The patience is critical
For all the turmoil of Donald Trump’s early days as president, Republicans in Congress, for the most part, tried to show they were with the program and keep criticism in check.
The mute button is off.
It’s not Trump himself facing the brickbats — it’s the Obamacare repeal-and-replacement plan put up by House Speaker Paul Ryan, which Trump said he was “proud” to support.
While encouraging negotiation, Trump urged speedy passage. “I hope it’s going to go quickly,” he said.
Not likely. Hard-core conservatives, including those from the tea party faction, derided the plan as “Obamacare Lite” and “Obamacare 2.0,” complaining it didn’t go nearly far enough to end costly entitlements.
They oppose tax credits that would take the place of subsidies and the retention of Obamacare rules that prohibit insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions or setting caps on benefits.
There is opposition too from GOP moderates who want to preserve Medicaid expansion in their states.
Trump and Ryan can’t count on any Democratic support — the fight against Obamacare repeal drove recent grass roots protests at members’ town hall meetings — and there’s no easy path to whittling down resistance inside their party.
See Emily Ngo’s story for Newsday.
The take-away: WikiLeaks splatter
Candidate Trump said, “I love WikiLeaks.” That’s when it was posting hacked documents from the Democrats and Hillary Clinton’s campaign on its website.
President Trump may not be able to keep up the romance after WikiLeaks’ latest — posting files that may expose how the CIA secretly snares data from selected overseas targets, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.
Trump could blame Obama for the breach, but it’s his administration’s job to deal with the damage and the perpetrators. In 2010 — before the love affair — he said after WikiLeaks spilled U.S. secrets: “I think there should be like death penalty or something.”
Didn’t ask, wasn’t told
For three days, Sean Spicer has carried Trump’s water calling on Congress to investigate the president’s claim that former President Barack Obama bugged his phones. But Spicer said Tuesday that Trump hasn’t shown him any evidence supporting the allegation, nor has he asked to see any.
“No, that’s above my pay grade,” said the press secretary, who also filled in as White House communications director until Monday.
Spicer also wouldn’t answer when asked if he personally believed the bugging story.
“I get that that’s a cute question,” Spicer said. “My job is to represent the president and to talk about what he’s doing and what he wants, and he’s made very clear what his goal is, what he would like to have happen.”
Time to pre-order the popcorn
The House Intelligence Committee will hold its first public hearing on Russian meddling in the election on March 20.
Among those invited to testify: FBI Director James Comey, former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former Attorney General Sally Yates.
Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said the panel will also look at Trump’s bugging claim but there’s no evidence backing it so far.
Asked about Trump’s tweets on the subject, Nunes chided reporters: “A lot of things he says, you guys take literally.” They shouldn’t because “the president is a neophyte to politics,” he said.
On the Senate side, intelligence panel chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) didn’t rule out an inquiry into the wiretap charge, though he noted: “We don’t have anything today that would send us in that direction.”
Russia probe tensions mark hearing
With Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal from Trump-Russia investigations, the responsibility would pass to the nominee for deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein.
Rosenstein refused to commit when asked by Democrats at his confirmation hearing if he would appoint a special counsel to oversee investigations, stressing that he wasn’t up to speed with details of the matter.
Now U.S. attorney for Maryland, Rosenstein is a career prosecutor who has served in both Democratic and Republican administrations.
Where does vetting stand?
Rep. Kathleen Rice asked Tuesday if the Trump administration has begun its promised review of how refugees and citizens of Muslim-majority countries are vetted — an issue that Trump used to justify his first temporary travel ban on Jan. 27, reports Newsday’s Tom Brune.
“If this really is about national security and keeping our country safe, and not about keeping a campaign promise, prove it,” said Rice (D-Garden City). The White House, Homeland Security Department, State Department and FBI all have declined to respond to queries about whether they have begun any reviews.
What else is happening:
- Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a frequent Trump critic, said they had a good talk on military spending. “How good was the meeting with @POTUS? I gave him my NEW cell phone number,” Graham tweeted — a jokey reminder of when Trump gave out a previous Graham number at a rally.
- A bigger Trump critic, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), said he will meet with the president Wednesday to discuss how to restrain prescription drug prices.
- Republicans in Congress face an important self-defining debate within their caucuses -- whether a planned tax overhaul should pay for itself, the Wall Street Journal reports.
- Another Trump? Reuters reports his CEO meetings are a far cry from the erratic image he projects.
- Trump showed up to surprise visitors on a White House tour Tuesday, including a group of fifth-graders from Alabama. He spoke to them while standing beneath of a portrait of former first lady Hillary Clinton. It was the first day the Executive Mansion was open for tours since Trump’s inauguration.
- House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said on CNN that his panel will not investigate Trump’s claims of rampant voter fraud in 2016 because “I don’t see any evidence of that.”
- A study by Harvard and MIT researchers found Trump’s immigration policies, including those aimed at Muslim-majority countries, could exacerbate a doctor shortage in the Rust Belt, Appalachia and other rural areas that voted for him heavily, the news site Vocativ reports.
- A string of Obama-trashing Trump tweets Tuesday included this: “122 vicious prisoners, released by the Obama Administration from Gitmo, have returned to the battlefield.” Actually, that number included 113 freed during the Bush administration. That’s “obviously” what “the president meant,” Spicer said. But the tweet was neither corrected nor deleted.
- Spicer was asked: Any sign of those Trump tax returns? “My understanding is he’s still under audit,” he replied.