The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by FICO — First lady Melania Trump steps out

 

 

 

Welcome to The Hill's Morning Report, and happy Monday! 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!)

 

First Lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpTrump, Pence offer condolences to families of Missouri boat tour victims Avenatti says Cohen's Trump recording 'is not the only tape' NYT: Cohen taped Trump on payment to ex-Playboy model MORE steps out of her comfort zone and into the spotlight today.

Melania Trump, who has carved out a private life as she and President TrumpDonald John TrumpWSJ: Trump ignored advice to confront Putin over indictments Trump hotel charging Sean Spicer ,000 as book party venue Bernie Sanders: Trump 'so tough' on child separations but not on Putin MORE raise their son Barron Trump at the White House, will unveil her formal initiatives as first lady at 3 p.m. in the Rose Garden.

 

Her focus will be on the well-being of children, a White House source told us Sunday, and she wants her portfolio to be a bit broader than the single initiatives often identified with previous first ladies.

That’s in line with Melania Trump’s favorite issues during her 12 months in Washington to date: A push to combat cyberbullying; raising awareness about children’s struggles during the nation’s opioid epidemic; and photo sprays of carefully planned visits to children’s hospitals and to comfort families at disaster relief centers.

Trump remains something of a national mystery. She’s largely managed to avoid the circus atmosphere that engulfs her husband’s presidency, even as the news media scrutinize everything from her choice of footwear during a trip to hurricane-ravaged Texas to the cool posture she maintains with her husband when they’re in public.

The spotlight will be especially intense this afternoon. The first lady’s event among May’s flowers — planned to take place just steps from the Oval Office — comes amid a presidential sex scandal involving adult-film actress Stormy Daniels. That real-life drama, denied by the president, was spoofed this weekend on "Saturday Night Live," with actress Cecily Strong portraying the first lady, wearing her iconic white hat, asking Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen, played by actor Ben Stiller, if she could turn her husband in.

Still, the former fashion model from Slovenia knows how to make an impression when big moments demand it, especially as America’s stylish ambassador. She won plaudits for the recent state dinner to honor French President Emmanuel Macron and Brigitte Macron, for representing the White House solo at former first lady Barbara Bush’s funeral in Houston, during a state visit to Japan six months ago, and with son Barron Trump and the president during April’s annual White House Easter Egg Roll.

"You think her life is so easy, folks?” President Trump said during a rally in Pennsylvania last month. “Not so easy."

The Washington Post: Inside Melania Trump’s complicated life.

 

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LEADING THE DAY

INVESTIGATIONS: Special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s team suffered two significant setbacks over the course of a 24-hour period this weekend.

On Saturday, a federal judge rejected the prosecutor’s request to delay the first hearing in a criminal case against 13 Russian individuals and three Russian entities accused of using social media to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

Politico reports that Mueller’s team may have been caught off guard when the Washington lawyers representing the Russians sought to “force Mueller’s team to turn over relevant evidence to the Russian firm and perhaps even to bait prosecutors into an embarrassing dismissal in order to avoid disclosing sensitive information.”

CNN: Russian company charged in Mueller probe to plead not guilty.

That drama unfolded a day after a federal judge scolded Mueller’s prosecutors in the fraud trial for Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortFailings by WhatsApp, Signal and others highlight the need to take back our privacy The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and Congress at odds over Russia The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump eyes second Putin summit MORE, essentially accusing them of going after Manafort in an effort to get at Trump.

The Hill: Judge in Manafort case pushes back on prosecutors.

Jonathan Turley: Mueller puts politics above the law.

“It’s unlikely you’re going to persuade me the special counsel has unfettered power to do whatever he wants.” — U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III.

Associated Press: Mueller team interviewed Trump friend Tom Barrack.

The Hill: President would not have to respond to a Mueller subpoena, his legal team says.

Those developments were largely drowned out by the ongoing media blitz by Trump’s new attorney Rudy Giuliani and his back-and-forth with Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for Daniels. Avenatti appeared on three Sunday morning news shows this weekend, while Daniels played herself on “Saturday Night Live.”

Alan Dershowitz: Trump team playing into Mueller’s hands.

The Memo: Trump legal moves roil Washington.

The New York Times: How attorney Michael Cohen built a shadowy business empire.

The Wall Street Journal: Mueller team might have to go dark for midterm elections.

The Wall Street Journal: House Intelligence Committee Dems plan to release 3,000 Russia-linked Facebook ads within days.

INTERNATIONAL: This is a week to watch. As one example, NAFTA talks are described as at a “make or break” crossroads.

North Korea: South Korean news media, citing unnamed sources, report the summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un is likely to take place in the city-state of Singapore, in mid-June. (The president has said the location and date are set, but an announcement is pending.)

Trump spoke with British Prime Minister Theresa May on Saturday about North Korea and Iran.

The Associated Press: Pyongyang on Sunday criticized what it called “misleading” claims that the U.S. policy of maximum political pressure and sanctions are what drove the North to the negotiating table.

            Reuters: North Korea on Sunday said its denuclearization pledge is not the result of economic sanctions.

