The Daily 202: Five fresh setbacks for Republicans, who just can’t catch a break – Washington Post

With Breanne Deppisch

THE BIG IDEA: Republicans just cannot catch a break, but many of their wounds are self-inflicted.

– Greg Gianforte, the Republican nominee in today’s special congressional election in Montana, has been charged with misdemeanor assault after allegedly “body slamming” a reporter for the Guardian. Gianforte, who has been seen as the favorite in the race to succeed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, faces a maximum $500 fine or six months in jail if he is convicted, Dave Weigel reports from Montana.

In an audio recording published by the Guardian, reporter Ben Jacobs can be heard asking Gianforte to respond to the Congressional Budget Office’s new score of the American Health Care Act. After Gianforte tells Jacobs to ask his spokesman, the candidate loses it and begins to scream: “I’m sick and tired of you guys! … Get the hell out of here! Get the hell out of here!”

A Fox News crew was in the room when it happened, and veteran correspondent Alicia Acuna has written a damning first-person account: “Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. At no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte.”

The unapologetic campaign released a defiant statement that attempted to slime the respected reporter as a “liberal.” His spokesman claimed that Gianforte asked Jacobs to lower the recorder before he got physical, but the audio tape and the eyewitness accounts undercut this version of events.

Two of the state’s largest newspapers quickly withdrew their editorial endorsements of Gianforte. “We’re at a loss for words, the Billings Gazette wrote. “And as people who wrangle words on a minute-by-minute basis, that doesn’t happen often.” The Missoulian’s editorial board said “there is no doubt that Gianforte committed an act of terrible judgment that, if it doesn’t land him in jail, also shouldn’t land him in the U.S. House of Representatives.”

This is the newspaper many Montanans are waking up to right now:

But, but, but: Heavy early voting means that Gianforte may win anyway. Perversely, a physical altercation with a reporter might also help him coalesce/gin up his base. (Donald Trump won Montana last November by 20 points.) “What turnout will look like in a special election is hard to predict, but if it’s similar to 2014, 62 percent of votes have already been cast early,” Philip Bump explains. 

Bottom line: In many ways, it is now worse for national Republicans if Gianforte wins. If he loses, the NRCC can pretty easily explain it away by calling him a terrible candidate. The incident makes it harder for anyone to draw conclusions about the broader national political environment from the outcome. If he wins, though, Gianforte suddenly becomes another headache for Paul Ryan. The ongoing legal issue will be covered as a major story, and his every move in the Capitol will be tracked aggressively by the press. He becomes a liability for the party in 2018, especially if his new colleagues defend him.

ANOTHER UNFORCED ERROR:

– Jeff Sessions concealed his contacts with Russian officials when filling out his security clearance form to be the nation’s highest-ranking law enforcement official. Sari Horwitz reports: “Sessions came under fire earlier this year for not disclosing to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing that … he met twice with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the presidential election … In March, Sessions recused himself from investigations related to the 2016 presidential campaign after The Washington Post reported the two meetings. … The security clearance form requires anyone applying for a security clearance to list ‘any contact’ that he or his family had with a foreign government or its representatives over the past seven years.”

CNN’s Manu Raju and Evan Perez, who broke the story last night, explain the DOJ’s damage-control effort: “Sessions initially listed a year’s worth of meetings with foreign officials on the security clearance form, according to (Sessions) spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores. But she (claims) that he and his staff were then told by an FBI employee who assisted in filling out the form … that he didn’t need to list dozens of meetings with foreign ambassadors that happened in his capacity as a senator. … A legal expert who regularly assists officials in filling out the form disagrees with the Justice Department’s explanation, suggesting that Sessions should have disclosed the meetings.”

Sessions was supposed to appear before two congressional committees this week, but he abruptly canceled both on Monday. This latest revelation may explain why the AG would want to avoid answering questions. He claimed an unspecified scheduling conflict, the Boston Globe’s Annie Linskey reports.

D’OH:

– It also came out yesterday that the debt limit will be reached way sooner than Republicans leaders planned/hoped for. OMB director Mick Mulvaney revealed that tax receipts are coming in “slower than expected” and that the federal government could run out of cash months before it had thought. A few hours later, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin echoed these concerns, telling a House committee: “I urge you to raise the debt limit before you leave for the summer.” Treasury is already taking emergency steps to suspend certain payments so that it can cover all of its bills, but it can do this only for a few more months. (Damian Paletta and Max Ehrenfreund have more.)

The House Freedom Caucus replied with a statement expressing opposition to any increase in the debt limit without further cuts to the budget. That threat means Democratic votes will likely be required to prevent the U.S. from defaulting, which gives Nancy Pelosi leverage.

More significantly, an intra-party conflict over raising the debt ceiling makes it harder for Republicans to pass bills they really care about. (Keeping the government solvent does not count as an accomplishment…)

Bigger picture, there is mounting concern among senior Republicans that, from a legislative standpoint, the party will have no big-ticket items to show off after a year of unified control.

