term in the legal system that refers to the shared legal roots of England and the United States.

— The VA inspector general is expected to report Secretary David Shulkin improperly accepted Wimbledon tickets and used public funds to cover his wife’s airfare on a European trip last summer. USA Today’s Donovan Slack reports: “The impending report is expected to criticize Shulkin for taking a possibly unnecessary trip and using a VA employee to arrange his leisure time. Shulkin’s lawyers criticize the impending report as unfair and inaccurate and suggest the inspector general’s investigation was biased against Shulkin from the start.”

THE IMMIGRATION DEBATE:

— The Senate kicked off its open-ended immigration debate as members of the narrowly divided chamber attempt to reach consensus on border security funding and the fate of “dreamers.” “The only thing senators agreed on with near unanimity was to start the discussion, voting 97 to 1 on Monday night,” Ed O’Keefe reports. “[Mitch McConnell endorsed a sweeping GOP plan that would revamp immigration policy the way Trump wants to] . . . But no Democrats are believed to back the plan in full — and Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) described it as ‘an all-Republican measure.’ [Chuck Schumer] called for a modest solution focused mostly on protecting [‘dreamers.’] ‘This is the moment for a narrow bill, and every ounce of energy is going into finding one that can pass,’ Schumer said.”

— Schumer and McConnell made a rare joint appearance at the University of Louisville Monday morning. The two lawmakers stressed unity, as well as the importance of maintaining a cordial working relationship, Paul Kane reports. “’Actually, the Senate is a pretty collegial place. We don’t dislike each other,’ McConnell said. ‘We have to work together.’ … Schumer reiterated his proclamation that, left to their own devices, without [Trump’s] interference, he and McConnell could reach a deal even on immigration. He cited a couple things he and McConnell agreed to early on: ‘Never ask things that are impossible of the other, to be honest and respectful.’ The McConnell-Schumer relationship will surely be tested in the months ahead, and a true judgment might not come for years, but this week’s immigration debate will be another big moment.”

— Trump signaled willingness to negotiate in a tweet this morning:

Negotiations on DACA have begun. Republicans want to make a deal and Democrats say they want to make a deal. Wouldn’t it be great if we could finally, after so many years, solve the DACA puzzle. This will be our last chance, there will never be another opportunity! March 5th.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 13, 2018

WEST WING INTRIGUE:

— Sarah Huckabee Sanders struggled to explain the White House’s inconsistent response to the Rob Porter allegations, dodging questions on why a senior aide who was twice accused of spousal abuse continued to work in Trump’s inner orbit. Josh Dawsey reports: “Sanders declined to explain why [John Kelly claimed] he acted ‘within 40 minutes’ of learning of the accusations against Porter last Tuesday even though he then continued to publicly praise Porter for almost 24 hours[.] ‘I can tell you that a conversation took place within 40 minutes,’ she said. ‘And beyond that, I really don’t have anything else to add.’ Sanders also would not engage on the role played by [Don McGahn], who knew for a year that Porter’s ex-wives might make damaging accusations that could cost him a security clearance but did nothing … ‘Not accurate,’ Sanders said without elaborating.

  • Sanders also sought to explain Trump’s sympathetic response to Porter’s resignation, as well as the president’s failure to publicly condemn domestic violence. “I think the president of the United States hopes that all Americans can be successful in whatever they do,” Sanders said. “And if they’ve had any issues in the past — I’m not confirming or denying one way or the other — but if they do, the president wants success for all Americans.”
  • When asked whether dozens of White House officials who still lack permanent security clearances should be able to access classified information, Sanders instead turned her criticism on the media: “You guys are the ones who publish classified information and put national security at risk.”

— “The finger-pointing has frustrated Democratic members of Congress, who have pushed to gain visibility into the security clearance procedure at the White House . . . but have found their efforts largely stymied by Republicans,” the New York Times’s Michael D. Shear and Matthew Rosenberg report. “[House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy] … has refused to ask the White House for any information about security clearances or for a formal briefing on the matter, Democrats on the panel said Monday. He has also refused to allow the committee to vote on three subpoenas proposed by Democrats, including one on interim clearances. … In a letter sent last week, [Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.)] pressed Mr. Gowdy to more aggressively tackle the security clearance issue[.]”

