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First Read: Trump’s Early Good-Cop, Bad-Cop Routine

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's Early Good-Cop, Bad-Cop Routine

During Donald Trump's first month as president-elect, a fascinating trend has emerged: He's employed -- either by design or happenstance -- a good-cop, bad-cop routine on some key issues. Consider China. Last week, Trump provoked the country on Twitter and in his phone call with Taiwan's leader. Bad cop. But then yesterday, he picked Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad to be his ambassador to China, who has a long-standing relationship with China's president. Good cop. On the environment and climate change, he met with Al Gore recently (good cop for Democrats and environmental advocates). But on Wednesday, NBC News confirmed his selection to be EPA administrator is Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has questioned the science of climate change (bad cop for them). And then when it comes to Corporate America, there was Trump's anti-Boeing tweet (bad cop), and then his pro-SoftBank tweet (good cop). Of course, there are usually TWO people playing Good Cop, Bad Cop -- not one. And some of these actions matter more than others (Trump tapping Pruitt is much more meaningful than meeting with Al Gore). Still, this has all made Trump unpredictable, as he tries to push the envelope of his powers so far. Yet that unpredictably also creates uncertainty, which turned out to be an asset for Trump in the presidential campaign, but is maybe less so in the Oval Office.

Trump goes after the little guy -- again

Speaking of bad cop, President-elect Trump took to Twitter last night to blast the local Indiana union leader who had been questioning his recent facts on the Carrier deal.

First: "Chuck Jones, who is President of United Steelworkers 1999, has done a terrible job representing workers. No wonder companies flee country!"

Then: "If United Steelworkers 1999 was any good, they would have kept those jobs in Indiana. Spend more time working-less time talking. Reduce dues."

A few points here: One, after Trump's Twitter attack, Jones has reported receiving threats and harassment. Two, is Trump really blaming the union for jobs going overseas? Or should that blame go to the company, Carrier? And three and most importantly, whenever Trump goes after the little guy or little gal (think Khizr Khan, Alicia Machado, or the women who made allegations of sexual misconduct), it's produced some of his lowest political moments. Going after Democrats and the media is one thing. Ordinary Americans is another, especially when you're president-elect.

Trump attacks union boss on Twitter for correcting the record 7:18

Chuck fires back at Trump

"If he wants to keep tweeting, I'll keep on responding": The local union leader, Chuck Jones, appeared on "The Last Word" with MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell. "I'm not bothered by it by no means, and I'm not backing up on my position one iota. He's wrong, I'm right and we'll move on and if he wants to keep on tweeting, I'll keep on responding," Jones said. Added Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers: "I guess my first response is really one of sadness, I'll say more, but we've got someone who is just about to become the president of the United States, the most important job on the planet, and he is busy tweeting about a local union president who is, in fact, a hero."

New York Times: Trump is considering handing his business operations to his sons, but he will keep a stake in the business

Ahead of Trump's scheduled Dec. 15 news conference to announce what he's doing with his business empire, and the New York Times provides an early look at Trump's plans. They include Trump handing over his business operations to his sons (with daughter Ivanka taking a leave of absence), but Trump still keeping a stake in the company. "[A]ny arrangement in which Mr. Trump derives a financial interest in his business could add to criticism about potential conflicts that could arise from the Trump Organization's global ties. The Office of Government Ethics has told Mr. Trump's lawyers that only a divestiture would resolve ethical concerns, guidance that was made public in an extraordinary stream of posts on the office's Twitter feed. Officials with the office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the plan under consideration." Bottom line here: It looks like this will be a cosmetic makeover, but not a structural one. But Team Trump says nothing is official yet. "Nothing has been finalized and we look forward to discussing further on December 15th" says Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks, per NBC's Hallie Jackson.

Trump heads to Ohio and Iowa

"Trump is flying Thursday to Columbus, Ohio, where Ohio State student Abdul Razak Ali Artan, 18, stabbed students before being fatally shot by police. Artan first rammed a campus crowd with his car before hopping out with a knife," the AP writes. Later, the president-elect is heading to Des Moines, Iowa, for his third post-election victory celebration. On Friday, he's holding rallies in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Grand Rapids, Michigan."

Clinton camp's Palmieri doubles down that Trump provided a platform to white nationalists

In a Washington Post op-ed, former Clinton campaign communications director Jennifer Palmieri says, "A good bit of the post-election analysis has centered on what our campaign should have done differently. That's appropriate. We should think long and hard about why we lost. Trust me, we have. But it's also important for the winners of this campaign to think long and hard about the voters who rejected them. I haven't seen much evidence of such introspection from the Trump side. That's concerning. I don't know whether the Trump campaign needed to give a platform to white supremacists to win. But the campaign clearly did, and it had the effect of empowering the white-nationalist movement."

Barry McCaffrey questions Michael Flynn's "demented" tweets

Don't miss these comments that former Gen. Barry McCaffrey made to NBC News about Trump's pick to be his national security adviser, former Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. "You know, I was very strong of my endorsement of him when he was first announced for the NSA position. I said he was correctly probably the best intelligence officer of his generation. But I must admit I'm now extremely uneasy about some of these tweets, which don't sound so much like political skull drudgery, but instead border on being demented. I think we need to look into this and sort out what is going on here." More McCaffrey: "I think that we need to aggressively examine what was going on with Gen. Flynn and his son dealing with these transparent, nearly demented tweets that were going out. I think it needs closer scrutiny."

Trump picks Pruitt to head EPA

NBC News: "President-elect Donald Trump announced his intention to select Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday, the clearest sign yet that he will pursue an agenda which could undo President Barack Obama's climate change legacy... An ally to the fossil fuel industry, Pruitt has aggressively fought against environmental regulations, becoming one of a number of attorneys general to craft a 28-state lawsuit against the Obama administration's rules to curb carbon emissions. The case is currently awaiting a decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which heard oral arguments in September. Pruitt, who questions the impact of climate change, along with Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, penned an op-ed in the Tulsa World earlier this year that called criticism they've received 'un-American.'"

Cabinet Watch

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, Rex Tillerson, Lee Raymond, John Kelly, Jon Hunstman
  • Attorney General: Jeff Sessions OFFERED
  • Treasury: Steve Mnuchin OFFERED
  • Defense: Mattis OFFERED
  • Homeland: John Kelly OFFERED
  • Interior: Sarah Palin, Mary Fallin
  • HHS: Tom Price OFFERED
  • HUD: Ben Carson OFFERED
  • 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
  • Environmental Protection Agency: Scott Pruitt OFFERED
  • National Security Adviser: Michael Flynn OFFERED
  • Small Business Administration: Linda McMahon OFFERED
  • RNC Chair: Ronna Romney McDaniel, David Urban