Top Trump TV surrogate to leave high-profile post

Boris Epshteyn, a special assistant to the president who oversees Donald Trump’s television surrogate operation, is expected to leave his high-profile post, multiple sources close to the administration told POLITICO.

The well known, combative talking head, who fiercely defended Trump on television during the campaign first as a surrogate and then as a paid campaign staffer, is expected to remain in the administration, but possibly in a less visible role.

"We are discussing opportunities within the Administration," a senior administration official said in an email Saturday night.

Epshteyn did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday night.

Republicans wonder whether Trump was invested in success of health law

While President Donald Trump’s first major legislative push hurtled toward a major defeat, one of his top advisers, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, was photographed with his wife, Ivanka Trump, on a ski gondola in Aspen.

Kushner may not have been the lead White House negotiator on the doomed healthcare bill. But the image of Trump’s top consigliere hitting the slopes at perhaps the most critical moment of his young presidency sent a message loud and clear: The White House wanted a win, but health care was not the dominant priority for Trump that it was for the Republican members of Congress who actually had to take a vote.

"Their heart was not in the healthcare battle,” said a top Republican who was in meetings with the President and his team but declined to be identified because those conversations were supposed to be private. “Think about the level of intensity on the executive orders for the travel ban, or on the wiretapping claims. He certainly checked the boxes on healthcare, to his credit. But it’s self-evident there was not a certain level of intensity devoted to this."

White House officials have insisted that Trump understood that a legislative victory was crucial at this stage of his administration — he is struggling to boost a 42.2 percent approval rating according to, the lowest of his presidency so far — and that he was lending the full force of his office to the cause.

"The president and vice president left everything on the field," press secretary Sean Spicer wrote in an email on Saturday. "They were making calls and having members to the White House all week. In total, we spoke or met with over 120 members of Congress." And Kushner, other White House officials insisted, was never deeply involved in health care to begin with.

But according to Republican Hill staffers, in the weeks leading up to the doomed vote, Trump’s mind seemed to be elsewhere.

The president made it clear at rallies over the past few weeks that healthcare was just something he needed to get through, in order to move on to the next thing. "We want a very big tax cut, but cannot do that until we keep our promise to repeal and replace the disaster known as ‘Obamacare,’" he told an adoring crowd at a rally in Louisville last week.

The president also has been distracted in recent weeks by other issues, like questions about possible collusion between Russia and his campaign, the evidence-free accusation that President Barack Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower during the 2016 election and the confirmation hearing for Judge Neil Gorsuch, for his nominee to the Supreme Court.

The top Republican said that in one healthcare meeting with the president and his top aides in the Oval Office, it was a challenge to keep Trump focused on the health care vote. "Halfway through that meeting, he stopped to talk about Gorsuch,” the source said. “His mind was bouncing around. I never felt they were dialed into this."

Trump gamely climbed to the Hill this week, making a last-minute, full-throttle push for the bill in the final hours — even devoting his news-driving Twitter feed, uncharacteristically, to the health care fight.

But on the Hill, the president’s effort was viewed by Republican operatives as a case of too little, too late. The impression Trump left there, according to multiple sources who did not want to criticize the president on the record, was that Trump didn’t know that much — or care that much — about healthcare policy That made it hard for him to go tit for tat with members of the Freedom Caucus and get into the weeds on details of the bill. “There were other distractions they were dealing with,” said one top Republican staffer on the Hill.

And after just 64 days in office, the short-attention span president told the New York Times on Friday he was just happy to finally to move on. “It’s enough already,” he said of the healthcare talks.

Republicans trying to understand what went wrong on Saturday also pointed to the fact that the two lead negotiators on Trump’s team, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, were slowed down by delayed confirmations. Price was only confirmed on Feb. 10, and Mulvaney was confirmed a week later, which prevented them from being totally devoted to the health care cause.

The approach of Trump, who sold himself on the campaign trail as a master negotiator who promised that repealing and replacing Obamacare would be “so easy,” stands in stark contrast to how his predecessor worked to get the Affordable Care Act passed seven years ago. Former aides to Obama said he devoted the better part of a year working on his healthcare bill, with staffers devoted full-time to its passage.

“Obama’s commitment to health reform was passionate and unstinting,” said his former top political adviser David Axelrod. “He was moved by people he had met who were working hard and needed care. He had seen his own mother dealing with cancer and grappling with insurance in her final months.”

Trump’s predecessor in the Oval Office was “steeped in the details of the law and what needed to be done to pass it,” Axelrod added. “There were many times along the way that it appeared as if all paths were blocked and the bill would fail, and he simply would not let it die.”

Trump defenders pushed back on the notion that the replacement bill failed because the White House didn’t care enough. “The problem with the bill was the bill,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said in an interview on Saturday. He also shrugged off Kushner’s ill-timed vacation, and the optics problem of the president’s top adviser, who reportedly thought supporting the bill was a mistake, hitting the slopes.

“This is going to be a long eight years, people need to pace themselves,” Gingrich said. “This was not a crisis. This was a very important project, which Jared probably thought was under control when he left. The loss of confidence is only three or four days old.”

For his part, the president put on a happy face in public and appeared unphased. On Friday, answering questions from reporters gathered in the Oval Office, he spun the stunning defeat as a victory. "Perhaps the best thing that could happen is what happened today," Trump said. "It will go very smoothly."

On Saturday, he wrote on Twitter: “ObamaCare will explode and we will all get together and piece together a great healthcare plan for THE PEOPLE. Do not worry!” before heading to the links at the Trump National Golf Club in Virginia.

Trump: ‘Obamacare will explode’ … ‘Do not worry’

President Donald Trump’s message on health care Saturday morning: "Do not worry."

In a morning tweet a day after the House GOP’s Obamacare repeal and replace bill failed to make it to a vote, Trump doubled down on his claim that Obamacare will explode and that a new healthcare plan will be created.

"ObamaCare will explode and we will all get together and piece together a great healthcare plan for THE PEOPLE. Do not worry," the president wrote on Twitter during a motorcade to Trump National Golf Club in Virginia.

