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.
After Corker blasts Trump, GOP mostly shrugs
WASHINGTON — The Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said that his party’s president could set the nation “on the path to World War III,” and the reaction yesterday was either silence or a shrug from the GOP.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell commented Monday from Kentucky, where he said: "Sen. [Bob] Corker is a valued member of the Republican conference in the Senate and a key player on the budget. We're going to be turning to the budget next week, and he'll be a big help in helping us get it passed."
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, added that both Corker and President Trump “ought to cool it,” per NBC’s Marianna Sotomayor.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., responded: “You’ll have to ask Sen. Corker what led him to make that statement. I haven’t made that statement,” per the AP.
Retiring Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., on MSNBC’s “MTP Daily” yesterday: "I am glad that Sen. Corker has brought voice to this. My Republican colleagues ... are concerned by much of the dysfunction and disorder and chaos at the White House... I think more of my colleagues should speak up."
And Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who chairs the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said of Corker: "It's easy to be bold when you're not coming back."
That was pretty much it, and that relative silence or relative ambivalence from Congress speaks volumes. As NBC’s Capitol Hill team has reminded us, the House of Representatives returns to work today — so we could get more reaction — while the Senate is out all week.
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Meanwhile, the most forceful defense of Trump came from Vice President Mike Pence — and that was equally telling. "President Trump is achieving real results on the international stage,” the vice president said in a statement. “While critics engage in empty rhetoric and baseless attacks, under the President's leadership, ISIS is on the run; North Korea is isolated like never before; and our NATO allies are doing more to pay their fair share for our common defense.”
Charlie Cook: GOP divisions reduce the odds of party retaining its majority in 2018
Trump vs. Corker isn’t the only thing dividing Republicans right now. As NBC’s Kristen Welker reported on Sunday, former White House strategist Steve Bannon is planning to launch a "full-on assault on the Republican establishment." Bloomberg News has more: “Bannon plans to support as many as 15 Republican Senate candidates in 2018, including several challengers to incumbents, the people said. He’ll support only candidates who agree to two conditions: They will vote against McConnell as majority leader, and they will vote to end senators’ ability to block legislation by filibustering.”
Political observer Charlie Cook writes that this Republican-on-Republican conflict isn’t going to help the GOP in the midterms. “The party needs to sublimate its divisions, get mainstream Republicans to the polls, and persuade the Trump base to cast ballot for non-Trump Republicans. That’s a tall order. And it’s why last week’s news reduced the odds of the GOP retaining its majority from a good bet to even money.”
Trump on Tillerson: “I guess we’ll have to compare IQ tests”
Talk about a potentially awkward lunch. At 12:30 pm ET, President Trump has lunch with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — who referred to the president as a “moron,” per NBC News — as well as with Defense Secretary James Mattis.
Trump responded to the “moron” description in an interview with Forbes: "I think it's fake news, but if he did that, I guess we'll have to compare IQ tests. And I can tell you who is going to win."
NBC News stands behind its reporting.
Feinstein’s running for Senate re-election, and California’s top-two primary system makes it easier for her to hold onto her seat
NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald: “Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., announced Monday she will run for re-election in 2018, setting the stage for a potential Democratic battle in the heartland of progressivism.”
“Feinstein, 84, said in a Facebook post that while she's ‘immensely proud of my service,’ there is more she wants to do ‘from ending gun violence, to combating climate change, to ensuring proper and affordable access to healthcare, and to giving DREAMers the chance to stay in the United States.’”
While Feinstein could be vulnerable to a primary challenge in liberal California, remember that the state has a top-two primary system — meaning that the two primary candidates with the most votes, regardless of party, head to the general election.
So say a Bernie Sanders-like candidate challenges Feinstein from the left: It’s possible that this challenger might not even make the runoff (because a Republican could get more votes in the primary). And even if this challenger makes the top two, Feinstein could win by consolidating the GOP/indie vote. Bottom line: It would be very hard to beat Feinstein from the left.
Gillespie, Northam clash in final debate — but not over Trump
President Trump was barely a factor in the final Virginia governor debate, which took place in Trump-friendly Southwest Virginia. So Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam fought over other issues, the AP writes.
“A sharper tone emerged when Gillespie said that, as lieutenant governor, Northam has been a member of the Center for Rural Virginia board for years but hasn’t shown up to a single meeting. ‘He did not show up,’ Gillespie said. ‘I will make it a priority.’”
“Seizing a chance to contrast his personal bio with Gillespie’s, Northam said he had ‘showed up for this country’ by serving in the U.S. Army, treating wounded soldiers during Desert Storm and serving in the Virginia Senate. ‘While I’ve been showing up and serving the commonwealth of Virginia, you’ve been a K Street lobbyist in Washington,’ Northam said. ‘So the only time you have showed is when you get paid.’”
“Gillespie said he ‘did show up’ for the clients of his former company, once considered one of the top bipartisan lobbying and media firms in Washington, emphasizing that he was ‘effective on their behalf.’”