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February 13, 2018
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A year into his first term, President Trump is on his second White House chief of staff, second national security adviser, third deputy national security adviser, second press secretary, fifth communications director, and second HHS secretary, and that doesn't count all the vacancies. The White House budget director, Mick Mulvaney, is also in charge of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and John DeStefano oversees three White House offices: personnel, public liaison, and political affairs. This isn't normal, says Peter Baker at The New York Times.

"We have vacancies on top of vacancies," Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, who has studied White House turnover at the Brookings Institution, tells the Times. In fact, more than a third of Trump's hires have left, and "some administration officials privately spend much of their time trying to figure out how to leave without looking disloyal or provoking an easily angered president," the Times reports:

According to a report by Ms. Tenpas, Mr. Trump's 34 percent turnover rate in his first year is more than three times as high as President Barack Obama's in the same period and twice as high as President Ronald Reagan's, which until now was the modern record-holder. Of 12 positions deemed most central to the president, only five are still filled by the same person as when Mr. Trump took office. [The New York Times]

The fear of losing yet another senior aide is one of the reasons the White House was reluctant to push out staff secretary Rob Porter, despite being informed he would not be granted security clearance due to domestic violence accusations, Baker reports. White House jobs are usually highly sought-after, he adds, but "Republican operatives said they worry not only about the pressure-cooker, soap-opera atmosphere and the danger of being drawn into the special counsel investigation of Russia's election interference but also about hurting their careers after the White House." You can read more at The New York Times. Peter Weber

12:30 p.m. ET
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Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer want Congress to break open the piggy bank.

In a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Democratic leaders demand increased funds to protect U.S. election infrastructure from Russian interference, The Washington Post reported Wednesday. Pelosi, the House minority leader, and Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, specifically request lawmakers appropriate $300 million to the FBI to fight potential meddling in the midterms later this fall.

The minority leaders cite Special Counsel Robert Mueller's recent indictment of 13 Russians for interfering in the 2016 election, warning that "the most essential elements of America's democracy are under attack by a foreign adversary." The FBI needs "the resources and manpower to counter the influence of hostile foreign actors ... especially Russian operatives operating on our social media platforms," the Democrats argue, proposing the $300 million boost be included in the budget bill that is due March 23.

The Democratic leaders also note that U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian hackers breached state and local election systems during the 2016 cycle. In order to prevent that from happening again, Pelosi and Schumer say that "state and local governments [need] to enhance their defenses against cyber-attacks," calling for boosted funds to the Department of Homeland Security and Election Assistance Commission.

The letter, which was obtained by The Washington Post, is also signed by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) Read more about it at The Washington Post. Kelly O'Meara Morales

11:10 a.m. ET
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President Trump and the GOP have been riding an approval rating wave ever since they passed their tax overhaul legislation in December, but a new poll released Wednesday appears to indicate that it won't be smooth sailing from here on out. Just 25 percent of voters say they have seen an increase in their paychecks since the legislation passed, a new Politico/Morning Consult poll found, while 51 percent say they've noticed nothing.

Even Republican voters aren't reporting a noticeable increase in their paychecks, with 43 percent saying any potential change has gone unobserved. Republicans do note changes more than the voter pool overall, though, at 32 percent.

"Our polling shows high-income earners are more likely to have noticed an increase in their paychecks as a result of the tax bill," said Morning Consult's chief research officer, Kyle Dropp. "For example, 40 percent of voters who earn more than $100,000 said they have noticed a pay increase in the past several weeks. In contrast, 33 percent of voters who earn between $50,000 and $100,000 and 16 percent of voters who earn under $50,000 said the same."

Overall, 45 percent of voters approve of the tax plan while 35 percent oppose it. The poll reached 1,989 registered voters between Feb. 15 and 19, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 points. Read the full results here. Jeva Lange

10:09 a.m. ET
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CNN is hosting a town hall Wednesday with survivors of last week's mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. The National Rifle Association will be there too.

The NRA accepted CNN's invitation to partake in the town hall and will be represented by spokesperson Dana Loesch, CNN reports. Loesch will join Florida lawmakers Rep. Ted Deutch (D) and Sens. Bill Nelson (D) and Marco Rubio (R), as well as the students and family of those who survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 people were killed by a teenager armed with a semiautomatic rifle.

In the wake of the shooting, the teenaged survivors from the school have become vocal advocates for gun control, taking to various TV networks to make impassioned pleas for lawmakers to defend children against gun violence. They have also slammed politicians for taking money from the NRA, as the organization has historically been opposed to assault weapons bans and other reforms suggested by the Parkland survivors.