It is unclear whether the president will play golf, if he will hold meetings or make remarks while at his gold club, according to the pool report.

The American Health Care Act — Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan’s attempt to replace the Affordable Care Act — failed to get the backing from enough Republicans, prompting the speaker and the president to pull the bill on Friday.

In a statement Friday, Trump said he hopes "a truly great health care bill in the future after this mess known as Obamacare explodes."

In addition, Trump also tweeted Saturday morning to watch Judge Jeanine Pirro’s show on Fox News on Saturday night.

TRUMP GOES ZERO FOR ONE in Washington — COSTA, PARKER and RUCKER with a BRUTAL headline: ‘The closer? The inside story of how Trump tried — and failed’ — GOLDMACHER and DAWSEY: Trump ‘gets TAMED’ by DC



THE TICK-TOCKS — TIM ALBERTA in Politico Magazine, “Inside the GOP’s Health Care Debacle: Eighteen days that shook the Republican Party—and humbled a president”: It was Thursday afternoon and members of the House Freedom Caucus were peppering the president with wonkish concerns about the American Health Care Act … when Trump decided to cut them off. ‘Forget about the little s***,’ Trump said, according to multiple sources in the room. ‘Let’s focus on the big picture here.’ … [But for] many of the members, the ‘little s***’ meant the policy details that could make or break their support for the bill—and have far-reaching implications for their constituents and the country.”

–“‘The closer’? The inside story of how Trump tried — and failed — to make a deal on health care,” by WaPo’s Bob Costa, Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker: “Shortly after House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) unveiled the Republican health-care plan on March 6, President Trump sat in the Oval Office and queried his advisers: ‘Is this really a good bill?’ … Even as he thrust himself and the trappings of his office into selling the health-care bill, Trump peppered his aides again and again with the same concern, usually after watching cable news reports chronicling the setbacks, according to two of his advisers: ‘Is this really a good bill?’ In the end, the answer was no — in part because the president himself seemed to doubt it. … Realizing the health-care plan did not have the support to pass, Trump and Ryan decided Friday afternoon to pull the bill — news Trump announced in a phone call with The Post, before Ryan even had time to personally brief GOP members. ‘Just another day,’ Trump said in the call. ‘Just another day in paradise, okay?’”

— GREAT READ: “Trump gets tamed by Washington: The businessman president finds after the defeat of health care reform that legislating isn’t as easy as making real estate deals,” by Shane Goldmacher and Josh Dawsey with Tara Palmeri and Jake Sherman: “For weeks Trump had seemed disinterested and disengaged from the specifics of the health care fight, both behind closed doors with his aides and at public rallies. Trump ‘just wanted to get something he could sign,’ said one adviser who talks to him frequently. ‘He was over it.’ He would often interrupt conversations on the law to talk about other issues, advisers and aides said.

“In one phone call with Ryan earlier this month, Trump told the House speaker that he had a problem with the bill. It wasn’t over Medicaid expansion, maternity coverage, deductibles or insurance premiums. Rather, it was that he didn’t like the word ‘buckets’ — which Ryan had been using to describe the parts of their plan. ‘I don’t like that word buckets. You throw trash in buckets. I don’t like that word,’ Trump said, according to two people familiar with the call. Trump preferred ‘phases.’ Ryan agreed and adopted the term.”

WHAT AMERICA IS WAKING UP TO — N.Y. POST: “Is there a doctor in the house?: Trump headache after health bill is D.O.A.” “G.O.P. REVOLT SINKS BID TO VOID HEALTH LAW” REPUBLIC: “GOP pulls its plan to kill ‘Obamacare’” L.A. TIMES: “REPUBLICAN REPEAL OF OBAMACARE IMPLODES: Trump agrees to stop vote on House bill amid GOP opposition” POST: “Down and out … Ryan: GOP ‘came really close today, but we came up short” … President: ‘The best thing is to let Obamacare explode’”

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO UNDERSTAND — From new POLITICO Aaron Lorenzo: “The GOP was counting on wiping out nearly $1 trillion in Obamacare taxes to help finance the sweeping tax cuts they’ve got planned for their next legislative act. And now it’s unclear where all that money will come from.”

FOR THE RECORD — Donald Trump called the Washington Post’s Bob Costa and the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman to discuss the failure of the health care bill Friday. Yes, the New York Times and Washington Post.

QUOTE OF THE DAY — REP. TOM ROONEY (R-FLA.) to The Atlantic’s Russell Berman: “I’ve been in this job eight years, and I’m wracking my brain to think of one thing our party has done that’s been something positive, that’s been something other than stopping something else from happening. We need to start having victories as a party. And if we can’t, then it’s hard to justify why we should be back here.”

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP’s Twitter feed has been silent this morning except for wishing “Happy #MedalOfHonorDay to our heroes!”. But he will be on the move, according to pooler BuzzFeed’s Adrian Carrasquillo.

FLOTUS MELANIA TRUMP is at Mar-A-Lago with Barron Trump for spring break. She attended a VIP cocktail reception Friday night before the Palm Beach County’s GOP Lincoln Dinner. Pic by Scott Mahaskey (h/t Darren Samuelsohn)


— WHAT REPUBLICANS TOLD US YESTERDAY: If Trump left it all on the field, as his aides said, and failed, how is this not his fault? … The GOP wants to know what Trump will do differently in coming legislative brawls … Will Trump better learn the policy? Will he help sell his ideas?

— THE FREEDOM CAUCUS PROBLEM WAS ACUTE, BUT NOT THE WHOLE STORY. VP Mike Pence went to meet with the conservative caucus Friday in a last-ditch effort to try to convince them to support the bill, saying he would be in the HFC if he were in the House. But he couldn’t flip them. The group sent White House aides their whip list shortly after the visit, and it showed that the majority of the 30-something member group was opposed to the legislation. While they were critical in stopping the health care bill, their power will increase if they can actually push a piece of legislation across the finish line.

