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First Read's Morning Clips: How Does Trump Fill in the Blanks?

A roundup of the most important political news stories of the day
Image: US President Trump speaks at CPAC
President Donald J.Trump delivers a speech at the 44th Annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, on Feb. 24, 2017.Olivier Douliery / POOL / EPA

TRUMP AGENDA: How does he fill in the blanks?

NBC’s Benjy Sarlin previews tonight’s speech: “Nobody projects confidence like President Donald Trump, who won while promising to take America in a bold new direction by almost sheer force of will. More than a month after taking office, though, no one seems to know exactly what direction he means. On three critical parts of his agenda — health care, tax reform and infrastructure — Trump has given limited or contradictory directions about what he expects Congress to do.”

The AP’s lede: “With his first address to Congress, President Donald Trump has an opportunity to refocus his young administration on the economic issues that helped him get elected. His allies hope it will help him move beyond the distractions and self-inflicted wounds that he has dealt with so far.”

From Leigh Ann Caldwell and Ali Vitali: “The White House and congressional Republicans pushed back Monday on reports that aides with President Donald Trump's campaign had contact with Russians — continuing a story line that continues to dog the administration. The administration's defensive strategy — including outreach to Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr and House Intelligence chairman Devin Nunes to counter the media narrative — comes as even some Republicans are questioning the independence of a congressional-led investigation.”

And Caldwell also lays out what has — and hasn’t — happened on the Hill so far this year.

Trump gives himself a “C” for messaging but says he should get an “A” for his actual achievements so far. (And he says Obama is behind the protests against him and the GOP Congress.)

The New York Times: “President Trump put both political parties on notice Monday that he intends to slash spending on many of the federal government’s most politically sensitive programs — relating to education, the environment, science and poverty — to protect the economic security of retirees and to shift billions more to the armed forces.”

And the Washington Post: “President Trump is preparing a budget that would fulfill some of his top campaign promises by boosting military spending while cutting domestic programs. But his reluctance to embrace cuts to entitlement programs could lead to sharp tensions with Republicans in Congress who have long argued that Medicare and Social Security must be overhauled to ensure the government’s fiscal health.”

DOJ Watch: “The Justice Department on Monday dropped its long-standing position that Texas intended to discriminate when it passed a strict voter-ID law, a sharp turn from the Obama administration’s push to challenge restrictive state voting laws,” writes the Washington Post. “The Texas case is the first window into how the Trump administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions will approach the highly charged issue of voting rights. President Trump has alleged without evidence that massive voter fraud led to his loss of the popular vote in November to Democrat Hillary Clinton. Voter advocates fear that these claims will be used to justify more restrictions on voters.”

The Wall Street Journal: “President Donald Trump on Tuesday will sign one executive order aimed at repealing an Obama-era water regulation and another that would move an initiative to assist historically black colleges and universities from the Education Department into the White House, an administration official said.”

Trump is also arguing that many federal jobs simply do not need to be filled.

ICYMI: Trump admitted yesterday that health care is “unbelievably complex.”

Billionaire Wilbur Ross has been confirmed as Commerce Secretary.

Bloomberg’s Josh Green has a big profile on Stephen Miller.

POLITICO: “As president, Trump sits at the top of a massive bureaucracy not of his own making, a complex hierarchy designed to help him handle the most information-intensive, crisis-driven job in the world. He appears to be struggling to adapt. Hundreds of positions remain vacant, key posts have been declined by wary nominees, poorly vetted picks have withdrawn or been rejected, and the day-to-day functioning of the West Wing has become its own running news story. Trump has dismissed the accounts of turmoil as “fake news,” insisting his administration is running like a fine-tuned machine. But for those who have known him, studied him and worked with him the longest, the more pressing question is whether Trump will be able to scale up. Is his well-established idiosyncratic style as a manager suited for this monumental task?”

An exclusive last night from NBC News: “Last month's deadly commando raid in Yemen, which cost the lives of a U.S. Navy SEAL and a number of children, has so far yielded no significant intelligence, U.S. officials told NBC News. Although Pentagon officials have said the raid produced "actionable intelligence," senior officials who spoke to NBC News said they were unaware of any, even as the father of the dead SEAL questioned the premise of the raid in an interview with the Miami Herald published Sunday.”

One of us(!) writes about how viewers of different news outlets see the president and the state of the nation.