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Republicans give Democrats some important cover on taxes, health care

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.
Image: Mick Mulvaney
Mick Mulvaney speaks during a news conference after his first day as acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in Washington on Nov. 27, 2017.Jacquelyn Martin / AP file

WASHINGTON — If you’re a vulnerable red-state Democratic senator up for re-election this year — say Joe Manchin, Heidi Heitkamp, Claire McCaskill or Jon Tester — Republicans have handed you some powerful gifts in just the last week.

There was Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., arguing that the Trump tax cuts that these red-state Democrats all voted against aren’t “massively” flowing back to average Americans: “There is still a lot of thinking on the right that if big corporations are happy, they’re going to take the money they’re saving and reinvest it in American workers,” Rubio told the Economist. “In fact, they bought back shares, a few gave out bonuses; there’s no evidence whatsoever that the money’s been massively poured back into the American worker.”

There was former Trump HHS Secretary Tom Price saying that eliminating the individual mandate — which the tax law included — will increase health-care premiums: "There are many, and I am one of them, who believes that that actually will harm the pool in the exchange market because you'll likely have individuals who are younger and healthier not participating in that market," he said. "And, consequently, that drives up the cost for other folks in that market."

And there was Trump OMB Director Mick Mulvaney suggesting that Washington’s swamp is alive and well under GOP control: "We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress," he told the American Bankers Association conference in Washington. "If you're a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn't talk to you. If you're a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you."

Even Tester, whom Trump has personally attacked for leading the campaign against failed VA secretary nominee Ronny Jackson, has received some key backup from Vice President Mike Pence and GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson. Per NBC’s Vaughn Hillyard: “A White House official confirms to NBC News … that Vice President Pence's chief of staff, Nick Ayers, went to White House chief of staff John Kelly and his deputy, Joe Hagin, with concerns raised by Pence's doctor about Ronny Jackson following the health-care treatment of Second Lady Karen Pence this fall.” And Isakson’s office told reporters that the GOP senator “doesn’t have a problem” with how the information on Jackson was handled.

So if you voted against the tax-cut law, opposed eliminating the individual mandate, tried to distance yourself from Washington’s “swamp” and had problems with Ronny Jackson, you got some important cover over the past week.

Nancy Pelosi: “I will run for speaker”

While Democrats received some important political cover on taxes and health care, Republicans got this cover from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi: “We will win. I will run for speaker. I feel confident about it. And my members do, too,” Pelosi told the Boston Globe. “It’s important that it not be five white guys at the table, no offense,” Pelosi said. “I have no intention of walking away from that table.”

As we’ve written before, Pelosi brings strengths to the table (fundraising, enforcing Dem discipline), as well as weaknesses (representing the status quo instead of change, low poll numbers). Indeed, Pelosi was most unpopular political figure/institution that our March 2018 NBC/WSJ poll measured:

  • FBI: 48 percent positive, 20 percent negative (+28)

  • Planned Parenthood: 52 percent positive, 25 percent negative (+27)

  • Robert Mueller: 28 percent positive, 19 percent (+9)

  • NRA: 37 percent positive, 40 percent negative (-3)

  • Democratic Party: 32 percent positive, 40 percent negative (-8)

  • Paul Ryan: 24 percent positive, 37 percent negative (-13)

  • Donald Trump: 37 percent positive, 52 percent negative (-15)

  • Republican Party: 30 percent positive, 45 percent negative (-15)

  • Nancy Pelosi: 21 percent positive, 43 percent negative (-22)

Bottom line: Paul Ryan has walked away, while Pelosi is staying and saying she’ll run for speaker if Democrats win back the House. And while Pelosi says it’s important not to have “five white guys at the table,” is she saying that there are no other women or minorities in the Democratic caucus who could serve as leader? Because we can name-check Reps. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., or Ben Lujan, D-N.M. as potential Dem leaders if Pelosi ever decided to step down.