— NO ONE WAS LOOKING FOR DEMOCRATIC SUPPORT. Blaming Democrats for not supporting this bill does not make sense. The GOP whip team, charged with rounding up votes for legislation, never spoke to Democrats in a serious way about the bill. Plus, they used reconciliation to move the AHCA — a legislative mechanism designed to pass with the support of just one party. (h/t Bloomberg BNA’s Jonathan Nicholson)

—’s Sara Kenigsberg (@skenigsberg): “Leader Nancy Pelosi @NancyPelosi just took off her heels and did a victory jump outside the U.S. Capitol @MoveOn” The video

— TAX REFORM IS NOT EASIER THAN HEALTH CARE! It might be simpler for the New York, Wall Street-centric Trump administration to understand, because many of them have spent time in finance. But, in Washington, it’s actually harder. First of all, Congress has hardly started the tax reform process. There is deep disagreement among Republicans on the Hill, and between the Hill and the administration. For example, the House — particularly Speaker Paul Ryan and House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady — are hell bent on a border-adjustment tax to help pay for lower rates. Figures in the Trump administration staunchly disagree.

There’s absolutely no consensus plan as of now. And the lobbyists have hardly started pounding the pavement. But when they do, there will be millions in advocacy from every business interest in the United States. In fact, because of arcane rules, Republicans don’t even know how they’ll move the legislation. We’re not saying it won’t get done. But it’s not the walk in the park that Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin wants you to think it is.

— A WORD FROM THE HILL: The Trump administration is chattering about taking the policy lead on tax reform — coming up with a plan, and telling Congress to pass it. According to the aides and lawmakers we’ve spoken to, that would be a mistake. Congress doesn’t take orders well.

— COMING ATTRACTIONS: Congress has 36 days until the federal government shuts down. The debt ceiling needs to be raised by the fall.

THE COUNTDOWN — 54 LEGISLATIVE DAYS until the Trump administration says tax reform will pass both chambers and be signed into law.

HOW THE WSJ SEES IT — “The ObamaCare Republicans: The GOP right blows up its best chance to reform government”: “House Republicans pulled their health-care bill shortly before a vote on Friday, and for once the media dirge is right about a GOP defeat. This is a major blow to the Trump Presidency, the GOP majority in Congress, and especially to the cause of reforming and limiting government. The damage is all the more acute because it was self-inflicted. President Trump was right to say on Friday that Democrats provided no help, but Democrats were never going to vote to repeal President Obama’s most important legislation. And that’s no excuse. Republicans have campaigned for more than seven years on repealing and replacing ObamaCare, and they finally have a President ready to sign it. In the clutch they choked.”

WHAT TRUMP IS THINKING — “‘Hello, Bob’: President Trump called my cellphone to say that the health-care bill was dead,” by WaPo’s Bob Costa: “Before I could ask a question, Trump plunged into his explanation of the politics of deciding to call off a vote on a bill he had been touting. The Democrats, he said, were to blame. ‘We couldn’t get one Democratic vote, and we were a little bit shy, very little, but it was still a little bit shy, so we pulled it,’ Trump said. Trump said he would not put the bill on the floor in the coming weeks. He is willing to wait and watch the current law continue and, in his view, encounter problems. And he believes that Democrats will eventually want to work with him on some kind of legislative fix to Obamacare, although he did not say when that would be.”

FLASHBACK – STEPHEN MILLER on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Feb. 12: “I think to say that we’re in control would be a substantial understatement. The President of the United States has accomplished more in just a few weeks than many Presidents do in an entire administration.” Video

RYAN’S WORLD — “Ryan wounded by health care fiasco,” by John Bresnahan and Rachael Bade: “The painful public collapse Friday of Paul Ryan’s biggest endeavor as House speaker – legislation to unwind the Democratic health care law he and his party spent years castigating as a disaster – dealt a serious blow to the Wisconsin Republican. But as embarrassing a setback as this was – Obamacare is here to stay ‘for the foreseeable future,’ Ryan conceded – he isn’t going anywhere.

“No one is prepared to challenge Ryan for his job, said GOP lawmakers from across the Republican Conference. While some right-wing media and outside groups are agitating to replace the speaker, and his antagonists on the White House staff needle him anonymously in the press, there is no way he will be ousted. President Donald Trump hasn’t turned on him, either – at least not yet. And Ryan remains popular with his rank-and-file members, who genuinely like him. Critically, Ryan is not a liability for them back home, the ultimate litmus test for any congressional leader.”

WAPO’S PAUL KANE — "A new dynamic may be emerging in the House: A right and left flank within the GOP willing to buck leadership"

— It’s important to note: Can you imagine if this happened when Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) were in office? The knives would have been out. It’s pretty stunning that after such a massive failure there isn’t a single call for him to step down.

WHERE DID THEY GO? — “White House complains pro-Trump group MIA on health bill,” by Shane Goldmacher: “Amid the biggest policy showdown of Donald Trump’s presidency, top White House aides are perplexed that an outside group created to boost him at such critical junctions was missing in action. The pro-Trump nonprofit, America First Policies, has been gripped by its own internal headaches as two of the six announced members of its leadership team have left in recent days, according to two officials involved with the group … With the health care law hanging in the balance, there were no TV ads, no brushbacks of wayward GOP lawmakers and no pointed reminders in key districts that every Republican nationwide ran on a platform or repealing and replacing President Barack Obama’s namesake health care law.”

"GOP wonders: Can it get anything done?" by Isaac Dovere.

