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
WASHINGTON — In a span of 48 hours, we moved from a furious back-and-forth over the Nunes memo, to a sinking stock market, to President Trump accusing Democrats of “treason” for not applauding at the State of the Union and to a report that Trump’s lawyers don’t want him to speak to Robert Mueller.
But here’s maybe the biggest news of all: With another potential government shutdown looming, where’s the governing?
“The next short-term government funding bill is set to run out Thursday and Congress is poised to pass a fifth stop-gap funding bill to keep the lights on,” NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell writes. “The latest deadline looms as a deal on DACA, which in part forced the last government shutdown, has yet to emerge that will get the support of the White House.”
Caldwell adds, “The run up to this congressional-imposed deadline is expected to lack the drama of the last funding date three weeks ago because neither party wants to repeat the three-day government shutdown, but nothing is yet certain as negotiations are still ongoing.”
You have a president obsessing over the Russia probe, airing grievances about how the political opposition received his State of the Union, and today hosting a law-enforcement roundtable on MS-13 at 1:45 pm ET.
You have a Congress that’s engaged in partisan warfare over the Nunes memo and the actions of the House Intelligence Committee.
And you have a government that facing another potential shutdown — with the remedy being another short-term funding bill.
This is no way to govern.
Republicans get good news, bad news on the upcoming midterms
Here’s the good news for Republicans when it comes to the 2018 midterm elections: President Trump’s job-approval rating has ticked up; even Gallup has the president back up to 40 percent. What’s more, the GOP’s deficit in the generic ballot has narrowed — from double digits to about five points.
But here’s the bad news for Republicans: They’re now facing more retirements in competitive seats; it sure looks like Pennsylvania will draw a new congressional map; and Politico reports that more than 40 House GOP incumbents trailed Democratic challengers in 4th-quarter fundraising.
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As Charlie Cook writes, the GOP would be misguided to solely focus on the good news. “[W]hile these high hopes were emanating from last week’s Republican congressional retreat at The Greenbrier, data from individual races on both the district and statewide level reveal that the plight of Republicans actually appears to be even more difficult than it seemed last fall. This is particularly true with individual-race polling, but other indices such as candidate recruitment and campaign fundraising are sending ‘Danger, Will Robinson!’ messages.”
NYT:Trump’s lawyers don’t want him to answer Mueller’s questions
“Lawyers for President Trump have advised him against sitting down for a wide-ranging interview with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, according to four people briefed on the matter,” the New York Times writes. “His lawyers are concerned that the president, who has a history of making false statements and contradicting himself, could be charged with lying to investigators.”
More from the paper: “Refusing to sit for an interview opens the possibility that Mr. Mueller will subpoena the president to testify before a grand jury, setting up a court fight that would drastically escalate the investigation and could be decided by the Supreme Court. Rejecting an interview with Mr. Mueller also carries political consequences. It would be certain to prompt accusations that the president is hiding something, and a court fight could prolong the special counsel inquiry, casting a shadow over Republicans as November’s midterm elections approach.”
On Saturday, Trump was tweeting how the Nunes memo vindicated him in the Russia probe (when it really didn’t). But now his lawyers are recommending that he doesn’t speak with investigators – for fear that he might lie. Hmmm….
Trump lawyer Ty Cobb gave NBC's Kristen Welker this statement about the New York Times article: “The professional and active discussions between the [Office of Special Counsel] and the president’s personal lawyers regarding how and under what terms information will be exchanged are understandably private.”
Trump goes from “unity” to “treason” in less than a week
Remember Trump’s State of the Union address where he called for bipartisanship and unity? "Tonight, I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground, and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people," he said. That was exactly one week ago.
Well, yesterday, here’s what the president said in Ohio while recounting how Democrats received his State of the Union speech: “You’re up there, you’ve got half the room going totally crazy, wild. They loved everything, they want to do something great for our country. And you have the other side, even on positive news, really positive news like that, they were like – death. And un-American. Un-American. Somebody said, “Treasonous.” I mean, yeah I guess why not. You know, can we call that treason? Why not? I mean, they certainly didn’t seem to love our country very much. But you look at that and it’s really very, very sad.”
And what was striking was how the audience applauded.
As our colleague Dafna Linzer notes, the U.S. code spells out what treason is — and the punishment for it: “Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years.”
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said Trump was being “tongue in cheek” about his treason accusations, NBC’s Peter Alexander and Hallie Jackson report.
What goes up also will go down
Why presidents before Trump never boasted about stock market gains: President Trump hasn’t been shy about reminding Americans about the stock market’s performance during his first year in office, as NBC’s Hallie Jackson noted on “Nightly News” last night:
- "We did, in fact, break 25,000 – very substantially break it, very easily. So I guess our new number is 30,000” — January 4.
- The stock market is shattering one record after another” — January 10
- "You look at the stock market at an all-time high” — January 19
- “The stock market has smashed one record after another, gaining $8 trillion dollars and more in a value in just this short period of time — January 30 State of the Union address.
The problem with this: What goes up can also go down. “World stock markets nosedived for a fourth day running on Tuesday, having seen $4 trillion wiped off from what just eight days ago had been record high values,” per NBC News. “Two days of steep losses have erased the U.S. market's gains from the start of this year, ending a spate of record-setting calm for stocks. The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 1,175 points on Monday, as the market bet on more interest rate hikes, the same day that a new Federal Reserve chairman was sworn in.”
Is a grand jury now investigating the Missouri governor’s affair?
The AP suggests that’s the case: “The man whose then-wife had an affair with Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens has been subpoenaed to testify before a St. Louis grand jury, the man's attorney said Monday. ‘It's been stepped up a notch,’ attorney Al Watkins said. ‘It means a grand jury is seated and is hearing evidence about the investigation against Gov. Greitens.’”
“Greitens, a Republican, admitted on Jan. 10 to a monthslong affair with his St. Louis hairdresser in 2015, before he was governor. The woman's ex-husband secretly recorded a conversation with her in which she claimed that Greitens took a compromising photo as potential blackmail if she spoke about the relationship. Greitens has repeatedly denied threatening to blackmail the woman. He has not answered directly when asked if he took a photo.”