POLITICS
02/16/2017 06:18 pm ET

HUFFPOST HILL - Thank God It's Friday

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Today’s press conference reminded us of the famous, “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?” scene from “Animal House,” except in today’s version, the scene ended when Bluto Blutarsky stormed into a room filled with generals with the power to start a war if he so pleased. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was forced to stay at a sanitarium due to poor planning, reminding us of all the rich metaphors going unappreciated thanks to the dysfunction at the top. And spies are withholding sensitive information from President Trump, though they could alternately the could just spell out words that they don’t want the president to understand while in the Oval Office. This is HUFFPOST HILL for Thursday, February 16th, 2017:  

Great pay, good benefits, easy access to Cosi on 17th Street: “Donald Trump is trying to convince his preferred candidate to succeed Michael Flynn as national security adviser to change his mind after the retired admiral tapped for the role told the US president that he could not accept the White House position, according to two people familiar with the situation.  Mr Trump asked Robert Harward, a retired navy special forces officer to succeed Mr Flynn, who was fired as national security adviser on Monday. At a press conference on Thursday, he said his decision to replace Mr Flynn had been made easier because he had an ‘outstanding’ candidate to serve as a replacement. But Mr Harward is said to have turned Mr Trump down. ‘Harward is conflicted between the call of duty and the obvious dysfunctionality,’ said one person with first hand knowledge of the discussions between Mr Trump and Mr Harward. The second person said Mr Trump had asked Mr Harward to return to the White House for another meeting to try to change his mind.” [FT’s Demetri Sevastopulo]

DUMPSTER FIRE-IN-CHIEF - Christina Wilkie: “President Donald Trump launched a barrage of attacks on the press and leakers in an unsteady, unwieldy 77-minute press conference in the East Room of the White House on Thursday. With his administration in crisis, Trump also defended the chaotic first month of his presidency, claiming that he had ‘inherited a mess’ from President Barack Obama and that his administration ‘is running like a fine-tuned machine.’ ‘I’m making this presentation directly to the American people with the media present...because many of our nation’s reporters and folks will not tell you the truth and will not treat the wonderful people of our country with the respect they deserve,’ Trump said. ‘Unfortunately, much of the media in Washington, D.C., along with New York, Los Angeles, in particular, speaks not for the people, but for the special interests and for those profiting off a very, very obviously broken system,’ he said.” [HuffPost]

TRUMP GIVES ATTABOY TO GUY HE FIRED - Perhaps the trick is telling the president there’s a rumor that he’s bad at violating the Constitution to goad him to describing all the times he was great at violating the Constitution. Igor Bobic: “President Donald Trump said Thursday that he did not direct retired Gen. Michael Flynn to discuss the issue of sanctions with Russian officials prior to the election. ‘I didn’t direct him ― but I would have directed him, because that’s his job,’ Trump said during a press conference at the White House. ‘What he did wasn’t wrong,’ the president added. Flynn stepped down as Trump’s national security adviser Monday evening following reports that he’d discussed sanctions with Russian officials in late December, contradicting prior denials by top administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence. Flynn’s talk with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., came a day before President Barack Obama’s administration announced sanctions on the Russian government.” [HuffPost]

Speaking of Flynn, he may have straight-up lied to the FBI about all this. [WaPo’s Sari Horwitz and Adam Entous]

 

PRESIDENT ASSUMES BLACK WOMAN KNOWS ALL BLACK PEOPLE, IS A SECRETARY - Well, this was mortifying. Christina Wilkie: “President Donald Trump on Thursday asked an African American reporter at a press conference to set up a meeting for him with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, adding, ‘Are they friends of yours?’ The exchange began when April Ryan, White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief for American Urban Radio Networks, asked the president if he would hold meetings with black caucus members to help craft his urban development policy. ‘Well I would. I’ll tell you what, do you want to set up the meeting?’ Trump said. ‘Do you want to set up the meeting? Are they friends of yours?’ ‘No, I’m just a reporter,’ replied Ryan, adding that she did know some members of the group. ‘Set up the meeting, let’s go, set up the meeting,’ Trump said. ‘I would love to meet with the black caucus. I think it’s great, the Congressional Black Caucus. I think it’s great.’” [HuffPost]

Oh God, then there was this: “NBC reporter Peter Alexander corrected President Donald Trump during a press conference Thursday after the president again made a false claim about his Electoral College victory margin…. Alexander, a correspondent for NBC News, sought to correct Trump on those figures, and pressed him to explain how he could call reporting by outlets like The New York Times and CNN ‘fake news’ while using inaccurate figures himself. ‘Why should Americans trust you?’ asked Alexander. ‘I was given that information,’ Trump said, cutting Alexander off. ‘I don’t know. I was just given it. We had a very, very big margin.’ ‘Why should Americans trust you when you accuse the information they receive of being fake, when you provide information that’s not accurate?’ Alexander asked. ‘I was given that information,’ said Trump. ‘Actually, I’ve seen that information around. But it was a very substantial victory. Do you agree with that?’ ‘You’re the president,’ Alexander replied.” [HuffPost’s Mollie Reilly]

