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First Read's Morning Clips: Changing Obama's Cuba Policy

A roundup of the most important political news stories of the day
A bike-taxi and a vintage American car are seen in front of a building decorated with a large Cuban flag, on December 31, 2013, in Havana.ADALBERTO ROQUE / AFP/Getty Images

TRUMP AGENDA: The changes to Obama’s Cuba policy

NBC’s Ali Vitali sums up the changes Trump wants to make to Obama’s Cuba policy. “The president's policy change seeks to restrict the flow of money to ‘oppressive elements of the Cuba regime’ by ending individual people-to people-travel designations, a senior administration official told reporters on Thursday. Eliminating that category — in which individuals can travel to Cuba alone and not as part of an organized tour group, which has the ‘highest risk of potential abuse,’ an official said — still leaves 11 other categories under which Americans can visit Cuba legally. Trump will also direct the secretaries of treasury and commerce to provide regulations that prohibit direct financial transactions with Cuban military intelligence and security services. While some hotels will be encompassed by those restrictions, there will be exemptions — among them lodging options such as Airbnb, according to senior White House officials.”

More, from the Wall Street Journal: “While the individual cultural travel rule will be terminated, many of the regulations to relax trade and travel will remain, along with some of the measures that allowed increased telecommunications services. The countries’ embassies will remain open and the ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy won’t be reinstated. And U.S. travelers who still head to Cuba will continue to be able to bring back as many cigars and as much rum as they want. Individual travel will remain legal through more than 10 categories, including research and humanitarian work, and family visits.”

From the New York Times: “Members of President Trump’s transition team were ordered on Thursday to preserve documents and other materials related to the investigation of Russian interference in the presidential election, according to a memo obtained by The New York Times. The memo, from the transition team’s general counsel’s office, is the latest indication that the investigation’s special counsel, the former F.B.I. director Robert S. Mueller III, is casting a wide net in his inquiry into possible collusion between Mr. Trump’s campaign and Moscow.”

And the Washington Post reports that Jared Kushner’s business dealings are now also a target of the special counsel.

Mike Pence has hired a private lawyer to manage his response to the Russia probe.

The Washington Post: “Pence’s political balance-beam routine is showing signs of strain, according to a portrait of the vice president culled from interviews with 17 aides, advisers, friends, allies and Republican operatives….One Pence loyalist described himself as at his “wits’ end,” adding, “There are some organizational gaps.” One senior White House adviser said Pence was exasperated with the West Wing communications shop, which sent him out with a half-baked talking point to explain Comey’s ouster. But Pence’s office argues that Trump never undermined Pence with his public comments suggesting he fired Comey over the Russia probe; the president, the Pence team said,was simply adding more context to his decision and that it is not the vice president’s place to explain Trump’s decision-making process.”

And from POLITICO: “Trump has come to trust his second in command above everyone else in the White House, people close to both men say, prizing Pence’s unwavering loyalty and discretion. And yet the vice president’s camp operates in a continual state of apprehension, having been handed massive responsibilities by a president known for his insecurities and acute sensitivity to being overshadowed.”

Well, this was odd: “A top Trump Justice Department official issued an unusual, vague statement Thursday night, casting doubt on a series of recent media reports detailing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s growing probe into the Trump campaign for potential collusion with Russia in the 2016 campaign. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appeared to be taking issue with recent Washington Post and New York Times stories that President Donald Trump himself is now the subject of an obstruction of justice probe, as well as a separate new report from the Post that Mueller is looking into White House senior adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner’s finances. Rosenstein’s statement, though, mentioned none of the reports specifically. Instead, he criticized articles that were attributed to unnamed officials.”

The New York Times, on Robert Mueller: “Robert S. Mueller III managed in a dozen years as F.B.I. director to stay above the partisan fray, carefully cultivating a rare reputation for independence and fairness. But his appointment as special counsel overseeing the Trump-Russia investigation has thrown him into the middle of the most charged political brawl of his career — especially since his early hires include several prosecutors who have donated to Democratic candidates in the past.”

Ken Starr weighs in: “Subject to the possibility of being fired for “good cause,” Mueller should be allowed to do his work unhindered and unimpeded. Absent the most extreme circumstances, the president would be singularly ill-advised to threaten, much less order, Mueller’s firing.”

NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald notes that Trump seems to be pining for the days of the campaign, lashing out at Hillary Clinton when he’s under scrutiny himself.

NBC’s Marianna Sotomayor has this dispatch on last night’s Congressional baseball game.

NBC’s Benjy Sarlin notes that, on health care, Democrats can’t hit what they can’t see.

And the Wall Street Journal talks to conservatives who are wary of the plan, too. “Conservatives inside and outside the Senate GOP are sounding alarms over the emerging shape of the chamber’s bill to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, a sign that the faction’s support may be increasingly difficult to secure. Pressure from outside groups has intensified in recent days, and conservative lawmakers have signaled their concern that the Senate bill doesn’t do enough to curb spending on the Medicaid federal-state program for the poor or to reduce health-care premiums—two of their top goals.”

The AP: “Russia said Friday it was verifying whether it had killed the leader of the Islamic State group in an airstrike targeting a meeting of IS leaders just outside the group’s de facto capital in Syria, dealing a potentially severe blow to the extremist group as it fights to hang on to its strongholds in Syria and Iraq. The Russian Defense Ministry claimed that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in a Russian strike in late May along with other senior group commanders, adding that the information about his death was still ‘being verified through various channels.’”

OFF TO THE RACES: GOP sounding the alarm in GA-6?

GA-6: POLITICO notes that Republicans are sounding the alarm over the race. “As grim confidential polling data circulates among GOP strategists, interviews with nearly two dozen Republican operatives and officials reveal that they are preparing for the possibility of an unnerving defeat that could spur lawmakers to distance themselves from Trump and his already-troubled legislative agenda, and potentially encourage a wave of retirements.”

A Republican strategist emails First Read: "Typical over dramatic handwringing from consultants who relish hedging their bets. It's a tossup, but I feel good."

Despite the national attention, the candidates are trying to keep things local, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes.

“Roswell police and the FBI are investigating after envelopes with ‘white powder’ were found in congressional candidate Karen Handel’s mailbox and at four others in her subdivision,” writes the AJC.

Tom Price and Sonny Perdue are stumping for Karen Handel.

SC-5: If Democrats are feeling good about Georgia, what about South Carolina? The Charlotte Observer takes a look.

The State reports on how the AHCA debate is playing out in the congressional race.