VIDEO: Intercepted Russian Communications Part of Inquiry Into Trump Associates | #NYTimes #MSNBC


WASHINGTON — American law enforcement and intelligence agencies are examining intercepted communications and financial transactions as part of a broad investigation into possible links between Russian officials and associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump, including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, current and former senior American officials said.

The continuing counterintelligence investigation means that Mr. Trump will take the oath of office on Friday with his associates under investigation and after the intelligence agencies concluded that the Russian government had worked to help elect him. As president, Mr. Trump will oversee those agencies and have the authority to redirect or stop at least some of these efforts.  Continue reading.

Wealthy donors, once Trump’s punching bags, get VIP treatment at inauguration

President-elect Donald Trump and his wife Melania appeared at a donor luncheon honoring Republican congressional leaders Thursday. (AFP/Getty Images)

If you’re a wealthy donor who gave at least $250,000 to this year’s inaugural committee, there’s a good chance you got to mingle with the incoming president at private soirees in Washington at least four times before Friday’s main festivities.

There was the Chairman’s Global Dinner Tuesday night at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium, where Donald Trump jointed a group of elite contributors and foreign diplomats seated around tables teeming with roses on a vast floor of red carpet.

The next night, Trump made surprise stops at donor dinners that feted Vice President-elect Mike Pence and a group of cabinet nominees. On Thursday, the president-elect headlined a luncheon at his downtown hotel honoring GOP congressional leaders, where he singled out and thanked mega-donors Sheldon and Miriam Adelson for their support.

That evening, Trump took yet another turn on stage at a candlelight donor dinner at Union Station, where the black-tie crowd dined on grilled white and green asparagus, lemon thyme roasted branzino and vanilla meringue cake.

“He keeps popping up,” said Florida lobbyist and fundraiser Brian Ballard, who said the donor gatherings have been the best political events he has ever attended.

“They’ve been inclusive, they have been welcoming,” said Ballard, who added that the contributors from Florida he has been shepherding around Washington have felt “exhilarated” by the experience.

For $1 million and up, inaugural donors will get ‘candlelight dinner’ with Trump and other access

Wealthy contributors may have served as punching bags for Trump on the campaign trail, but they are enjoying VIP treatment in Washington this week. Top donors were welcomed with a traditional gift bag, stocked with gold White House cuff links, an inaugural blanket, a commemorative plate and other goodies. They had preferential booking at the Trump International Hotel, where rooms were priced at $2,000 a night. And they were invited to an array of exclusive receptions and meals, where they had access to Trump, Pence and other top administration officials – with the best events reserved for the top-tier donors who gave $1 million and more.

“They are blown away and their expectations have been surpassed, and I think the reason for that is no one expected or anticipated that the vice president-elect and president-elect would be attending all these events and be so involved with them,” said Roy Bailey, a Texas investor who co-chaired the inaugural fundraising effort.

“It just created this buzz that’s fantastic,” he said. “For all the donors and underwriters, it’s just a real treat.”

The inaugural committee raised a record $90 million in private financing to put on this week’s balls and other festivities. The identities of the individuals and corporations who funded the effort will not be disclosed for 90 days, when the committee must report its contributors to the Federal Election Commission.

“The money came just pouring in — to the point that some of the money couldn’t be accepted because the events were full,” said Houston-based fundraiser Mica Mosbacher. “We were beginning to turn away people.”

The Trump operation’s warm embrace of the party’s biggest donors and fundraisers stands in sharp contrast to the candidate’s rhetoric when he first launched his long-shot presidential bid. At the time, Trump eschewed the support of rich backers. He was funding his own campaign, the New York developer announced proudly — and he warned that his rivals were corrupted by the money they were taking.

“I’m not getting millions of dollars from all of these special interests and lobbyists and donors,” Trump said in February 2016.

Campaign finance watchdogs said the access that top contributors have been granted to the incoming president and other senior administration officials this week makes his pledge to “drain the swamp” appear hollow.

“The inaugural fundraising looks shockingly like pay-to-play,” said Nick Penniman, executive director of Issue One, a bipartisan group working to reduce the influence of wealthy interests on politics. “It’s the very stuff that he condemned on the campaign trail. This is not what the American people expected when they voted for Donald Trump.”

Trump allies rejected that, noting that he was also headlining events open to the general public, such as Thursday’s concert on the grounds of the Lincoln Memorial.

“He’s setting a tone from day one that this is about the people who elected him,” Mosbacher said, “not just about the donor class.”

Every president is a minority leader. Trump will be, too.

A worker prepares for Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration at the Capitol during a rehearsal on Jan. 15, in Washington. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

A key trope of any inaugural address is a pledge of unity — that, despite the divisions of the campaign just past, the new president will serve the entire nation and not the interests of one political party. Thomas Jefferson probably put it most memorably in 1801, during the first inauguration that marked a transfer of partisan power:

Let us, then, fellow-citizens, unite with one heart and one mind. … [E]very difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.