ANOTHER BROKEN PROMISE:

– Carrier, the company Trump pledged to keep on American soil, just informed the state of Indiana that it will soon begin cutting 632 workers from its Indianapolis factory. “The manufacturing jobs will move to Monterrey, Mexico, where the minimum wage is $3.90,” Daniel Paquette reports.

Trump told Indiana residents at a rally last year that, if he got elected, there was a “100 percent chance” he would save these jobs at the heating and air-conditioning manufacturer. “It’s not like we have an 80 percent chance of keeping them or a 95 percent chance,” he said. “100 percent!!”

After the election, Trump claimed credit for rescuing the factory. He tweeted on Thanksgiving that he called the company’s leadership to cut a deal. Trump then flew to Indy in December to announce that, thanks to his brilliant negotiating, the jobs would stay.

The Carrier announcement is a symbolically significant blow to Trump’s credibility as a job creator who can reverse the decline in manufacturing. This was both a central rationale of his candidacy and a major part of his appeal in the industrial Midwest.

THAT ROSE GARDEN CEREMONY IS LOOKING DUMBER AND DUMBER:

– It is notable that the Republican candidate in Montana flipped out last night when he was asked about the CBO score. While mostly a window into Gianforte’s temperament, it is also a reflection of how bad the numbers are for Republicans. Many lawmakers walked the plank and risked their political careers to vote for the bill without waiting for the CBO, which is led by a Republican appointee who was picked by GOP leaders, to estimate how real people would be impacted.

Consider these four top-line projections from the CBO:

– 23 million: The House health-care bill would leave 23 million more Americans uninsured by 2026 than under current lay — only a million fewer than the estimate for the House’s previous bill, which was withdrawn because it didn’t cover enough people. Juliet Eilperin and Kelsey Snell report on the front page of today’s Post: “The new score, which reflects last-minute revisions that Republicans made to win over several conservative lawmakers and a handful of moderates, calculates that the American Health Care Act would reduce the federal deficit by $119 billion between 2017 and 2026. That represents a smaller reduction than the $150 billion CBO estimated in late March.”

– 14 million: The CBO projects that the number of uninsured Americans would jump by 14 million in the first year after the House bill became law. Direct quote from the report: “Although the agencies expect that the legislation would increase the number of uninsured broadly, the increase would be disproportionately larger among older people with lower income—particularly people between 50 and 64 years old with income of less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.” Here’s a breakdown:

– 850 percent: “That’s the CBO’s estimate of how much insurance premiums would rise for elderly, poor people over the next decade if the second version of this Republican bill became law,” Amber Phillips notes. “In a report filled with brutal numbers for Republicans, this may be the most brutal. (Just like it was in the first estimate.) Republicans said their bill will make health insurance cheaper. Except, they’ll have to figure out a way to explain why, under Obamacare, 64-year-olds making $26,500 a year are on track to pay $1,700 in annual premiums in 2026. And under the GOP bill, they would pay anywhere between $13,600 to $16,100.” Here’s a breakdown:

– One-in-six Americans could lose coverage for pre-existing conditions: “Amendments in the bill allow states to opt out of key ACA provisions such as protections for people with preexisting conditions. The CBO predicts that states accounting for about half the U.S. population would take advantage of these, and similar, opportunities to roll back the ACA,” Kim Soffen and Kevin Uhrmacher report. “As part of those changes, states would be able to change what benefits marketplace insurance plans must offer. Under the ACA, these ‘essential health benefits’ range from covering hospitalizations to mental-health care to prescription drugs. One-sixth of the population resides in states that the CBO expects to drastically alter the preexisting-condition requirement. Predictably, in states that shrink or eliminate that requirement, insurance plans are expected to provide narrower coverage. In other words, the value of insurance, measured as the percentage of a person’s medical expenses that are covered by insurance, would go down.” Here’s a breakdown:

– The numbers above underscore how hard it will be to pass a bill through the Senate.

After the CBO score popped, several Senate Republicans from states that have expanded Medicaid under Obamacare dug in even further against the House bill because it showed that millions of their constituents would be left in the lurch. From Paul Kane: “The $119 billion in savings that the CBO found was mostly because millions of fewer people would be covered under Medicaid. ‘That’s tough to swallow,’ said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who has 180,000 constituents relying on the Medicaid expansion for insurance coverage. Capito, part of a bloc of 20 Republicans from Medicaid-expansion states, has been a vocal opponent of the House bill for too quickly transitioning away from that ACA benefit. She says this updated estimate puts steel in the spines of those Republicans, including Sens. Rob Portman (Ohio), John McCain (Ariz.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska). ‘It strengthens my resolve,’ Capito said. ‘To say, what are we doing to people here, particularly to our most vulnerable or those that don’t have the wherewithal?’”

