Washington Brief: Trump Rethinking Approach After Tough Two Weeks

Washington Brief

  • Internal tensions have roiled the first weeks of President Donald Trump’s White House. The West Wing, lacking staff, is quiet, say those with knowledge of the situation, and Trump has become frustrated with his administration’s messaging. (The New York Times)
  • Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Netflix, Twitter, Uber and many other tech companies filed a legal brief overnight opposing the Trump administration’s travel ban. (The Washington Post) Of the many pending lawsuits, one case in Seattle is looming large for the president’s rivals. (The Wall Street Journal)
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said it “is up to our Democratic friends” whether he will “go nuclear” and change the Senate’s rules in order to confirm Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch. (CNN)
  • Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for secretary of Education, is among the names on the Senate’s list to confirm this week. If one more Republican jumps ship, her nomination is at risk of being rejected. (The Wall Street Journal)

Chart Review

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

House and Senate convene 12 p.m.
President Trump makes remarks to service members at MacDill Air Force Base 1:15 p.m.
Sen. Cotton speech at AEI 1:30 p.m.
The Hamilton Project on a fiscally responsible approach to infrastructure 8 a.m.
American Enterprise Institute event on charter schools 9 a.m.
House Ways and Means joint subcommittee hearing on Social Security representative payee program 10 a.m.
House Small Business Committee on health care 11 a.m.
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing on infrastructure 10 a.m.
Brookings Institution event on Obamacare insurance markets 9 a.m.
No events scheduled



Kerry, Panetta, ex-CIA officials tell court Trump order will ‘endanger troops in the field’
Fred Barbash, The Washington Post

Former Secretaries of State John F. Kerry and Madeline Albright, along with other former top national security officials including Leon Panetta entered the fray over President Trump’s travel ban early Monday with an unusual declaration stating that it “undermines” national security and will “endanger U.S. troops in the field.” The 6-page joint declaration was addressed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in support of the temporary order blocking implementation of Trump’s ban on entry for travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

GOP Doesn’t Cry Foul on Trump’s Executive Orders
Rema Rahman and John T. Bennett, Roll Call

The day after former President Barack Obama delivered his 2016 State of the Union address, Rep. Jason Chaffetz penned a letter chastising the commander in chief’s use of executive orders without working with Congress. “It is unilateral, overreaching and unconstitutional,” the Utah Republican wrote.  

As a conservative Twitter user sleeps, his account is hard at work
Craig Timberg, The Washington Post

Daniel John Sobieski, 68, climbed the stairs in his modest brick home and settled into a worn leather chair for another busy day of tweeting. But he needn’t have bothered.

U.S. Travel Resumes, But In a Trickle Rather Than a Flood
Joe Palazzolo and Shibana Mahtani, The Wall Street Journal

A handful of travelers who had been barred from entering the U.S. under an executive order by President Donald Trump began to arrive this weekend, moving through customs without incident, immigration lawyers said. The slow resumption of travel reflects the chilling effect the travel ban and the legal uncertainty surrounding the order have had, as well as the logistical difficulties of arranging for international travel quickly.

Not ‘Lone Wolves’ After All: How ISIS Guides World’s Terror Plots From Afar
Rukmini Callimachi, The New York Times

When the Islamic State identified a promising young recruit willing to carry out an attack in one of India’s major tech hubs, the group made sure to arrange everything down to the bullets he needed to kill victims. For 17 months, terrorist operatives guided the recruit, a young engineer named Mohammed Ibrahim Yazdani, through every step of what they planned to be the Islamic State’s first strike on Indian soil.

The Genius of Melissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer on Saturday Night Live
Sophie Gilbert, The Atlantic 

It was the kind of moment Saturday Night Live history was made of: an unannounced guest appearance so perfect that it took even the live audience a few moments to register what was actually happening. “Next, on C-SPAN, the daily White House press briefing with Press Secretary Sean Spicer,” a voiceover announced.


Trump and Staff Rethink Tactics After Stumbles
Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman, The New York Times 

President Trump loves to set the day’s narrative at dawn, but the deeper story of his White House is best told at night. Aides confer in the dark because they cannot figure out how to operate the light switches in the cabinet room.

Why the Seattle Case Looms Above Other Immigration Challenges
Ashby Jones and
Jacob Gershman, The Wall Street Journal 

In the 10 days since President Donald Trump handed down his executive order on immigration, plaintiffs have flooded the courts with legal challenges. As of Sunday, more than two dozen petitions and lawsuits had been filed. But for the moment, one lawsuit looms above all others, a case brought by Washington state and Minnesota filed last week in Seattle federal court.