Just four years ago, in 2013, President Obama reminded “my fellow Americans” that the oath of office is “an oath to God and country, not party or faction. And we must faithfully execute that pledge during the duration of our service.”

Donald Trump will probably include something similar in Friday’s addition to this canon, as he did when he claimed victory in the predawn hours of Nov. 9. Then he struck a conciliatory tone, saying:

To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people. … I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans, and this is so important to me.

Of course, many doubt just how important, given the past 10 weeks of divisive rallies, appointments, news conferences and Twitter fights. The new president enters office with historically low approval ratings, which have receded even from the 46 percent of the national vote he won in November.

But as I note in a forthcoming chapter in a volume of essays on the 2016 election, Trump’s situation in this regard is perhaps different only in degree from past presidents, not in kind.

Presidents claim to speak for the nation. But in practice they are more often minority leaders.

For one thing, it is relatively rare for presidents to win wide majority support at the ballot box. The divergence in 2016 between the electoral and popular votes naturally re-energized the debate about the virtues of the undemocratic (but quite Republican) electoral college.

But even in “normal” elections, presidents usually enter office with a small majority or plurality of the vote. In 1980, an election widely remembered as a landslide, Ronald Reagan earned less than 51 percent of the national popular vote. In 1896, a year sometimes treated in the political science literature as a sweeping partisan realignment, William McKinley won a whopping 51.1 percent. And so on.

In only 30 of the 49 elections from 1824 to 2016 did the winning candidate get even a majority of the popular vote. Less than a quarter of the time (12 of the 49) did the winning candidate receive 55 percent or more.

Thus, most presidents are opposed by at least a substantial minority of the voting public even at the outset of their terms — and presumably some proportion of the large nonvoting public as well. The electoral college helps to paper over these divisions, of course. Memories of Reagan’s 1980 landslide are predicated on his stunning tally of 489 electoral votes — 91 percent of the total — rather than his 50.8 percent of the popular vote. Bill Clinton received 43 percent of the popular vote in 1992, yet nearly 70 percent of the electoral college vote.

But public opinion data tend to reflect or even lag the vote returns, sooner rather than later. Trump is rare in receiving no “honeymoon” at all in this regard. Even so Obama, despite approval ratings near 70 percent upon his first inauguration in January 2009, will leave office with average public approval for his entire tenure at just 48 percent. George W. Bush’s immense jump in job approval on Sept. 12, 2001 — from 51 to 90 percent — reflected both events and his performance, but in retrospect was clearly anomalous. It dropped down steadily over time, and his second term approval averaged just 36.5 percent.

Indeed, every president from Lyndon B. Johnson through Obama saw his approval drop below 40 percent at some point — four of them (Nixon, Carter and both Bushes) below 30 percent.

Average approval over the past 50-plus years (that is, since Johnson’s 1965 inauguration) is barely 51 percent. Presidents claim to be “uniters, not dividers,” in George W. Bush’s famous formulation, but in practice they seem to be just the opposite.

They talk like uniters but act like dividers. 

More important, they act like dividers, not uniters. Any sequence of close national elections, and the related rise of polarization between the parties, further heightens the importance of the presidential “base.” One result is that presidents are increasingly less likely to reach out beyond their electoral coalition.

Consider the growing scholarly literature that suggests presidents weight both their rhetoric and their policy proposals heavily toward their partisan base. B. Dan Wood’s book “The Myth of Presidential Representation” gives away that conclusion in its very title. Wood found that presidential policy attitudes converge very little with the “national mood” in the same policy arenas for the same time frame — but very strongly with that of their partisan constituency.

Rather than change their positions to accommodate the political center, presidents try to persuade people near the center to adopt their own presidential preferences. (In this, they tend to be unsuccessful; as George C. Edwards III has found, Oval Office rhetoric often falls “on deaf ears.”)

Other studies using different data find roughly similar sorts of presidential targeting. Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha and Brandon Rottinghaus conclude that presidents’ policy proposals are more heavily weighted toward their partisan base than toward the center of public opinion by about a five-to-four margin, and that this ratio increases as polarization does. Studies by John Hudak and Douglas Kriner and Andrew Reeves show that “presidential pork” is widespread, that a “particularistic president” targets discretionary federal funds and grants toward areas providing political support.

Thus, while Trump has seemingly shown little interest in uniting the country behind his administration, any new president would have to make a significant effort to claim the status of majority leader. (This would have been true of a President Hillary Clinton as well.) Precedent suggests instead that while claiming to be the people’s tribune, the new president will define “the people” in a partisan manner. Put another way, common ground is visible only if presidents look for it — and despite their rhetoric, they rarely have reason to do so.

