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Beyond Trump's Daily Skirmishes, Two Huge Problems Loom

The overall dysfunction of the White House and the Russia investigation are long-term issues that aren't going away.
Image: President Donald Trump listens during a joint press conference
President Donald Trump listens during a joint press conference with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on Sept. 26, 2017.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images

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.

Many of the recent controversies that have surrounded the Trump administration have been stories that have lasted only a few days. Think of Trump criticizing NFL players who take a knee, or San Juan’s mayor or Steph Curry.

But Wednesday revealed two stories that create longer-term problems for the Trump White House. The first is the overall chaos and dysfunction inside the administration — underscored by the NBC News scoop on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson calling the president a “moron.” (The State Department denied that Tillerson ever said that, but Tillerson himself didn’t deny it, and NBC News stands by its story.)

The longer-term problem isn’t the name-calling; it’s that there is so much dysfunction within the administration. If you don’t take our word for it, here’s Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., from yesterday: “I think Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Mattis and Chief of Staff Kelly are those people that help separate our country from chaos.”

Or here's the Washington Post: "[A]s Tillerson has traveled the globe, Trump believes his top diplomat often seems more concerned with what the world thinks of the United States than with tending to the president’s personal image."

It's also the fact that the Trump administration — more than eight months in — is (mostly) running on empty. Only 160 members of the Trump administration have won Senate confirmation, according to the Partnership for Public Service. That’s less than half of what the Obama (337) and Bush (358) administrations had at this same point in time.

The second long-term problem that Wednesday revealed was the Senate Intelligence Committee saying that Trump-Russia collusion from the 2016 campaign is still an open question.

NBC’s Ken Dilanian: “After interviewing more than 100 witnesses and reviewing a thousand times as many pages of documents, the Senate Intelligence Committee has not ruled out that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election and has a lot more probing to do, committee leaders said Wednesday. ‘The issue of collusion is still open,’ the committee's Republican chairman, Richard Burr of North Carolina, told a room full of reporters in the Capitol.”

More: “In a noteworthy aside, Burr also suggested that Senate investigators had corroborated some parts of a dossier written by a former British intelligence agent that makes damaging allegations against President Donald Trump and his campaign. Burr did not say which aspects of the dossier the committee may have verified or how much.”

This morning, President Trump tweeted, “Why Isn't the Senate Intel Committee looking into the Fake News Networks in OUR country to see why so much of our news is just made up-FAKE!”

But that the Republican chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, still believes that collusion is a legitimate topic for his committee to pursue — and we’re not even talking about Special Counsel Robert Mueller — is a significant story.

In this Trump Era, it’s easy to lose sight of the news that will continue to play out months (if not years) from now. But these stories — chaos and Russia — aren’t going away.

DCCC up with its first advertising campaign of the 2018 cycle

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is up with their first TV and radio campaign of the 2018 cycle. It’s a six-figure buy — so not big — and the ads hit Republicans on health care.

This is the TV ad that will air on cable for about a week.

And these are the radio spots the DCCC is running in these 11 congressional districts:

  • French Hill (AR-2)
  • Martha McSally (AZ-2)
  • Jeff Denham (CA-10)
  • David Valadao (CA-21)
  • Brian Mast (FL-18)
  • Mike Bost (IL-12)
  • Kevin Yoder (KS-3)
  • Andy Barr (KY-6)
  • Bruce Poliquin (ME-2)
  • Don Bacon (NE-2)
  • Will Hurd (TX-23)

Americans for Prosperity calls on three Democratic senators to back Republicans on tax reform

Meanwhile, the Koch Brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity is up with a $4.5 million advertising campaign that calls on three Democratic senators — Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Joe Donnelly, D-Ind. — to support the GOP effort on tax reform. Here’s one of the ads aimed at Baldwin.

Mr. Moore comes to Washington

Roy Moore, the Republican nominee in the Alabama Senate race who beat out Trump’s pick Sen Luther Strange, met with the National Republican Senatorial Committee Wednesday evening to discuss the December 12 race, a Republican familiar with the meeting tells NBC's Frank Thorp and Leigh Ann Caldwell.

Moore’s visit to DC was notable because of the people he met with — and those he didn’t meet. Moore had meetings with some of the Alabama House delegation, but did not have plans to meet with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Asked earlier today if Moore planned to meet with Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., during his visit to DC, Shelby’s spokeswoman told NBC, “Roy Moore has not yet reached out with a time for the two of them to meet; however, Senator Shelby is happy to meet with the Republican nominee.”

WaPo poll shows Northam up 13 points in Virginia (but observers don’t believe his lead is that high)

Lastly, a Washington Post-Schar School poll shows Democrat Ralph Northam with a 13-point lead over Republican Ed Gillespie in Virginia’s gubernatorial race, 53 percent to 40 percent.

That 13-point margin is MUCH higher than we’ve seen in other polls, and strategists on both sides believe the race is MUCH closer than that. Still, we haven’t seen a poll showing Gillespie ahead.