What’s he got?
“Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated,” President Donald Trump told a meeting of the nation’s governors Monday.
That’s debatable. But when Trump addresses a joint session of Congress Tuesday night, a national TV audience will be listening for clues on how he thinks he can pull off a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare — the Affordable Care Act — without millions of Americans losing their health insurance.
During the campaign, he set a high bar for expectations — he would “repeal and replace with something terrific.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), pointing to disarray among Republicans on Obamacare, said, “I believe the odds are very high we will keep the ACA.”
Trump put some meat on the bones of other priorities he is expected to discuss in the 9 p.m. speech with a budget blueprint that calls for boosting defense and security spending by $54 billion — about 9% — while cutting roughly as much from nondefense programs.
“This budget will be a public safety and national security budget,” Trump said.
For more, see Emily Ngo’s story for Newsday.
What to watch for
The speech to Congress offers a chance for a new start for Trump, who has the lowest favorability ratings of any new president. A bigger-than-usual TV audience for a presidential address to Congress is expected.
“Loads of people — friends and foes — will sit and watch Donald Trump because no one knows what he’ll say next,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
Newsday’s Tom Brune has five things to watch for, including whether Trump tries to reach out to those who dislike or disagree with him by offering an optimistic, reassuring and inclusive vision of the future.
Obama? Yeah, sure, it's him...
Coaxed by his hosts on the Trump-friendly "Fox & Friends" show, the president on Tuesday haltingly accepted a chance to cast his predecessor as vaguely responsible for recent leaks and protests.
For context, the setup question:
"It turns out his organization seems to do a lot of these organizing to some of the protest that these Republicans are seeing around the country against you. Do you believe President Obama is behind it and if he is, is that a violation of the so-called unsaid presidents' code?"
"No, I think he is behind it. I also think it is politics, that's the way it is," Trump said. "You never know what's exactly happening behind the scenes. You know, you're probably right or possibly right, but you never know."
(It was unclear why he preceded the statement, and the next one, with "No.")
"No, I think that President Obama is behind it because his people are certainly behind it. And some of the leaks possibly come from that group, which are really serious because they are very bad in terms of national security. But I also understand that is politics. In terms of being behind things, that's politics. And it will probably continue."
Bush: Media is not the enemy
George W. Bush didn’t take on Trump by name, but he spoke up during an interview with NBC’s “Today” show for those targeted by the president’s rhetoric and policies.
“I considered the media to be indispensable to democracy,” the 43rd president said on Monday. “Power can be very addictive and it can be corrosive, and it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power.”
Asked about Trump’s efforts to impose a travel ban targeting Muslim nations, Bush said, “I’m for an immigration policy that’s welcoming and upholds the law.” He also said, “A bedrock of our freedom is the right to worship freely.”
But Bush’s view seemed to align with Trump’s in favoring a more aggressive counterterrorism policy in the Middle East. “It’s very hard to fight the war on terrorism if we’re in retreat,” he said. (Video clip here.)
The take-away: Bumping moguls
The nation’s political divide is playing out in the corporate suites of East Setauket’s Renaissance Technologies, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.
The hedge fund’s CEO, Robert Mercer, is a mega donor close to Trump. The company’s nonexecutive chairman, James Simons, is a Democrat and has been a big backer of former President Barack Obama.
But the billionaires appear to have closed ranks after a lower-ranking company official went public with a political attack on Mercer.
Hate on the radar
Unprompted this time, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Trump condemned the latest wave of bomb threats against Jewish community centers and desecrations at Jewish cemeteries.
He also described as “equally disturbing” reports about the Kansas shooting of two immigrant engineers from India — one fatally — by a gunman who allegedly shouted “Get out of my country” before opening fire. An American who tried to stop the shooter also was wounded.
Senate’s Russia prober warned
Schumer, other Democrats and a handful of Republicans voiced concerns over the impartiality of a Senate intelligence committee probe of Trump campaign contacts with Russia after the panel chairman, Sen. Richard Burr, acknowledged helping the White House spin a response to news stories.
Burr is “on notice,” Schumer said.
Democrats are still pushing for a special prosecutor to oversee an FBI probe in place of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. But Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who echoed that call on Friday, backtracked, telling CBS News there needs to be an allegation of a crime by an individual first.
What else is happening
- Spicer — responding to criticism from the father of a Navy SEAL killed during a January raid in Yemen — said there are three military investigations underway, but “we’re very comfortable with how the mission was executed.” NBC News reported the raid yielded no significant intelligence.
- Talking with governors about infrastructure, Trump wondered how many people get hurt from falling tiles in the Lincoln and Queens Midtown tunnels. The answer is none, the agencies that operate the tunnels told amNewYork, and tiles are not falling.
- Hacked text messages suggest members of Paul Manafort's family had misgivings about his work for Russia-aligned Ukrainian authoritarian Victor Yanukovych as well as Trump, Politico reports.
- Trump gave Breitbart News his theory on the best picture foul-up at the Oscars — too much Trump in their heads. “I think they were focused so hard on politics that they didn’t get the act together at the end,” said Trump, the target of numerous jokes and speeches. “It was a little sad.”
- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who joined Schumer in a prebuttal of Trump’s speech, accused Trump of “failure to advance a jobs agenda,” Newsday’s Ngo reports.
- Trump’s plans to tighten border security measures are not yet in place, but a Los Angeles Times report finds recently deported Mexicans more discouraged about their chances of successfully sneaking back across.
- New York billionaire Wilbur Ross won confirmation as commerce secretary. The vote was 72-27.
- Trump said that while he’s skipping this year’s White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, “that doesn’t mean I’m not going to do it next year.” He spoke in an interview recorded for Tuesday’s “Fox & Friends.”
- Rosie O’Donnell — a longtime magnet for Trump insults — is headlining a protest outside the White House on Tuesday just before Trump’s speech.