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Despite warnings, D.C. isn't ready for 2018 campaign mischief from abroad

It’s striking how little Washington has done to prepare for another round of foreign interference in our elections.
Image: Presidential Primary Voting in New Jersey
A woman enters a voting booth at a polling site in a school gym to cast a vote in today's presidential primary in Hoboken, New Jersey USA, on 07 June 2016. New Jersey, California, and four other states are holding presidential primaries today. EPA/JUSTIN LANEJUSTIN LANE / EPA

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 — We are nine months out from the 2018 midterm elections, and it’s striking how little Washington has done to prepare for another round of foreign interference in our elections.

Think about it: The president of the United States has not only expressed doubt about Russia’s interference in 2016, he’s failed to carry out punishing Russia. On Capitol Hill, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee are focused on the FBI and the Steele dossier, while Democrats are spending their time rebutting the GOP’s charges.

And now comes this report from NBC’s Cynthia McFadden, William Arkin and Kevin Monahan: “The U.S. official in charge of protecting American elections from hacking says the Russians successfully penetrated the voter registration rolls of several U.S. states prior to the 2016 presidential election. In an exclusive interview with NBC News, Jeanette Manfra, the head of cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security, said she couldn't talk about classified information publicly, but in 2016, ‘We saw a targeting of 21 states and an exceptionally small number of them were actually successfully penetrated.’”

More: “NBC News reported in Sept. 2016 that more than 20 states had been targeted by the Russians. There is no evidence that any of the registration rolls were altered in any fashion, according to U.S. officials.”

According to a new NBC|SurveyMonkey poll, 64 percent of Americans said it was likely a foreign government would try to interfere in the upcoming midterm elections; 57 percent said it’s likely Russia will attempt to influence the 2018 races; and 55 percent said they’re not confident the federal government is doing enough to prevent foreign interference.

The public is concerned. But where’s the urgency from Washington, especially the Trump White House?

In 24 hours, the Trump White House went from defending Rob Porter to being “shocked”

Here’s a timeline of how the Trump White House responded to the allegations that White House staff secretary Rob Porter had abused his ex-wives:

  • Tuesday night: The Daily Mail publishes an article alleging that Porter abused his two ex-wives.
  • Tuesday around 9:00 pm ET: The White House releases statements from Porter (“I will not comment about these matters, beyond stating that many of these allegations are slanderous and simply false”), former boss Sen. Orrin Hatch (“It’s incredibly discouraging to see such a vile attack on such a decent man. Shame on any publication that would print this”) and chief of staff John Kelly (“Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor and I can’t say enough good things about him”).
  • Wednesday around 1:30 pm ET: The White House releases a new statement from Porter, who announces that he will leave the White House: "These outrageous allegations are simply false. I took the photos given to the media nearly 15 years ago and the reality behind them is nowhere close to what is being described."
  • Wednesday after 1:30 pm ET: White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tells reporters, “I can tell you that Rob has been effective in his role as staff secretary, and the president and chief of staff have had full confidence and trust in his abilities and his performance.”
  • Wednesday afternoon: CNN speaks with one of Porter’s ex-wives, Colbie Holderness: "The thing he would do most frequently is he would throw me down on a bed and he would just put his body weight on me and he'd be yelling at me but as he was yelling he'd me grinding an elbow or knee into my body to emphasize his anger.”
  • Wednesday at 6:00 pm ET: NBC News confirms that chief of staff John Kelly was aware of the allegations of abuse against Rob Porter before the story broke. Two sources familiar with matter said that it is believed Porter never obtained full security clearance and only had a temporary status, although it’s not clear why.
  • Wednesday at around 9:30 pm ET: Kelly releases a new statement on Porter: "I was shocked by the new allegations released today against Rob Porter. There is no place for domestic violence in our society. I stand by my previous comments of the Rob Porter that I have come to know since becoming chief of staff, and believe every individual deserves the right to defend their reputation. I accepted his resignation earlier today, and will ensure a swift and orderly transition."
  • Thursday at 7:20 am ET: NBC News confirms that Porter is leaving the White House soon – and it could be as early as today.

It’s official: John Kelly hasn’t been the stabilizing force he was billed to be

White House chief of staff John Kelly was supposed to bring stability and calm to the Trump White House. But whether it’s this Rob Porter scandal (NBC reports that Kelly was aware of the allegations of abuse BEFORE the story broke Tuesday, according to a former White House aide), the comments about Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla, or the recent comments about DREAMers, Kelly has created just as much controversy as stability.

There’s a budget deal, but can it pass the House?

NBC's Leigh Ann Caldwell and Jonathan Allen: “Senate leaders have reached a broad long-term spending deal just one day before the latest in a string of government shutdown deadlines. The deal is an attempt to keep the government open and ensure that this is the last time Congress will have to pass an incremental spending bill for the remainder of the fiscal year. The measure, negotiated between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, increases domestic and military spending by $300 billion, the most significant increase in spending since before mandatory budget caps, known as sequestration, went into effect in 2011. Additionally it would provide more than $70 billion in disaster relief, increasing spending by nearly $400 billion over the next two years.”

The question is whether it can pass the House. “While Senate leaders praised the compromise legislation, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said it's something she couldn't support. She is demanding House Speaker Paul Ryan commit to addressing the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA,” Caldwell and Allen add. “She put out a preemptive statement Wednesday morning and took to the House floor for a record-breaking, eight-hour speech wearing four-inch heels, reading profiles of successful Dreamers.”

And: “Conservatives are slamming the deal for the massive increase in domestic spending. ‘Bad, bad, bad agreement,’ Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said. ‘And it's also terrible.’”