White House Correspondents' Dinner emcee and The Soup host Joel McHale pulled no punches Saturday night in skewering everyone and everything in Washington. But he reserved his harshest criticisms for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), dinging the governor again and again as, more or less, a big fat jerk.
You could see where the night was going when McHale opened by saying he hoped to make the event be "amusing and over quickly, just like Chris Christie's presidential bid." After laying into the governor a few more times, McHale then mocked Christie's supposed Bridgegate vindication — Christie-appointed lawyers determined the governor had nothing to do with the incident — by exonerating his own participation in his Christie jokes.
"I just looked into it," McHale joked. "It turns out I'm not responsible for it. Justice has been served." --Jon Terbush
Voters have less confidence in President Trump's ability to do his job following the Republican Party's failure to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act last week. In a Politico/Morning Consult survey taken entirely after the GOP withdrew their bill, just 26 percent of voters felt "very confident" in Trump's ability to serve as commander-in-chief, compared with 36 percent who are not confident "at all."
Trump's declining approval rating was steeper with Republicans and independents than Democrats. In particular, the support of self-identified Trump voters shrank from 90 percent last week to 84 percent this week. Overall, 38 percent of voters strongly disapprove of Trump, compared with 23 percent who strongly approve.
"President Trump's approval ratings are at their lowest point since he took office, according to the weekly Politico/Morning Consult surveys," said Morning Consult co-founder Kyle Dropp. "However, as this week's results represent a relatively sharp departure from the recent trendline, we will keep a close watch in subsequent weeks before drawing major conclusions."
Republicans don't seem eager to go to the mat to finance President Trump's border wall with Mexico, at least in the stopgap spending bill that must pass by April 28 to avoid a government shutdown. Still, on Tuesday, the White House sent Congress a request for an immediate cut of $18 billion from domestic programs to pay for the wall, The Associated Press reports, citing a Capitol Hill aide who described the unreleased documents.
The requested cuts reportedly include $1.2 billion from National Institutes of Health medical grants, $1.5 billion from community development grants, $500 million from a transportation grant program, $434 million to eliminate a program to encourage community service among senior citizens, and $372 million from heating subsidies for the poor.
As with Trump's 2018 budget plan, Congress will probably ignore Trump's requests, though building the wall is a high priority for Trump and the White House hasn't yet joined the 2017 spending negotiations. Democrats pounced anyway. "The administration is asking the American taxpayer to cover the cost of a wall — unneeded, ineffective, absurdly expensive — that Mexico was supposed to pay for, and he is cutting programs vital to the middle class to get that done," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y). "Build the wall or repair or build a bridge or tunnel or road in your community? What's the choice?"
How much the wall would cost is an open question. Republicans estimate a price tag of $12 billion to $15 billion, a Homeland Security Department report put the cost at $21.6 billion, and on Tuesday, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) suggested the final number could hit $66.9 billion. McCaskill, the top Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said she based her estimate on a briefing for committee staff in which the administration explained that its 2018 budget request of $2.6 billion for the wall would go toward constructing 75 miles of new wall. She did the math for the 1,827 viable miles of border, conceding that this wasn't a perfect way to get an accurate estimate.
"It is concerning that the cost of construction could also be significantly higher, as the cost of acquiring land currently owned by private individuals was not included in the estimate," McCaskill wrote to the acting head of U.S. Customs and Border protection. "Regardless, the $36.6 million per mile figure is the only information, and the closest to a cost estimate that the Committee has obtained from DHS." Peter Weber
Amid all the intrigue and speculation over possible collusion between President Trump's campaign and Russian intelligence, big questions remain about Trump's business dealings with Russia — a mystery that might be solved if Trump released his tax returns. Trump has sent mixed signals about his business ties with wealthy Russians, saying in February he has "no dealings with Russia" or "loans with Russia," and in 2013 telling Real Estate Weekly after a meeting with potential investors in Moscow that he has "great relationship with many Russians," especially "the oligarchs." Donald Trump Jr. also told Russian media in 2008 that "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross section of a lot of our assets."
On Tuesday, USA Today looked at the "wealthy Russians and oligarchs from former Soviet Republics — several allegedly connected to organized crime," who have invested in Trump-branded real estate, basing the article on a "review of court cases, government and legal documents, and an interview with a former federal prosecutor." The review focused on "10 wealthy former Soviet businessmen with alleged ties to criminal organizations or money laundering," but the pertinent question now is whether Trump is beholden to Kremlin-linked Russian oligarchs.
Ken McCallion, a private lawyer and former assistant U.S. attorney in New York during the Carter and Reagan administrations, says that's a real possibility. McCallion told USA Today that he spent years looking into the Trump Organization and its business relationships, especially with Russians. "The FBI is always concerned if public officials can be blackmailed," he said. "It's Russian-laundered money from people who operate under the good graces of President Putin. If these people pull the plug on the Trump Organization, it would go down pretty quickly." You can read a lot more about the oligarchs and their alleged ties to Trump at USA Today, and get an overview in the video report below.
The White House referred USA Today to the Trump Organization, which said that it "never entered into a single transaction with any of these individuals and the condominium units were all owned and sold by third parties — not Trump." Peter Weber
Late Tuesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May signed a letter formally notifying the European Union that the U.K. is invoking Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty, beginning the countdown for Britain's exit from the union. Britain's ambassador to the EU will deliver the letter to European Council president Donald Tusk on Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. local time. May's government will then lead divorce negotiations with the EU, and in March 2019, Britain will leave the EU, deal or no deal.