How Trump’s tariffs could backfire on Republicans in 2018

“It’s like he’s microtargeting policy to screw his own supporters”: Staying with the 2018 midterms, Bloomberg’s Josh Green writes how Trump’s tariffs — and the backlash from China — could backfire on Republicans. “Farm districts such as [Iowa’s Steve] King’s put Trump in the White House and are the backbone of the GOP majorities in Congress. They’re also uniquely positioned to suffer from a trade war with China. In early April, responding to Trump’s proposed $50 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods, China announced or implemented retaliatory levies on roughly $50 billion in U.S. exports, including wheat, corn, cotton, sorghum, tobacco, and soybeans—a direct strike at the deep-red, Trump-friendly heartland.”

“It’s also a strike at the Trump voters the GOP is depending on to show up in November. According to data compiled by Bloomberg measuring which U.S. congressional districts rely most on soybeans for economic activity, far more GOP than Democratic districts will suffer, with King’s atop the list. But party affiliation alone doesn’t capture the extent to which Trump voters stand to be hurt: Of the 30 districts most reliant on soybeans, Republicans represent 25 and Democrats 5; all voted for Trump in 2016. ‘It’s like he’s microtargeting policy to screw his own supporters,’ says a frustrated GOP strategist.”

Rosenstein flexes his muscles

This is interesting — a supremely confident Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. NBC’s Pete Williams: “Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said Tuesday that the Justice Department ‘is not going to be extorted’ as some House Republicans raise the prospect of seeking his impeachment. During an appearance at the Newseum in Washington for Law Day, Rosenstein was asked about a draft of articles of impeachment prepared by Rep. Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican, and other members of the House Freedom Caucus. They have pushed for the release of internal Justice Department documents concerning some aspects of the Russian meddling investigation and the Hillary Clinton e-mail probe.”

More from Williams: “‘They can't resist even leaking their own drafts,’ Rosenstein said of the Republican lawmakers' impeachment articles, which were first obtained by the Washington Post. ‘I just don't have anything to say about documents like that that nobody has the courage to put their name on and they leak in that way.’”

Pence praises Joe Arpaio for defending “the rule of law”

At a rally in Arizona yesterday, per NBC’s Vaughn Hillyard, Vice President Mike Pence praised Arizona Senate candidate Joe Arpaio. “And I just found out when I was walking through the door that we were going to be joined by another favorite, a great friend of this president, a tireless champion of strong borders and the rule of law, who spent a lifetime in law enforcement, Sheriff Joe Arpaio. I’m honored to have you here,” Pence said.

A reminder: Arpaio was found guilty of criminal contempt for defying a judge's order to stop racially profiling Latinos. President Trump pardoned him last August.

Strikingly, conservative commentators criticized Pence’s praise for Arpaio. “Depressing,” Brit Hume tweeted.

Harold Bornstein and the danger of those close to Trump who might turn on him

Finally, we end with Trump’s former doctor — remember that guy? — who’s back in the news:

In February 2017, a top White House aide who was Trump's longtime personal bodyguard, along with the top lawyer at the Trump Organization and a third man, showed up at the office of Trump's New York doctor without notice and took all the president's medical records.The incident, which Dr. Harold Bornstein described as a "raid," took place two days after Bornstein told a newspaper that he had prescribed a hair growth medicine for the president for years.In an exclusive interview in his Park Avenue office, Bornstein told NBC News that he felt "raped, frightened and sad" when Keith Schiller and another "large man" came to his office to collect the president's records on the morning of Feb. 3, 2017. At the time, Schiller, who had long worked as Trump's bodyguard, was serving as director of Oval Office operations at the White House.[snip]During Trump's presidential campaign, Bornstein wrote a letter declaring "unequivocally" that Trump would be the healthiest president in history. He called Trump's health "astonishingly excellent." The Trump campaign released the letter in December 2015.In his recent interview, Bornstein told NBC News that the language in the letter actually came from Trump. "He wrote it himself," he said.

That's a different story than the one Bornstein told in 2016, when he said he wrote the note while a limo sent by the candidate waited outside his office.

"I think I picked up his kind of language and then just interpreted it to my own," he said.

When you make loyalty your single currency and when you’re not loyal back, you tend to end up with people who turn on you. Is this perhaps a preview of other Trump confidants?