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A look at President Trump's administration and the rest of Washington:

Media WatchOn the Right

As the healthcare vote looms, Trump sees opposition from conservatives, both on Capitol Hill and in the media

 (Shawn Thew / European Pressphoto Agency)
(Shawn Thew / European Pressphoto Agency)

It's a really important vote in President Trump’s fledgling first term.

Will House Republicans pass a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act — a promise from Trump on the campaign trail — or reject it? (House Speaker Paul D. Ryan rushed to the White House on Friday morning for a last-minute meeting with Trump as both attempted to corral enough votes.)

Trump spent much of the week trying to win support from members of the Freedom Caucus, among the most conservative lawmakers, some of whom are holdouts because they believe the bill does not go far enough.

“After seven horrible years of ObamaCare (skyrocketing premiums & deductibles, bad healthcare), this is finally your chance for a great plan!” Trump tweeted Friday.

But even some in conservative media aren’t all that thrilled about the bill.

Here are some of Friday’s headlines:

Polls: Ryancare even more unpopular than Obamacare and Hillarycare (Breitbart)

So, it’s been clear in recent weeks that the right-wing website Breitbart does not like the new healthcare proposal.

The news site has dubbed the current bill Obamacare-lite or Ryancare — an homage of sorts to Ryan, who helped craft the legislation — and argued it does not go far enough in its overhaul. 

Most conservatives want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, nicknamed Obamacare, they just differ on what the replacement should look like. For example, some on the far right want to see so-called “essential health benefits,” such as maternity and newborn care, stripped from the bill.)

This piece highlights several of the dismal polls the legislation has received.

Among them: A recent Fox News survey that showed 54% oppose the bill, compared with 34% who support it. The article also references an analysis of polling and data by FiveThirtyEight.com, which shows the GOP legislation is more unpopular than Obamacare and President Bill Clinton’s healthcare reform bill were when they were first introduced.

A modest immigration proposal (Weekly Standard)

Trump’s recent immigration orders have left many immigrants on edge.

Through social media and pop-up legal clinics, immigrant rights groups have doled out around-the-clock assistance, as families fear being separated.

In this piece, Irwin Stelzer notes that “at some point, our border will be secure, resistance to deporting felons will collapse, and we will have accepted the fact that Dreamers will be allowed to stay in this country, probably on a path to citizenship.”

He lays out his views of immigration reform, citing, among other things, setting an annual immigration limit and adopting “a system that has the effect of enriching our citizens by filling that annual quota with immigrants who are likely to increase the well-being of the existing citizenry.”

Jeff Sessions is Rip Van Winkle on drug policy (American Conservative)

It’s clear from polls that most Republicans oppose marijuana legalization, while Democrats support it.

However, libertarian-leaning Republicans often tend to support legalization.

This piece highlights Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions’ recent comments in opposition to states legalizing pot.

“The attorney general regurgitates simplistic clichés right out of the 1970s and 1980s about marijuana use. ‘I don’t think America is going to be a better place when people of all ages, and particularly young people, are smoking pot,’ Sessions told reporters on February 26,” the author, Ted Galen Carpenter, writes.

He adds, “Such comments confirm that critics may be right when they label him a ‘drug war dinosaur.’ He seems either oblivious or scornful about the trend in public opinion regarding marijuana.”

Justice Department shifts course in closely watched Texas voter ID case

The Trump administration has scaled back its assault on a strict Texas voter identification law that federal courts have ruled discriminated against minorities, portending a shift in how the Justice Department plans to pursue allegations of voter suppression.

The government revealed its decision in court papers filed in federal court Monday, dealing a blow to civil rights advocates who have relied on federal support to help them knock down the controversial Texas statute.

"It's a very concerning signal to American voters about the Department of Justice's commitment to enforcing the Voting Rights Act," said Danielle Lang, deputy director of the voting rights unit of the Campaign Legal Center, which is suing Texas in the case.

