Mueller charges attorney with making false statements about Rick Gates communications

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team on Tuesday announced the latest target in his sprawling probe, saying attorney Alex Van Der Zwaan made false statements about past communications with former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates.

Gates faces criminal charges from Mueller over his lobbying work in Ukraine. Mueller said Van Der Zwaan, who worked for a law firm that did work in Ukraine in 2012, made false statements about communications in 2016 with Gates and an unnamed person.

Van Der Zwaan is expected to appear in federal court in Washington Tuesday afternoon to offer a guilty plea to the charge.


Trump proposal boosts skimpy insurance plans, again undercutting Obamacare

The Trump administration is proposing to expand the availability of short-term health insurance plans that some deride as “junk insurance” — an effort that could give consumers cheaper coverage options but undermine Obamacare’s marketplaces and popular protections for pre-existing medical conditions.

Proposed rules issued this morning follow an executive order from President Donald Trump this fall seeking to expand access to more affordable health insurance alternatives to comprehensive, but pricey Obamacare plans. The HHS proposal, released weeks after the Trump administration issued a rule encouraging small businesses to find coverage outside the Affordable Care Act marketplaces, represents the administration’s latest effort to unwind the health care law with repeal efforts stalled in Congress.

“The status quo is failing too many Americans who face skyrocketing costs and fewer and fewer choices," said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar in a statement. "The Trump Administration is taking action so individuals and families have access to quality, affordable healthcare that works for them.”

But many health care experts fear expanding the availability of the health plans, which are exempt from Obamacare’s robust consumer protections, could further destabilize the law’s wobbly insurance markets. Critics say the plans offer just the illusion of coverage, and enrollees often don’t realize how limited their benefits are until it’s too late.

Short-term plans maintain cheaper prices than traditional insurance by refusing coverage for pre-existing conditions, in some cases, and some medical services. Unlike Obamacare coverage, the short-term plans typically cap payouts, which could leave enrollees with catastrophic illnesses or injuries on the hook for huge medical bills

“The way that you get to lower premiums is to reduce benefits,” said Kevin Lucia, a professor at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms. “It’s a quick fix, but ultimately those products don’t help consumers who need them.”

The new rules are a reversal of the Obama administration’s efforts to limit short-term plans. It reduced the plans’ maximum length from one year to three months, hoping to steer more people into comprehensive Obamacare coverage.

The new proposal from Trump’s health, labor and treasury departments would restore the 12-month limit on short-term plans. The administration projects that between 100,000 and 200,000 individuals now in Obamacare plans would opt for short-term plans instead in 2019.

“You’ll get such low prices for such great care,” Trump said at the signing of his October executive order on health care. “It should have been done a long time ago.”

Supporters of short-term plans say they are an affordable insurance option for people who don’t want robust coverage and have been priced out of the individual market — especially middle-income customers who don’t qualify for Obamacare’s insurance subsidies.

"Basically what they’re doing is giving people options who are already trying to jump off the ship," said Edmund Haislmaier, a health policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

UnitedHealthcare, which withdrew from the Obamacare marketplaces after mounting financial losses, was "excited" by Trump’s health care executive order, chief financial officer Dan Schumacher said on an investor call in October. He cited the company’s history of selling short-term plans and touted it as an attractive option for people "in between coverage."

The Trump administration last month also proposed expanding the availability of association health plans, in which small businesses and self-employed individuals band together to purchase coverage. The association plans are exempt from some Obamacare rules, such as the requirement to cover a set of 10 health benefits the law deemed "essential," including prescription drugs and emergency care.

Trump’s insurance proposals come shortly after the GOP tax overhaul scrapped Obamacare’s individual mandate starting in 2019. The administration is also taking steps to expand exemptions to coverage requirement while it’s still in effect this year.

Taken together, the administration’s moves are expected to weaken the law’s insurance marketplaces since individuals with few medical needs are likely to gravitate to the cheaper coverage. That would leave a disproportionately sicker, more expensive population in the Obamacare plans, further driving up already-rising premiums. Most low-income Obamacare customers would be protected from the resulting premium increases thanks to the law’s hefty insurance subsidies, meaning the marketplaces likely can still survive.

“There won’t be a death spiral, but the people who really lose in that scenario are basically middle class people who are sick," said Michael Miller, policy director of consumer advocacy group Community Catalyst.

States supportive of Obamacare are likely to take steps to curb the proliferation of short-term and association plans and protect their insurance marketplaces. In California, for example, state lawmakers have offered legislation that would prohibit the sale of short-term plans.

The proposed rule will be open for comments until April 23.

