First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Trump’s really rough weekend
President Trump’s first two and a half weeks on the job have included plenty of ups (the inauguration, the Gorsuch pick, the photo-ops with business and union leaders), as well as downs (“alternative facts,” that phone call with Australia’s prime minister, the U.S. military raid in Yemen). But the roughest moment of Trump’s early presidency took place this past weekend. First, a federal judge appointed by George W. Bush temporarily blocked Trump’s immigration/travel ban, and a federal appeals court rejected the administration’s request to restore it. Second, Trump attacked that federal judge -- referring to him a “so-called judge” -- and said he would be blamed if there was a terrorist attack. “Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!” Trump tweeted Sunday. And third, Trump appeared to equate Russia’s political violence under Vladimir Putin to violence in the United States. “There are a lot of killers. We've got a lot of killers. What do you think? Our country’s so innocent?" he told Fox’s Bill O’Reilly in a pre-Super Bowl interview. That comment drew bipartisan condemnation. (“When has a Democratic political activists been poisoned by the GOP, or vice versa? We are not the same as #Putin,” Sen. Marco Rubio said. “@POTUS statement suggesting moral equivalence between Putin's Russia and the United States of America is deeply troubling and wrong,” Rep. Liz Cheney added.)
The one bright spot for Trump? Try the Patriots’ Super Bowl win
So to recap: suffering a judicial setback, attacking the judiciary (which could raise some difficult questions for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch), and arguing that the United States isn’t morally different from even the most authoritarian countries. The one bright spot for Trump over the weekend? His beloved New England Patriots won the Super Bowl in the championship game’s biggest comeback ever.
NYT: The president’s team “had stormed the beaches without any plan for a longer war”
Given that rocky weekend and chaotic start, the New York Times reports that Team Trump is rethinking its approach. “The bungled rollout of his executive order barring immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries, a flurry of other miscues and embarrassments, and an approval rating lower than that of any comparable first-term president in the history of polling have Mr. Trump and his top staff rethinking an improvisational approach to governing that mirrors his chaotic presidential campaign, administration officials and Trump insiders said,” the New York Times’ Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman write. More: “One former staff member likened the aggressive approach of the first two weeks to D-Day, but said the president’s team had stormed the beaches without any plan for a longer war.” And there’s this: “[Steve] Bannon remains the president’s dominant adviser, despite Mr. Trump’s anger that he was not fully briefed on details of the executive order he signed giving his chief strategist a seat on the National Security Council, a greater source of frustration to the president than the fallout from the travel ban.”
Former Obama and Bush national-security officials: Trump’s travel ban makes America less safe
“Ten former senior U.S. diplomats and security officials planned to file an affidavit in a federal appeals court arguing that President Donald Trump's executive order curtailing immigration would actually make America less safe,” per NBC’s Andrea Mitchell and Richie Duchon. “The brief obtained by NBC News was written jointly by two former heads of the CIA, two former Secretaries of State, a former Secretary of Defense, a former Secretary of Homeland Security, and senior officials of the National Security Council. ‘This order cannot be justified on national security or foreign policy grounds. It does not perform its declared task of 'protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States.'" the co-authors — Madeleine Albright, John Kerry, Janet Napolitano, Susan Rice, Leon Panetta, John McLaughlin, Avril Haines, Michael Hayden, Lisa Monaco, Michael Morell — wrote in the filing. The list was largely made up of prominent Democrats.” That said, McLaughlin, Hayden, and Morell all served in the George W. Bush administration.
Pence defends Trump’s attack on federal judge and comparing the U.S. to Russia
PENCE: Well, look, the president of the United States has every right to criticize the other two branches of government. And we have a long tradition of that in this country.
TODD: But is this a constructive way to do it?
PENCE: I think people find it very refreshing that they not only understand this president's mind but they understand how he feels about things. He expresses himself in a unique way. And again, the judge's actions, look, the judge's actions in this case in Washington, which are at odds with the federal district court judge in Boston, who upheld the constitutionality of the president's actions.
After that exchange, “Meet” replayed this Pence criticism of former President Barack Obama, when Pence was a member of Congress: “This president has shown an unusual interest in commenting on his critics in the media and here on Capitol Hill. The American people don't want to hear the president's reflections and commentary on criticism.” Pence’s reaction: “Well, my hair's the same color as it was back then. But, you know, I've learned a lot. I've learned a lot about ... the prerogative presidents have to be able to respond to their critics.” Also on “Meet” yesterday, Pence said this about Trump’s Putin/”killers” statement: “I don't accept that it's a moral equivalency... President Trump has been critical of American policy in the past. And I expect he's always going to continue to be candid with the American people.”
Trump’s Putin/”killers” remark reignites “American exceptionalism” debate -- but turns it on its head
Remember during Obama’s first term when Republicans attacked him for not believing in “American exceptionalism” (for saying “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism”)? Some examples of Republican criticism of Obama:
Mitt Romney: “We have a president right now who thinks America's just another nation. America is an exceptional nation.”
Sarah Palin: "When President Obama insists that all countries are exceptional, he's saying that none is, least of all the country he leads.”
Newt Gingrich: "Exceptionalism for Americans is the belief that the United States is in some way more open, more vigorous, more optimistic than other nations are," he said. "Our best leaders have reminded us that we have a moral obligation to the cause of freedom and that the cause of freedom is the cause of all mankind."
Rick Perry: “[T]hose in the White House today don't believe—they don't believe in American exceptionalism. They'd rather emulate the failed policies of Europe.”
Mike Pence: “Finally, to renew American exceptionalism, we must recognize that our present crisis is not merely economic but moral in nature. At the root of these times should be the realization that people in positions of authority from Washington to Wall Street have walked away from the timeless truths of honesty, integrity, an honest day's work for an honest day's pay and the simple notion that you ought to treat the other guy the way you want to be treated. As strongly as I believe in the economic policies in this address, I know we will not restore this nation with public policy alone. It will require public virtue."
He visits CENTCOM in Tampa, FL at 11:45 am ET… And then he returns to the White House later this afternoon.
What were other presidents doing on Feb. 6?
Barack Obama establishes the Economic Recovery Advisory Board by executive order
George W. Bush holds an event in suburban Virginia to push his tax cut plan
Bill Clinton deals with more fallout after his second pick for attorney general, Kimba Wood, drops out of contention amid questions about her hiring of an undocumented nanny
George H.W. Bush holds his second formal news conference and outlines his plans to deal with the savings and loan crisis
Ronald Reagan turns 70