Such a strategy superficially reflects the anti-majoritarian roots of the presidential office — which was designed not as a bastion of majority rule, but as a check on it. But it fits less comfortably into an era in which broad public legitimacy is a crucial part of presidential power, a development so key as to be considered almost a “second Constitution.” It is yet another reason to recall a piece of wisdom from the new president’s favorite musical: “Winning was easy, young man — governing’s harder.”

Senate set to confirm two Trump Cabinet nominees Friday; others will wait

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer speaks about President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees during a news conference on Capitol Hill on Thursday, Jan. 19. Schumer said the Senate will vote on two of Trump’s Cabinet nominees on Friday and begin debate on a third. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)

President-elect Donald Trump’s two least controversial Cabinet nominees are expected to be confirmed by the Senate Friday afternoon, but the rest may have to wait before they can officially join the Trump administration.

Senate Democrats agreed to hold confirmation votes Friday afternoon, following Trump’s inauguration, for Gen. James Mattis, Trump’s pick to head the Department of Defense, and Gen. John F. Kelly, his choice to lead the Department of Homeland Security.

Both generals are well known to senators. Mattis was previously in charge of U.S. Central Command, with responsibility for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while Kelly led U.S. Southern Command. Perhaps more critically, both showed a willingness to break with the president-elect’s more controversial positions during their confirmation hearings last week, on matters including the likelihood of building a wall on the border with Mexico and the importance of countering the Kremlin to preserve the hegemony of NATO.

Both Mattis and Kelly are expected to earn bipartisan support on the Senate floor.

While Democrats are ready to endorse Trump’s generals, they are withholding support from almost all of Trump’s other Cabinet nominees, threatening to slow-walk proceedings on the floor if the president-elect doesn’t force his picks to go back to the committees and answer more questions. But it is unclear whether they will be able to persuade any Republicans to join them in opposition, and Democrats cannot ultimately reject any of the nominees without GOP allies.

“If there was ever a group of Cabinet nominees that cry out for rigorous scrutiny, it’s this one,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday, calling Trump’s Cabinet “a swamp full of billionaires” beset with “conflicts and ethical issues as far as the eye can see.”

Schumer accused Republicans of “trying to jam through” Trump’s Cabinet picks — in some cases, before traditionally requisite paperwork had been fully filed — and said the nominations of several billionaires and sitting politicians belied Trump’s campaign-trail promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington.

Of all of Trump’s pending Cabinet picks, Democrats have promised only to start debating the nomination of Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), selected to serve as CIA director, after the two generals are cleared. Pompeo could receive a confirmation vote either Friday or Monday.

But there are at least eight other nominees they are prepared to delay proceedings over until Democrats are able to register their complaints, either in another round of committee questions or on the floor.

Those nominees include attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions, who faces deep skepticism over his civil rights views and record; Education nominee Betsy DeVos, who underwent aggressive questioning from Democrats Tuesday over her views on education policy and showed a tenuous grasp of some key issues; Health and Human Services nominee Tom Price, a Georgia congressman who is accused of using his legislative post to help companies he had invested in; and Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s pick for the Office of Management and Budget, who admitted failing to pay taxes for a domestic employee for four years.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in an interview Wednesday that “Democrats are in a bad mood” and are taking that out on Trump’s nominees. “We are getting off to kind of a rough start,” he said in a USA Today interview.

McConnell said he was “appalled” at some of President Obama’s appointments, “but my attitude was he won the election and that is what comes with winning the election.”

Another nominee who is expected to inspire controversy is State Department nominee Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of oil giant Exxon Mobil. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to vote on his nomination Monday, but it is not clear that Tillerson will win the support of a majority of members. Democrats are all but uniformly opposed to his nomination, and Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has criticized Tillerson sharply for his stance on Russia’s involvement in Syria and countering human rights violations around the world.

Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) suggested, however, that GOP leaders are prepared to get Tillerson’s nomination to the full Senate for a vote, regardless of whether Tillerson had won over a majority of the committee.

“There are multiple processes for moving someone out of committee,” Corker said. “At this point, I’m confident he’s going to be our next secretary of state.”

Democrats have also signaled serious doubts about Treasury nominee Steven Mnuchin, grilling the billionaire investor Thursday about his six-year tenure running a mortgage bank after the 2008 economic crisis, as well as his failure to initially disclose hundreds of millions of dollars of personal assets to the Senate Finance Committee. Andrew Puzder, Trump’s pick to lead the Labor Department, is under close scrutiny for his record as chief executive of a major fast-food chain — including his stance against minimum-wage increases and federal worker protections — and will face senators on Feb. 2. And Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general tapped to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, underwent hours of hostile questioning Wednesday from Democrats concerned about his views on climate change and his record of repeatedly suing the agency he is looking to run.