— Porter’s first wife, Colbie Holderness, told her story in a new op-ed for The Post: “For me, living in constant fear of Rob’s anger and being subjected to his degrading tirades for years chipped away at my independence and sense of self-worth,” Holderness wrote. “Telling others about the abuse takes strength. Talking to family, friends, clergy, counselors and, later, the FBI, I would often find myself struggling to find the words to convey an adequate picture of the situation. When Rob’s now ex-girlfriend reached out to both Willoughby and me, she described her relationship in terms we each found familiar, immediately following up her description with ‘Am I crazy?’ Boy, I could identify with that question. … I walked away from that relationship a shell of the person I was when I went into it, but it took me a long time to realize the toll that his behavior was taking on me.”

— After the allegations initially surfaced, Porter pushed back on both his ex-wives’ accounts to colleagues. ABC News’s Tara Palmeri reports: “Porter told senior staffers his first ex-wife, [Holderness], received a black eye and facial bruises during an argument as the two struggled over a Venetian glass vase in their hotel room while on vacation in Venice in the early 2000s after they were married. He said that ‘[Holderness] was ready to throw glass onto the floor to smash and they both lunged for the glass and there was a struggle,’ according to two people with knowledge of the account. Porter went on to say that she bruised her eye when she fell during their struggle and denied punching her. … In the case of the restraining order that his second ex-wife Jennifer Willoughby filed against him for allegedly breaking into their house with his fist, Porter said that he was merely tapping the glass pane with his index finger.”

— The controversy has thrust Mercedes Schlapp, a White House senior adviser for strategic communications, into the limelight. From CNN’s Jeremy Diamond: “Schlapp has increasingly stepped in to lead the communications staff when crisis engulfs the West Wing and Trump demands [communications director Hope] Hicks be by his side, or at least within earshot, often acting as a de facto communications director in Hicks’ absence, three White House officials said.”

— Revolving door: “More than a year into his administration, [Trump] is presiding over a staff in turmoil, one with a 34 percent turnover rate, higher than any White House in decades,” the New York Times’s Peter Baker reports. “According to a report by [senior Brookings fellow Kathryn Dunn Tenpas], Mr. Trump’s 34 percent turnover rate in his first year is more than three times as high as President Barack Obama’s in the same period and twice as high as President Ronald Reagan’s, which until now was the modern record-holder. Of 12 positions deemed most central to the president, only five are still filled by the same person as when Mr. Trump took office.

Former national security adviser Susan Rice participates in a 2015 briefing at the White House. (Evan Vucci/AP)

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

— A newly released email from January 2017 reveals Barack Obama had conversations with national security officials about sharing Russia-related information with the incoming Trump administration. CNN’s Manu Raju, Jeremy Herb and Marshall Cohen report: “The previously undisclosed meeting was memorialized in an email written by then-National Security Adviser Susan Rice on Inauguration Day. A person familiar with . . . meeting said the Obama administration wanted to know whether the FBI and others in the intelligence community believed there was a national security reason to limit conversations with the Trump transition about Russia because some on the incoming President’s team could be compromised. The email was disclosed by Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley and Sen. Lindsey Graham, who sent a letter Monday to Rice asking why she had sent the email to herself.”

— The Justice Department’s No. 3 attorney, Rachel Brand, resigned last week partially fearing she could be asked to oversee the Russia investigation.NBC News’s Julia Ainsley reports: “As far back as last fall, Brand had expressed to friends that she felt overwhelmed and unsupported in her job, especially as many key positions under her jurisdiction had still not been filled with permanent, Senate-confirmed officials . . . While Brand has largely stayed out of the spotlight, [Trump’s public criticism of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein] worried Brand that Rosenstein’s job could be in danger. Should Rosenstein be fired, Brand would be next in line to oversee [Robert Mueller’s Russia probe], thrusting her into a political spotlight that Brand told friends she did not want to enter.”

— A former top FBI cybersecurity official who coordinated the U.S. response to Russian election meddling now works for a D.C. consulting firm striving to verify portions of Christopher Steele’s dossier. Foreign Policy’s Jana Winter reports: “Their client: BuzzFeed, the news organization that first published [the dossier,] which is now being sued over its explosive allegations. The investigation, being conducted by FTI Consulting, is running in parallel to [Mueller’s investigation.] … The ramifications of FTI’s dossier investigation could be game-changing for Mueller’s probe, because it ‘would establish outside veracity of dossier allegations,’ a source familiar with the work told Foreign Policy.”

