That’s all for me tonight. Thanks for reading along! Here’s what happened:
- After Trump changed course on his Administration’s decision to defund the Special Olympics, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos switched her position, saying she was pleased with the decision.
- Trump has continued to double down on his claims that the yet-to-be published Mueller report cleared him of obstruction of justice. In comments to reporters he celebrated the claim, even though the report was actually inconclusive on the charge.
- Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has asked Congress for broadened legal powers that would allow her department to immediately deport unaccompanied minors migrating into the US and detain families, to avoid what she calls a “system-wide meltdown”.
- Trump held his first rally since the Mueller report was submitted. Speaking in Michigan, he attacked “little pencil neck Adam Schiff”, condemned “crooked journalists”, and said the “collusion delusion” was over.
Despite spending the last 3 years of trying to gut funding for The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, at his rally tonight he shared with the cheering crowd that he would be fully funding it.
“I support the Great Lakes,” he said. “They are beautiful, they are big, they are deep.” After a big buildup, he announced that he would get full funding for the program, which he said had been unsuccessful for 30 years.
Earlier this month, Trump’s budget included a $270 million cut to the Initiative, which aims to restore and protect the “largest system of fresh surface water in the world”.
Trump in Michigan for first rally since Mueller report
Trump is speaking at a rally in Grand Rapids today—the first one since the Mueller report was submitted. After a several minutes of (for some reason) the song “Memory” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical “Cats” the President took the stage to chants of “USA! USA!”
Expected to celebrate the conclusions of the Special Council investigation, which ended without evidence of collusion but was inconclusive on obstruction of justice charges, Trump opened with condemnation of the “major losers” who he says attacked him.
“After three years of lies and smears and slander the Russia hoax is finally dead,” he said. “The collusion delusion is finally over”.
To cheers from the crowd he called House Intelligence Committee Chair, “little pencil neck Adam Schiff” and continued to mock both him and NY Congressman Jerry Nadler.
“All of the Democrat politicians, the media bosses—bad people—the crooked journalists” he said, “have to be accountable”. The crowd answered with the chant that originated in 2016 to condemn Hillary Clinton: “Lock them up!”
You can watch live above.
In a letter obtained by ABC News, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen wrote that her agency is facing a “system-wide meltdown” and asked Congress for broadened powers to immediately deport minors and detain migrant families as they enter the US. Per ABC:
Nielsen’s letter is a bold ask of a Congress that remains unsure whether the humanitarian crisis at the border warrants the national emergency President Donald Trump has claimed is necessary.
‘DHS seeks authority to return [unaccompanied children] to their families and home countries in a safe and orderly manner if they have no legal right to stay,’ Nielsen wrote to Congress”.
Agencies at the border have been overwhelmed with thousands already in custody, and are running out of room to house them.
One week after CNN called Indiana mayor and Democratic 2020 contender Buttigieg the “hottest candidate” in the race, and a day after a flattering feature on The Daily Show, the New York Times is gushish over what reporter Lisa Lerer is calling the “Buttigieg Boomlet”:
Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Ind., and candidate for president, has suddenly emerged as a star of the Democratic primary. He’s a vet! A Rhodes Scholar! He speaks seven languages! He’s from the Rust Belt! And everyone’s favorite fact: He taught himself Norwegian to read more books!”
According to a new poll put out today by Quinnipiac University, Buttigieg is certainly gaining ground—but in the highly saturated race he is still barely registering among voters. Just 4% said he’d have their vote.
Speaking to reporters before boarding a plane to a campaign rally in Michigan, Trump again repeated his claim that Mueller’s report cleared him of all obstruction of justice charges.
The report, which has yet to be made public, was inconclusive on those charges, even though Trump-appointed Attorney General William Barr stated in his summary of the findings that he did not believe there was enough evidence to establish that the president committed the offense.
“I haven’t seen the report,” Trump said, before adding that it had a “beautiful conclusion and there was no collusion at all.”
