The Hill's Morning Report: Can Trump’s VA pick make it through the week?

Welcome to The Hill's Morning Report, and happy Wednesday! This daily email, a successor to The Hill’s Tipsheet, is reported by Jonathan Easley and Alexis Simendinger to get you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch.  (CLICK HERE to subscribe!)

A big question in Washington: Will retired Navy Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, who President TrumpDonald John TrumpSchiff: Surveillance warrant docs show that Nunes memo 'misrepresented and distorted these applications' Chicago detention facility under investigation following allegations of abuse of migrant children Ex-Trump aide: Surveillance warrants are 'complete ignorance' and 'insanity' MORE tapped to lead the Veterans Affairs Department, make it through the week?

Jackson — the White House doctor for former President Obama and now for Trump — was digging in Tuesday, expressing a desire to rescue his nomination. He met with Trump yesterday and says he’ll seek to persuade deeply skeptical senators that he should be confirmed.

The Hill: White House signals it will battle for Jackson.

The New York Times: Trump concedes Jackson has management experience deficits, but denies knowledge of misconduct; White House defends nominee’s record as “impeccable.”

But that was before Montana Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterHistory argues for Democratic Senate gains Overnight Defense: Trump inviting Putin to DC | Senate to vote Monday on VA pick | Graham open to US-Russia military coordination in Syria Senate to vote Monday on Trump's VA nominee MORE, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, detailed for the first time allegations that have imperiled Jackson’s nomination. Tester advised during a CNN interview Tuesday night that “it would be wise for the admiral to do some self-assessment.” Allegations shared with but not corroborated by the committee include:

  • Improper dispensation of prescription drugs, which earned Jackson the nickname “candy man.”
  • Being drunk on duty.
  • Creating a hostile work environment and being abusive toward staff.

Tester said the allegations came from nearly two dozen “retired military folks.”

“We heard the same story from enough people repeatedly that there's a lot of smoke there,” Tester said.

CNN: Jackson allegedly banged loudly on woman’s door at night while drunk during a 2015 overseas trip.

AP: 2012 IG report suggested removing Jackson and a rival colleague from White House roles after finding “severe and pervasive lack of trust in the leadership.”

The Hill: Jackson on the ropes.

Tester said he spoke with John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE. He said the White House chief of staff denied the allegations against Jackson.

At a dramatic press conference, Trump cleared a path for Jackson to back out of the nomination. The president said his nominee doesn’t deserve to go through the “ugly” confirmation process led by the “vicious people” on Capitol Hill and in the press.

Bottom line:

It looks over for Jackson. He was facing questions about his ability to lead the massive VA bureaucracy — he does not have prior management experience at that level — before the misconduct allegations became public. Republicans are increasingly critical of the White House for failing to interview or vet candidates, and Jackson has become a Democratic symbol of West Wing mismanagement.

Sidenote:

Key Obama administration officials have been silent about the controversy. A spokesperson for the former president did not return our request for comment.

LEADING THE DAY

ARIZONA SPECIAL ELECTION:

Republican Debbie Lesko won Tuesday in the state’s 8th Congressional District against Democrat Hiral Tipirneni, 52.9 percent to 47.1 percent, dashing Democrats’ hopes for an upset in the deep-red district (The Hill).

Still, Trump carried the district by more than 20 points in 2016, so the 6 point margin of victory is another troubling sign for Republicans looking ahead to November. Republicans spent big to protect the seat and Democrats have shown they can be competitive in what were once GOP strongholds.

    "The GOP barely hung on to a seat in a region they've represented for 35 years. That spells disaster for them in November." — Bradley Beychok, president of the liberal group American Bridge.

GLOBAL CRUSH:

If Iran threatens us in any way, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid.

— President Trump, talking midday Tuesday about the U.S. withdrawing from a multinational agreement with Iran he again called “a disaster.”

President Trump is feeling the heat from world leaders as key foreign policy deadlines approach.

The president’s three-day visit with French President Emmanuel Macron this week underscores the high stakes and needle threading, as well as the push-and-pull between the administration and some of the nation’s oldest allies.

  • Trump thundered about tearing up the nuclear deal with Iran while also leaving open the possibility that a deal could be reached to amend it before a May 12 deadline.

