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 — Near the end of Year 1 of the Trump presidency, Steve Bannon campaigned Tuesday night for Republican Roy Moore in Alabama. And Bannon sounded exactly like Trump from 2016.
The former White House chief strategist attacked GOP critics such as Mitt Romney, who tweeted that Moore in the U.S. Senate would be a “stain” on the party and nation. "You hid behind your religion. You went to France to be a missionary while men were dying in Vietnam. Do not talk about honor and integrity," Bannon said, per NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald.
He went after Romney’s sons. "You ran for commander in chief and had five sons — not one day of service in Afghanistan or Iraq. We have 7,000 dead and 52,000 casualties, and where were the Romneys during those wars?" Bannon asked. "Judge Roy Moore has more honor and integrity in his pinky finger than your entire family.” (No mention of the fact that neither President Trump — with his five draft deferments — nor his sons served in the U.S. military.)
Despite legislative process on tax reform, Bannon continued to pick fights with GOP leaders like Mitch McConnell. "We’re going to hold you accountable, Mitch," he stated, saying real conservatives "hold you in total contempt." He added, "By the way Mitch, the tax cuts aren't going to save you."
And he dismissed the troubling allegations against Moore as “setup” by the media, Seitz-Wald writes. "If they can destroy Roy Moore, they can destroy you."
Attacks on past GOP presidential nominee’s faith. Never-ending wars with the party’s congressional leaders. Blaming the media, no matter how credible the stories and reporting are. This is today’s Republican Party.
Yes, some Republicans worried about these developments have sounded the alarm. Mitt Romney has explicitly tweeted his opposition. Sen. Jeff Flake cut a $100 check to Moore’s opponent, Democrat Doug Jones. And plenty have criticized it all by giving anonymous quotes to reporters. But here’s the thing: The Trumps-Moores-Bannons keep getting rewarded by Republican voters. Trump won the GOP nomination and then the White House. Roy Moore captured the nomination in the Alabama Senate race, and has about a 50-50 shot of becoming the state’s next senator. And Bannon keeps campaigning against the GOP establishment, who (mostly) keep on voting for Trump’s agenda.
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Even if you’re a Republican who can’t stomach the party’s direction, this is your party in Year 1 of the Trump presidency. What will look like in Year 3? Or Year 5?
How does Romney respond after last night’s personal attack by Bannon?
After Bannon’s vicious attack on Romney and his sons, how does Romney — who’s a competitive guy — respond? Does he think about potentially challenging Trump in 2020? Does he consider running for the Senate, even with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, looking like he’s gearing up for another term? Or does Romney back down?
Remember, Romney and Trump are pretty much the polar opposites of the Republican Party. And if 2020 started tomorrow, Trump would PROBABLY get a primary challenge from someone like a Romney or a Flake or a John Kasich.
Meanwhile, per NBC's Peter Alexander, Kellyanne Conway told CNN that President Trump and Mitt Romney spoke by phone last night. A source close to Romney tells Alexander that Trump called Romney in what is best described as a “courtesy call,” following Trump’s visit to Romney’s home state of Utah a day earlier.
Trump’s controversial move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital
At 1:00 pm ET, President Trump will deliver a speech recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but he will delay moving the U.S. embassy there, NBC’s Ali Vitali, Andrea Mitchell and Abigail Williams write. The move is controversial.
"The decision will 'provoke Muslims and Christians alike,' Jordan’s King Abdullah predicted, while Pope Francis urged the White House to reconsider. Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital would be an act of 'madness' that would “plunge the region and the world into a fire with no end in sight," Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said," per NBC's Alastair Jamieson and Alex Johnson. “Recognizing Jerusalem would upend decades of American policy. The United States has never endorsed Israel's claim of sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem. Since the 1979 Camp David Accords, American presidents have refused to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel or move the U.S. Embassy. The U.S. approach has been that Jerusalem's status should be negotiated between the Israelis and Palestinians.”
But it’s worth noting that this decision — like Trump’s move with the Iran nuclear deal — is more aggressive than the substance, since he’s delaying the embassy move. (By the way, what ever happened with that work on a new Iran deal?)
And it’s also worth noting that the United States previously NOT recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital hasn’t exactly brought peace to the Middle East.
Donald Trump Jr. asked Russian lawyer for info on Clinton Foundation
Donald Trump Jr. today meets with members of the House Intelligence Committee – a day after NBC’s Ken Dilanian and Natasha Lebedeva reported this story: “Donald Trump Jr. asked a Russian lawyer at the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting whether she had evidence of illegal donations to the Clinton Foundation, the lawyer told the Senate Judiciary Committee in answers to written questions obtained exclusively by NBC News.”
More: “The lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, told the committee that she didn't have any such evidence, and that she believes Trump misunderstood the nature of the meeting after receiving emails from a music promoter promising incriminating information on Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump's Democratic opponent. Once it became apparent that she did not have meaningful information about Clinton, Trump seemed to lose interest, Veselnitskaya said, and the meeting petered out.”
Federal worker morale drops at State Department, FBI
“Many federal workers are feeling better about their jobs this year, but employees at the State Department, the FBI and elsewhere in the intelligence community report lower morale than they did before the 2016 election, according to a newly released survey of government employees,” one of us writes.
“The ‘Best Places to Work in the Federal Government’ report, released Wednesday by the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, revealed that while about three-quarters of federal agencies saw increased employee engagement this year compared to 2016, the Justice Department and the FBI specifically — which have been singled out for criticism by President Donald Trump amid the Russia investigation — have experienced noteworthy drops since last year.”