Washington Brief: Pence Headed to Seoul Amid Rising Tensions With North Korea

Washington Brief

  • The Trump administration is considering economic sanctions and military action against North Korea if the country conducts a ballistic missile or nuclear test. Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to arrive in Seoul on Sunday to discuss U.S. options for responding to any provocation by North Korea. (Bloomberg News)
  • President Donald Trump signed into law two measures: one that would allow states to strip family planning funds from abortion providers, and another that targets a Labor Department rule on expanding retirement accounts. (NPR News)
  • Congressional Democrats said they will use the government spending negotiations to secure funding for health insurers. Trump has threatened to pull the funding to bring Democrats to the table on health care reform. (The Washington Post)
  • The campaign arm for House Democrats is keeping its powder dry amid special elections. While activists are fired up, some Democrats think that might be best for the party’s chances of winning back seats in 2018. (Morning Consult)

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U.S. Bomb Dropped on ISIS Tunnels in Afghanistan Built for Combat and as Psychological Deterrent
Ben Kesling, The Wall Street Journal 

The mother of all bombs was intended to be used in combat, but it was also designed just to sit there. The mere existence of the 21,600-pound weapon was supposed to serve as a psychological weapon, its sheer size acting to deter U.S. enemies.

Republicans Are Waiting For Trump’s Help (Or Wrath) As Key State Races Get Going
Henry J. Gomez, BuzzFeed News 

Republicans, Democrats, and the political media alike are watching a series of special elections over the next weeks that could end up putting into motion significant resources, recruitment efforts, and new narratives about President Donald Trump’s popularity. Some tricky political questions — how much Trump will remake the party ideologically, how closely will candidates tie themselves to him — are already factoring into special elections in Kansas and Georgia.

Thousands expected for Tax Day march calling for Trump to release his returns
Perry Stein, The Washington Post 

An idea that sprung from a law professor’s tweet after President Trump’s inauguration will unfold Saturday on the Mall, where thousands of protesters plan to call on Trump to release his personal tax returns. The demonstration is expected to be the largest of more than 100 affiliated protests planned across the country.

The Bundys Are Gone, but the Fight Over Public Lands Continues
Kirk Johnson, The New York Times

A year ago, this corner of rural Oregon became center stage in the drawn-out drama over public lands when armed militia leaders seized a national wildlife refuge, arguing that the government had too much control of land in the West. Now that President Trump is in office, people here and in other parts of the 11 states where 47 percent of the landmass is publicly owned are watching to see what he will do on everything related to public lands, from coal mining and cattle grazing to national monuments and parks.


Trump Rattles Saber at North Korea as Pence Dispatched to Seoul
Justin Sink, Bloomberg News 

The Trump administration is considering economic sanctions and military options if North Korea goes forward with a ballistic missile or nuclear test, U.S. officials said Thursday. Vice President Mike Pence will discuss the U.S. response to a North Korean provocation on a visit to South Korea and Japan as part of a 10-day tour of Asia beginning this weekend.

Trump Signs Law Giving States Option To Deny Funding For Planned Parenthood
Colin Dwyer, NPR News 

President Trump quietly signed legislation Thursday that rolls back an Obama-era rule protecting certain federal funds for Planned Parenthood and other organizations that provide legal abortions. That regulation, implemented in the waning days of the Obama administration, required that states pass along family-planning grants — regardless of whether the groups they’re passing them along to offer abortion services as well.

Trump’s threat prompts Democrats to play hardball over Obamacare payments
Mike DeBonis, The Washington Post 

Democrats signaled that they will seek to secure payments owed to health insurers under the Affordable Care Act as part of pending negotiations over a government spending bill Thursday — a new wrinkle in sensitive negotiations that emerged a day after President Trump threatened use the payments to force Democrats to negotiate a replacement for the ACA. The “cost-sharing reduction” payments are meant to subsidize out-of-pocket expenses for low-income Americans who receive insurance through ACA marketplaces, and they are seen as a key factor in maintaining the stability of the market for individual insurance in many states.

Donald Trump’s Recent Policy Reversals Reflect Business Influence
Eli Stokols and Michael C. Bender, The Wall Street Journal 

President Donald Trump’s growing reliance on former corporate executives in his White House—and business leaders outside of it—helped shape this week’s reversals on several hard-line positions that defined his campaign, according to officials. Unlike in the early weeks of his presidency, when his senior staff were a close-knit group of former campaign aides who had helped craft his image as an insurgent in the capital, Mr. Trump has sided recently with the more pragmatic wing of his administration that espouses economic and foreign policies that are much more in line with the Washington establishment’s traditional view.

