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.
A White House stuck in limbo
What’s worse than a White House that needs (another) reboot? How about a White House that’s stuck in limbo? For starters, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus doesn’t know if he’s about to be replaced. “Mr. Trump has been more open in discussing the possible departure of Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff,” the New York Times writes. “The president has joked repeatedly with Mr. Priebus, whose mother is of Greek descent, that he would send him to Athens as ambassador to Greece.”
In addition, the Trump White House hasn’t found someone to take over for the recently departed communications director, Mike Dubke. “[F]our possible successors contacted by the White House declined to be considered, according to an associate of Mr. Trump who like others asked not to be identified discussing internal matters,” the Times adds. And then there’s the entire matter of Jared Kushner, which has kept the White House in permanent crisis mode. Add them all up, and you have more uncertainty than action.
Trump’s staffing problem
It’s hard to have a government that works when you can’t find people willing to serve in it: Outside of the West Wing staffing challenges, the Partnership for Public Service notes that Trump has had just 39 members of his administration confirmed by the GOP-controlled Senate, while another 63 have been formally nominated; 442 confirmable positions have yet to have a single nominee. It’s hard to have a government that works when you can’t find people willing to serve in it.
Trump’s top advisers say the president reconfirmed NATO’s Article 5. But he never did so while overseas last week
It’s not every day when two of Trump’s top advisers — National Security Adviser HR McMaster and chief economic aide Gary Cohn — pen an op-ed to tout the president’s recent trip overseas. And it’s not every day when they assert something the president never said. “While reconfirming America’s commitment to NATO and Article 5, the president challenged our allies to share equitably the responsibility for our mutual defense,” the two write in the Wall Street Journal. The problem? His speech at NATO last week never explicitly reconfirmed his commitment to Article 5, which states that an attack on one NATO ally is an attack on all.
Team Trump’s “Hunger Games” view of international relations
“The world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage”: The McMaster-Cohn op-ed also contains this striking paragraph, which was flagged by foreign-policy professor Dan Drezner: “The president embarked on his first foreign trip with a clear-eyed outlook that the world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage. We bring to this forum unmatched military, political, economic, cultural and moral strength. Rather than deny this elemental nature of international affairs, we embrace it.” If you want an example of how Trump is not only different than Barack Obama — but also Bush 43 and Bush 41 — it’s that paragraph above, which is more “Hunger Games” than John Locke.
The next debt-ceiling battle is coming sooner than you might think
Politico: “President Donald Trump’s top economic aides are urging Capitol Hill leaders to raise the debt ceiling by the end of July. And Congress is totally unprepared to do so. Lawmakers in both parties thought they’d have until the fall to act, and they had planned to roll the always-difficult vote into a broader spending package that could be more easily swallowed. That strategy may now have to be tossed aside with the debt limit deadline approaching faster than expected.” More: “The GOP is torn over whether to combine spending cuts with the debt ceiling lift, and Senate Democrats are already signaling they may push for their own concessions because their votes are going to be needed to avoid a devastating government default.” And: “The request will also scramble the congressional calendar. The GOP is currently embroiled in an effort to repeal Obamacare and rewrite the tax code, two massive legislative items that are expected to suck up time and energy all summer.”
Remember, 67% of Americans back action to combat climate change
As the Trump White House mulls whether to remain in the Paris climate agreement (and Axios reports that Trump has already made his decision to withdraw), here’s a reminder from our April NBC/WSJ poll: A combined two-thirds of Americans — 67% — say that “immediate” or “some” action is needed to combat climate change. By comparison, only 32% think that more research is needed before action is taken, or that concern about climate change is unwarranted. Outside of all the controversies, one reason why Trump’s job approval remains stuck between the high 30s and low 40s is that many of the policies he’s pursuing — or contemplating pursuing — are supported by 30%-40% of the country.
Something finally united social media
“Covfefe”: “When you went to bed Tuesday night you hadn't heard of ‘covfefe,’” NBC’s Alexander Smith writes. “No one had. But by early Wednesday, Twitter was abuzz about little else. Why? The word was accidentally invented by President Donald Trump in a tweet just after midnight ET. “Despite the constant negative press covfefe.” Earlier this morning, Trump deleted the tweet and said instead, “Who can figure out the true meaning of "covfefe" ??? Enjoy!”
The president today meets at the White House with Vietnam’s prime minister.