Rachana Pradhan contributed to this report.

Trump: Pennsylvania Republicans should appeal redistricting to the U.S. Supreme Court

Pennsylvania Republicans should appeal their state’s court-drawn Congressional district map “all the way to the Supreme Court,” President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter Tuesday, in order to stop Democrats from pursuing an agenda that Trump claimed will “raise taxes & waste money.”

The president’s push for further legal action followed the Monday release of the Pennsylvania House district map approved by the state’s supreme court and drawn with the help of Stanford University law professor Nathaniel Persily. Preliminary evaluations suggest that it could be highly beneficial for Democrats, showing 10 pro-Trump districts compared to the 13 where the president won in 2016.

“Hope Republicans in the Great State of Pennsylvania challenge the new ‘pushed’ Congressional Map, all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Your Original was correct! Don’t let the Dems take elections away from you so that they can raise taxes & waste money!”

Republican leaders in Pennsylvania indicated in a statement released Monday night that they "anticipate further action in federal court" on their state’s Congressional map.

Trump’s declaration that the state’s original House district map was correct puts him at odds with Pennsylvania’s supreme court, which ruled last month that the previous map “clearly, plainly and palpably violates” the state’s constitution because the GOP had gerrymandered it to favor their own party. The Supreme Court was forced to draw its own map when Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled legislature failed to come to a compromise with Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

The supreme court-drawn map potentially favors Democrats by including extra seats in the Philadelphia suburbs, opening the possibility for Democratic gains in the House towards the party’s ultimate goal of taking over the majority in the House of Representatives.

Citing Obama, Trump claims Dems only cared about Russia meddling after his win

President Donald Trump suggested Tuesday that Democrats only became concerned about allegations of Russian interference into the 2016 election after his upset victory, pointing to a quote from former President Barack Obama as proof.

“’There is no serious person out there who would suggest somehow that you could even rig America’s elections, there’s no evidence that that has happened in the past or that it will happen this time, and so I’d invite Mr. Trump to stop whining and make his case to get votes,’” Trump wrote on Twitter, quoting Obama’s remarks from an October, 2016, White House press conference.

“The President Obama quote just before election. That’s because he thought Crooked Hillary was going to win and he didn’t want to ‘rock the boat,’” Trump continued in a second post. “When I easily won the Electoral College, the whole game changed and the Russian excuse became the narrative of the Dems.”

The argument that Democrats have used allegations of Russian cyberattacks as an excuse for Democrat Hillary Clinton’s surprising loss is well-worn territory for the president, who has regularly leveled such claims through his 13 months in office. But his Tuesday resurfacing of that line of attack comes days after special counselor Robert Mueller announced indictments against 13 Russian nationals for their alleged efforts to interfere in the 2016 race.

Trump has previously called Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference efforts, as well as allegations that individuals tied to Trump or his campaign colluded with those efforts, a “witch hunt.” The indictment from Mueller’s team alleged that efforts by the named Russians began as early as 2014.

Seizing on that timeline, Trump sought over the weekend to shift blame onto his predecessor, writing on Twitter Monday that “Obama was President up to, and beyond, the 2016 Election. So why didn’t he do something about Russian meddling?” Tuesday, citing a report he had apparently seen on Fox News’s “Fox & Friends,” Trump criticized Obama’s foreign policy towards Russia.

“Thank you to @foxandfriends for the great timeline on all of the failures the Obama Administration had against Russia, including Crimea, Syria and so much more. We are now starting to win again!” Trump wrote.

Majority polled says Trump, Congress not doing enough to stop mass shootings

More than three-quarters of respondents to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll said Congress is not doing enough to stop mass shootings, while just over 60 percent said the same of President Donald Trump.

The poll was conducted last week and over the weekend in the wake of a shooting at a Florida high school, where a former student opened fire and killed 17 people.

Of those polled, 62 percent said Trump is not doing enough to prevent mass shootings in the U.S. and 77 percent said the same of Congress.

Fifty percent said they would support a nationwide ban on assault weapons, which are often the firearm used in mass shootings, while 46 percent said they would oppose such a ban. Fifty-eight percent of respondents to the poll said they believed stricter gun control laws could have prevented last week’s shooting, compared to 37 percent who said tighter laws would not have prevented it.

Fifty-one percent said the shooting could not have been prevented if teachers were allowed to carry guns, while 42 percent said such rules could have stopped it. More effective mental health screening and treatment could have stopped the shootings, 77 percent of respondents said.

Last week’s high school shooting, among the deadliest in U.S. history, has prompted renewed calls for tougher gun control laws. On Monday, the White House indicated that Trump supports strengthening background checks for gun purchases. The president also singled out the gunman’s reported mental health issues as the underlying problem behind the attack.

