U.S. Politics

The Deep State, Explained

US Capitol. (John Sonderman/Flickr cc 2.0)

MOYERS & COMPANY

America’s Deep State is harder to find than those abroad, but could get stronger under Trump.

As the daily drip of information about possible links between Trump’s campaign and Russia trickles on, Democrats, commentators and at least some officials in the US intelligence community, it seems, smell a rat. CNN reported last week that according to sources, “The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.”

Meanwhile, White House sources continue insisting to reporters that there’s no fire behind all the smoke. The true story, they say, is a conspiracy by the so-called “Deep State” to undermine a democratically elected president.

Trump and his team are good at taking terms and twisting their meaning to suit their own ends. “Fake news,” for example. Once Trump started using it, the mainstream media, which had been using “fake news” to describe online lies packaged in the guise of honest reporting, largely backed away. “Let’s put this tainted term out of its misery,” Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote.

“Deep State” may meet a similar fate, with some anti-Trump commentators arguing that the term, while appropriate for less democratic governments abroad, has no meaning in the United States, and refers to one of many conspiracy theories that found a home at InfoWars, Breitbart, and, ultimately, in the president’s brain.

Yet despite that, the idea of a Deep State is useful when talking about the forces that drive US policy. Here’s a look at its history and use today.

How Trump allies talk about the “Deep State”

In Trump’s world, the “Deep State” is a sub rosa part of the liberal establishment, that crowd resistant to the reality TV star’s insurgent candidacy all along, and which ultimately was rebuffed by voters on Election Day. Although Trump has taken the helm of the executive branch, this theory goes, his opponents lurk just below the surface. “We are talking about the emergence of a deep state led by Barack Obama, and that is something that we should prevent,” Steve King, the right-wing member of Congress from Iowa and a Trump ally, told The New York Times.

Implicit is the idea that the intelligence agencies’ investigation into Trump and his campaign’s Russia ties are baseless, and that leaks about the investigation to the press are part of an effort to undermine him. “Of course, the deep state exists,” Trump ally Newt Gingrich recently told the Associated Press. “There’s a permanent state of massive bureaucracies that do whatever they want and set up deliberate leaks to attack the president. This is what the deep state does: They create a lie, spread a lie, fail to check the lie and then deny that they were behind the lie.”

The claim that the campaign was surveilled by Obama is also part of this supposed Deep State conspiracy; House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes fanned the flames last Wednesday when he suggested, based on information shared with him by the administration, that Trump advisers’ communications were likely collected during the transition, perhaps by accident. Breitbart has even started calling the wiretapping story DeepStateGate.

The Deep State abroad

Historically, the idea of a Deep State is an import; it has been used for decades abroad to describe any network of entrenched government officials who function independently from elected politicians and work toward their own ends.

One such network cropped up decades ago in Turkey, devoted to opposing communism and protecting by any means necessary the new Turkish Republic that Mustafa Ataturk founded after World War I. In the 1950s, the derin devlet — literally, “deep state” — began bumping off its enemies and seeking to confuse and scare the public through “false flag” attacks and engineered riots. The network ultimately was responsible for thousands of deaths.

Another shadowy entity exists in present day Pakistan, where the country’s main intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and the military exert considerable control over government, often operating independently of the country’s elected leaders and sometimes overthrowing them in military coups. “The vast majority of Pakistanis are effectively disenfranchised by this system,” wrote Daniel Markey, senior research professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. “As far as it is possible to know their views through public opinion polling and interviews, it appears that they perceive the state as generally ineffective, often even predatory, in their daily lives.”

America’s Deep State

Here in the United States, we have another kind of Deep State, one that Mike Lofgren, a former congressional staffer specializing in intelligence, described in an original essay for our site in 2014.

The Deep State, Lofgren wrote, was not “a secret, conspiratorial cabal; the state within a state is hiding mostly in plain sight, and its operators mainly act in the light of day.” It is not a tight-knit group, and has no clear objective. Rather, it is a sprawling network, stretching across the government and into the private sector. “It is a hybrid of national security and law enforcement agencies,” Lofgren wrote. “… I also include the Department of the Treasury because of its jurisdiction over financial flows, its enforcement of international sanctions and its organic symbiosis with Wall Street.” In Lofgren’s definition are echoes of President Dwight Eisenhower’s famous farewell address in 1961, in which he implored future presidents to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

But in his Obama-era definition of the Deep State, Lofgren also included “the White House advisers who urged Obama not to impose compensation limits on Wall Street CEOs, the contractor-connected think tank experts who besought us to ‘stay the course’ in Iraq, the economic gurus who perpetually demonstrate that globalization and deregulation are a blessing that makes us all better off in the long run.” These individuals pretend they have no ideology — “their preferred pose is that of the politically neutral technocrat offering well considered advice based on profound expertise.”