The $100 Billion Reason Investors Loved Trump’s Bank Order
Telis Demos and Peter Rudegeair, The Wall Street Journal

The six biggest U.S. banks could potentially return more than $100 billion in capital to investors over time through dividends and share buybacks if the Trump administration succeeds in a push to loosen bank regulation. President Donald Trump on Friday signed a memorandum ordering a review of the Dodd-Frank Act, the postfinancial-crisis regulatory overhaul that has guided regulators such as the Federal Reserve.

Trump White House is leaving the public in the dark. Is it growing pains – or a plan?
Anita Kumar, McClatchy DC

Is Donald Trump shutting Americans out of his presidency? The White House comment line is shut down. New signatures aren’t being counted on petitions posted on the White House’s website.  

Trump commits to NATO summit appearance
Euan McKirdy, CNN  

Despite loudly voiced objections to its relevancy and its funding, US President Donald Trump has committed to attend a meeting of NATO leaders in Europe in May, according to the organization. Trump, who was outspoken on the campaign trail about the role — and upkeep — of the security pact, spoke with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg Sunday night.

Trump Administration Looks at Driving Wedge Between Russia and Iran
Jay Solomon, The Wall Street Journal

The Trump administration is exploring ways to break Russia’s military and diplomatic alliance with Iran in a bid to both end the Syrian conflict and bolster the fight against Islamic State, said senior administration, European and Arab officials involved in the policy discussions. The emerging strategy seeks to reconcile President Donald Trump’s seemingly contradictory vows to improve relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and to aggressively challenge the military presence of Iran—one of Moscow’s most critical allies—in the Middle East, these officials say.

White House Pulls Back From Bid to Reopen C.I.A. ‘Black Site’ Prisons
Charlie Savage, The New York Times

The Trump White House appears to have backed off for now on its consideration of reopening overseas “black site” prisons, where the C.I.A. once tortured terrorism suspects, after a leaked draft executive order prompted bipartisan pushback from Congress and cabinet officials. On Thursday, the White House circulated among National Security Council staff members a revised version of the draft order on detainees that deleted language contemplating a revival of the C.I.A. prisons, according to several officials familiar with its contents.


McConnell rebukes Trump’s judge attack
Isaac Arnsdorf, Politico

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Sunday distanced himself from President Donald Trump’s positions on Russia, voter fraud and the travel ban, while criticizing the president for attacking a federal judge. “It is best not to single out judges,” McConnell told Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union.

McConnell: Use of nuclear option is ‘up to Democrats’
Eric Bradner, CNN  

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell left the door open to using the “nuclear option” and eliminate the Senate’s rule requiring 60 votes to confirm Supreme Court justices if Democrats attempt a filibuster. “I haven’t said what will happen at that point. I’m confident we will get 60 votes,” the Kentucky Republican told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” Sunday.

Opposition Mounts for Education Nominee Betsy DeVos
Siobhan Hughes and Tawnell D. Hobbs, The Wall Street Journal 

Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s choice to be secretary of education, is at risk Tuesday of becoming the first cabinet nominee in 28 years to be rejected by the Senate, due in large part to the efforts of people like Tim Royers, a high-school history teacher from Nebraska. Named his state’s teacher of the year, Mr. Royers started organizing his fellow honorees against Mrs. DeVos when they gathered for a celebration last month in Florida.

Grassley Pitches Trump on Whistleblowers
Niels Lesniewski, Roll Call  

“Assuming Trump reads your stories, or somebody there reads your stories, tell them that they’ve got to deal with Chuck Grassley if they don’t treat whistleblowers right.” That’s the message Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley wants the White House to hear.  

‘The Senate is coming apart’
Burgess Everett and John Bresnahan, Politico

The Senate is barely functioning. And the future looks even bleaker.

Ben Sasse takes issue with Trump’s tweet referring to ‘so-called judge’ who blocked travel ban
Joseph Morton, Omaha World-Herald 

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., took issue Sunday with the way President Donald Trump called out the federal judge who blocked his temporary ban on immigrants and refugees from seven largely Muslim countries. George Stephanopoulos, host of ABC’s “This Week,” asked the senator about a presidential tweet stating that the “so-called judge” had issued a ridiculous order that would be overturned.


Donald Trump’s guy on Capitol Hill
Rachael Bade, Politico

While the rest of the Republican establishment was in full-fledged panic that Donald Trump was marching to the nomination, Kevin McCarthy made a different calculation altogether. The “intensity” of support for Trump and his appeal to new voters could help the GOP win, the House majority leader mused in the heat of the presidential primary in March.