Respondents to the Washington Post/ABC News poll seemed to agree with the president on that point: 57 percent said mass shootings in the U.S. are a reflection of “problems identifying and treating people with mental health problems” while just 28 percent said such shootings are the product of inadequate gun control laws.

The Washington Post/ABC News poll was conducted from Feb. 15-18, reaching 808 adults nationwide on cell phones and landlines. The poll’s margin of error was plus-or-minus 4 percentage points.

Rubio calls for firearm task force

TALLAHASSEE — Responding to his critics in the wake of Florida’s latest mass shooting, Sen. Marco Rubio says a task force of experts should examine the “epidemic” of mass shootings and expressed concern that Congress essentially bans federally funded research into firearm violence.

Rubio has an “A+” rating from the National Rifle Association, and voted for numerous bills expanding gun rights, including Stand Your Ground, when he served in the Florida Legislature. And the degree to which he would give ground to gun-control supporters remains far from clear after the slaughter of 17 people last Wednesday afternoon at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, a Fort Lauderdale suburb.

Still, Rubio also indicated a willingness to expand background checks; consider a “gun-violence restraining order” to remove weapons from those accused of domestic violence; examine banning so-called “bump fire” conversion kits that enable semi-automatic rifles to fire like machine guns; and improve violence-prevention programs, pioneered in Los Angeles, to detect signs of trouble ahead of time.

“If you’re going to talk about gun violence, you’re going to have to focus on the gun part. But you also have to focus on the violence part,” Rubio told POLITICO. “What is the catalyst causing people to do this?”

Rubio’s support for a task force is still in its early stages and marks a first for him since he joined the Senate as a gun-rights conservative.

Rubio said he wasn’t sure who would sit on a task force or not, and he understood “people roll their eyes at a task force.”

In Tallahassee, two of Rubio’s allies in the Florida Senate also called for a task force, but focused on school gun violence. And Gov. Rick Scott, under fire from Democrats for doing little to prevent gun violence, announced he’ll host a series of hearings with education, mental health and law enforcement officials Tuesday to find solutions. Scott has said “everything’s on the table,” but has not said what action he favors.

Scott made the announcement after students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School announced they were headed to Tallahassee to advocate for gun control.

Neither Rubio nor any of the Republican lawmakers in Tallahassee have supported adding a waiting period for semiautomatic rifle purchases, banning AR-15 semiautomatic weapons or limiting purchases to those under the age of 18.

Rubio said he was unaware that some of the research work of a task force could be hampered by a federal budget amendment, first passed in 1996 and approved yearly since, that restricts federal funding for research on gun violence and has led to a de facto ban.

The amendment, named after the late Rep. Jay Dickey (R-Ark.), says that “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”

Congress then reduced CDC’s budget by the amount of money it spent on gun violence research that year, and researchers took that as a ban. Dickey, who died last year, had expressed regret for the amendment and said in a 2016 open letter that “funding for research into gun-violence prevention should be dramatically increased.”

“If you’re hiring someone to research a public health issue, I think what you want is the most holistic approach possible,” he said.

But Rubio stopped short of calling for the repeal of the Dickey Amendment because he said he wanted to learn more. Other Republican members of Congress, such as Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), said the policy should be re-examined.

In the past two years, Florida has seen more widely publicized mass shootings than any other state, starting with the murder of 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando on June 12, 2016. On Jan. 16, 2017, five were shot to death in the baggage claim area of the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport. On June 5, 2017, five more people were murdered in an Orlando workplace shooting. Then came Wednesday’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Rubio took to the Senate floor to talk about the need to find answers to the growing problems of mass shootings, but he also reiterated that he wasn’t sure what reasonable and politically feasible gun regulations would stop the problems.

"If we do something, it should be something that works. And the struggle up to this point has been that most of the proposals that have been offered would not have prevented, not just yesterday’s tragedy, but any of those in recent history," Rubio said.

Rubio made sure to add a new caveat: "Just because these proposals would not have prevented these does not mean that we therefore raise our hands and say, ‘Therefore, there’s nothing we can do.’"

Democrats dismissed Rubio’s remarks as all talk and no action. But when local and national media covered his remarks, Rubio took to Twitter to decry how the “nuance” of his statement wasn’t accurately reflected.

Rubio first singled out what he called a “distorted & inflammatory headline” on CNN that said “Rubio: Gun laws wouldn’t have prevented Parkland.” He also disputed another headline in the Tampa Bay Times: “NRA-backed Marco Rubio says gun control laws alone won’t prevent mass shootings.”

