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Freewheeling immigration debate in Senate will test power of conservative outside groups
Donald Trump congratulates Mitch McConnell, while Paul Ryan watches, after the final passage of the tax overhaul legislation in December. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)

Donald Trump congratulates Mitch McConnell, while Paul Ryan watches, after the final passage of the tax overhaul legislation in December. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)

THE BIG IDEA: The open immigration debate that Mitch McConnell promised, to put an end last month’s government shutdown, will begin Monday night in the Senate. It may be the most consequential storyline of the week, but even the savviest insiders are unsure about how it will play out – including the majority leader.

Most coverage of this issue focuses on Latinos activists and the immigration groups that have been occupying congressional offices or staging large-scale protests. But this fight also poses a major test for hardline advocacy groups on the right, who worry that President Trump will wind up giving too much ground to cut a deal.

Democrats are focused on passing a narrow bill to protect the “dreamers,” those undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. Trump says he’s willing to give a pathway to citizenship for the 1.8 million people who are eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), but only if he gets funding for a border wall, restrictions on family-based legal migration and an end to the diversity lottery program. Democrats and border-state Republicans say that’s a bridge too far.

Heritage Action, one of the more influential advocacy groups on the right, loves the proposals to restrict future immigration but spent the weekend mobilizing its grass-roots army to oppose giving citizenship to anyone who entered the U.S. unlawfully, no matter how old they were when they came.

“We're always going to call true north, and this is an amnesty bill,” Heritage Action chief executive Michael Needham said during a recent interview. “Amnesty is the wrong way to go, and we're not going to flinch off that. We're also recognizing that the fact of the matter is the president, and it seems like the political center of gravity in the Congress, is to do some sort of limited amnesty for the dreamers. And I think in that context, in terms of getting a victory, chain migration is just a commonsense one. … We don't want to be a cheap date, but we want to get to yes.”

This posture captures the evolving role that conservative groups like Heritage Action are playing in the Trump era, marked by their newfound willingness to compromise. The group is willing to call out apostasies while also offering sufficient positive reinforcement to ensure that it keeps a seat at the table.

Heritage Action’s relationship with GOP leaders on Capitol Hill was especially fraught during Barack Obama’s second term, after the group played a starring role in forcing the 2013 government shutdown in a quixotic bid to defund Obamacare. Lawmakers from the establishment wing of the party routinely grumbled about their influence. The rapport has improved somewhat, and Needham said he has a more professional working relationship with congressional leadership now that Republicans have unified control.

“Their job at the end of the day is to count to 218 and get something through, and my job is to try to make whatever comes out of the House and the Senate as conservative as possible,” Needham explained during a wide-ranging conversation in his office near the Capitol. “There's a difference when you're in the minority versus governing. One of the real problems that we had when Republicans were in the minority, or only controlled the House, is that we thought that was the time they should be painting in bold colors. … Now we're at the point where maybe taking 50 percent of a loaf is what you want.”

James Hohmann interviews Michael Needham. (Carol Alderman/The Washington Post)

James Hohmann interviews Michael Needham. (Carol Alderman/The Washington Post)

Needham, 37, founded Heritage Action in 2010 as an independent advocacy arm of the think tank that’s existed since 1973. “The job of think tanks, and what we're part of, is to make our principles relevant to the mood of the moment, and one of the things that Trump exposed is that we haven't done that as well as we should have,” he said. “The movement is really good at saying what Ronald Reagan said in 1980. … What Trump did was he made a brilliant diagnosis of where the country is right now. This is not a confident America, as the House Republican slogan was in 2016. It's an anxious America.”

While the president “diagnosed” the country’s problems, Needham said Trump never came up with all the solutions to solve them and, on issues like trade, blamed the wrong boogeyman: “I don't even think he would claim he's thought through: what's the policy agenda that naturally flows out of all of this?”

Despite unified Republican control of Washington, this can sometimes be a frustrating time for movement conservatives who are determined not to get caught under the spell of Trump’s force of personality. Never forget that the president was a registered Democrat until September 2009.

In the summer of 2015, when nobody thought Trump could win the Republican nomination, Needham called him “a clown” who shouldn’t be in the race on “Fox News Sunday.” That September, The Donald canceled a scheduled appearance at a Heritage Action cattle call event in South Carolina. He said it was because he had to close a “significant business transaction,” but that appeared to be an excuse.

Needham has nothing negative to say about Trump personally, but he said he’ll always criticize his policies when they aren’t conservative. The group opposed the first version of the Obamacare repeal bill in the House last spring, before Trump pulled it from consideration. That earned a rebuke from the president on Twitter. Heritage Action also pushed back immediately when Trump suggested a return to the era of earmarks. “It's honestly the stupidest idea I've heard this year,” Needham told me when we talked. The group opposed last week’s bipartisan budget agreement because it will dramatically increase the size of government, just as it opposed the September deal that Trump cut with Democrats to tie the debt ceiling to emergency disaster spending.

But despite those futile efforts, Needham stressed that his goal is to be as constructive as possible. Rather than just oppose an infrastructure package, as it might have in the past, Heritage Action is working closely with the administration to make sure that any bill uses as few tax dollars as possible while including provisions to water down environmental regulations and emasculate unions.