    The New York Times: The end of a nuclear North Korea will be difficult to verify.

            The Hill: North Korea’s army of hackers is growing more capable, and more brazen.

Iran: Trump faces a deadline on Saturday to decide if the U.S. will withdraw from the nuclear deal with Tehran.

            The Associated Press: Britain's ambassador to the U.S. said Sunday his country believes it's still possible to address Trump's concerns about the Iran nuclear deal in time to prevent him from pulling out of the agreement.

The Boston Globe: Former Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryKerry on Trump's Russia response: 'I don't buy his walk-back for one second' John Kerry: Trump 'surrendered lock, stock and barrel' to Putin's deceptions Get ready for summit with no agenda and calculated risks MORE, who negotiated the Iran nuclear agreement during the Obama administration, has engaged in unprecedented shadow diplomacy with Tehran in an effort to keep the deal intact.

The Hill:  The Iran deal’s supporters and opponents are digging in for a fight over the nuclear agreement.

China: South China Morning Post: High-level trade talks last week between the United States and China failed to achieve breakthroughs, sparking discussions that Trump and President Xi Jinping may need to negotiate directly.

            The Los Angeles Times: Trump team’s talks in China raise questions and fears of a trade war.

The Associated Press: China’s targets could become U.S. companies and debt if U.S. plays hardball on trade.

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IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

➔  CAMPAIGNS: The primary season for the 2018 midterm election begins Tuesday with contests in Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio and West Virginia. Last night, the fundraiser-in-chief for Democrats, former President Obama, was in Beverly Hills to raise money for Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillPolling analyst: Same Dems who voted for Gorsuch will vote for Kavanaugh Pollster: Kavanaugh will get Dem votes Overnight Health Care: Trump officials explore importing prescription drugs | Key ObamaCare, drug pricing regs under review | GOP looks to blunt attacks on rising premiums | Merck to lower some drug prices MORE (D-Mo.), who is among the most vulnerable of the red-state Dems seeking reelection.

    Former first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaMichelle Obama joins stars in launch of voter registration push The Hill's Morning Report — Russia furor grips Washington Michelle Obama launches voter registration initiative ahead of midterms: report MORE appeared Saturday at the United State of Women Summit in Los Angeles. She waved off calls to run for office and talked up ways parents and employers can expand education and work opportunities for girls and women (Variety).

The Hill: GOP takes gloves off against former coal executive in West Virginia.

Washington Post: Once-safe GOP lawmakers are struggling for a survival strategy.

The Associated Press: In the heartland, Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiTop Ethics Dem calls for Nielsen to resign Dems unveil slate of measures to ratchet up pressure on Russia GOP looks to blunt Dems’ attacks on rising premiums MORE tells Democrats they have the cash and environment to win the House.

The Hill’s Amie Parnes, the bestselling author of “Shattered,” reports on the Democratic hopefuls heading to Trump country as the so-called invisible primary gets underway.

The Hill: Dems face pressure to focus on economy, not Trump.

Steve Israel: Democrats should stop agonizing over a national message.

The Associated Press: Early GOP primaries shaping up as rightward march with Trump.

➔  CONGRESS:  The House will be in session until May 24, and the Senate through May 25 before lawmakers take a week off for the Memorial Day holiday. So, what are they up to this week?

Budget: The Hill — Republicans in the House are collaborating with the White House to unveil an $11 billion rescissions package as early as today.

Lending: The Hill — The House plans to take up a resolution of disapproval Tuesday dealing with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s policy on indirect auto lending.

Environment: The Washington Examiner — The House is expected to turn Thursday to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 2018.

Term Limits: The Hill – Some House conservatives are keen to push for term limits in Congress, a familiar idea that foundered decades ago.

Net Neutrality: The Hill — Senate Democrats are taking the first step toward setting up a floor vote on the Federal Communication Commission’s net neutrality rule.

Drug Prices/Medicare: The Hill — What to watch as Trump this week gives a long-awaited speech about reducing the costs of pharmaceuticals.

Farm Bill: House GOP leaders will begin to gauge lawmakers’ support for the farm bill this week.

Confirmations: The Senate Intelligence Committee scheduled a confirmation hearing Wednesday for Gina Haspel to lead the CIA.

 ADMINISTRATION:  Fifteen months into the administration, Trump’s Cabinet officials and personnel picks continue to invite plenty of scrutiny.

Justice Department: The Hill— Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an early Trump campaign adviser and supporter, has become a favorite presidential punching bag who never regained Trump’s trust after recusing himself from the Russia investigation.

EPA: The Hill – Senior staff members working for embattled Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Court rejects new effort to stop kids' climate lawsuit | Baltimore is latest city to sue over climate change | EPA staffers worried about toxic chemical in Pruitt's desk Pruitt staffers worried about toxic chemical in his desk Andrew Wheeler must reverse damage to American heartland MORE are part of what’s described as a “get out of dodge” exodus as the agency’s leader remains a subject of more than a dozen investigations.       