In short, by Lofgren’s conception, the Deep State is maintained by the mid-level number crunchers, analysts, congressional staffers and lawyers — technocrats who build and perpetuate the Washington consensus, leading the country in and out of wars, in and out of trade agreements, into and, if we’re lucky, out of recessions, without questioning their own judgment. The 2016 election saw voters rebel against that system, and Donald Trump was the surprising result.

A Deep State divided and debated

The 2016 election shook up the Deep State. It’s without question that elements within it are concerned about Donald Trump and pushing back against him. The FBI, which may have helped Trump win the election with its last-minute announcement about Clinton’s emails, is now investigating him. But some elements of the intelligence agencies may also be the source of stories fanning the flames of Trump’s wiretapping theory.

On one hand, public servants at the State Department are chafing at Trump’s defunding of diplomacy and object to his repeated attempts to put in place a Muslim travel ban. On the other, elements of Lofgren’s Deep State, including Wall Street lawyers and alumni of Silicon Valley companies that help the government surveil citizens, have become part of Trump’s administration.

We are in a moment where the intelligence community has tremendous power. Leakers continue to give to the press part, but not all of the story; declassified documents and testimony by agency heads before Congress yield few definitive takeaways.

Some on both the left and right hope the Deep State will take Trump down. But civil libertarians and such journalists as Glenn Greenwald have been imploring the media, Democratic politicians and Washington insiders to make sure that in their enthusiasm to get rid of Trump, they do not give intelligence agencies too long a leash or too much ability to shape the narrative. Once they have it, Greenwald argues, the agencies won’t want to let it go.

The Deep State to come

While the Russia story continues to trickle out, Trump and his minions have gotten to work trying to build their own network of loyal informants across the government, a web that resembles the deep states seen abroad more than anything America has known.

Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, reportedly has taken the reins of foreign policy from the State Department and is running it out of the White House. He’s also been tasked with overhauling, and potentially privatizing, elements of the federal bureaucracy from his perch at Donald Trump’s side. Meanwhile, Trump has installed hundreds of officials across government to serve as his eyes and ears, rooting out those opposed to his administration and pushing his agenda throughout official agencies.

If Obama’s Deep State is perceived by Trump as the enemy, his solution is to build his own Deep State to counter it.

U.S. Politics

10 things you need to know today: March 31, 2017

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Mario Tama/Getty Images

THE WEEK

1. Flynn offers Russia testimony in exchange for immunity
President Trump’s former national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, has told the FBI and the House and Senate intelligence committees he will testify about possible ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia in exchange for immunity from “unfair prosecution,” his lawyer, Robert Kelner, said Thursday. “General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit,” Kelner said. Flynn served as an adviser during Trump’s campaign and later as his national security adviser, but he resigned in February after it was revealed he communicated with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. before Trump’s inauguration as former President Barack Obama was preparing to announce sanctions against Russia over its meddling in the election.

Source: Reuters, The Wall Street Journal

2. North Carolina lawmakers repeal controversial ‘bathroom bill’
North Carolina Republican-led legislature on Thursday approved legislation repealing the state’s controversial “bathroom bill,” and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper signed the compromise into law. Cooper and GOP leaders struck the deal aiming to begin repairing the damage done by the bathroom law, which required transgender people to use public restrooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificates rather than the one they identify with. Gay rights groups criticized the new measures because they still bar local governments from enacting protections against anti-LGBT discrimination, and it was unclear whether the change would be enough to end boycotts triggered by the original bill, known as House Bill 2 or HB2.

Source: The Associated Press

3. Ousted South Korean president arrested over bribery scandal
South Korean authorities arrested ousted former President Park Geun-hye on charges connected to the corruption scandal that got her impeached three weeks ago. Prosecutors announced at the start of the week that they were asking a court for clearance to arrest Park for abuse of power, taking bribes from companies, and leaking confidential information. “The court recognizes the need, necessity, and reasonableness of the suspect’s arrest,” Judge Kang Bu-young texted reporters on Friday. “Major crimes have been ascertained and there is a concern that the suspect might attempt to destroy evidence.”

Source: CNN

4. Pence casts tie-breaking vote on letting states cut Planned Parenthood funding
Vice President Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate on Thursday to approve legislation that will let states cut off funding to Planned Parenthood. The bill now goes to President Trump, who is expected to sign it. The Obama-era regulations protected funding for organizations providing women’s health services, regardless of whether they offered abortions. The rollback was deadlocked 50-50 when two members of the narrow Senate majority, Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine sided with Democrats in opposition to repealing the regulation. Democrats said the change would hurt women by limiting their access to health care. Republicans said it was the Obama administration that hurt local communities through regulatory overreach.

Source: The Hill

5. Trump tweets criticism of conservative Freedom Caucus
President Trump harshly criticized conservative Republicans in the House Freedom Caucus in a flurry of tweets on Thursday. Members of the Freedom Caucus helped doom the GOP leadership’s proposal to repeal and replace ObamaCare, a plan strongly backed by Trump, when they opposed the legislation last week, arguing that it preserved too much federal funding for health care subsidies. “The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!” Trump tweeted. Some conservatives pushed back forcefully. “Most people don’t take well to being bullied,” said Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.).

