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Democrats face their biggest 2018 primary test on Tuesday

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.
Image: U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher.
U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher speaks during a House Foreign Affairs Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats Subcommittee hearing about the attack on demonstrators by members of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's security detail on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S. on May 25, 2017.Aaron Bernstein / Reuters

WASHINGTON — Tomorrow’s “Top 2” primaries in California will determine whether Democrats’ chances of winning back the House will get easier, or much, much harder — given that Democrats face the possibility of getting shut out in three key congressional districts that Hillary Clinton won in 2016.

Under California’s primary system, the Top 2 finishers (regardless of party) advance to the general election, and Democrats are worried that they might not have a nominee in one or two of these districts — due to a crowded field of candidates and the districts’ historically Republican DNA.

Here are the three districts we’re watching:


In the race to succeed retiring Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., observers now believe this might be the toughest for Democrats to crack the Top 2, with early turnout more Republican than in the other two key districts. The conventional wisdom is that one Republican, Young Kim, is assured of making the Top 2, while the race for the other slot is a competition between Dem Gil Cisneros (whom the DCCC is supporting), Republican Bob Huff and Dem Andy Thorburn. The Cook Political Report currently lists CA-39 as TOSS UP (it was previously LEAN D).


Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., is potentially vulnerable, but Democrats have sweated advancing to the general election after former Orange County GOP Chair Scott Baugh got into the race in a district where Republican primary voters still outnumber Democrats. But the prospects of Dems making the Top 2 are higher here than they were a couple of weeks ago — after the DCCC announced it was behind Harley Rouda over fellow Dem Hans Keirstead, and after the party began to air negative TV ads against Baugh. Cook has CA-48 as a TOSS UP. And be sure to read Beth Fouhy’s deep dive into the race.


This is the race to replace retiring Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Democrats feel good about one of their candidates — either Doug Applegate or Sara Jacobs — making the Top 2. And there’s even a chance that two Dems could qualify for the general. The top Republican in the race is Diane Harkey. Cook has CA-49 as a TOSS UP (it was LEAN D).

The Democrats’ path to reclaiming the House has always been through a combination of significant gains in California (where they have a realistic chance at seven pickups), New Jersey/New York (another seven) and Pennsylvania (five).

That’s why what happens in California tomorrow is a big deal: That path either remains intact, or it gets a little harder.

The question we should all ask ourselves: Why doesn’t Trump want to talk to Mueller?

Over the weekend, the New York Times reported on a memo that Trump’s lawyers sent to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, arguing against having the president answer questions about possible obstruction of justice. Part of the lawyers’ reasoning: A president — at least in this case — can’t obstruct justice.

“It remains our position that the President’s actions here, by virtue of his position as the chief law enforcement officer, could neither constitutionally nor legally constitute obstruction because that would amount to him obstructing himself, and that he could, if he wished, terminate the inquiry, or even exercise his power to pardon if he so desired.”

But there’s maybe a bigger question here than the legal/constitutional one: Why doesn’t Trump want to talk Mueller concerning the questions about firing James Comey or when it comes to Michael Flynn?

Last year, in a June 9, 2017 news conference, Trump said “100 percent” that he would testify about Comey’s assertion that Trump told the former FBI director to let go of the Flynn matter.

QUESTION: So he said those things under oath. Would you be willing to speak under oath to give your version of those events?TRUMP: One hundred percent. I didn’t say under oath — I hardly know the man. I’m not going to say, I want you to pledge allegiance. Who would do that? Who would ask a man to pledge allegiance under oath? I mean, think of it. I hardly know the man. It doesn’t make sense. No, I didn’t say that, and I didn’t say the other.QUESTION: So if Robert Mueller wanted to speak with you about that you would be willing to talk to him?TRUMP: I would be glad to tell him exactly what I just told you, Jon.

On “Meet the Press” yesterday, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani (who joined Trump’s legal team after that Jan. 29, 2018 memo) said that the president wants to testify. “I will — I will tell you the straight, unvarnished truth which has remained true throughout no matter who the lawyer is. President wants to testify. I know a lot of people don't believe that. I know a lot of people think that's a position. It is a position. It's the true position. He believes he's innocent.”

