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With Gary Cohn's departure, the White House becomes more like Trump

by Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann /
Gary Cohn, chief operating officer of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., walks through the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, U.S., on Monday, Jan. 2, 2017.Bloomberg / Getty Images

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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 — Perhaps the most immediate consequence of yesterday’s resignation of top White House economic adviser Gary Cohn is that the White House is getting a lot more, well, Trump-y.

NBC News: “The departure — following reports that Cohn, the National Economic Council director, had opposed Trump's plan for large tariffs on imported steel and aluminum — was the latest in a string of exits by top officials in the administration. Cohn, a wealthy former Goldman Sachs banker, played a key role on the president's tax cut bill. Trump praised Cohn in a statement Tuesday as a ‘rare talent’ who had done a ‘superb job in driving our agenda, helping to deliver historic tax cuts and reforms, and unleashing the American economy once again.’”

Without Cohn, there’s one less voice for economic and social moderation. And it shows that the New York/Goldman Sachs wing of the White House (Cohn, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump) is on the decline, while the populist wing — even without Steve Bannon — is on the rise.

As for the tariffs, Trump’s support for them shows just how hard it will be for Republicans to run on the tax bill. Not only could the tariffs possibly slow down the economy (if they go into effect), they also represent NEGATIVE messaging on the current state of the economy. As Business Insider’s Josh Barro notes, “One weird thing about Trump's 'we get treated so badly [on trade]’ message is it's incongruous with the good economy, with public perceptions that the economy is good, and Republican messaging that they made the economy good.”

Answers to the six questions we posed about last night’s Texas primaries

On Tuesday, we asked six questions heading into Texas’ primaries. And here are the answers we got last night:

1. Do Democrats turn out almost at the same rate as Republicans?

Not quite. Approximately 1.5 million Republicans voted in the GOP Senate primary, which is up 15 percent from the last midterm cycle in 2014. That’s compared with 1 million Dems who voted in their Senate primary — more than double from 2014. So Democrats are much more fired up than they were four years ago, but they’re still facing a gap versus the GOP. That’s not enough to convince the DSCC to play in this very expensive state.

Yet the Dem-vs.-GOP margins were MUCH closer in the top House battlegrounds, especially those in urban areas — which is why they were originally identified as swing districts in the first place. In TX-7 (Houston), 38,000 turned out on the GOP side, versus 33,000 for Dems. In TX-23 (San Antonio), 44,000 Dems turned out, versus 31,000 Republicans. And in TX-32 (Dallas), 41,000 Republicans voted, versus 40,000 Dems. But remember: The Democrats had competitive races in these districts, while the GOP contests were incumbents facing minimal opposition.

2. Can George P. Bush avoid a runoff?

Yes. He received 58 percent of the vote, while top challenger Jerry Patterson got 30 percent. The Bush legacy lives on in the Trump Era. But it wasn’t easy (he needed to surpass 50 percent to avoid the runoff), and he needed help from the Trumps.

3. Who wins the Dems’ gubernatorial primary?

Frontrunners Lupe Valdez (who got 43 percent of the vote) and Andrew White (who got 29 percent) are headed to the May 22 runoff.

4. Does Laura Moser make the runoff in TX-7?

Yes she did, and it sure looks like the DCCC’s effort to stop her backfired — big time. As expected, Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, who was backed by EMILY’s List, finished first with 29 percent. But Moser got second with 24 percent. And Moser’s 24 percent exceeded her 22 percent from the early-vote period, which means her support GREW after the DCCC’s intervention. The NRCC trolled the Dems: “I guess the DCCC can’t rig a primary as well as their counterparts at the DNC,” said NRCC Communications Director Matt Gorman in a statement.

This is a potential disaster for national Democrats in the competitive TX-7 district. Do they double down and spend money to defeat Moser in the runoff? Or would that only backfire again and possibly divide Dems going into the general?

5. Who wins the GOP’s TX-21 primary?

It’s a runoff between former Ted Cruz staffer Chip Roy (who got 27 percent of the vote) and Matt McCall (who got 17 percent). By the way, Robert Stovall, the pro-Trump candidate that Trump 2020 Campaign Manager Brad Parscale was backing, got just 5 percent.

6. Who wins the Dem TX-32 primary?

It looks like a runoff between attorney and former NFL player Colin Allred (who got 39 percent of the vote) and EMILY’s List-backed Lillian Salerno (who got 18 percent).

It was a great night for female Dem candidates

While last night was a blow to the DCCC for intervening in TX-7 (it sure looks like they would have been better saying nothing about Moser, right?), it was a great night for female Dem candidates, including those backed by EMILY’s List. In TX-7, Fletcher and Moser advanced to the May 22 runoff; in TX-16, Veronica Escobar is the shoo-in to replace Beto O’Rourke in Congress; in TX-23, Gina Ortiz Jones advanced to the runoff; so did Lillian Salerno in TX-32; and in TX-29, Sylvia Garcia won without a runoff. Escobar and Garcia are big favorites to be the first Texas Latinas to go to Congress.

By contrast, as the New York Times’ Nate Cohn and the Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman observed, it looks like it was a TERRIBLE night for well-financed candidates, including GOPer Kathaleen Wall in TX-2, Dem Alex Triantaphyllis in TX-7 and Dem Ed Meier in TX-32.

The NRCC isn’t closing on the economy or taxes in the PA-18 special

Speaking of House races, the NRCC certainly is NOT closing with a message on the economy and taxes heading into next week’s PA-18 special election. “Conor Lamb, what have you done?” goes the NRCC’s latest TV ad in the race. “Letting shady gun-runners walk free. When multiple offenders were caught in a scheme to secretly funnel guns to criminals, liberal Conor Lamb cut multiple plea deals, and the gun-runners walked back on the streets.”

The Michael Cohen part of the Trump scandals is being more problematic

Here are some of the recent headlines involving Trump’s lawyer:

  • The Washington Post: “Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has requested documents and interviewed witnesses about incidents involving Michael Cohen, the longtime lawyer for President Trump whose wide-ranging portfolio has given him a unique vantage point into Trump’s business, campaign and political activities.”
  • NBC News: “Stormy Daniels sues Trump, says ‘hush agreement’ invalid because he never signed.”
  • The Daily Beast: “Trump Lawyer Michael Cohen Received Inside Info From Russia Probe.”

Roger Stone: “I reject the idea that WikiLeaks is a Russian front”

Finally, maybe the biggest takeaway from yesterday’s “MTP Daily” interview with Roger Stone was his insistence that WikiLeaks is a journalist organization – and thus potentially cooperating/conspiring/colluding with them wouldn’t be a crime. “I’ll say this about Julian Assange,” Stone told one of us. I reject the idea that he’s a Russian asset. I reject the idea that WikiLeaks is a Russian front. I think he’s a journalist, a courageous journalist.”

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