Source: Reuters

6. First two Democrats say they will support Gorsuch confirmation
Two Democratic senators — Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota — said Thursday that they would vote to confirm President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. Manchin, who frequently crosses the aisle to side with the GOP, said he found Gorsuch to be “an honest and thoughtful man,” and that he had “not found any reasons why this jurist should not be a Supreme Court justice.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) will not support Gorsuch and has urged Democrats to block an up-or-down vote on Trump’s nominee. Manchin and Heitkamp gave Republicans two of the eight Democratic votes they need to sidestep a filibuster.

Source: Reuters, ABC News

7. White House invites congressional investigators to review classified material
The White House on Thursday invited leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees to review classified material that relates to surveillance of associates of President Trump. “There’s a desire to make sure that both sides of the aisle as well as both chambers have that information,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said. The White House declined to comment on a New York Times report that said two White House officials had helped provide House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) with intelligence reports indicating that communications by Trump and some of his associates had been inadvertently intercepted in normal foreign surveillance by U.S. intelligence agencies.

Source: The Associated Press, The New York Times

8. Fire destroys bridge on busy highway in Atlanta
A massive fire destroyed a bridge on Interstate 85 in Atlanta, causing what the mayor said would be a long-term “transportation crisis.” The fire was reported underneath the bridge’s northbound side at 6:21 p.m., forcing authorities to close one of the nation’s busiest stretches of highway during the evening rush. Nobody was on or under the bridge when it collapsed in a flaming heap at around 7 p.m. Thousands of motorists were stuck in place while State Troopers rerouted traffic. Gov. Nathan Deal said no injuries were reported. Atlanta already had the fourth worst traffic in the U.S. before the closure of the heavily used highway. The FBI said there was no evidence of a link to terrorism.

Source: NBC News, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

9. Malaysia sends home 3 North Koreans and the body of Kim Jong Nam
Malaysia on Friday sent home three North Koreans wanted for questioning in the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The body of Kim Jong Nam also was returned on the plane under a deal Malaysia struck with Pyongyang after a drawn out diplomatic clash. As part of a swap, North Korea agreed to release nine Malaysian citizens held in Pyongyang. U.S. and South Korean officials say North Korean agents assassinated Kim Jong Nam, and Malaysian police took statements from the three North Koreans before letting them leave the country. Malaysia also has named five other North Koreans it wants to question.

Source: Reuters

10. Women’s Final Four set to tip off in Dallas
The Final Four of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament opens Friday night in Dallas with Stanford playing South Carolina, followed by top-ranked UConn against Mississippi State. Stanford will be aiming for its third title, but UConn is the favorite to win it all. The Huskies have won 111 straight games, 36 of them this season, and they are aiming for their 12th national championship. They’re also the four-time defending champs, and they beat Mississippi State a year ago 98-38. The winners of Friday’s games will meet in the title game on Sunday. The men’s Final Four is coming up on Saturday.

Source: Star-Telegram, NCAA.com

U.S. Politics

Dems have first shot at winning this Atlanta House district in decades

A Special Election will be held in the Georgia Sixth to replace former Rep. Tom Price, who was appointed to Donald Trump’s administration.

VOX

A top political forecaster announced Thursday that Democrats now have an even shot of winning a special election this April in a House district that Republicans normally win by more than 20 points.

The Center for Politics said Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District — held by Republicans since 1979 — should now be considered a “toss-up” race. The election, which will be held to fill the seat vacated by Donald Trump’s new health and human services secretary, Tom Price, represents Democrats’ best chance to preview their chances in 2018.

Democrat Jon Ossoff has taken a narrow lead in polling. The former aide to Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) has raised more than $3 million, and more than 7,000 volunteers have worked for his campaign — unprecedented numbers that reflect the grassroots energy coursing through the Democratic base since Trump’s inauguration.

“Democrats don’t have the White House, they’re the ones who are upset about things, and that can be a driver of a vote in these low-turnout special elections. The Democrats may be more excited here to show up,” said Kyle Kondik, an analyst with the Center for Politics.

Though the first round of the election is on April 20, Ossoff would need to win more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a later runoff on June 20. But given how long the seat has been held by Republicans, that’s still no sure bet.

“It’s a district with a distinctly Republican DNA, and Trump still did win it,” Kondik said. “Then again, strange things can happen in these special elections.”

Republicans are suddenly pouring cash into the race

Up until Thursday, the Center for Politics believed the race was Republicans’ to lose, ranking it as a “leans right” race. Part of the reason that changed was Ossoff’s strong polling numbers, as well as the unexpected fundraising advantage he’s had in the race.

But Kondik said “what pushed it over the edge” was a new report this week that the National Republican Campaign Committee is going to be pouring vast resources into fending off the challenge Ossoff poses.