Other picks — such as Housing and Urban Development nominee Ben Carson, Transportation nominee Elaine Chao, Interior nominee Ryan Zinke and United Nations ambassador nominee Nikki Haley — have generated fewer objections. But Democratic leaders said some senators still had unanswered questions that needed to be resolved before consenting to a confirmation vote.

“If Republicans continue to stonewall and cover up the serious issues that many of those nominees are trying to avoid, they should be prepared to have those debates on the floor of the full Senate,” Schumer said.

It is unlikely Republicans, who argue that they are putting Trump’s nominees through the same vetting that Obama’s nominees received, will bend to Democratic demands. And Democrats are hamstrung by the fact that they cannot use the 60-vote procedural filibuster to block any Cabinet nominations.

Mulvaney, whose tax questions are similar to those that derailed past Democratic nominees, received a gesture of support Thursday from a prominent Democrat and fellow South Carolinian.

Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), the third-ranking House Democratic leader, said he wanted to know more about the circumstances of Mulvaney’s tax misstep but would “give him the benefit of the doubt.”

With some sympathy, he compared the situation to one his family’s beauty salon faced many years ago: “My daddy didn’t realize [he had to pay employees’ taxes], either. But he paid a hell of a penalty for it.”

Clyburn said he was more concerned about the issues facing Price: “Insider trading, to me, is very, very serious. To me, that’s much more serious than an oversight on payroll taxes.”

After helping deliver Trump victory, the prize comes at a high price

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CANTON, Ohio — He had opened a Trump campaign office in an old tanning salon, waved Trump signs and knocked on doors right up until Election Day, and now Ralph Case, a home contractor in paint-splattered jeans, went to his mailbox and pulled out a thick envelope with a Washington, D.C., return address.

“Holy cow,” he said, walking back into his kitchen, where he and his friend Jim Murphy were organizing a bus trip to the inauguration of the 45th president, Donald Trump, whom they often referred to as “The Man.”

“You know what that is,” said Murphy. “Brian got one.”

Ralph tore it open and pulled out an ivory card embossed with a gold seal.

“Mr. Ralph Case . . .” he read out loud, his hands shaking. “The President-elect requests the honor of your presence at the inaugural ball.”

He looked at Murphy.

“I’m in!” said Ralph.

In so many ways, it was true.

He was a single father of two with a high school education who’d never been involved in politics before he saw Trump descending the gilded escalator. Now he was a minor power broker with a coveted and growing list of hundreds of the most ardent Trump foot soldiers across Stark County, Ohio. The proprietor of Ralph’s Renovations now knew someone who knew the new head of the Ohio GOP, not to mention the incoming deputy co-chair of the Republican National Committee in Washington, a place he’d never been.

But more importantly to Ralph, it seemed like the president-elect knew him. He looked at the invitation again. “Black tie,” it said in calligraphy.

He put it on his dining table, next to a stack of bills.

Letting it shine

How did it feel to be a winner in Trump’s America?

“Well, congratulations, Ralph,” Murphy said to his friend, who said his last victory was a mother-son bowling tournament when he was 13.

Now his mind was spinning with all that was to come: He had to confirm the 28 people signed up so far and scramble up another 28 to fill the 56-seat the bus, a black private coach with a blazing orange stripe running down the side. He had to find money for tuxedos for him and his 13-year-old son, Gavin, who was also going, and an overnight stay in D.C., where rooms were now going for hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars a night. He needed to fix his back deck. His phone rang. His landlord. Ralph ignored it.

“What am I going to do?” he said. “Mom. Mom to the rescue.”

He dialed.

“Mom!” he shouted into his cellphone. “I got an official invitation to the inaugural ball. . . . I’m thinking if dad called Aunt Lulu,” he said, referring to an aunt in suburban Virginia. He realized he was screaming. “Sorry, Mom. I’m excited. It says the president requests my presence. Mom. This is real, Mom. It’s real.”

Ralph hung up and tried to focus on organizing the bus. Murphy, an Air Force veteran, handed over his $88 bus fare, and they talked over how they would deal with the protesters they expected to see.

“They are planning on disruption, so don’t wear anything Trump,” said Ralph, who was worried about getting beaten up. “Or if you do, wait till you get to your spot in the crowd, and then . . .”

“Let it shine,” said Murphy.

“Let it shine,” said Ralph.

“They’re going to be so pissed he’s president,” said Murphy with a note of glee, and they talked about how impressive security was going to be, and how glad they were that Trump had appointed three generals to his cabinet, and how ISIS spelled backward sounds like “sissy.” Ralph’s television was blaring Fox News coverage of a confirmation hearing, and now protesters were interrupting.

“Take ’em down!” Ralph yelled at the TV. “Tase ’em! Get ’em outta here!”

“You’re not at a Trump rally, man,” said Murphy. But Ralph said the truth was that with all the opposition out there, winning still felt like campaigning.