D’OH! — “Basketball Fans Treated To Ads Congratulating Republicans For Repealing Obamacare,” by Deadspin’s Timothy Burke: “Basketball fans [on Friday night] in several Republican-adjacent TV markets [enjoyed] a series of ads, prematurely bought by the American Action Network PAC, inviting viewers to call their representatives to thank them for repealing Obamacare [on Friday]—something that did not happen. … An ad praising Virginia’s Barbara Comstock … ran during the Wizards-Nets game … [A]ds for Fresno’s David Valadao and Des Moines’s David Young … ran on CBS stations before March Madness coverage.” With videos of the ads

SCOOP — “Ex-CIA Director: Mike Flynn and Turkish Officials Discussed Removal of Erdogan Foe From U.S.,” by WSJ’s James V. Grimaldi, Dion Nissenbaum and Margaret Coker: “Retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, while serving as an adviser to the Trump campaign, met with top Turkish government ministers and discussed removing a Muslim cleric from the U.S. and taking him to Turkey, according to former [CIA] Director James Woolsey, who attended, and others who were briefed on the meeting. The discussion late last summer involved ideas about how to get Fethullah Gulen, a cleric whom Turkey has accused of orchestrating last summer’s failed military coup, to Turkey without going through the U.S. extradition legal process … Mr. Woolsey told The Wall Street Journal he arrived at the meeting in New York on Sept. 19 in the middle of the discussion and found the topic startling and the actions being discussed possibly illegal.”

SPORTS BLINK — “Wizards rout Nets, give their starters a break — and clinch playoff spot,” by WaPo’s Ava Wallace:

HAPPY 60TH! — “EU leaders renew fraying Union’s vows on 60th anniversary,” by Reuters’ Alastair Macdonald and Jan Strupczewski in Rome: “Europeans must contain their squabbling and carping about the EU if the Union is to survive, leaders warned on Saturday as they marked the 60th anniversary of its founding in Rome by signing a formal declaration of unity. Four days before Prime Minister Theresa May, absent from the ceremony in the Italian capital, delivers an unprecedented blow to the bloc’s growth by filing Britain’s formal exit papers, her fellow leaders hailed 60 years of peace and prosperity and pledged to deepen a unity frayed by regional and global crises.

“But days of wrangling about the wording of a 1,000-word Rome Declaration, May’s impending Brexit confirmation and tens of thousands of protesters gathering beyond the tight police cordon around the Campidoglio palace offered a more sober reminder of the challenges of holding the 27 nations to a common course.”

BUSINESS BURST — “Charter’s $25B spending pledge to Trump not so new, analysts say,” by Margaret Harding McGill: “President Donald Trump and the Charter Communications CEO Friday touted a $25 billion investment plan and re-upped a 20,000 jobs pledge, but analysts who track the company said the spending commitment isn’t any fresher than the jobs promise the company had made last year. Charter CEO Tom Rutledge, who along with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, met with Trump in the Oval Office on Friday, said his company will spend $25 billion on broadband infrastructure and technology in the next four years. … Charter originally made the pledge to hire 20,000 workers in connection with its $67 billion purchase of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks in 2016.” For pros

FOR YOUR RADAR — “Saudi embassy confirms UK attacker had been in Saudi Arabia,” by AP’s Gregory Katz in London: “The man who killed four people outside Britain’s Parliament was in Saudi Arabia three times and taught English there, the Persian Gulf country’s embassy said. Khalid Masood taught English in Saudi Arabia from November 2005 to November 2006 and again from April 2008 to April 2009, a Saudi Embassy statement released late Friday said. Masood had a work visa during those times, and then he returned for six days in March 2015 on a trip booked through an approved travel agent, the embassy said. Saudi security services didn’t track him and he didn’t have a criminal record there. Before taking the name Masood, he was known as Adrian Elms. He was known for having a violent temper in England and had been convicted at least twice for violent crimes.”

MICHAEL ANTON PROFILE — ROSIE GRAY in The Atlantic, “The Populist Nationalist on Trump’s National Security Council”: “‘I’m not trying to disparage Ben Rhodes but I always viewed Ben Rhodes as more operational,’ [Steve] Bannon said. In his view, the Obama administration had ‘operationalized the NSC.’ ‘What President Trump and General McMaster have done is go in the opposite direction, getting the NSC back to its proper role and function,’ Bannon said. Anton has a ‘very precise understanding of the processes of communications,’ Bannon said, remarking that it was rare in Washington or New York to have a ‘comms person who is also a deep intellect.’”

THE FIRST FAMILY — “Ivanka Trump’s Secret Service detail roiling her D.C. neighbors,” by WaPo’s Paul Schwartzman and Peter Jamison: “With their long history of hosting Washington dignitaries, Kalorama residents were largely unfazed when they learned that the Trump-Kushner clan, as well as former president Barack Obama and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson were moving to the neighborhood after President Trump’s election. The neighbors are willing to put up with the Secret Service blockade on both ends of Belmont Road NW, the nearby street where Obama lives. He’s a former president, after all. And they appreciate that the Secret Service placed a few relatively unobtrusive orange cones outside Tillerson’s house on 24th Street NW.”

“But the security surrounding the six-bedroom house Trump and Kushner rent? ‘Are you kidding me?’ asked Marti Robinson, a trial attorney who lives across the street. ‘This is the adult child of the president. Sometimes there are 10 cars out here.’”

WEST COAST WATCH — “California Upholds Auto Emissions Standards, Setting Up Face-Off With Trump,” by NYT’s Hiroko Tabuchi: “California’s clean-air agency voted on Friday to push ahead with stricter emissions standards for cars and trucks, setting up a potential legal battle with the Trump administration over the state’s plan to reduce planet-warming gases. The vote, by the California Air Resources Board, is the boldest indication yet of California’s plan to stand up to President Trump’s agenda. Leading politicians in the state, from the governor down to many mayors, have promised to lead the resistance to Mr. Trump’s policies. Mr. Trump, backing industry over environmental concerns, said easing emissions rules would help stimulate auto manufacturing. He vowed last week to loosen the regulations. Automakers are aggressively pursuing those changes after years of supporting stricter standards.”

— “They’re so scared.’ Trump brings heartache, fear in L.A.’s ‘Ellis Island’,” by L.A. Times’ Ruben Vives: “Past the looming maze of freeway interchanges on the west side of Cesar Chavez Avenue in Boyle Heights sits Biky’s Market, a light blue building with a dusty green awning. On the days that San Antonio de Padua Church across the street is closed, locals come here to confide their troubles to store owner Sue Kim. … These days, customers seem to be talking about one more thing: President Trump. As the Kims see it, Trump and his promised immigration crackdown have altered the mood in the neighborhood they serve. … ‘They’re so scared, I think they’re hiding,’ she said.”

