Briefing: Trump sounds off on Syria and criticizes Obama and Putin

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THE PRESIDENT’S WEEK … Monday: PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMPhosts a Cabinet meeting and will meet and have dinner with senior military leadership. Tuesday: Trump meets with the emir of Qatar and hosts the University of Alabama football team at the White House. Wednesday: Trump will sign “The Allow States and Victims To Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act.” Thursday: Trump has lunch with VP Mike Pence and gives a speech that the White House says will be about tax cuts. Friday: Trump flies to Lima, Peru.

TWO WAYS TO TALK ABOUT CHINA … PETER NAVARRO to CHUCK TODD on NBC’S “MEET THE PRESS”: “Every day of the week China comes into our homes, our business and our government agencies. … This country is losing its strength even as China has grown its economy.”

LARRY KUDLOW to JAKE TAPPER on CNN’S “STATE OF THE UNION”: “This process may turn out to be very benign. OK? You have to take certain risks as you go in. We are taking them. We are making our case. Nothing has happened so far. We are looking at future actions. You have got comment periods for another couple of months on our proposals. We will see which — maybe China will want to come around and talk in earnest. So far, it hasn’t. I hope it does.”

THE PRESIDENT SOUNDS OFF ON SYRIA … @realDonaldTrump at 9 a.m.: “Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price…”

… at 9:04 a.m.: “….to pay. Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!” … at 9:12 a.m.: “If President Obama had crossed his stated Red Line In The Sand, the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago! Animal Assad would have been history!”

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— “Syrian gov’t: Rebels to give up last Ghouta suburb,” by AP’s Zeina Karam and Philip Issa in Beirut: “Syrian rebels agreed to give up their last foothold in the eastern suburbs of Damascus, state media reported on Sunday, hours after an alleged gas attack killed at least 40 people. First responders and a relief organization said they found families suffocated in their homes and shelters in the besieged town of Douma, with foam on their mouths. … The SANA state news agency said the Army of Islam group agreed to leave Douma on Sunday, after three days of intensive government shelling and bombardment.

“SANA said buses had been sent to the town to pick up prisoners released by the militants and to transport rebel fighters to opposition-held territory in north Syria. … A joint statement by the Civil Defense and the Syrian American Medical Society … said that more than 500 people, mostly women and children, were brought to medical centers with difficulty breathing, foaming at the mouth, and burning sensations in the eyes. It said patients gave off a chlorine-like smell. Some had bluish skin, a sign of oxygen deprivation.”

TOM BOSSERT on ABC’S “THIS WEEK”: “I wouldn’t take anything off the table. These are horrible photos, we’re looking into the attack at this point. The State Department put out a statement last night and the president’s senior national security cabinet had been talking with him and with each other all throughout the evening and this morning, and myself included.”

Good Sunday morning. TOP TALKER — PEGGY NOONAN: “If Adults Won’t Grow Up, Nobody Will: From Facebook to Harvey Weinstein, America’s scandals amount to a giant crisis of maturity”: “I want to write about something I think is a problem in our society, that is in fact at the heart of many of our recent scandals, and yet is obscure enough that it doesn’t have a name. It has to do with forgetting who you are. It has to do with refusing to be fully adult and neglecting to take on, each day, the maturity, grace and self-discipline that are expected of adults and part of their job. That job is to pattern adulthood for those coming up, who are looking, always, for How To Do It—how to be a fully formed man, a fully grown woman.”

THE FALL OF KELLY — “‘When you lose that power’: How John Kelly faded as White House disciplinarian,” by WaPo’s Ashley Parker, Josh Dawsey and Phil Rucker: “After White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly pressured President Trump last fall to install his top deputy, Kirstjen Nielsen, atop the Department of Homeland Security, the president lost his temper when conservative allies argued that she wasn’t sufficiently hard line on immigration. ‘You didn’t tell me she was a [expletive] George W. Bush person,’ Trump growled.

