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.
PITTSBURGH — A focus group of Pittsburgh-area voters, conducted Tuesday night by pollster Peter Hart on behalf of Emory University, revealed bipartisan disappointment in the tenor of Trump's leadership during the first seven months of his presidency.
Asked to describe the president in a single word, participants called Trump “outrageous,” “dishonest,” “disappointing” “narcissistic,” “an abject disappointment,” “unique,” “not ready to be president,” “off the scale,” “crazy,” “unbelievable” and “contemptible.”
Five of the group's 12 members voted for Trump, and each expressed concern about his failure to dislodge D.C. gridlock — plus his habit of punching down on Twitter.
“What most disappoints me is he’s such an incredibly flawed individual who has articulated so many of the values that I hold dear,” said Tony Sciullo, a Trump voter who now calls the president an “abject disappointment.” Sciullo added, “The messenger is overwhelming the message.”
“As much as I thought he would be a quick learner and delegate to top-notch individuals, he hasn’t done that,” said David Turner, another Trump voter.
“You have a job to do,” said Brian Rush, a Trump voter who said he is holding out hope that the president can turn things around. “No matter what job you have, who you are, people are going to doubt you. Understand that and keep going forward.”
“He’s not even professional, let alone presidential,” added Trump voter Christina Lees, an independent who leans towards the GOP.
Hart, who conducted the focus group, said that the overwhelming message from these voters was that Trump’s presidency has been too focused on himself and not on the concerns of the voters he was elected to represent.
“He’s supposed to be the voice of hope,” said Hart, a Democratic pollster who co-conducts the NBC/WSJ poll. “What everybody said, either directly or indirectly, was that his presidency is about him and it’s not about us.”
Trump focuses on optics — and himself — during trip to Texas
A rough lead sentence from Politico’s wrap of President Trump’s visit to Texas yesterday: “It was a presidential trip to a deluged state where the president didn’t meet a single storm victim, see an inch of rain or get near a flooded street.”
The Washington Post adds, “As rescuers continued their exhausting and heartbreaking work in southeastern Texas on Tuesday afternoon, as the rain continued to fall and a reservoir near Houston spilled over, President Trump grabbed a microphone to address hundreds of supporters who had gathered outside a firehouse near Corpus Christi and were chanting: ‘USA! USA! USA!’ ‘Thank you, everybody,” the president said, sporting one of the white ‘USA’ caps that are being sold on his campaign website for $40. ‘I just want to say: We love you. You are special. . . . What a crowd. What a turnout.’”
In fairness to Trump, logistically, he probably couldn’t meet storm victims and see the flooding. But this was always the danger of going THIS EARLY to Texas — the trip would become about optics instead of substance.
When asked by reporters afterward why Trump didn’t talk about victims, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders replied, “I think he's made very clear the priority is taking care of the people and doing whatever we can, but also letting the state and local officials take the lead in that process.”
And she mentioned that he will return to Texas. “One of the priorities the president had was making sure that his trip today didn't disrupt any of the recovery or search-and-rescue efforts. And [Saturday’s trip] will allow him to go into a part of the state that was hit really hard, and so he'll have the chance to meet with some of the evacuees as well.”
Trump turns attention to tax reform
Trump once again hits the road — this time traveling today to Springfield, Mo., where he will give a speech pitching tax reform at 2:30 pm ET. Over the weekend, he tweeted that the visit was political in nature, to go after incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill, R-Mo.
“I will also be going to a wonderful state, Missouri, that I won by a lot in '16. Dem C.M. is opposed to big tax cuts. Republican will win S!” he said on Sunday.
Roll Call has more on Trump’s tax-reform pitch: “Senior White House officials made clear Tuesday that the president is traveling to Springfield, Mo., not to talk policy — but to take his ‘optimistic’ case for simplifying the federal tax code and lowering rates for businesses and middle-class taxpayers. A senior White House official described the remarks Trump will deliver at a manufacturing facility in Springfield as a ‘why’ not a ‘how’ speech.”
A week ago, this Missouri trip probably seemed like a good idea — to seize a relatively slow news week and get out in front on tax reform. But it doesn’t feel like the right day to do politics and tax reform.
Mattis slows down Trump’s directive on transgender troops
The Military Times: “Transgender troops can continue to serve pending a study and recommendation from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, the Defense Department announced Tuesday. The DoD has received Trump’s memorandum on transgender service members and will implement the president’s policy direction, according to a prepared statement from Mattis.”
"'As directed, we will develop a study and implementation plan, which will contain the steps that will promote military readiness, lethality, and unit cohesion, with due regard for budgetary constraints and consistent with applicable law,' Mattis said."
Remember, these were Trump’s original tweets on the issue: “After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” he said. “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”
Why Trump pardoning anyone associated with the Russia probe could backfire
Our colleague Ari Melber says that Trump’s pardoning anyone associated with the Russia probe might backfire. The reason: A pardon works only for federal crimes, not local ones.
“While presidential pardons can halt the federal case, local prosecutors could then pursue any Americans suspected of aiding Russia’s election meddling. In fact, legal experts say presidential pardons could make that prospect more likely,” Melber writes.
In addition: “According to a new MSNBC legal analysis, federal pardons could open the door to local criminal investigations in several states… According to a source with knowledge of one state attorney general’s preparations, the office is already studying its potential state jurisdiction for Russia-related crimes. The source told MSNBC that state investigators typically defer to federal inquiries, but there is a perception the Russia inquiry may not turn out to be a typical situation.”