Stephen Bannon, President Trump's chief strategist, apparently had a rough day at the office on Wednesday. The night before, Trump had told the New York Post, "I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late," and before that, "I didn't know Steve." (They met in 2011.) "I'm my own strategist," he added, a phrase he repeated to The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, when he also called Bannon "a guy who works for me." Some of Bannon's associates characterized Trump's public dressing-down as a paternal "love tap," The Washington Post reports, while others fear it was "an indirect firing."
Bannon "is a marked man — diminished by weeks of battles with the bloc of centrists led by Trump's daughter and son-in-law and cut down by the president himself," The Washington Post said, basing its assessment on "interviews Wednesday with 21 of Trump's aides, confidants, and allies." One Bannon friend likened him to "a terminally ill family member who had been moved into hospice care," the Post said, while others suggested Bannon might survive for a little longer.
"Bannon is a brilliant pirate who has had a huge impact," said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. "But White Houses, in the end, are like the U.S. Navy — corporate structures and very hard on pirates." A "person with firsthand knowledge of internal White House dynamics" told The New York Times that while no change is imminent, Trump's comments and Bannon's recent demotions have made it very hard for the chief strategist to keep his job and his stature.
Not every Trump insider is numbering Bannon's days. Thomas Barrack Jr., a close Trump friend and business associate, spent Tuesday and Wednesday meeting with Trump and his senior team in Washington. He told CNN's Erin Burnett Wednesday night that things have never been better at the Trump White House and Bannon isn't going anywhere.
Still, Bannon's supporters are watching the situation warily, including his main political patron, Rebekah Mercer, who views Bannon as her main conduit to Trump. Mercer is reportedly already looking for opportunities for Bannon should he leave the White House early, but her family's ties to Bannon are one of the things that might keep him employed at the White House. "While the president has grown weary of directives from donors like the Mercers," The New York Times reports, "he is mindful that they are among his major financial backers, and he is said to be conscious of the need to keep it that way." Peter Weber
Syrian government strikes have killed some 500 civilians, including about 120 children, over the course of a week in the East Ghouta suburb of Damascus, reports the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The activist group says Russian planes are assisting with the attacks, but Russia denies direct engagement.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces reportedly used barrel bombs and artillery shells to target the area where some 400,000 people have no option of escape. Civilians are "being forced into bunkers and many of them can't even find the time to bury their dead," reports NPR's Lama Al-Arian. The Assad regime says its goal is to liberate civilians from a nearby rebel enclave.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is pushing for a U.N. resolution implementing a 30-day ceasefire so humanitarian aid can be delivered to East Ghouta. "I am deeply saddened by the terrible suffering of the civilian population," he said, describing the situation as "hell on Earth." If the resolution passes — Moscow is demanding edits in exchange for its support — its prospects for enforcement are dubious.
Delta and United Airlines on Saturday announced they are cutting ties with the National Rifle Association (NRA).
Delta is reaching out to the NRA to let them know we will be ending their contract for discounted rates through our group travel program. We will be requesting that the NRA remove our information from their website.
— Delta (@Delta) February 24, 2018
United is notifying the NRA that we will no longer offer a discounted rate to their annual meeting and we are asking that the NRA remove our information from their website.
— United Airlines (@united) February 24, 2018
The airlines join the Avis, Hertz, Enterprise, Alamo, and National car rental brands as well as First National Bank of Omaha, Best Western hotels, MetLife insurance, and more than a dozen other companies in ending deals with the NRA. Delta previously offered discounted airfare for NRA members, and United offered discounts on flights to and from the organization's annual conference.
Companies are distancing themselves from the NRA in response to outrage following last week's mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school. Customer responses to the tweeted announcements were predictably mixed. Bonnie Kristian
A daring squirrel narrowly cheated death Saturday while attempting to sprint across the course of the women's parallel giant slalom competition at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Austrian snowboarder Daniela Ulbing just barely maneuvered around the animal, which appeared to reconsider its choices after she passed. Watch the squirrel's moment of destiny below. Bonnie Kristian
WATCH OUT SQUIRREL. pic.twitter.com/rtQ94MQeDj
— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) February 24, 2018
Billionaire Warren Buffett published his annual letter to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway on Saturday. Berkshire's net worth grew by $65.3 billion in 2017, Buffett said, but $29 billion of that gain came from savings effected by the Republican tax plan passed in December. The new tax law lowered the nominal corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent.
For individual investors, Buffett cautioned against going into debt to purchase stock because the market may drop. "There is simply no telling how far stocks can fall in a short period," he wrote. "Even if your borrowings are small and your positions aren't immediately threatened by the plunging market, your mind may well become rattled by scary headlines and breathless commentary. And an unsettled mind will not make good decisions."
The Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Friday began soliciting public input on restoring work requirements for food stamp recipients in high-unemployment areas where rules were waived in recent years.
"Long-term dependency has never been part of the American dream," said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. "USDA's goal is to move individuals and families [using food stamps] back to the workforce as the best long-term solution to poverty."
Able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) are eligible for only three months of food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) unless they spend at least 80 hours per month working or at a qualified training. In five states — Alaska, California, Louisiana, Nevada, and New Mexico — and economically struggling localities in 28 other states, that rule is currently suspended.
No changes have been formally proposed at this time, but the USDA estimates about 2.9 million ABAWDs are currently unemployed and would therefore be affected if the waiver were rescinded. They make up about 7 percent of the 43.6 million people who used food stamps in 2017. Bonnie Kristian
Heavy rains over the weekend are expected to exacerbate deadly flooding in the Midwest and southern Plains regions. Hundreds of people have evacuated their homes in affected areas from eastern Texas through southern Indiana, and at least three people, including one child, have been killed in connection to the floods.
***There is now a HIGH RISK of flash flooding from the Arklatex region into the Ohio Valley for SATURDAY*** pic.twitter.com/fa4yxMW433
— NWS WPC (@NWSWPC) February 23, 2018
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) has declared a 30-day state of emergency, and Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has issued a disaster proclamation for three counties. The National Weather Service advises caution of flash floods and tornadoes throughout the weekend. Bonnie Kristian
The United States men's curling team took its first-ever gold medal at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang on Saturday. After nearly being eliminated from the competition, the team made a comeback win, besting both the Canadian team — prior to this victory, no American team in men's or women's curling has ever beaten Canada at the Olympics — and the Swedish team, which was ranked first in the world.
— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) February 24, 2018
"During the entire end we could kind of feel it building," said team leader John Shuster of the gold-medal victory over Sweden. "Their margin for error got really small."
Also Saturday, Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic became the first woman to take gold in two separate events at the Winter Games. Last Saturday, she was the surprise victor in Alpine skiing, and this week, Ledecka triumphed in her primary event, women's parallel giant slalom snowboarding. Bonnie Kristian