Mitch McConnell has begun to temper expectations, telegraphing that a big bill might never materialize. “I don’t know how we get to 50 [votes] at the moment, but that’s the goal,” the Senate Majority Leader told Reuters earlier in the day. “Exactly what the composition of [our legislation] is, I’m not going to speculate about because it serves no purpose.”

South Carolina’s senior senator spoke for many Republicans in the conference when he said the current system may need to fail before action is taken:

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

THERE IS A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

– “How a dubious Russian document influenced the FBI’s handling of the Clinton probe,” by Karoun Demirjian and Devlin Barrett: “A secret document that officials say played a key role in then-FBI Director James B. Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation has long been viewed within the FBI as unreliable and possibly a fake … In the midst of the 2016 presidential primary season, the FBI received what was described as a Russian intelligence document claiming a tacit understanding between the Clinton campaign and the Justice Department over the inquiry into whether she intentionally revealed classified information through her use of a private email server. The Russian document cited a supposed email describing how then-Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch had privately assured someone in the Clinton campaign that the email investigation would not push too deeply into the matter…

“Current and former officials have said that Comey relied on the document in making his July decision to announce on his own, without Justice Department involvement, that the investigation was over. That public announcement — in which he criticized Clinton and made extensive comments about the evidence — set in motion a chain of other FBI moves that Democrats now say helped Trump win the presidential election…

“But according to the FBI’s own assessment, the document was bad intelligence — and according to people familiar with its contents, possibly even a fake sent to confuse the bureau. The Americans mentioned in the Russian document insist they do not know each other, do not speak to each other and never had any conversations remotely like the ones described in the document. Investigators have long doubted its veracity, and by August the FBI had concluded it was unreliable.” (Read the whole article.)

WHERE THERE’S SMOKE:

– U.S. spies collected information last summer revealing that top Russian officials were discussing how to exert influence on Trump through his advisers. The New York Times reports: “The conversations focused on [Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn] … Both men had indirect ties to Russian officials, who appeared confident that each could be used to help shape Mr. Trump’s opinions on Russia. Some Russians boasted about how well they knew Mr. Flynn. Others discussed leveraging their ties to Viktor F. Yanukovych, the deposed president of Ukraine living in exile in Russia, who at one time had worked closely with Mr. Manafort. The intelligence was among the clues — which also included information about direct communications between Mr. Trump’s advisers and Russian officials — that American officials received last year as they began investigating Russian attempts to disrupt the election…

“By early summer, American intelligence officials already were fairly certain that it was Russian hackers who had stolen tens of thousands of emails from the Democratic Party and Clinton’s campaign. That in itself was not viewed as particularly extraordinary by the Americans … But the concerns began to grow when intelligence began trickling in about Russian officials weighing whether they should release stolen emails and other information to shape American opinion — to, in essence, weaponize the materials stolen by hackers.”

THE CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATION:

– Manafort has submitted hundreds of pages of Russia-related documents to the House and Senate intelligence committees. Tom Hamburger reports: “Congressional staff have not fully reviewed the new Manafort documents, but people familiar with them said they include calendar entries, speech drafts and campaign strategy memos that mention Russia or individuals from Russia. They also cite some specific meetings, including two large group sessions that involved Russia’s ambassador to the United States — one at the Republican National Convention and the other at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington when Trump gave his first major foreign policy address.”

– Months after the FBI began examining Manafort, he phoned Reince Priebus and urged him to push back against the mounting controversy. Politico’s Kenneth P. Vogel reports: “It was about a week before Trump’s inauguration, and Manafort wanted to brief Trump’s team on the alleged inaccuracies in a recently released dossier of memos written by a former British spy for Trump’s opponents that alleged compromising ties … ‘On the day that the dossier came out in the press, Paul called Reince … and said this story about me is garbage, and a bunch of the other stuff in there seems implausible,’ said a person close to Manafort. Manafort had been forced to resign as Trump’s campaign chairman five months earlier, but he had continued talking to various members of Trump’s team, and had even had at least two conversations with Trump.”

– The House Intelligence Committee will likely issue subpoenas to Flynn as soon as this week, the panel’s top Democrat says, after he failed to provide requested documents. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said he would “explore whatever compulsory process that we would need to use” to get the documents, which the former national security adviser is also refusing to turn over to the Senate Intel Committee. Schiff said he thinks there is openness to citing Flynn for contempt if/when he doesn’t comply. (Karoun Demirjian)

MANCHESTER PROBE EXPANDS AMID FEARS OF FOLLOW-UP ATTACK:

– The investigation into a suicide blast that killed at least 22 people at a pop concert has dramatically widened, with security services on two continents rounding up suspects amid fears that the bombmaker who devised the bolt-spewing source of the carnage remains at large. Griff Witte, Karla Adam and Sudarsan Raghavan report: “The arrests stretched from the normally quiet lanes of a northern English town to the bustling streets of Tripoli, where Libyan officials said they had disrupted a planned attack by the suspected bomber’s brother. But by day’s end, British authorities acknowledged that they remained vulnerable to a follow-up attack, with the nation’s state of alert stuck at ‘critical’ — the highest possible level. The sight of soldiers deploying at London landmarks such as Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street underscored the gravity of the threat.”