That indicates Republicans may have internal polling that suggests they could lose the race. As CNN reported on Thursday:

National Republicans are racing into the northern Atlanta suburbs amid fears that an energized anti-Donald Trump resistance and a disengaged conservative electorate could allow Democrat Jon Ossoff to pick off a House seat that has been in GOP hands for decades. ….

The National Republican Congressional Committee — the House GOP’s campaign arm — is launching cable television, radio and digital ads and is placing five field staffers into the district next week, according to a GOP operative familiar with the efforts.

Whichever way it goes, the Georgia Sixth race will not radically alter the composition of power in Washington. Right now Republicans control 238 seats to Democrats’ 194; a one-seat switch, obviously, won’t do much to loosen that majority.

But the race could transform politicians’ perception of the political headwinds, which in turn really might have serious consequences for legislating and lawmakers’ willingness to buck Trump. It’s like the long-shot Scott Brown victory in 2010, which signaled coming change to terrified, vulnerable congressional Democrats.

That day may be fast approaching for Trump. “There’s been a small amount of early voting that’s very Democratic-slanted and favorable to Ossoff,” Kondik said. “And you just don’t know what kind of drag Trump will have on the district.”

U.S. Politics

Diplomats instructed to ‘avoid eye contact’ with Tillerson: report

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© Getty

THE HILL

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has remained relatively removed from President Trump’s administration and his own department, a new report by The Washington Post says, adding that many diplomats have yet to meet him and some have been told to avoid eye contact.

The Post report reads:

“Most of his interactions are with an insular circle of political aides who are new to the State Department. Many career diplomats say they still have not met him, and some have been instructed not to speak to him directly — or even make eye contact.”

Tillerson has kept a low profile since the inauguration. He has made very few remarks to the press and opted not to travel with a press pool.

Earlier this month, Tillerson stood by his decision not to allow reporters to travel with him on his trip to Asia, calling himself “not a big media press access person.”

Erin McPike of the right-leaning Independent Journal Review — the only reporter selected by State to travel with Tillerson — pressed the diplomat about his decision in an interview.

McPike noted China restricts press access and asked whether he’s concerned about the the message he’s sending.

Tillerson claimed the decision not to allow more reporters had to do with a desire to save money, saying the plane “flies faster, allows me to be more efficient” with fewer people on it.

Tillerson also skipped the customary visits to overseas State employees and their families during his travels, the Post reported.

BROOKE SEIPEL

U.S. Politics

Sens. Warren, Carper seek Ethics oversight of Ivanka’s invasion of the West Wing

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Ivanka Trump with her husband Jared Kushner, who’s an “official” White House official |AFP Getty Images

DAILY KOS

Following news that Ivanka Trump has secured a West Wing office in a so-called “unofficial” capacity(see update below), Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Tom Carper want to know exactly which ethics rules she will be required to comply with in her unprecedented role. Kelsey Sutton writes:

Warren (D-Mass.) and Carper (D-Del.) sent a letter to [Office of Government Ethics] director Walter Shaub on Wednesday asking whether the White House has requested or received guidance from the office about Ivanka Trump’s role in the White House and the rules about disclosures, divestments and recusals that could be required of her amid her growing White House role.

In the letter, they write:

Ethics rules are important. Federal conflict of interest laws prohibit an “officer or employee of the executive branch” — including those with positions at the White House — from participating in matters that have a direct impact on their personal and their family members’ financial interests. Ms. Trump has substantial interests at stake: for example, she has retained ownership of Ivanka Trump Marks LLC, a retail clothing brand.

The letter goes on to inquire about whether the White House has sought guidance from the Office of Government Ethics about Ivanka’s role (just guessing that’s a “no”), which ethics standards she will have to comply with, if her role has even been determined to be “consistent” with current ethics laws and precedents, what disclosures she will have to make, and what she would be required to do if she were determined to be serving in an “official” capacity in the government (i.e. what’s the White House circumventing by keeping her role “unofficial,” never mind that security clearance she’s seeking.)

Ivanka has already been at the center of an egregious effort to hawk her merchandise by White House aide Kellyanne Conway, and she has repeatedly attended meetings with foreign leaders and dignitaries while maintaining international business interests through her fashion line.

Warren and Carper want a response by April 13, 2017. Tick-tock.

Wednesday, Mar 29, 2017 · 4:39:08 PM EDT · Kerry Eleveld

UPDATE: Scratch that “unofficial” role. Too much blowback. Per the New York Times, Ivanka’s gonna be “official” now!

Ms. Trump’s title will be special assistant to the president.

Kerry Eleveld

U.S. Politics

3 key takeaways from the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Russia and Trump

3 key takeaways from the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Russia and Trump

Source: Getty Images

MIC.COM

Republicans are focused on the scale and skill of Russian hacking

The three witnesses before the committee stressed the highly coordinated and long-planned manipulation of news, social media and online information distribution by the Russians. Clint Watts, a senior fellow at the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University, told senators Russians have possessed the ability to hack servers and manipulate online news since 2014.

