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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.
Are the wheels coming off Trump’s 'fine-tuned machine'?
WASHINGTON — Accusations of incompetency can undermine even the most talented of politicians. Just ask George W. Bush (Iraq war, Hurricane Katrina) or Barack Obama (HealthCare.Gov).
But while the events and news over the last 24 hours seem like just another day for the Trump White House, they expose a level of dysfunction and chaos that could leave a lasting mark for a president who said back in February that he was running a “fine-tuned machine.” Consider:
- The White House couldn’t say what happens to the transgender Americans who are currently serving in the U.S. military after Trump announced that they couldn’t serve in any capacity. (“That’s something that the Department of Defense and the White House will have to work together,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.)
- The Defense Department was so caught off guard by the announcement that the previous policy — allowing transgender military members to serve openly — is STILL on its website.
- For a week, top administration officials have tried to talk Trump down from his public criticism of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, The New York Times reports. And The Washington Post adds that the president has discussed the possibility of installing a new attorney general through a recess appointment.
- The Alaska Dispatch News says that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke called Alaska’s two senators to warn them that Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s “no” votes on health care had put the state’s future with the administration in jeopardy. ("I'm not going to go into the details, but I fear that the strong economic growth, pro-energy, pro-mining, pro-jobs and personnel from Alaska who are part of those policies are going to stop," Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said regarding Zinke’s call.
- And new White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci took to Twitter last night to say he was contacting the FBI because his financial-disclosure form was leaked — and he strikingly tagged White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus in the tweet. But the Politico reporter who wrote about Scaramucci’s form said it was publicly available from the Export-Import Bank, where Scaramucci previously worked. (On CNN this morning, Scaramucci again suggested Priebus is leaking, saying: “I don't know if the relationship with Reince is reparable.”
The whole point of electing a businessman to become president was expecting someone to effectively run the government. But what happens when that businessman can’t run the government? That’s the significant long-term danger for Trump and his administration.
Don’t be surprised if Interior Secretary Zinke’s calls launch an inspector general investigation
As for that news from Alaska — that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke reportedly threatened that Sen. Murkowski’s “no” votes could have consequences for the state — it likely will launch, at a minimum, an inspector general investigation. It’s not insignificant that the state’s other senator, Dan Sullivan, talked to Alaska media about the threat. Sullivan has been a reliable “yes” vote for Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
'No majority for replace, no majority for repeal. On to the Mystery Plan'
Meanwhile, the Senate yesterday once again voted down a measure to repeal Obamacare. NBC's Leigh Ann Caldwell: “Senate Republicans delivered another blow in their effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act when they failed to pass a repeal of the Obama-era law on Wednesday afternoon. The vote, which is one of many expected during the ongoing health care debate, only garnered the support of 45 Republicans, short of the 50-votes necessary.
"Sens. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Dean Heller, R-Nev., and John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and surprisingly Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chair of the Senate Health Committee, joined all Democrats in voting against it. The defeat eliminates the chances of Congress sending a nearly-full repeal of the law to President Donald Trump to sign.”
As NBC’s Benjy Sarlin tweeted, “No majority for replace, no majority for repeal. On to the Mystery Plan” — that is, the “Skinny Repeal.” But here’s the thing: No on still knows, publicly at least, what that legislation actually entails. And the expectation is that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will offer up this “Skinny Repeal” as one of the last votes.
Health care opponents have spent $15 million on ads opposing the Senate GOP legislation, while supporters haven’t spent a dime
As for the ad spending in the health-care fight, here’s what one of us has written: “The Republican senators whose votes are crucial to the fate of health care in America have faced a $15 million barrage of TV advertising from outside groups opposing the GOP legislation — and no air cover from any group backing the bills.
According to ad-buying tracker Advertising Analytics, groups opposing the GOP health care push have spent $14.8 million since May on TV ads targeting 13 key senators, with even more ad buys rolling in daily as the debate in the Senate reaches fever pitch. No groups have run ads in those states in support of the ever-evolving Republican legislation to repeal and replace parts or all of Obamacare.”
When Orrin Hatch is blasting the administration’s transgender-military announcement, you know the politics have shifted on this issue
Finally, it is striking how much blowback the Trump White House received on its transgender-military policy — from conservative Republicans. “I don’t think we should be discriminating against anyone,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said in a statement. “Transgender people are people, and deserve the best we can do for them.” When the Orrin Hatches are saying this, you REALLY know the political earth has moved on this topic.