The administration's partial retreat in the dispute highlights how Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, a conservative Republican who has championed voter identification measures, is expected to handle such cases. The Obama administration had joined civil rights groups in aggressively challenging the Texas law and other such measures around the country. 

At issue in the case was how the Justice Department would proceed in a federal lawsuit that alleged the Texas legislature discriminated against minority voters when it enacted the strict voter identification law in 2011.

Known as SB 14, the measure requires voters to present a specific form of government-issued photo identification - such as a driver's license, military ID card, U.S. passport or citizenship certificate - to be permitted to cast a ballot.

The Obama administration and civil rights groups argued the state pushed the law, in part, to suppress the power of the state's minority voters, who frequently don't drive or have a passport.

State officials and lawmakers countered that the law was aimed at preventing voter fraud, though there is scant evidence that the problem exists.

The law was challenged in court by civil rights groups and the Justice Department under provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was intended to help overcome legal barriers erected at the local and state level to keep African-Americans from the polls.

Last July, a federal appeals court ruled that the Texas law had a discriminatory impact on minority voters. It told U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos to craft a temporary remedy in time for the November elections.

Ramos subsequently ordered Texas to permit voters to present other forms of documentation to verify their identities. The judge's order is expected to remain in force until she imposes a permanent remedy or Texas addresses the judges' concerns. 

According to the court papers filed Monday, the Justice Department will continue to work with civil rights groups to address those issues but will seek to withdraw from another important aspect of the suit. 

In the same decision that found the Texas law had a discriminatory impact, the appeals court reversed Ramos' finding that Texas legislators had intended to harm minority voters.

It ordered Ramos to reconsider the evidence of that finding. 

If the judge determines discriminatory intent in crafting the voter ID requirements, she could throw out the entire law. Civil rights groups will continue to press that claim. 

In its court filing, the Justice Department asked Ramos to permit it to withdraw its claim that Texas acted with intent, arguing that it is best to give the Texas legislature time to address the matter. 

With the loss of their key ally in court, civil rights groups will argue on their own in an effort to prove that Texas acted with a discriminatory purpose in passing the law. A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday. 

Voting advocates complained that the Trump administration was backing away from a key safeguard of voting rights.

The Justice Department decision "defies rationality and stands diametrically opposed to positions they have taken at every stage of this litigation,” Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement. "This reversal of position was taken despite years of work and effort that the government has invested in fighting the Texas Voter ID law, one of the most discriminatory voting restriction of its kind."

White House

Trump says Hollywood's obsession with him led to best picture Oscar gaffe

 (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

President Trump is often loath to accept responsibility when things go wrong, but in the case of Sunday's Oscars broadcast, he made an exception.

As he explained it Monday, it was Hollywood's obsession with attacking him that contributed to the botched best picture announcement, calling the embarrassing episode "sad," of course.

Accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers has apologized for the mix-up that led Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway to announce "La La Land" as the winner of the top Academy Award prize, instead of "Moonlight."

But in Trump's eyes, the blame falls more broadly on an entertainment industry so preoccupied with politics that they "didn't get the act together," he told Breitbart News.

"It took away from the glamour of the Oscars," Trump told a reporter from the website, which was once led by his chief White House strategist, Stephen K. Bannon. 

"It didn’t feel like a very glamorous evening. I’ve been to the Oscars. There was something very special missing, and then to end that way was sad," he added.

The ceremony did contain a number of slights at Trump during its telecast, some more subtle than others. Host Jimmy Kimmel openly at one point begged the president to weigh in by tweeting at him.

Trump spent part of Sunday night hosting a black-tie dinner at the White House honoring the nation's governors, who were visiting Washington for their annual winter meeting. But it appears from excerpts of the Breitbart interview that he may have spent at least part of the evening watching.

Immigration

Appeals court denies Justice Department request to put appeal of travel ban on hold

 (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)
(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has denied the
Justice Department's request to pause proceedings in an appeal of President Trump's travel ban.

The court in a filing Monday said its schedule for the government's appeal of a lower court's halt on the travel ban will proceed, with the first brief due to the appeals court on March 10.