“The Russians could not do [interfere in the American election] if they started in 2016,” Watts said of Russian meddling in the election.

The witnesses detailed exactly how the Russian government and its associates influenced the election. First, Russian-backed news outlets like Russia Today and Sputnik would publish a false story. Then, social media accounts — some automated — would share the story thousands of times within hours of its publication, launching the false narrative into the top trending news on platforms such as Twitter. That elevation would prompt attention from the mainstream media, further elevating the fake story.

False stories were often shared by accounts that would feel familiar to the people most likely to follow that account. A Twitter user in Wisconsin, for example, would be targeted by a different automated Russian social media account than a Twitter user in Florida might. “You see somebody and they look exactly like you, even down to the pictures,” Eugene Rumer, director of the Russia and Eurasia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was one of the presidential candidates hurt by the Russian misinformation efforts, Watts said. Rubio said the U.S. was the victim of “a highly coordinated misinformation campaign involving dozens of fake accounts that posted fake stories for hours.” The goal was simple: “To pit Americans against one another,” the senator said. “Aren’t we in the midst of a blitzkrieg of misinformation … to sow discord amongst Americans?”

Sen. Marco Rubio was singled out by one of the witnesses at Thursday’s hearing as a victim of Russia’s misinformation campaign. Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

Democrats want to “follow the money”  (More…)

U.S. Politics

Intel Committee Member: ‘Innocent People Don’t Ask For Immunity’ (VIDEO)

Intel Committee Member: ‘Innocent People Don’t Ask For Immunity’ (VIDEO)

Featured image via video screen capture

ADDICTING INFO

Michael Flynn drove another nail into the coffin of Donald Trump’s presidency on Thursday when he agreed to testify about Russia in exchange for immunity. This prompted one member of the House Intelligence Committee to state the obvious: “Innocent people don’t ask for immunity.”

Speaking to MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) said what we have all been thinking since the announcement was made that Flynn was willing to testify in exchange for immunity. If you didn’t do anything wrong, then you don’t need immunity. The only reason to seek immunity is to protect yourself from prosecution from the illegal crap you’ve done.

“Innocent people don’t ask for immunity, but that’s not something that I’m familiar with in our investigation.”

“If he has something to say and he’s not worried about what he did, he should just come forward and testify in a public setting,” Swalwell added.

Hayes argued that there might be some scenarios where an innocent person would ask for immunity. The MSNBC host said that asking for immunity doesn’t automatically mean you are guilty of something. What if they are worried about perjury? Or concerned that maybe their words could somehow be used against them in some other way? Hey, it’s possible, right?

Swalwell wasn’t having it. He said that prosecutors don’t run around seeking perjury charges because somebody had a lapse of memory. But this isn’t the case when it comes to Flynn, he explained. “What we have here is a pattern of deceit with Michael Flynn. It’s not forgetfulness,” the congressman replied.

April Hamlin

U.S. Politics

Trump on the warpath against Freedom Caucus

THE HILL

President Trump on Thursday launched an extraordinary attack against conservative Republicans who thwarted the party’s healthcare plan, escalating an intra-party feud that could threaten the rest of his legislative agenda.

In a string of tweets, Trump threatened to back primary challenges against members of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus if they continue to oppose party leaders. He also named and shamed the group’s chairman, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), and two other prominent group members for what he said is their efforts to derail ObamaCare repeal and tax reform.

“If @RepMarkMeadows, @Jim_Jordan and @Raul_Labrador would get on board we would have both great healthcare and massive tax cuts & reform,” the president tweeted.

“Where are @RepMarkMeadows, @Jim_Jordan and @Raul_Labrador? #RepealANDReplace #Obamacare.”

House conservatives fought back, furious at the president for picking the fight at a time when congressional Republicans are trying to move past last week’s bitter legislative defeat.

“Most people don’t take well to being bullied,” Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), a Freedom Caucus member, told reporters. “It’s constructive in fifth grade. It may allow a child to get his way, but that’s not how our government works.”

Freedom Caucus members argued Thursday that they did Trump a favor by sinking the American Health Care Act, which was reviled by grassroots conservatives and failed to attract support from even some moderate members of the GOP conference.

Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), who was named by Trump, shot back over Twitter.

“The bill’s polling at 17 percent,” added Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), another Freedom Caucus member. “The American people are not in support of this bill. And we represent them, so we can do better.”

Trump’s deteriorating relationships with conservatives in the House could make it harder for him to pass his top agenda items, including an overhaul of the tax code, an infrastructure package and money to build his proposed wall at the southern border.

It could also complicate GOP leaders’ efforts to approve a must-pass spending bill to keep the government open beyond the April 29 funding deadline.

But Trump was angered with the failure of the healthcare bill, the first major legislative initiative of his presidency.

And he decided to act on his initial instinct to cross some of his staunchest allies on the right, against the wishes of establishment figures like Speaker Ryan (R-Wis.) and activists in the conservative movement.

Tea Party leader Mark Meckler told The Hill he was “disgusted” by Trump’s attacks against the House Freedom Caucus.

