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First Read: Trump Defeats Pile Up Three Weeks In

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks to the Major County Sheriffs' Association and Major Cities Chiefs Association, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017, in Washington.Evan Vucci / AP

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

Humble Pie: Trump defeats pile up three weeks in

Every president gets humbled in office, but never as early or the way in which all of the defeats and bad news piled up Thursday for Donald Trump. Indeed, here’s what took place on Trump’s 21st day on the job:

  • A 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel unanimously refused to reinstate Trump’s travel ban, which represented the administration’s third-straight judicial setback over the executive order.
  • Trump retreated on his team’s previous refusal to recognize the “One China” policy (which maintains that the United States and other countries diplomatically recognize China and not Taiwan). “President Trump agreed, at the request of President Xi, to honor our ‘One China’ policy,” per a White House readout from Trump’s call with Xi.
  • It turns out National Security Adviser Michael Flynn DID discuss U.S. sanctions against Russia the month before Trump took office, the Washington Post writes. “The emerging details contradict public statements by incoming senior administration officials including Mike Pence, then the vice president-elect.”
  • And House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) chastised Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway for urging Fox viewers to buy Ivanka Trump products. “[W]e request that you use authority Congress granted to you under the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, as amended, to ‘recommend to the head of the officer’s or employer’s agency that appropriate disciplinary action (such as reprimand, suspension, demotion, or dismissal) be brought against the officer or employee,’” Chaffetz and Democrat Elijah Cummings wrote to the head of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics.

The problem with this humbling coming so quickly for Team Trump is that opponents now smell blood in the water — just three weeks into the presidency. And that, plus the town-hall protests across the country we saw last night, suggest some potential trouble ahead on the GOP’s top priorities (tax reform, Obamacare overhaul). Trump and the GOP can certainly turn things around; we have learned NEVER to count out Trump. But a new president doesn’t want to see these kinds of defeats — all of which could have been prevented or mitigated — this early.

Trump: “See You In Court!”

President Trump reacted to the 9th Circuit’s ruling with this tweet: “SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!” NBC’s Pete Williams reports that the administration could very well make a quick appeal — perhaps to the U.S. Supreme Court — as early as today. More on the ruling from NBC News: “‘Federal courts routinely review the constitutionality of — and even invalidate — actions taken by the executive to promote national security, and have done so even in times of conflict,’ the judges wrote. The appeals court panel also dismissed Justice Department arguments that presidential decisions about immigration policy related to national security are unreviewable. ‘There is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy,’ the judges wrote.”

2018 Watch

Will Trump continue to defy gravity? Our good friend Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report examines the early 2018 midterm landscape, and she wonders if the ways in which Trump defied political gravity in 2016 will still apply next year:

  • Trump won despite all-time high negative numbers: It’s very possible a 45% job-approval rating is the new 50%, and that Trump can still lift GOP candidates with subpar numbers. But as Walter writes, “Hillary Clinton won’t be on the ballot. It will be a referendum on Trump. The more unpopular he and/or his policies are, the harder it is for his party to succeed in 2018.”
  • An energized base was enough to overcome Trump’s shortcomings: Trump’s “all-base-all-the-time” strategy worked for him in 2016, but Walter says that early numbers suggest enthusiasm is on the Democrats’ side. “The most recent polls from CNN and Quinnipiac found 33 percent of all adults ‘strongly’ approve of the job Trump is doing as president. Yet, a larger 45 percent ‘strongly’ disapprove of the job he’s doing. That strong approve/disapprove number is one I will be watching as we get closer to 2018.”
  • Despite all the controversies, Republicans stuck with Trump: One of 2016’s lessons, we found out, was that Republicans were as unified as Democrats were — if not more so. “The more the media and Democrats attack Trump, the more likely he keeps these folks on his side. Yet, there’s no guarantee that they’ll stay there,” per Walter.
  • And Democrats, despite their demographic advantages, have a big geographical problem: “Trump may be unpopular in California, but what about Montana or Indiana or North Dakota? Those three red states are more important to Democrats midterm chances in the Senate than the big blue one.” For Democrats to succeed up and down the ballot in ’18, they can’t write off rural districts.