Rubio also took aim at a Tampa Bay Times headline, which was changed after he complained to say: “NRA-backed Marco Rubio says gun control laws alone won’t prevent mass shootings.”

Rubio points out that The Washington Post previously found his claim true that no recent mass shootings would have been prevented by gun laws. He also faulted the “media” Friday on Twitter for failing to point out he had “co-sponsored Safe Communities Safe Schools Act providing $ to report mental illness to background check system … They never mention I co-sponsored Mental Health & Safe Communities Act which banned gun sales to persons committed to psych hospital.”

“Media never mentions these things b/c would contradict narrative they want, that evil Republicans in pocket of NRA are blocking gun laws,” wrote Rubio, who has received $3.3 million in direct and indirect support from gun-rights groups.

Unlike Rubio, his Democratic counterpart in the U.S. Senate, Bill Nelson, said the government needs to take action by banning so called “assault rifles” like the one used in Wednesday’s shooting.

“I still hunt with my son. But an AR-15 is not for hunting. It’s for killing,” Nelson said on the Senate floor. “But despite these horrific events that are occurring over and over, these tragedies have led so many of us to come right here to this floor and to beg our colleagues to take commonsense actions that we all know will help protect our children and our fellow citizens from these kind of tragedies. And we get nowhere.”

Last week, Nelson and Rubio each visited Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Both Nelson and Rubio also accepted a CNN offer to attend a Wednesday night forum on gun violence with students, parents and community members. Scott, who might run against Nelson for Senate, has yet to confirm his attendance.

Rubio said background checks probably need to be approved.

Accused shooter Nikolas Cruz “underwent a background check. Right now that background check only tells you if he’s been adjudicated of a crime or being mentally ill,” Rubio said. “I would love to have a system that, when he went to buy this gun, told the people: ‘Stand by. We got a tip on Jan. 5 this guy was going to do something — although he bought it a year ago. He was kicked out of school for serious problems. There have been 36 calls to police. He was potentially under psychiatric care. Neighbors are always complaining about him. He posted this thing on YouTube. He has very scary things on Instagram.’ I would love to have a system that told them that.”

But, Rubio said, mental health and privacy rights advocates are worried about the stigma of giving gun sellers access to mental health information. Some might not seek treatment if they think they’ll lose their ability to hunt.

Rubio also said he understood why President Donald Trump reversed an Obama-era policy that required the Social Security Administration to give the names of people “adjudicated as mental defective” to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Rubio said he believes there’s still room for compromise and solutions to limit gun violence.

“We can find an answer to it. But it’s going to take more than 24 hours to figure it out,” Rubio said.

“Right now, somewhere in America there is an equally deranged individual that is watching all this news coverage and is seeing it not as tragic but as inspiration,” Rubio said.

Playbook scoop: Mulvaney doesn’t use ‘Pruitt exemption’ to get to Dubai

ANOTHER WAY TO TRAVEL … SCOOP: OMB DIRECTOR MICK MULVANEY is in the Middle East — he was in the United Arab Emirates over the weekend, where he spoke to the American Business Council Dubai. He’ll also visit military installations on this trip. He is with his chief of staff and deputy chief of staff, no wife or family on this trip, according to a source familiar with the itinerary.

— SPOKESMAN COALTER BAKER: “Director Mulvaney is traveling on official business to the Middle East. He will visit troops stationed overseas, review assets, and meet with locally based American business leaders. He is accompanied on the trip with three staff and arrived on Saturday via commercial airline travel in coach.”

THE PRUITT TEST… MULVANEY, a former congressman who is now on television quite a bit, clearly doesn’t think he needs to fly business!

Good Tuesday morning. BIG NEWS FROM THE KEYSTONE STATE … NEW MAP FAVORS DEMOCRATS … ELENA SCHNEIDER: “Under the previous map, drawn by a Republican Legislature in 2011 and approved by the then-Republican governor, Republicans won 13 of the state’s 18 congressional districts in 2016, when President Donald Trump carried 12 of the 18 districts.

“But early estimates of the new, court-drawn map suggest there are now 10 Trump seats — opening the door for Democrats to inch closer to the House majority when voters go to the polls this November. The extra Democratic-leaning seats are primarily in the Philadelphia suburbs.

“‘This is pretty close to a Democratic wet dream,’ Christopher Nicholas, a Republican consultant based in Pennsylvania, said of the new map.”

— PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER’S JONATHAN LAI and LIZ NAVRATIL: “The reconfigured map prompted a sharp rebuke from top Republican legislators, who said honoring it would create a ‘constitutional crisis.’ Extending a political clash that has roiled the state for months, they said they might challenge the map — or the justices’ authority to impose it — in federal court as early as Tuesday.

“‘This entire exercise, while cloaked in ‘litigation,’ is and has been nothing more than the ultimate partisan gerrymander – one brought about by the Democrat[ic] governor acting in concert with liberal politically connected litigants,’ Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson) and House Speaker Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) said in a statement.”

— NOTE: Good correction of Democrat to Democratic by the Inquirer.

LISTEN TO THIS MAN — DAVE WASSERMAN (@Redistrict): “The most accurate way to think about partisan impact of new PA map isn’t ‘Dems gain x seats from it.; It’s that the new map replaced 6 existing Dem pickup opportunities w/ 6 *much stronger* opportunities: (#PA01, #PA05, #PA06, #PA07, #PA10, #PA17).”

REPUBLICAN REP. TOM ROONEY OF FLORIDA is retiring after a decade in Congress. Twenty-eight Republicans are not seeking re-election next year.

SIREN!! … HEATHER CAYGLE: “Some Democrats worry a rerun of the Republican playbook employed in the past several cycles — painting House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as the GOP’s central villain — will again be successful in denying them the House majority.”

— REPUBLICANS have been nervous that Trump could take up all the oxygen on the campaign trail in the midterms leaving them sans their favorite foil — Pelosi. Look for outside groups and the NRCC to ramp up attack ads across the country featuring the California Democrat.

WHAT’S ON THE PRESIDENT’S MIND — @realDonaldTrump at 9:21 p.m.: “.@MittRomney has announced he is running for the Senate from the wonderful State of Utah. He will make a great Senator and worthy successor to @OrrinHatch, and has my full support and endorsement!”

— ON THE ECONOMY: … at 9:29 p.m.: “The U.S. economy is looking very good, in my opinion, even better than anticipated. Companies are pouring back into our country, reversing the long term trend of leaving. The unemployment numbers are looking great, and Regulations & Taxes have been massively Cut! JOBS, JOBS, JOBS”.

WELCOME TO THE SWAMP! — “Trump to attend Gridiron Club Dinner,” by Matt Nussbaum: “President Donald Trump will attend the 2018 Gridiron Club Dinner, an annual confab of politicians and journalists, the White House announced on Monday. No decision has been made as to whether Trump will also attend the annual White House Correspondents Association dinner, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

“Trump skipped the WHCD in 2017 and instead rallied with supporters in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. While the WHCD is typically attended by the president every year, the Gridiron less frequently attracts the commander-in-chief. Former President Barack Obama attended the Gridiron in 2011, 2013 and 2015, though he attended the WHCD every year in office.”

— MICHAEL CALDERONE: “David Lightman, a national correspondent for McClatchy and president of the Gridiron Club, framed President Donald Trump attending next month’s dinner as in keeping with well-worn tradition. ‘He’s the president of the United States, and we always invite the president,’ Lightman told POLITICO.”

— THIS IS A LARGELY SYMBOLIC GESTURE, of course, but the decision by Trump to participate in one of the long traditions of the Fourth Estate in Washington could help thaw his often tenuous relationship with the press — even if only for a night. Don’t look to him to stop attacking the press anytime soon.

IN THE WEST WING — “For the weary White House, Florida shooting offered a ‘reprieve’ from scandals,” by WaPo’s Ashley Parker and Phil Rucker: “The White House was under siege. Domestic abuse allegations against a senior aide were ignored, pointing to a potential high-level coverup. Two Cabinet secretaries were caught charging taxpayers for luxury travel. A Playboy centerfold alleged an extramarital affair with the president. And the special counsel’s Russia investigation was intensifying.

“The tumult was so intense that there was fervent speculation that President Trump might fire his chief of staff. But a gun massacre at a Florida high school last Wednesday, which left 17 dead, seemed to shift the media glare away from the Trump scandals and gave embattled aides an opportunity to refocus on handling a crisis not of their own making. While the White House mourned the loss of life in Parkland, Fla., some aides privately acknowledged that the tragedy offered a breather from the political storm. …

“One White House official said the shooting forced the White House to focus on critical and serious issues — like consoling the victims and trying to heal the nation — rather than getting bogged down in what they view as more trivial West Wing drama. ‘For everyone, it was a distraction or a reprieve,’ said the White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reflect internal conversations. ‘A lot of people here felt like it was a reprieve from seven or eight days of just getting pummeled.’”

