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.
What we know (and don’t know) about the latest twist in the Trump-Russia story
Five days after the New York Times first reported on Donald Trump Jr.’s June 9, 2016 meeting with that Kremlin-connected lawyer, here’s what we DO know:
- It’s the most damaging Russia-related story yet: Not only does Donald Trump Jr. appear to be aspiring to collude with Russia (“If it’s what you say, I love it”), you also have Trump & Co. caught red-handed misleading the public about the meeting in Trump Jr.’s initial statement (“We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children”).
- The revelation of the June 9, 2016 meeting seems to have come from Jared Kushner’s legal team: “The emails were discovered in recent weeks by Mr. Kushner’s legal team as it reviewed documents, and the team amended his clearance forms to disclose it,” the New York Times says. The Times adds that Kushner supplemented more than 100 names to his list of foreign contacts on his form to obtain a security clearance.
- It has made Washington even more chaotic: For Republican members of Congress, it’s now the top question they’re getting. “It’s a simple question, but for some Republicans on Wednesday it was a hard one to answer: Would you take a meeting with someone you were told was spearheading a Russian government plan to boost your campaign?” NBC’s Benjy Sarlin writes.
- Despite the chaos, non-Trump players are still going about their work: Case in point: Senate Majority Mitch McConnell will be unveiling his revised health care bill today.
But here’s what we DON’T know:
- Does Trump’s base begin to erode? So far, President Trump’s base has stuck by him after every Russia-related development, and the smart money would be to expect that loyal support to continue. But does this story — the emails, the misleading original statement, President Trump saying that “many people would have held that meeting” — finally take a toll on the base? We’ll find out in the upcoming polls.
- Is this just the tip of the iceberg? As we asked yesterday, did the Trump campaign have advanced knowledge of the WikiLeaks dump on Clinton in the last month of the 2016 campaign? Did Trump himself ever receive Russian-related information?
- Does Kushner’s separate legal team divide the family? If the news of this June 9, 2016 meeting — including Donald Trump Jr.’s emails about it — REALLY came from Kushner and his legal team, that is going to put stress on the Trump White House and Trump family.
- Can health care pass, despite the controversy? If the Senate health care bill ultimately goes down to defeat, you easily can see how Republicans will pin the blame the Russia story (“Hey, we had a disengaged president who couldn’t use his bully pulpit”). But if it passes, will the Russia distraction have helped?
- Does all of this accelerate Mueller’s probe? Or widen it? You can make an argument that these latest Russia-related revelations speed up Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s probe. Or they could widen it.
We were staying in Paris: Trump edition
Meanwhile, Trump will certainly be asked about this Russia story when he holds his joint news conference in Paris with France’ Macron at 12:25 pm ET. And speaking of Paris, don’t forget about this story: “The way Trump tells it — Jim is a friend who loves Paris and used to visit every year. Yet when Trump travels to the city Thursday for his first time as president, it’s unlikely that Jim will tag along. Jim doesn’t go to Paris anymore. Trump says that’s because the city has been infiltrated by foreign extremists,” the AP writes. “Whether Jim exists is unclear. Trump has never given his last name. The White House has not responded to a request for comment about who Jim is or whether he will be on the trip.”
Senate Republicans to unveil revised health care bill
Senate Republicans are expected to roll out their revised health care bill today, and NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell has a preview: “[E]arly indications suggest the proposed changes do little to address concerns about the current deep cuts to Medicaid, possibly putting the bill’s path to passage in peril. Numerous changes have been made to the new version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act to appease both conservative and moderate Republicans as leadership searches for the 50 votes they need to pass it. In a blow to the more moderate faction, it appears the more than $700 billion worth of cuts to Medicaid will still be part of the measure, according to numerous senators describing what leadership has told them about the bill.”
The race to show love for Trump
Alabama’s Republican Senate primary, which takes place a month from now on Aug. 15, has turned into a contest to show love for President Trump in this ruby-red state. “Big Luther’s a Trump man, working to pass the president’s agenda — a border wall to stop illegal immigration, extreme vetting of Islamic terrorists, repeal Obamacare,” goes the TV ad for appointed Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala. Meanwhile, challenger Rep. Mo Brooks — a House Freedom Caucus member who isn’t always aligned with Trump — has this ad: “President Trump promised a wall to keep us safe and to protect American jobs for American workers.”
Murphy up 27 points in New Jersey’s gubernatorial race
On Wednesday, a Monmouth poll found Democrat Phil Murphy leading GOP Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno in New Jersey’s gubernatorial contest, 53%-26%, with a combined 20% undecided or picking a third-party candidate.
Democrats have picked up four state legislative seats; Republicans have picked up one
Per the National Conference of State Legislatures , so far there have been SIX special elections in state legislatures that have flipped parties so far among a total of 36 races.
The flips are:
- March 26: Louisiana House, Seat change: D->R
- April 25: Connecticut House, Seat change: D->Working Families Party
- May 23: New Hampshire House: Seat change: R->D
- May 23: New York Assembly: Seat change: R->D
- July 11: Oklahoma Senate: Seat change R->D
- July 11: Oklahoma House: Seat change R->D
In 13 races, Democrats HELD their seats. And in 17 races, Republicans HELD their seats.
The data for 2009 is spottier, but we do know that from (post-election) November 2008-October 2009, Democrats lost a net -14 seats nationwide in state legislatures, while Republicans gained net +16.