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The Dangerous Game of a President Picking Winners and Losers

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Donald Trump
President-elect Donald Trump gestures as he speaks during a "USA Thank You" tour event, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, in Cincinnati.Evan Vucci / AP

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

The dangerous game of a president picking winners and losers

In the span of about five hours Tuesday, President-elect Donald Trump sent two very different tweets -- one criticizing a company, the second one hailing another company.

  • At 8:52 am ET: “Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!”
  • Then at 2:09 pm ET: “Masa (SoftBank) of Japan has agreed to invest $50 billion in the U.S. toward businesses and 50,000 new jobs....”

As Bloomberg News puts it, “The tweets, coming after Trump last week announced a deal with United Technologies Corp. to cancel plans to close a U.S. factory, dominated news and moved markets even as details in both cases remained sketchy and the impacts unclear. Trump again showed a willingness to use his bully pulpit to criticize or congratulate companies over actions affecting American workers and government spending.” When presidents sign legislation or make executive orders, they pick winners and losers -- but it’s done nationwide or through specific industries. Yet what Trump is doing here is picking individual winners and losers. Via Twitter. And that could have chilling consequences. “The rule of law is what prevents crony capitalism, and the minute you have the president-elect, politicians or bureaucrats meeting with business owners to dispense special favors it unlevels the playing field,” Anne Krueger, an economics professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, told Bloomberg. Our question: Despite all of the corporate criticism of President Obama’s first few years in office (“Uncertainty!” “Regulations!” “Obamacare!”) has Trump intervened more in companies -- directly and individually -- in his month as president-elect more than Obama ever did?

Did Trump’s Boeing tweet come after he read an article about Boeing’s CEO criticizing him? Trump says no

CNN’s Jake Tapper made a very interesting observation yesterday: An hour before Trump’s critical Boeing tweet, the Chicago Tribune published an article with Boeing’s CEO taking issue with Trump position on trade. "I'm not a political pundit or prognosticator — we have too many of those — but anyone who paid attention to the recent campaigns and the election results realizes that one of the overarching themes was apprehension about free and fair trade," Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenberg said last week. "Last year, we delivered 495 737s from our factory in Renton, Wash., to customers around the world. One in every 3 of those 737s were bound for China. And about a quarter of all our airplane deliveries … were bound for Chinese customers. So was Trump’s tweet payback for Muilenberg’s comments on trade? Trump says he didn’t read the Chicago Tribune article. “I didn't see an article of where he was critical of trade policies,” Trump said in a phone-call interview with “Today” this morning as part of winning Time magazine’s “Person of the The Year.”

Trump: “That’s what I’m here for -- I’m going to negotiate prices”

Also in that “Today” interview this morning, Trump defended his Boeing tweet. “I think the planes are too expensive,” he said. “That's what I'm here for -- I'm going to negotiate prices.” That’s a fascinating comment about how he views the presidency. Of course, he’s been a businessman his whole life, where everything is transactional and no contract is safe. But is that a president’s most important job? By the way, the Washington Post fact-checked Trump’s tweets on Boeing:

  • “Boeing is building…”: “Earlier in 2016, Boeing received a $170 million contract to design a replacement for the aging pair of Air Force Ones used by the president. Boeing is not actually building the jet, though logically it is the only U.S. manufacturer with the capability to build such an aircraft.”
  • “…a brand new 747 Air Force One…”: “At a minimum, there would be two Air Force Ones. You need a spare in case there is a problem with one. The jets generally have a life cycle of 30 years. A plane only receives the call sign “Air Force One” when the president is on board. This is actually a highly modified version of the Boeing 747-8 jet.”
  • “Costs are out of control, more than $4 billion”: “Cost have actually not been set. The Defense Department’s five-year plan indicates a cost of $2.9 billion over the next five years for design and development. It’s logical to assume at least another $1 billion in additional expenses to complete and procure the aircraft... Air Force One needs to be designed to survive a nuclear war. It requires all sorts of undisclosed security upgrades and countermeasures. It can refuel in flight. The actual cost of the plane will depend on the equipment that goes into it.”
  • “Cancel the order!” “Nothing has been ordered yet. But the program could be eliminated. This may not be a problem for Trump, but certainly would affect his successors.”

What else Trump said in this morning’s “Today” interview

Here are some of the other highlights of Trump’s interview on “Today”:

  • On the timing of his secretary of state pick: “I am fairly close. I think next week will be the time I announce it.”
  • On if Mitt Romney is still under consideration: “Yes, he is” – though Trump admitted that he has crossed out certain names in his own mind.
  • On him selling stocks back in June: “I was never a big stock holder, but I bought a lot of different stocks and I had a lot of stocks before then too and what I did is I sold them. I just don’t—I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to be owning stocks when I’m making deals for this country that maybe will affect one company positively and one company negatively. I just felt it was a conflict.”
  • On “Saturday Night Live”: “I hosted SNL when it was a good show, but it’s not a good show anymore… Who knows how long that show’s going to be on? It’s a terrible show.”

Cabinet Watch

Here is our running list of possible candidates we’ve been hearing about so far. We’ll continue to update it as the president-elect’s team makes its choices final.

  • Secretary of State: Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton, Bob Corker, Mitt Romney, David Petraeus, Rex Tillerson, Lee Raymond, John Kelly, Jon Hunstman
  • Attorney General: Jeff Sessions OFFERED
  • Treasury: Steve Mnuchin OFFERED
  • Defense: Mattis OFFERED
  • Homeland: Michael McCaul, David Clarke, John Kelly
  • Interior: Sarah Palin, Mary Fallin
  • HHS: Tom Price OFFERED
  • HUD: Ben Carson OFFERED
  • Education: Betsy DeVos OFFERED
  • Commerce: Wilbur Ross OFFERED
  • Transportation: Elaine Chao OFFERED
  • Agriculture: Rick Perry, Sid Miller
  • CIA Director: Mike PompeoOFFERED
  • UN Ambassador: Nikki Haley OFFERED
  • National Security Adviser: Michael Flynn OFFERED
  • RNC Chair: Ronna Romney McDaniel, David Urban