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Today in Trump: March 2, 2017

Last Updated Mar 2, 2017 9:38 PM EST

Today in the Trump Administration

Sessions recusal 

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from investigations involving the Trump campaign, he announced at a Thursday afternoon press conference after consulting with Justice Department lawyers about his role in investigations into Russian contacts by Trump campaign associates.


 

Former Obama officials refute report on Trump associates and Russia

Former Obama administration officials are taking issue with a New York Times report published Wednesday night which suggested that Obama aides had disseminated information about Trump campaign associates and Russian officials across the government in order to leave a “clear trail for the intelligence and government investigators” to follow and to ensure that no meddling occurred in other elections -- in the U.S. or overseas. 

That contention struck at least two officials from the Obama administration as overstated.

“To the extent there was an effort, it was organic on the part of [intelligence] professionals to document and retain,” one official told CBS News. “I was not aware of a strategic White House driven effort to do so.” 

Who is Sergey Kislyak?

Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, has now come up in several communications with President Trump’s associates, officials say, as administration officials look into contact between his team and Russia.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, for instance, has come under fire after it became known Thursday night that he had two contacts with Kislyak during the presidential campaign, Justice Department officials confirmed to CBS News, following an initial report by The Washington Post. Sessions didn’t disclose his two conversations with Kisylak during his Senate confirmation process and it’s unclear what they discussed in their private conversation.

“Well, I have not met with any Russians at any time to discuss any political campaign,” Sessions said Thursday. “And those remarks are unbelievable to me and are false. And I don’t have anything else to say about that.”

New warship “poster child for how you don’t build a ship,” says ex-Navy secretary

Mr. Trump went aboard the Navy’s newest carrier, the USS Gerald R. Fordto promote his plans for a military buildup.

“We will give our military the tools you need to prevent war,” Mr. Trump said. “... And if required, to fight war ... and only do one thing -- you know what that is? Win, Win! We’re going to start winning again.”

But as the most expensive ship ever built -- which will begin its sea trials next month -- the Ford stands for something else as well.

“The Ford is a poster child for how you don’t build a ship,” says Ray Mabus. He was former Secretary of the Navy during the Obama administration.

Trump in Newport News 

At a speech aboard the U.S.S. Gerald Ford, Donald Trump explained how additional defense spending would help the military. 

“I asked Congress to eliminate the defense sequester,” he said, as well as to support his request for additional defense funding,” he said.

“By eliminating the sequester and the uncertainty it creates, we will make it easier for the navy to plan for the future and thus control costs and get the best deal for the taxpayer,” he continued. “Which of course is very important, right?”   

The soon-to-be-commissioned Navy warship that cost almost $13 billion and faced delays in its construction. Mr. Trump has proposed adding $54 billion to the Pentagon’s budget this year, an increase of approximately 10 percent.  

Trump weighs in on Sessions

Donald Trump says he still has confidence in Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as lawmakers call on Sessions to recuse himself from probes into Russian contacts by Trump campaign associates.

Asked directly about whether he still had confidence in Sessions, Mr. Trump replied, “Total.” The president was on the U.S.S. Gerald Ford in Newport News, Virginia and was meeting with Navy and ship officials in what the White House called an operations briefing.

Perry, Carson confirmed by the Senate for Energy and Housing

Two of President Donald Trump’s former rivals for the GOP White House nomination won Senate confirmation Thursday to join his administration.

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson was confirmed as secretary of the Department of House and Urban Development on a vote of 58-41. A few hours later, the Senate backed former Texas Gov. Rick Perry to be energy secretary, 62-37.

Carson and Perry are the 17th and 18th of Trump’s 22 Cabinet and Cabinet-level nominations to win Senate approval.

Report: DHS has only identified $20 million to fund border wall construction

The Department of Homeland Security has identified only $20 million in funding that could be shifted to President Trump’s plan to build a wall along the southern border, significantly less than the more than $21 billion price tag, according to Reuters.

The money was included in a document obtained by Reuters and prepared by DHS to distribute to congressional staff last week. It would only be enough to cover a handful of contracts for wall prototypes, the report said, but not enough to start building a physical wall.

In order to move forward, Congress would need to approve new funding to pay for the wall, but there’s been little movement on such action on Capitol Hill. Last month, Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, said in an interview with MSNBC’s Greta Van Susteren that congressional leaders were considering legislation to fund the border wall, drawing on taxpayer dollars despite promises that Mexico would finance the project.

What you missed yesterday

Jeff Sessions spoke twice with Russian envoy during presidential campaign

Attorney General Jeff Sessions had two contacts with Russian envoy Sergey Kislyak during the presidential campaign, Justice Department officials confirmed. The Washington Post first reported the meetings Wednesday.

When he was asked in his confirmation hearing whether anyone associated with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign had communicated with the Russians, Sessions replied that he wasn’t aware of any such “activities,” and added, “I did not have communications with the Russians.” A questionnaire he filled out for the committee also asked whether he had had contact with the Russians, to which Sessions, according to the Post, wrote, “No.”

Trump’s aides told to preserve Russia-related materials

The White House has confirmed to CBS News that the White House counsel told the president’s aides to preserve emails and other materials that could be connected to various probes regarding Russian interference. 

A White House official told CBS News’ Margaret Brennan that this is “simply taking proactive steps to push back against false and politically motivated attacks.”

Viewers strongly approve of Trump’s speech to Congress

Viewers nationwide strongly approved of President Trump’s speech Tuesday night, with many Democrats joining Republicans in calling it “presidential” and positive in tone. Republicans and Independents found it “unifying,” though Democrats were slower to come around on that measure.

The President gained support for his policy plans among viewers: Interviewed before and after the address, they came away from it more positive on his ideas for the economy, immigration, terrorism, crime and Obamacare.