In early February, the Justice Department appealed a Seattle-based federal district judge's order blocking enforcement of Trump's executive action. which established a series of immigration and refugee restrictions aimed at preventing potential terrorists from entering the country.

Last week, government lawyers asked the appeals court to stop proceedings in the case because the president planned to issue a new executive order and rescind the original one.

A three-judge panel of the court previously denied a request from the government to reverse a nationwide stay on the travel ban. The same panel on Monday ruled that the appeal will proceed. 

Trump has said he will sign a new executive order "tailored" to deal with court decisions that have largely gone against him. On Monday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said he expected the order to be issued mid-week.

Spicer has said Trump wants to fight for the current order while also issuing a new one, but the Justice Department has said in multiple court filings that the the current order will be undone after a new one is issued.

The states of Washington and Minnesota, which brought the case in Seattle now under review, have pushed for courts to move forward on a review of the constitutional issues.

FCC Chairman Pai wants to halt Internet privacy rules before they begin taking effect this week

 (Nicholas Kamm / AFP/Getty Images)
(Nicholas Kamm / AFP/Getty Images)

The nation’s new top telecommunications regulator wants to halt tough Internet privacy rules before they begin taking effect this week, arguing they would unfairly impose tougher requirements on broadband providers than on websites and social networks.

Privacy advocates and a key Senate Democrat vowed Monday to fight the move as well as a separate effort in Congress to overturn the regulations, which were approved in October on a party-line vote by the Federal Communications Commission when it was controlled by Democrats under President Obama.

Following President Trump’s inauguration, control of the commission passed to Republicans and Ajit Pai took over as chairman.

“All actors in the online space should be subject to the same rules, and the federal government shouldn’t favor one set of companies over another,” a spokesman for Pai said Friday. 

'No random ICE stops on streets of America,' Homeland Security chief tells governor

President Trump received some unsolicited advice at dinner with the nation's governors when Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe told him he needs to do a better job explaining his policies regarding deportations.

McAuliffe, a Democrat and chairman of the National Governor's Assn., told the president that there has been a "chilling effect going on" as businesses stay away from his state and as immigrants fear being rounded up. 

"If they’re not going to be deported, we need to hear that from the president," McAuliffe said, recounting his conversation from the governors' Sunday night dinner with Trump.

"What I told the president is these actions are hurting us."

McAuliffe, a longtime ally of Hillary Clinton, said Trump agreed in large part.

McAuliffe also met privately with Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly, and said the secretary assured him during an hourlong talk that Trump's enforcement actions were only targeting criminals -- despite widespread reports of otherwise law-abiding immigrants being detained for being in the U.S. illegally.

"He assured me there will be no random ICE stops on the streets of the United States of America," McAuliffe said, referring to the raids being conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.

If that's the case, McAuliffe said, Trump's policy does not sound much different than the operations under former President Obama, whose administration deported more immigrants than its predecessors.

Obama, however, explicitly put a priority on deportations of criminals, a distinction the Trump administration has done away with as part of the president's executive action.

"My advice to him was he needs to let the American public know what they’re doing," McAuliffe said.

Congress

House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes warns against 'witch hunt' over Trump-Russia ties

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) talks to reporters about his committee's Russia investigation. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) talks to reporters about his committee's Russia investigation. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes said on Monday he has seen no evidence from the intelligence community that there was contact between Russia and the Trump campaign.

"I want to be very careful, we can't just go on a witch hunt against Americans because they appear in a news story," said Nunes (R-Tulare). "We still don't have any evidence of them talking to Russia."

He said the committee has been briefed on the "highlights" of what the intelligence community has found, but is still collecting evidence.

The committee's ranking Democrat, Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), quickly responded, saying the committee's investigation is in its "infancy" and it's too soon to reach conclusions about the evidence.

"We haven't obtained any of the evidence yet, so it's premature for us to be saying we've reached any conclusion about the issue of collusion," Schiff said. "The most that we've had are private conversations, the chair and I with intelligence officials. That's not a substitute for an investigation."