Heritage is also eager to credit Trump for embracing its ideas. By the think tank’s count, about 70 former employees either currently work in the Trump administration or had jobs on the transition team. A report released after the 2016 election outlined 334 policy recommendations for the incoming president. The foundation tabulated last month that two-thirds of them were either included in last year’s budget, implemented through regulatory guidance or remain actively under consideration. Among the victories on their list: Trump’s decision to leave the Paris climate accord, repeal net neutrality, scale back public lands, reinstate the Mexico City abortion policy and withdraw from UNESCO.

-- But Trump remains a wild card. One problem for groups like Heritage Action is that it’s really hard to convince Republican congressmen to vote against something once the president offers his imprimatur, even if it goes against positions they’ve espoused in the past. He’s so popular with the base, there’s such fear of crossing him among the rank-in-file and it turns out most Republican politicians didn’t really hold the convictions they claimed during the Obama era that deeply. That creates a worrisome prospect for the immigration hawks. He may have staked out a hardline negotiating position, but the former real estate developer could be seduced by the allure of a grand bargain. If he comes out in favor of amnesty without much in return, he could declare victory and most Republicans would probably go along.

It’s no coincidence that the last president to enact a major amnesty program for undocumented immigrants was Ronald Reagan, who had credibility with conservatives to compromise in a way that George W. Bush did not during his second term. “One of the lessons of 1986 is that when you provide amnesty, especially amnesty without the kind of wholesale change to the system that matches demand for labor with supply of labor in a smart way, you are going to have a problem that comes back five years from now, 10 years from now,” said Needham. “And Washington only solves problems once every 30 years.”

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-- What you need to know about the immigration state of play in the Senate, via Ed O’Keefe: “Unlike most congressional debates, which begin with a prepared piece of legislation, the give-and-take over immigration will not. Instead, McConnell used his powers as floor leader late last week to bring up an unrelated bill that he said will be used as the ‘shell’ for the debate. The shell can be reshaped when a proposed amendment has the 60 votes needed to clear procedural challenges and pass. Once amendments are added, the final bill will also require at least 60 votes to survive and pass.Aides in both parties and advocates tracking the debate expect that Democrats and Republicans will try introducing proposals to test the Senate’s appetite for reform.

Late Sunday, seven GOP senators — Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), John Cornyn (Tex.), Thom Tillis (N.C.), David Perdue (Ga.), James Lankford (Okla.), Tom Cotton (Ark.) and Joni Ernst (Iowa) — introduced the Secure and Succeed Act, a plan that mirrors Trump’s proposals. The bill would legalize 1.8 million dreamers and authorize $25 billion for ‘physical and virtual’ fencing and other technology along the southern border and funding for more Border Patrol agents. The legislation also would limit family-based legal migration to just the nuclear family and reallocate visas from the diversity lottery program to other visa programs.

Meanwhile, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has been hosting meetings in her office since last month’s shutdown, trying to get about 25 senators in a bipartisan ‘Common Sense Caucus’ to endorse a plan that could pass overwhelmingly. After several long meetings fueled by several boxes of Girl Scout cookies, they still have nothing. ‘I don’t know whether we can get there or not,’ she said.”

-- If the Senate passes something, there is no guarantee that the House will take it up. Speaker Paul Ryan suggested last week that he will bring up a bill for a vote only if it’s something “the president will sign.”

-- Three remarkable statistics I learned this weekend:

1.As ICE officers get wider latitude to determine whom they detain, the biggest jump in arrests has been of immigrants with no criminal convictions. The agency made 37,734 ‘noncriminal’ arrests in the government’s 2017 fiscal year, more than twice the number in the previous year,” Nick Miroff and Maria Sacchetti report on the front page of today’s newspaper. “Critics say ICE is increasingly grabbing at the lowest-hanging fruit of deportation-eligible immigrants to meet the president’s unrealistic goals, replacing a targeted system with a scattershot approach aimed at boosting the agency’s enforcement statistics. … Trump officials have likened this to taking ‘the shackles off,’ and they say morale at ICE is up because its officers have regained the authority to detain anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally. Officers are detaining suspects in courthouses more often, and ICE teams no longer shy from taking additional people into custody when they knock on doors to arrest a targeted person.”

2. Univision anchor Jorge Ramos notes in his new book that close to half of the 27.3 million Latinos eligible to vote in the 2016 contest stayed home. “I said, so many times and with such great confidence, that Trump would never make it to the White House without the Latino vote. But I was wrong,” Ramos writes in “Stranger: The Challenge of a Latino Immigrant in the Trump Era.” “What happens in the Latino community is our own fault. It can’t be blamed on anyone else.” (Carlos Lozada reviewed the book in the Sunday Outlook section.)

