First Read is your briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter
Trump’s Twitter problem
Here’s a thought exercise: Imagine a Trump presidency without him tweeting. He wouldn’t have publicly accused Barack Obama of wiretapping him; he wouldn’t have threatened former FBI Director James Comey of possibly having “tapes” of their conversations; he recently wouldn’t have undermined the legal defense of his travel ban; and he wouldn’t have attacked London’s mayor after the terrorist attack on that city. Now he might have actually SAID these things in interviews or public comments (though when was the last time he held a news conference?). But we know about these controversial statements because he tweeted about them, and that’s been a significant problem for the White House.
Where would Trump’s job-approval rating be without those tweets — 45% instead of the high 30s? A Quinnipiac poll conducted before Trump’s inauguration found 64% of voters saying Trump should NOT keep his Twitter account. As Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said yesterday, per NBC’s Marianna Sotomayor: “We live in a world today where, unfortunately, a lot of communications is taking place with 140 characters, and probably it's best to refrain from communicating with 140 characters on topics that are so important.”
Trump back on Nov. 13, 2016: 'I’m going to be very restrained [on Twitter], if I use it at all'
By the way, as one of us flagged yesterday, Trump promised right after his election victory that he was going to be “restrained” in his use of Twitter. “I'm going to be very restrained, if I use it at all, I'm going to do very restrained. I find it tremendous. It's a modern form of communication. There should be nothing you should be ashamed of. It's- it's where it's at. I do believe this, I really believe that, the fact that I have such power in terms of numbers with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et cetera, I think it helped me win all of these races where they're spending much more money than I spent. You know, I spent my money. A lot of my money. And I won. I think that social media has more power than the money they spent, and I think maybe to a certain extent, I proved that.”
'There’s no war room' to deal with Comey’s testimony
With former FBI Director James Comey's upcoming testimony on Thursday, you can imagine that the Trump White House is setting up a crisis-management system to respond to the fallout. But according to NBC's Hallie Jackson, early talk of a “war room” has petered out significantly. Per Jackson: One source close to the White House describes it flatly: “There’s no war room. Zero.” Another administration source says it simply “never took off.” What was originally intended to be an in-house command post has instead shifted outside the administration. The president’s aides are expected to shunt all Comey-related questions on Thursday to outside counsel Marc Kasowitz. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer signaled this move last week, when he explicitly referred Russia-related inquiries to the president’s longtime lawyer.
Poll: Public opposes Trump’s decision to withdraw from Paris accord by 2-to-1 margin
So how is Trump’s recent decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord playing with the American public? According to a new Washington Post/ABC poll, 59% of Americans oppose Trump’s move, while 28% support it. As we’ve written before, so many of Trump’s policy decisions — whether on climate change, trade, or immigration — are playing to a minority of Americans, not the majority.
Top U.S. diplomat in China resigns due to Paris withdrawal
“America's top diplomat in China has resigned over President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from a landmark climate change treaty, two sources told NBC News Monday,” per NBC’s Abigail Williams and Tim Stelloh. “Charge d'affaires David Rank was set to be replaced by former Iowa Gov. Terry Brandstad, who was confirmed as ambassador to China on May 22 but hadn't yet arrived to the post. Rank, citing the Paris climate agreement, announced the resignation during a town hall meeting on Monday with embassy employees. In his speech to embassy staff, Rank explained his resignation saying he was asked to do something in support of a policy this past weekend that as a ‘parent, patriot and a Christian’ he simply could not do in good conscience.”
'There is no $110 billion deal' with Saudi Arabia
Remember the Trump White House crowing about that $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia? According to the Brookings Institution’s Bruce Riedel, the deal amounts to letters of intent — but not an actual contract yet. “I’ve spoken to contacts in the defense business and on the Hill, and all of them say the same thing: There is no $110 billion deal. Instead, there are a bunch of letters of interest or intent, but not contracts. Many are offers that the defense industry thinks the Saudis will be interested in someday. So far nothing has been notified to the Senate for review. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the arms sales wing of the Pentagon, calls them ‘intended sales.’ None of the deals identified so far are new, all began in the Obama administration.”
Primary Day in the Garden State
Taking place today are the Democratic and Republican primary contests to replace outgoing Republican Gov. Chris Christie, whose job-approval rating is below 20%, per a recent Quinnipiac poll. The Democratic frontrunners are former Goldman Sachs executive (and ambassador to Germany) Phil Murphy and state Rep. John Wisniewski, a Bernie Sanders-inspired pol who led the investigation into the Bridge-gate scandal. The frontrunner in the GOP field is Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.
Tim Kaine: I’m voting for Northam, but I like Perriello, too
Meanwhile, in Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial primary that takes place next week, Sen. Tim Kaine sums a common refrain we’ve heard from Virginia Democratic voters. “As you know I’m a strong supporter of Ralph Northam but like Tom Perriello. If he’s the nominee I’ll work awful hard for him … A lot of us had already declared and once you declare you don’t go back," Kaine said, per the Richmond Times-Dispatch later adding: "I'm a big Tom Perriello fan."
Special Election Watch: It’s Debate Night in GA-6
The AP writes that Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff are squaring off in their first televised debate ahead of the June 20 runoff in Georgia’s special congressional election. “Karen Handel wants voters in Atlanta's northern suburbs to stick with a Republican in Congress, just like they've done since 1979. Democrat Jon Ossoff says Georgia's 6th Congressional District should make a change... Atlanta's WSB-TV will broadcast the debate at 8 p.m. EDT.”