The House and Senate Select Intelligence Committees are conducting separate investigations into Russia's reported attempts to influence voters in 2016 in an effort to curtail Hillary Clinton's chances and boost Donald Trump's. A leaked U.S. intelligence report on the attempts did not look at whether the effort succeeded.

The House committee has expanded a previous ongoing investigation of Russia cyberhacking to include a look at efforts to interfere in the 2016 election, Nunes told reporters Monday. Though it is still in its early stages — the leaders of the committee are still discussing the investigation's scope — Nunes said he expects the findings to be made public.

Schiff and Nunes spoke separately to reporters Monday. Schiff said the two agreed privately that they would jointly address reporters about the investigation going forward.

Nunes, who served as a member of Trump's transition team, said he continues to be concerned about leaks of classified and sensitive information from the White House and intelligence communities. The leaks — one of which resulted in a report about the FBI investigating Trump campaign officials — will be part of the committee's investigation.

"A government can't function with massive leaks at the highest level," Nunes said.

White House

Trump: 'I haven't called Russia in 10 years'

President Trump rejected calls for an independent investigation of his ties to Russia, telling a group of business leaders Monday that he hasn't called Russia in a decade.

At the start of a White House meeting with healthcare executives, a reporter asked Trump whether a special prosecutor should be assigned to investigate allegations of Russian meddling during the election.

In response, Trump mouthed the word "no" to the executives. As reporters were led out of the room, Trump said: "I haven't called Russia in 10 years." 

Democratic lawmakers have ramped up their calls for additional investigations into allegations that Trump allies had been in contact with Russian officials during the election and inappropriately discussed U.S. sanctions against the Moscow regime during the transition.

White House officials have denied reports that Trump associates were frequently in touch with senior Russian intelligence officials during the election. 

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded last year that Russian leader Vladimir Putin had authorized an operation to damage Hillary Clinton's campaign and tilt the 2016 election in Trump's favor. 

ObamacareWhite House

Trump: 'Nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated'

President Trump promised the nation's governors Monday that his yet-to-be-revealed replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act would give states greater flexibility and thanked some Republicans in the room who advised him on healthcare. 

"It's an unbelievably complex subject," he said. "Nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated."

The remark likely surprised state leaders; spending on Medicaid alone was the second-biggest driver of increased state general fund spending, according to the 2016 Fiscal Survey of States conducted by the National Assn. of State Budget Officers. 

And it was just eight years ago that Washington dove head-first into a raging debate over healthcare reform under President Obama, which simmered long after his signature health law was enacted.

But the finer points of healthcare policy are likely new to Trump, who is immersed in discussions with Republican leaders and his senior staff on that and other subjects ahead of his high-profile address Tuesday to a joint session of Congress.

Trump offered no hint as to the details. Republicans have vowed to repeal and replace Obamacare, but their effort has stalled as they debate how to do so and await word from the White House on what Trump wants to do. 

The president seemed keenly aware of the political ramifications of whatever steps he takes.

"As soon as we touch it, if we do the most minute thing, just a tiny little change, what's going to happen? They're going to say it's the Republicans' problem," Trump said after telling the governors the easiest thing for him to do would be nothing, and, in his view, watch Obamacare collapse.

"But we have to do what's right because Obamacare is a failed disaster."

White House

Trump wants to add $54 billion to defense budget while slashing domestic spending and foreign aid

 (Olivier Douliery / Abaca Press)
(Olivier Douliery / Abaca Press)

President Trump is proposing a massive increase in defense spending of $54 billion while cutting domestic spending and foreign aid by the same amount, the White House said Monday.

Trump's spending blueprint previewed a major address that he will give Tuesday night to a joint session of Congress, laying out his vision for what he called a "public safety and national security budget" with a nearly 10% increase in defense spending. 

"We never win a war. We never win. And we don't fight to win. We don't fight to win," Trump said Monday in remarks to the nation's governors. "So we either got to win or don't fight it at all."