As is often the case in addresses to Congress, those who watched were more likely to be from the president’s party – in this case, Republicans. And they described a president they felt was keeping campaign promises and offering an “inspiring” message.

Commentary: Donald Trump’s winning speech

Every so often, we get one of these moments where he seems so jarringly normal.

President Trump’s speech on Tuesday was a success. The remarks were good and, on the Trump scale, delivered quite well.  It hit the notes he needed to hit. It was optimistic – not Trump’s usual speed, but one he now seems equipped to use.

But back to the “normal” thing. That’s been his critics’ big fear, that we would all get over the sheer weirdness of a President Trump, that we’d soon get used to it and accept. That our category for how presidents look, act, and speak would expand to include him. --Will Rahn

Vice President Pence says intelligence gathered from Yemen raid will lead to victories

Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday that a report claiming that no significant intelligence was gathered from the raid President Trump authorized in Yemen last month is “wrong.”

In an interview on “CBS This Morning,” Pence reiterated what Mr. Trump had said a night earlier in his first address to a joint session of Congress.

“Secretary Mattis, as recently yesterday, confirmed again to the administration that there was significant intelligence that was gathered that will lead to American success and to the safety and security of the American people,” Pence said about the raid, which he said they were briefed on on Tuesday.

Commentary: Donald Trump’s winning speech

Every so often, we get one of these moments where he seems so jarringly normal.

President Trump’s speech on Tuesday was a success. The remarks were good and, on the Trump scale, delivered quite well.  It hit the notes he needed to hit. It was optimistic – not Trump’s usual speed, but one he now seems equipped to use.

But back to the “normal” thing. That’s been his critics’ big fear, that we would all get over the sheer weirdness of a President Trump, that we’d soon get used to it and accept. That our category for how presidents look, act, and speak would expand to include him. --Will Rahn

Schumer response to Trump speech

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer suggested Wednesday that President Trump isn’t following through on the promises he made, which the president outlined in his first address to Congress Tuesday night.

“With Donald Trump, the speeches don’t mean very much because what he says in his campaign, at the inauguration, last night -- aren’t attached to his own reality,” the New York Democrat said in an interview on “CBS This Morning.”

“His speeches are populist. They’re aimed at the working folks who supported him. But his governing and what he does is hard-right, favoring special interests over the working class,” he added.

Trump v. Oprah in 2020?

Could Oprah Winfrey run for president? In an interview with financier and philanthropist David Rubenstein, Winfrey seemed intrigued by the idea.

Rubenstein talked with Winfrey in December for his new talk show, which launched this week on Bloomberg Television. He observed that the glass ceiling for women hasn’t yet been broken, and he asked Winfrey whether she’d considered “that you could run for president and actually be elected?”

Congress

Trump has lunch with House and Senate leadership, 12:30 p.m.

Travel ban

Iraq may be dropped from the group of countries whose citizens would be banned from visiting the U.S. when President Trump reissues his travel ban, sources tell CBS News. 

While there is no decision yet, U.S. diplomats told CBS News’ Margaret Brennan they are optimistic the White House will sign off on dropping Iraq from the list. The White House said there is no statement at this time. 

Tillerson

The president has dinner with his secretary of State, Rex Tillerson

The Cabinet

The Senate Finance Committee votes on the nomination of Seema Verma to be administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, 10:30 a.m.

Senate votes on Ryan Zinke to be Secretary of the Interior, and then holds a procedural vote on the nomination of Ben Carson to be HUD Secretary. 10:30am

Vice President Pence says intelligence gathered from Yemen raid will lead to victories

Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday that a report claiming that no significant intelligence was gathered from the raid President Trump authorized in Yemen last month is “wrong.”

In an interview on “CBS This Morning,” Pence reiterated what Mr. Trump had said a night earlier in his first address to a joint session of Congress.

“Secretary Mattis, as recently yesterday, confirmed again to the administration that there was significant intelligence that was gathered that will lead to American success and to the safety and security of the American people,” Pence said about the raid, which he said they were briefed on on Tuesday.

Schumer response to Trump speech

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer suggested Wednesday that President Trump isn’t following through on the promises he made, which the president outlined in his first address to Congress Tuesday night.

“With Donald Trump, the speeches don’t mean very much because what he says in his campaign, at the inauguration, last night -- aren’t attached to his own reality,” the New York Democrat said in an interview on “CBS This Morning.”

“His speeches are populist. They’re aimed at the working folks who supported him. But his governing and what he does is hard-right, favoring special interests over the working class,” he added.

Trump v. Oprah in 2020?

Could Oprah Winfrey run for president? In an interview with financier and philanthropist David Rubenstein, Winfrey seemed intrigued by the idea.

Rubenstein talked with Winfrey in December for his new talk show, which launched this week on Bloomberg Television. He observed that the glass ceiling for women hasn’t yet been broken, and he asked Winfrey whether she’d considered “that you could run for president and actually be elected?”

Congress

Trump has lunch with House and Senate leadership, 12:30 p.m.

Travel ban

Iraq may be dropped from the group of countries whose citizens would be banned from visiting the U.S. when President Trump reissues his travel ban, sources tell CBS News. 

While there is no decision yet, U.S. diplomats told CBS News’ Margaret Brennan they are optimistic the White House will sign off on dropping Iraq from the list. The White House said there is no statement at this time. 

Tillerson

The president has dinner with his secretary of State, Rex Tillerson

The Cabinet

The Senate Finance Committee votes on the nomination of Seema Verma to be administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, 10:30 a.m.

Senate votes on Ryan Zinke to be Secretary of the Interior, and then holds a procedural vote on the nomination of Ben Carson to be HUD Secretary. 10:30am