  • Authorities said this morning that the bomber, 22-year-old Salman Abedi, had been in Dusseldorf just four days before the bombing. “Authorities were investigating whether he was meeting with extremist contacts in Germany, or whether he was simply transiting back to Britain from his family’s home in Libya,” Griff, Karla Adam and Souad Mekhennet report.
  • Police continue to carry out raids across Manchester: The cops apprehended the bomber’s older brother, Ismail, as well as another suspect carrying “a suspicious package” about 20 miles west of Manchester. Last night, authorities also arrested a female suspect in Manchester and a man in the English Midlands town of Nuneaton, bringing to seven the number of people detained in Britain in connection with the blast. “It’s very clear that this is a network we are investigating,” said Greater Manchester Chief Constable Ian Hopkins.

– In the Libyan-British community where Abedi lived, he was known as a university dropout and loner – and members of the community had warned authorities about signs of possible radicalization more than a year ago. Rick Noack, Souad Mekhennet and Sudarsan Raghavan report: “Abedi was born in Britain to parents who had fled Libya during the four-decade dictatorship of Moammar Gaddafi, and moved back [several years ago] … Residents described Abedi as an ‘awkward’ young man and an ‘isolated, dark figure’ who talked to few people and traveled back and forth between Britain and Libya. Abedi’s father, Ramadan, asked two of his sons to move from Britain to Libya several weeks ago, said a friend of the family … ‘The father said he was afraid that something would go wrong if they stayed in Britain,’ said the friend.” British security authorities have acknowledged that they were aware of Abedi, but said that he was not considered a major terrorism risk.

– Loose lips sink ships. The Brits are incensed that information on the investigation keeps getting leaked, and it’s having consequences:

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Three sponsors have pulled their ads from Sean Hannity’s TV show after he pushed a debunked conspiracy theory about a murdered DNC staffer. Paul Farhi writes that “the accumulating chaos” leaves Rupert Murdoch, 86, with his biggest management challenge since Fox News’s inception.
  2. The Trump administration’s push to deport more MS-13 gang members has alarmed officials in El Salvador, who fear that the returning gangsters will exacerbate violence in one of the deadliest countries in the hemisphere. (Joshua Partlow)
  3. A Baltimore defense attorney has been charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly trying to dissuade a rape victim from testifying against his client by telling her that Trump would deport her if she did. He also allegedly offered her $3,000 to skip court. (Baltimore Sun)
  4. As Trump expands his “sanctuary city” crackdown, the city of Denver is fighting back by reducing the maximum sentences for petty infractions – thus stopping offenders from ending up on the radar of immigration officials. (Samantha Schmidt)
  5. A new study on physician-assisted suicide suggests that “existential distress” — not pain — is the reason why terminally-ill patients choose to end their lives. “They are mostly educated and affluent,” one researcher said of the patients who inquired about assisted suicide. “[It’s] people who are used to being successful and in control of their lives, and it’s how they want their death to be.” (Ariana Eunjung Cha)
  6. Marijuana extract “sharply” reduces violent seizures in young people suffering a severe form of epilepsy. A new study, the first to demonstrate the use of medical marijuana in a scientific way, is a breakthrough for parents of sufferers who have been clamoring for access to the medication. (Lenny Bernstein)
  7. A Christian school in Maryland is under fire after banning a senior girl from walking in her graduation ceremony because she got pregnant. The straight-A student is not being banned because of her pregnancy, the school’s principal explained, “but because she was immoral” by having premarital intercourse. Many pro-life folks believe, rather than being punished, she should be celebrated for keeping her baby. (Joe Heim)

CONFLICTS OF INTEREST:

– “Despite his promise to donate all profits from foreign-government sources at his Washington hotel and other businesses, recently released internal documents reveal that Trump’s private company has made only a limited effort at identifying foreign funds,” Drew Harwell and Tom Hamburger report: “An undated document sent throughout the Trump Organization … says asking guests to identify whether they are connected to a foreign government would be ‘impractical’ and ‘impede upon personal privacy and diminish the guest experience of our brand.’ ‘It is not the intention nor design of this policy for our properties to attempt to identify individual travelers who have not specifically identified themselves as being a representative of a foreign government entity,’ the document says.” The company pamphlet shows the ease with which foreign money could be paid into the president’s business interests. Ethics advisers have warned that such payments could be used to curry favor with the president and could run afoul of the emoluments clause.