MATCH MADE ON TWITTER? — “Sen. Cory Booker wants to take Mindy Kaling on a date,” by PageSix’s Yaron Stenbuch:

MEDIAWATCH — “Russia’s state news service applies for White House pass,”by Hadas Gold: “The Russian state-owned news website Sputnik has applied for a White House hard pass and is seeking membership in the White House Foreign Press Group in order to become a part of pool rotations. Sputnik, which Foreign Policy magazine described as the ‘BuzzFeed of propaganda,’ would be part of a rotating group of roughly 22 overseas outlets following President Donald Trump in his everyday interactions along with pool reporters from American print, TV, and radio outlets.”

PLAYBOOK INBOX — The RNC on Friday morning sent out an email with the subject line “7:00 – 7:30 AM Positive Chyrons” to folks on its war room list. See the email

CLICKER – “The nation’s cartoonists on the week in politics,” edited by Matt Wuerker — 15 keepers

GREAT WEEKEND READS, curated by Daniel Lippman, filing from New Orleans:

–“The Strange, Spectacular Con of Bobby Charles Thompson,” by Daniel Fromson in Washingtonian: “Donors all over America opened their wallets for his United States Navy Veterans Association. Politicians all over Washington posed for grip-and-grins with him. But not only was he not a legitimate fundraiser for military families—he wasn’t even Bobby Charles Thompson. A look inside the hunt to catch one of the country’s biggest con men.” (h/t

–“In defence of hierarchy,” by Stephen C. Angle in Aeon Magazine: “Hierarchy can be understood as a signal as to when deference – deferring to others – is expected. Good hierarchies signal the right kinds of deference, oppressive hierarchies demand the wrong ones.” (h/t

–“‘Bro, I’m Going Rogue,’” by Bloomberg Businessweek’s Zeke Faux: “The Wall Street informant who double-crossed the FBI.”

–“The Academic Home of Trumpism,” by Jon Baskin in the Chronicle of Higher Ed: “Trump’s disdain for expertise and convention, so disturbing to both liberal and conservative elites, is what is most promising about him to the Claremonsters.” (h/t

–“Will Roger Federer Ever Be Done?” by Rosecrans Baldwin in GQ: “Roger Federer was supposed to be finished. Or at least exiting gracefully, getting on with his transition to post-tennis things. But then, in January, after five years without a Grand Slam and a season sidelined by injury, he went ahead and won again. Not as the unflappable perfectionist but, for the first time, as a rangy underdog. In the immediate afterglow of the Australian Open, Federer brought GQ to his mountaintop home in Switzerland, where we learned about his life off the court and just how much longer he feels he can pull off the impossible.” (h/t

–“New York Spends $1.2 Billion a Year on Homelessness,” by DW Gibson in New York Magazine: “And yet the problem is only getting worse.”

–“Why Does Mount Rushmore Exist?” by Sam Anderson in the NYT Magazine: “This gargantuan shrine to democracy has never felt so surreal.”

–“Is it too late to save Hong Kong from Beijing’s authoritarian grasp?” by Howard W French in The Guardian: “When Britain handed over control to China in 1997, Hong Kong was a beacon of freewheeling prosperity – but in recent years Beijing’s grip has tightened. Is there any hope for the city’s radical pro-democracy movement?” (h/t

–“The Man in the Rockefeller Suit,” by Mark Seal in the Jan. 2009 Vanity Fair: “By snatching his seven-year-old daughter from her mother’s custody, after a bitter divorce, the man calling himself Clark Rockefeller blew the lid off a lifelong con game which had culminated with his posing as a scion of the famous dynasty. The 47-year-old impostor charmed his way into exclusive communities, clubs, and financial institutions—marrying a Harvard M.B.A.; working at Kidder, Peabody; and showing off an extraordinary art collection—until his arrest brought him face-to-face with his past and with questions regarding skeletal remains dug up in a California backyard.”

–“How Serena Williams Became The G.O.A.T.,” by Elena Bergeron in The Fader: “One of the greatest athletes of all time took a path to success that only she could devise.”

SPOTTED with courtside seats at the Wizards game last night: Mike Sommers, Speaker John Boehner’s former chief of staff … David Petraeus yesterday in the lobby of the Cosmos Club … Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke at Hawk n’ Dove on Friday evening … Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) sitting yesterday in the Delta Sky Lounge in Atlanta

OUT AND ABOUT — Colleagues and friends toasted Robert Yoon, who is leaving his post as director of political research at CNN after 17 years. He’ll become a contributing reporter and analyst with Inside Elections. SPOTTED at Dana Bash’s home Friday evening for dinner and cocktails: Judy Woodruff, Sam Feist, Poppy MacDonald, Steve Chaggaris, Bernard Shaw, and Lindsay and Henry Ellenbogen.

TRANSITIONS — SAAT ALETY starts on Monday as banking legislative assistant to Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.). He was a legislative assistant and communications director for Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) … Brett Doyle is joining the Republican Policy Committee as policy analyst for energy, the environment and agriculture starting April 10. He was an LA for Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). … NPR has hired Geoff Bennett to be a congressional reporter. He previously was a Hill reporter for NY1.