The EU in coming days will come up with draft negotiation guidelines, and EU leaders will meet without May on April 29 to adopt a common negotiating stance. The talks will work to unravel the regulations, laws, and other agreements that have bound Britain and the EU since the U.K. joined the bloc in 1973. Peter Weber
Nobody seems sure what is going on with President Trump and Russia, and that's "partly because it's really complicated," Stephen Colbert said on Tuesday's Late Show. It's also because Trump has "really boring spies," he said. "So I'm going to liven it up right now by explaining the situation with more exciting spies, the Tom Clancy novels." This works out better than you might think.
Colbert spent a few minutes on the new Trump-Russia revelations, including Jared Kushner's previously undisclosed meeting with a sanctioned Russian bank in December. "And it looks like the pressure of these Russian rumors are getting to the administration," he said, a point he illustrated with Sean Spicer's quip about Trump and Russian dressing. "Wait a second, the president put Russian dressing on a salad tonight?" Colbert said. "That's huge news! Trump ate a salad?" Still, based on his twitter feed, "Russia rumors must be getting to Trump, too."
Rumors aside, "what's the truth?" Colbert asked. "Was there nefarious collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, or is this all just being blown out of proportion by the liberal media over at The New York Times and the FBI? Who knows?" Not, he suggested, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, who "doesn't seem all that focused on Russia, because he's spent a lot of time trying to validate Trump accusing Obama of wiretapping him a couple of weeks ago."
Nunes held a surprise press conference last week saying he'd seen evidence that U.S. intelligence agencies inadvertently picked up Trump team communications with foreign powers, but hasn't shared it with his committee members and says he'll never reveal his source. In fact, Colbert said, "the only person he has briefed on the subject is Donald Trump. Oh, that is brilliant detective work. You gather all the evidence you can on the prime suspect, and then you share it with him." The big questions are "what Nunes found out, and who leaked it to him," Colbert said. "And to get to the bottom of that, we're going to need The Late Show's Figure-It-Out-a-Tron." Think Glenn Beck's chalkboard, but naughtier. "He's really in Trump's inner circle," Colbert said, drawing complete. "And no matter where this investigation leads, no matter what we find out, one thing is true: Nunes is not coming out of this smelling like a rose." Watch below. Peter Weber
If you heard talk about Russian dressing on Tuesday, this testy exchange between White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and April Ryan, the White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, is probably why.
Ryan was reminding Spicer of all the Russia-related news the White House is dealing with — the scuttled Sally Yates testimony, President Trump's widely dismissed claims he was wiretapped at Trump Tower, the broader Russia investigation — and Spicer cut it, rejecting the premise. "No, we don't 'have' that," he said. "I've said it from the day that I got here until whenever that there's not a connection. You've got Russia. If the president puts Russian salad dressing on his salad tonight, somehow that's a Russian connection."
Nevertheless, Ryan persisted. Spicer selectively insisted that everyone has dismissed reports of Trump-Russia collusion, despite the ongoing FBI investigation, and told Ryan, "I'm sorry that that disgusts you. You're shaking your head." He accused her of pursuing an "agenda" and ignoring "facts," and when she changed subjects to ask about a White House visit by Condoleezza Rice, Spicer accused Ryan of being "hellbent on trying to make sure that whatever image you want to tell about this White House stays," adding again: "Please, stop shaking your head again."
Even though he said "please," Spicer instructing a reporter — especially a black female reporter — on how she should gesture or behave rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, including Ryan.
— AprilDRyan (@AprilDRyan) March 28, 2017
Hillary Clinton, in a rare public speech Tuesday, said Ryan "was patronized and cut off as she tried to ask a question," threw in Bill O'Reilly's jab at Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), and said: "Too many women, especially women of color, have had a lifetime of practice taking precisely these kinds of indignities in stride." At The Washington Post, Aaron Blake noted that Spicer has clashed with male reporters plenty of times, but this "seemed to venture into different territory." And oddly, he added, "the mere premise that Russia is an issue for the White House seemed to set Spicer off." Peter Weber
Rep. Maxine Waters multitasked on Tuesday night, dressing down Fox News host Bill O'Reilly while at the same time sharing an empowering message for women.
On Tuesday morning, Fox & Friends had shown a clip of Waters speaking out against President Trump. "I didn't hear a word she said," O'Reilly told the Fox News morning hosts. "I was looking at the James Brown wig." Waters hit back later that day. "I'm a strong black woman and I cannot be intimidated," she said on All In with Chris Hayes. "I cannot be undermined."
— All In w/Chris Hayes (@allinwithchris) March 29, 2017
Speaking directly to the women watching, Waters implored them not to "allow these right-wing talking heads, these dishonorable people, to intimidate you or scare you. Be who you are, do what you do, and let us get on with discussing the real issues of this country." When a woman "stands up and speaks truth to power," people will attempt to "put her down," Waters added. "I am not going to be put down, I am not going anywhere. I am going to stay on the issues." For his part, O'Reilly told Time his comment about her hair was "dumb. I apologize." Catherine Garcia