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Trumponomics Daily—Thursday, March 9

Carl Icahn just tore a page from the Trump playbook. The legendary investor serving as the president’s informal deregulatory czar is facing heat for pushing a policy shift that’s already benefited one of his holdings. Icahn doesn’t deny the essential facts. He is a majority owner of CVR Energy, a Texas refiner that would see a burden lifted under his proposal to restructure a federal biofuel program; and his stake surged $126 million last week on news of the deal he brokered (gains it’s since given back). But on Wednesday, when the left-leaning watchdog Public Citizen lodged a complaint with the House and Senate accusing him of failing to file a lobbying registration, Icahn went on the attack. The complaint, he wrote in an online op-ed, amounted to “fake news,” suggesting instead an investigation “to uncover the dark forces behind this witch hunt.” He floated the possibility that the watchdog’s objection had been funded “by those seeking to smear President Donald Trump.”

Public Citizen exists to criticize corporate influence on government. In this case, the group’s charge is straightforward. Last summer, while Icahn was leaning on the Environmental Protection Agency to tweak the biofuel program, he was also advising the Trump campaign, which briefly posted and then removed from its website a policy statement echoing the investor’s position. Trump wasn’t an elected official then, so whatever Icahn was doing behind the scenes to get the campaign to adopt his line didn’t count as lobbying, as far as the federal lobbying disclosure law is concerned. But the law dictates that if Icahn or his company have pressed the point with senior Trump officials more than once since the inauguration, they should have registered. That seems likely, considering Icahn himself vetted Trump’s EPA pick, talking to Scott Pruitt “four or five times” by his count.

The lobbying statute is lightly policed and rarely enforced. But Icahn should know better. Records show his company spent more than $1 million over the last decade lobbying the feds on a range of issues. And since last summer, a group he formed with Bill Ackman of Pershing Square, Paul Singer of Elliott Associates, Daniel Loeb of Third Point, and Barry Rosenstein of Jana Partners spent $350,000 to sell policymakers on giving activist investors more power. The information required for most quarterly lobbying reports could fit on a postcard. Icahn is choosing a different tack. “I have been maligned many times in the press over the years fighting the establishment but I have never shied away from following my convictions,” he wrote Wednesday. “I don’t intend to start now.”

Tory Newmyer
@torynewmyer
tory_newmyer@fortune.com

Must Reads

Opposition Mounts as GOP’s Health Bill Undergoes Review [WSJ]

Lobbying groups for hospitals, doctors and seniors want House Republicans to slow down their drive to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, arguing the current plan would leave too many people without insurance coverage and prove too disruptive to healthcare providers.

Trump Said to Be Open to Change in GOP Obamacare Replacement [Bloomberg]

The president’s budget director told a House conservative faction that Trump is “agnostic” on the details of the plan that House GOP leaders have presented, suggesting he is willing to negotiate in the interest of getting a deal done quickly.

President Trump Has Picked Jon Huntsman as Ambassador to Russia [Fortune]

The former Utah governor, a onetime critic of the president who served as Obama’s first ambassador to China, has accepted the post at a historically sensitive time in U.S.-Russia relations.

Why Trump’s $1 trillion promise to deliver infrastructure jobs may not happen this year [Washington Post]

Trump promised a massive rebuilding program in his February speech to Congress, but few decisions have been made yet, no deadlines have been set and much of the planning could spill into next year.

Number of the day

303

The number of counties across the country, out of 3,113 total, in which the margin between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was under 1%, according to a look by FiveThirtyEight. In 1992, there were 1,096 such counties, even though the overall margin in that election was wider. In November, 61% of voters cast ballots in counties that gave one of the major-party candidates at least 60% of the vote, up from 50% of voters who lived in such counties in 2012, and 39% in 1992. Taken together, the numbers depict a country in which partisanship is increasingly a matter of geography.

Loose change

How Long Will the Trump Bull Market Last? [New Yorker]

How Trump Screwed His Own Super PACs [Daily Beast]

Ivanka Trump’s Landlord Is a Chilean Billionaire Suing the U.S. Government [WSJ]

The Fatal Flaw That May Spell Death For Trump’s Tax Plan [Fortune]

President Trump promised mine jobs and highways; West Virginia won’t forget [USA Today]

Senators Ask White House: Where Are the Nominees? [Roll Call]

How Trump could soon be at war with Yellen [Politico]