3. Arizona has the biggest racial generation gap of any state in the country: Just 19 percent of the population over 65 is nonwhite compared to 60 percent of people under 18. “Those numbers — and the tension between the demands of Republican primary voters and those of the wider electorate — will eventually prove their party’s undoing, some Republicans worry,” Jonathan Martin wrote in the New York Times as part of a larger piece on the race for Jeff Flake’s open Senate seat. “There is a sharp divide between native-born white Arizonans, who grew up around Hispanics and hearing Spanish, and transplants to the Southwest from more heavily white states. ‘The Arizona Republican Party, they’re just slitting their own throats,’ said John Giles, the Republican mayor of Mesa, which has a larger population than St. Louis. ‘They are pushing and doing everything they can to offend the Latino population.’” 

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) walks to his office on Capitol Hill. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) walks to his office on Capitol Hill. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)

-- How the immigration fight is playing elsewhere:

Al Hunt sketches out the battle lines for Bloomberg View: “The immigration free-for-all that starts in Congress this week will test the character of [Paul Ryan], the courage of Republican moderates, the cunning of [Trump] and the sensibilities of the Democratic left. The odds are that any deal will fall part, and all of the above will be losers. Washington will prove to be as dysfunctional as the public perceives. If, however, those politicians rise above that standard, it could be a win for all but the immigration-haters. … Trump has been all over the lot. … What he wants is anything he can call a victory.”

Politico: “Trump's man on the Hill tries not to make promises he can't keep on immigration. White House legislative director Marc Short finds himself playing mediator, not dealmaker, as Congress turns to its next big legislative challenge.”

The Intercept: “For Immigrant Students on Long Island, Trump’s War on Gangs Means the Wrong T-Shirt Could Get You Deported.

HuffPost: “With No Answer On DACA, Queer Dreamer Is Terrified For The Future.

Fox News: “As Trump derides Dems for using DACA, a battle for Hispanic votes reignites.

San Diego Union-Tribune: “Focus on DACA in publicizing human-smuggling arrests angers immigration advocates.

NPR’s “All Things Considered” tells the story of a “dreamer” whose family’s future is in limbo because Trump ended DACA: “Christian Olvera's parents know how to drive. But they're afraid to, because they're in the country illegally, and they don't have driver's licenses. So most days, Olvera drives them to work. Olvera is 26 years old, and looks even younger, with curly black hair and a baby face. But he's taken on a lot of responsibility. On paper, Olvera owns the family business. Even the house where they live, on a leafy street in Dalton, Georgia, is in his name.People ask me, do you still live with your parents?,’ Olvera joked. ‘I'll say no, my parents live with me.’ The reason Olvera can do all these things for his family is DACA …

“Olvera says his protections would expire in August. ‘I'm like a jug of milk, man. It's marked on there, and you don't know what to do after that,’ he said. ‘There's a lot of things that go into limbo.’ … In Mexico, Olvera's father was an architect. When the family moved to Georgia, he worked in a carpet mill. Now the family owns a photography studio in Dalton. Olvera says his father started taking photos at birthday parties and weddings. … Olvera is helping out with that family business for now. What he really wants is to go away to college. But he feels like he can't do that. ‘I'm just scared honestly of that one call saying hey, your father's been detained,’ Olvera said. ‘And I'm going to blame myself for that, because I wasn't there to drive them.’”

And the Los Angeles Times marks the end of an era: “While politicians are embroiled in a polarized national debate over immigration, an iconic road sign cautioning drivers near the San Diego border to watch for migrants running across the freeway has quietly disappeared. The ‘immigrant crossing’ signs have become obsolete, said Cathryne Bruce-Johnson, a spokeswoman for Caltrans. The transportation department stopped replacing the signs years ago because it constructed fences along medians to deter people from running across highways. … California Highway Patrol Sgt. Dan Kyle said that officers who worked during the years before the fences were added recalled responding weekly to fatal collisions between cars and immigrants on the freeway...” 

 
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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

Jamie Anderson of the United States competes in the women's slopestyle event. (Issei Kato/Reuters)

Jamie Anderson of the United States competes in the women's slopestyle event. (Issei Kato/Reuters)

-- American Jamie Anderson won her second consecutive Olympic gold medal in the women’s slopestyle snowboarding event. Low temperatures and high winds led to many falls among the competitors, aiding more experienced riders like Anderson. Her first-place finish is the second U.S. gold medal in PyeongChang after Red Gerard won the men’s slopestyle event. (Chico Harlan)

-- Mirai Nagasu became the first American woman to land a triple axel in Olympic competition, helping the United States take home a bronze in the team figure skating event. “It’s historical and something no one can take away from me,” Nagasu said after her skate. “I wanted to make America proud.” Canada took home the gold medal in the event, while the Olympic Athletes from Russia won silver. (Liz Clarke)



