Washington Brief: Administration Officials Strike Sharp Tone on Russia’s Role in Syria

Washington Brief

  • Administration officials publicly criticized Russia’s role in Syria, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow for the first time since President Donald Trump took office. In Washington, Trump embraced NATO – an organization he once called “obsolete.” (The New York Times)
  • Even as his administration is working on proposed changes to the tax code, Trump is refocused on health care. He threatened to withhold payments to insurers in order to get Democrats to the negotiating table. (The Wall Street Journal)
  • An internal Department of Homeland Security assessment showed that the administration is taking steps to build a nationwide deportation force. Congress is resisting funding increases at DHS. (The Washington Post)
  • House Republican leaders provided lawmakers with talking points to navigate town hall meetings they are facing back home. They call for praising the confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and promising to deliver on repealing Obamacare. (The Huffington Post)

Chart Review

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

Brookings Institution event on technology, accountability and international law 10 a.m.
Rep. Buck speaks at Heritage Foundation “Drain the Swamp” event 12 p.m.
No events scheduled



Suburban G.O.P. Voters Sour on Party, Raising Republican Fears for 2018
Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin, The New York Times 

A gray mood has settled over conservative-leaning voters in some of the country’s most reliably Republican congressional districts, as the party’s stumbles in Washington demoralize them and leave lawmakers scrambling to energize would-be supporters in a series of off-year elections. While the next nationwide elections are not until 2018, Republicans have grown fearful that these voters are recoiling from what they see as lamentable conditions in Washington: a government entirely in Republican hands that has failed to deliver on fundamental goals like overhauling the health care system.

Japan’s Abe Warns on North Korea’s Chemical Weapons
Alastair Gale, The Wall Street Journal 

Japan could be at risk from North Korean missiles carrying sarin nerve gas, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, raising the prospect of a similar scenario to the recent attack in Syria that prompted U.S. President Donald Trump to respond with a military strike. Mr. Abe’s remarks were made to highlight Japan’s vulnerability to North Korean attack rather than to reveal new intelligence, a spokesman for him said.


U.S. Takes Sharper Tone on Russia’s Role in Syria
Julie Hirschfeld Davis and David E. Sanger, The New York Times 

President Trump and Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson sought on Wednesday to isolate President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia for backing the Syrian government in the wake of its lethal chemical weapons attack on civilians, and worked to build international pressure on Moscow to change course. In Washington, Moscow and New York, the Trump administration publicly chastised Mr. Putin but privately worked to hash out increasingly bitter differences with him.

Trump changes course again, says health-care repeal must happen before tax overhaul
Damian Paletta, The Washington Post 

President Trump and a top adviser on Wednesday pushed back plans to overhaul the tax code, saying they wanted to prioritize first a renewed effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The comments from Trump and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney mark a sharp reversal from the administration’s approach just a few weeks ago.

Trump Threatens to Withhold Payments to Insurers to Press Democrats on Health Bill
Michael C. Bender et al., The Wall Street Journal 

Nearly three weeks after Republican infighting sank an overhaul of the Affordable Care Act, President Donald Trump dug back into the battle on Wednesday, threatening to withhold payments to insurers to force Democrats to the negotiating table. In an interview in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump said he was still considering what to do about the payments approved by his Democratic predecessor, President Barack Obama, which some Republicans contend are unconstitutional.

Trump administration moving quickly to build up nationwide deportation force
David Nakamura, The Washington Post 

The Trump administration is quickly identifying ways to assemble the nationwide deportation force that President Trump promised on the campaign trail as he railed against the dangers posed by illegal immigration. An internal Department of Homeland Security assessment obtained by The Washington Post shows the agency has already found 33,000 more detention beds to house undocumented immigrants, opened discussions with dozens of local police forces that could be empowered with enforcement authority and identified where construction of Trump’s border wall could begin.

Trump’s globalist reinvention
Jonathan Swan, Axios 

Trump campaigned as an ardent and unapologetic nationalist. He railed against international and regional institutions and said America needed to stop spending money overseas and start taking care of business at home.