But Giuliani also mentioned the danger of Trump testifying — in response to a question of why the White House revised its story that Trump DID INDEED help draft Donald Trump Jr.’s statement about that June 2016 Trump Tower meeting. “What Jay [Sekulow] did was he immediately corrected it. And even if that had been under oath he would've called that recanting. And it's Jay, not the president. So that's the wisdom of not having a president testify. It's one thing to do it with it a lawyer.”

Canada’s Trudeau: Trump’s tariffs will “hurt U.S. jobs as well”

Later this week, President Trump heads to Canada to attend the G-7 meeting, and that could get a little awkward given Trump’s tariffs aimed at Canada, Mexico and the EU. Here was Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on “Meet” yesterday:

“Canada and the United States have perhaps the most successful economic partnership and alliance and friendship in the history of the modern world. There are no two countries that are as interconnected, interdependent. You sell more things to us every year than to UK, Japan, and China combined. We -- our economies are, are incredibly interwoven, and there is an absolute path towards improving NAFTA and doing well on that. The fact that the president has moved forward with these tariffs is not just going to hurt Canadian jobs. It's going to hurt US jobs as well, and neither of those things is something that Canada wants to see.”

More from Trudeau:

“One of the things that I have to admit I'm having a lot of trouble getting around is the idea that this entire thing is coming about because the president and the administration have decided that Canada and Canadian steel and aluminum is a national security threat to the United States. Now, first of all, the-the-the idea that, you know, our soldiers who had fought and died together on the beaches of World War II, on the-- and the mountains of Afghanistan and have stood shoulder-to-shoulder in some of the most difficult places in the world, that are always there for each other, somehow-- this is insulting to that. The idea that the Canadian steel that's in military, military vehicles in the United States, the Canadian aluminum that makes your, your fighter jets is somehow now a threat.”

Bill Clinton’s tough interview on “Me Too”

If you wanted proof how Bill Clinton is not a political asset to Democrats any more, just check out this “Today” interview with NBC’s Craig Melvin:

MELVIN: One of the things that this-- this “Me Too” Era has done, it's forced-- a lot of women to speak out… One of those women, Monica Lewinsky. She wrote an op-ed-- that the “Me Too” movement changed her view of sexual harassment. Quote, "He was my boss. He was the most powerful man on the planet. He was 27 years my senior with enough life experience to know better… Looking back at what happened then through the lens of Me Too now-- do you-- do you think differently or feel more responsibility?CLINTON: No. I felt terrible then. And I came to grips with it. And--MELVIN: Did you ever apologize to her?CLINTON: And, yes. And nobody believes that I got outta that for free. I left the White House $16 million in debt. But you typically have ignored gaping facts in describing this. And I bet you don't even know. This was litigated 20 years ago. Two-thirds of the American people sided with me. They were not insensitive of that. I had a sexual harassment policy when I was governor in the '80s. I had two women chiefs of staff when I was governor. Women were overrepresented in the attorney general's office in the '70s for their percentage of the bar. I've had nothing but women leaders in my office since I left. You are giving one side and omitting facts.MELVIN: Mr. President, I-- I'm not-- I'm not trying to present a side. I'm not--CLINTON: No, no, I'm-- you asked me if I agreed. The answer is, no, I don't.MELVIN: And I-- well, I asked if you'd ever apologized. And you said you had.CLINTON: I have.MELVIN: You've apologized to her?CLINTON: I apologized to everybody in the world.

Melania Trump won’t attend G-7 or Singapore summits, and she hasn’t been seen in public since May 10

The White House schedule says President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump will host Gold Star families at the White House at 5:30 pm ET.

But the event is closed to the press. And the first lady hasn’t been seen in public since May 10. And she won’t be attending the upcoming G-7 or Singapore summits. NBC News: “First Lady Melania Trump won't join the president for the Group of Seven Summit in Canada this week or a planned North Korea meeting in Singapore on June 12, her spokeswoman told NBC News on Sunday. Mrs. Trump, 48, hasn't made a public appearance since May 10 — four days before she underwent what her office described in a statement as an embolization procedure for a ‘benign kidney condition.’”