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.
Here are 10 questions for Trump
Today is set to be the busiest day in American politics since last November’s presidential election -- with three Senate confirmation hearings and President-elect Donald Trump’s news conference. It’s also one of the most uncertain moments we can remember in politics -- with last night’s revelations about Trump and Russia. But we start with that newser, which is Trump’s first formal one since July 27, 2016 (when he said, “Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing”). Here are 10 questions that we’d ask Trump:
1. After the intelligence briefing you received on Friday, you and your team released statements, fired off tweets, and conducted interviews -- but never once condemned Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Why give Russia and Vladimir Putin a pass? And why more outrage directed at the victim (the DNC, John Podesta) than the perpetrator (Russia).
2. In the year and a half that you’ve either been running for office or been president-elect, you’ve criticized numerous Republicans, Democrats, and members of the media. But you’ve never once criticized Putin. Why not?
3. You’ve said that Russia’s interference didn’t impact the result of the election. But you eagerly cited WikiLeaks revelations against Hillary Clinton and her team in the final weeks of the campaign, saying things like, “Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks” and “This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove.” If they didn’t impact the election, why were you citing them on the campaign trail?
TRUMP’S BUSINESS/CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
4. How can you ensure Americans that you’re not violating the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which states that no person holding federal office can receive a fee or profit from a foreign government or entity -- especially when foreign governments are already booking rooms and space in the DC hotel you and your family own?
5. Do you side with Republican lawmakers who believe that any effort to repeal President Obama’s health-care law must immediately have replacement language in place? Or do you side with those who believe that you can delay or postpone the replacement?
ON WALL STREET
6. On the campaign trail, you railed against Hillary Clinton for her ties to Wall Street and Goldman Sachs. But your pick to head the Treasury Department worked at Goldman. So did your White House strategist, Steve Bannon. Gary Cohn, the president of Goldman Sachs, is set to be your top economic-policy adviser. Why shouldn’t Americans, especially those who hail from working-class America, believe your administration is in the pocket of Wall Street?
7. You lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, and your Electoral College victory was one of the narrowest in U.S. history. Given that, why haven’t you put a Democratic politician in your cabinet to help unify the country? Also, your cabinet has less diversity than Bill Clinton’s in 1993, George W. Bush’s in 2001, and Barack Obama’s in 2009. Why not have a cabinet that looks more like America?
8. Once and for all, do you support a ban against Muslims entering the United States to combat terrorism? And if so, how would you administer that?
9. Do you support efforts to repeal funding for Planned Parenthood?
APOLOGY TO OBAMA?
10. Since winning the election, you have had kinder words for President Obama. Given that, do you once and for all apologize for being one of the leading voices in the effort doubting that he was born in the United States?
We have one more question for Trump: Of course, there’s one more question to ask after last night’s news about Trump and Russia: Isn’t it in your best interest to have a full investigation to get to the bottom of whatever Russia may or may not have about you? NBC’s Ken Dilanian: “Two U.S. officials with direct knowledge told NBC News on Tuesday that briefing materials prepared for President-elect Donald Trump included information that initially circulated among Trump opponents and was passed to U.S. intelligence agencies making damaging allegations about his dealings with Russians. Neither of the officials said the FBI was actively investigating the information, which has not been verified by U.S. agencies. The sources would not comment on the nature of the allegations. The Trump transition team did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But Trump himself did tweet at 8:19 p.m. ET Tuesday, in all caps, ‘FAKE NEWS — A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!’” And this morning, Trump issued four more tweets. One: “Russia just said the unverified report paid for by political opponents is ‘A COMPLETE AND TOTAL FABRICATION, UTTER NONSENSE.’ Very unfair!” Two: “Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA - NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!” (But that raises another question: Why not release your taxes to prove you have no deal or business with Russia or Russian interests? ) Three: “I win an election easily, a great "movement" is verified, and crooked opponents try to belittle our victory with FAKE NEWS. A sorry state!” And four: “Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to "leak" into the public. One last shot at me.Are we living in Nazi Germany?”
Obama: “Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted”
Folks, with nine days before Trump takes office on January 20, we are in what has to be the most uncertain moment in American politics. And that sets up our take on Obama’s farewell speech from last night. A part of it was a laundry list of his accomplishments (“If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history…”). A part of it was his effort to buck up Democrats after November’s loss (“For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back. But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion”). But the biggest part was his argument that the state of American democracy right now isn’t so strong. “Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted,” he said. “All of us, regardless of party, should be throwing ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions.” Think about that: The outgoing president of the United States is so concerned about the state of the country’s democracy that he had to defend it. If Obama’s farewell speech becomes memorable (outside of his touching comments about his wife, daughters, and Joe Biden), it is only bad news.
Today’s three confirmation hearings
So there’s Trump’s news conference. There was last night’s Obama speech. And then there’s the three Senate confirmation hearings on Trump’s cabinet picks -- Jeff Sessions for attorney general (Day 2), Rex Tillerson for secretary of state, and Elaine Chao for Transportation secretary. The full hearing schedule, per NBC’s Frank Thorp:
- Attorney General: Jeff Sessions -- Jan 10 & 11 / 9:30am / 325 Russell
- Homeland Security: John Kelly -- Jan 10 / 3:30pm / SD-342
- State: Rex Tillerson -- Tentatively Jan 11 (May go into Jan 12)
- Transportation: Elaine Chao -- Jan 11 // 10:15am / Russell 253
- CIA: Mike Pompeo -- Jan 12
- HUD: Ben Carson -- Jan 12 / 10am
- Labor: Andrew Puzder -- (Delayed until February?)
- Defense: James Mattis -- Jan 12 / 9:30am
- Interior: Ryan Zinke -- Jan 17/10am
- Education: Betsy DeVos -- Jan 17 / 5pm
- Commerce: Wilbur Ross -- Jan 18 / 10am
- UN Ambassador: Nikki Haley -- Tentatively Jan 18
- Treasury: Steven Mnuchin -- No announcement expected until next week, per aide (Finance Cmte Jurisdiction)
- HHS: Tom Price -- No announcement expected until next week, per aide (Finance Cmte Jurisdiction
Tillerson’s opening statement
“Russia must be held to account for its actions.” So why hasn’t Trump said that? In his opening statement, per NBC’s Peter Alexander, Tillerson will say that Russia “must be held to account for his actions.” He will say, “Where cooperation with Russia based on common interests is possible, such as reducing the global threat of terrorism, we ought to explore these options. Where important differences remain, we should be steadfast in defending the interests of America and her allies. Russia must know that we will be accountable to our commitments and those of our allies, and that Russia must be held to account for its actions.” Our question: Why hasn’t Trump said that, especially after Friday’s intel briefing?