1/ The New York Times, CNN and Politico were prohibited from attending a White House briefing by Trump’s press secretary. Spicer allowed reporters from only a handpicked group of news organizations: Breitbart News, the One America News Network and The Washington Times, all with conservative leanings. Journalists from ABC, CBS, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and Fox News also attended. “Nothing like this has ever happened at the White House in our long history of covering multiple administrations of different parties,” Dean Baquet, the executive editor of The Times, said in a statement. “We strongly protest the exclusion of The New York Times and the other news organizations. Free media access to a transparent government is obviously of crucial national interest.” (New York Times)

  • White House blocks news organizations from press briefing. The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Politico and BuzzFeed were excluded from the meeting, which is known as a gaggle and is less formal than the televised Q-and-A session in the White House briefing room. The gaggle was held by White House press secretary Sean Spicer. Asked whether CNN and The New York Times were blocked because the administration was unhappy with their reporting, Spicer responded: "Because we had it as pool, and then we expanded it, and we added some folks to come cover it. It was my decision to expand the pool." (CNN)
  • In December, Spicer said barring media access is what a "dictatorship" does. Today, he barred media access. (Washington Post)

2/ Trump administration sought to enlist intelligence officials and key lawmakers to counter news stories about ties to Russia. Acting at the behest of the White House, officials made calls to news organizations in an attempt to challenge stories about alleged contact between members of Trump’s campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives. The calls were orchestrated by the White House after unsuccessful attempts by the administration to get senior FBI officials to speak with news organizations and dispute the accuracy of stories on the alleged contacts with Russia. (Washington Post)

  • Reader's guide to an opaque Washington Post story on the Russian thing. The Post appears to be signaling that to whom it granted anonymity is the real story. (Jay Rosen, Twitter Moment)
  • White House confirms conversation with FBI about Trump and Russia. Reince Priebus, FBI director James Comey, and deputy director Andrew McCabe had a conversation which appears to violate justice department rules. (The Guardian)

3/ Trump to CPAC: "Now you finally have a president, finally." In a wide-ranging speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump blasted the media for its coverage of his administration and promised that the Republican Party would “be the party of the American worker.” Trump said that in a matter of days, he would have “brand new action” to keep the country safe, a reference to a second attempt at an executive order to restrict travel into the country from several majority-Muslim nations. At one point the crowd started chanting “lock her up” after Trump derided Hillary Clinton for describing some of Trump's supporters as “deplorables.” (Washington Post)

  • Trump intensified his slashing attack on the news media at CPAC, reiterating his charge that “fake news” outlets are “the enemy of the people.” The opening portion of Trump's free-range, campaign-style speech centered on a declaration of war on the press — a new foil to replace vanquished political opponents like Hillary Clinton. (New York Times)

4/ Republican lawmakers expect that their Obamacare replacement will result in fewer Americans covered by health insurance. The new plan would do away with the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that all Americans have health coverage or pay a fine, and replace it with rules that let people choose not to buy insurance, instead paying higher premiums or penalties if they need it later. The result would be fewer people covered. (Bloomberg)

UPDATE:

Leaked GOP Obamacare replacement would dismantle Obamacare subsidies and scrap its Medicaid expansion. The legislation would take down the foundation of Obamacare, including the unpopular individual mandate, subsidies based on people’s income, and all of the law’s taxes. It would significantly roll back Medicaid spending and give states money to create high-risk pools for some people with pre-existing conditions. Some elements would be effective right away; others not until 2020. (Politico)

GOP Rep. Mo Brooks says town hall protests may prevent Obamacare repeal. "I don't know if we're going to be able to repeal Obamacare now because these folks who support Obamacare are very active," Brooks said. (CNN)

  • Pence: "America’s Obamacare nightmare is about to end." In a 21-minute speech, Pence ticked through issues on which the administration has acted or plans to act soon, including cutting taxes, rolling back regulations, ending illegal immigration, expanding the military and restoring what he termed the “culture of life.” (Washington Post)

5/ DHS report disputes threat from banned nations. Analysts at the Homeland Security Department's intelligence arm found insufficient evidence that citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries included in President Donald Trump's travel ban pose a terror threat to the United States. (Associated Press)