Focused on Trump’s Successes, Many Supporters Are Unfazed by His Reversals
Jeremy W. Peters, The New York Times

As some on the right howled about a series of reversals by President Trump on a number of his campaign promises — conned, betrayed, sold out, they said — Rush Limbaugh asked his listeners on Thursday whether any of that flip-flopping really mattered. “See what Jeff Sessions is doing?” Mr. Limbaugh said of the attorney general, answering his own question: “Damn straight.”

Trump’s got a new favorite Steve
Josh Dawsey and Eliana Johnson, Politico 

President Donald Trump once affectionately called them “my two Steves,” a reference not only to their ideological kinship but to their central role in his administration. But while Steve Bannon is on the ropes in Trump’s fractious White House, Stephen Miller has managed to endear himself to the man emerging as the president’s most indispensable adviser: son-in-law Jared Kushner.


Elizabeth Warren Describes Why She Didn’t Run for White House in New Book
Byron Tau, The Wall Street Journal

Sen. Elizabeth Warren opted not to run for president in 2016 in part because her husband warned her the race would be far more grueling than her 2012 Senate bid, she writes in a book scheduled for release Tuesday. Ms. Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, progressive favorite and possible contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, recounts asking her husband, Bruce Mann, if she should enter the presidential fray in her new book, “This Fight Is Our Fight.”

McCaskill says many Missourians feel ‘forgotten,’ voted for Trump out of pain
Bryan Lowry, The Kansas City Star 

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri warned at a town hall event Thursday that Democrats should not dismiss the justifiable anger that many of President Donald Trump’s supporters feel. McCaskill, a Democrat running for re-election next year in a state that Trump won by double digits, said that she found the results of the November election humbling and urged fellow Democrats to seek to understand the anger that fueled Trump’s rise rather than deriding it. “I’ve told my colleagues in Washington who are from very blue places when I hear them talk with disrespect toward Trump voters, I tell them to stop. Stop! The people who voted for Donald Trump in my state, they feel pain,” she said. “They wanted a disruptor.”

Dean Heller thinks he’s going to get yelled at during town hall
Seth A. Richardson, Reno Gazette-Journal 

U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said Wednesday during a speech with a conservative group he was pretty sure he is going to get yelled at for two hours during his upcoming town hall, describing it as something of a chore. Republican town halls have been hostile in recent weeks as President Donald Trump’s popularity has decreased.


DCCC Keeping Its Powder Dry in Special Elections, for Now
Eli Yokley, Morning Consult 

After Tuesday night’s special election in the 4th District of Kansas, some progressives were irate that House Democrats’ campaign arm did not do more (and sooner) to push long-shot candidate James Thompson across the finish line. But in the view of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, their involvement in the race might have done more harm than good and proved the point of Republicans backing state Treasurer Ron Estes: that Thompson was the choice of Washington insiders, such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a favorite Republican villain.

Democrat Paul Davis initiates campaign for Rep. Lynn Jenkins’ 2nd District congressional seat
Tim Carpenter, Topeka Capital-Journal

Former Kansas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis confirmed Thursday formation of an exploratory committee ahead of a campaign for the 2nd District congressional seat to be vacated by Republican U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins. Davis said in an exclusive interview with The Topeka Capital-Journal that Kansans deserved representation from elected officials with the skills and inclination to work across partisan divides to improve federal policy on taxes, health care and other complex issues.

Have You or Your Loved Ones Been Hurt by This Ad? Congressman Wants to Know
Sara Randazzo and Jonathan D. Rockoff, The Wall Street Journal 

Plaintiffs’ lawyers have long solicited clients through television advertisements that warn of a drug’s potentially harmful side effects. Now, a powerful congressman, backed by the leading doctors’ group and some drug companies, is pushing back, saying the ads are to blame for patients suffering harm or even dying after dropping treatment.


How Donald Trump Blew Up the Virginia Governor’s Race
Kevin Robillard, Politico

The Democratic primary was teed up for Ralph Northam, then he got a surprise opponent who wants to make it a referendum on the soul of the party.

Republicans running for Virginia governor tangle in TV debate
Laura Vozzella, The Washington Post 

Two Republicans running for Virginia governor repeatedly accused each other of lying Thursday while the third called their tax-cut plans disingenuous and even dangerous in the only scheduled TV debate of the race. Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, was the most aggressive during the hourlong event at Liberty University, taking aim at political strategist Ed Gillespie, the perceived front-runner because he has led in fundraising and endorsements.