— “The Silicon Valley Giant Bankrolling Devin Nunes,” by the Daily Beast’s LachlanMarkay and Sam Stein: “Weeks after they hired a controversial former Trump national security aide with ties to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), top executives at the tech company Oracle made substantial donations to Nunes’ 2018 re-election campaign. … What made the donations stand out, however, was not the size of them … It was the timing of the giving.”

— Trump’s budget blueprint projects $10 million in spending for Mueller’s probe during the next fiscal year, contradicting White House predictions the investigation will wrap up in the near future. (Politico)

— Lawmakers in Russia are seeking to rename the street where the U.S. Embassy is located in Moscow to “North American Dead End.” The move comes less than a month after D.C. officials voted to rename the street that houses Russia’s U.S. Embassy after a slain Putin critic. (Amanda Erickson)

— “Trump’s Biggest Potential Conflict Of Interest Is Hiding In Plain Sight,” by Dan Alexander in Forbes: “The real money in the Trump empire comes from commercial tenants like the Chinese bank. Forbes estimates these tenants pay a collective $175 million a year or so to the president. And they do so anonymously. … [G]overnment ethics officials, charged with detecting conflicts of interest, have never seen the president’s rent roll. So we created one on our own, identifying 164 tenants, in virtually every industry, from all around the world, and then estimated payments[.] … How tangled is it all? Forbes discovered one deal, previously unreported, in which Trump partially serves as his own landlord: The U.S. government is paying some rent to the person who runs it.”

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) is reportedly reconsidering his retirement. (Pete Marovich/Getty Images)

THE ROAD TO NOVEMBER (AND 2020):

— Some Republicans are urging Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) to reconsider retirement after internal polling shows Democrats making gains in the must-win race. Politico’s Burgess Everett reports: “[A] faction of Republicans in Tennessee and Washington are worried that the favorite for the Republican Senate nomination, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), could lose the general election — and with it the Senate majority. They want Corker to get back in to hold the seat and preserve waning foreign policy experience in the GOP. And there are signs that he is open to it, despite the steep climb a Republican primary might entail. … An internal poll taken in late January shows former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen narrowly edging out Blackburn in a hypothetical match-up. With Republicans controlling just 51 seats, a loss in Tennessee and other competitive races could put the Senate in play[.]”

— Even as Republicans make gains on the generic congressional ballot, they are losing key structural advantages, writes the New York Times’s Nate Cohn. “Slowly but surely, the considerable structural advantages — like incumbency, geography and gerrymandering — that give the Republicans a chance to survive a so-called wave election are fading, giving Democrats a clearer path to a House majority in November. The Republicans still retain formidable advantages, enough to win the House while losing the national popular vote by a wide margin. But their edge has shrunk considerably over the last few months, and even more over the last few years.”

— Bernie Sanders is headed back to Iowa. The Des Moines Register’s Jason Noble reports: “[Sanders] will headline an event for 3rd District Democratic candidate Pete D’Alessandro on Feb. 23 in Des Moines. It’ll be the senator’s first visit to Iowa this year and his third since the end of the 2016 campaign. D’Alessandro was a top adviser to Sanders’ near-miss Iowa caucuses campaign in 2016 and received his endorsement late last month.”

— The GOP and the Democratic Party each held on to one legislative seat in Minnesota’s pair of special elections last night. The Star Tribune’s Jessie Van Berkel reports: “Political insiders from Minnesota and across the country have been eyeing the two races to help indicate outcomes in this year’s midterm elections. The races have attracted a lot of outside money, and residents say they have been bombarded with campaign literature and television advertisements.”

— The parents of Kevin Nicholson, a Republican seeking to unseat Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), have maxed out their primary campaign contributions. But to Baldwin and not their son. CNN’s Chris Massie reports: “Their donations are not necessarily out of character: Nicholson has said on the campaign trail that he comes from a Democratic family and, as the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported in November, his mother has donated thousands of dollars over the years to Democratic organizations and candidates, including hundreds to Baldwin. However, the contributions are the first his parents have given to Baldwin since Nicholson announced his candidacy to try to oust the senator.”