6/ Trump turned to manufacturing executives to help him develop measures to bring jobs back to the United States, giving powerful business leaders a potentially influential hand in shaping his still-evolving economic policies. Trump has yet to outline specific proposals for overhauling the tax and regulatory systems, rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure or reshaping the work force, all of which would be essential to accomplishing his ambitious employment goals. (New York Times)

  • U.S. factory CEOs to Trump: Jobs exist; skills don’t. They urged the White House to support vocational training for the high-tech skills that today’s manufacturers increasingly require — a topic Trump has seldom addressed. (Washington Post)

7/ Justice Department will use private prisons again, reversing an Obama-era directive to stop using the facilities, which officials had then deemed less safe and less effective than those run by the government. (Washington Post)

8/ Trump administration signals a possible crackdown on states over legalized recreational-use marijuana. Sean Spicer told reporters that the administration had no plans to continue the permissive approach of the Obama administration and that it viewed recreational marijuana use as a flagrant violation of federal law. (Los Angeles Times)

  • Roger Stone: Marijuana crackdown would be "huge mistake". Trump's longtime ally tweeted the president that a crackdown on legal marijuana in the states will cost thousands of jobs and bankrupt local governments. #StatesRights, yo. (The Hill)

9/ Caitlyn Jenner to Trump: "Call Me" — your transgender restroom letter is a "disaster". In a video the transgender icon harshly called out Trump for withdrawing the federal government's legal guidance on allowing transgender youths to use the restrooms of their choice in schools. (NBC News)

10/ State Department writes anti-leak memo, which promptly leaks. It's the latest sign that the relationship between the Trump administration's appointees and the State Department's professional workforce is still very much a work in progress. (Washington Post)

UPDATE:

Trump denounces FBI over leaks and demands an investigation. Trump assailed the FBI as a dangerously porous agency, charging that leaks of classified information from within its ranks were putting the country at risk. (New York Times)

  • Trump hits the FBI over "national security" leaks, saying the agency is "totally unable" to keep information from the news media. (Wall Street Journal)

11/ Mexican officials tell US: We don't agree. John Kelly and Rex Tillerson were in Mexico to try to smooth the relationship and address some of the differences that have emerged between the United States and its neighbor. Mexico ain't having it. (CNN)

12/ He yelled "get out of my country," and then shot 2 men from India, killing one. A 51-year-old man faces first-degree murder charges after shooting three men in an Olathe, Kansas bar Wednesday night. He reportedly told two local Garmin engineers from India to “get out of my country.” Authorities would not classify the shooting as a hate crime, but federal law enforcement officials are investigating with local police to determine if it was “bias motivated.” (Washington Post)

13/ At the request of Kushner and Ivanka, language critical of a global climate deal was struck from an executive order that Trump plans to sign soon. The issue is aimed at rolling back Obama climate agenda. (Wall Street Journal)

14/ Under fire, GOP congressman calls for Trump tax returns, but stopped short of saying Congress should subpoena those returns. (CNN)

15/ Santa Cruz and federal agents in war of words over whether a gang sweep was really a secret immigration raid. The police chief accused Homeland Security officials of lying about the scope of the raids conducted jointly between his department and federal agents this month aimed at apprehending MS-13 gang members. (Los Angeles Times)

16/ Republican lawmakers introduce bills to curb protesting in at least 18 states in what civil liberties experts are calling “an attack on protest rights throughout the states.” None of the proposed legislation has yet been passed into law, and several bills have already been shelved in committee. Critics doubt whether many of the laws would pass Constitutional muster. (Washington Post)

poll/ Support for Obamacare hits an all-time high. 54% of Americans approve of the Affordable Care Act, while 43% disapprove. That's up from an even split (48%-47%) in a Pew survey from December. (CNN)

Weekend Reads

  • Trump, Putin, and the new Cold War. What lay behind Russia’s interference in the 2016 election—and what lies ahead? (The New Yorker)
  • I was a Muslim in Trump's White House. When Obama left, I stayed on at the National Security Council in order to serve my country. I lasted eight days. (The Atlantic)
  • The only groups that have majority approval of Trump? Republicans and whites without college degrees. Most Americans don’t think that President Trump is doing a good job. (Washington Post)
  • Here’s what non-fake news looks like. Genuine news, and not fake news or hyped news or corrupt news, puts reality first; it does not subordinate honest reporting to ideological consistency or political advocacy. It does not curry favor with advertisers, or with the publisher’s business interests, or even with the tastes of the audience. (Columbia Journalism Review)