“The man who promised to ‘Drain the Swamp’ now appears to be the ‘Creature from the Black Lagoon,’ ” said Meckler, who co-founded the Tea Party Patriots and whose new group, Citizens for Self Governance, has a database of 2 million conservative activists.

“He is now on the side of the swamp monsters,” Meckler added.

Meckler and others on the right have warned that Trump risked losing his grassroots base by backing the healthcare bill.

Many conservatives have so far directed their anger at Ryan and GOP leadership, who they say misled the president on the legislation.

But Trump’s attack on the Freedom Caucus could open up a rift with grassroots conservatives.

Even some of the president’s most loyal supporters, like conservative radio host Laura Ingraham, said Trump’s broadsides against the Freedom Caucus could prove counterproductive.

Thursday’s intra-party drama came as the White House struggled to respond to a new report in The New York Times claiming that two White House officials played a role in passing classified information to the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.).

Press secretary Sean Spicer was besieged with questions about whether the White House was the source of information Nunes obtained about incidental surveillance of the Trump transition team.

The Times report appeared to contradict repeated assertions from Nunes that the White House was not the source of his information, giving Democrats new leverage to argue that the House investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election has been compromised.

Stories about Nunes rolled endlessly on cable news on Thursday, even as the GOP’s public battle over who is to blame for the healthcare failure forced members to take sides.

Speaker Ryan said at a news conference that he understood why the president was frustrated, but broke with Trump in a separate interview by stating that he did not want to work with Democrats on healthcare.

And Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), a Trump ally and member of the centrist Tuesday Group, affirmed at a meeting Wednesday that it will not meet with the Freedom Caucus to negotiate changes to an ObamaCare replacement bill.

“It was just reiterated that next time one of those calls comes in [from the Freedom Caucus], just hang up,” Collins said.

In another sign of possible fallout from last week, Ryan on Thursday morning hosted more than a dozen conservative free-market and anti-abortion leaders in his office, including Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, Matt Schlapp of the American Conservative Union and Douglas Holtz-Eakin of American Action Forum.

Noticeably absent from the meeting were any representatives from four outside conservative groups that opposed the healthcare bill: FreedomWorks, Club for Growth, Heritage Action and Americans for Prosperity.

JORDAN FABIAN AND JONATHAN EASLEY

U.S. Politics

10 things you need to know today: March 30, 2017

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Sara D. Davis/Getty Images

THE WEEK

1. Judge extends suspension of Trump’s revised travel ban
A U.S. district judge in Hawaii, Derrick Watson, on Wednesdayextended his nationwide halt on President Trump’s “travel ban,” which seeks to temporarily block entry to the U.S. by refugees and people from six majority Muslim nations. The White House says the policy is necessary to provide time to strengthen vetting procedures to keep out terrorists. The state of Hawaii argues that the policy discriminates against Muslims and damages Hawaii’s economy. Watson’s original March 15 hold on the travel ban was intended to last just two weeks, but on Wednesday he blocked the ban until the state’s lawsuit has gone through the courts.

Source: USA Today

2. North Carolina leaders agree on bathroom-law repeal deal
North Carolina Republican lawmakers said late Wednesday that they had reached a deal with Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, to repeal the state’s controversial “bathroom bill,” which bars transgender people from using public restrooms corresponding to their gender identity. The compromise still would prevent local governments and schools from enacting LGBT anti-discrimination protections. Gay rights groups said the restrictions were unacceptable. Cooper said the compromise was “not a perfect deal, but it repeals House Bill 2 and begins to repair our reputation.” GOP leaders said they would hold debate and a vote on the legislation Thursday. It was not immediately clear whether they had enough votes to pass it, or whether passage of the compromise would be enough to end the numerous boycotts the original bill triggered.

Source: The Associated Press

3. Senate panel to start interviews in Russia inquiry
Senate Intelligence Committee leaders said Wednesday that they would begin as soon as Monday to privately interview 20 people they asked to meet for their investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s election. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the committee’s chairman, said the testimony could become part of a future public hearing “if there’s relevance,” and added that the committee’s staff has been reviewing an “unprecedented amount” of intelligence information. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), the committee’s ranking Democrat, said, “I have confidence in Richard Burr that we together, with the members of our committee, are going to get to the bottom of this.” The committee leaders’ rare news conference came as controversy over the actions of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) have stalled that panel’s Russia investigation.

Source: The Washington Post

4. Merkel rejects a key Brexit demand
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday rejected a central proposal made by British Prime Minister Theresa May in her letter officially launching the process of Britain’s exit from the European Union, saying that the EU would only negotiate the U.K.’s future relationship with the trading bloc after its departure was arranged. In her six-page letter triggering negotiations, May said the two sides should “agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the European Union.” Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, said there would be “no winners” from Brexit, and the coming two years of negotiations would focus on “damage control.”

