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 — Over the last 24 hours, something has felt different in the debate over guns — with President Trump, GOP lawmakers and the NRA playing defense after last week’s Parkland shooting, and with teenage students leading the charge.
“How did we not stop this after Columbine? After Sandy Hook?” Parkland survivor Sam Zeif asked President Trump at the White House yesterday, per NBC’s Ali Vitali.
“Sen. Rubio, can you tell me right now, that you will not accept a single donation from the NRA in the future?" asked Parkland student Cameron Kasky at last night's CNN forum.
But here’s an important reality check in this debate: Conor Lamb, the Democrat running in next month’s congressional special election in Pennsylvania, a district that Trump won by 20 points in 2016, isn’t grabbing the gun-control flag.
In addition to agreeing with Republican opponent Rick Saccone on the issue of guns at a recent debate, Lamb last week said new gun laws weren’t needed to prevent mass shootings like the one in Florida. “I believe we have a pretty good law on the books and it says on paper that there are a lot of people who should never get guns in their hands,” Lamb said, per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “And we know that the background check system is not achieving that result. What I think it's going to take is people in Congress who are willing to do more than just talk, who are willing to actually work together and stay late, if it requires that, and do some things that would really produce change.”
Lamb added, “I'd be willing to look at proposals that would strengthen our background check system, but I want to start where the broad agreement already is, and the broad agreement already is that we're not doing a good enough job keeping guns out of the hands of people with mental health conditions and with criminals.”
Now, politicians are often lagging indicators when it comes to changing politics; after all, candidates for office typically are in the rear of new fights over policy. But until candidates like Lamb are COMFORTABLE running on gun restrictions in these kinds of districts, it’s hard to see how the overall politics concerning guns changes.
As we wrote last week, until a politician LOSES a general election race because he or she is considered too pro-gun, this won’t be different from past gun debates. Maybe we see that happen in this November’s Senate and gubernatorial contests in Florida. But we aren’t seeing it right now in PA-18.
Trump proposes giving guns to “adept” teachers
At yesterday’s listening session on gun violence and school safety, President Trump expressed “support for arming school officials and teachers and backing ending gun-free zones, which he said are a sign to shooters that says, ‘Let's go in and let's attack because bullets aren't coming back at us,’” NBC’s Ali Vitali writes. “The president conceded that concealed carry ‘only works’ with people who are ‘very adept at using firearms’ but said that if one of the ‘brave’ coaches in Parkland who tried to stop the shooter had had a gun, he could have shot the shooter instead of running at him.”
On Twitter this morning, Trump tried to clarify his position: “I never said ‘give teachers guns’ like was stated on Fake News @CNN & @NBC. What I said was to look at the possibility of giving ‘concealed guns to gun adept teachers with military or special training experience - only the best. 20% of teachers, a lot, would now be able to … immediately fire back if a savage sicko came to a school with bad intentions. Highly trained teachers would also serve as a deterrent to the cowards that do this. Far more assets at much less cost than guards. A “gun free” school is a magnet for bad people. ATTACKS WOULD END!”
Also on Twitter, Trump said he would “strongly” push for comprehensive background checks (with an emphasis on mental health), raising the age of purchase to 21, and ending the sale of “bump stocks.”
The question we asked yesterday: Is Trump still pushing for this by next week, and does he send legislation to Congress?
How Trump and Trumpism have taken over CPAC
We’re now more than a year into Donald Trump’s presidency, and if you want to see his imprint he’s made so far on the GOP and the conservative movement, just look at the speaking lineup of this year’s CPAC conference, which begins today just outside of Washington, D.C.
10:35 am ET: Vice President Pence
11:35 am ET: Marion Marechal-Le Pen (niece of France’s far-right leader Marine Le Pen)
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12:30 pm ET: White House Counsel Don McGahn
1:55 pm ET: Ted Cruz
2:15 pm ET: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Labor Secretary Alex Acosta
8:35 am ET: Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke
8:55 am ET: Laura Ingraham
9:25 am ET: Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan
10:05 am ET: President Trump
11:15 am ET: Sheriff David Clarke
11:55 am ET: White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and Small Business Administrator Linda McMahon
1:35 am ET: RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel
3:35 pm ET: Nigel Farage
7:00 pm ET: Fox’s Jeanine Pirro
9:40 am ET: Sebastian Gorka
3:35 pm ET: Devin Nunes
Conservative writer Matt Lewis: “[T]he organizers of CPAC apparently searched the four corners of the globe to assemble a ‘legion of doom’-style roster—a collection of some of the worst ‘conservative’ supervillains who generally share a populist, ethno-nationalist brand of politics (and some, I assume, are good people). Of course, it’s not just Le Pen. The lineup is a veritable murderer’s row of nationalists, including UKIP leader Nigel Farage, Jeanine Pirro, and Seb Gorka—and a panel titled: ‘Kim Jong Un-iversity: How College Campuses are Turning into Reeducation Camps.’”