“I wish you could have got it in one week instead of taking two years but the result was great,” he continued. “No obstruction, no collusion, no anything. It was a great thing but it took a long time.”
Gabrielle Canon here, taking over for Sabrina Siddiqui.
On the heels of President Trump’s announcement that he would override the Department of Education decision to defund the Special Olympics, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos reversed course from the previous day’s rhetoric, and said she was pleased with the outcome.
“I am pleased and grateful the president and I see eye to eye on this issue, and that he’s decided to fund our Special Olympics grant,” DeVos said in a statement. “This is funding I have fought for behind the scenes over the last several years.”
After coming under fire for the Decision Wednesday, DeVos doubled down defending her position by saying the nonprofit was well funded by private donations and blamed Democrats for casting her comments in a negative way.
Friends — that’s it from me, Sabrina Siddiqui. Handing over to my trusted colleague Gabrielle Canon. Before I go, here’s what transpired over the last couple of hours:
- Trump walked back his administration’s proposal to eliminate funding for the Special Olympics amid widespread outrage over cuts to the 51-year-old program in his 2020 budget;
- The House foreign affairs committee is demanding a briefing on Jared Kushner’s trip last month to Saudi Arabia following criticism by diplomats that they were shut out of key meetings and information regarding the visit;
- The Trump administration is to name Morgan Ortagus, a Fox News contributor, as the next State Department spokeswoman; Ortagus will replace current State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, herself a former Fox News host;
- In a reversal, Trump is extending a program for a year that allows Liberian immigrants to legally work and live in the US; the announcement comes as thousands of Liberian immigrants faced deportation following Trump’s initial decision to revoke the program;
- A new poll found a majority of Americans — 56% — believe Trump hasn’t done enough to distance himself from white nationalists; not surprisingly, the Pew Research Center survey was heavily split along partisan lines.
Stay tuned: Trump is to hold a rally at 7 p.m. EST in Grand Rapids, Michigan, marking his first public ‘victory lap’ following the conclusion of the special counsel investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia.
Trump also commented on Theresa May’s offer to resign if her Brexit deal is passed, stating: “She’s strong, she’s tough and she’s in there fighting.”
Asked about Boris Johnson as a potential successor to May, Trump said: “I like Boris Johnson a lot. He’s a friend of mine.”
Donald Trump backs off eliminating funding for Special Olympics
Faced with mounting pressure, Donald Trump said he is backing off his budget request that would cut funding for the Special Olympics.
“The Special Olympics will be funded, I just told my people,” Trump told reporters as he departed the White House for a campaign rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “I’ve overridden my people.”
He added: “I wanna fund the Special Olympics, and I just authorized a funding of the Special Olympics. I’ve been to the Special Olympics, I think it’s incredible … We’re funding the Special Olympics.”
Trump’s comments came as his administration faced widespread outrage over its proposal to do away with federal funding for the Special Olympics — a 51-year-old program offering school programming and sports competitions and training for the disabled — from its 2020 budget.
Trump’s budget proposed $17.6 million in cuts to the Special Olympics as part of an overall 10% reduction in the budget for the Department of Education.
Betsy DeVos, Trump’s education secretary, struggled to explain the decision this week as lawmakers grilled her during an appearance on Capitol Hill.
“I still can’t understand why you would go after disabled children in your budget,” Representative Barbara Lee, a Democrat from California, told DeVos at a hearing. “You zero that out. It’s appalling.”
DeVos subsequently defended the move in a statement that sparked its own controversy for blaming the media, without evidence, of misrepresenting the proposed cuts but then acknowledging them to be true. DeVos added that while she personally supported the Special Olympics and its mission, the federal government “cannot fund every worthy program, particularly ones that enjoy robust support from private donations”.
“There are dozens of worthy nonprofits that support students and adults with disabilities that don’t get a dime of federal grant money,” DeVos said.
Trump to name Fox News analyst as State Department spokeswoman
Donald Trump is expected to name a counterterrorism analyst for Fox News as the new State Department spokesperson, NBC News reported on Thursday.