– A Mar-a-Lago employee is quietly working for the government to help prepare for Trump’s trip to the G-7 Summit in Italy – an unconventional arrangement that further blurs the line between his business empire and the White House. Buzzfeed’s Tarini Parti reports: “Heather Rinkus, the guest reception manager, is working with the president’s advance and logistics team, while Trump’s exclusive club, Mar-a-Lago, closes for the summer. She has an official White House email and government-issued phone … She is married to a twice-convicted felon, Ari Rinkus, who is known to brag about his wife’s access to the president as he trawls for investors and pursues government contracts on behalf of a foreign company. Her dual role is the latest example of how closely intertwined the president’s inner circle is between his business and government. … It also raises questions of whether other Trump Organization employees are quietly employed by the White House, as the administration struggles to staff up amid a chaotic few weeks.”

PERSONNEL IS POLICY:

– HUD Secretary Ben Carson called poverty a “state of mind” in a Wednesday radio interview, pointing to habits and a “certain mindset” that poor children supposedly take from their parents. Jose A. DelReal reports: “I think poverty to a large extent is also a state of mind. You take somebody that has the right mindset, you can take everything from them and put them on the street, and I guarantee in a little while they’ll be right back up there,” he said during a radio interview. “And you take somebody with the wrong mindset, you can give them everything in the world, they’ll work their way right back down to the bottom.” He added that he believes this “state of” mind is a “product of negative parenting habits and exposure.” He said he believes that government can provide a “helping hand” to people looking to climb out of poverty but warned against any programs that are “sustaining them in a position of poverty. That’s not helpful.” Carson’s comments came one day after Trump’s budget proposed cutting more than $6 billion from HUD’s budget. 

– Joe Lieberman appears to have slipped out of contention in the search for a new FBI director. The search team is resetting its search after Lieberman’s law partner signed on to be the president’s main outside counsel on the Russia probe, and Democrats on the Hill made clear that they’d fight the ex-senator hard. CNN reports: “At one point, Lieberman … was considered a leading candidate. But Trump has since decided he wants to see a broader range of candidates for the job. … Concerns about the former vice presidential nominee … centered on the fact that without experience as a federal prosecutor or an FBI agent that Lieberman ‘simply does not have the right experience to lead the FBI.’ ‘People inside the FBI, along with former FBI officials, believe Lieberman simply was not the right choice,’ the source said. [This is spin. That’s not actually why they’re dropping him.] A source … said discussions said that Lieberman was someone who intrigued Trump but others inside the White House were not supportive of the choice.” Sessions has been interviewing candidates for the job. Remaining finalists include acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, former congressman and retired FBI special agent Mike Rogers, and Bush-era Homeland Security adviser Fran Townsend.

– Betsy DeVos repeatedly refused to say whether her office would ever withhold any federal voucher money from private schools that openly discriminate against students. Valerie Strauss reports on the Education secretary’s testimony before a House committee yesterday: “Her comments came after Rep. Katherine Clark gave an example of a private school in Indiana that receives state vouchers but denies admission to those with LBGT parents – and asked what she would say if a voucher school were not accepting African-American students and the state ‘said it was okay.’ ‘Is there a line for you on state flexibility?’ Clark pressed. DeVos declined to answer the question directly. All she would say is, ‘We have to do something different than continuing a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach. And that is the focus. And states and local communities are best equipped to make these decisions.’” 

– The Education Department’s top student financial aid officer quit, warning his staff in an email about brewing management problems within the agency. Danielle Douglas-Gabriel reports: “I am incredibly concerned about significant constraints being placed on our ability to allocate and prioritize resources, make decisions and deliver on the organization’s mission,” James Runcie, an Obama-era holdover, wrote in an email to his staff. He continued: “We have dozens of pages of decisions that have been typically made within Federal Student Aid that are now required to be elevated to the Department level. Once at the Department level, the decision making framework and process is not clear to anyone at FSA.” Runcie said in the letter that the student aid office is contending with pressing projects. Among them: weighing a student-loan-servicing contract bid … building out the expansion of the Pell Grant program, [and] tending to loan forgiveness for defrauded borrowers … He said his team has asked DeVos to hire staff for additional help but has yet to receive a response.”

– Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue broke with Trump on his plan to slash the SNAP food stamp program, reaffirming Wednesday that he still does not believe the system is “broken” or requires fundamental change. Caitlin Dewey reports: “Perdue affirmed his position on SNAP during a meeting of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, when [Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.)] asked him about statements he made to the Agriculture Committee just last week.  ‘You stated — and this is a quote — ‘SNAP has been a very important and effective program,’’ DeLauro said. ‘And that as far as you’re concerned, quote, ‘we have no proposed changes. You don’t try to fix something that isn’t broken’ … Do you still feel those words to be true?’ ‘Absolutely,’ Perdue answered. He later added that he supported stricter work requirements, which are a lesser component of the administration’s cuts.”