PALACE INTRIGUE … ELIANA JOHNSON: “Trump takes on McMaster. Again”: “For a few weeks in late November, as speculation over whether President Donald Trump would fire his secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, reached a fever pitch, Trump and his chief of staff, John Kelly, also considered pushing out another top national security official: H.R. McMaster.

“McMaster, the national security adviser who succeeded Michael Flynn … has never quite clicked with the president, according to six senior White House officials. He is disciplined and focused, and has frequently clashed with Trump, who loves small talk and meanders from one subject to another. Their strained relationship was on rare public display over the weekend when the president chastised his national security adviser for telling a crowd at the Munich Security Conference that evidence of Russian meddling in the 2016 election was ‘incontrovertible.’ …

“Trump has continuously chafed at McMaster’s ‘rat-a-tat’ briefing style, according to a senior White House aide, who likened it to machine-gun fire. The president at one point gestured toward the general in the midst of a lengthy briefing and said to others in the room, ‘Look at this guy, he’s so serious!’ ‘McMaster is very much, “OK sir, here’s the point, here’s the takeaway, here’s my point of view, and here are the things you need to decide by the end of today,”’ said Tom Ricks.”


— BY THE NUMBERS: “Most Americans say Trump, Congress not doing enough to stop mass shootings, Post-ABC poll finds,” by WaPo’s Scott Clement and Emily Guskin: “More than 6 in 10 Americans fault Congress and President Trump for not doing enough to prevent mass shootings, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll …

— IMPORTANT STATISTIC… ASSAULT WEAPONS BAN INCREASINGLY UNPOPULAR ON RIGHT: “The falloff in support for restricting assault weapons has come from all partisan groups, but has been starkest among Republicans and independents. While more than 7 in 10 Republicans and independents supported banning assault weapons in 1999, the new Post-ABC poll finds 45 percent of independents supporting it now, dropping to 29 percent among Republicans. A 71 percent majority of Democrats support such a ban.”

THINK ABOUT THAT … The assault weapons ban is getting less popular on the right, and more partisan overall.

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN’S IDEA, on the Business Day cover… CREDIT CARD COMPANIES SHOULD BAN GUN-RELATED TRANSACTIONS: "What if the finance industry — credit card companies like Visa, Mastercard and American Express; credit card processors like First Data; and banks like JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo — were to effectively set new rules for the sales of guns in America?

"Collectively, they have more leverage over the gun industry than any lawmaker. And it wouldn’t be hard for them to take a stand. PayPal, Square, Stripe and Apple Pay announced years ago that they would not allow their services to be used for the sale of firearms."

— ISAAC DOVERE talks with NEW JERSEY DEMOCRATIC GOV. PHIL MURPHY in the latest “Off Message” podcast. “‘I’m all for the ‘thoughts and prayers’ and our hearts are with you, and symbols matter and words matter, but this is a time for action. And I completely reject this notion that there’s nothing we can do,’ Murphy said. ‘And I hope at the end of the day that New Jersey can actually be a model for, ‘You know what, there is something you can do. And they’ve done it.’”

JARED WATCH — CNN’S SHIMON PROKUPECZ, KARA SCANNELL and GLORIA BORGER: “Special counsel Robert Mueller’s interest in Jared Kushner has expanded beyond his contacts with Russia and now includes his efforts to secure financing for his company from foreign investors during the presidential transition, according to people familiar with the inquiry. This is the first indication that Mueller is exploring Kushner’s discussions with potential non-Russian foreign investors, including in China. …

“Mueller’s investigators have been asking questions, including during interviews in January and February, about Kushner’s conversations during the transition to shore up financing for 666 Fifth Avenue, a Kushner Companies-backed New York City office building reeling from financial troubles, according to people familiar with the special counsel investigation. It’s not clear what’s behind Mueller’s specific interest in the financing discussions. Mueller’s team has not contacted Kushner Companies for information or requested interviews with its executives, according to a person familiar with the matter.”

— ABBE LOWELL RESPONDS: “Another anonymous source with questionable motives now contradicts the facts — in all of Mr. Kushner’s extensive cooperation with all inquiries, there has not been a single question asked nor document sought on the 666 building or Kushner Co deals. Nor would there be any reason to question these regular business transactions.”


— CHRISTOPHER CADELAGO is joining POLITICO as a White House reporter. The San Diego Union-Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle alum joins from The Sacramento Bee.