THE OBAMA PORTRAITS UNVEILED:

— The official portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama were unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery. The Post’s Philip Kennicott reviews the works: “[The portraits are] both painted by African American artists, and both striking additions to the museum’s ‘America’s Presidents’ exhibition. The 44th president is seen sitting on a wooden armchair that seems to be floating amid a scrim of dense foliage and flowers in an image by Kehinde Wiley. The first lady, painted against a robin’s egg blue background, rests her chin on one hand and stares at the viewer with a curious mix of confidence and vulnerability in a canvas by Amy Sherald.

“The artists, chosen by the Obamas, have combined traditional representation with elements that underscore the complexity of their subjects, and the historic fact of their political rise. And both painters have managed to create compelling likenesses without sacrificing key aspects of their signature styles. The Obamas took a significant chance on both artists and were rewarded with powerful images that will shake up the expectations and assumptions of visitors to the traditionally button-down presidential galleries.”

Artist Kehinde Wiley and Barack Obama take a cloth from Obama’s presidential portrait at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

— The former president’s review of Wiley’s work: “How about that? Pretty sharp.” Peggy McGlone reports: “Obama said he was drawn to Wiley’s work because the artist challenges conventional views of power and privilege. ‘He would take extraordinary care and precision and vision in recognizing the beauty, grace and dignity of people who are so often invisible in our lives.’ Wiley, 40, thanked the former president for understanding his purpose. ‘Big museums like this are dedicated to what we as a society hold most dear,’ he said. ‘Growing up as a kid in South Central Los Angeles, there weren’t too many people who looked like me on those walls.’ … [Wiley added,] ‘The ability to be the first African American painter to paint the first African American president of the United States. It doesn’t get any better than that.’”

Michelle Obama stands next to her portrait at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

— “Michelle Obama selected Baltimore artist Sherald, 44, saying she was ‘blown away by the boldness of her colors,’” Peggy notes. “She and Sherald immediately forged a ‘sister girl connection.’ In thanking the artist and the crowd, the former first lady invoked the members of her family who created the foundation for her success. ‘All these folks . . . were intelligent and highly capable men and women, but their dreams and aspirations were limited because of the color of their skin,’ she said. Michelle Obama said she was also thinking of young people of color ‘who in the years ahead will come to this place and see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the wall of a great American institution.’”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Donald Trump Jr.’s wife Vanessa is okay after being taken to the hospital after she opened a letter sent to the family’s home that contained an unidentified substance. The Secret Service confirmed that it is investigating a “suspicious item” but declined to comment further, per Mark Berman.

Thank you so much for all the help today in NYC! I appreciate all the quick response to make sure that I was safe ! Thank you @FDNY@SecretService@NYPDnews@NYPDCT@NewYorkFBI

— Vanessa Trump (@MrsVanessaTrump) February 13, 2018

From her husband:

Thankful that Vanessa & my children are safe and unharmed after the incredibly scary situation that occurred this morning. Truly disgusting that certain individuals choose to express their opposing views with such disturbing behavior.

— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) February 12, 2018

And her sister-in-law:

Thinking of @MrsVanessaTrump & wishing I was by her side today. No one deserves to be frightened this way. There is no excuse.

— Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump) February 12, 2018

The president took a swipe at Democrats on infrastructure:

Our infrastructure plan has been put forward and has received great reviews by everyone except, of course, the Democrats. After many years we have taken care of our Military, now we have to fix our roads, bridges, tunnels, airports and more. Bipartisan, make deal Dems?

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 13, 2018

A CNN anchor refuted the White House account of how it dealt with the allegations against Rob Porter:

WH right now acting as if it has had one coherent message and plan following revelations of Rob Porter’s two ex-wives accusing him domestic abuse. That’s just demonstrably false. Initial responses were to support Porter full throatedly.

— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) February 12, 2018

An editor at the Daily Mail, which broke the Porter story, chimed in:

This is correct. We brought the White House a detailed description of Porter’s second ex-wife’s accounts last Tuesday afternoon, and a few hours later the WH sent us glowing reviews of him from Sarah Sanders, John Kelly and Orrin Hatch. https://t.co/F7wfErMro6

— David Martosko (@dmartosko) February 12, 2018

Twitter talked about the Obamas’ portrait unveiling at the National Portrait Gallery:

(Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

From an MSNBC anchor:

The Obama portraits are an important marker. The fact that they chose Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald to paint them matters — in fact it’s huge — and underscores the former first couple’s longtime championing of contemporary black artists. More here: https://t.co/LRHoWh3iqppic.twitter.com/oXFt9m8KzD

— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) February 12, 2018

From a New York Times editor:

Check out the flowers: African blue lilies for Kenya, his father’s birthplace; jasmine for Hawaii, where Mr. Obama was born; chrysanthemums, the official flower of Chicago, for the city where his political career began. https://t.co/BOm8oIdsLD

— Marc Lacey (@marclacey) February 12, 2018

The founder of the liberal blog ThinkProgress criticized some conservatives’ takes on the portraits:

The reaction to the Obama portraits from the right today was very similar to their reaction to the entire Obama presidency: They look different, therefore it is bad and probably sinister pic.twitter.com/cBUDh6lRxD

— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) February 13, 2018

From the Center for Responsive Politics:

Who wore it better? pic.twitter.com/gUvEPGCYLE

— Robert Maguire (@RobertMaguire_) February 12, 2018

A columnist for the Undefeated summed up the former president’s portrait:

I call this aesthetic: “yes we can have class outside, today.” https://t.co/U6iptTw92n

— Clinton Yates (@clintonyates) February 12, 2018

And Ellen DeGeneres photo-shopped herself in:

Honored. Humbled. Grateful. 🙏🏼 #ObamaPortraitspic.twitter.com/kxjrA4wkrl

— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) February 13, 2018

This tweet turned two years old:

How can Ted Cruz be an Evangelical Christian when he lies so much and is so dishonest?

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 12, 2016

The New York Times’s community editor shared this reader submission:

This comment, by far, is the most replied-to reader submission on NYT today pic.twitter.com/eefSU2ir9W

— Bassey Etim (@BasseyE) February 12, 2018

And the Twitterverse is scared by robots:

we are all going to die pic.twitter.com/fAUyR2S9hX

— brad esposito (@braddybb) February 12, 2018

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

— Wired, “Inside the Two Years that Shook Facebook — and the World,” by Nicholas Thompson and Fred Vogelstein: “The stories varied, but most people told the same basic tale: of a company, and a CEO, whose techno-optimism has been crushed as they’ve learned the myriad ways their platform can be used for ill. Of an election that shocked Facebook, even as its fallout put the company under siege. Of a series of external threats, defensive internal calculations, and false starts that delayed Facebook’s reckoning with its impact on global affairs and its users’ minds. And — in the tale’s final chapters — of the company’s earnest attempt to redeem itself. … [People] who know him say that Zuckerberg has truly been altered in the crucible of the past several months. He has thought deeply; he has reckoned with what happened; and he truly cares that his company fix the problems swirling around it. And he’s also worried. ‘This whole year has massively changed his personal techno-­optimism,’ says an executive at the company. ‘It has made him much more paranoid about the ways that people could abuse the thing that he built.’”

— Unilever is threatening to yank its advertising from Google and Facebook, saying that the digital platforms have become a “swamp” of “fake news, racism, sexism and extremism.” CNNMoney’s Charles Riley reports: “’We cannot continue to prop up a digital supply chain . . . which at times is little better than a swamp in terms of its transparency,’ [Unilever marketing boss Keith Weed said during an advertising conference in California, according to a preliminary copy of his speech]. Weed will say that a proliferation of objectionable content on social media — and a lack of protections for children — is eroding social trust, harming users and undermining democracies. Unilever would no longer advertise on platforms that create divisions in society or fail to protect young people.”

— New Republic, “Capital Offenses:” “Eight essays on sexual discrimination and harassment in D.C., across politics, policy, and the media.”