  • The president spoke glowingly of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, while dangling the possibility he’d walk away from the negotiating table as representatives of the North and South gear up for Friday’s historic meeting at Panmunjom.

  • Standing next to Macron, Trump blasted the U.S. trade agreement with the European Union. Macron followed by disputing Trump’s claim that a massive trade imbalance exists.

  • Trump badly wants U.S. troops out of Syria but has so far refrained publicly from setting a withdrawal timeline while allies push him to keep U.S. forces there.

Trump and Macron have clear chemistry, but it remains to be seen how much influence the French leader will have over the president’s decisionmaking process on any of these fronts.

He’ll get more input here from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who visits Friday, and in phone conversations with British Prime Minister Theresa May.

The president is juggling these dynamics with one hand tied behind his back, as his Cabinet woes simmer beneath the surface and he acclimates to a national security team he overhauled.

Trump has no secretary of State, although Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump privately frustrated over lack of progress with North Korea: report Russian diplomat calls on Pompeo to free accused Russian agent Pelosi: 'Thug' Putin not welcome in Congress MORE likely will be confirmed this week. And the GOP-controlled Congress has not scheduled a confirmation vote for Trump’s ambassador nominee to Germany, Richard Grenell, ahead of Merkel’s visit. Grenell was nominated in September.

The Memo: Nationalists gain upper hand in Trump’s White House.

IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL:

French President Macron
encouraged his American peer on Tuesday to envision a middle ground between pulling out of the 2015 Iran deal, which Trump calls “a disaster,” and salvaging the agreement with the tougher new restrictions Europe proposes as an appeal to the United States.

    “Nobody knows what I’m going to do,” Trump says.

The Hill: GOP anxiety grows over Trump’s Iran decision.

AP: Iran says it would “most likely” abandon the nuclear deal if the U.S. pulls out.

The Washington Post: Why Europe wants to keep the Iran nuclear deal.

Reuters: On steel trade, Macron protested Trump’s tariffs, but the president, as he did recently with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, did not relent.

*** STATE DINNER GUESTS: The Trumps’ guests included Vice President Pence and second lady Karen PenceKaren Sue PenceTrump, Pence offer condolences to families of Missouri boat tour victims 'Our Cartoon President' takes on Mueller probe, NATO and Melania in second season The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Mueller indicts 12 Russian officials for DNC hack | Trump does damage control after bombshell interview MORE; Louisiana GOP Sens. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyGOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE Lawmakers pitch dueling plans for paid family leave New push to break deadlock on paid family leave MORE and John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE, and their wives, and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) and his wife, Donna.

Also in the State Dining Room: Henry and Nancy Kissinger; House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPelosi: 'Thug' Putin not welcome in Congress Interior fast tracks study of drilling's Arctic impact: report Dems unveil slate of measures to ratchet up pressure on Russia MORE (R-Wis.) and his wife, Janna; House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyHouse leaders clash over resolution backing ICE House backs resolution expressing support for ICE House GOP reverses, cancels vote on Dem bill to abolish ICE MORE (R-Calif.) and his wife, Judy; publisher Rupert Murdoch and his model-celebrity wife, Jerry Hall Murdoch; Apple CEO Tim Cook and his Apple colleague, Lisa Jackson, the former EPA administrator under President Obama.

More VIPs: California Rep. Ed RoyceEdward (Ed) Randall RoyceTop Dem lawmaker pushing committee for closed-door debrief with Trump’s interpreter Lawmakers target link between wildlife poaching, terror groups GOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki MORE (R) and wife Marie Royce, confirmed to a State Department post last month; philanthropist David Rubenstein and daughter Gabrielle Rubenstein; Chief Justice John Roberts and his wife, Jane; Maine Gov. Paul LePage and Lauren LePage; and U.S. Ambassador to France Jamie McCourt. ***


TRUMP-KIM SUMMIT:

During Tuesday’s White House press conference, Trump set a high bar for success, saying he wants Pyongyang to “get rid of their nukes.” Arrangements for a Trump-Kim meeting in late May or June remain under discussion.

“Maybe good things will happen; it may be we’re all wasting a lot of time,” Trump says.

Flashback: Trump not long ago mocked Kim as “little rocket man” and Kim called the president a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard.” Now they seek to meet before summer.

