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The Arpaio Pardon Fails Trump's 'Law and Order' Test

Donald Trump promised to be a "law and order" president. But his first pardon shows he supports the rule of law selectively.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Ariz., walks past a group of protester from Code Pink on Tuesday, July 19, in Cleveland, during the second day of the Republican convention as he enters the Quicken Loans Arena.Patrick Semansky / AP

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.

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Arpaio pardon fails Trump’s ‘law and order’ test

As the nation remains focused on the damage from Hurricane Harvey, we start with the news the Trump White House tried to bury Friday night — the pardoning of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

In his July 2016 speech accepting the Republican Party's presidential nomination, Donald Trump vowed to be a "law and order" president. “We will be a county of generosity and warmth. But we will also be a country of law and order,” he declared.

But it’s hard to be a law-and-order president if, seven full months into your job, you pardon Arpaio, who was found guilty of criminal contempt for defying a judge’s order to stop racially profiling Latinos.

Trump has justified his crackdown on illegal immigration — plus his support for a border wall — based on the rule of law. But how can you support the rule of law for one thing (deporting undocumented immigrants, including those who were brought to the US by their parents), but not support the rule of law for another (a sheriff violating someone's constitutional rights)?

As the conservative Washington Examiner writes, “Trump's pardon of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio … showed once again Trump really means ‘busting heads’ when he says ‘law and order.’”

The paper adds, “Trump promised to drain the swamp if elected. But America hates the swamp because politicians and bureaucrats give special, undeserved favors to their friends and the well-connected.”

Former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson made a smart point about the Arpaio pardon to one of us on “Meet the Press” yesterday: “In a certain way, metaphorically, I think Trump is pardoning his own approach to politics. He's pardoning himself by pardoning Arpaio because this is a politics based on dehumanization.”

If Obama did one thing, Trump is likely to do the opposite

Once again, maybe the best way to anticipate a course of action that President Trump will take is by predicting that he will do the OPPOSITE of what his predecessor Barack Obama did. The most recent examples:

  • Obama’s Justice Department pursued charges against Arpaio, and Trump pardoned him;
  • The Obama administration created its DACA program to allow young people who were brought to the United States illegally to remain here, and NBC News reported late last week that Trump appears likely to end it;
  • And as Obama typically avoided immediately visiting disaster zones (explaining that his presence would divert law-enforcement resources), Trump is headed to hurricane-ravaged Texas on Tuesday.

“The timing of a presidential visit, as the disaster was still unfolding, could put Mr. Trump in an awkward position of adding to the logistical headaches for state officials, though he may avoid the storm-ravaged parts of Texas,” the New York Times says. “The White House emphasized that the president’s plans were tentative and could still change.”

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Will Republicans who voted against funding for Hurricane Sandy vote for relief for Hurricane Harvey?

Congressional Republicans face several legislative challenges when they get back to work in September – raising the debt limit, approving a budget, and keeping the government open.

And with the damage from Hurricane Harvey, we can add another challenge — passing disaster relief, which was hardly a given from the GOP-controlled Congress during the Obama years.

As Fox’s Chad Pergram reminds us, “One of the most significant roll call votes in the House of Representatives in recent years unfolded in the early evening of January 15, 2013. The House approved a special spending bill to help rebuild the eastern seaboard and New York City, lashed the previous October by Superstorm Sandy. The House passed the multi-billion dollar relief measure 241-180. Republicans controlled the House of Representatives at the time. But only 49 GOPers cast yea ballots.”

“No one knows if there will be federal need to cough up a supplemental spending bill to help Texas recover. However, the [Lone Star state’s] Congressional delegation wields a lot of clout. Texas boasts the second-most powerful member of the Senate: Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX). Three Texans chair House Appropriations Subcommittees which control the federal purse strings: Reps. John Carter (R-TX), Kay Granger (R-TX) and the aforementioned John Culberson.”

You can make the argument that Harvey could smooth Congress’ agenda — and make it more likely that lawmakers avoid a shutdown and debt default, at least for a few months. But it’s too early to tell.

Trump’s team vs. Trump?

Some very interesting comments from Trump’s cabinet and top-ranking officials — which appeared (at the very least) to contain implicit criticism of their boss.

  • Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Trump’s values when talking about Charlottesville: “The president speaks for himself,” he told Fox’s Chris Wallace.
  • Top economic adviser Gary Cohn: “Citizens standing up for equality and freedom can never be equated with white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the KKK,” he told the Financial Times. “I believe this administration can and must do better in consistently and unequivocally condemning these groups and do everything we can to heal the deep divisions that exist in our communities.”
  • Defense Secretary James Mattis to U.S. troops: “Our country right now, it’s got problems we don’t have in the military,” he said. “You just hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other and showing it.”

Trump holds news conference at 4:20 pm ET

President Trump holds a joint news conference at the White House with Finland’s president at 4:20 pm ET.

A final word about Hurricane Harvey and Texas

The flooding and destruction in Texas is heartbreaking, especially for one of your Texas-born authors. And beyond the immediate aftermath, we have plenty of questions: What does this mean for Houston’s future population? Will there be an exodus, like we saw after Katrina in New Orleans? What is the best way for coastal cities to build in this era of climate change?