Source: The Guardian

5. Trump approval rating falls to new low
The latest Gallup tracking poll, released Wednesday, found that President Trump’s approval rating has continued to drop since the failure of the House GOP effort to replace ObamaCare, hitting a new low of 35 percent. Fifty-nine percent of the poll’s respondents said they disapproved of Trump’s job performance. The rating marks a historic low compared to other U.S. presidents’ ratings at this point in their first terms. This is the second time this week that Trump’s approval rating has reached a new low. A Gallup poll released Monday put Trump’s approval rating at 36 percent.

Source: Gallup

6. Ivanka Trump takes formal unpaid job in White House
Ivanka Trump, President Trump’s elder daughter, said Wednesday that she would start working in the White House in an unpaid but formal role, as a senior adviser to her father. Ivanka Trump already has an office in the West Wing. Last week she said she would be serving in an unofficial role, but that sparked an outcry from critics who said in such a capacity she could sidestep some rules and disclosures required of federal employees. “I have heard the concerns some have with my advising the president in my personal capacity while voluntarily complying with all ethics rules,” she said in a statement, “and I will instead serve as an unpaid employee in the White House office, subject to all of the same rules as other federal employees.”

Source: The New York Times

7. 2 Christie allies sentenced to prison over Bridgegate
Two allies of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) were sentenced to prison on Wednesday for their roles in the Bridgegate scandal. Former Christie aide Bridget Anne Kelly was sentenced to 18 months in prison over the scandal, in which officials closed access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in retaliation against a mayor who would not endorse Christie’s 2013 re-election bid. Former high-ranking Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official Bill Baroni got a two-year sentence. Both were found guilty last fall of conspiracy and fraud. Judge Susan D. Wigenton called the politically motivated September 2013 lane closures “an outrageous abuse of power.”

Source: The New York Times

8. 13 die in Texas church bus crash
Thirteen people died Wednesday when their church minibus collided with a pickup truck in Texas. The bus was carrying seniors from First Baptist Church of New Braunfels home from a retreat. The bus was traveling south when the northbound pickup appeared to have veered into its lane on a curve with a 65 mph speed limit, and hit it. Twelve people on the bus, including the driver, died at the scene. Another died after being taken to a hospital, and the 14th person on the bus was injured and hospitalized in serious condition. The driver of the pickup also was injured. Investigators could not immediately say what caused the crash.

Source: CNN

9. China confirms upcoming summit between Xi and Trump
China’s foreign ministry confirmed Thursday that President Xi Jinping would hold his first meeting with President Trump at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago private club in Palm Beach, Florida, on April 6 and 7. Ministry spokesman Lu Kang did not offer any other specifics. The planned talks come as the two nations, the world’s largest and second-largest economies, face a variety of contentious issues, including North Korea, China’s military build-up in the disputed South China Sea, and disagreements on trade. “Both sides should work together to make the cake of mutual interest bigger and not simply seek fairer distribution,” Lu said.

Source: Reuters

10. Samsung reveals first new smartphone since Note 7 fires
Samsung unveiled the new version of its flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S8, in the company’s first product introduction since its disastrous recall of the Note 7 last year after some of the devices caught fire. The company is depending on the Galaxy S8 to put the Note 7 debacle behind it, and face off against tough competition from Apple and Huawei. The new device offers a Siri-like voice assistant, Bixby, and a bevel-less “infinity” display. “The S8 is unquestionably a strong product but Samsung must now deliver a faultless launch to move on from the difficulties of 2017,” said Ben Wood, chief of research at CCS Insight, in an email to CNBC. The phone’s official release date is April 21.

Source: CNBC

U.S. Politics

10 things you need to know today: March 29, 2017

GettyImages-659953290

BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images

THE WEEK

1. May signs letter formally launching Brexit process
British Prime Minister Theresa May has signed a letter that was submitted Wednesday to European Union leaders invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, formally starting the process of pulling the United Kingdom out of the 28-nation trading bloc. In a statement to British lawmakers, May said the kickoff of the process was “the moment for the country to come together.” Voters decided in a divisive June referendum to leave the EU. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said his party would hold the government accountable “every step of the way,” and warned Brexit would be “a national failure of historic proportions” if the government doesn’t protect worker rights. Brexit supporters praised the prime minister for sticking to her timetable for starting formal negotiations.

Source: BBC News, The Washington Post

2. GOP scraps Obama internet privacy rules
The Republican-led House voted Tuesday to roll back landmark internet privacy protections put in place by the Obama administration. In a party-line vote, Republicans removed the limitations imposed last year on what internet service providers, such as Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast, can do with data on customers’ browsing history, app usage, and other personal information. The Senate has already approved the legislation dropping the protections, which were scheduled to take effect this year, so it now goes to President Trump, who is expected to sign it. After that, internet providers will be able to sell data on users’ online activity without their permission.