Trump noted that the U.S. has spent nearly $6 trillion on fighting wars since the Sept. 11 attacks but said that cutting military spending was not the answer.

Instead, the increase he is proposing would be offset by cuts to unspecified domestic programs and to foreign aid, which would in turn be made up for in part by demanding that other countries pay more for security alliances that have historically been underwritten by the U.S.

"This budget expects the rest of the world to step up in some of the programs that this country has been so generous in funding in the past," an official from the Office of Management and Budget said, demanding anonymity to discuss the president's spending plans.

Foreign aid makes up about 1% of the budget.

"This budget speaks for itself," the official said. "I don't think this budget has anything to do other than putting Americans first."

Trump's call for deep cuts to spending at home is likely to set up major battles on Capitol Hill, where Democrats and even House Republicans will likely be reluctant to pass a spending bill that includes such major reductions in programs for their constituents.

Trump says businesses can't borrow because of Dodd-Frank. The numbers tell another story

President Trump was preparing the first step in a key campaign promise — dismantling the 2010 Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act — when he repeated a frequent criticism of the law.

“We expect to be cutting a lot out of Dodd-Frank because, frankly, I have so many people, friends of mine that had nice businesses, they can't borrow money," Trump told leading corporate chief executives, including Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Larry Fink of money management giant BlackRock Inc., meeting at the White House earlier this month

"They just can't get any money because the banks just won't let them borrow it because of the rules and regulations in Dodd-Frank," Trump said.

Shortly afterward, he ordered a wholesale review of the landmark act, which was passed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

But a main reason for dismantling Dodd-Frank often cited by Trump and critics of the law — that its slew of tougher financial regulations have significantly restricted bank lending — isn’t borne out by the data.

Another Trump nominee withdraws nomination to top national security post due to business interests

 (Olivier Douliery / Abaca Press)
(Olivier Douliery / Abaca Press)

Philip M. Bilden, President Trump’s pick for Navy secretary, withdrew from consideration late Sunday, becoming the second White House nominee to bail on a top Pentagon position due to problems untangling his financial investments.

“After an extensive review process, I have determined that I will not be able to satisfy the Office of Government Ethics requirements without undue disruption and materially adverse divestment of my family's private financial interests,” Bilden said in a statement.

He did not detail the issues but he said he “fully” supported “the president's agenda … to modernize and rebuild our Navy and Marine Corps.”

Bilden’s withdrawal comes after billionaire investor Vincent Viola dropped out from becoming Army secretary after he decided his extensive financial holdings would hamper his ability to win Senate confirmation. 

The White House shot down reports that surfaced two weeks ago that Bilden was considering stepping down.

“Just spoke with him and he is 100% commited [sic] to being the next SECNAV pending Senate confirm,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer tweeted on Feb. 18. 

Bilden, a venture capitalist and Army veteran, was a surprise selection from Trump but had the backing of Defense Secretary James N. Mattis.

“This was a personal decision driven by privacy concerns and significant challenges he faced in separating himself from his business interests,” Mattis said in a statement. “While I am disappointed, I understand and his respect his decision, and know that he will continue to support our nation in other ways.”

Bilden served ten years in the U.S. Army Reserve as a military intelligence officer from 1986 to 1996. He then co-founded private equity firm HarbourVest Partners LLC and spent 25 years there, mainly in the company’s Hong Kong headquarters.

He also serves on the board of directors of the United States Naval Academy Foundation and the board of trustees of the Naval War College Foundation.

Mattis said he intends on recommending a replacement nominee to Trump “in the coming days.”

The withdrawal marks another setback for Trump’s national security team, which has struggled to find its footing since the fledgling administration began.

Earlier this month, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was forced to resign after it became public that he held secret talks with a Russian ambassador and then misled Vice President Mike Pence about it.

Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster took the job last week after Trump’s first choice to replace Flynn, retired Navy Vice Adm. Robert Harward, passed on the opportunity.