A Trump supporter named Leslie Redmon, a retired supply chain manager, stopped by to pay her bus fare, and now the three of them were talking about how none of the criticism of the incoming administration had stifled their enthusiasm for Trump.

“I just don’t feel any skepticism,” said Murphy. “I tried to.”

They felt no real concern about the prospect of conflicts of interest between Trump’s business empire and his role as president: “The guy’s a billionaire, he has hundreds of companies. What’s he supposed to do, sell them all?” said Redmon.

No great concern about the appointment of the former head of Exxon, who has a long-standing relationship with Russia, as secretary of state: “I trust him more than these politicians being paid by special interests,” said Murphy.

No worries about Russia at all. “Overplayed,” said Redmon.

Putin is “an aggressive guy, kind of like Trump on his end,” Murphy said. “He wants the best for his country and Trump wants the best for our country. Not everyone is a globalist.”

Ralph put a check mark beside Murphy’s name and Redmon’s, confirming their spots on the bus, and soon, he got into his car to go see another person on the list.

Out into Canton he drove, a landscape of potholed roads, payday loan shops and aging strip malls that helped hand Trump the election. He dialed up J.J. Steward — “Crazy Jay,” Ralph called him — a nutritional supplement salesman originally from eastern Kentucky who, like Ralph, had never been politically active before.

“Jay!” Ralph said into his cellphone. “What’s going on, buddy?”

“Waiting for next week!” said Steward, whose business slumped during the recession.

“Trump Revolution!” said Ralph. “I love it, I love it!”

Steward loved it so much that he had campaigned for Trump by installing a mannequin with a Trump mask in the passenger seat of his van, which he plastered with “Hillary for Prison” signs. As he saw the world, Trump was an authentic outsider, unlike all the other candidates, who he believed were actually “operatives” acting at the behest of a global elite headed by the financier George Soros.

“Now I have a leader I can trust. He’s one of the greatest patriots ever known,” said Steward, even though now, as a winner, he had a new set of worries. He was concerned about Trump’s security and the prospect of a “manufactured catastrophe like 9/11,” which he believed was staged by the government. He was worried that he himself might be placed in some “database of white men” and targeted for his campaign activities. At the same time, he felt a renewed sense of purpose believing he had made a difference, and now Ralph was on the phone, telling him about the invitation to the ball, which only confirmed his faith in Trump’s bona fides.

“Yeah, it’s $50 for a sit-down with Mr. Trump,” Ralph was telling him, referring to the price of the tickets. “Yeah. My mom’s freaking out. Like tuxedos are expensive! You need dress shoes! It’s like a dream.”

Ralph drove past a used car lot and a weedy field with the rusted-out hulk of some building.

He dialed Dave Buell, an accountant for small oil and natural gas producers and the owner of the new Canton Brewery downtown, which Buell was trying to make great again.

“Dave, buddy!” Ralph said to Buell, who did not believe in conspiracies, or any of the more extreme proposals Trump had made. What he believed in was Trump — not so much his policies but the man himself, who he was sure would bring back jobs, loosen credit and solve problems in the practical-minded way of a businessman. As a winner, he wished to tell all those people upset about Trump’s victory that they should not worry.

“Oh, not at all,” he said, explaining that their fears — about racism, about a Muslim registry, about mass deportations — had been “hyped by the media.” The protesters would soon understand what sort of man Trump is, he said.

“I don’t think he’ll be donning a KKK robe anytime soon,” Buell said, laughing. “He’s going to lead our country to greatness, and when he does, they’ll be happy.”

Happy like Ralph was, talking on the phone about “the black-tie situation,” and pulling up at Frame’s Tavern, a corner bar across the road from the Timken Steel factory.

“Hey, Danny,” Ralph said, walking inside.

Ralph sat in a wooden booth with Danny Frame, the owner, who wore a National Rifle Association ballcap and a “Heroin Destroys Families” wristband and who had in recent months begged the county to let him keep some Narcan behind the bar. It is a drug that can reverse opioid overdoses. The county declined. During the campaign, he kept a stack of voter registration forms on the bar. He passed out Trump fliers during shift changes at Timken.

“I’ve got to see it through to the end,” he told Ralph now, confirming his seat on the bus to Washington, where he’d never been in his 62 years. His school field trips were always to the auto plants in Dearborn, Mich.

“So we are leaving at midnight,” Ralph began, going over the plans. “Excited?”

“Thrilled,” said Frame, who said he still got chills thinking about all the people he met campaigning for Trump — “all the common folks responsible for keeping the country going.”

“Any questions?” Ralph said.

“No,” said Frame.

There were no questions now, just the buzz of victory.

Ralph got back into his car, and began dialing again.

He called a young man named Reed.

“You might want to bring some snacks, maybe granola bars,” he said.