— Politico Magazine, “‘Black Women Are Realizing the Power of Their Vote,’” by Edward-Isaac Dovere: “The massive turnout of black women in 2017’s elections was only the start, predicts Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. There’s nothing Republicans can do to win them back, she says, and they’ll keep electing Democrats to push the GOP from power.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“‘Not the right kind of Catholic’: Private school teacher fired days after same-sex wedding,” from Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Moriah Balingit: “Jocelyn Morffi and Natasha Hass had booked the Key Largo Lighthouse estate for three days starting Feb. 2, turning their wedding day into a wedding weekend. [But several days after the wedding, Morffi posted a somber message on Instagram, explaining why] she hadn’t shown up at [the Catholic school] where she had been a first-grade teacher for seven years. ‘This weekend I married the love of my life and unfortunately I was terminated from my job as a result,’ she wrote. ‘In their eyes I’m not the right kind of Catholic for my choice in partner.’ [A] dozen angry parents showed up at the school the next day, demanding an explanation and speaking to gathered news cameras.” “We were [livid]. They treated her like a criminal; they didn’t even let her get her things out of her classroom,” said Cintia Cini, whose child was in Morffi’s class. “Our only concern was the way she was with our children … and this woman by far was one of the best teachers out there.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Va. Republicans move to dump controversial leader over anti-Semitic online post,” from Antonio Olivo: “For several years, Fredy Burgos has been a controversial but tolerated figure within Virginia’s Republican Party — a verbal bomb thrower whose attacks against Muslims, immigrants and others have turned off moderates while reflecting a new brand of conservatism in the era of Donald Trump.But in the wake of a wave of Democratic victories last fall that was fueled by anti-Trump sentiment in Northern Virginia, party leaders — worried about losing more voters — moved to force Burgos off of the state central committee this week after he posted a Facebook comment suggesting Jews should not run for political office. ‘There’s only so many times that somebody can be given forgiveness for making offensive statements,’ said John Whitbeck, chair of the state party, who, [along with] a chorus of other Virginia Republicans, called [for] Burgos to immediately resign.”

DAYBOOK:

Trump will meet with members of Congress to discuss trade and later host a roundtable with the National Sheriffs’ Association. He and the first lady will also host a reception for Black History Month.

Pence will recognize Black History Month by giving a speech at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. He will later participate in the Senate Republican policy lunch.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

Former White House adviser Omarosa Manigault warned against the possibility of a Mike Pence presidency during the latest episode of “Celebrity Big Brother.” “As bad as y’all think Trump is, you would be worried about Pence,” she said. “So everybody that’s wishing for impeachment might want to reconsider their lives. We would be begging for days of Trump back if Pence became president.” Manigault added, “He’s extreme. I’m Christian. I love Jesus. But he thinks Jesus tells him to say things. I’m like, ‘Jesus ain’t saying that.’” (Helena Andrews-Dyer)

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

— Temperatures will hover right above freezing in D.C. today. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “A sunny, cold morning greets us as temperatures lift from their subfreezing lows into the 30s. Clouds encroach by afternoon, and temperatures may struggle to get much beyond 40.”

— Two Baltimore detectives were convicted of robbery and racketeering.Rachel Weiner reports: “Daniel Hersl, 47, and Marcus Taylor, 30, join six colleagues from the Gun Trace Task Force who already had pleaded guilty in a conspiracy that also included overtime fraud … Thousands of convictions in cases handled by the task force are now being questioned by defense attorneys.”

— Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam was among the local and state officials who met with Trump at the White House to discuss infrastructure. Laura Vozzella reports: “Trump called on Northam during the gathering in the State Dining Room, addressing him by first name and congratulating him on his victory over Republican Ed Gillespie. Trump also took a swipe at Gillespie, suggesting he would have fared better on Election Day if he’d more fully embraced the president’s politics — a sentiment Trump has previously expressed on Twitter. ‘Your opponent was not a Trump person, I have to be honest with you,’ Trump said to laughter. ‘If he was, he would have done much better. Doesn’t mean you wouldn’t have won, but he would have [done] much better.’”

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Jimmy Kimmel took a stab at what Trump’s official portrait will look like:

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The Post fact checked Trump’s estimate of how much money the United States has spent in the Middle East:

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg shared her own #MeToo moment:

The Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity launched a $4 million ad buy against Democratic Sens. Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Joe Donnelly (Ind.):

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And NASA celebrated a successful launch:

And LIFTOFF! Three tons of food, fuel and supplies just launched from Earth and is headed to the @Space_Station: https://t.co/ZuxLDtzW9cpic.twitter.com/c4U9xa4l4n

— NASA (@NASA) February 13, 2018

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