ELIJAH CUMMINGS IS CONFUSED - Well, everybody is, but he’s got a personal reason. Jenna Portnoy: “Rep. Elijah E. Cummings swatted away President Trump’s claim that the Baltimore Democrat wouldn’t meet with him after repeated calls from the White House. Trump made the comment during a wide-ranging news conference Thursday and speculated that Cummings may have been dissuaded from coming to the White House for political reasons, perhaps by Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).... ‘I have no idea why President Trump would make up a story about me like he did today. Of course, Senator Schumer never told me to skip a meeting with the President,’ Cummings said in a statement.” [WaPo]

OH YEAH, TRUMP ALSO ANNOUNCED A NEW LABOR NOMINEE - Naturally, the labor secretary-designee did not factor much into the press conference ostensibly about him. Alexander Kaufman: “President Donald Trump on Thursday named former U.S. attorney R. Alexander Acosta as his new pick to run the Department of Labor. If confirmed, Acosta would be the first Latino member of the president’s Cabinet. Acosta served on the National Labor Relations Board and as assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division under President George W. Bush. The Miami native mostly recently worked as the dean of Florida International University College of Law. The announcement came one day after Andrew Puzder, his first choice for the position, withdrew his name for consideration. The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions had delayed review of Puzder’s labyrinthine business conflicts, history of labor violations and hiring undocumented workers, and accusations that he had physically abused his ex-wife.” [HuffPost]

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TRUMP FAVORABILITY NOW IN 30s - Who knows, maybe this will actually mean something. “Pew Research Center conducted Feb. 7-12 among 1,503 adults, finds that Trump’s overall job approval is much lower than those of prior presidents in their first weeks in office: 39% approve of his job performance, while 56% disapprove. The intensity of the public’s early views of Trump is striking: Fully 75% either approve or disapprove of Trump strongly, compared with just 17% who feel less strongly. Nearly half (46%) strongly disapprove of his job performance, while 29% strongly approve. This level of strong disapproval already surpasses strong disapproval for Barack Obama at any point during the eight years of his presidency. The only occasion when strong disapproval of George W. Bush was higher than for Trump currently was in December 2008, near the end of his presidency.” [Pew Research Center]

AMERICA’S SPIES CAN’T EVEN, RIGHT NOW - Or just write a fake intercepted cable in Pig Latin and show it to the president. Shane Harris and Carol E. Lee: “U.S. intelligence officials have withheld sensitive intelligence from President Donald Trump because they are concerned it could be leaked or compromised, according to current and former officials familiar with the matter. The officials’ decision to keep information from Mr. Trump underscores the deep mistrust that has developed between the intelligence community and the president over his team’s contacts with the Russian government, as well as the enmity he has shown toward U.S. spy agencies. On Wednesday, Mr. Trump accused the agencies of leaking information to undermine him. In some of these cases of withheld information, officials have decided not to show Mr. Trump the sources and methods that the intelligence agencies use to collect information, the current and former officials said. Those sources and methods could include, for instance, the means that an agency uses to spy on a foreign government.” [WSJ]

Here’s some more data to be concerned about: “Just a day before the Senate is slated to vote on Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s nomination run the Environmental Protection Agency, a state district judge ruled Thursday that his office must release roughly 3,000 emails that have not been publicly released. Email correspondence between Pruitt and energy executives during his tenure as attorney general has become the subject of scrutiny from environmental activists and their Democratic allies in the Senate.” [BuzzFeed’s Dino Grandoni]

THIS CAN’T POSSIBLY BE LEGAL - Anthony Capaccio: “Days before taking office, President-elect Donald Trump made two surprise calls to the Air Force general managing the Pentagon’s largest weapons program, the Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35 jet. Listening in on one of those calls was Dennis Muilenburg ― the CEO of Lockheed’s chief rival, Boeing Co…. Trump, who has repeatedly criticized the $379 billion F-35 program as ‘out of control,’ made the highly unusual calls to Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan on Jan. 9 and Jan. 17. Muilenburg, whose company makes a fighter jet Trump has suggested might be an alternative to the F-35, was in the president-elect’s New York office for a meeting during the second call. He appeared caught off-guard but was able to listen in on the call, according to two people familiar with the calls, who asked to remain anonymous discussing sensitive information.” [Bloomberg]

Paul LePage, the human embodiment of “your stupid” emails, is even tired of Trump’s shtick: “Republican Gov. Paul LePage, a supporter of President Donald Trump, said Thursday morning that too many people are vying for power within the White House and that the President should stop treating it like a TV show. ‘The thing I’m sensing is that there’s three or four chiefs at the top,’ the Maine governor told Newsradio WGAN. ‘I would say this: You’ve got to put someone somebody in charge.’” [CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski]

Fox News’ Shep Smith isn’t having it, either.