Morgan Ortagus, who was a national security contributor at Fox News, will replace Heather Nauert, who has served as the State Department’s spokeswoman since January of 2017. Nauert was herself a former Fox News anchor and was nominated by Trump as the next UN ambassador but withdrew from consideration last month.
Ortagus is no longer a contributor to Fox News, a spokesperson for the channel said.
Ortagus, an active US naval reserve officer, was an intelligence analyst at the US Treasury in the Office of Intelligence and Analysis from 2008 to 2010. She also served as the deputy US Treasury attaché to the Saudi Kingdom.
The Trump administration has brought several Fox News personalities into its fold — among the most prominent being Bill Shine, who resigned earlier this month as White House communications director. An investigation by the New Yorker detailed the close ties between the Trump presidency and the conservative network, which arguably ranks as the president’s most public and powerful boosters.
In reversal, Trump extends humanitarian program for Liberian immigrants
Donald Trump on Thursday unexpectedly extended an immigration designation granting protected status to Liberians for an additional year, just three days before the status was to expire.
More from Reuters:
Trump last year ordered an end to Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) eligibility for Liberians, a status first granted to them during the presidency of Republican George W. Bush that enabled the immigrants to work and protected them from deportation. Trump declared a one-year “wind-down” period, which set the final expiration date of the status as March 31.
But on Thursday, Trump said he had changed his mind.
“Upon further reflection and review, I have decided that it is in the foreign policy interest of the United States to extend the wind-down period for an additional 12 months, through March 30, 2020,” Trump said in a memorandum to his secretaries of state and homeland security that was released by the White House.
“The reintegration of DED beneficiaries into Liberian civil and political life will be a complex task, and an unsuccessful transition could strain United States-Liberian relations and undermine Liberia’s post-civil war strides toward democracy and political stability.”
A coalition of Liberians with DED status and immigration advocacy groups sued the Trump administration this month in federal court seeking to stop the termination of DED. The groups estimate that some 4,000 Liberians in the United States are protected by DED.
Trump’s decision eliminates the emergency the Liberians were living with, said Erasmus Williams, a Liberian community leader in Minnesota, which has a large population of Liberians.
“We have ample time now to work through Congress to have legislation passed that will create a pathway to citizenship for Liberians on DED,” he said.
Read the Guardian’s report here telling the stories of those who were facing deportation.
House committee demands briefing on Kushner Saudi trip
The House foreign affairs committee is demanding a briefing on Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner’s trip to Saudi Arabia last month.
In a letter sent to US secretary of state Mike Pompeo on Thursday, the committee’s Democratic chairman, Eliot Engel, and top Republican, Michael McCaul, raised concerns that embassy personnel were reportedly sidelined during Kushner’s trip.
The two lawmakers called for a briefing on the matter no later than 5 April, which they said should include more details on the planning, staffing, content and scheduling of Kushner’s trip, as well as his meetings with Saudi offcials, including Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman.
“U.S. government resources are expended to support embassies in countries around the world to aid in the planning and execution of U.S. foreign policy, and no official visit to the Middle East by a senior White House aide would presumably bear meaningfully on the conduct of U.S. foreign policy in that region,” Engel and McCaul wrote.
Kushner has attracted congressional scrutiny on multiple occasions, most recently in the wake of reports that the president overruled the advice of intelligence officials and demanded his son-in-law be granted a top-level security clearance.
In the aftermath of Kushner’s trip to Saudi Arabia, the US embassy in Riyadh complained that they were not sufficiently briefed on the visit or the meetings Kushner held with members of the Saudi Kingdom.
His meeting with the powerful Saudi crown prince also raised eyebrows for its timing. Prince Mohammed is believed by US intelligence officials to have been involved in the killing of Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi in October of last year. A readout of Kushner’s meeting with the crown prince, with whom he shares close ties, made no mention of Khashoggi whatsoever.