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Distractions have derailed Team Trump's economic message

by Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann /
Staff Secretary Rob Porter and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on Nov. 29, 2017.Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

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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

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WASHINGTON — It’s Infrastructure Week — again — with President Trump hosting a meeting today at 11:00 am ET with state and local officials to discuss his administration’s $1.5 trillion infrastructure proposal. And once again, it’s highly, highly unlikely we’ll be talking about infrastructure or the economy as the week goes on.

Indeed, here are the dominant weekly political storylines of 2018, as the Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey listed last week:

  • Week of January 1: Michael Wolff's "Fire and Fury"
  • Week of January 8: Trump’s "shithole countries" remark
  • Week of January 15: The government shutdown
  • Week of January 22: The report that Trump wanted Mueller fired back in June 2017
  • Week of January 29: Trump White House authorizes release of the Nunes memo (over the FBI's objections)
  • Week of February 5: White House’s defense, then firing, of Rob Porter – and Trump’s praise of him (“He did a very good job when he was in the White House”).

It’s a reminder that the Trump White House can’t stick to its script, even to tout the administration’s sole significant legislative accomplishment — the Trump tax cuts.

“For members or anybody else who cares about keeping control of Congress, if you find yourself talking about anything but the middle-class tax cut, shut up and stop talking,” Corry Bliss of the Congressional Leadership Fund told the New York Times. “Any time spent on TV talking about anything but how we’re helping the middle class is a waste of time and does nothing to help us win in 2018.”

But the dominant political storyline — including from the Trump White House and some of its allies — has been everything but the tax cuts and the economy.

Trump’s $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan consists only of $200 billion federal dollars

“The White House will release the principles of Trump’s long-touted $1.5 trillion infrastructure proposal on Monday — a plan which leans on state and private investment as key, driving factors to finance the effort,” NBC’s Ali Vitali reports. “The administration is expected to present a plan that puts $200 billion in new federal funds into the effort."

More: “Asked how the $200 billion infusion would be paid for, the senior administration official cited ‘a whole series of places where the administration is suggesting reduced funding’ in their soon-to-be-released budget, declining to be more specific than an assurance it would be paid for ‘out of savings from other areas of the federal budget.’ The White House is also planning to release its version of the federal budget Monday.”

But as the Times notes, “The proposal … faces long odds on Capitol Hill, where members of both parties — particularly Democrats — are skeptical of any plan that fails to create a dedicated new funding stream to address the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. Lawmakers are also doubtful that such a small federal investment will be sufficient to spur an infrastructure spending boom.”

Here’s how Trump has talked about men accused of sexual misconduct

Going back to 1992, Trump has defended male friends and allies of sexual misconduct.

Trump on Mike Tyson: “It’s my opinion that, to a large extent, Mike Tyson was railroaded in this case… You have a young woman that was in his room, his hotel room late in the evening at her own will. You have a young woman who was seen dancing for the beauty contest [the next day], dancing with a big smile on her face, looked happy as could be. (“Nightly News,” Feb. 21, 1992)

Trump on Roger Ailes: "It's very sad because he's a very good person. (“Meet the Press,” July 24, 2016)

Trump on the women who had accused of him of misconduct: "These people are horrible people. They're horrible, horrible liars.” (Oct. 13, 2016)

Trump on Roy Moore: “Well, he denies it. Look, he denies it. I mean, if you look at what is really going on, and you look at all the things that have happened over the last 48 hours, he totally denies it.” (Nov. 21, 2017)

Trump on Rob Porter: "It’s a, obviously, tough time for him. He did a very good job when he was in the White House. And we hope he has a wonderful career, and hopefully he will have a great career ahead of him. But it was very sad when we heard about it. And, certainly, he’s also very sad.” (Feb. 9, 2018)

Over the weekend, Trump tweeted, “Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused — life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?”

But in Time magazine, Jennie Willoughby –—Rob Porter’s second wife — writes, “The words ‘mere allegation’ and ‘falsely accused’ meant to imply that I am a liar. That Colbie Holderness is a liar. That the work Rob was doing in the White House was of higher value than our mental, emotional or physical wellbeing. That his professional contributions are worth more than the truth. That abuse is something to be questioned and doubted.”

Senate begins its freewheeling immigration debate this week

On “Meet the Press” yesterday, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said he was excited about the Senate’s freewheeling debate over immigration that begins this week. “We're going to have something in the Senate that we haven't had in a while. It's a real debate on an issue where we really don't know what the outcome is going to be,” Flake said. “I still think that if we put a good bill to the president, that has the support of 65, 70 members of the Senate, that the president will accept it and the House will like it as well.”

Meanwhile, NBC’s Frank Thorp reports that a group of GOP senators (Grassley, Cornyn, Tillis, Perdue, Lankford, Cotton, Ernst) says they will introduce legislation that mirrors President Trump’s immigration proposal. The proposal is NOT expected to get the 60 votes needed to pass.

At the Olympics, Pence played “right into North Korea’s hands”

The New York Times on Vice President Mike Pence’s attendance at the Olympic games in South Korea: “Mr. Pence drew the greatest reaction for where he did not appear: most pointedly, at a dinner Mr. Moon hosted before the opening ceremony. That meant that he avoided spending much time with the North Korean delegation, including Kim Yong-nam, the country’s ceremonial head of state. And while the unified Korean Olympic team received a standing ovation as they marched into the stadium Friday night, Mr. Pence remained seated, which critics said was disrespectful of the athletes and his host, Mr. Moon.”

More: “Mr. Pence is playing ‘right into North Korea’s hands by making it look like the U.S. is straying from its ally and actively undermining efforts for inter-Korean relations,’ said Mintaro Oba, a former diplomat at the State Department specializing in the Koreas, who now works as a speechwriter in Washington.”

Clint Watts: “#ReleaseTheMemo “is a home run for the Russians”

On “Meet the Press” yesterday, Clint Watts, an NBC national security analyst and a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said that the entire back-and-forth over that disputed Nunes memo is a home run for the Russians.

“The big thing above all is Americans have to stop doing falsehoods against each other. #ReleaseTheMemo is a homerun for the Russians. They don't need to make a false narrative. Americans are making false narratives against each other. And they just repeat them.”

The official 2018 primary season begins less than a month from now. Here are the races we’re watching

As one of us wrote over the weekend, the 2018 midterm primary season kicks off in Texas on March 6. And it lasts all the way through September – less than two months before the general-election contests that will decide control of the House, Senate and governors mansions across the country. Here are primary races we’ll be watching:

The GOP’s ideological battles: AZ SEN (Aug. 28), NV SEN (June 12), VA SEN (June 12)

The Dem ideological battles: IL-3 (March 20), MD SEN (June 26), MD GOV (June 26)

The grudge matches: IN SEN – GOP (May 8), GA GOV – Dem (May 22)

The free-for-alls: FL GOV (Aug 28), OH GOV (May 8), WV SEN (May 8)California’s Top-2 “jungle primaries”: CA SEN, CA GOV, CA-39, CA-49 (June 5)

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