Washington Brief: NRA Lobbyist Suggests Trump Is Backing Off Support for Gun Control Measures

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  • Chris Cox, the executive director of the National Rifle Association’s lobbying arm, said after a meeting at the White House last night that President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence “don’t want gun control.” The meeting came after several Republicans sought to distance themselves from Trump’s expression of support for gun control measures during Wednesday’s meeting with lawmakers at the White House. (CNN)
  • The White House is preparing to replace H.R. McMaster as national security adviser as early as next month, and auto industry executive Stephen Biegun is a leading candidate to replace him, according to five unnamed sources. The change – orchestrated by chief of staff John Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis, according to the officials – would be the latest in a string of White House staff shake-ups over the past year. (NBC News)
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is moving to banking legislation when the Senate returns next week, not gun control or other responses to the school shooting in Parkland, Fla. An unnamed Republican aide said a limited bill to strengthen background checks for gun purchases could come to the floor at any moment as soon as Democrats agree to let it move forward, though Democrats said it was conservatives who objected to bringing up the bipartisan measure. (The Hill)
  • A Justice Department review is expected to criticize former Federal Bureau of Investigation Deputy Director Andrew McCabe for authorizing the release of information to journalists about a continuing investigation, according to four people familiar with the inquiry. Michael E. Horowitz, the department’s inspector general, has zeroed in on disclosures made to The Wall Street Journal as part of a wider probe into how the FBI approached its 2016 investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information. (The New York Times)

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Andrew McCabe, Ex-Deputy Director of F.B.I., Will Be Faulted for Leaks
Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman, The New York Times

A Justice Department review is expected to criticize the former F.B.I. deputy director, Andrew G. McCabe, for authorizing the disclosure of information about a continuing investigation to journalists, according to four people familiar with the inquiry. Such a damning report would give President Trump new ammunition to criticize Mr. McCabe, who is at the center of Mr. Trump’s theory that “deep state” actors inside the F.B.I. have been working to sabotage his presidency.

Mueller eyes charges against Russians who stole, spread Democrats’ emails
Ken Dilanian et al., NBC News

Special counsel Robert Mueller is assembling a case for criminal charges against Russians who carried out the hacking and leaking of private information designed to hurt Democrats in the 2016 election, multiple current and former government officials familiar with the matter tell NBC News. Much like the indictment Mueller filed last month charging a different group of Russians in a social media trolling and illegal-ad-buying scheme, the possible new charges are expected to rely heavily on secret intelligence gathered by the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), several of the officials say.

Putin denies ‘new Cold War’ but says new nukes are on ‘combat duty’
Alex Johnson, NBC News

The new weapons announced by Russia are so advanced that the money U.S. taxpayers have spent on missile defenses “has been thrown out into the wind,” President Vladimir Putin told NBC News on Thursday. The remarks came after Putin said in his annual state of the nation address that Russia had developed new nuclear-capable weapons, including a nuclear-powered intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, that renders defense systems “useless.”

Carson cancels order for $31K table and chairs
Lorraine Woellert, Politico

HUD Secretary Ben Carson will cancel an order for a $31,561 dining set after the cost of the furniture drew criticism. “At the request of the Secretary, the agency is working to rescind the order for the dining room set,” HUD spokesman Raphael Williams told POLITICO Thursday.


N.R.A. Suggests Trump May Retreat From Gun Control
Michael D. Shear et al., The New York Times

The top lobbyist for the National Rifle Association claimed late Thursday that President Trump had retreated from his surprising support a day earlier for gun control measures after a meeting with N.R.A. officials and Vice President Mike Pence in the Oval Office. The lobbyist, Chris Cox, posted on Twitter just after 9 p.m. that he met with Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence, saying that “we all want safe schools, mental health reform and to keep guns away from dangerous people.

White House preparing for McMaster exit as early as next month
Nicolle Wallace, NBC News

The White House is preparing to replace H.R. McMaster as national security adviser as early as next month in a move orchestrated by chief of staff John Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis, according to five people familiar with the discussions. The move would be the latest in a long string of staff shake-ups at the White House over the past year and comes after months of strained relations between the president and McMaster.

Exclusive: FBI counterintel investigating Ivanka Trump business deal
Sara Murray et al., CNN

US counterintelligence officials are scrutinizing one of Ivanka Trump’s international business deals, according to two sources familiar with the matter. The FBI has been looking into the negotiations and financing surrounding Trump International Hotel and Tower in Vancouver, according to a US official and a former US official.