New DNC chairman Tom Perez ridicules Trump tweet over 'rigged' vote

Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez was chosen to lead the Democratic Party over a congressman backed by the progressive wing. (Branden Camp / Associated Press)
Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez was chosen to lead the Democratic Party over a congressman backed by the progressive wing. (Branden Camp / Associated Press)

President Trump claimed Sunday that the race for Democratic National Committee chairman had been “rigged” -- drawing a quick riposte from Tom Perez, who narrowly won the party's leadership race.

Trump insinuated that Perez’s DNC victory on the second ballot at a party conference in Atlanta on Saturday was because Hillary Clinton had backed Perez, a former Labor secretary in the Obama administration who was seen as representing the party's establishment forces.

Clinton did not make a formal endorsement, but Perez’s rival, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, was backed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and the party's more liberal wing.

“Bernie’s guy, like Bernie himself, never had a chance,” Trump tweeted early Sunday morning. “Clinton demanded Perez!”

Perez, appearing on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday, told host Jake Tapper that he and Ellison “got a good kick out of that,” adding: “Donald Trump, up in the morning tweeting about us.”

Sanders, appearing on the same show, said Trump “doesn’t have a point” about the DNC vote. 

Moments after Perez beat Ellison by 35 votes out of 435 cast, he named Ellison as the deputy chairman of the party, leading to widespread applause. 

Perez is the first Latino to lead the Democratic Party, and he faces the challenge of trying to rebuild a party that suffered devastating losses in the 2016 election. Republicans now control not only the White House and Congress, but 33 governorships and dozens of state legislatures. 

In his CNN interview, Perez sarcastically suggested that Trump should address questions about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign rather than concerning himself with the DNC leadership battle.

“Frankly, what we need to be looking at is whether this election was rigged by Donald Trump and his buddy Vladimir Putin,” he said.

White House again bats away call for special prosecutor on Russia

Rep. Darrell Issa, right, speaks on a panel with host Bill Maher, left, and Vanity Fair contributing editor Fran Lebowitz during HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher" on Feb. 24. (Rep. Darrell Issa, right, speaks on a panel with host Bill Maher, left, and Vanity Fair contributing editor Fran Lebowitz during HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher" on Feb. 24.)
Rep. Darrell Issa, right, speaks on a panel with host Bill Maher, left, and Vanity Fair contributing editor Fran Lebowitz during HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher" on Feb. 24. (Rep. Darrell Issa, right, speaks on a panel with host Bill Maher, left, and Vanity Fair contributing editor Fran Lebowitz during HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher" on Feb. 24.)

A White House spokeswoman said Sunday that it was too soon to say whether a special prosecutor should look into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, while President Trump again inveighed against coverage of Russia-related queries as “FAKE NEWS.”

Calls have grown louder from Democrats in Congress for U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the issue because of his role as a prominent Trump supporter during the campaign, and to appoint an independent special prosecutor to carry out a Russia probe.

A few Republicans have joined in that chorus – some reluctantly. Rep. Darrell Issa of Vista, appearing on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” voiced support Friday for naming of a special prosecutor to probe the Russian connection, though he also said congressional intelligence committees should continue their work.

He also said he considered Sessions a friend, but pointed to his role as a political appointee who had worked on the Trump campaign.

Issa, who narrowly won reelection, was a vociferous critic of the Obama administration during his former tenure as head of the House Oversight Committee. In that post, he spearheaded an array of investigations on topics from Benghazi to bank bailouts.

Some Republicans pushed back against the notion of Sessions needing to recuse himself.  Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he had seen no “credible” information about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians – and no allegations that rose to the level of criminal activity.

“If we get down that road, that's a decision that Attorney General Sessions can make at the time,” said Cotton, who is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian intelligence agencies hacked Democratic Party computers and used other tactics last year to interfere with the election. The FBI is separately investigating whether anyone on Trump's campaign had improper contacts with Russian authorities during the campaign.

On Sunday, White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said congressional investigations on Russia and the campaign should be allowed to go forward before a special prosecutor appointment was considered.