BIRTHWEEK (was yesterday): Chandler Goule, CEO of the National Wheat Growers Association (h/t Lia Biondo)

BIRTHDAYS: Michael Ortiz is 34 — he has been decompressing and finally spending time with his daughter Sofia and wife Megan since leaving the Obama Admin. He most recently served as deputy counterterrorism coordinator for countering violent extremism at State Dept. … Gloria Steinem is 83 … Tim Phillips … Lauren Aronson, an Obama admin alum and principal at Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas … Daniella Gibbs Leger, Cavalier/NY Giants fan for life, CAP media maven, and Obama WH alum … Nick Kalman, ace Fox News producer (fresh off the Tillerson trip to Asia), proud father to dog Barkley, and Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Naval Reserves – he’s spending his birthday on Navy drill duty and also celebrating Greek Independence Day (h/ts James Rosen, Arlette Saenz and Dan Knight) … former Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) is 59 … Meredith Shiner, VP at Resolute Consulting in Chicago and a Yahoo, Roll Call and Politico alum … Jessica Emond and Emily Schillinger, who met working for Vice President Cheney; Emily is now comms. director for House Ways and Means and Jessica is in executive comms at IBM’s Watson Health … Christopher Hale, a contributor for TIME who helped run Catholic outreach for President Obama and is now executive director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, is 28 … Aaron David Miller, VP for new initiatives at the Woodrow Wilson Center since 2006 after 24 years at State (1978-2003), is 68 … Naftali Bennett, Israeli special forces soldier turned software entrepreneur turned political leader, leader of the Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party and minister of education, is 45 (h/ts Jewish Insider) … Politico’s Arthur Allen … Steven Sloan, editorial director for CNN Politics and a Politico alum … Chad Bolduc, COS for gov’t relations at UC California and an Obama WH alum … BBC alum Alissa Rooney, director of media and PR at Oxfam America …

… Andrew Revkin … Peter Friedman of Cincinnati, Ohio (h/t brother Andrew) … Carlos Mark Vera, a Victorville native and self-described “chignon” is 23 and will likely spend his weekend working on Pay Our Interns, the organization he founded last year (h/t Nihal Krishan) … Patrick Bailey, chief counsel for gov’t affairs at Senate HSGAC … Grant Dubler, an LA for Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.), is 27 (h/t Helen Kalla) … Anna Brower, comms. director for NYC Public Advocate Tish James, is 29 … Dawn Ennis of The Advocate … Greece turns 196 on its Independence Day … Kyla Peyton-Buzi … Nelson Reyneri … Danielle Engel … Kristen Atwood … Kate Mente … James Gelfand … Laura Rusu, policy and campaigns media manager at Oxfam America … Thom Loverro … Marinka Markovich … Gloria Pan of … Anthony Garrett … Candice Hunter … Boston Globe politics editor Felice Belman … Lane Hudson … Pete Van Vleet, senior digital video content manager at PBS and an AP and CNN alum … Lauryl Dodson Jackson … Andrew Okuyiga, a professional staffer for House T&I … Stina Skewes-Cox … Nick Kimball … Kyle Watkins … Chas Danner, weekend editor at New York Magazine and a Dish/Andrew Sullivan alum … Marge Sutinen … Traci Siegel … Mike Monroe … Joseph Zagnoli Gulans (h/ts Teresa Vilmain) … Sarah Eyman, LC for Sen. Blumenthal … Annie McDonald of Rep. Swalwell’s office … Doug Bellis … Kristin Nicholson … movie reviewer Gene Shalit is 91 … Aretha Franklin is 75 … Elton John is 7-0 … Sarah Jessica Parker is 52 … Danica Patrick is 35 (h/ts AP)

THE SHOWS, by @MattMackowiak, filing from Austin:

–NBC’s “Meet the Press”: OMB Director Mick Mulvaney … Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) … Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) … California Gov. Jerry Brown (taped). Panel: Tom Brokaw, Hugh Hewitt, Eliana Johnson and Joy Reid

–“Fox News Sunday”: Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi … White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus … Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). Panel: Bill Kristol, Susan Page, Charles Lane and Newt Gingrich … “Power Player of the Week” with James Webb Space Telescope deputy project manager John Durning

–CBS’s “Face the Nation”: Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) … Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) … Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) … George Schultz. Panel: Ron Brownstein, Juliet Eilperin, Jamelle Bouie and Ben Domenech

–CNN’s “State of the Union”: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) … Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Panel: Bakari Sellers, Debbie Dingell, Rick Santorum and Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) (guest anchor: CNN’s Dana Bash)

–ABC’s “This Week”: Guests to be announced

–Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures”: House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) … Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) … Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) … Michael Mukasey. Panel: Ed Rollins, Jessica Tarlov and Rich Lowry

–CNN’s “Inside Politics” with John King: Panel: Jennifer Jacobs, Jeff Zeleny, Margaret Talev and Manu Raju

–CNN’s “Reliable Sources”: Panel: Carl Bernstein, Dylan Byers, Orange County Register columnist John Phillips and former Obama speechwriter Jon Lovett … Nancy Gibbs … CNN media critic Brian Lowry

–Fox News’ “MediaBuzz”: Erin McPike … Mollie Hemingway … Joe Trippi … Corey Lewandowski … Amy Holmes … Julie Roginsky … Marisa Guthrie

–Univision’s “Al Punto”: Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rosselló … “Colectivo Solecito” co-founder Lucy Díaz … Oaxaca ombudsman Arturo De Jesús Peimbert Calvo … OAS general secretary Luis Almagro … Richard Haass … singer Luis Coronel

–C-SPAN: “The Communicators”: The White House’s Matt Lira and Cybereason CEO & co-founder Lior Div … “Newsmakers” : Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), questioned by Military Times’ Leo McShane and CQ Roll Call’s John Donnelly (live) … “Q&A”: Author and Hoover Institution senior fellow Thomas Sowell

–Washington Times’ “Mack on Politics” weekly politics podcast with Matt Mackowiak (download on iTunes or listen at James O’Keefe

A gut check for Republicans after failure of health law

House Republicans voted 60 times to repeal Obamacare when Barack Obama was president. They have voted zero times on it since Donald Trump took the White House — and now they say they’re moving on.

Moving on to what, no one seems to know.

Republicans headed home on Friday skeptical at best about the prospects for other complicated bills that don’t come with the benefit of the rage of their base to power them through, like tax reform and infrastructure.

“I don’t know that we could pass a Mother’s Day resolution right now,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, a freshman Republican from Florida who says he’s still committed to revamping Obamacare. He spoke of the failure in apocalyptic terms, saying Republicans may have given away the 2018 midterm elections, ensured that Trump will get impeached by Democrats once they’re in power and potentially exiled themselves to years in the minority.

Theoretically, Republicans say, Democrats should be more willing to work with them on tax reform and infrastructure, and that will make the vote math easier. Theoretically, Republicans say, voters who elected them and Trump to blow up a Washington that wasn’t doing anything and certainly wasn’t doing anything for them, will interpret not holding a vote as some kind of weird victory, or at least forget about it by next November.