Trump to Persian Gulf: Resolve Qatar crisis or no Camp David
Josh Lederman, The Associated Press  

President Donald Trump wants to bring feuding Persian Gulf leaders to Camp David for a show of solidarity with the United States. But there are strings attached: No breakthrough in the Qatar crisis, no Camp David.

Nuclear missile threat a ‘red line’ for Trump on North Korea
Jim Sciutto and Dana Bash, CNN

The Trump administration is considering military action against North Korea if the rogue regime successfully builds a nuclear missile capable of hitting the United States, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the administration’s latest thinking. Senior national security officials believe a nuclear armed Pyongyang represents an unacceptable risk to the US.

Trump nominee: Russia, China don’t expect ‘much’ U.S. response to cyber attacks
Patricia Zengerle, Reuters

Lieutenant General Paul Nakasone, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. Cyber Command, said on Thursday he did not think Russia, China and other countries expected much of a response from the United States to cyber attacks. “They don’t think much will happen,” Nakasone said when questioned by Republican Senator Dan Sullivan at his confirmation hearing to be director of the National Security Agency and commander of the military’s U.S. Cyber Command.

Dark money group America First Policies is running a pro-Trump polling operation. Here is an inside look at its secretive work
Christina Wilkie, CNBC  

America First Policies, a nonprofit group with close ties to President Donald Trump, has hired Trump’s pollsters to conduct a wide range of political polling and research that experts say resembles the kind of expensive work the Republican National Committee has performed for prior GOP administrations. Such a practice breaks with decades of tradition and raises concerns about potential coordination between the pro-Trump dark money group, the White House and the RNC.

Trump’s tariff war nudges Cohn toward White House exit
Ben White and Andrew Restuccia, Politico

Gary Cohn, President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser, has been rumored to be on the brink of leaving the White House for months but stayed for one main reason: to stop the president from imposing steep tariffs. By Thursday afternoon, Cohn had lost the fight.


McConnell shelves gun bills for banking reform
Alexander Bolton and Sylvan Lane, The Hill

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is moving to banking reform legislation — not gun control or other responses to the high school shooting in Florida — next week in the Senate. McConnell has filed a motion to have a procedural vote Tuesday on legislation sponsored by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho).

GOP Reaction to Trump Tariffs is Fast, Furious and Negative
Joe Williams and Niels Lesniewski, Roll Call

Senate Republicans are calling for changes to the seldom-employed section of U.S. trade law that the Trump administration used to unilaterally impose steep new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. The conversations are in the preliminary stages, but build upon discussions GOP members have had for weeks regarding concerns over the White House’s trade policy.  

In ND Senate race, Democrat Heitkamp takes GOP tone on taxes
Thomas Beaumont and James MacPherson, The Associated Press  

In places like Boston and Los Angeles, Democrats are blasting the new tax law as a boon to the rich and a corporate giveaway. In North Dakota, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is lashing it, too.


Pelosi Optimistic About Gun Control Bill Short of Assault Weapons Ban
Lindsey McPherson, Roll Call 

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was optimistic Thursday about the chances that a Republican-controlled Congress could pass comprehensive gun safety legislation, signaling that the current debate is different than past ones that have led to inaction. “It might not be [an] assault weapon ban, but practically anything short of that is what we would expect,” she said of potential congressional action.

Nearly half of Americans agree with Nancy Pelosi’s ‘crumbs’ comment, according to a poll by a pro-Trump group
Ed O’Keefe, The Washington Post

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has earned the ire of Republicans for suggesting that major corporations are giving workers “crumbs” while top executives reap bonuses after passage of the GOP’s tax revision plan. But a new poll from a group supportive of President Trump finds nearly half of Americans agree with Pelosi’s comments despite weeks of relentless criticism from GOP leaders.

In tight Pennsylvania race, GOP struggles to land a blow against Conor Lamb
David Weigel, The Washington Post

First, Republicans in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District accused Democrat Conor Lamb of supporting Nancy Pelosi for speaker of the House. Next, they talked up the tax cuts that the GOP had passed through Congress in December.


Pro-gun Georgia lawmakers punish Delta for crossing the NRA
Ben Nadler and R.J. Rico, The Associated Press

Pro-gun Georgia lawmakers Thursday took revenge on Delta for crossing the National Rifle Association, killing a proposed tax break on jet fuel that would have saved the airline millions. A sweeping tax bill with the fuel exemption stripped out by the Republicans passed the GOP-controlled House and Senate by wide margins, just days after Delta reacted to the school massacre in Florida by announcing it would no longer offer discount fares to NRA members.

