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March 26, 2017

1 big thing: Trump rewrites his playbook

Amid high-stakes postmortems that include conversations with President Trump about White House staffing and operations, aides are rewriting their plans for the next legislative fight — with a weakened President and Speaker, emboldened House hardliners, and a party at war with itself.

"It's like you're in a room with 2-year- olds, and one side complains about any attention you give the other," a White House official said.

Forget pie in the sky like tax reform or a massive infrastructure package. Now aides fear a government shutdown when the current continuing resolution runs out at the end of April.

"I'm worried about everything right now," said a senior Republican operative who's in the war.

The new White House sequence: Focus on the Supreme Court confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch between now and the Easter congressional break. After that, work urgently on funding the government, and begin the conversation about tax reform.

The bottom line: Trump advisers tell us they're pessimistic about figuring out how to get anything done — the "lessons learned" don't include even a theoretical path to victory.

A White House official: "We underestimated the vitriol in the Republican conference. The animosity between [the hardline House Freedom Caucus] and leadership is such that it's hard to see how the coalition comes together. Each time there was an accommodation, there was a new demand."

2. "30 guys in control of the government"

Trump tweeted from the White House this morning: "Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club For Growth and Heritage, have saved Planned Parenthood & Ocare!"

A top White House official said Trump is "deeply disappointed in the Freedom Caucus," and specifically with Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.).

The senior Republican operative said the hardline House Freedom Caucus "just proved that you have 30 guys in control of the government."

"They have been given power by the circumstances, and they're wielding it," the operative said. "Their view is: 'We got rid of a Speaker [Boehner], we're taking on another Speaker, and we stared down the president.'"

Good Cop was a flop. White House aides are debating whether they should have be more aggressive with the hardliners, including flying into their districts and threatening them with primaries.

"Something in this dynamic has to change," the operative said. "Nobody has taken them on or held them accountable or even mildly messed with them. One of the things you could do is say, on Twitter and in their districts: Obamacare is still the law of the land because of them."

Breaking ... House Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows, to George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week," on whether tax cuts have to be fully funded with other revenue increases or spending cuts: "Does it have to be fully offset? My personal response is no." (Video)

3. Trump dreaming of Dems

White House aides are so doubtful about uniting warring factions of House Republicans that they now are debating how they could lure 15 or so Democrats to join Republicans on big measures:

  • The White House euphemism, as aides discuss the strategy internally: "a broader coalition."
  • The theory: If you could fold in a few Dems with moderate and establishment Republicans, you'd have a better chance of passing tax reform or a huge infrastructure bill.
  • A White House official: "Typically, tax reform would be something that could be bipartisan. That would really be our hope."
  • The road not taken: Some Trump friends think he has made a huge mistake since the inauguration by antagonizing Ds rather than courting them. Because of his tweets and rants, they're less likely to give him the benefit of the doubt than they were Jan. 20, and any ambitious Dem who tried to work with him would get fiercer blowback from the base.
  • Plan B? A longtime Trump confidant said the irony of the loss "is that there is a scenario where this path leads POTUS to realize that he is better off building a coalition with moderate Rs and some reasonable Ds ... [I]t is totally who he naturally is, and he would love the accolades and positive feedback and improving numbers."
  • Why it's unlikely: White House officials understand that Ds sense weakness and have no incentive to help bail out Trump.

4. What the White House is reading

We know, because they keep sending us the link!

Maureen Dowd's rapier column, "Donald, This I Will Tell You":

"Dear Donald, We've known each other a long time, so I think I can be blunt. You know how you said at campaign rallies that you did not like being identified as a politician? Don't worry. No one will ever mistake you for a politician. After this past week, they won't even mistake you for a top-notch negotiator.

"I was born here. The first image in my memory bank is the Capitol, all lit up at night. And my primary observation about Washington is this: Unless you're careful, you end up turning into what you started out scorning. And you, Donald, are getting a reputation as a sucker. And worse, a sucker who is a tool of the D.C. establishment."

"You got played. It took W. years to smash everything. You're way ahead of schedule."

5. Some 'splaining to do

Trump-promoted Fox host tells Paul Ryan to step down ... Axios' Justin Green has the call:

Yesterday President Trump tweeted: "Watch @JudgeJeanine on @FoxNews tonight at 9:00 P.M."

The opening statement delivered by Judge Jeanine Pirro: "Ryan needs to step down as Speaker of the House. The reason, he failed to deliver the votes on his health care bill ... You come in with all your swagger and experience and sell them a bill of goods which ends up a complete and total failure and you allow our president, in his first 100 days, to come out of the box like that, based on what?" (Video)

Axios' Jonathan Swan is skeptical about the connection, although Trump or the White House should have explained it quicker.

Swan tweets that this is a much more likely explanation ... Yesterday morning, "Fox & Friends" was running this promotional box: "TRUMP WIRETAP CLAIMS: Stunning New Details ... Justice w/ Judge Jeanine ... 9PM ET."

A leadership aide tells Swan: "The president and speaker spoke by phone for almost an hour today about regrouping and moving forward on the agenda."

6. What Trump is asking

From the N.Y. Times' two-column lead story, "Trump Becomes Ensnared In Fiery G.O.P. Civil War," by Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman: "On Friday evening, a somewhat shellshocked president retreated to the White House residence to grieve and assign blame. In a search for scapegoats, he asked his advisers repeatedly: Whose fault was this?"