“I don’t think we’re there yet,” Sanders said on ABC’s “This Week.” “Let’s work through this process.”

Echoing the previously stated White House stance, Sanders said the Trump campaign had not colluded in any Russian meddling.

“We had no involvement in this,” she said.

The president is known to keep a close eye on surrogates’ performances on the talk shows, and Sanders repeated a prime administration talking point: that questions about possible Trump campaign contacts with Russia amounted to Democratic excuses for losing the election.

“If Democrats want to continue to relive their loss every single day, by doing an investigation or review after review, that’s fine by us,” she said. “We know why we won this race. It’s because we had the better candidate with the better message.”

Trump himself underscored that notion with an afternoon tweet denouncing media coverage of the ongoing Russia investigations as “FAKE NEWS put out by the Dems, and played up by the media, in order to mask the big election defeat and the illegal leaks!”

Whose news is fake? Here's the latest in Trump's war with the press

 (Olivier Douliery / Tribune News Service)
(Olivier Douliery / Tribune News Service)

Every president since 1981 has attended the annual White House Correspondents’ Assn. dinner.

That year, President Reagan missed out. The reason? He needed to recover after a would-be assassin fired a bullet into his chest a few weeks earlier.

On Saturday, President Trump announced he will not be attending the annual dinner in April, long considered the premier social event of the Washington press corps and typically an evening of good-natured bantering between presidents and the Fourth Estate. 

Trump’s announcement added to the ratcheting tensions between his administration and the media. Almost daily, in speeches or on Twitter, he calls particular news outlets fake, disgusting or dishonest — and news organizations have responded by digging in, standing united and devoting more resources to covering a president who has branded the press the enemy.

Crucial group of Americans like Trump's stands, not him, poll finds

With the public deeply split in its views of President Trump, one potentially key group stands out -- those who dislike the man, but approve of the direction in which he's moving.

That's a central finding of a new nationwide survey by NBC News and the Wall St. Journal.

The new poll confirms what other major surveys have shown: Trump starts his administration with less support than any president in the seven decades of presidential polling. Asked if they approve or disapprove of the job Trump is doing, 44% approve, 48% disapprove. No previous president has begun his tenure with a net negative job approval.

Trump has held onto the support of his ardent backers. At the other end of the spectrum, he gets almost no approval from Democrats. In the middle, the poll found, are many Americans -- just over a third of those polled -- who either voted for Trump with reservations, voted for a third party candidate or did not vote at all in 2016.

Just over half of that group gives Trump positive marks, the poll found. Their support is enough, currently, to keep Trump's standing from collapsing, and holding them is likely key to his future.

Just under one third of Americans say they like Trump and approve of his policies, the poll found. Another one in six approve of most of his policies even though they dislike him. Well over half, 59%, said they did not like him personally.

On a separate question, only 43% of those surveyed have a positive view of Trump -- up from the low points of the campaign, but still far below the standing of most new presidents. 

By contrast, 86% agreed with one of the central lines of Trump's inaugural speech, that government insiders had "reaped the rewards of government, while the people have borne the cost."

On other issues, the public is more closely divided. The public splits evenly, for example, on Trump's proposed temporary ban on travel from seven mostly Muslim countries. 

Just over half of those surveyed, 52%, said that the problems Trump has encountered in his first month were “unique to this administration and suggest real problems"; 43% said they were "growing pains" similar to those other administrations have had.

And by 51%-41%, the public thinks the press has been too hard on the new administration. 

The NBC/WSJ poll, run by a bipartisan team of two polling firms, was taken by phone, using cell phones and landlines, Feb. 18-22 among 1,000 American adults. It has a margin of error for the full sample of 3.1 percentage points in either direction. 

Trump appears to think Perez at head of Democratic National Committee is good news for Republicans

The Democratic Party put its faith in its old guard Saturday to guide it out of the political wilderness, choosing as its new leader an Obama-era Cabinet secretary over the charismatic congressman backed by the progressive wing of the party.