Walker shifts position in reaction to school shootings
Scott Bauer, The Associated Press

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican with an A rating from the National Rifle Association for his long history supporting pro-gun measures, is shifting his approach following the recent mass shooting at a Florida high school and as he seeks re-election in November. Walker, who is running for a third term in November, reacted to past school shootings by remaining open to the possibility of arming teachers while emphasizing the need to bolster mental health treatment and rejecting calls for stricter gun control.

Missouri attorney general announces probe into Greitens’ former charity
Jack Suntrup, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley announced Thursday that his office had opened an inquiry into The Mission Continues, the charity Gov. Eric Greitens founded in 2007 and left in 2014. “The Attorney General’s Office has an open inquiry into the charitable activities of The Mission Continues, pursuant to the AGO’s enforcement responsibilities under the consumer protection and charitable registration and reporting laws,” Loree Anne Paradise, Hawley’s deputy chief of staff, said in an email to the Post-Dispatch.

WV Senate considers putting pay raise toward PEIA as teacher strike continues
Jake Zuckerman and Ryan Quinn, Charleston Gazette-Mail

On Thursday, one week into the statewide public school employee strike, which will continue Friday with public schools in all 55 counties closed, the West Virginia Senate pumped the brakes on a bill that would give teachers, school service personnel and the State Police a 5 percent raise. Instead, Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, sent the legislation (House Bill 4145) to the Senate Finance Committee to change it and create a long-term revenue source for Public Employees Insurance Agency health coverage.

Hours before vote on whether to expel Rep. Steve Lebsock, Colorado Capitol inches toward political bedlam
Brian Eason et al., The Denver Post

Less than 24 hours before the Colorado House of Representatives will be asked to take a first-in-a-century vote to expel a lawmaker from office, more than two dozen representatives still wouldn’t say how they would vote on the fate of Democratic Rep. Steve Lebsock. “This is an impossible position to be in,” said Rep. Yuelin Willett, R-Grand Junction, who opposes the vote to eject Lebsock.


The NRA Has a Secret Weapon to Fight Gun Control: A Powerful App
Joshua Green, Bloomberg

The push for new gun-control measures following the Parkland, Fla., shooting that killed 17 people is high-profile and public: Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have blanketed the airwaves, spurred nationwide student walkouts, and featured in a CNN town hall meeting grilling Florida’s pro-gun Senator Marco Rubio. The grass-roots effort to blunt this momentum by the National Rifle Association’s lobbying arm has been much quieter—and conducted largely out of sight, through a mobile app.

Companies, Nonprofits Put Brakes on Foreign Lobbying Bills
Kate Ackley, Roll Call

A bipartisan group of senators on Thursday introduced an overhaul to foreign lobbying rules, while a similar, once fast-moving measure appears temporarily stalled in the House amid pressure from outside interests. The new bill from Texas Republican John Cornyn and California Democrat Dianne Feinstein indicates that momentum to revamp foreign lobbying disclosures persists as the Russia probe has kept concerns about international influences in the spotlight.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

Trump’s Tariff Folly
The Editorial Board, The Wall Street Journal

Donald Trump made the biggest policy blunder of his Presidency Thursday by announcing that next week he’ll impose tariffs of 25% on imported steel and 10% on aluminum. This tax increase will punish American workers, invite retaliation that will harm U.S. exports, divide his political coalition at home, anger allies abroad, and undermine his tax and regulatory reforms.

Jared Kushner Flames Out
The Editorial Board, The New York Times

For a Middle East negotiator, President Trump could have chosen a seasoned envoy trusted by all stakeholders and fluent in the region’s nuance. Instead he appointed the heir to an opaque Manhattan real estate empire with deep ties to Israel who boasts that, as a businessman, “I don’t care about the past.”

Speed Up the Security Clearance System
The Editors, Bloomberg

Whether Jared Kushner regains his top-secret security clearance is ultimately a decision for his father-in-law, President Donald Trump. That Kushner’s status remains in limbo, like that of scores of his White House colleagues, speaks to the dysfunction of the security-clearance system itself.

Research Reports and Polling

The Generation Gap in American Politics
Pew Research Center

Generational differences have long been a factor in U.S. politics. These divisions are now as wide as they have been in decades, with the potential to shape politics well into the future.

Chris McDaniel Hopes to Make History in Mississippi
Eric Ostermeier, University of Minnesota 

Mississippi State Senator Chris McDaniel waited until the 11th hour to announce his 2018 U.S. Senate bid – doing so Wednesday afternoon, just one day before the primary deadline. McDaniel will seek to pry the GOP nomination from the hands of two-term Senator Roger Wicker – four years after losing a runoff by two points to then six-term incumbent Thad Cochran.