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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

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 — When it comes to the political environment heading into the midterms, 2017 ended on a rough note for Republicans. They lost in Alabama, New Jersey and Virginia, and polls showed them facing double-digit deficits in the generic congressional ballot.

And now — less than 300 days out before Election Day 2018 — the environment seems to be getting worse. Consider the news in recent days:

  • On Monday, Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., announced his retirement, giving Dems an excellent shot to win his district, which Hillary Clinton carried in 2016;
  • On Wednesday, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., also announced his retirement, and it’s another district Clinton won;
  • Josh Mandel, who was taking on Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, also ended his bid, although it seems like the GOP has a new candidate (more on that below);
  • And the GOP contests for the right to challenge Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Joe Manchin, D-W.V., have become increasingly competitive.

The good news for the GOP, as mentioned above, is that it looks like Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Ohio, will now run against Sherrod Brown in Ohio, which not only gives Republicans a strong candidate in that Senate contest, but which also makes the gubernatorial race there less crowded.

But, on balance, the first few days have been tough for the GOP. As the Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman observed yesterday, “I don't think people have fully priced in how much *worse* things could get for House Republicans in the next 300 days.”

Federal government funding ends in eight days, and Dems and GOP are no closer to a resolution on DACA

That’s definitely the situation in the House, writes HuffPo’s Matt Fuller. “Republicans and Democrats appear far apart on legislation to keep the government open and address an expiring immigration program that Democrats say is a condition of their support.”

On the Republican side: “With the blessing of House GOP leadership, a group of House Republicans ― led by Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) ― introduced a bill Wednesday that they say should serve as the basis for a legislative fix to the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals immigration program, a policy President Donald Trump has begun to rescind but says he wants Congress to preserve… That bill, at least right now, is a non-starter with Democrats.”

On the Dem side: “Rather than coming closer to the Republican demands, Democrats are moving further away, with progressives suggesting that Democratic leadership shouldn’t give in on even the smallest demands, such as ending the visa lottery program. (Democrats signaled during the 2013 Senate immigration bill that they could live without the diversity visa program, but the Congressional Black Caucus is signaling concern over such a move.)”

Per NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell, things look more promising in the Senate. “Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., one of the six senators working on a deal, said Wednesday morning that they are ‘close’ to an agreement. After an afternoon meeting with a group working on the deal, Flake emerged saying they ‘are closer.’”

But as Caldwell reminds us, the House — not the Senate — has been the more problematic side when it comes to immigration.

Carrier plant lays off 215 workers

Remember President Trump’s deal a year ago to save jobs at that Carrier plant? The AP reports that Carrier is laying off more than 200 workers there.

“A new round of layoffs is taking effect this week at the Carrier Corp. factory in Indianapolis a little more than a year after President Donald Trump touted a deal that staved off the plant's closure and saved some of its jobs. About 215 people are being let go starting Thursday, leaving about 1,100 workers at the plant, according to the company. That's down from the some 1,600 factory, office and engineering jobs at the facility when Carrier announced plans in early 2016 to move production to Mexico.”

Sex scandal — involving an allegation of blackmail — rocks Missouri

“Governor Eric Greitens on Wednesday night confirmed to News 4 he had an extramarital affair, an admission a months-long News 4 investigation prompted,” St. Louis’ CBS affiliate reports. “In a recording obtained by News 4, a woman says she had a sexual encounter with Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens and that he tried to blackmail her to keep the encounter quiet.”

More: “According to the ex-husband, the recording was made just days after Greitens’ and the woman’s first sexual encounter [in 2015]. And also that Greitens took a photograph during the encounter to use as ‘blackmail’ according to the ex-husband. During his campaign and while serving in his first year in office as Missouri’s Governor, Eric Greitens has billed himself a family man. During his campaign announcement, he stated: ‘I'm Eric Greitens, I'm a Navy SEAL, native Missourian and most importantly, a proud husband and father.’”

Greitens, a Republican, was elected to office in 2016. His personal lawyer released this statement: “There was no blackmail and that claim is false. This personal matter has been addressed by the Governor and Mrs. Greitens privately years ago when it happened. The outrageous claims of improper conduct regarding these almost three-year-ago events are false."