Veterans Affairs: The New York Times – Trump purged former Secretary David ShulkinDavid Jonathon ShulkinTrump loyalists purge VA of longtime staffers who don’t support agenda: report Poll: Majority in some GOP districts say Republicans 'more corrupt' than Dems On paper, Wilkie is the perfect candidate for VA secretary, but his qualifications go further MORE, then tapped his White House physician, Navy Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, to lead the troubled department. Jackson’s withdrawal after allegations of misconduct and reservations about his lack of management experience contributed to a level of chaos that extends deep inside the department.

            The Hill: The controversy over allegations about Jackson’s conduct impacted Dr. Jennifer Peña, a physician in the White House Medical Unit previously assigned to care for Vice President Pence. Her clashes with Jackson over medical issues involving 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, reported by CNN, preceded her sudden resignation last week.

CIA: The Washington Post – Haspel, Trump’s pick to lead the CIA, is preparing for tough Senate questioning during her confirmation hearing Wednesday about her years as a career spy. Concerns about her involvement with harsh interrogation techniques condemned by some lawmakers as torture contributed to Haspel’s consideration Friday of backing out of the nomination. She reportedly was talked out of it by colleagues and White House officials.

The Hill: White House steps up efforts to confirm Haspel.

HHS-President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition: CNN – The president’s selection Friday of Mehmet Oz, also known on television as “Dr. Oz,” a cardiothoracic surgeon, to serve on a council that is part of the Health and Human Services Department invited controversy because of past criticisms of the Columbia University professor’s promotion of weight loss and diet supplement products and his freewheeling medical advice on television.

OPINION

President Obama’s silent regulatory army marches on, by Charlie Kirk, opinion contributor with The Hill. https://bit.ly/2HWyOx0

 

America must leave the Iran deal, by Douglas Schoen, opinion contributor with The Hill. https://bit.ly/2rp7Pmy

WHERE AND WHEN

Congress returns to work today.

 

Trump will receive his intelligence briefing.

 

Pence will speak to a special session of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington about his recent trip to the Summit of the Americas in Peru. In the afternoon, he meets with the UK’s secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs.

 

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoHillicon Valley: Trump's Russia moves demoralize his team | Congress drops effort to block ZTE deal | Rosenstein warns of foreign influence threat | AT&T's latest 5G plans Dem lawmaker calls on Pompeo to keep export restrictions on 3D gun-printing software Questions mount over Trump-Putin discussions MORE meets this morning at Foggy Bottom with UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson (Johnson has an op-ed in The New York Times called “Don’t Scuttle the Iran Deal, and he’s expected to appear on “Fox & Friends” in an effort to get that message to President Trump). This afternoon Pompeo meets with Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray. The secretary and Videgaray this evening participate in a joint news conference at the department.

ELSEWHERE

> EMILY’s List PAC faces tough calls (and second-guessing) as a surge of female Democratic candidates compete for money and votes, by Sheryl Gay Stolberg, The New York Times https://nyti.ms/2jw8DT9

 

> Swing voters in 2018: 38 voters in 14 states who pulled the lever for Trump after supporting Obama... It’s a variable wind situation,” one North Carolina voter tells The New York Times https://nyti.ms/2HVLGU1

 

> Book of the Week from BBC Radio 4: “Sharp: The Women who Made an Art of Having an Opinion,” by Michelle Dean. Audio profiles of five of 10 women featured by Dean (Nora Ephron, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Mary McCarthy and Dorothy Parker) https://bbc.in/2IlAyDe (book review by The New York Times).

THE CLOSER

Media news around town: Amy Walter, national editor of the Cook Political Report, will be the new Friday host for The Takeaway, courtesy of Public Radio International and WNYC AM 820/93.9 FM, starting June 1. Journalist Tanzina Vega will host the rest of the week beginning today.

 

Awards: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump and Congress at odds over Russia Senate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit Senate approves resolution warning Trump not to hand over US officials MORE (R-Tenn.), who is retiring from Congress, will be honored this evening in the Dirksen Senate Office Building with an inaugural public diplomacy award from George Washington University’s Institute for Public Diplomacy. Assistant Secretary of State Marie Royce will be among the guests.

 

Arizona Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainObama, Bush veterans dismiss Trump-Putin interpreter subpoena Controversial Trump judicial nominee withdraws Trump vows to hold second meeting with Putin MORE (R) has a new memoir, “The Restless Wave: Good times, Just Causes, Great Fights and Other Appreciations” hitting bookstores May 22 and continues treatment for brain cancer in Arizona at age 81. For The New York Times “By the Book” feature last week, the conservative maverick shared his thoughts about books he admires, has reread and works that influenced his world view. For anyone who’s watched the senator over the decades, or shared his era in public service, the entire Q&A is an uplifting Monday morning read:

What books do you think best capture your own political principles?

“Ernest Hemingway’s `For Whom the Bell Tolls.’ It’s my favorite novel of all time. It instructed me to see the world as it is, with all its corruption and cruelty, and believe it’s worth fighting for anyway, even dying for. No just cause is futile, even if it’s lost, if it helps make the future better than the past.”