FROM CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN: “Chris is a scoop artist who has spent the last year covering Gov. Jerry Brown, and chronicling California’s resistance to the Trump administration over immigration, climate and health care. He’s focused extensively on the state’s 2018 governor’s race as well, digging into the candidacies of leading Democratic hopefuls Gavin Newsom and Antonio Villaraigosa. Chris also closely followed Sen. Kamala Harris’ 2016 Senate campaign, Democratic donor and billionaire Tom Steyer’s political ambitions and the state’s historic vote to legalize marijuana. …

“By all accounts, he is a classic POLITICO reporter. He’s obsessed with politics. Breaks tons of stories. Loves the palace intrigue. Always on the phone. Chris came to us on the strong recommendation of our own California aces, Dave Siders and Carla Marinucci, who wrote to us: ‘On any given day, he produces so many great stories, I suspect he’s almost an alien.’”

— FIRST IN PLAYBOOK: THE UCHICAGO INSTITUTE OF POLITICS is announcing its spring quarter 2018 Pritzker fellows, including former Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Nneka Jones Tapia, executive director for the Cook County Department of Corrections, Vladimir Kara-Murza, chairman of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom and vice chair of Open Russia and Gerrit Lansing, former chief digital officer for the White House.

MATT LEWIS, senior columnist at The Daily Beast, Mark Murray, senior political editor at NBC News, former Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.) and Dawn Turner, former columnist for the Chicago Tribune are also part of the spring fellows class.

TRUMP’S TUESDAY — The president is having lunch with VP Mike Pence and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. He is meeting with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and will later host a public safety “Medal of Valor” awards ceremony.

WAPO’S DAN BALZ: “Tom Ridge is lucky to be alive: ‘I’m told I flatlined three times’”

NYT’S MICHAEL TACKETT in BEAUMONT, TEXAS on A9: “The Lone Star Long Shot Who Wants to Topple Ted Cruz”: Beto “O’Rourke is favored to win his party primary next month and challenge Mr. Cruz. But his odds in November are beyond long. No Democrat has won a statewide office in Texas since 1994, the year before Amazon sold its first book.

“By the calculations of Mike Baselice, a Republican pollster in Austin, demographic changes might make Texas competitive in 2032, certainly not in 2018. Mr. O’Rourke’s quest, he said, is ‘same book, different chapter’ of other Democratic hopefuls. ‘This is not a level playing field here.’

“It has been so bleak for Democrats in Texas that they define victory in terms of the size of their losses. A running joke in Mr. O’Rourke’s speeches is that he has almost convinced his mother, Melissa, a Republican, to vote for him.

“If the hill weren’t steep enough, Mr. O’Rourke also has refused to hire outside consultants or pollsters, and he will only accept contributions from individuals. He has no interest in using big data. When he tells this to Democratic colleagues in the House, some have simply turned and walked away from him, unable to take him seriously.

“But there is power in the giant-killer narrative and signs that his anti-campaign playbook campaign is working. He raised $2.4 million in the last quarter, and gets applause when he notes that was $500,000 more than Mr. Cruz took in.”

METRO SECTION — “As Amazon competition heats up, D.C. mayor heads west to talk tech,” by WaPo’s Jonathan O’Connell in San Francisco.

ZINKE WATCH — “Ex-Interior Chief Sally Jewell: I Didn’t Even Know I Had A Special Flag,” by HuffPost’s Chris D’Angelo: “Sally Jewell, who led the Department of Interior for more than three years under President Barack Obama, says she first learned about her own special flag at the agency when her successor started flying it over the department’s Washington, D.C., headquarters. After taking over in March, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke revived an obscure military flag-flying tradition. … ‘I had no idea there was a secretarial flag,’ Jewell told HuffPost. ‘And if I had known there was a flag the last thing I would have done was to ever fly it.’”

MEGATRENDS — “Fat, unhealthy Americans threaten Trump’s defense surge,” by Bryan Bender: “The Trump administration’s ambitious new military buildup is at risk of being hobbled before it even starts — by a dwindling pool of young Americans who are fit to serve. Nearly three-quarters of Americans age 17 to 24 are ineligible for the military due to obesity, other health problems, criminal backgrounds or lack of education, according to government data. That’s a harsh reality check for the Pentagon’s plan to recruit tens of thousands of new soldiers, sailors, pilots and cyber specialists over the next five years.

“‘We all have this image in our mind of this hearty American citizen, scrappy, that can do anything,’ said retired Army Lt. Gen. Tom Spoehr, co-author of a new Heritage Foundation paper on the military recruiting challenge titled ‘The Looming National Security Crisis.’ ‘That image we keep in our heads is no longer accurate.’”