In his short press conference to announce the demise of the bill he tried to pull back even as Trump insisted on holding a vote (and then claimed credit for canceling), Speaker Paul Ryan countered with a double dose of big “Ifs.”

“Are we willing to say yes to the very good, even if it’s not the perfect—because if we’re willing to do that, we still have such incredible opportunity in front of us,” he pleaded.

He didn’t get into what would happen if not.

“This notion that we’ll just pivot to tax reform and all will be well, I think, is fantasy,” Gaetz said.

Other Republicans expressed frustration with the outcome and blamed the group of hardline conservatives for the bill’s defeat. Rep. John Faso, another freshman, who won a hotly contested general election last fall, helped win some concessions in the bill to get the support of several of his fellow New Yorkers and then became a target of his state’s governor and others in the state for a giveaway.

Like Gaetz, Faso said this wasn’t what he went to Congress for.

“There’s still time to repair the fallout from this,” he explained, but “there’s a faction that completely doesn’t understand what it takes to be a governing majority.”

He added: “We should have one, but they certainly thwarted it.”

Ryan attributed the failure to Republicans newfound control of government. “We’re going through the inevitable growing pains of being an opposition party to becoming a governing party,” he said Friday. Others agreed.

“Your base walked away from it, the White House wouldn’t own it, and the leadership was caught flat-footed,” said Michael Steele, the former Republican National Committee chairman. “What I hope is that folks sober up to what this episode says about our readiness to govern. Because come mon morning, the country’s going to want you to have some answers to some things, and you better be prepared.”

Gaetz and Faso just got to Washington, so neither cast any of the show votes for repealing Obamacare that were a regular feature of the last few Congresses. Rep. Dan Donovan (R-N.Y.) cast a few, though, and he’s still proud he did—despite being a firm no through this week on the repeal effort.

“They were messaging votes,” Donovan said. “I didn’t vote not to repeal the Affordable Care Act, I was going to vote no on the replacement.”

Donovan insisted he didn’t see the bill’s demise as a failure for Trump and Ryan, rather as a demonstration of what a good job they did.

“People think that this is a blemish on the president’s administration or Ryan’s leadership — I think it just showed good leadership, in how they listened, and didn’t give up until the end when they didn’t have the votes,” Donovan said.

Gaetz, on the other hand, was critical of the members who had cast votes against Obamacare but wouldn’t on Friday. “Some people get a shaky trigger finger when they’re firing with live ammo,” he said.

Trump ended his passionless pursuit of a deal by claiming that he was never in a rush, telling reporters he gathered around him in the Oval Office, "I never said repeal and replace within 64 days.” The statement was at odds with a tweet of his from last February: “We will immediately repeal and replace ObamaCare – and nobody can do that like me. We will save $’s and have much better healthcare!”

Trump telegraphed his back-up plan weeks ago: if the bill did not pass, the healthcare system would implode and the people who suffer would direct their anger — and accompanying political backlash — toward the party that passed the law instead of the people who had promised to get rid it, but failed.

But while Trump is trying to donkey kick the Democrats, he may have to rely on them to pass legislation like the investment in infrastructure that his own party is unlikely to be able to pass on its own.

“What President Trump has learned a few days in is that you can’t count on your Republican majority to come through for you in lock-step fashion,” said Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.). “I don’t know Donald Trump, but I know he is about getting things done, and if he can’t come to the Republican conference to get stuff done, that doesn’t leave a whole lot of options.”

In other words, Trump needs to “learn that the majority is tight… and that Steny Hoyer’s phone number is just as easy to dial as Kevin McCarthy’s is,” Woodall said, referring to the Democratic whip and the Republican majority leader respectively.

That assumes an openness from Democrats that’s faded since their brain scrambling by Hillary Clinton’s loss last year. There appeared to be a willingness to work on infrastructure with Republicans, but that was before their win on healthcare and the president’s dismal approval ratings helped convince them that perhaps Trump is not as invincible as he once seemed.

“In my life, I have never seen an administration as incompetent as the one occupying the White House today,” gloated Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), in a statement out after the vote that was a far cry from all the eagerness to work with Trump on infrastructure that he was projecting at the end of last year.

It’s possible that the loss was a shock to the system that Republicans need in order to start working together.

“I think we could pass a Mother’s Day resolution,” Faso said, joking to lighten his muted mood on Friday night. “Father’s Day, I’m not so sure about.”

Rachael Bade contributed reporting.

Why Jim Harbaugh Took a Shot at Trump’s Budget

There was a time when a college coach made news if he took a political stand—and not always welcome news. Think back to Joe Paterno at the 1988 Republican National Convention in New Orleans: "I’ll be damned if I’ll sit still while people who can’t carry George Bush’s shoes ridicule him,” Paterno said. “After a lifetime of being around great competitors, I know a winner, and I know a leader.” The convention crowd ate it up, but back home in Pennsylvania the Democratic governor took a dimmer view. “If you’re Bear Bryant or Bobby Bowden or Bo Schembechler of course, for a long time the state had a lot of impact on your funding,” says John Bacon, the author of multiple books on the University of Michigan’s football program. “So you certainly did not want to get into state politics as a rule.”

It’s harder these days to keep track of all the legendary names—college and otherwise—mixing it up in the most contentious and unforgiving political arena in memory. Bobby Knight, the surly and argumentative former Indiana University basketball coach, was a favorite surrogate of Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign. Bowden and Lou Holtz, coaching icons themselves, effusively praised Trump throughout the campaign. But active coaches, too, have lost their inhibitions about throwing elbows in the political paint. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who has tallied the most wins in Division I basketball history, trashed his home state’s controversial bathroom bill as “embarrassing.” He said this while leading the U.S. men’s national team in Rio. Ohio State University football head coach Urban Meyer appeared alongside Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, a frequent Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, in an ad highlighting financial investment accounts for Ohioans with disabilities.