Plane with 71 aboard crashes near Moscow

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. A passenger plane flying out of Moscow crashed several minutes after takeoff, killing all 71 people onboard. The cause of the crash was not immediately clear, but Russian officials said the plane, which had been heading to Orsk on the Kazakhstan border, disappeared from radar screens shortly after departure. (Anton Troianovski)
  2. Britain is threatening to yank millions of dollars of funding from Oxfam, one of the world’s most prominent relief agencies, after a Times of London investigation accused its workers of exploiting natural disaster victims for sex. Among other wrongdoings, the Times report accused Oxfam's former director in Haiti of running an “illegal makeshift brothel” following the devastating 2010 earthquake. (Avi Selk and Eli Rosenberg)
  3. A drone shot down by Israel this weekend appears to be an Iranian copy of a U.S. stealth drone captured by the country in 2011, according to Israeli officials. Military personnel declined to comment on whether the Iranian drone was armed but said it was on “a mission.” (Loveday Morris and Ruth Eglash)
  4. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked the Treasury Department for records on Trump's sale of a Palm Beach mansion to Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev. The businessman bought the property for tens of millions of dollars more than its estimated value. (CNN)
  5. OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma said it will slash its sales force by half and stop promoting its opioid drugs at doctors’ offices. Purdue and other drugmakers are seeking to defend themselves against a spate of lawsuits accusing them of pushing the addictive medication through “deceptive marketing” techniques. (Reuters)
  6. Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock’s autopsy results revealed nothing new about what drove him to commit the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. According to newly published toxicology reports, Paddock was sober at the time of the shooting, and a separate brain scan conducted at Stanford University also found “nothing unusual.” (Amy B Wang and Mark Berman)
  7. Teenagers are flooding Kansas’s gubernatorial race after a 16-year-old found a loophole in state law — making the high school junior too young to vote, but, theoretically, old enough to lead a state. Five more teens have since followed his lead, currently making up about one-third of total candidates in the race. (Avi Selk)
  8. Police in Stafford County, Va., said they used a pair of drones to help de-escalate a four-hour standoff with an armed woman, who pulled into a nearby Walmart and pleaded with officers to kill her. (Clarence Williams)
  9. Lawrence S. Bacow, a longtime academic and former head of Tufts University, has been chosen as the next president of Harvard. Bacow will replace the first woman to hold Harvard’s presidency, Drew Gilpin Faust, and is slated to take office in July. (Susan Svrluga)
  10. The Colts named Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich as their next head coach. He signed his contract yesterday and is slated to be formally introduced at a news conference on Tuesday. (Mark Maske)
Trump administration wants to privatize the International Space Station

TRUMP'S AGENDA:

-- The Trump administration is seeking to turn the International Space Station into a commercially run venture, ending direct federal support of the orbiting laboratory after the year 2025, according to an internal NASA document. Christian Davenport reports: “The internal NASA document has scant details over how the privatization of the station would work … [and] didn’t immediately propose what private enterprise might do with the station or what companies might take it over. The plan to privatize the station is likely to run into a wall of opposition, especially because the United States has spent nearly $100 billion to build and operate it. Last week, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said he hoped recent reports of NASA’s decision to end funding of the station ‘prove as unfounded as Bigfoot.’ He said the decision was the result of ‘numskulls’ at the [OMB].” “As a fiscal conservative, you know one of the dumbest things you can do is cancel programs after billions in investment when there is still serious usable life ahead,” he said.

-- Trump will today unveil his long-awaited infrastructure proposalwhich aims to stimulate $1.5 trillion in new spending over the next decade on repairing bridges, roads and waterways. But it lacks a key detail: how to pay for it John Wagner and Heather Long: “White House aides say Trump is open to a new source of funding to cover the [$200 billion] federal share — such as raising the federal gas tax for the first time since 1993 — but Congress will have to make such decisions. For now, the White House is suggesting that lawmakers cut money from elsewhere in the budget, including some existing infrastructure programs. That prospect seems unlikely given that Congress just last week reached a bipartisan deal to spend significantly more funds over the coming two years.”

  • “In a briefing [this weekend], senior White House aides stressed that Trump’s plan is intended to be an opening bid on legislation that will require bipartisan cooperation to pass,” our colleagues report. “This in no way, shape or form should be considered a take-it-or-leave-it proposal,” said one senior official. “This is the start of a negotiation — bicameral, bipartisan negotiation — to find the best solution for infrastructure in the U.S.”

-- Trump will also release his budget blueprint. The plan falls “far short” of eliminating the deficit over the next 10 years — relinquishing the GOP’s long-standing goal of balancing the budget as lawmakers concede that huge tax cuts and new spending increases make that impossible. Damian Paletta reports: “Trump’s budget plan will call for a range of spending cuts that reduces the growth of the deficit by $3 trillion over 10 years, but it would not eliminate the deficit entirely[.] GOP leaders have prioritized the tax cut plan and a major increase to military spending over their past calls for eliminating the deficit. A vocal minority of GOP lawmakers have complained about this shift, but they proved no match for the bulk of the party last week when spending levels for the next two years were expanded.”

-- The goal to balance the budget “had been a North Star for the Republican Party for several decades,” write David J. Lynch and Damian Paletta. “To some degree, the president and his congressional allies are harking back to the policies of a free-spending, tax-cutting predecessor Trump has long maligned — George W. Bush. But Bush cut taxes and ramped up spending when the United States had generated small budget surpluses for two consecutive years and the federal debt was less than half its current size, compared with the overall economy. … A mixture of political self-interest and presidential influence explains the GOP’s abrupt about-face. … But the main explanation for the Republican makeover is the man in the Oval Office.”

