The Hill's Morning Report: Trump’s Cabinet mess

 

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

HAPPY BIRTHDAY Melania TrumpMelania TrumpTrump Jr. to Dem Senator: 'You admitted to hitting your wife so hard it gave her a black eye!' Melania Trump's spokeswoman gets Hatch Act warning for #MAGA tweet Pamela Anderson claims she convinced Melania Trump to stop wearing fur MORE!!

*** JUST IN: President TrumpDonald John TrumpSunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Ex-Trump staffer out at CNN amid “false and defamatory accusations” Democrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her MORE announces a “Fox & Friends” interview for 8 a.m. EDT (via tweet, natch) ***

CIA Director Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoSunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Pompeo: 'We've not been successful' in changing US-Russia relations Positive Moon-Kim summit creates a diplomatic opening in North Korea MORE will be confirmed by the Senate today to become the next secretary of State. That’s the lone bit of good news for President Trump’s Cabinet officials and nominees, who are otherwise fighting for their political lives. Consider:

Retired Navy Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson

The bizarre saga for Trump’s pick to lead the Veterans Affairs Department appears uglier by the hour.

Montana Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterNelson campaign to donate K from Al Franken group to charity Montana lawmakers cheer recommendation to ban mining north of Yellowstone Cook Political Report moves Texas Senate race to ‘toss-up’ MORE, the ranking Democrat on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, is circulating a two-page document cataloguing the mounting claims against Jackson, the White House doctor under former President Obama and now under Trump.

Among the new allegations:

  • Jackson got drunk and wrecked a government vehicle.
  • Complaints from former staffers that he is “abusive” and “volatile.”
  • He gave a large supply of opioid painkillers to a White House official.

Jackson is denying the claims and the White House is digging in to defend him. Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonTrump blasts Tester at Montana rally: 'He loves the swamp' Renaming Senate office building after McCain sparks GOP backlash GOP senator warns Trump: Anyone who trash-talks McCain 'deserves a whipping' MORE (R-Ga.) said yesterday the nominee would get a hearing.

But Jackson’s nomination has been a rolling disaster and in Washington’s collective opinion, he is now a lost cause. He started with bipartisan reservations about his prior management experience. He is closing out the week as a case study in the White House’s failure to fully vet a nominee or consult with Congress.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders described Jackson on Wednesday as “highly qualified.” A Republican senator, speaking on background to The Hill’s Alexander Bolton, shared a different view: “He’s totally unqualified.”

The Hill: Republicans want Jackson to withdraw.

The Memo: Jackson ‘fiasco’ casts pall over White House.

UPDATE, 7:55 a.m: Trump VA pick withdraws nomination

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittGovernment watchdog probing EPA’s handling of Hurricane Harvey response Wheeler won’t stop America’s addiction to fossil fuels Overnight Energy: Trump rolls back methane pollution rule | EPA watchdog to step down | China puts tariffs on US gas MORE

Pruitt will face the music at hearings today ostensibly about his agency’s budget. He will almost certainly be questioned about the explosion of spending and ethics scandals involving his agency leadership.

Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerHeitkamp knocks GOP challenger for 'disturbing' comments on Kavanaugh allegations 5 things to know about Trump's escalating trade war with China GOP Senate candidate: Allegations against Kavanaugh 'absurd' MORE (R-N.D.) told The Hill’s Timothy Cama and Miranda Green that he wants to see “some contrition” from Pruitt. But The New York Times obtained Pruitt’s prepared talking points, indicating the administrator intends to use a defense that shifts blame to others.

The White House is showing symptoms of  Pruitt fatigue. Republicans on Capitol Hill, similarly afflicted, are increasingly open to investigating him. Expect fireworks.

The Hill: IG investigations cast shadow over Pruitt.

CIA director nominee Gina Haspel

The veteran intelligence officer’s association with the harsh interrogation techniques the U.S. government employed after the Sept. 11 attacks will make her May 9 confirmation hearing difficult.

Two scoops here from The Hill’s Katie Bo Williams explain the dynamics:

The Hill: CIA will allow senators to review classified material on Haspel.

The Hill: Top Senate Dem requests DOJ report on Haspel’s role in destroyed tapes.

Elsewhere:

The Washington Post: Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonBen Carson appears to tie allegation against Kavanaugh to socialist plot The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh, accuser say they’re prepared to testify Report: A third of Ben Carson’s appointees have no housing experience MORE to propose raising rent on low-income individuals.

The New York Times: White House budget officer Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyProtect the Military Lending Act On The Money: Midterms to shake up House finance panel | Chamber chief says US not in trade war | Mulvaney moving CFPB unit out of DC | Conservatives frustrated over big spending bills Warren suggests Mulvaney broke law by speaking to GOP donors MORE praises influence of lobbying money during speech to bankers.