– Charmaine Yoest, a top official at the Department of Health and Human Services, pushed the totally discredited theory that abortion increases a woman’s risk for breast cancer as recently as 2012, and she just declined an opportunity to recant her claim. Michelle Ye Hee Lee revisits a widely-shared New York Times story from five years ago: “Does Yoest still hold this position? We couldn’t readily find instances after 2012 where Yoest publicly repeated this claim. We reached out to her, but she would not answer whether she still believes in this alleged link. Instead, she offered this written explanation: ‘As far as my comments on this, I hope that you will note that the wild accusations that I have said ‘abortion *causes* breast cancer’ are false. I have not said that and would not say that.’”

– Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin privately assured Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee that he and Trump are both against Paul Ryan’s border-adjusted tax. From Bloomberg: The remarks they described in private were stronger than Mnuchin’s public comments about the plan to tax companies’ imported goods while exempting their exports. Judy Chu, a California Democrat on Ways and Means Committee, said she asked Mnuchin directly during a private meeting Tuesday if he supports the border-adjusted tax. ‘He actually said straight out that he doesn’t support it and the president doesn’t support it,’ Chu said, adding that Mnuchin cited concern from businesses about price increases for consumers. ‘Unless he was lying to us yesterday, I really felt it was dead on arrival,’ Chu said.”

– Trump nominated George Nesterczuk to be director of the Office of Personnel Management. Eric Yoder reports: “Nesterczuk was a senior adviser at OPM during the Reagan administration and went on to positions at the Defense Department and Transportation Department.” He served as chief of staff to a House subcommittee overseeing the federal workforce in the late 1990s, and returned to OPM as a senior adviser in 2004.

DAY SEVEN OF TRUMP’S FOREIGN TRIP:

– ANOTHER VICTORY FOR THE KREMLIN: Russian aggression will not be a topic discussed at Trump’s first NATO’s meeting — not because Moscow has improved its behavior (it certainly hasn’t!) but in order to keep the Putin-friendly U.S. president happy. Buzzfeed News’ John Hudson reports: “The alliance is so anxious about pleasing [Trump] that it tailored its first major meeting with him around topics that touch on his long-standing criticisms of the 28-member organization rather than the Kremlin’s latest provocations. Russia, which dominated NATO’s previous two summits in Wales and Warsaw, will not be a formal agenda item for the alliance’s meeting in Brussels this week, [a NATO spokesperson said]. ‘The meeting will be short, and focused on two main topics: stepping up NATO’s role in the fight against terrorism, and fairer burden sharing.’

“Russia’s absence, European officials explained, is a tacit acknowledgment that the alliance’s most immediate crisis is currying the favor of the leader of the world’s most powerful military — a man who had previously called the organization outdated and ‘obsolete.’ ‘You’ve got to remember that Trump still hasn’t explicitly stated his support for Article 5,’ said a European official, referring to a clause in the alliance’s charter that requires NATO members to come to the defense of an ally. ‘First things first.’”

– European leaders clearly don’t think Trump knows that much about the world. From Phil Rucker’s pool report this morning about his meeting with E.U. leaders: “The first encounter came as the three presidents stood posing for photos. Tusk told Trump: ‘Do you know, Mr. President, we have two presidents in the EU?’ Trump replied: ‘I know that.’ Juncker chimed in: One too much.’”

– SPICER SNUBBED: Trump was flanked by staff during his Vatican trip yesterday, an entourage that included Hope Hicks, Dan Scavino, and former bodyguard Keith Schiller. Noticeably missing was Sean Spicer – a devout Catholic who had been eagerly anticipating the chance to meet Pope Francis. CNN’s Kevin Liptak and Jeff Zeleny report: “Asked about Spicer not being included in the group that met the Pope, a source close to the White House said: ‘Wow. That’s all he wanted,’ adding it should ‘very much’ be seen as a slight. Two [senior White House officials] said the Vatican was ‘strict’ on the number of people who would be allowed to join the talks. But previous administration officials who helped orchestrate meetings between US presidents and the Pope said that high-level Catholic staffers who expressed interest in attending the papal sessions were regularly accommodated.” This is another petty move by the president, and it shows how totally undercut Spicer has been in the West Wing pecking order — he technically outranks the staffers who got to meet the Pope — despite sacrificing his personal reputation to help advance the Trump agenda.

TRUTH BOMB:

– Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), who belongs to the House Freedom Caucus, ripped Trump’s budget for being based on “a lie.” During a hearing yesterday, he sharply challenged the assumption the budget makes that the economy will grow at 3 percent a year for the next 10 years. That’s just not going to happen, experts agree, which means the deficit and debt will balloon even more than the White House acknowledges.

“I have looked every which way at how you might get there, and you can’t get there,” Sanford said. “I think it is just disastrously consequential to build a budget on 3 percent growth. The Bible says you can’t build a house on a sandy foundation. What it does is it perpetuates a myth that we can go out there and balance a budget without touching entitlements. It’s not only a myth, it’s frankly a lie, and if it gets started at the executive branch level it moves from there.”