Team Bannon ‘Laying Low,’ After Being ‘Blindsided’ by Trump
Asawin Suebsaeng, The Daily Beast 

As President Donald Trump publicly throws shade at his White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, Bannon and his “nationalist” White House allies are “laying low” and hoping that a purge isn’t imminent, according to administration officials speaking to The Daily Beast. On Tuesday night, the New York Post published its interview with Trump from earlier that day in which the president appeared to distance himself from Bannon, one of his top aides.


Senator Plots Bill to Prevent a Repeat of United Airlines Episode
Niels Lesniewski, Roll Call 

A Maryland senator is drafting legislation to make the forcible removal of passengers from commercial airlines illegal. Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen circulated a “Dear Colleague” letter Wednesday, seeking co-sponsors for what he is billing as the “Customers Not Cargo Act.”

Mark Warner’s Russia roadshow
Austin Wright, Politico 

At a seafood restaurant in historic Yorktown, Virginia, this week, constituents peppered Sen. Mark Warner with questions about bread-and-butter issues like health care and taxes. But Warner also made sure to warn them at length about the perils of bots, trolls and fake news.

Brown raises $2.4 million for Senate bid
Jessica Wehrman, The Columbus Dispatch 

Sen. Sherrod Brown is raising serious cash for his 2018 re-election bid. The Ohio Democrat raised $2.4 million for the first quarter of 2017 — far higher than the $1.35 million he raised this time back in 2011, on the cusp of his first re-election bid, according to his campaign spokesman.

Tim Kaine is back at his old Senate job. It’s never seemed more important.
Monica Hesse, The Washington Post 

It was mid-November, and Tim Kaine was not going to be vice president of the United States after all, and some of his fellow senators had an invitation: “They said, you got to come talk about being on the trail,” he remembers. These were colleagues from his weekly prayer meeting, a private bipartisan breakfast Kaine attends, where senators share stories from their lives and faiths.


House Republican Recess Talking Points: We’re Doing Great!
Matt Fuller, The Huffington Post 

House Republicans are on a two-week recess, and while the GOP-controlled Congress hasn’t been able to push through any significant part of President Donald Trump’s agenda, the party has some talking points for its members as they travel their districts. In a document sent to all House Republicans and obtained by The Huffington Post, the House GOP conference offers some tips on how to frame the past few less-than-spectacular months.

Coffman pummeled at town hall for backing GOP Obamacare replacement
Rachael Bade, Politico 

During a roughly two-hour town hall here on the outskirts of Denver Wednesday night, nearly every other constituent brought up health care. But not a single one did it to thank Rep. Mike Coffman for backing the beleaguered House GOP Obamacare replacement. Instead, dozens of local inhabitants in this swingiest of swing districts — both Democrats and Republicans — pummeled the Colorado Republican for supporting legislation they believe would harm their community.

Classified Information Complicates Nunes Ethics Probe
Rema Rahman, Roll Call 

The outcome of an ethics investigation surrounding House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes’ disclosure of classified information might never see the light of day, depending on how it’s handled. The results of that inquiry by the House Ethics Committee may not be revealed for months — or at all — because it centers around disclosure of classified information, ethics experts say.

Donald Trump Jr. to campaign for Gianforte
Tom Lutey, Missoulian 

Donald Trump Jr. is slated for a four city Montana tour to support Republican Greg Gianforte’s U.S. House candidacy. President Donald Trump’s oldest son is scheduled to make campaign stops April 21 in Kalispell, Hamilton and Billings. Trump Jr. will stop in Bozeman April. 22.

North Dakota congressman: Spicer Hitler comment ‘not without some validity’
Tom LoBianco, CNN 

Rep. Kevin Cramer, a possible challenger to North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, said Wednesday that White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s analogy between Adolf Hitler and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is “not without some validity.” “The media is so gullible, they fall for these things because they think it’s really hot stuff and the public just can’t wait to stick it to Sean Spicer — who 99% of the people wouldn’t have the foggiest idea who he is and it distracts them from other things,” Cramer, a North Dakota Republican, said Wednesday KFYR-FM with conservative radio North Dakota host Scott Hennen.