Recapping Trump’s first three weeks in office

  • Friday, Jan. 20: Trump takes the oath as the nation's 45th president.
  • Saturday, Jan. 21: Speaking at the CIA, Trump mischaracterizes his past statements about the intelligence community, misstates the size of his inaugural crowd, and repeats his claim that the United States should have "kept" Iraq's oil.
  • Sunday, Jan. 22: Appearing on "Meet the Press," White House counselor Kellyanne Conway says, "Our press secretary gave alternative facts" — about the size of the inaugural crowd.
  • Monday, Jan. 23: In a meeting with congressional leaders, Trump repeats claim that 3-5 million "illegals" voted in the election, but there is no credible evidence from experts to back up that assertion. Trump also meets with union leaders.
  • Tuesday, Jan. 24: Spicer responds to Trump's voter-fraud claim: "He believes what he believes."
  • Wednesday, Jan. 25: Trump signs border-wall and sanctuary-city executive actions.
  • Thursday, Jan. 26: Mexico's president cancels visit to meet with Trump.
  • Friday, Jan. 27: Trump signs his immigration/travel ban.
  • Sunday, Jan. 29: Trump-ordered military raid in Yemen results in the death of one SEAL Team 6 member and the daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki. “Almost everything went wrong,” a senior military official told NBC News.
  • Monday, Jan. 30: Trump fires the acting U.S. attorney general who directed Justice lawyers not to defend Trump's travel ban.
  • Tuesday, Jan. 31: Trump unveils his Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch.
  • Wednesday, Feb. 1: Trump administration puts Iran “on notice,” as the Washington Post reports on a testy call the president has with Australia’s prime minister.
  • Thursday, Feb. 2: The Trump White House announces that the expansion of Israeli settlements “may not be helpful in achieving” Middle East peace, and that it will continue to study the issue.
  • Friday, Feb. 3: A federal judge appointed by George W. Bush temporarily blocks Trump's immigration/travel ban
  • Saturday, Feb. 4: Trump blasts this judge. “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!”
  • Sunday, Feb: 5: 9th Circuit rejects Trump administration request to immediately restore the travel ban. In pre-Super Bowl interview, Trump appears to equate Russia's political violence under Vladimir Putin to violence in the United States.
  • Monday, Feb. 6: In front of U.S. military personnel, Trump declares that the news media doesn't cover terrorist attacks
  • Wednesday, Feb. 8: Trump criticizes Nordstrom for dropping his daughter's clothing line. "My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person — always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!"
  • Thursday, Feb. 9: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel unanimously refused to reinstate Trump’s travel ban.

Price becomes 9th member of Trump’s team to win confirmation

“Rep. Tom Price, R-Georgia, was confirmed as secretary of health and human services in a vote that took place in the wee hours of Friday morning, providing momentum for Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act,” NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell writes. “Consistent with all of President Donald Trump's Cabinet confirmations this week, Price narrowly won confirmation on a 52-47 vote.”

  • Secretary of State: Rex Tillerson CONFIRMED
  • Attorney General: Jeff Sessions CONFIRMED
  • Treasury: Steve Mnuchin NOMINATED
  • Defense: JamesMattis CONFIRMED
  • Homeland: John Kelly CONFIRMED
  • Interior: Ryan Zinke NOMINATED
  • HHS: Tom Price CONFIRMED
  • HUD: Ben Carson NOMINATED
  • Education: Betsy DeVos CONFIRMED
  • Commerce: Wilbur Ross NOMINATED
  • Transportation: Elaine Chao CONFIRMED
  • Labor: Andy Puzder NOMINATED
  • Agriculture: Sonny Perdue NOMINATED
  • Energy: Rick Perry NOMINATED
  • Veterans Affairs: David Shulkin NOMINATED
  • OMB Director: Mick Mulvaney NOMINATED
  • U.S Trade Representative: Robert Lighthizer NOMINATED
  • UN Ambassador: Nikki Haley CONFIRMED
  • Environmental Protection Agency: Scott Pruitt NOMINATED
  • Small Business Administration: Linda McMahon NOMINATED
  • CIA Director: Mike Pompeo CONFIRMED

Trump’s day

At noon ET, President Trump holds a bilateral meeting at the White House with Japanese PM Abe, and then the two hold a 1:00 pm ET press conference before they head to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago in Florida.

What were other new presidents doing on February 10?

  • Barack Obama’s Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, unveils a new plan to bail out the nation’s financial system
  • George W. Bush kicks off a week of national security and military-boosting events as he announces a proposal to raise military pay
  • Yet another of Bill Clinton’s Cabinet picks, Transportation Secretary Federico Pena, admits to owing back taxes on a household employee
  • George H.W. Bush takes his first trip to Canada, where he focuses on the issue of acid rain
  • News breaks that Ronald Reagan’s oldest son is under investigation for alleged securities violations connected to his gasohol company and an Arizona gold mine.
  • Jimmy Carter meets with HUD and Treasury employees, telling them he wants to help the nation recover from “deeply embarrassing” mistakes like the Vietnam War and Watergate