LEADING THE DAY

INVESTIGATIONS, MUELLER PROBE, MICHAEL COHEN:

Three branches of government are in the news today in a widening tangle of probes and protests spun off or tangentially tethered to Russia’s interference with the U.S. election and Donald Trump.

The special counsel’s investigation continues within the Justice Department. Some in the legislative branch seek to protect Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE and his team from being fired by the president. And the judicial branch is busy sorting out investigations and pleadings encircling Trump’s associates and tied to Mueller’s nearly year-long labors.

Some highlights:

The Washington Post: Rudolph Giuliani, Trump’s new personal lawyer, met with Mueller on Tuesday to reopen negotiations for a presidential interview. Giuliani conveyed Trump’s reluctance, and pressed to learn when the Russia probe, which includes an investigation of potential obstruction of justice, might wrap up.

Bloomberg: Attorneys representing the president and those working for Trump’s personal and business attorney Michael Cohen will appear at a New York hearing today to present their ideas to a federal judge about reviewing FBI materials seized from Cohen. Trump’s attorney is the target in a criminal investigation, reportedly involving potential campaign finance violations, and bank fraud.

   The FBI searched Cohen’s home, office, hotel room and safety-deposit box on April 9. Judge Kimba Wood says she could assign a special master to screen for privileged materials.

The Hill: Separately, Cohen said in a Wednesday court document that because of the criminal case, he intends to assert his Fifth Amendment rights in a defamation lawsuit brought by adult-film star Stormy Daniels, who claims an affair with Donald Trump. Cohen admits paying Daniels $130,000 days before the 2016 election. The president recently told reporters he had no knowledge of the payment.  

The Wall Street Journal: Senate Judiciary Committee member Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchKavanaugh accuser agrees to testify next week Judiciary Dems say GOP treating Kavanaugh accuser worse than Anita Hill Dem vows to probe 'why the FBI stood down' on Kavanaugh MORE (R-Utah), an early Trump backer, says in an Op-Ed that he will oppose a committee measure today intended to protect Mueller from being dismissed by Trump, because he believes it’s unconstitutional.

   Nevertheless, Firing Mr. Mueller would be a grave error. It would trigger a crisis, possibly even impeachment,” the Utah senator writes.

The Hill: Senate Democrats are balking at a proposed GOP amendment to that Judiciary Committee measure, calling it a “deal breaker.” (Any committee bill approved is not expected to reach Trump’s desk, but is touted by its proponents in both parties as a potent public warning to the president.)

The Hill: Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsDem warns Trump: 'Obstruction of justice' to fire Rosenstein Donald Trump’s Rosenstein dilemma White House proposes executive order to Trump that would examine tech companies’ practices MORE, who recused himself in that probe nearly a year ago (to the president’s everlasting ire), refused to answer Wednesday when asked if he recused himself in the criminal investigation involving Michael Cohen.

   “I think the best answer for me, having given it some thought, is that I should not announce that,” he told the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Justice Department.

The Washington Post: The fourth estate went to federal court Tuesday seeking to unseal information about the Mueller investigation, including materials used by the special counsel tied to former Trump campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortDem warns Trump: 'Obstruction of justice' to fire Rosenstein Ex-White House official revises statement to Mueller after Flynn guilty plea: report Former White House lawyer sought to pay Manafort, Gates legal fees: report MORE, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and others indicted in the past year. Collaborating in the effort: The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Associated Press, Politico and CNN.

Fox News poll: Mueller likely to find offenses; Trump likely to fire him.

CAMPAIGNS & POLITICS:

Republican Debbie Lesko won Tuesday night’s special election to represent Arizona’s 8th District but the victory could be short-lived.

Election experts say Lesko’s 6-point victory in a district that Trump carried by more than 20 points in 2016 is yet another warning sign for the GOP that Democrats could be in for big gains in the midterm elections. The Hill’s Lisa Hagen reports.

White House press secretary Sanders reasoned that the margin was so small because Lesko is “not Donald Trump.” But Republicans are running nearly 500 candidates for Congress in 2018 and none of them is Donald Trump either.

More bad data for Republicans:

The Hill: Dem leads in Tennessee Senate race.

The Nevada Independent: GOP incumbent Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerHeller embraces Trump in risky attempt to survive in November McConnell suggests he could hold Senate in session through October The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh, accuser say they’re prepared to testify MORE leads Dem challenger by 1 point.

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

➔ Supreme Court and travel ban:

Conservative justices signaled a willingness to uphold the Trump administration’s latest version of a travel ban (The Hill). On the final day of the court’s oral arguments this session, justices grappled with whether the president has the legislative and constitutional powers to ban entry to travelers from certain countries. A ruling in the much-watched case is expected in June.

