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Trump’s Hard Sell on Health Care Hasn’t Worked — At Least Not Yet

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

Joe: Here's the worst-case scenario if bill passes 20:19

Trump's hard sell on health care hasn't worked — at least not yet

Yesterday morning, we wrote that 17 House Republicans opposed or leaned strongly against the GOP health-care plan that's scheduled for a vote Thursday. Then President Trump visited Capitol Hill and appeared to threaten GOP lawmakers, saying that they could lose re-election in the 2018 midterms if they vote against the GOP health-care bill, NBC's Leigh Ann Caldwell writes. After that visit, the number of Republicans opposing or leaning strongly against the legislation grew to 27, per NBC News' count — when Trump and GOP leaders can't afford more than 21 defections.

Now in fairness to the president, none of the new "no's" specifically cited Trump's hard sell, and many of these opponents had their doubts well before his Capitol Hill visit (and NBC News didn't have their opposition confirmed). But it's also clear that Trump's arm-twisting hasn't paid dividends — at least not yet.

The 27 House Republicans who are against or leaning against the House GOP bill

  • Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH)
  • Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC)
  • Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI)
  • Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA)
  • Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID)
  • Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL)
  • Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA)
  • Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY)
  • Rep. Tom Garrett (R-VA)
  • Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtin (R-FL)
  • Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ)
  • Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV)
  • Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK)
  • Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX)
  • Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC)
  • Rep. John Katko (R-NY)
  • Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA)
  • Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC)
  • Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC)
  • Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR)
  • Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA)
  • Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL)
  • Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-TN)
  • Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH)
  • Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ)
  • Rep. Rod Blum (R-IA)
  • Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD)

But here's how the bill can still pass: It's the GOP's last best chance to repeal/replace Obamacare

And the threat of losing that chance — not the threat of losing a congressional seat — could still be a powerful motivating force for opponents and fence-sitters. And for Trump himself, losing health care this week — especially after FBI Director James Comey's declarations on Monday — could be politically catastrophic for him at this stage of his presidency. So never underestimate the chances of people who have A LOT to lose if they don't win.

Ex-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort tied to Russia 3:30

Drip, drip: Manafort worked for a Russian oligarch close to Putin

Speaking of Comey and his confirmation that the FBI is investigating the 2016 Trump campaign's possible contacts with Russian interests, the AP has this story: "President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics... The work appears to contradict assertions by the Trump administration and Manafort himself that he never worked for Russian interests." More from the AP: "Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse. Manafort pitched the plans to Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally with whom Manafort eventually signed a $10 million annual contract beginning in 2006."

As Hillary Clinton discovered in 2015-2016, the so-called "drip, drip" of scandal coverage can eventually drown a politician. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer gave this comment to NBC News about the Manafort story: "It would be inappropriate for us to comment on a person who is not a White House employee." And Manafort released this statement: "I worked with Oleg Deripaska almost a decade ago representing him on business and personal matters in countries where he had investments. My work for Mr. Deripaska did not involve representing Russian political interests.''

WSJ editorial page: Trump "clings to his [wiretapping] assertion like a drunk to an empty gin bottle"

As for Comey's other declaration on Monday — that there's no evidence to back up Trump's claim that Barack Obama wiretapped his phones — the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page runs this critical piece:

"If President Trump announces that North Korea launched a missile that landed within 100 miles of Hawaii, would most Americans believe him? Would the rest of the world? We're not sure, which speaks to the damage that Mr. Trump is doing to his Presidency with his seemingly endless stream of exaggerations, evidence-free accusations, implausible denials and other falsehoods. The latest example is Mr. Trump's refusal to back off his Saturday morning tweet of three weeks ago that he had 'found out that [Barack] Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory' on Election Day. He has offered no evidence for his claim, and a parade of intelligence officials, senior Republicans and Democrats have since said they have seen no such evidence. Yet the President clings to his assertion like a drunk to an empty gin bottle, rolling out his press spokesman to make more dubious claims." Ouch.

Tillerson: "I didn't want this job… My wife told me I'm supposed to do this"

Here's another ouch, via IJR's profile of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson:

So why, then, did [Tillerson] want the gig?

"I didn't want this job. I didn't seek this job." He paused to let that sink in.

A beat or two passed before an aide piped up to ask him why he said yes.

"My wife told me I'm supposed to do this."

After watching the contortions of my face as I tried to figure out what to say next, he humbly explained that he had never met the president before the election. As president-elect, Trump wanted to have a conversation with Tillerson "about the world" given what he gleaned from the complex global issues he dealt with as CEO of Exxon Mobil.

"When he asked me at the end of that conversation to be secretary of state, I was stunned."

When Tillerson got home and told his wife, Renda St. Clair, she shook her finger in his face and said, "I told you God's not through with you."

Trump's Day

President Trump drops by a "Women in Healthcare panel" at 11:00 am ET… He hosts a legislative affairs meeting at 11:30 am ET… And Trump meets with the Congressional Black Caucus executive committee at 3:00 pm ET.

What were other presidents doing on March 22?

  • Barack Obama spends the weekend at Camp David as his administration readies a plan to buy up toxic assets
  • George W. Bush defends his move to order more than 50 Russian diplomats to leave the country
  • The Clinton administration battles with an appeals court over whether certain meetings of Hillary Clinton's health care task force must be open to the public
  • George H.W. Bush appears in Pennsylvania and Delaware to push his anti-drug plan
  • Reagan administration officials say they're relieved that reports have debunked a false rumor that Vice President Bush had been shot at and mildly wounded on Capitol Hill
  • Jimmy Carter proposes major electoral reforms including the easing of voter registration requirements