America’s Least Popular Democratic Governor Won’t Seek Re-Election
Eli Yokley, Morning Consult 

Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, America’s least popular Democratic governor, said Thursday he will not seek re-election to a third term in 2018. With almost 18 months left in office, 66 percent of Connecticut voters said they disapprove of Malloy’s job performance, according to Morning Consult’s Governor Approval Rankings released this week.

Iowa governor signs sweeping expansion of gun rights
Reid Wilson, The Hill 

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) on Thursday signed one of the most ambitious expansions of gun rights legislation passed in any state in recent years, giving gun owners the ability to defend themselves in public and preventing local governments from implementing their own rules. The new law, House File 517, comes months after Republicans won back control of the Iowa state Senate, which had blocked earlier proposals when Democrats ran the chamber.

Gov. Greitens reverses state policy, allowing tax dollars to aid religious groups
Jason Hancock, The Kansas City Star 

Gov. Eric Greitens announced Thursday that he is reversing a state policy aimed at preventing tax dollars from being used to aid religious groups. Greitens’ decision comes a week before the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in the case of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer.

After Linking Work to Food Stamps, Maine Seeks Same With Medicaid
Jennifer Levitz, The Wall Street Journal 

Maine wants to do to Medicaid what it did to food stamps: link the health program for low-income people to work requirements in the hope of reducing enrollment, raising incomes and prioritizing resources for children, the elderly and disabled. The state is among several that plan to seek federal approval to apply work rules to able-bodied adults without dependents in its Medicaid program, which serves 270,000 people.


Manufacturers Advocating for Pass-Through Tax Reform Proposals
Tara Jeffries, Morning Consult 

How best to ease taxes on businesses is among many unresolved issues roiling the tax reform debate. Congressional Republicans have for months touted a “pass-through” proposal that would reduce taxes for businesses currently taxed at levels that individuals pay — often at the maximum rate of 39.6 percent.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

Trump’s recent flip-flops are something to (cautiously) celebrate
Editorial Board, The Washington Post

When a politician flip-flops, an editorial writer’s instinct is to pounce. When the politician flip-flops a half-dozen times in a week, as President Trump has done, the instinct is almost irresistible.

Trump Said No to Troops in Syria. His Aides Aren’t So Sure.
Eli Lake, Bloomberg View

Listening to his campaign rhetoric, the last thing you would expect Donald Trump to do as president would be to escalate a ground war in the Middle East. He won the Republican nomination last year by campaigning against both George W. Bush’s war in Iraq and Barack Obama’s war in Libya.

Does Steve Bannon Have Something to Offer?
Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal 

My late friend Bill Safire, the tough and joyous New York Times columnist, once gave me good advice. I was not then a newspaper columnist, but he’d apparently decided I would be.

Reaching Out to the Voters the Left Left Behind
Thomas B. Edsall, The New York Times

One we’re still learning more about is how the rural, less populated regions of the country (known among demographers as nonmetropolitan counties), which already suffered from higher than average poverty rates, recovered from the recession at a far slower pace than more populous metropolitan counties. The fact that people living outside big cities were battered so acutely by the recession goes a long way toward explaining President Trump’s victory in the last election.

Research Reports and Polling

Employment Rises Closer to Pre-Recession Rates
The Pew Charitable Trusts 

The U.S. employment rate for adults of prime working age rose in 2016, yet remained clearly lower than in 2007, just before the Great Recession. Reflecting the national trend, the percentage of 25- to 54-year-olds with a job was clearly lower in 16 states.

Poll: Surveillance of Trump Team Went Too Far
Cameron Easley, Morning Consult 

More than a month has passed since President Donald Trump first claimed he and his associates were wiretapped by the U.S. government at Trump Tower last year. And despite no evidence to corroborate the allegation, many voters say the Obama administration went too far in monitoring intelligence information that may have included members of Trump’s transition team.

Thompson vs Estes II and a History of Kansas US House Rematch Elections
Dr. Eric Ostermeier, University of Minnesota 

Heartened by his strong showing in last Tuesday’s special election in Kansas’ strongly Republican 4th Congressional District, Democrat James Thompson immediately announced his plans to run again for the seat in November 2018. Thompson fell just 6.8 points shy of a stunning upset against state Treasurer Ron Estes, winning 45.8 percent of the vote in a district where the party’s 2016 nominee, Daniel Giroux, claimed only 29.6 percent less than a half-year ago.