“What this does is it [prevents] real debates from happening,” the former South Carolina governor continued. “For us to have a real debate, we have to base it on real numbers. I would also say it’s important because I’m a deficit hawk, as you well know, and if you’re wrong on these numbers, it means all of a sudden we’ve created a $2-plus-trillion hole for our kids and grandkids here going forward.” (Mike DeBonis has more.)

MORE DAYLIGHT:

– Do you trust President Trump’s judgment on major decisions? It’s a very simple question, but for Republicans in Congress, it’s a difficult one to answer (at least on the record). Sean Sullivan posed it to more than a dozen GOP lawmakers across the ideological spectrum this week: “Most of them weren’t eager to address the subject head-on. They diverted and demurred. They paused contemplatively before answering. Some grew visibly uncomfortable. Others declared their conviction in Trump — but then qualified their words or expressed confidence in the people around him. Only one of those interviewed offered an unqualified yes.”

“I’m not answering questions like that,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) after hopping off an underground tram shuttling him from the Capitol to his Senate office building. “That’s ah … ” he trailed off as he walked toward an elevator. Four seconds later, the easygoing Arizonan picked back up: “The president is overseas. I don’t think we’re allowed to ask any questions while the president’s overseas.”

PROFILES IN COURAGE:

– Sally Yates spoke about her refusal to defend Trump’s travel ban (before it was struck down by the courts as unconstitutional) during yesterday’s Harvard Law School class day ceremony: She said she thought her time as acting attorney general was going to be filled with “a lot of long, boozy lunches,” Katie Mettler reports. But “there wasn’t time for lunches at all,” she sighed, “boozy or otherwise.”

“The defining moments in our lives often don’t come with advance warning,” she said. “They can arise in scenarios we would have never expected, and they don’t come sometimes with the luxury of a whole lot of time to go inside yourself for some serious introspection.”

The travel ban, she explained, was “illustrative of an unexpected moment, when the law and conscience intersected and a decision had to be made in a very short period of time.” She reviewed the legal challenges, read case law and conferred with Justice Department lawyers before deciding that defending the ban would force her people to argue it “was not intended to disfavor Muslims,” even though the past words of Trump and his surrogates implied otherwise. “I believed that this would require us to advance a pretext, a defense not grounded in truth, so I directed the Department of Justice not to defend the ban,” she said.

She said she grappled with whether to resign or have Trump fire her: “I believed then and I believe now that resigning would have protected my personal integrity, but it would not have protected the integrity of the Department of Justice.”

“The arc of the moral universe does indeed bend toward justice, but it doesn’t bend there on its own,” she concluded. “And so I would urge you to grab hold of that arc and not let go because the people of our country and indeed the entire world are counting on you.”

Chris Parker, 33, rushed into Manchester Arena after Monday’s attack.

IN THE FACE OF HORROR, UNLIKELY HEROES EMERGE:

– Two homeless men who were outside Manchester Arena at the time of the blast – one begging for change and another sleeping – became the unlikely first responders in the first moments after Monday’s attack. Their daring actions, which included pulling nails from children’s faces and holding wounded victims in their final moments, are now being rewarded – though both men say they are haunted by the devastation they encountered. Peter Holley reports: “There was people lying on the floor everywhere,” said 33-year-old Chris Parker, who came to the venue hours earlier as an anonymous beggar … “I saw a little girl … she had no legs,” he added. “I wrapped her in one of the merchandise T-shirts and I said, ‘Where is your mum and daddy?’” There was also a wounded woman — “in her 60s,” he guessed — whom Parker tried to comfort. “She passed away in my arms,” he said. “I haven’t stopped crying.”

He was joined by Stephen Jones, a former bricklayer who had been sleeping before he rushed inside the arena to help. “Just because I am homeless doesn’t mean I haven’t got a heart,” Jones said, adding that he “wouldn’t be able to live with [himself] walking away and leaving kids like that.” “I’d like to think someone would come and help me if I needed the help,” he added. Since then, crowdfunding campaigns for both men have raised thousands of dollars.