The students have additionally encouraged voters to vote politicians who take money from the NRA out of office. CNN notes that Rubio is one such politician, as he received nearly $10,000 from the NRA's Political Victory Fund in the 2016 election. While the NRA and Rubio accepted the invite to join the town hall and face the Parkland survivors, CNN says two other notable figures did not: President Trump and Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R).

The town hall is titled Stand Up: The Students of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action and will be hosted by Jake Tapper. It airs at 9 p.m. ET Wednesday. Kelly O'Meara Morales

9:37 a.m. ET

Jeff Sessions is back in the doghouse. On Wednesday, President Trump took to publicly bashing his attorney general by slamming the Justice Department for its failure to investigate the Obama administration over Russian meddling:

While the misspelled name is an especially brutal touch, it is not Trump's first time airing his grievances about Sessions. In November, Trump refused to answer whether or not he was considering firing Sessions, adding: "A lot of people are disappointed in the Justice Department, including me." At the time, Trump was primarily concerned with the fact that the department wasn't investigating Hillary Clinton's former campaign chairman John Podesta "and all of that dishonesty."

Trump has reportedly privately ripped Sessions too, expressing fury over the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller last May. "Mr. Trump told Mr. Sessions that choosing him to be attorney general was one of the worst decisions he had made, called him an 'idiot,' and said that he should resign," The New York Times reports. Jeva Lange

8:41 a.m. ET
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Rev. Billy Graham, a Christian evangelist known as "America's Pastor," has died at the age of 99, NBC News reports.

Over the course of his more than 70-year career, Graham preached to an estimated 200 million people across 185 countries, and was granted personal audiences with several U.S. presidents and world leaders. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. credited Graham's influence, saying: "Had it not been for the ministry of my good friend Dr. Billy Graham, my work in the Civil Rights Movement would not have been as successful as it has been."

Long a presence on television and radio, Graham retired in 2005, citing his health. Graham was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease 25 years ago. Jeva Lange

8:38 a.m. ET
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President Trump is quietly considering imposing federal age restrictions on the purchase of weapons like the AR-15, which was used in the Parkland, Florida, school shooting last week, Axios reports. "Nothing has been decided, or is close to decided, on the age question," Axios adds, based on a conversation with a person close to the president, although Trump has reportedly told people in his orbit that he does not believe high schoolers should be able to buy guns.

As the laws stand now, federally licensed dealers cannot sell weapons like a rifle or shotgun to a person under 18, or a handgun to someone under 21. Florida shooter Nikolas Cruz, 19, bought two of at least 10 of his firearms following "normal protocol for Florida" at Gun World of South Florida in Deerfield Beach, CNN reports.

Trump announced Tuesday that he is directing the Justice Department to propose a ban for bump stock firearm modifications. Separately, Florida lawmakers denied a motion to bring an assault weapons ban to a vote Tuesday night.

Trump meets Wednesday for a listening session with high school students and teachers at the White House. Teens have widely pushed for gun reform after the Parkland shooting, with 17-year-old survivor David Hogg insisting: "Without action, ideas stay ideas and children die." Jeva Lange

8:03 a.m. ET

The normally staid New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman declared "code red" in a recent column, warning that when it comes to Russia, President "Trump's behavior amounts to a refusal to carry out his oath of office — to protect and defend the Constitution" and "must not be tolerated." The "biggest threat to the integrity of our democracy today is in the Oval Office," he said. The column went viral, and Chris Cuomo had Friedman on CNN's New Day on Wednesday to discuss his concerns.

"Our country is at stake," Friedman said. "Our president is a disturbed person. And he's behaving in ways that are simply inexplicable, that tell you that he is either compromised because the Russians have been funding his companies in ways that he would find embarrassing if publicly disclosed — that's why he hasn't shown us his tax returns — or he's compromised because of maybe behavior he engaged in while in Moscow, or he is simply a towering fool who is ignoring the advice of his intelligence chiefs being made in public."

Trump's dismissal of Russian interference in America's democracy is "deeply disturbing behavior," Friedman said. "If America doesn't lead, I promise you, your kids ... will grow up in a world where nobody will lead," he warned. "Our president is a disturbed person," and "what magnifies it is that his party is complicit. ... You know that if Hillary Clinton had done one of the things that Donald Trump has done, let alone the whole totality of them, we would be in impeachment hearings right now." "There is a toxic partisanship at play, there's no doubt about that," Cuomo agreed. Watch below. Peter Weber

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