He called someone named Joe.

“Yeah, I saw the protesters,” Ralph told him. “It’s like, come on, grow up!”

He called a guy named Mitch.

“I feel good,” Ralph said. “I talked to so many people who didn’t support Trump, and I said, ‘Just watch. Just wait and see.’ ”

The price of victory

Now it was just days before the inauguration, and Ralph was at his kitchen table finalizing the list for the bus.

He had gone on a local radio show to say there were still seats left, and that tickets were being slashed to $60 per person, and now someone was calling.

“Yeah, Case, that’s me,” Ralph answered. “Yeah. I ran the Stark County campaign, so he should know who I am. Are you sure you want to go? Because I’ll hold this seat.”

He was up to 38 people, and now the FedEx guy was at the door.

“Don’t tell me I got another!” he said, opening the envelope and pulling out two tickets to the inauguration.

“We’re blue!” Ralph said to Gavin.

He looked at a map of the inaugural seating and found the blue square indicating a standing section to the left of the U.S. Capitol steps where Trump would be sworn in.

“This is where we’re going, Gavin! Standing blue!” he said.

Gavin looked at the map.

“Standing blue,” Ralph said again.

It certainly felt like he was winning. But Ralph had also come to the conclusion that winning was expensive; there was no way he could afford to go the inaugural ball.

“It’s $100 for the tux, so that’s $200,” he explained to Gavin. “And $50 each for the tickets, that’s another $100, and $40 each way for gas because we’d have to drive, and then turnpike fees, that’s another $35 to $38 bucks, and then you’ve got the food.”

“It’s called pack your own food, genius!” Gavin said.

“And then the taxi,” Ralph continued, ignoring him.

He had checked the price for a room at the new Trump hotel.

“It’s $8,500!” Ralph said, promising Gavin that they’d stay there another time.

Gavin sulked. Ralph tried to change the conversation back to the bus, and the inauguration itself.

“We’re standing blue,” he said again, and Gavin began imagining it.

“How much you want to bet Trump’s entering the inauguration in his helicopter?” he asked.

“I think he’s going to get out of his limousine and walk,” Ralph said.

“I told you he’s the new JFK,” said Gavin.

“He’s going to walk, even though I know he’s instructed not to get too close to the crowd,” said Ralph. “He’s going to get out and walk.”

That was the Trump Ralph believed in.

Now he opened his laptop to send out one more email reminder about the bus.

“Argh!” he said because the Internet wasn’t working, and then it came to life.

He began typing.

“LET’S MAKE HISTORY TOGETHER,” he wrote in all caps. “LAST CHANCE.”

Donald Trump Faces His First Test as President

The inaugural address is tradition’s gift to a new President, a chance to gather the country together before the hard business of governing begins.

Donald Trump’s predecessors have seized these historic moments to issue calls for unity. Barack Obama, who took office in the midst of deepening economic crisis, used his first inaugural to steel the nation for the hardship ahead. George W. Bush, who became President in 2001 in the wake of a contested election, urged a “a new commitment to live out our nation’s promise through civility, courage, compassion, and character.”

Nobody knows how Trump, who on Friday at noon becomes the 45th U.S. President, intends to make use of his moment in history. But there is little to suggest that he will heed the road map sketched by past Presidents.

Trump has spent the weeks since Election Day practicing the same brand of us-against-them politics that won him the job. He’s feuded with U.S. intelligence chiefs, mocked political opponents and the media and carried on public spats with such luminaries as civil-rights icon Rep. John Lewis. He has treated the presidential transition as a new phase in a permanent campaign, seizing chances to rally his core supporters and making few overtures to his opponents. He has refused to be boxed in by precedent.

That may have contributed to the fact that Trump will step to the podium on the west front of the Capitol as the least popular incoming president in at least four decades. Dozens of House Democrats are boycotting the ceremony, though Obama and both Bill and Hillary Clinton will attend. His inaugural address is a prime chance for him to try to reset his image and bind the wounds of a bitter election.

Aides have been tight-lipped about what to expect. Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said the address will clock in at around 20 minutes. It will be a “philosophical document,” Spicer added, that lays out the themes that will anchor his first term. According to aides, the President-elect wrote the address personally. Lest anyone doubt it, Trump tweeted a photograph of himself with papers and a pen. (Upon closer inspection, however, the picture appears to have been taken at a receptionist’s desk.)

Specifics aside, the world is watching to see if Trump will deliver on his promise of becoming “so presidential,” or whether he will stick with what he knows. He has proven able to rein in the drama and theatrics when he wants to, such as in a speech he delivered last year about Israel. Still, he favors free-wheeling, stream-of-consciousness addresses. Meeting with supporters on the eve of his inauguration, he departed from the remarks he drew from his jacket pocket to mock a senior Republican senator, John Cornyn of Texas, for soliciting donations from him over the years, and bragged that his Cabinet had the highest IQ in history.

