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Wake Up To Politics - March 30, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Friday, March 30, 2018. 221 days until Election Day 2018. 949 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com. Tell your friends to sign up to receive the newsletter in their inboxes at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe!

Friday Roundup

VA PICK FACES SKEPTICISM: "The White House was thrown on the defensive Thursday over President Trump’s choice to lead the Department of Veterans ­Affairs, forcing officials to fend off mounting skepticism that Ronny L. Jackson has the experience to run the government’s second-largest agency."

"Trump announced by tweet late Wednesday that the White House physician would succeed ousted secretary David Shulkin, surprising veterans groups and lawmakers, who were not notified beforehand and scrambled to learn the policy views of someone whose positions on the chronic challenges facing VA are unknown."

"Jackson is a career naval officer who was an emergency trauma doctor in Iraq before spending the past 12 years as a White House physician. But his résumé lacks the type of management experience usually expected from the leader of an agency that employs 360,000 people, has a $186 billion annual budget and is dedicated to serving the complex needs of the country’s veterans."

..."Jackson was taken aback by his nomination, said senior White House officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. After aides gauged his interest in recent days, he hesitated to take on such a big job. But the president continued to push and told his senior staff Monday that the doctor was his top choice. A senior White House official described an informal interview process, without the extensive vetting that typically accompanies a Cabinet selection." (Washington Post)

--- SHULKIN MEDIA TOUR: "In the first 36 hours after he was fired by President Donald Trump via Twitter, former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin penned a lengthy op-ed for the New York Times, had interviews with six national television shows and 'publicly vowed to continue to speak out against those who seek to harm the VA.'" (Military Times)


--- "Special counsel Robert Mueller's team last year made clear it wanted former Trump campaign deputy Rick Gates' help, not so much against his former business partner Paul Manafort, but with its central mission: investigating the Trump campaign's contact with the Russians." (CNN)

--- "Investigators probing whether Donald Trump’s presidential campaign colluded with Russia have been questioning witnesses about events at the 2016 Republican National Convention, according to two sources familiar with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiries. " (Reuters)

--- "The Senate Judiciary Committee’s chairman and top Democrat on Thursday released a request for new emails from two senior campaign aides to President Donald Trump, taking a fresh bipartisan step in their investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election." (Politico)

--- "Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday rebuffed — at least for now — a call from Republican leaders to appoint a second special counsel to look into the FBI’s handling of its most high-profile probes and announced that he has asked the U.S. attorney in Utah to spearhead a broad review." (Washington Post)

--- U.S./Russia relationship: "Expelling Diplomats, a Furious Kremlin Escalates a Crisis" (New York Times)... "Trump tells aides not to talk publicly about Russia policy moves" (NBC News)... "Russian ambassador pleads for help in securing Washington meetings" (Politico)... "How Trump got to ‘yes’ on the biggest purge of Russian spies in U.S. history" (Washington Post)

TRUMP'S INFRASTRUCTURE SPEECH: "He predicted that the U.S. would pull out of Syria 'like, very soon.' He said President Barack Obama left him a 'gift' of judicial vacancies. And he praised actress Roseanne Barr for the success of her rebooted show, exclaiming, 'Look at her ratings!'"

"After staying out of public sight for four days, President Donald Trump on Thursday traveled to Ohio to boost his infrastructure proposal. But the event smacked of the campaign rallies that give the president a mood boost and allow him to reconnect with the core supporters crucial to maintaining control of Congress in the November midterms."

"The president barely stayed on script, hitting on immigration, Obamacare, North Korea, NASA, veterans and a slew of other topics, as he returned to campaign form, even as his White House is roiled by unprecedented turnover and an intensifying Russia probe from special counsel Robert Mueller." (Politico)

HICKS OUT: "Hope Hicks, the White House communications director who worked behind the scenes to direct the president through multiple professional crises — and decided to resign after she found herself exhausted by them — has left the building."

"Those left behind are wondering what happens now." (New York Times)

--- "Several of President Donald Trump's outside advisers have told him over the past week he requires neither a chief of staff nor a communications director, at least in the traditional definition of those jobs, according to a person familiar with the conversations." (CNN)

PRUITT: "Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s lease at a Washington apartment owned by a lobbyist friend allowed him to pay $50 a night for a single bedroom -- but only on the nights when he actually slept there."

"White House officials are growing dismayed about the questions surrounding Pruitt’s living arrangement, including his initial inability to produce any documentation about his lease or his actual payments, according to three officials. The landlord provided EPA officials with a copy of the lease and proof of the payments Pruitt made." (Bloomberg)

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I heard you're actually the devil incarnate and I wanted to meet you." — Defense Secretary James Mattis to incoming National Security Advisor John Bolton, caught in an off-microphone exchange as they walked into the Pentagon to meet for the first time on Thursday

RYAN RETIRING?: "Paul Ryan’s future as House speaker has been such a topic of speculation that even the simple question of whether he will seek re-election to his Wisconsin seat remains secret." (Associated Press)

#METOO IN CONGRESS: "Conn. congresswoman kept aide on staff for 3 months after she learned of threat allegation" (Washington Post)

DAYBOOK: President Trump is at Mar-a-Lago with no public events scheduled. Congress is on recess.

Wake Up To Politics will go back to being sent at the regular time (~7:40am Central Time) on Monday... have a good Easter/Passover weekend!