FOR YOUR RADAR — “Washington’s $500 Million Financial-Storm Forecaster Is Foundering,” by WSJ’s Ryan Tracy: “Congress created a brand new agency after the 2008 financial crisis with a gargantuan mission: Serve as the finance world’s version of the National Weather Service. The new Office of Financial Research wasn’t expected to prevent economic storms, but it was supposed to anticipate them and issue warnings to help authorities contain the damage. Almost a decade and nearly $500 million later, the agency has struggled to establish a place for itself in Washington. Major projects have been delayed or scaled back. Morale has suffered amid turf battles with other regulators and opposition from Republicans. And one of its most ambitious initiatives—developing a database for recording financial contracts—has progressed no further than a 16-page paper calling for ‘information gathering sessions’ among constituents.”

YIKES — “In laws, rhetoric and acts of violence, Europe is rewriting dark chapters of its past,” by WaPo’s Griff Witte and Luisa Beck in Berlin and James McAuley in Paris and Warsaw: “In Poland, the president signs a law criminalizing anyone who dares suggest that the country’s citizens helped perpetrate crimes of the Holocaust. In Italy, a Mussolini-admiring neo-fascist goes on a shooting rampage targeting people with dark skin. And from Hungary to Britain, leading government figures and their allies promote dark theories about a Jewish financier plotting to subvert the national will. After President Trump in August blamed ‘both sides’ for violence in Charlottesville during ¬dueling protests by white supremacists and their opponents, critics pointed to American historical amnesia as a contributing factor.”

MEDIAWATCH — “Fox News Plans a Streaming Service for ‘Superfans,’” by NYT’s Mike Grynbaum: “Fox News is plotting a leap into the uncertain digital future that rivals like CNN have so far put off. On Tuesday, Fox News is set to announce Fox Nation, a stand-alone subscription service available without a cable package. The streaming service, expected to start by the end of the year, would focus primarily on right-leaning commentary, with original shows and cameos by popular personalities like Sean Hannity. It would not overlap with Fox News’s 24-hour cable broadcast — not even reruns — because of the channel’s contractual agreements with cable operators. Instead, the network is planning to develop hours of new daily programming with a mostly fresh slate of anchors and commentators.”

TRANSITIONS – TRUMP ALUMNI: George David Banks is heading back to the American Council for Capital Formation as EVP and joining the board of Clearpath Foundation starting March 1. He most recently was special assistant to the president for international energy and environment.

BIRTHWEEK (was yesterday): Brandon Ver Velde, press secretary for House Science, Space and Technology Committee, is 3-0 (hat tip: wife Rachel)

BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Chris Cillizza, CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large. A recent article he enjoyed: “I am obsessed with David Grann’s piece [] in the New Yorker about Henry Worsley, a Brit who tried to walk across Antarctica to follow in the footsteps of his hero Ernest Shackleton. It’s an amazing read about human perseverance and how far we can push ourselves beyond what most people consider their limits.” Read his Playbook Plus Q&A:

BIRTHDAYS: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is 76 … Mark Knoller … NYT photographer Doug Mills … Michael Clemente … Trevor Noah (“The Daily Show”) is 34 … WSJ’s Bob Davis (h/t Jon Haber) … Mother Jones Washington bureau chief David Corn … Politico’s David Cohen and Andrew Hanna … Aaron Wells, partner at Smoot Tewes and Minnesota native (h/t Andrew Bates) … Tyler Robinson … Hank Baumann … Andrew Baumann … RALLY director Manny Rivera … Haley Morris, policy comms at Waymo … Politico Europe’s Carmen Paun … David Blair, former USDA deputy press secretary now at the Leadership Institute … Dan Gross, former president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence … Stu Spencer … Vox’s Dylan Matthews is 28 …

… Rebecca Samuels, senior producer for CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront” … Katie Frates, managing editor at Olympic Media, is 26 (h/t Ryan Coyne) … Amy Spitalnick, press secretary for NY AG Eric Schneiderman … Jason Moyer (h/t Heidi Obermeyer) … Miguel Rodriguez, SVP for government affairs at CAP and former Obama WH legislative director and former Hillary Clinton Senate chief counsel (h/t Traci Patterson) … Tamara Fucile … Jen Finn … Keosha Johnson … Peter Strauss … Peter and Matthew Slutsky … Tim Farley, host of “Morning Briefing” on POTUS on Sirius XM radio … Greg D’Angelo, analyst for Medicare and Medicaid on the Senate Budget Cmte. … Scott Tyre … Kate Henningsen … Natalie Spiess … Charlie Whitehouse … Tommy Kurz-Cosgrove … Zoe Barrett … Camila Balkin (h/ts Teresa Vilmain) … Tyler John … Burke Olsen of the Deseret News … Katherine Logan … Gloria Vanderbilt is 94 … former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is 67 (h/ts AP)