And then there’s Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh, 53, whose political star power eclipses even some members of Congress, is one of the few coaches who has sat down one-on-one with President Barack Obama, dropped in for meetings with half of the Supreme Court and slipped in to a rally on campus where Obama was stumping for Hillary Clinton. Harbaugh has also said he likes Trump for not being “afraid to fight the establishment.” Last summer, he found himself in hot water for criticizing San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick for refusing to stand during the national anthem. He later apologized on Twitter.

On February 28, a couple of weeks before President Trump unveiled his budget, Harbaugh took to his favorite platform with a slightly surprising foray into policy and on an issue that would hardly be considered top of mind even for the wonkiest of Washington insiders: legal aid for the poor. He tweeted: “I hope reports that White House trying to defund Legal Services Corp aren’t true. LSC is CRUCIAL to making justice system fair. #LSCmatters” Obscure though the cause might have been, the tweet got some attention: 2,400 retweets and twice as many likes.

Harbaugh, it turns out, is a part of the leaders council of the LSC (along with baseball great Hank Aaron). The LSC’s current budget allocation of $385 million funds programs that provide legal aid in civil cases—everything from foreclosures and evictions to child custody and restraining orders against an abusive partner—to over 1.8 million low-income people across the country. Harbaugh got on the phone recently to talk about how he got involved in this cause, where he draws the line for coaches when it comes to political engagement, his go-to quote from the Federalist Papers and what he thinks of being compared to Trump and Obama.

Politico Magazine: Why did you get involved in LSC and what are the consequences of defunding the program?

Jim Harbaugh: I got involved two years ago. Some people say ‘Why is a football coach concerned?’ I explained I’m an American first and all Americans should care about justice. The idea, as you learn about our legal system, [is] the danger of not being able to have access to justice. From what I can see it’s that, if you have money you have access to justice. If you don’t, it’s becoming increasingly less and less access for low-income Americans and that’s the crux of it. I mean, to have a society that has liberty and justice for all, it’s right there in the constitution. And LSC is the largest funder of civil legal aid in our nation.

Politico: Were you approached to do this?

Harbaugh: I was invited to an LSC meeting in Washington D.C. I’ve attended it each year for the past two years, that’s how I became involved. I also attended a meeting in Atlanta last summer on legal aide in Atlanta. I just educated myself on the critical issues and have looked at some numbers and it’s an issue that faces all Americans.

Politico: What was the response to the tweet when you sent it out?

Harbaugh: Mostly positive, varying to some degree of people’s awareness. There’s issues that people just don’t understand. One of the biggest issues that got me most fired up is how fines and fees are being used to punish the poor. I’ve learned how the devastating effect it can have on lives of low income Americans. I mean across the country 48 states have increased civil court fees since 2010 and they’re using those fees to pay for government services and not just courts but roads and generating millions and in some states billions of dollars.

But basically the crux of it is when people can’t afford to pay a fine or a fee for things like a speeding ticket or municipal violation then they get additional fees. Late fees can start piling up and these fees can double, triple, quadruple the total amount due and if somebody has an inability to pay that fine that can quickly snowball into a driver’s license suspension or driver time. People aren’t even able to go to work. So you can’t pay a fine or a fee and then you lose your driver’s license. You’re not able to get to a job, and a lot of people, I mean, they’ve got to work.

Politico: Have you met with President Trump at all since he became president?

Harbaugh: No, I have not.

Politico: Have you tried pinging Obama also?

Harbaugh: Have I talked to President Obama since the election? Yes, I have.

Politico: Was that about the LSC?

Harbaugh: It was about Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher initiative.

Politico: What more do you plan to do as the budget process moves forward? Are you going to followup at all?

Harbaugh: Yeah…Making people aware of some of these issues is a start. I can hope and I can pray that some of these proposed reductions in funding and even worse elimination won’t undercut our nation’s civil legal assistance programs and it would threaten our fundamental American commitment of legal justice for all.

Politico: Is there a line you try to walk on political issues? There are other high profile coaches who have increasingly begun speaking out about politics.

Harbaugh: No, I wouldn’t say that. I’m not saying this as a football coach, I’m saying this as an American. I’m for America first.

Politico: Well that’s a Trump slogan right now—America First.

Harbaugh: I wasn’t aware of that.

Politico: Yeah, he likes saying that.

Harbaugh: As [Madison] said in Federalist 51, ‘Justice is the end of government, the end of civil society. It ever has been [and] ever will be pursued until it be obtained or until liberty be lost in the pursuit.’

Politico: Coach, there are other coaches also who have signaled partisan views. Urban Meyer has appeared in that Josh Mandel video. Do you think coaches are becoming more comfortable weighing into policy or political issues these days?

Harbaugh: I don’t know. Again, it’s not a coaching issue to me. This is an American issue. If I may make a football analogy, we’re a team whether we’re a football team or community or the United States of America. We are part of a team and I believe the people on that team have a right, but they also have the obligation if there is something that is not good or we don’t agree on, to speak about it. And you asked me what I’m doing, I’m speaking about it.

Politico: If you had two minutes with President Trump, what would you say to him on this or anything else?

Harbaugh: What I said in the tweet. I hope that the rumors that LSC is being reduced or there are some rumors that it’s going to be defunded, I hope that those rumors are not true. And please, please study this, please look into it and realize that this is a very important issue.

Politico: In the past you’ve appeared at events for President Obama and Clinton on campus and at times you said you liked that Donald Trump is someone who likes [taking on] the establishment. What do you think of comparison?

Harbaugh: What do I think of those comparisons? I never like those comparisons. I’ve never liked comparisons. I’ve really avoided them like the plague. I feel like somebody always gets diminished when you compare two things or two people or two teams. I really try to avoid them and this is a bipartisan issue. This an American issue and as I said it’s about justice, and it’s essential. It’s simple fairness.

Politico: Is there anything in your contract or at the University of Michigan that prevents you from weighing in on political or social media or anywhere else?

Harbaugh: I think it’s recommended—I work at a public university—to be apolitical. As I’ve told you before, this is a bipartisan issue. It’s an American issue and I’m allowed to be an American.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.