-- Trump’s budget will almost certainly call for severe cuts to foreign aid, and the administration may make such assistance contingent on supporting U.S. policies in the United Nations. Carol Morello reports: “For decades already, the State Department has been keeping track of which countries side with the United States at the United Nations, and numerous academic studies show at least a casual relationship between aid and votes. But rarely has the calculation been so blunt and so public as it is now. … The idea of linking U.S. assistance to U.N. votes has long held appeal, particularly in Republican and conservative circles.”

Pence sits near Kim Jong Un’s sister, doesn't applaud unified Korean Olympians

THE OLYMPICS GET POLITICAL:

-- Mike Pence told The Post's Josh Rogin the United States is “ready to talk” with North Korea — signaling a potential breakthrough in diplomacy efforts. “The frame for the still-nascent diplomatic path forward is this: The United States and its allies will not stop imposing steep and escalating costs on the [Kim] regime until it takes clear steps toward denuclearization,” Rogin writes. “But the Trump administration is now willing to sit down and talk with the regime while that pressure campaign is ongoing. Pence called it ‘maximum pressure and engagement at the same time.’ That’s an important change from the previous U.S. position, which was to build maximum pressure until Pyongyang made real concessions and only then to engage directly with the regime. ‘The point is, no pressure comes off until they are actually doing something that the alliance believes represents a meaningful step toward denuclearization,’ Pence said.”

-- NBC apologized after analyst Joshua Cooper Ramo praised Japan’s occupation of the country during Friday’s opening ceremony. Avi Selk reports: “Japan was ‘a country which occupied Korea from 1910 to 1945,’ Ramo said, correctly (though he did not mention that historians say the Japanese army forced tens of thousands of Koreans into sex slavery.) ‘But,’ Ramo continued, ‘every Korean will tell you that Japan as a cultural and technological and economic example has been so important to their own transformation.’” His comments immediately prompted outrage online, and thousands signed an petition demanding an apology from the network. 

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks during an interview with Reuters journalists in Washington. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks during an interview with Reuters journalists in Washington. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

PERSONNEL IS POLICY:

-- EPA head Scott Pruitt is a first-class traveler, making a number of frequent, secretive trips that tend to be more expensive than the agency norm. Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis report: “As he enters his second year in charge of the EPA, Pruitt is distinguishing himself from his predecessors in ways that go beyond policy differences. His travel practices … are integral to how he approaches his role. Pruitt tends to bring a larger entourage of political advisers on his trips than past administrators. But while the aides usually fly coach … he often sits in first or business class, which previous administrators typically eschewed. Last year, Pruitt promoted U.S. natural-gas exports in Morocco, sat on a panel about the rule of law in Rome and met with his counterparts from major industrialized countries. This year, he plans to travel to Israel, Australia, Japan, Mexico and possibly Canada[.] . . . None of those visits have been officially announced.”

-- Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Cairo, the first stop on his Middle East trip. Carol Morello reports: “Tillerson was already facing confrontational talks at almost every stop on his five-country tour. The strains grew even more taut when Egypt launched an offensive against militants in the Sinai Peninsula and Israel skirmished with the Iranian-affililated Syrian military . . . Besides Egypt, Tillerson also will visit Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey in coming days, where he will engage with a grab bag of the most complicated and sensitive issues embroiling the region.”

-- Politico’s Nancy Cook delves into the work of Michael Roman, the opposition researcher loyal to White House counsel Don McGahn: “Officially, Roman works as a special assistant to the president and director of special projects and research, a vague title that reveals almost nothing. He earns $115,000 a year for this work, according to White House salary records, and keeps an office inside the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. … Some said Roman is vetting special appointees by checking their social media footprints and financial backgrounds. A handful of people described Roman as McGahn’s researcher, while one described him as a ‘loyal soldier’ to McGahn. Another characterized his work in the office as opposition research, but could not specify what precisely that entailed. One White House official said he was heavily involved in extensively researching the background of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, who was selected a year ago.” Roman formerly headed research efforts for the Koch brothers Freedom Partners, when McGahn represented the Koch network as its lawyer.

-- Scott Gottlieb, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, has surprised critics with his ability to balance their priorities with those of industry executives. The New York Times’s Sheila Kaplan and Katie Thomas report: “[Gottlieb] has done so by making moves to protect public health while also offering rewards to industry — double plays that have some willing to give him a second look. … [T]he commissioner has displayed a collaborative management style, seeming to allay the concerns of some career employees who had balked at his industry ties and were dismayed by articles he had written criticizing the F.D.A. He has overcome some divisions by promoting several agency veterans, but he has also hired a few industry insiders for top positions.”

-- In case you missed it: The deputy administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration resigned over concerns tied to “outside work” he took on as a federal employee. Michael Laris and Luz Lazo report: “For weeks, the department had been facing media questions about the official, Heath Hall, a public relations professional and political consultant who served as a spokesman for a sheriff’s office in Mississippi before — and, apparently, sometimes during — his time in Washington at the Federal Railroad Administration.”