Just In #1: Reuters — Trump plans to nominate Adm. Harry Harris, the head of the U.S. Pacific Command already nominated to be the next U.S. ambassador to Australia, to instead fill the long-vacant post of ambassador to South Korea.

Just in #2: Wall Street Journal — North Korea suspected of masterminding a global cyberattack dubbed “Operation GhostSecret” involving 17 nations, including the U.S.

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

➔ Immigration:

A federal judge on Tuesday ruled the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects  immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation, must resume and accept new applicants. 

The New York Times: A district court judge for the District of Columbia ruled the administration’s policy on the DACA program was based on the “virtually unexplained” grounds that the program was “unlawful.”

➔ Investigations:

Taint team or special master? The Hill’s Lydia Wheeler has an important look at a crucial decision facing Kimba Wood, the judge overseeing the federal case against Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen (The Hill).

Trump’s response when asked if he’d pardon Cohen: “Stupid question.”

Bloomberg: Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsData confirm that marijuana decriminalization is long overdue The FIRST STEP Act sets up a dangerous future The Sessions DOJ is working to end the great asylum hustle MORE won’t recuse himself from Cohen probe.

USA Today (op-ed): Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeWisconsin GOP Senate candidate rips his own parents for donations to Dems GOP moderates hint at smooth confirmation ahead for Kavanaugh GOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE MORE (R-Utah) calls legislation to protect special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE “unconstitutional.”

➔ Beyond Arizona, more politics:

  • The House midterm landscape has been rearranged by Trump’s struggles with college-educated voters and minorities, whose fervor has Democrats believing they can compete in districts long thought to be out of reach, The Hill’s Reid Wilson reports (The Hill).
  • Democrats won special elections to fill two open state Senate seats in New York on Tuesday, giving the party a majority in the legislative chamber for the first time in years (The Hill).

OPINION

Liberal education is in bad shape, by Peter Berkowitz, commentary, The Weekly Standard. https://tws.io/2HXA8jR

Pardoning Cohen could make things worse for Trump, by Jonathan Turley, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2vGmvDp

WHERE AND WHEN

The House and Senate meet jointly today for French President Macron’s speech in the Capitol. Senators will hear from Attorney General Jeff Sessions this afternoon as he testifies before the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies.

President Trump meets with Tim Cook, CEO of Apple.

Vice President Pence heads to Milwaukee to headline an America First Policies “Tax Cuts to Put America First” event. In the evening, Pence will appear at a fundraiser for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), who is seeking reelection.

ELSEWHERE

> National Rifle Association breaks a 15-year fundraising record (McClatchy)

> Republican women wonder when they’ll see a female House Speaker (CNN). Meanwhile, House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Dramatic battle looms after Kennedy’s retirement Immigration overhaul on life support in the House Vulnerable House GOP leader takes lead on family separations bill MORE (Wash.) called a meeting Thursday with a group of younger GOP lawmakers following reports they are dissatisfied with her management of the Republican conference (The Hill).

> Trump team pushing to achieve NAFTA rewrite by early-May deadline (Los Angeles Times)

> Medical providers, insurers and patients are encouraged to change practices to lower U.S. rate of maternal deaths and near-deaths (ProPublica and NPR)

> Armstrong Williams, a close confidant for Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonTrump walks a tightrope with comments on NATO Progressive politics have done nothing to help black America Is civility in America really dead? MORE, has purchased three television stations from the Sinclair Broadcast Group, bringing his total to 10 nationwide.

THE CLOSER

From head to toes:

It was a chapeau seen round the world. First lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpSoccer ball Putin gifted to Trump gets routine security screening Kavanaugh returns questionnaire to Senate panel Trump says he 'did nothing wrong' after Cohen tape revelation MORE yesterday wore a large white hat on a cloudy day. And kept it on indoors. Oh là là.

And finally … step it up, creative thinkers and problem-solvers! One of the most influential inventors of the 20th Century (so named by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) wrote this week that the most important principle is not to invent solutions looking for problems.”

Engineer Shintaro “Sam” Asano mentors young inventors, and is still trying to deliver inventive solutions at age 83. Asano is credited with creating the modern, portable fax machine in 1961, and helping devise those screens on which we scribble our signatures with credit cards. Recognizing the needs of a growing elderly population, he and his team are testing a new shoe-insert system that detects falls and sends out alerts to help vulnerable seniors. A step forward.