Another unknown is who, exactly, will be running the country once Trump’s team arrives after the short bus ride from the Capitol. None of the members of his inner circle at the White House—chief of staff Reince Priebus, chief strategist Steve Bannon and senior adviser Jared Kushner, the President-elect’s son-in-law—has served in government before, let alone at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

A sober speech would begin to alleviate widespread fears among members of both parties that the incoming President and his cohort are not prepared for the tasks ahead of them. Of the 690 political jobs that require Senate sign-off, Trump has nominated just 28. It is likely that Trump will spend his first weekend in power with just two Cabinet secretaries confirmed.

Many of the fellow Republicans who will attend the speech have been left to rely on scattered hints about how the Trump era will begin. Trump promised during the campaign to reverse many of Obama’s executive orders and restore some from the George W. Bush days that Obama scrapped. But even top Republicans have not been able to glean specifics and are likely to find out at the same time the public does.

Trump campaigned in broad promises to Make America Great Again, a phrase he copyrighted, as well as to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border. Questions about the specifics seldom drew answers; his supporters were willing to project their views and protect their candidate. The fury of an America First agenda powered him to the highest office in the land and is likely to be the gist of Trump’s first speech as President. It’s up to Trump to chart that course now. There really is no turning back.

Watch Live: Donald Trump Is Inaugurated President of the United States

Donald Trump will ascend to the highest office in the nation on Friday when he is sworn in as the 45th President of the United States.

Trump’s inauguration ceremony in Washington, D.C., starts about 9:30 a.m. E.T. near the Capitol Building. Musical performances kick off the festivities before the incoming commander-in-chief formally takes his oath of office at about noon.

The official swearing-in ceremony begins at 11:30 a.m. E.T., with prayers and readings from religious leaders. Mike Pence will be sworn in as Vice President by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas before Trump is sworn in as President by Chief Justice John Roberts.

Tune back in here for a livestream at about 9:30 a.m.

Trump to be sworn in, marking a transformative shift in the country’s leadership

By , and ,

Donald John Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States at noon on Friday, on a day that is expected to offer less ceremony and flourish than previous inaugurations — while ushering in a transformative shift in the country’s leadership.

Events on the Mall will begin about 11:30 a.m. For those attending the events in person, the security gates will open at 6 a.m. The weather forecast calls for temperatures around 50 degrees, with rain showers in the afternoon.

After taking the oath of office, President Trump will attend a luncheon at the Capitol, and his inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue will begin about 3 p.m. That parade is supposed to last about 90 minutes — which would make it one of the shortest inaugural parades in recent history. Tens of thousands of protesters are expected during the day: Protest groups have vowed to gather at each of the 20 security checkpoints where attendees will enter the Mall.

Some groups have even vowed to “paralyze” the city, by blocking traffic and even public transit.

Trump’s swearing-in will give Republicans control of both the White House and Congress for the first time since 2006. The new president has promised to undo some of the most significant pieces of President Obama’s legacy — including his signature health-care law. But Trump also enters office with a significant amount of uncertainty, since he has repeatedly contradicted other Republicans — and himself — on major questions about how immigration, taxes, health care and other issues will be handled in the new administration.

Trump takes office as the least-popular new president in 40 years, according to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll. Forty percent of Americans view Trump favorably, which is 21 points lower than the rating with which Obama will leave office.

But Trump won the election, and so this will be his day. The stage — and the country — he had sought to command will be his, at last.

[Two worlds collide: Trump backers and foes trade barbs in Washington]

“We all got tired of seeing what was happening, and we wanted change, but we wanted real change,” Trump said on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Thursday, kicking off three days of carefully orchestrated inaugural proceedings infused with pomp and guided by precision and protocol. “It’s a movement like we’ve never seen anywhere in the world, they say.”

Exhorting thousands of supporters at the conclusion of an evening concert that was punctuated by a glimmering fireworks display, Trump vowed, “We’re going to work together, and we are going to make America great again — and, I’ll add, greater than ever before.”

Trump and his extended family on Thursday signaled a new era in the country’s governance as they stepped off a military plane at Joint Base Andrews. They headed directly to his Pennsylvania Avenue property, the Trump International Hotel, where the president-elect irreverently toasted his Cabinet nominees.

“We have by far the highest IQ of any Cabinet ever assembled,” Trump said in a characteristically grandiose — and unprovable — declaration before several hundred supporters, lawmakers and allies at an official luncheon. He scanned the room for familiar faces and riffed on each individually, as if he were delivering a toast.

Trump narrated his journey and the day’s festivities on Twitter. “On my way!” Trump tweeted as he headed in the afternoon to Arlington National Cemetery, where he and Vice President-elect Mike Pence laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. They both stood in silence with their hands over their hearts as a bugler played taps.

