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Newsletter: Today: When the Going Gets Tough, Rally the Troops. Chipping Away at Obamacare.

Trump news conference
President Trump at a White House news conference Wednesday.
(Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images)

I’m Davan Maharaj, editor-in-chief of the Los Angeles Times. Here are some story lines I don’t want you to miss today.

TOP STORIES

When the Going Gets Tough, Rally the Troops

President Trump’s approval ratings were already down to 40% in a Gallup poll when this week’s turmoil broke out, with the dismissal of national security advisor Michael Flynn and the abrupt withdrawal of Andy Puzder, the president’s pick for Labor secretary. As calls for a congressional inquiry into the Flynn case grow, Trump’s response has been to fight back — against “illegal” leaks and a favorite target, “the fake media.” That approach, though, isn’t putting any controversies to rest. Perhaps that’s why Trump’s heading to Florida this weekend for a rally the White House said was being organized by his campaign. Trump 2020 already?

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Getting in a State About Israel

It’s been a pillar of U.S. foreign policy for decades: the search for a two-state solution to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But as with so much in Washington, Trump has shaken that pillar. “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one both parties like,” Trump said. “I can live with either one.” More from Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s summit.

More Politics

-- Defense Secretary James Mattis warned NATO allies that European defenses are at risk due to low military budgets, and said the Trump administration may scale back support for joint defense if other governments do not contribute more.

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-- Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will debut on the global stage today at a G-20 summit in Germany.

-- Trump versus the media, as viewed by conservative media

-- Grade the president: Tell us how you think Trump is doing, and see what your fellow readers are saying.

The Water Pressure Is Up in California

After years of extreme drought, large swaths of California are having one of their wettest winters on record. That led to this week’s crisis at Oroville Dam, where officials expressed confidence that a new round of rainfall won’t pose a problem. But it’s also putting pressure on the network of dams, rivers, levees and other waterways that are essential to preventing massive flooding.

More About the Storms

-- L.A. is bracing for what could be the biggest storm of the season.

-- The price tag for winter storm damage to California highways? More than $400 million.

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Escape From El Salvador

El Salvador is one of the most dangerous places on Earth, with a per capita homicide rate more than 15 times that of the United States. A poll last year said more than 40% of Salvadorans hoped to leave the country within a year — to Costa Rica, Mexico and, of course, the U.S. But the route is arduous, even for those who hope to enter America through the refugee process. In Kate Linthicum’s story and Carolyn Cole’s video report, see the struggle to keep the peace — and meet one 16-year-old who endured months of vetting in an effort to rejoin his family in L.A. 

In El Salvador, Mauricio Gomez was living in fear, separated from his parents in the U.S.
In El Salvador, Mauricio Gomez was living in fear, separated from his parents in the U.S.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Chipping Away at Obamacare

While we wait for an Obamacare alternative, the Trump administration is taking steps on its own to loosen the rules on insurers. It says they’re necessary to stabilize the Obamacare marketplaces, though consumer advocates worry that they’ll make medical care harder to find for many needy patients. Meanwhile, columnist Michael Hiltzik has some thoughts on a quiet rule change by the IRS: It won’t automatically reject tax returns that fail to state whether the tax filer had health insurance for the year.

CALIFORNIA

-- The Los Angeles City Council has voted unanimously to decriminalize street vending, but it could take months to work out the details.

-- Actor Harrison Ford could face punitive action after flying over a passenger jet and landing his single-engine plane on a taxiway at John Wayne Airport.

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-- The Orange Coast College student who secretly video-recorded a professor’s classroom comments calling Trump’s victory “an act of terrorism” is being suspended.

-- Something fishy: A high-end restaurant in Santa Clara County agreed to a six-figure settlement with prosecutors after being accused of serving tilapia that was billed as petrale sole.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

-- Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon give the scoop on bringing the new female-driven HBO show “Big Little Lies” to life.

-- BBC follows up its groundbreaking nature documentary series with “Planet Earth II,” featuring music by composer Hans Zimmer.

-- A former dancer and “Project Runway” finalist is creating dance costumes that are characters in their own right.

-- Disney has set the opening date for the new “Guardians of the Galaxy”-inspired attraction at California Adventure.

CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD

LeVar Burton was still a student at USC when he starred in “Roots.” At first he wasn’t sure if anyone was watching the miniseries, until he went to a supermarket in Sacramento. “This crowd started gathering around me, pointing at me, saying, ‘Hey, you’re Kunta Kinte.’ … It just was the beginning. Soon I found myself in the center of the eye of the hurricane.” The actor turns 60 today.

NATION-WORLD

-- The U.S. Coast Guard is tracking a Russian spy ship near a U.S. Navy submarine base in Connecticut.

-- Malaysian authorities announced two more arrests Thursday in the death of the North Korean leader’s half brother, Kim Jong Nam.

-- Residents of eastern Ukraine are facing the worst fighting in years in the war with Russian-backed separatists.

-- The scientists who first harnessed the powerful gene-editing technology known as CRISPR suffered a major defeat in their quest to control the rights to their invention.

-- An heiress wanted her Palm Beach villa to become a winter White House. With President Trump, her wish for Mar-a-Lago comes true.

BUSINESS

-- Elon Musk has a lot riding on Tesla’s Model 3. But what will a unionization effort in California mean?

-- The U.S. attorney’s office is exploring whether Fox News settlement payments for sexual harassment claims should have been reported to 21st Century Fox shareholders.

SPORTS

-- The Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw says his goal this season is to not be missed.

-- Did hockey player Jaromir Jagr find the fountain of youth in Florida (unlike Ponce de León)? At 45, he’s the oldest athlete in a major U.S. team sport.

OPINION

-- Dams are like loaded weapons. Oroville could be the first disaster of many to come.

-- Trump’s wounds are all self-inflicted: See the David Horsey cartoon.

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

-- The power of Big Oil in California. (The Nation)

-- What’s inside those 55-gallon steel drums? It could be chemicals that endanger the workers who recondition them. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

-- Some of the many things trees can teach us. (National Geographic)

ONLY IN L.A.

Leotta Litke and Henry Rueda were planning on a Valentine’s Day wedding at their community church. Instead, they were stuck in an evacuation center because of the crisis at Oroville Dam. Thanks to an outpouring of support from strangers, who donated a wedding dress, tux, limo and hotel room, they still managed to tie the knot under a tree at the Placer County fairgrounds. 

Please send comments and ideas to Davan Maharaj.

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