White House aides defend Kelly amid staff turmoil

WEST WING INTRIGUE:

-- Top Trump aides rushed to the defense of John Kelly, insisting his job is secure after Kelly effusively praised ex-White House staff secretary Rob Porter after allegations of spousal abuse. Anne Gearan reports:

  • I spoke with the president last night about this very issue, and he wanted me to reemphasize to everyone … that he has full confidence in [Kelly], and that he is not actively looking for replacements,” Kellyanne Conway said on ABC's “This Week.”
  • Marc Short sought to dispel rumors that Kelly had offered to quit on Friday. “[Kelly] knows that he serves at the pleasure of the president,” Short said on “Meet the Press.” “And he will step aside anytime the president doesn’t want him to be there. But John Kelly has not offered his resignation. John Kelly is doing an outstanding job.” (On Friday, Kelly denied he had ever offered his resignation.)
  • OMB and CFPB Chief Mick Mulvaney said the White House handling of the Porter situation was “completely reasonable and normal.” Trump was “let down by somebody who he trusted somebody who he put in a place of authority and then wasn't told the truth.” He added on CBS’s “Face the Nation:” “Up until the time that it became obvious when the photographs came out that the person was not being honest with the president. And that person — after that happened, we dismissed that person immediately so that's an ordinary and very human reaction to the set of circumstances.”

-- But Trump has informally sounded out possible replacements for Kelly, including Mulvaney and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). But Mulvaney ... denied any interest in the chief of staff job during his CBS interview yesterday. “I love the job — jobs — that I have now,” Mulvaney said. (The New York Times’s Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman)

-- Conway also defended Trump's response to the Porter accusations, saying on CNN’s “State of the Union” that Trump “is sympathetic to women and men that are the victims of domestic violence.” “I have no reason not to believe the women,” she added. Her comments come one day after Trump decried the lack of “due process” for men accused of sexual abuse or harassment on Twitter:Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation,” wrote Trump, who himself has denied allegations of abuse or inappropriate behavior by more than a dozen women. “Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused — life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?”

-- One of Porter’s ex-wives, Jennie Willoughby, confronted Trump’s belittling of her claims in a piece for Time: “Everyone wants to talk about how the White House and former colleagues defended Rob. Of course they did! They valued and respected him. The truth would be dissonant to everything they believed to be true about the man they knew. The truth would be devastating. And denial is easier than devastation. Everyone wants to talk about how Trump implied I am a not to be believed. As if Trump is the model of kindness and forgiveness. As if he readily acknowledges his own shortcomings and shows empathy and concern for others. I forgive him. Thankfully, my strength and worth are not dependent on outside belief — the truth exists whether the President accepts it or not.”

Growing list of women allege sexual harassment, assault against Harvey Weinstein

THE #METOO MOVEMENT:

-- New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a lawsuit against the Weinstein Co. and co-founders Harvey and Bob Weinstein for “egregious violations” of New York’s civil, human rights and business laws. USA Today’s Lorena Blas reports: “Filed in New York County Supreme Court, the suit includes new and extensive accusations about [Harvey] Weinstein’s mistreatment of employees.” Among them:

  • “[Weinstein] told several employees words to the effect of ‘I will kill you,’ ‘I will kill your family,’ and ‘You don’t know what I can do.’ He also asserted that he had contacts within the Secret Service who could take care of problems for him.”
  • “The Weinstein Company, the suit says, ‘employed one group of female employees whose primary job it was to accompany (Harvey) to events and to facilitate (his) sexual conquests. … One of the members of this entourage was flown from London to New York to teach’ his assistants ‘how to dress and smell more attractive’ to him.”
  • “Another group of employees were assigned to ‘further his regular sexual activity, including by contacting . . . prospective sexual partners via text message or phone at his direction and maintaining space on his calendar for sexual activity.’”

-- Directors of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce are investigating allegations that its president and CEO, Javier Palomarez, sexually harassed a female employee and improperly inflated his own pay. The New York Times’s Kate Kelly reports: “The board said on Friday that it had hired an outside law firm to investigate 'various allegations,' but did not offer details or specify who was the subject of the claims. … Gissel Gazek Nicholas, Mr. Palomarez’s former chief of staff, has accused him of sexual harassment. Ms. Nicholas, who was fired last fall, made the accusations in a letter that her lawyer wrote to the chamber’s board and in an interview with The Times. The letter said that Mr. Palomarez sexually assaulted her, created a hostile work environment and wrongfully terminated her from her chief of staff role. Mr. Palomarez has disputed the accusations.”

-- Former Kentucky judge Tim Nolan agreed to spend 20 years in prison for human trafficking. From the Cincinnati Enquirer: “He used drugs, threats of arrest and threats of eviction to force women and girls under the age of 18 into sex acts, according to the charges read in court … Under the plea agreement, Nolan will serve 20 years in prison and pay a $100,000 fine. He would be eligible for parole in four years, his attorney said. … The case has shocked the region. Nolan served as a district judge in the late 1970s and early 1980s and had become a well-known political figure. He campaigned locally for [Trump], was vocal on many conservative/tea party issues, and was elected to the Campbell County School Board in 2016.