WAPO HIGHLIGHT:

– “A giant ark is just the start. These creationists have a bigger plan for recruiting new believers,” by Karen Heller: “At the sight of the wooden vessel, tourists — decidedly more than two-by-two, a caravan of buses surrounding the site — gasp in wonder. Christian school students storm the ramps, many completing science quizzes based on anti-evolutionary teachings. The founder of Answers in Genesis, an online and publishing ministry with a strict creationist interpretation of the Bible, employed 700 workers to erect the $120 million Ark Encounter, which is five stories high and a football field and a half in length, and packs a powerful whoa punch. He had the massive boat designed by a veteran of amusement park attractions, commissioned an original soundtrack to enhance the experience, and stocked the interior with an animatronic (and freakishly real) talking Noah … And he saw that it was good. Now, the 65-year-old Australian and his partners … have launched an ambitious 10-to-12-year plan to re-create a walled city from the time of Noah and a 1st-century village from the time of Jesus. Also, a Tower of Babel, concept snack shacks, a 3,200-seat amphitheater and a 10-plagues-of-Egypt thrill ride. Instead of building a church, Answers in Genesis is sharing its teachings through a controversial biblical theme park designed to attract believers and nonbelievers alike.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Everyone on Twitter was talking about Montana:

Buzzfeed’s Alexis Levinson was there:

Democrat Rob Quist, Gianforte’s foe:

From Sen. Orrin Hatch’s communications director:

Lots of chatter about Ben Carson’s statement that poverty is a “state of mind“:

Democrats seized on the bad CBO score. From a candidate for Virginia governor:

Paul Ryan looked at the bright side:

Nancy Pelosi replied directly:

This vignette is making the rounds:

A photo of Pope Francis not smiling during a photo opp with Trump quickly became a meme. Religion reporter Sarah Pulliam Bailey rounded up some of the funniest ones:

This was the president’s takeaway from their meeting:

Many reporters lamented that Spicer, a devout Catholic, was excluded from Trump’s meeting with the Pope:

Not fake news:

A fun Throwback Thursday — to 1848:

Baltimore Orioles legend Cal Ripken is dating Laura Kiessling, an administrative judge for the Anne Arundel County, Md., circuit court, the Reliable Source confirms. This picture prompted Emily Heil to reach out to Ripken:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Restaurant: ICE Agents Ate Breakfast, Then Detained Employees,” from the Daily Beast: “Bree Stilwell of Sava’s Restaurant in Ann Arbor, Michigan [said] three to five ICE agents sat down to eat breakfast before apprehending three immigrant men working at the restaurant and taking them away on Wednesday. Stilwell said that the employees have proper documentation, but didn’t have it on their persons this morning. ‘One ICE agent was stationed at the back door, and one at the front,’ Stilwell said. ‘They apprehended one of our employees taking the trash out to the back alley and immediately put him in handcuffs.’”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“White women’s burrito shop is forced to close after being hounded with accusations it was ‘culturally appropriating Mexican food and jobs,’” from the Daily Mail: “Two white women have been forced to close their pop-up burrito shop after they were accused of cultural appropriation. Kali Wilgus and Liz ‘LC’ Connelly opened Kooks Burritos in Portland [after traveling to Mexico in December]. For the first few months, the weekend pop-up shop housed in a taco truck was a smash hit. But that’s when the trouble started for Wilgus and Connelly, after quotes they gave to the Williamette Week led to them being accused of stealing their success. Explaining their trip, Connelly told the newspaper: ‘I picked the brains of every tortilla lady there in the worst broken Spanish ever, and they showed me a little of what they did.’ Those comments were latched onto by a food blog in the Portland Mercury, which accused Wilgus and Connelly of ‘preying’ on the women they met in Mexico.”

 

 

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

– Expect on-and-off showers throughout the day. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Steady rains are likely to taper off early in the morning, but showers could linger into mid-morning. The sun is likely to break through by early afternoon, but that may not be a blessing: Highs warm to the mid-70s and help set off some t’storms later in the afternoon. There is an outside chance that a storm or two could be strong enough for some hail and/or high winds, so keep an eye out for that.”

– The Nationals beat the Mariners 5-1.

– The Nationals are moving up today’s series finale against the Mariners to 12:05 p.m. because of the weather.

– Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is planning to sign 209 bills today, as he closes out what is believed to be his eighth and final bill signing ceremony of the 2017 session. Ovetta Wiggins reports: “The list includes a package of measures to address the state’s growing heroin epidemic. But missing from the hundreds of bills are several high-profile measures that are awaiting action from Hogan, including a top priority of Democratic legislative leaders that requires employers to provide paid sick leave benefits to their workers.”

– Heading out of town for Memorial Day? Leave a little extra time for travel in your itinerary – forecasters are predicting the busiest travel weekend in 12 years, with about a million area residents expected to hit the roads. (Luz Lazo)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Seth Meyers made fun of Trump’s meeting with the Pope:

Colbert also made jokes about the visit:

And he talked about the budget:

Stephen did a skit based on The Washington Post obtaining the transcript of the Trump-Duterte call:

Jimmy Kimmel also focused on the Pope-Trump session:

Winter is coming! This summer:

Jacoby Ellsbury made a spectacular play on the very first pitch of the Yankees’ 3-0 win over the Royals on Wednesday, crashing into the center field wall after a long sprint to rob Kansas City’s Alcides Escobar of an extra-base hit. However, the veteran outfielder paid a heavy price on the play, suffering a concussion that sent him to the disabled list. Click to watch:

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