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Can Democrats Promise a 'Better Deal' With the Same Leaders?

All the latest about the Democratic Party's rebranding, Jared Kushner's Senate testimony and the future of the GOP health care bill.
IMAGE: Chuck Schumer, Sheldon Whitehouse, Mazie Hirono
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of N.Y. talks to reporters Tuesday about the path for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch toward a final up-or-down vote on the Senate floor.J. Scott Applewhite / AP file

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.

Can Democrats promise a ‘Better Deal’ with the same leaders in charge?

Democrats have a golden political opportunity for the midterm elections that are still 16 months away. They’re running against an incumbent president who holds a historically low approval rating, who’s facing a growing Russia-related scandal, and whose top policy goal (health care) remains unfulfilled.

The question: Can they take advantage of this environment, especially with the same Democratic leadership in the House and Senate? At 1:00 pm ET from Berryville, Va., House and Senate Democratic leaders — including Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer — roll out their economic agenda that they hope can lift their midterm candidates.

“American families deserve a better deal so that this country works for everyone again, not just the elites and special interests,” Schumer writes in a New York Times op-ed previewing this economic agenda. And Schumer says Democrats will announce three new policy goals today — 1) lowering prescription-drug prices, 2) making it harder for companies to merge, and 3) giving businesses a tax credit to train new workers.

But Democrats face this likely pushback: Where was this “better deal” when Pelosi was speaker with a Democratic president, and when Democrats controlled the Senate from 2007-2015? Doesn’t a new message need new leaders?

Democrats tell First Read that congressional leaders won’t end up as the final messengers for this message — they’re simply setting up the framework that individual Democratic candidates can use to their advantage in 2018. And these Democrats believe they need this positive, unified framework in addition to running against Trump, because polls show that voters trust Republicans more than Democrats on the economy.

Kushner testifies to Senate Intelligence Committee: 'I did not collude'

Here are some of the highlights from the statement that top White House aide Jared Kushner released this morning before his closed-door testimony today to the Senate Intelligence Committee:

He didn’t hear anything Hillary Clinton-related at Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with that Russian lawyer: “I arrived at the meeting a little late. When I got there, the person who has since been identified as a Russian attorney was talking about the issue of a ban on U.S. adoptions of Russian children. I had no idea why that topic was being raised and quickly determined that my time was not well-spent at this meeting.”

“I did not suggest a ‘secret back channel’”: "[Russian Ambassador Kislyak] said he especially wanted to address U.S. policy in Syria, and that he wanted to convey information from what he called his 'generals.' He said he wanted to provide information that would help inform the new administration. He said the generals could not easily come to the U.S. to convey this information and he asked if there was a secure line in the transition office to conduct a conversation. General Flynn or I explained that there were no such lines. I believed developing a thoughtful approach on Syria was a very high priority given the ongoing humanitarian crisis, and I asked if they had an existing communications channel at his embassy we could use where they would be comfortable transmitting the information they wanted to relay to General Flynn. The Ambassador said that would not be possible and so we all agreed that we would receive this information after the Inauguration. Nothing else occurred. I did not suggest a ‘secret back channel.’”

His assistant mistakenly sent an incomplete security-clearance form: “There has been a good deal of misinformation reported about my SF-86 [security-clearance] form. As my attorneys and I have previously explained, my SF-86 application was prematurely submitted due to a miscommunication and initially did not list any contacts (not just with Russians) with foreign government officials… [T]he form was a rough draft and still had many omissions including not listing any foreign government contacts and even omitted the address of my father-in-law (which was obviously well known). Because of this miscommunication, my assistant submitted the draft on January 18, 2017.”

In conclusion: “I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government. I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds to finance my business activities in the private sector. I have tried to be fully transparent with regard to the filing of my SF-86 form, above and beyond what is required.”

Over the weekend, health care got harder — not easier — for Senate Republicans

At 3:15 pm ET from the White House, President Trump will deliver a statement on health care — ahead of this week’s expected vote on the Senate GOP legislation. But Republicans still don’t have the votes. “If [Susan] Collins is a no vote on any form of the legislation and [Rand] Paul won’t support a replacement, and [Shelley Moore] Capito and [Lisa] Murkowski won’t support the repeal-only approach, and [Mike] Lee and [Jerry] Moran won’t support the replacement, and it’s unclear if [John] McCain will be back [this] week ... Republicans simply don’t have the votes throughout all the confusing scenarios,” HuffPost’s Matt Fuller wrote late last week. “And that’s to say nothing of Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who has been cagey all along on any form of the legislation.”

And this might make it even harder to get 50 votes: “The Senate parliamentarian signaled Friday that Democrats could block several key elements of the Senate GOP health-care bill, including abortion coverage restrictions, a one-year ban on funding for Planned Parenthood and changes to Medicaid coverage requirements, if the legislation comes up for a vote next week,” the Washington Post wrote on Friday. “While not a final ruling, Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough’s assessment threatens to further anger conservatives such as Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) who say the GOP health-care bill does not go far enough in repealing the Affordable Care Act.”

Trump’s setback on sanctions

“Throughout 2016, both Donald J. Trump and President Vladimir V. Putin complained that American-led sanctions against Russia were the biggest irritant in the plummeting relations between the two superpowers. And the current investigations, which have cast a shadow over Mr. Trump’s first six months in office, have focused on whether a series of contacts between Mr. Trump’s inner circle and Russians were partly about constructing deals to get those penalties lifted,” the New York Times says. “Now it is clear that those sanctions not only are staying in place, but are about to be modestly expanded — exactly the outcome the two presidents sought to avoid... If approved by Congress this week, Mr. Trump has little choice, his aides acknowledge, but to sign the toughened sanctions legislation that he desperately wanted to see defeated.”