The ‘Unflappable’ Guy Helping Paul Ryan Keep Peace With Trump
Anna Edgerton, Bloomberg News

If President Donald Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan manage to maintain their fragile truce in the coming months, it will be partly thanks to Jonathan Burks. Ryan’s 38-year-old chief of staff is responsible for keeping the White House, the Senate and restive House Republicans united on a legislative agenda — and for avoiding any policy surprises in Trump’s tweets.

Black History Month: Cedric Richmond on the ‘Work to Do’ Ahead
Jason Dick, Roll Call

For Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric L. Richmond, this month is about teaching. First celebrated in 1926 as a weeklong tribute to black history and culture and expanded to a monthlong honor in 1976, Black History Month is a time of reflection and festivity for many African-Americans.

Pelosi dodges on need for new Democratic leadership
Alexander Bolton, The Hill 

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), confronted by calls for new leadership in the Democratic Party, says experience is just as important as having a fresh face. Pelosi, who became House minority leader in January of 2003 and served a stint as Speaker from 2007 to 2011, says there’s room for new leaders in the Democratic Party.


Martin O’Malley and Larry Hogan are both pushing to end gerrymandering
Josh Hicks, The Washington Post

Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley (D) has changed his stance on gerrymandering, a practice he embraced when he redrew the state’s congressional districts more than six years ago. During a speech at Boston College last month, O’Malley, who unsuccessfully sought the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, said he no longer supports partisan redistricting.

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens to sign ‘right-to-work’ into law on Monday
Celeste Bott, St. Louis Post-Dispatch 

Gov. Eric Greitens on Monday will sign “right to work” legislation into law, fulfilling a campaign promise that has been cheered on by Republicans and the state’s business community. For the state’s unions, it’s a day they have been able to delay under Greitens’ predecessor, Gov. Jay Nixon, who blocked similar efforts with his veto pen and argued, with fellow Democrats, that the measure was a political ploy to weaken Missouri labor.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker proposes $649 million more for state schools
Jason Stein and Patrick Marley, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel 

Two years after Gov. Scott Walker proposed cutting K-12 funding, he is moving sharply in the opposite direction, proposing a half-billion dollar bump in broad state school aid — enough for $200 per pupil increases in each of the next two years. By calling for $649 million more in state money for public and private schools, the Republican governor is all but announcing his intent to run for a third term next year.


Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and 94 other tech companies call travel ban ‘unlawful’ in rare coordinated legal action
Elizabeth Dwoskin, The Washington Post

Silicon Valley is stepping up its confrontation with the Trump administration. On Sunday night, technology giants Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Netflix, Twitter, Uber and many others filed a legal brief opposing the administration’s contentious entry ban, according to people familiar with the matter.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

Former CIA chief: Trump’s travel ban hurts American spies — and America
Michael V. Hayden, The Washington Post

President Trump’s executive order on immigration was ill-conceived, poorly implemented and ill-explained. To be fair, it would have been hard to explain since it was not the product of intelligence and security professionals demanding change, but rather policy, political and ideological personalities close to the president fulfilling a campaign promise to deal with a threat they had overhyped.

Trump Restraining Order
The Wall Street Journal

The damage from President Trump’s order on immigration and refugees continues to compound, now escalating into a conflict with the judicial branch. There’s enough bad behavior and blame to go around, but Mr. Trump didn’t need to court this altercation. On Friday federal Judge James Robart in Seattle issued a nationwide temporary restraining order (TRO) on Mr. Trump’s suspension of U.S. entry for migrants from seven countries associated with terrorism risks.

Trump’s reckless shot at a federal judge
Joe Scarborough, The Washington Post

I had intended to use this space to detail how the chaotic events of the past week had persuaded President Trump to put into practice a more rigorous process to avoid calamities like last week’s immigration executive order. But that subject will have to wait for another day, since the 45th president decided to use Twitter this weekend to repeatedly question the legitimacy of a sitting federal judge.

Milo Yiannopoulos Tested Progressives—and They Failed
Peter Beinart, The Atlantic 

Among the many terrifying questions that Donald Trump’s presidency poses is this: How do you oppose an indecent leader while still behaving decently yourself? When it comes to the habits of deference extended to previous presidents, I’m fine with breaking the rules.

Research Reports and Polling

Gorsuch nomination meets with positive reception
Jennifer Agiesta, CNN 

Americans’ first impressions of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch tilt positive, and a plurality say the Senate ought to vote to confirm President Donald Trump’s selection to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, according to a new CNN/ORC poll. Overall, 49% say the Senate should vote to confirm Gorsuch, who is a federal judge.