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 handing over his business to his children wouldn’t eliminate the conflicts of interest.
President-elect Donald Trump tweeted this morning that he will be holding a news conference with his children in December “to discuss the fact that I will be leaving my great business in total.” In a series of dispatches, he tweeted:
But there are a couple of big hitches here. Trump’s tweets don’t outline any specifics of how the unwinding would actually work. And if in fact he just puts his children in charge of the business, it wouldn’t actually eliminate any conflicts of interest, especially when they’ve been sitting in on meetings with foreign leaders. What the Trump campaign has done here is bought themselves time to figure out what do to — and a way to answer the continuing barrage of questions about Trump’s business conflicts for the next few weeks. But we’re a long way from real answers on this yet. And at least so far, it’s hard to see how the solutions Trump has floated up until this point would do anything to truly remove the big conflicts his family’s business entanglements could cause.
Should Trump pick his country over his business (and his family)?
This is why, weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal recommended that best way for Trump to eliminate any conflict of interest was to liquidate his business. And here’s how conservative opinion writer Peggy Noonan framed the issue. “It would be a painful act, selling the business he loves and around which he has ordered his life. But there would be comfort in this: In doing the right thing, in denying his opponents a sword, in enhancing his stature and demonstrating that, yes, he will sacrifice for his country. That’s pretty great comfort. You’ve made your money. Now go be a patriot.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) also talked about Trump’s conflicts of interest. “I don’t think people would want me to have a business relationship as a senator, where my business partners can reap the benefit of my position and I one day give the chairman profits. I don’t think it would be good for me, I don’t think it would be good for my state, I don’t think it would be good for the country. But let’s give him a chance to figure this out.”
Trump’s conflict of interest with his new DC hotel
The federal government’s General Services Administration owns the lease to the historic Post Office Pavilion, which houses the new Trump hotel. The problem here, as NBC’s Ken Dilanian writes: Trump would be his own landlord when he becomes president. More from Government Executive: “The Post Office Lease differs from many of Mr. Trump’s other business arrangements. That’s because, in writing the contract, the federal and D.C. governments determined, in advance, that elected officials could play no role in this lease arrangement. The contract language is clear: ‘No ... elected official of the Government of the United States ... shall be admitted to any share or part of this Lease, or to any benefit that may arise therefrom...’” Per NBC’s Ari Melber, this potential conflict stands out as different from many of the others because: 1) The arrangement could be voided or altered as a matter of contract law – meaning it does NOT matter that Trump is otherwise exempt from federal conflicts laws, because contract law governs here; and 2) The arrangement presents the *prospect* of future self-dealing. Melber adds that it’s possible a judge would find a change in the status of one of the parties (i.e., Trump as president), not foreseen at the time of the agreement, did not constitute a material breach.
The Carrier news is a short-term win for Trump, but with long-term caveats
Give them their due: The news that Carrier Corp. will keep close to 1,000 jobs in Indiana rather than move them to Mexico looks like a first big win for the incoming administration – at least in the short run. Yes, we’ll have to read the fine print about what was promised. (And, yes, we’re wondering how much of this was a Mike Pence project versus a Trump one). But the announcement is still a victory that Trump can tout to his supporters, and it’s a prime example of how he can effectively use the bully pulpit to follow through on his promises. Here’s the long-term problem, though: Targeting individual companies one by one simply isn’t a sustainable strategy like actual economic policymaking would be. As the University of Michigan’s Justin Wolfers puts it: “Every savvy CEO will now threaten to ship jobs to Mexico, and demand a payment to stay.” By the way: Imagine the reaction from Republicans, circa 2009-2010, if Barack Obama were making details to force a business’s behavior. We’d be hearing cries of “socialism” and “crony capitalism.” What say you, free-market conservatives?
Mitt Romney’s 180-degree turn
Yes, plenty of Republicans have changed their tune about the president-elect in the last few weeks, but the turn from Trump’s onetime top foe Mitt Romney is particularly stunning. As Alex Jaffe points out, back in March, Romney said this about the man he derisively referred to as “The Donald” : “Mr. Trump is directing our anger for less than noble purposes. He creates scapegoats of Muslims and Mexican immigrants. He calls for the use of torture. He calls for killing the innocent children and family members of terrorists. He cheers assaults on protesters. He applauds the prospect of twisting the Constitution to limit First Amendment freedom of the press. This is the very brand of anger that has led other nations into the abyss.” And here’s what Romney said last night, with a possible administration job on the line: “He did something I tried to do and was unsuccessful in accomplishing. He won the general election. And he continues with a message of inclusion and bringing people together and his vision is something which obviously connected with the American people in a very powerful way.” Wow.
Nancy Pelosi vs. Tim Ryan
This morning, House Democrats hold their leadership election, and the top-billing race pits House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi versus Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH). It features dividing lines over age, geography (the coasts vs. Middle America), and the party’s performance at the ballot box. When Ryan was asked on “Meet the Press” this past Sunday what Pelosi’s fireable offense was, he answered, “We're not winning.” As NBC’s Alex Moe reminds us, Democrats postponed these elections until Thanksgiving after internal unrest in the caucus in the wake of the party’s defeat in the Nov. 8 general election. In the face of this challenge, Moe adds, Pelosi announced several lower level leadership spots late last week trying to show she understands there is frustration within her caucus. Pelosi is still the strong bet to win, but it will be interesting to see how many votes Ryan gets in the secret ballot.
Trump expected to name Mnuchin as Treasury secretary, Ross to head Commerce
“President-elect Donald Trump is expected to name his former campaign finance chief Steven Mnuchin as Treasury secretary and investor Wilbur Ross as Commerce secretary as early as tomorrow,” NBC’s Alex Jaffe writes.
Here is our running list of possible candidates we’ve been hearing about so far. We’ll continue to update it as the president-elect’s team makes its choices final.
- Secretary of State: Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton, Bob Corker, Mitt Romney, David Petraeus
- Attorney General: Jeff Sessions OFFERED
- Treasury: Steve Mnuchin OFFERED
- Defense: Jim Talent, Tom Cotton, James Mattis
- Homeland: Michael McCaul, David Clarke
- Interior: Sarah Palin, Mary Fallin
- HHS: Tom Price OFFERED
- HUD: Ben Carson OFFERED (but hasn’t accepted)
- Education: Betsy DeVos OFFERED
- Commerce: Wilbur Ross OFFERED
- Transportation: Elaine Chao OFFERED
- Agriculture: Rick Perry, Sid Miller
- CIA Director: Mike PompeoOFFERED
- UN Ambassador: Nikki Haley OFFERED
- National Security Adviser: Michael Flynn OFFERED
- RNC Chair: Ronna Romney McDaniel, David Urban