Earlier that day, as Trump put the finishing touches on the inaugural address he will deliver from the steps of the Capitol after taking the oath of office at noon Friday, Pence and their incoming administration were preparing to assume control of the federal government.

Addressing reporters Thursday from the transition team’s Washington headquarters, Pence said, “It is a momentous day before a historic day.”

He noted that all 21 Cabinet nominations have been made and that 536 “beachhead” officials are ready to report for duty at federal departments and agencies.

[Trump keeps Obama appointee tasked with helping run the war against ISIS]

“Our job is to be ready on Day One,” Pence said. “The American people can be confident that we will be . . . It’s going to be a very humbling and moving day for the president-elect his family and for mine. But let me tell you, we are all ready to go to work.”

Trump and his team on Thursday sent signals suggesting an attempt to begin repairing relations with groups he demonized throughout his transition, including the intelligence community and the media. Sean Spicer, the incoming White House press secretary, calmly answered questions for an hour in his first formal briefing with journalists and confirmed that Trump would soon visit the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Va., to express his gratitude to career intelligence officers.

While the bureaucrats-to-be were working, Trump supporters from throughout the country who had descended on Washington were partying at the concert at the Lincoln Memorial, which was bathed in patriotic lighting. Throngs of people extended toward the Washington Monument as an assortment of military bands and recording artists performed.

As Trump and his wife, Melania, descended the monument’s steps at sunset, the president-elect saluted the marble statue of President Abraham Lincoln, flashed a tight smile and pumped his fist in the air to the roar of the crowd and the Rolling Stones’ “Heart of Stone” playing from the speakers.

[A fierce will to win pushed Donald Trump to the top]

Even if attendance at the concert was not a historic turnout, the reality-television-producer-turned-politician appeared to relish the spotlight. As Lee Greenwood sang his signature song, “God Bless the USA,” Trump swayed, smiled and flashed a thumbs-up — though he appeared bored at other times as he fidgeted from his seat behind bulletproof glass.

Thomas E. Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the day’s events signaled that “this man is going to do it his way.”

“Everything points to this incredible sense of grandiosity,” Mann said. “He’s telling the country, ‘Get used to it.’ ”

Past presidents began to descend on Washington to witness Trump’s swearing-in, including Jimmy Carter, who was spotted aboard a commercial Delta flight from Atlanta. Hillary Clinton, who was Trump’s Democratic opponent, and Bill Clinton were planning to attend.

George H.W. Bush will not be making the trip. He and his wife, Barbara, were hospitalized in Houston this week. The former president was in stable condition Thursday and hoping to be discharged from the intensive-care unit in coming days, while the former first lady was recovering from bronchitis, spokesman Jim McGrath said.

[Will Trump follow through on all of his Day One promises?]

Trump spent part of Thursday making final preparations for the ceremony. He visited Blair House, the government property where he is scheduled to stay the night before moving into the White House, and met there Thursday afternoon with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. to discuss arrangements for Friday’s ceremony. Roberts will administer the oath of office. Trump is expected to use two Bibles: a family one and one that Lincoln used at his first inauguration in 1861.

Trump’s aides said he has taken personal ownership of his speech, writing and rewriting drafts himself with the help of a few advisers, and practiced delivering it before teleprompters this week at Trump Tower in New York.

“It’s going to be a very personal and sincere statement,” Spicer said. “I think it’s going to be less of an agenda and more of a philosophical document — a vision of where he sees the country, the proper role of government, the role of citizens.”

Trump and Pence are planning to begin the day Friday at a church service at the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church, which sits on Lafayette Square across from the White House and has been frequented by presidents. From there, they will have tea with the Obamas on the South Portico of the White House before making their way down Pennsylvania Avenue for the Capitol, where Trump will be sworn in.

After his inaugural address, Trump will attend a congressional luncheon in the Capitol and see off the Obamas, who are heading to Palm Springs, Calif., for a vacation. The Trumps will then watch the inaugural parade from a reviewing stand outside the White House. Trump will attend three official inaugural balls in the evening.

On Saturday morning, the new president will attend a traditional national prayer service at Washington National Cathedral before spending the rest of the weekend settling into his new home and meeting with his advisers.

Pence marveled to reporters: “Sometimes people stop me on the street they say, ‘How you holding up? I can’t imagine how busy you are.’ And I just tell them, ‘Well, you just have to understand, the energy and the enthusiasm of Donald Trump is contagious.’ ”

Chinese sportswear brand makes inroads in tennis world

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Svetlana Kuznetsova has a different look than most tennis players. And it’s not just all the tattoos. In a tennis world dominated by the bright colors of Nike and Adidas, as well as new fashion entrants like Uniqlo, Kuznetsova has taken a risk with her clothing sponsor — a Chinese company […]