-- “Is the era of hugging over? Some people sure hope so,” by Lavanya Ramanathan: “On one side of the gulf stand those who wonder why it has suddenly become so wrong to wrap your arms around another person — like, say, a co-worker — and hold them in a warm embrace. On the other are those who want to know: Why in the world did anyone ever think it was right? Here’s what makes the hugging question so tricky: From the outside, all hugs look benign. Only the huggee knows whether what’s coming is a welcome embrace or slightly icky.”

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) heads to a meeting with Mitch McConnell. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) heads to a meeting with Mitch McConnell. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

THE ROAD TO NOVEMBER:

-- Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) is having second thoughts about retirement. CNN’s John King and Rebecca Schatz report: “Whether it is a serious reconsideration, or just chatter with colleagues is the subject of some disagreement. There are also conflicting accounts of whether Corker has initiated the conversations, or whether he has had them with colleagues who are pushing him to think again. … It also came up at least once in a conversation with [Mitch McConnell], … posing a bit of a dilemma. McConnell likes Corker, and would have preferred that he sought re-election. But once Corker announced he was not running, the GOP establishment quickly rallied behind Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who is already in the Senate race and has support across the party's often fractious spectrum.”

-- Hillary Clinton is strategizing about how to help Democrats get elected in November. Robert Costa reports: “Her emerging 2018 strategy, according to more than a dozen friends and advisers familiar with her plans, is to leverage the star power she retains in some Democratic circles on behalf of select candidates while remaining sufficiently below the radar to avoid becoming a useful target for Republicans seeking to rile up their base. Most likely, they said, Clinton will attempt to help Democratic candidates who have a history of supporting her and her family, and expending her political capital in a number of the 23 congressional districts she won in 2016 but are now held by a Republican.”

-- Anti-Trump fervor is helping Democratic candidates for the midterms raise considerable cash. Michelle Ye Hee Lee, Anu Narayanswamy and Ed O'Keefe report: “The strong showings in recent campaign finance filings offer a glimmer of hope for Democrats, who face a changing political environment in their effort to regain the majority in Congress. … In addition, Republicans retain some financial advantages. The Republican National Committee has raised far more money than its Democratic counterpart, thanks in part to a surge in small-dollar donations sparked by Trump’s popularity with the GOP base. Some major Democratic donors, meanwhile, seem hesitant to invest in upstart, unproven ‘resistance’ groups that might also support Democratic hopefuls."

-- Some Democratic incumbents are facing primary challenges from progressives. Politico’s Laura Nahmias and Lauren Dezenski report: “Most of the challengers are long shots at the moment. But some are putting a scare into entrenched incumbents, thanks to their muscular fundraising and a message of liberal disaffection on issues including Wall Street, criminal justice reform and single-payer health care. Six veteran incumbents already face energetic primary challenges from younger candidates in New York and Massachusetts. In Illinois, two Chicago-based members are being targeted from the left. … One of the hallmarks of this year’s class of insurgent candidates is its diversity — many are women and racial minorities.”

-- Republican leaders in Pennsylvania’s legislature have submitted a redrawn congressional map, per the state Supreme Court’s orders, but it retains some of the former map’s problems. Christopher Ingraham reports: “The similarities are striking: In 2016, [Trump] received more votes than Hillary Clinton in 12 out of Pennsylvania's 18 districts. Under the Republicans' new map, Trump would similarly outperform Clinton in exactly 12 districts. Not only that, but the vote margins in each district would be virtually identical.”



SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Trump took a shot at the media:

He also tweeted a message of support for a GOP Senate candidate in Pennsylvania:

Trump's defense of Rob Porter drew attention to his past comments about the Central Park Five. From a New York Times culture reporter:

From a House Democrat:

From a CNN anchor:

From The Post's Fact Checker:

From an NBC News reporter:

Former Fox News anchor Bill O'Reilly also bemoaned "character assassination" in the #MeToo era:

His former Fox colleague Gretchen Carlson fired back at O'Reilly:

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee criticized CNN's Olympics coverage after the network tweeted about Kim Jong Un's sister "stealing the show" in PyeongChang:

From a Republican pollster:

From an editor at the National Review:

A Post columnist grabbed a photo with the North Korean cheer squad:

The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol mourned the loss of Jeff Bell, a Republican who ran against Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) in 2014:

A Post columnist pointed out two related stories in Saturday's paper:

A presidential historian recognized a birthday:

After the comedian Sinbad retweeted a negative story about Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Florida Republican felt compelled to respond:

The No. 2 Senate Republican questioned the significance of an Olympic sport:

A Post reporter shared this sign at a Washington church:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- BuzzFeed News, “He Predicted The 2016 Fake News Crisis. Now He's Worried About An Information Apocalypse,” by Charlie Warzel: “For [Aviv Ovadya, an MIT grad and chief technologist for the University of Michigan’s Center for Social Media Responsibility], the shock and ongoing anxiety over Russian Facebook ads and Twitter bots pales in comparison to the greater threat: Technologies that can be used to enhance and distort what is real are evolving faster than our ability to understand and control or mitigate it. The stakes are high and the possible consequences more disastrous than foreign meddling in an election — an undermining or upending of core civilizational institutions, an ‘infocalypse.’ And Ovadya says that this one is just as plausible as the last one — and worse. Worse because of our ever-expanding computational prowess; worse because of ongoing advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning that can blur the lines between fact and fiction; worse because those things could usher in a future where, as Ovadya observes, anyone could make it ‘appear as if anything has happened, regardless of whether or not it did.’”