➔ House leadership:

House GOP chairwoman Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersGOP: The economy will shield us from blue wave Jordan hits campaign trail amid bid for Speaker Conservatives blame McCarthy for Twitter getting before favorable committee MORE (Wash.) is personally calling and meeting with young Republican lawmakers in an effort to tamp down a brewing revolt over her leadership. The Hill’s Scott Wong and Juliegrace Brufke have the juicy details and backstory.

The Hill: Lawmakers demand next Speaker of the House vow to overhaul sexual harassment policies on Capitol Hill.

The Hill: GOP advances proposal to change the Senate’s rules to speed up consideration of Trump’s nominees.

The Hill: House Minority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerDemocrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her Dems' confidence swells with midterms fast approaching Trump's Puerto Rico tweets spark backlash MORE (D-Md.) declined to commit to a leadership shake-up in his party if the GOP controls the House next year. “We’re not going to fall short of a majority, so I don’t really have to consider that,” he said Wednesday.

The Hill: Democratic staffers and lobbyists could see their fortunes rise on K Street if Congress becomes bluer in November.

➔ International news:

French President Emmanuel Macron spent two days burnishing his friendship with Trump. The two appear to have a genuine bond.

On the third day, Macron unloaded on Trump’s worldview before a joint session of Congress, warning the U.S. not to withdraw from the world stage.

The Hill: Macron rips ‘fear and anger’ in speech to Congress.

The divisions between Trump and Macron are clear and substantial.

  • Trump wants to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. U.S. allies are urging patience.
  • Macron wants the U.S. to rejoin the Paris climate accord.
  • Macron opposes Trump’s proposed tariffs aimed at correcting a trade imbalance with the European Union.
  • Trump wants to rip up the Iran nuclear deal. Macron thinks it should be renegotiated.

On Syria and tariffs, perhaps, it’s possible Macron’s friendship could influence Trump.

… On the Paris agreement, former Trump transition adviser Myron Ebell tells us the notion the U.S. could rejoin is “laughable.”

“President Trump now has a well-informed and committed team to support his determination to stay out of the Paris climate treaty.”

And on Iran, Macron signaled what Trump likely communicated to him in private.     

“My view — I don’t know what your president will decide — is that he will get rid of this deal on his own, for domestic reasons.”

The Washington Post: Macron charms both parties in address to Congress.

North Korea:

U.S. intelligence builds a psychological profile of Kim Jong Un to bolster Trump’s pending summit with the enigmatic leader (Pompeo’s intel is key) (Reuters). President Jimmy Carter says he shared his impressions of North Korea’s leaders with Trump’s national security adviser (New York Times magazine).

AP: Rival Koreas’ face high-stakes at historic summit.

OPINION

Scandals aside, Pruitt must answer for his actions at EPA, by Carol M. Browner, former EPA administrator, opinion contributor with The Hill. https://bit.ly/2r0a6Fn

High stakes for Trump administration as Kim, Moon set to meet, by Su Kim, former CIA analyst, opinion contributor with The Hill. https://bit.ly/2vMR1LB

WHERE AND WHEN

The House will convene at 10 a.m. It is “take your children to work day.” Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHow does the 25th Amendment work? Sinema, Fitzpatrick call for long-term extension of Violence Against Women Act GOP super PAC drops .5 million on Nevada ad campaign MORE (R-Wis.) has an 11 a.m. press conference, and Pruitt’s hearing is at 2 p.m.

The Senate convenes at 9:30 a.m. to resume consideration of CIA Director Pompeo’s nomination to become secretary of State.

President Trump and Melania Trump host the Wounded Warrior Project Soldier Ride. (Unclear how the couple plan to celebrate the first lady’s birthday.)

Vice President Pence will travel to Indianapolis for a jobs announcement this afternoon, appearing with Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) and the Indiana Economic Development Corporation at InfoSys.

ELSEWHERE

> Teacher uprisings seeking higher pay, part of #RedforEd movement, spread through Arizona, Colorado, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky (AP).

> First Central American migrants traveling via caravan are expected Sunday to try to enter the U.S. at a border crossing in San Diego (The Associated Press).

> Police in U.S. and 11 other nations shut down the biggest hackers-for-hire platform Wednesday (McClatchy)

>  NBC bet $69 million on Megyn Kelly with “Today,” then viewers vanished (The Wall Street Journal).

> Entertainment: “The Handmaid’s Tale” and the suffering of women (The Atlantic).

THE CLOSER

Two of the most famous and polarizing men on the planet sent Twitter into a craze on Wednesday after expressing their admiration for one another.

On paper, President Trump and rapper Kanye West are an unlikely pair. Trump’s support among African-Americans is abysmal and his support among celebrities in Los Angeles and New York might be worse.

But Trump and West have a lot in common, too. Both pride themselves on speaking their minds. They’re intensely proud and protective of their empires. And both inflame intense emotions among their respective supporters and detractors.

Or as West puts it, they share the same “dragon energy.” We might be in for a second pop culture presidency someday - West this week tweeted “2024.”