Newsletter: Essential Politics: Tough questions for Mark Zuckerberg and President Trump


This is shaping up to be the second straight split-screen day in American politics, the continuation of two amazing storylines: a public reckoning for a Silicon Valley titan and the high-stakes investigation of a trusted confidant of President Trump.

For Mark Zuckerberg, the impresario of Facebook, there’s probably relief this week’s spotlight isn’t only being shined on him.

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If Zuckerberg thought he’d get the benefit of the doubt on Capitol Hill after saying he’s sorry, he was wrong.

For several hours, Democratic and Republican senators alike grilled the tech leader over Facebook’s actions in the 2016 election season and its overall approach to the privacy of user data.

“Let me just cut to the chase,” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said to Zuckerberg on Tuesday. “If you and other social media companies do not get your act in order, none of us are going to have any privacy anymore.”

Zuckerberg’s appearance had the markings of old guard versus new guard, especially with some questions from senators who didn’t seem to have a lot of personal experience with Facebook.

We’re tracking his testimony to the House Energy and Commerce Committee this morning on our Essential Washington news feed.



The other side of the political split screen may squeeze the Facebook discussion out of the picture by week’s end. With federal prosecutors raiding the office of Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen and more angst via Twitter from the president, the nation’s Republican leadership is in a pickle.

As Cathleen Decker writes, congressional Republicans are facing tough questions about whether they should embrace protection of Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russian activity in the presidential election.

Meanwhile, there’s the attorney in the crosshairs. Cohen became close to Trump because of his die-hard loyalty and his willingness to do just about anything to protect the developer-turned-president’s reputation. That loyalty is now being put to the test.


-- Tensions, too, are mounting over what the Trump administration will do over reports of the recent deadly chemical attack in Syria. “Russian hands,” U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said on Monday, “are all covered in the blood of Syrian children.” On Wednesday, Trump tweeted that missiles to Syria “will be coming.”

-- As Pentagon planners scramble to prepare for a possible U.S. retaliatory military response in Syria, one danger has sparked special concern — whether airstrikes could inadvertently kill Russian soldiers in Syria and escalate the regional war. The situation has left Syrian troops on high alert.

-- All of it was enough to convince Trump to skip this week’s visit to Peru and Colombia, which was to be highlighted by the Summit of the Americas gathering of international leaders in Peru.


-- This week would have been an especially raw time for President Trump to visit Latin America. But canceling the trip could leave the region even angrier.

-- A day after Trump called aspects of the U.S.-China trade relationship “stupid,” his Chinese counterpart tried a different strategy. President Xi Jinping promised to slash auto tariffs and further open the country’s markets to imports.

-- Mick Mulvaney’s overhaul of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is so extensive it now could include revising the agency’s name.

-- Trump devoted his weekly address over the weekend to an attack on California’s “sanctuary” laws, arguing without evidence that the state had made itself “a border-free zone where thousands of criminal aliens can roam free.”

-- The surest path to a green card may be an investor visa — at least for anybody with $500,000 to spare.

-- The federal government’s top ethics officer is calling for the EPA to take action to address questionable actions by Administrator Scott Pruitt.

-- CIA Director Mike Pompeo, a former Kansas congressman and solid conservative, will head to Capitol Hill on Thursday for his first round of questioning as Trump’s pick to be the next secretary of State.

-- Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth has given birth to a baby girl, making her the first serving U.S. senator to give birth.



Southern California’s biggest water agency has voted to shoulder most of the cost of a sweeping plan to rebuild the intersection of the state’s vast waterworks, committing nearly $11 billion to the project.

Tuesday’s vote was a major victory for Gov. Jerry Brown, who lobbied the Metropolitan Water District to back his plans for twin water tunnels beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta.


California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the Trump administration to challenge the repeal of a policy that requires major sources of air pollutants, including oil refineries, to reduce their emissions.

Becerra’s action, on behalf of the state Air Resources Board, targets a policy change by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that would no longer require major polluters to install and operate equipment to permanently minimize the release of hazardous substances.



-- Becerra is appealing a San Diego federal judge’s ruling allowing construction of Trump’s border wall.

-- California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said Tuesday that state courts should disclose the names of judges who entered into settlements to resolve complaints of sexual harassment and discrimination.

-- The most prominent woman in the race for governor, former state schools chief Delaine Eastin, is fighting to keep pace in the contest, despite calls for more women in leadership roles in state politics.

-- Even after intervention from California’s schools chief, the chaos of constant turnover for Inglewood’s schools has contributed to uncertainty over whether the system still can be saved.

-- Sen. Dianne Feinstein has long been friends with the man who’s governor of California. On Tuesday, Brown endorsed Feinstein for reelection.


-- A major housing bill that would raise building heights near transit stations across the state has been narrowed in advance of its first committee hearing in Sacramento next week.

-- With all the attention on Zuckerberg and Cambridge Analytica, few people may realize how ubiquitous targeted ads have become in political campaigns. Here’s a video explainer on how it’s done.

-- State lawmakers retreated from establishing a “zero tolerance” policy for young motorists in California who use pot.

-- Sacramento’s district attorney addressed crime victims at the state Capitol on Monday amid chants of “Stephon Clark” from protesters.


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