-- Boston Globe, “Spurned in Milton, a race-baiting troll has found acceptance — in Trump’s D.C.,” by Annie Linskey and Michael Levenson: “[D]uring any normal era in American politics, [Charles] Johnson, a 29-year-old Massachusetts native, would be radioactive — the kind of person who could end a political career by just appearing in a photo with an aspiring lawmaker. He’s argued that black people are ‘dumber’ than white people, questioned whether 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust, was banned from Twitter for threatening a Black Lives Matter activist, and posed making a white power sign while standing next to white supremacist leader Richard Spencer. But now he’s managed to secure himself a foothold not far from the center of influence in Washington, taking advantage of the new anything-goes environment to win sit-downs with political leaders. Johnson’s rise to prominence is a case study in the empowerment of the so-called alt-right[.]”

-- Wall Street Journal, “There’s a Global Race to Control Batteries — and China Is Winning,” by Scott Patterson and Russell Gold: “Most of the buyers are Chinese. Those buyers then sell to Chinese companies that ship the bags, filled with cobalt, to China for processing into rechargeable, lithium-ion batteries that power laptops and smartphones and electric cars. There is a world-wide race to lock up the supply chain for cobalt, which will likely be in even greater demand as electric-car production rises. So far, China is way ahead.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Devin Nunes creates his own alternative news site,” from Politico: “House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, a relentless critic of the media, has found a way around the often unflattering coverage of his role in the Trump-Russia investigation — by operating his own partisan news outlet. But the website is paid for by Nunes’ campaign committee, according to small print at the bottom of the site. Leading the home page most recently: a photograph of Nunes over the headline, ‘Understanding the process behind #ReleaseTheMemo.’ The story, like many others on carepublican.com, largely excerpts other publications, including both conservative and mainstream sources. Headlines include ‘CNN busted for peddling fake news AGAIN!,’ ‘California’s budget future isn’t as good as it looks’ and ‘Billions of dollars later, Democrats and the LA Times start to see the light on high-speed rail.’”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT

“Former Obama campaign manager says 'all public pollsters should be shot,’” from Fox News: “Jim Messina, a former campaign manager for Barack Obama, apparently isn't one to mince words. During an appearance Friday on MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe,’ Messina spoke about the irrelevance of public polls so early in an election year[.] … Then he underscored the point to host Joe Scarborough. ‘Joe, you know how I feel about public polls,’ he said. ‘I think all public pollsters should be shot.’ Messina said there were other, more important yardsticks at this point to determine a candidate's viability. ‘What you care more about is passion and intensity,’ he said. ‘When I ran President Obama’s campaign, the number I looked at every day was intensity. Are my voters more motivated than Republican voters?’ He said in the interview that ‘our voters are more intense[.]’”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump has a morning meeting on his infrastructure initiative with state and local officials. He will then meet with Pence, who will later join the president for lunch with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said the immigration debate “is like a Rubik’s Cube": “I mean, every time you line up the red side of the Rubik’s Cube, the blue side is off balance, and vice versa.” (Ed O’Keefe

 

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

-- It will be colder in D.C. today with some early showers. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Showers may linger into the morning hours, especially along east of Interstate 95. But we should see some drying from northwest to southeast as the day wears on — maybe even peeks of sunshine. Temperatures are noticeably colder than Sunday, with highs in the 40s.”

-- The Capitals lost to the Red Wings 5-4 in overtime. (Jesse Dougherty)

-- The regular presence of 80-year-old Maryland state Sen. Ulysses Currie’s wife at the General Assembly is raising eyebrows. Ovetta Wiggins reports: “Since the Jan. 10 start of the 90-day legislative session, Currie’s wife has sat an arm’s length away from her husband in a reserved seat, Senate floor credentials dangling from a lanyard around her neck. Her presence has drawn attention not only to her husband’s diminishing health but also to the graying of the Maryland legislature and the delicate question in this statehouse and others of how long is too long to serve.”

-- The National Portrait Gallery will unveil its official portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama today. Both of the Obamas will attend the event, which will be livestreamed beginning at 10 a.m. EST. (Chicago Sun-Times)

-- Authorities found recruitment fliers for the Ku Klux Klan in Leesburg and Loudoun County. (Martin Weil)

-- Former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe (D) celebrated his 61st birthday with 60 of his closest friends at the Palm in D.C. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) were among those in attendance. (Helena Andrews-Dyer)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

The North Korean cheerleaders have caused a stir at the Winter Olympics:

What are the North Korean cheerleaders saying at the Olympics?

The Post explained how a citizenship question on the 2020 Census could affect voting districts:

The census could change politics in a huge way

Several protesters were arrested at a "freedom rally" at the University of Washington in Seattle:

Several arrested at University of Washington 'freedom rally'

And The Post's David Betancourt explained the personal significance of the upcoming movie “Black Panther”:

In 'Black Panther,' a superhero who finally looks like me