Lewis asks, “Where are Sen. Ben Sasse and American Enterprise Institute head Arthur Brooks? Or, for that matter, where’s Jonah Goldberg?”
By the way, CPAC organizer Matt Schlapp said the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre will be speaking at CPAC, even though LaPierre wasn’t included on the public list of speakers.
Bernie Sanders cleans up his comment on Russian interference
In an interview Wednesday with Vermont Public Radio, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., criticized Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. But he also said this: "I did not know that Russian bots were promoting my campaign… I would say that the real question to be asked is: What was the Clinton campaign [doing about Russian interference] — they had more information about this than we had."
After those comments raised eyebrows online, Sanders released a statement to clean up the mess: “Russian interference in both the 2016 primary and general election is unacceptable and everything possible must be done to ensure it does not happen again. No candidate, whether Secretary Clinton or anyone else, should have to wage an electoral contest in the face of foreign government intervention. The same is true of other kinds of interference the Russians engaged in, including posing as supporters of the social justice movement Black Lives Matter or members of the American Muslim community. Let there be no confusion about my view. What the Russians did in the 2016 election cycle deserves unconditional condemnation.”
But there’s a reason why Sanders is sensitive here: Robert Mueller’s finding that Russian interference SUPPORTED Sanders over Clinton in 2016 could be highly problematic in a 2020 Democratic primary.
Between guns and Russia, the last seven days haven’t been a good week for Sanders.
“Chain migration” for me — but not for thee
Speaking of raising eyebrows, don’t miss this Washington Post piece: “The parents of first lady Melania Trump have become legal permanent residents of the United States and are close to obtaining their citizenship, according to people familiar with their status, but their attorney declined to say how or when the couple gained their green cards. Immigration experts said Viktor and Amalija Knavs very likely relied on a family reunification process that President Trump has derided as ‘chain migration’ and proposed ending in such cases.”
“Questions over the Knavses’ immigration status have escalated since Trump campaigned for the White House on a hard-line anti-immigration agenda. Those questions grew sharper last month, when the president proposed ending the decades-long ability of U.S. citizens to sponsor their parents and siblings for legal residency in the United States... Under [Trump's] plan, he said, only spouses and minor children could be sponsored for legal residency.”
But Melania Trump’s parents aren’t spouses or minor children. Per NBC's Hallie Jackson, first lady spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham had no comment on the Washington Post’s story, noting that Melania Trump’s parents are private citizens and not part of the administration.
Mueller probe is inquiring whether Manafort promised a banker a White House job in return for loans
The latest reporting in the Russia investigation, per NBC’s Tom Winter, Hallie Jackson and Kenzi Abou-Sabe: “Federal investigators are probing whether former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort promised a Chicago banker a job in the Trump White House in return for $16 million in home loans, two people with direct knowledge of the matter told NBC News. Manafort received three separate loans in December 2016 and January 2017 from Federal Savings Bank for homes in New York City, Virginia and the Hamptons. The banker, Stephen Calk, president of the Federal Savings Bank, was announced as a member of candidate Trump's Council of Economic Advisers in August 2016. Special counsel Robert Mueller's team is now investigating whether there was a quid pro quo agreement between Manafort and Calk.”
The RNC is paying Trump’s former bodyguard $15,000 a month
And there’s this report from CNBC’s Christina Wilkie: “When President Donald Trump's longtime bodyguard Keith Schiller decided to leave his White House job last fall, many in the West Wing wondered how the president would manage without his personal security chief-turned-confidant, who had been working for Trump nearly 20 years. As it turns out, Schiller didn't go very far. Within weeks of leaving his job as director of Oval Office operations, Schiller's private security firm, KS Global Group, began collecting $15,000 a month for ‘security services’ from the Republican National Committee.”