“After Kelly told Fox News Channel’s Bret Baier in a January interview that Trump’s immigration views had not been ‘fully informed’ during the campaign and had since ‘evolved,’ the president berated Kelly in the Oval Office — his shouts so loud they could be heard through the doors. 

“Kelly neither lurks around the Oval Office nor listens in on as many of the president’s calls, even with foreign leaders. He has not been fully consulted on several recent key personnel decisions. And he has lost the trust and support of some of the staff, as well as angered first lady Melania Trump, who officials said was upset over his sudden dismissal of Johnny McEntee, the president’s 27-year-old personal aide. 

“Kelly, meanwhile, marveled that in the early days staffers sometimes entered still chatting on their cellphones. Under Kelly’s watch, the president now has ‘Policy Time,’ sessions once or twice a day where advisers present and argue their competing views over a specific issue, with Trump presiding.”

— @realDonaldTrump at 7:58 a.m.: “The Washington Post is far more fiction than fact. Story after story is made up garbage – more like a poorly written novel than good reporting. Always quoting sources (not names), many of which don’t exist. Story on John Kelly isn’t true, just another hit job!”

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TRUMP ON CHINA — @realDonaldTrump at 8:12 a.m.: “President Xi and I will always be friends, no matter what happens with our dispute on trade. China will take down its Trade Barriers because it is the right thing to do. Taxes will become Reciprocal & a deal will be made on Intellectual Property. Great future for both countries!”

JONATHAN MARTIN in the NYT, “Republicans Seize on Impeachment for Edge in 2018 Midterms”: “As Republican leaders scramble to stave off a Democratic wave or at least mitigate their party’s losses in November, a strategy is emerging on the right for how to energize conservatives and drive a wedge between the anti-Trump left and moderate voters: warn that Democrats will immediately move to impeach President Trump if they capture the House. What began last year as blaring political hyperbole on the right — the stuff of bold-lettered direct mail fund-raising pitches from little-known groups warning of a looming American ‘coup’ — is now steadily drifting into the main currents of the 2018 message for Republicans.

“The appeals have become a surefire way for candidates to raise small contributions from grass-roots conservatives who are devoted to Mr. Trump, veteran Republican fund-raisers say. But party strategists also believe that floating the possibility of impeachment can also act as a sort of scared-straight motivational tool for turnout.”

THE RACE FOR DEM LEADERSHIP — REP. JOE CROWLEY (D-N.Y.) to CHRIS WALLACE on FOX’S “FOX NEWS SUNDAY”: “I would just wait and see what happened in terms of that, if Nancy Pelosi decided not to run. But if Nancy Pelosi stays, I don’t see a scenario by which I would challenge her for that position.”


— SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-MAINE) on CNN’S “STATE OF THE UNION”: “I think Scott Pruitt is the wrong person to head the EPA.” … SEN. MIKE ROUNDS (R-S.D.) on NBC’S “MEET THE PRESS”: “He’s following through with the policies that the president said he wanted to implement. … The reason why all of the emphasis right now is on Mr. Pruitt is because he is executing these policies, and they’re not real popular policies with a lot of people.” … SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-S.C.) on ABC’S “THIS WEEK”: “I don’t think you could get a room for $50 a night.”

— “In His Haste to Roll Back Rules, Scott Pruitt, E.P.A. Chief, Risks His Agenda,” by NYT’s Coral Davenport and Lisa Friedman: “As ethical questions threaten the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, President Trump has defended him with a persuasive conservative argument: Mr. Pruitt is doing a great job at what he was hired to do, roll back regulations. But legal experts and White House officials say that in Mr. Pruitt’s haste to undo government rules and in his eagerness to hold high-profile political events promoting his agenda, he has often been less than rigorous in following important procedures, leading to poorly crafted legal efforts that risk being struck down in court.

“The result, they say, is that the rollbacks … may ultimately be undercut or reversed. … Six of Mr. Pruitt’s efforts to delay or roll back Obama-era regulations — on issues including pesticides, lead paint and renewable-fuel requirements — have been struck down by the courts. Mr. Pruitt also backed down on a proposal to delay implementing smog regulations and another to withdraw a regulation on mercury pollution.”