Tom Perez, a former secretary of Labor with strong ties to unions, persuaded the spirited assembly of party delegates in Atlanta that he can best help harness a grass-roots outpouring of anti-Trump protest and anger into a Democratic resurgence at the ballot box.

 

Trump to Washington reporters: Not going to your dinner

The annual White House Correspondents' Assn. dinner will be missing a key guest this year: President Trump.

On Saturday, Trump tweeted he will not attend the April 29 dinner, considered the premier social event of the Washington press corps -- and typically an evening of good-natured bantering between presidents and reporters with a mix of celebrities watching.

His announcement comes amid growing tensions between his administration and the media. Trump has decried stories he doesn't like as "fake news," and described unnamed news groups as an "enemy of the people."

A day earlier, the White House barred reporters from several major news organizations, including the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, CNN and Politico, from attending an off-camera press briefing.

In a sign of the growing rift, several media organizations that traditionally sponsor lavish parties around the black-tie dinner had announced they would not do so this year.

At the annual dinner, the president usually delivers self-deprecating jokes and often is roasted by a high-profile comedian. The president also greets students who win journalism scholarships and awards, a major part of the evening.

Trump has been a frequent guest of media organizations at the dinner in the past, but he always sat at a table in the crowded ballroom, not up at the front dias.

President Obama singled Trump out during the dinner several years ago, mocking Trump for raising doubts about whether Obama was born in the United States.

“This year, as we do every year, we will celebrate the First Amendment and the role an independent press plays in a healthy republic,” the White House Correspondents' Assn. said in a statement earlier this month about the upcoming dinner.

Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez named Democratic Party leader

Newly elected Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez (Branden Camp/Associated Press)
Newly elected Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez (Branden Camp/Associated Press)

The Democratic Party put its faith in its old guard Saturday to guide it out of the political wilderness, choosing as its new leader an Obama-era Cabinet secretary over the charismatic congressman backed by the progressive wing of the party.

Tom Perez, a former secretary of Labor with strong ties to labor unions, persuaded the spirited assembly of party delegates in Atlanta that he can best help harness a grass-roots outpouring of anti-Trump protest and anger into a Democratic resurgence at the ballot box.

“We are suffering from a crisis of confidence, a crisis of relevance,” Perez told delegates before they chose him in a down-to-the-wire contest with Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, whom the Bernie Sanders wing of the party had rallied round.

“We need a chair who can not only take the fight to Donald Trump. … We also need a chair who can lead a turnaround and change the culture of the Democratic Party,” Perez said.

The ascendance of an establishment liberal is certain to renew tension between veteran party stalwarts and the unruly progressive movement aligned with Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, both of whom backed Ellison.

Some Ellison supporters erupted in protest as the final vote was announced.

Perez quickly sought to unite the party by naming Ellison his deputy chair, a move unanimously approved by the 435 assembled delegates, who had supported Perez 235-200.

Trump chastises media for not reporting minor dip in national debt

President Trump took to Twitter on Saturday morning to blast the news media for not highlighting a minor dip in the national debt.

"The media has not reported that the National Debt in my first month went down by $12 billion vs a $200 billion increase in Obama first mo.," he tweeted at 8:19 a.m.

Trump's tweet came shortly after Herman Cain, who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, made a similar comment on Fox News. 

While the numbers are accurate, Trump's tweet suggests he deserves credit for something that is largely beyond his control, especially since he hasn't yet given Congress any proposals to change tax laws or the financial industry. 

"Considering that Trump hasn't enacted any fiscal legislation, it's a bit of a stretch for him to take credit for any changes in debt levels," Dan Mitchell, a libertarian economist at the Cato Institute, told the fact-checking website Politifact.

President Obama's first month in office in 2009 was largely taken up with spending bills aimed at easing the massive recession that he had inherited.

Trump inherited an economy with low inflation, low unemployment and a booming stock market.

The national debt, which stands at just under $20 trillion, is expected to rise by more than $500 billion in the fiscal year ending in September. 

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