  • "Increasingly, that blame has fallen on Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, who coordinated initial legislative strategy on the health care bill with Mr. Ryan, his close friend and a fellow Wisconsinite."
  • "Despite the public displays of unity with the speaker, Mr. Trump and his team now regret outsourcing so much of the early drafting to Mr. Ryan. One aide compared doing that to a developer's staking everything on obtaining a property without conducting a thorough inspection."

A friend of Priebus told me the chief felt fine: He was in the office yesterday, and attended a Greek Independence Day event with this family.

"You could get rid of Ryan or Reince and you're going to have the same problem, no matter what" — the math in the House, the friend said.

But the friend added: "Anyone who works for the President is on the clock."

7. CEO 101

Nuggets from Barron's CEO profiles, illuminating the state of the art:

  • Warren Buffett: "At 86, Buffett is as sharp as ever, even though his body, as he said, 'is getting down to salvage value.' He hates meetings, spends much of the day reading, and makes split-second investment decisions. And he still eats like a kid, washing down a McDonald's breakfast with a Coke."
  • Reed Hastings, Netflix: "Hastings' next challenge is to tailor more original content to local tastes in 190 countries, the likes of which no media company has ever done."
  • Larry Page, Alphabet: "As head of the tech world's only holding company, which owns Google, he has delegated day-to-day responsibilities to a number of high-profile deputies. ... His fascination with the next big thing has led him to pursue private outside investments, including pouring millions into two start-ups working on flying cars."
  • Fred Smith: "One key to FedEx's success has been Smith's willingness 'to take short-term pain for long-term gain' ... FedEx spent about $4 billion on improvements in its air- and ground-delivery segments in the latest fiscal year, 40% more than two years ago. Capital spending depressed profit margins in the ground operation but will produce 'a faster network down the road.'"
  • Mark Zuckerberg: "Facebook is at the top of its game in the online-advertising world, which means that Zuckerberg's apparent stumbles — he has yet to make good on the nearly $20 billion spent on messaging start-up WhatsApp, for example — are tolerated by investors."

Also worthy of your time ... N.Y. Times Business front, "Amazon's Ambitions Unboxed: Stores for Furniture, Appliances and More," by Nick Winfield in Seattle: "[W]hile most of the attention has been focused on Amazon's grocery store dreams, the company has a more ambitious collection of [bricks-and-mortar] experiments underway."

"If those experiments work ... they could have a profound influence on how other stores operate. Over time, they could also introduce new forms of automation, putting traditional retail jobs in jeopardy. At the same time, locating those stores close to customers' homes could also help Amazon further its ambitions of delivering internet orders within hours."

8. NYC's changing architecture

"New York skyscrapers adapt to climate change," by AFP's Catherine Triomphe: In one East River building's post-Hurricane Sandy design, "One of the main innovations was to ensure residents have access to electricity as long as possible in the event of an outage in the city":

  • "Every kitchen has two electrical outlets — one reserved for refrigerators —connected to a back-up circuit fed by the generators. That means smartphones can be charged during a breakdown."
  • "'[I]f you can go up and down in the elevator and your refrigerator works and you have one outlet available that you charge your phone on, you can probably survive in New York for a week.'"
  • "Traditionally relegated to the basement, the heating, ventilation and large electrical equipment have been installed on the first floor instead, more than 20 feet ... above the street to minimize the risk of flooding."
  • "The building's cheapest studios will be available for rent starting from $3,000 a month, and include the luxury perks of access to a swimming pool and huge terrace with views of the Empire State Building in addition to the more prosaic bonus of flood resistance."

9. Darkness to illuminate climate change

"Lights go out around the world for 10th Earth Hour," by Reuters' Peter Gosnell:

  • "The initiative began in Australia in 2007 as a grassroots gesture by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Australia against man-made carbon dioxide emissions."
  • Last night at 8:30 local time, lights were cut for an hour in 7,000 cities across 172 countries.
  • Participating: some of the world's best known skyscrapers and historic buildings including the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai; London's Big Ben and Houses of Parliament; the Colosseum in Rome; Istanbul's Blue Mosque; the Eiffel Tower; Moscow's Kremlin and Red Square; Sydney's Opera House; and the Pyramids of Egypt..

10. 1 fun thing: "Vroom, vroom! It is trucks!"

BuzzFeed has published an actual children's book, "The President and the Big Boy Truck," about President Trump's photo opp with an 18-wheeler on Thursday as the health-care bill was collapsing.

Check out David Mack's text here; buy the book for $9.99 here (ships by April 7); and absolutely, whatever you do, watch the video here of squealing kids listening to the book.

In early orders, people are sending the book to President Trump at the White House.

A BuzzFeed spokesperson tells me: On Thursday evening, "Dao Nguyen, BuzzFeed's publisher and head of technology, emailed Ben Kaufman, head of BuzzFeed Product Labs, about a comment that had been trending on BuzzFeed News' David Mack's post on the President's [photo opp] ... The comment suggested we publish David's post verbatim as a children's book. By 8 a.m. Friday, we mocked up a concept, had David over to the Product Lab and launched by Friday evening."

Media backstory: BuzzFeed has a new "social commerce" division to sell us stuff.