2020 WATCH — “The Macker readies for a second act,” by Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Jeff E. Schapiro: “In his kids’ Jeep, Terry McAuliffe — the Man of Constant Motion — is driving himself to his youngest daughter’s lacrosse game. It’s been four years since he spent much time behind the wheel. McAuliffe got used to someone else doing the driving. With a laugh, he says he could get used to it again. Three months after leaving the Virginia governorship, the perquisites of which included a lumbering black SUV driven by a state trooper, McAuliffe is considering a second act: the presidency. … These days, McAuliffe is doing what national prospects are supposed to do: traveling to key states, plumping for his party’s candidates, tweeting, talking — and listening.

“He’s squeezed in down time, relaxing with family and friends in Jamaica, the Bahamas, Miami Beach, Los Angeles and San Diego. And McAuliffe is re-familiarizing himself with automobiles. The McAuliffe who might seek the White House is very different from the McAuliffe who won the Executive Mansion. The personality is the same: hyper-caffeinated, smash-mouth, transactional, big-hearted, attuned to slights — actual and perceived. However, McAuliffe, once a national election operative, now has a record as a state elective official.”


WHO IS PREPPING ZUCK … via the NYT: “Ahead of Mr. Zuckerberg’s trip to Washington, Facebook has hired a team from the law firm WilmerHale as well as outside consultants to coach him on questions lawmakers may ask, and on how to pace his answers and react if interrupted, according to people close to the preparations, who would speak only anonymously because the sessions were private. Facebook has also set up mock hearings involving its communications team and outside advisers who role-play members of Congress.

“Internal staff has pushed Mr. Zuckerberg to answer lawmakers’ questions directly, and not to appear overly defensive. Their goal is to make Mr. Zuckerberg appear as humble, agreeable and as forthright as possible, the people close to the preparations said. Reginald J. Brown, a former special assistant to President George W. Bush, is leading the WilmerHale group. A spokesman for Facebook declined to comment.”

KNOWING NEIL GORSUCH — “Writing, speaking, meatball subs: Justice Gorsuch’s 1st year,” by AP’s Jessica Gresko:

KOCH WORLD — “How a Koch-backed veterans group gained influence in Trump’s Washington,” by WaPo’s Michelle Ye Hee Lee, Lisa Rein and Dave Weigel: “What began as a savvy political strategy — tapping veterans as a potent constituency and seizing on bureaucratic failures at the Department of Veterans Affairs to hammer the Obama administration — has transformed [Concerned Veterans for America] into one of the most muscular arms of the conservative Koch network.

“Since its formation seven years ago, the group has racked up major legislative victories and poured at least $52 million into campaigns and policy work, according to tax filings.”

MEDIAWATCH — “Denver Post Rebels Against Its Hedge-Fund Ownership,” by NYT’s Sydney Ember: “The Denver Post is in open revolt against its owner. Angry and frustrated journalists at the 125-year-old newspaper took the extraordinary step this weekend of publicly blasting its New York-based hedge-fund owner and making the case for its own survival in several articles that went online Friday and are scheduled to run in The Post’s Sunday opinion section.

“News matters,’ the main headline reads. ‘Colo. should demand the newspaper it deserves.’ The bold tactic was born out of a dissatisfaction not uncommon in newsrooms across the country as newspapers grapple with the loss of revenue that has followed the decline of print.” … The Denver Post editorial

SNL COLD OPEN – “Donald Trump Baltic States Cold Open”: PRESIDENT TRUMP (played by Alec Baldwin): “Let’s make this quick because I’ve got a lot of trade wars to escalate here. That’s why I just announced tariffs on more Chinese products, including fireworks and finger traps. We’ve also expelled the infamous Chinese billionaire P.F. Chang. He’s donezo! …

“I’d like to read a prepared statement to prove that I can read. God I hate this. ‘Do not congratulate Putin.’ Wait that’s a note to me. Okay forget about that. Reading and go. The United States has a special relationship with the Baltic nations. God I want to riff so bad.” 7-min. video


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