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How a political dinner made Michelle Wolf a household name

How a political dinner made Michelle Wolf a household name
Essential Politics (Los Angeles Times)

People in the room were uncomfortable. People watching at home were cheering her on.

Becoming yet another symbol of a nation divided, Michelle Wolf's comedy routine at the White House Correspondents Assn. dinner Saturday night was widely viewed in political circles as going too far, and prompted official Washington to contemplate the future of the annual tradition.

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Journalists covering President Trump and guests at the event complained that Wolf, who has an upcoming Netflix series, was more mean-spirited than funny. The association said Sunday the intent of the dinner's program is to offer a unifying message about our common commitment to a vigorous and free press while honoring civility, great reporting and scholarship winners, not to divide people.

"Unfortunately, the entertainer's monologue was not in the spirit of that mission," WHCA President Margaret Talev of Bloomberg News said in a statement.

The WHCA dinner, sometimes referred to as "nerd prom," brings together public officials and the journalists who cover them for a glitzy evening that has become a several-day series of parties starting earlier in the week and concluding Sunday. It often becomes its own headline, from Stephen Colbert going after George W. Bush to President Trump breaking with the norm and skipping the dinner in 2017.

As The Times' Chris Barton writes, the president seems to have gotten more sensitive, considering how Trump seemed to be in on the joke during "The Comedy Central Roast of Donald Trump" seven years ago.

For his part, Trump said after this year's dinner that Wolf "bombed" and that the dinner was a "big, boring bust."

As the Wolf debate continued to play out on cable television Monday, things were put into perspective when grim news came of a deadly double suicide bombing in central Kabul. Nine journalists were among those killed.

The WHCA's mission is to seek and protect access for journalists covering the president, and to promote transparency. There were two toasts Saturday to the 1st Amendment, and that's the point. The tragedy in Afghanistan underscores how lucky journalists are in the United States, and just how important that mission is.

LOCAL ELECTED OFFICIAL SUED FOR SEXUAL ASSAULT

A woman sued an unnamed politician in Los Angeles County on Friday, alleging the man sexually assaulted her when she was a teenager.

The politician, identified as John Doe, was in his early 40s and a "public figure" at the time of the 2007 assault, according to the lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.

The man is an elected official today and lives in Los Angeles, said attorney Lisa Bloom, who is representing the woman identified in the lawsuit as Jane Doe. Bloom declined to say what branch of government the man represents.

THE RACE FOR GOVERNOR

There are 35 days to go until California voters pick the top two candidates in the race to be the next governor. The battle is shifting to the airwaves.

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State Treasurer John Chiang released his first television ad, touting his fiscal stewardship of the state in the face of the recession. But Chiang's modest ad buy is dwarfed by efforts supporting Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

The Villaraigosa campaign soon after launched its first statewide TV ad. The 30-second spot touted his accomplishments as mayor of Los Angeles when up against the economic downturn during the recession and touched on his humble beginnings. It follows an independent expenditure group called Families and Teachers for Antonio Villaraigosa for Governor, which is running ads in support of the former mayor.

Newsom continues to rule fundraising in the governor's race, with more than $17.6 million in the bank. But wealthy allies of Villaraigosa dumped more than $12.5 million into an independent effort to boost his candidacy — just before mail ballots are sent to voters. A complete look at the latest fundraising numbers in the governor's race, courtesy of Seema Mehta and Phil Willon.

In the other closely watched statewide race, Sen. Dianne Feinstein won't be participating in a pre-primary debate.

BATTLE FOR THE HOUSE

On Tuesday, protesters who have been showing up outside of Rep. Darrell Issa's office for more than a year decided to pack up their signs and microphones for the last time, vowing instead to focus on getting out the vote in the crowded primary to replace him.

The longevity of the protests, which often drew hundreds, has given Democrats hope a wave is coming in November. But the hardening of their rhetoric, and that of pro-Trump counter-protesters, Christine Mai-Duc reports, is an of-the-moment glimpse into the state of politics in 2018.

And in a nearby district, a dispute over a voicemail is the latest evidence of Democratic infighting in crowded primary races where Democrats could be shut out of prime pick-up opportunities in the U.S. House.

In the Central Valley, one election handicapper has downgraded two Republican seats from "safe" to "likely" Republican.

THE POLITICS OF ROAD MONEY

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Just as backers of an effort to repeal the recent gas tax increase in California say they have enough signatures to make the November ballot, California officials announced that $2.4 billion of the money will be spent on dozens of transit projects, including work they say will prepare Southern California to host the 2028 Summer Olympics.

Patrick McGreevy explains how Republicans up and down the state are attempting to use gas-tax politics in their campaigns.

A reminder you can keep up with the state's political races in the moment via our Essential Politics news feed on California politics.

THINK YOUR COMMUTE IS LONG?

For most representatives, weekly commuting is now a routine of congressional life. It's an aspect of the job that Americans have come to expect from their representatives, but one that many lawmakers aren't fully prepared for.

CHILD POVERTY AT THE CENTER OF A CALIFORNIA BUDGET DEBATE

As Democratic lawmakers in Sacramento have pored over Gov. Jerry Brown's state budget plans the past several weeks, they've begun to focus on the need for more money to battle child poverty.

And the key state program for those families, writes John Myers in his Sunday column, is CalWORKS. The welfare assistance program was downsized during the recession a decade ago, and hasn't been restored. Legislative leaders have some new ideas on how to use record-setting tax revenues to change that, but they've got to convince Brown to spend more.

NATIONAL POLITICS LIGHTNING ROUND

-- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on his first trip to the Middle East as America's top diplomat, sought to muster international support for a more robust response to what U.S. officials see as growing threats emanating from Iran.

-- On stops in Saudi Arabia and Israel, Pompeo said the deal to curtail Iran's nuclear program does not do enough to counter the country's "destabilizing and malign activity" in the region and repeated Trump's threats to pull out of the pact unless it is strengthened.

-- After Pompeo's lightning-quick visit Sunday to Israel to talk with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, it was clear several questions dividing the two nations remained unresolved.

-- On Saturday, Trump said a Democratic senator should resign over his role in tanking the nomination of Trump's pick to lead the VA.

-- Speaking of Ronny Jackson, he won't return to his job as Trump's doctor, although he'll remain in the White House medical office. That makes it a good time to review everyone who has left the Trump administration.

-- Where and how to build the border wall? That's the complicated question in the Rio Grande Valley, the busiest stretch of the southern border for migrant apprehensions and marijuana seizures.

-- In case you missed it during the president's "Fox & Friends" appearance, Trump said he's given up watching television. Sort of.

Get the latest about what's happening in the nation's capital on Essential Washington.

TODAY'S ESSENTIALS

-- This week's California Politics Podcast digs into the latest campaign cash reports in the race from governor, as well as offering a political postmortem on the death of a closely watched housing proposal.

-- Sen. Kamala Harris says she will no longer take corporate donations.

-- California sought to jump-start its marijuana industry by giving businesses temporary, 120-day permits that briefly waived big fees and other costly requirements, but that grace period is ending and many say the expense and red tape of getting a regular license is a headache, McGreevy reports.

-- A nearly $9-billion bond for water improvements is likely to appear on the November ballot.

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— There are, of course, vast differences between Iowa and California, Mark Z. Barabak explains to L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti in his latest political column, and not just the winter weather or number of plastic surgeons.

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