Source: The Washington Post

3. Perez demands resignation letters from all DNC staffers
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez has requested resignation letters from all DNC staffers by April 15, NBC News reported Tuesday, citing sources familiar with the organization. Some turnover is expected when a new chair takes over, but Perez’s house-cleaning suggests he aims for a wholesale reorganization of the party. Perez was elected in late February to replace interim chair Donna Brazile, who filled the position after former chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) stepped down just before the Democratic National Convention last summer. NBC News reported the “top-to-bottom review process” is intended to discern “how the party should be structured in the future,” after Republicans won both houses of Congress and the White House last year. The DNC declined to comment.

Source: NBC News

4. McConnell vows Gorsuch confirmation coming despite Democrats’ opposition
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that the Senate would confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court next Friday, suggesting that Republicans would use the so-called nuclear option to beat a filibuster by Democrats. The confirmation faces a key procedural vote on Thursday, and leading Democrats say their caucus will stick together to block the process. McConnell then could try to push through a controversial rule change scrapping the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, lowering the number of votes needed for confirmation from 60 to 51. “I hope it doesn’t come to that but if the Democrats force our hand, then we’ll be prepared to do what we need to do to confirm the judge,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the GOP whip.

Source: CNN

5. House GOP leaders vow to keep pushing for ObamaCare replacement
House Republican leaders said Tuesday that they had restarted negotiations on repealing and replacing ObamaCare, just days after their first crack at the legislation under President Trump failed. Trump said he was moving on to other priorities, such as tax cuts, after the House GOP leadership, lacking the support it needed to pass the plan, canceled a vote. Trump sent Vice President Mike Pence to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, however, for talks on trying again. “We’re not going to retrench into our corners or put up dividing lines,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said. “There’s too much at stake to get bogged down in all of that.”

Source: The New York Times

6. Scottish Parliament requests new independence referendum
The Scottish Parliament on Tuesday approved a motion to request another referendum on Scottish independence. In 2014, 55 percent of voters in Scotland voted to stay in the U.K., but Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party, said last year’s decision by U.K. voters to leave the European Union created a “material change in circumstances.” A majority of Scottish voters in that referendum wanted to stay in the EU, and Sturgeon said in support of a second independence vote that “Scotland’s future should be in Scotland’s hands.” British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government promptly denied the Scottish Parliament’s request, saying it would be “unfair” to make people vote before they know what the U.K.’s relationship will be with the EU after Brexit. May’s government is officially starting the process of leaving the trading bloc on Wednesday.

Source: The Washington Post, Reuters

7. Australia hammered by Cyclone Debbie
Australia was battered on Tuesday by Cyclone Debbie, a Category 4 storm with wind gusts reaching 163 miles per hour. Debbie hit in Queensland and knocked out power to tens of thousands of homes. The storm weakened to a Category 2 within hours as it pushed inland, but authorities warned that its high winds and torrential rains remained dangerous. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Tuesday that he knew of one death blamed on the storm. Emergency crews were still trying to reach the hardest hit areas on Wednesday to assess the damage, but many roads were blocked by debris and fallen trees. “It just looks like a bomb has hit this place,” Airlie Beach resident Steve Andrew, 56, said.

Source: BBC News, News.com.au

8. Trump signs order undoing Obama climate policies, as expected
President Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order seeking to undo Obama administration policies that were intended to address climate change. The White House had announced the move in advance, so it came as no surprise. In the sweeping order, Trump told the Environmental Protection Agency to review the Clean Power Plan, which limits greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. He also lifted a ban on new coal leases on federal lands, which Obama put into place for three years in 2016 so the program could be modernized. Trump said the changes would help revive the coal industry and recover lost jobs. Former Vice President Al Gore, an environmental activist, called Trump’s order “a misguided step away from a sustainable, carbon-free future for ourselves and generations to come.”

Source: Reuters, The Associated Press

9. Trump lawyer tries to block lawsuit
A lawyer for President Trump plans to file briefs seeking to delay a lawsuit filed by a former contestant on The Apprentice by arguing that the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause bars people from bringing state lawsuits against a sitting president, according to an article The Hollywood Reporter published Tuesday. Longtime Trump attorney Marc Kasowitz plans to file documents Wednesday in New York’s Supreme Court calling for stopping the lawsuit brought by Summer Zervos, who claims that Trump damaged her reputation by denying her accusation that he tried to kiss her twice in 2007, and attacked her in a hotel room. In Paula Jones’ sexual harassment case against Bill Clinton, the Supreme Court ruled that a president is not immune from lawsuits, but they should be decided promptly.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, The Hill

10. Activists charged with felonies for undercover Planned Parenthood videos
Two anti-abortion activists were charged in California on Tuesday with 15 felonies related to undercover videos they made in which they tried to buy fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood officials. California prosecutors said the activists, David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, invaded the privacy of 14 people by filming them without their consent between October 2013 and July 2015. State Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a former congressional Democrat, said in a statement that the state would “not tolerate the criminal recording of conversations.” Daleiden said in an email to The Associated Press that the charges were “bogus” smears made by “Planned Parenthood’s political cronies.”

Source: USA Today