TRUMP NOT A GREAT STUDENT - Alex Rabin and Rebecca Tan: “For years, President Donald Trump has said it’s clear that he is ‘a very smart guy’ since he attended Wharton — a school he describes as ‘super genius stuff.’ Trump, who graduated from Wharton in 1968, has also never challenged the fact that he ‘graduated first in his class,’ which various publishers and news agencies such as The New York Times have reported. Penn records and Trump’s classmates dispute this claim. In 1968, The Daily Pennsylvanian published a list of the 56 students who were on the Wharton Dean’s List that year — Trump’s name is not among them…. 1968 Wharton graduate Jon Hillsberg added that there was no indication on the 1968 Commencement Program that Trump graduated with any honors. A copy of the program acquired from the Penn Archives lists 20 Wharton award and prize recipients, 15 cum laude recipients, four magna cum laude recipients and two summa cum laude recipients for the Class of 1968. Trump’s name appears nowhere on those lists.” [Daily Pennsylvanian]

NEW MUSLIM BAN TOTALLY WON’T BE A MUSLIM BAN - Except for the thing where it will be. Adam Liptak: “The Justice Department told a federal appeals court on Thursday that it would not seek a rehearing of a decision that shut down President Trump’s targeted travel ban. Instead, the administration will start from scratch, issuing a new executive order, the department said…. In a news conference on Thursday, Mr. Trump said the new executive order would be issued next week.” [NYT]

WHITE HOUSE HAS A BUDGET DIRECTOR NOW - Presumably, he’ll be in charge of getting the money from Mexico for the wall. Jennifer Scholtes: “The Senate confirmed Rep. Mick Mulvaney to be the Office of Management and Budget director Thursday morning in a 51-49 vote. As expected, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) split with his party in opposing the nomination, after voicing continued concerns about Mulvaney’s votes to slash defense spending. Budget Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) noted earlier this week that no administration in the past four decades has been without an initial OMB director longer than the Trump administration has. [Politico]

UBER, BUT FOR BEING TOO UNETHICAL FOR CHICAGO POLITICS - Bill Ruthhart and Hal Dardick: “A former senior executive for Uber who once served as Barack Obama’s campaign manager has been fined $90,000 by the Chicago Board of Ethics for illegally lobbying Mayor Rahm Emanuel on behalf of the ride-hailing company. The board voted 5-0 to find that David Plouffe violated city ethics rules by failing to register as a lobbyist after contacting Emanuel to help the company on regulations for picking up travelers at Chicago’s two airports.” [Chicago Tribune]

Yeeeehaw: “A Texas house representative from Cypress has introduced a bill urging Texans to quit using the Chilean flag emoji as a stand-in for the Lone Star.” [Dallas Morning News]

BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR - Here’s a five-year-old coming to terms with romance.

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION A WELL-OILED MACHINE - We can’t wait for James Mattis to give Airbnb a try. Nick Wadhams and Patrick Donahue: “On his first trip abroad as U.S. secretary of state, Rex Tillerson was forced to stay at a sanitarium in a German village known for its hot springs, 30 minutes from where other world leaders gathered. Diplomatic security agents mingled in the parking lot with elderly people in wheelchairs arriving for spa treatments. Tillerson, the former head of Exxon Mobil Corp., was at the sanitarium because Bonn’s hotels were all booked by the time he confirmed his attendance at this week’s Group of 20 meeting. Counterparts including U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had to make a trek out to meet him. The unusual diplomatic debut continued during an awkward encounter with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. After Lavrov delivered some perfunctory opening remarks alongside Tillerson, U.S. aides quickly ushered reporters from the room. ‘Why did they shush them out?’ Lavrov asked.” [Bloomberg]

COMFORT FOOD

- Babies facetiming with each other is even better than Siri and Alexa talking to each other.

- How to FedEx a giant panda across the globe.

- A look back at the useless internet of the early 1990s.

TWITTERAMA

@jesseltaylor: In a month, Trump will just hold daily press conferences with the Daily Caller and Jim Hoft asking him how it feels to be so successful

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@MEPFuller: Interior Sec. nominee Ryan Zinke is hanging around the House floor, without a tie, living, if not his best life, at least a better life.

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