In Virginia, a Democrat Tacks Left in Race to Capture Governor’s Mansion
Reid J. Epstein, The Wall Street Journal 

To succeed in his insurgent campaign to become Virginia’s next governor, Tom Perriello first has to convince Democratic primary voters he really is an insurgent. To win what is expected to be a low-turnout primary June 13, the former one-term congressman aims to expand the state’s Democratic electorate by tens of thousands of new voters—the sort of people who emerged to back Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders in the last two presidential primaries.

Democrat David Garcia challenging Doug Ducey for Arizona governor
Yvonne Wingett Sanchez, The Arizona Republic 

Democrat David Garcia, an education-leadership professor, announced his candidacy for governor on Wednesday, saying Republican Gov. Doug Ducey is systematically destroying public education in Arizona. Garcia, 47, narrowly lost a 2014 bid for state superintendent of public instruction, and was expected to try to unseat Republican Diane Douglas in a rematch.


Firms Belatedly Register as Foreign Agents for Manafort-Linked Lobbying
Byron Tau and Paul Sonne, The Wall Street Journal 

Two lobbying firms said Wednesday they were registering as agents of a foreign government in connection with a lobbying effort that President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman helped organize five years ago for the then-Ukrainian government, but never registered with the Justice Department. The former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, funneled work to the two Washington consulting firms that began a lobbying campaign in 2012 on behalf of the government of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who was seeking to burnish his image as a Europe-oriented leader despite close ties with Moscow.

Senior White House Adviser Departs for Business Lobby Group
Ben Brody, Bloomberg News

Senior White House budget adviser Marcus Peacock is leaving President Donald Trump’s administration to become the second in command at a high-profile business lobby group in Washington that’s looking to increase its influence. Peacock, a top policy expert in the Office of Management and Budget, joined the Business Roundtable Wednesday and will lead policy work on the group’s key issues related to Trump’s agenda, including tax legislation, infrastructure spending and regulatory reform, the roundtable said.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

Mr. Trump’s Fickle Diplomacy
The Editorial Board, The New York Times 

Until a few days ago, Americans and the world had reason to think that the Trump administration’s policy toward Russia would involve cooperation and harmony and seek to reverse the acrimony and dysfunction that had come to characterize relations between the Kremlin and the Obama administration. During the campaign, Mr. Trump fawned over Russia’s assertively proud leader, Vladimir Putin, praising him for “doing a great job” and calling him a “stronger leader” than Barack Obama.

Four good reasons to care about Ukraine
Richard Haass, USA Today

“Why should U.S. taxpayers be interested in Ukraine?” That’s what Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly asked at a recent meeting in Italy with some European counterparts.

The Trump Presidency Begins
Daniel Henninger, The Wall Street Journal 

Instead of “The Trump Presidency Begins,” an alternative headline for this column might have been “Trump’s Presidency Begins.” Each describes a different reality.

Trump’s weather-vane presidency gyrates wildly with the winds
E.J. Dionne Jr., The Washington Post 

President Trump rose to power on a combination of meanness, incoherence and falsehoods. His strategy depended almost entirely on playing off the unpopularity and weaknesses of others.

It Doesn’t Matter If Bannon Stays Or Goes. It Matters Whether Bannonism Does.
Perry Bacon Jr., FiveThirtyEight 

Presidential advisers feud. There was Colin Powell vs. Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Valerie Jarrett vs. Rahm Emanuel.

Research Reports and Polling

Share of married Americans is falling, but they still pay most of the nation’s income taxes
Anthony Cilluffo, Pew Research Center 

While the share of U.S. adults who are married has been falling steadily over the past 40 years, married people continue to earn most of the nation’s income and pay the vast majority of income taxes, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of IRS tax administration data. In 1970, 69% of adults were married, and they paid 80% of all federal income taxes.