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Rick Scott's Senate run gives GOP a boost for 2018

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

by Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann /
Florida Governor Rick Scott attends a round table discussion about Zika preparedness in the Miami Beach neighborhood where the mosquito born Zika virus has been found on Aug. 26, in Miami Beach, Florida.Joe Raedle / Getty Images

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WASHINGTON — It’s been a rough last few months for Republicans when it comes to November’s midterm elections. President Trump’s job-approval rating remains stuck in the 30s and 40s; polls continue to show Democrats with the enthusiasm advantage; Pennsylvania’s new congressional map gives Democrats more House pick-up opportunities; and last month, the GOP lost a special congressional election in a district Trump won by 20 points.

But today, the GOP is getting some good news with NBC News confirming the Politico report that Republican Florida Gov. Sen. Rick Scott will challenge vulnerable Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. Scott is hosting an official announcement on Facebook Live today at 10:00 am ET, per NBC’s Ali Vitali.

Scott’s entry into Florida’s Senate contest:

  • gives the GOP another pick-up opportunity;
  • diverts precious Democratic resources, because Dems will have spend lots of money to keep Nelson competitive with the personally wealthy Scott;
  • means less money for other Democratic incumbents and challengers.

Make no mistake: 2018 is shaping up to be a rough year for the GOP, and Scott’s previous statewide wins (in 2010 and 2014) all came in good Republican years. But today’s news is a helpful shot in the arm for the GOP.

In response, Democrats are up with digital ads reminding voters of the $1.7 billion Medicare-fraud settlement against his company — see here and here.

Trump blasts Putin, Obama over chemical attack in Syria

Talk about an interesting beginning for John Bolton’s first day on the job as White House national security adviser. “Russia and the Syrian military blamed Israel for a pre-dawn missile attack Monday on an air base in Syria — a strike that came hours after a deadly suspected poison gas attack on the last remaining rebel foothold,” the AP reports. (NBC’s Ken Dilanian and Courtney Kube confirm that Israel carried out the attack, per two U.S. officials.)

Over the weekend, meanwhile, Trump blasted Russia’s Putin and former U.S. President Barack Obama over the suspected chemical attack.

“Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price...to pay.”

Trump continued, “If President Obama had crossed his stated Red Line In The Sand, the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago! Animal Assad would have been history!”

But as CNN’s Jake Tapper reminds us, Trump – back in 2013 – urged Obama NOT to attack Syria. “The only reason President Obama wants to attack Syria is to save face over his very dumb RED LINE statement. Do NOT attack Syria,fix U.S.A,”he said back then. “AGAIN, TO OUR VERY FOOLISH LEADER, DO NOT ATTACK SYRIA - IF YOU DO MANY VERY BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN & FROM THAT FIGHT THE U.S. GETS NOTHING!” he added.

Here’s the long list of Trump administration figures accused of crossing ethical lines

It was newsworthy over the weekend when a president — who vowed to drain Washington’s “swamp” and who won office in part because of his opponent’s perceived ethical shortcomings — defended his embattled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

“While Security spending was somewhat more than his predecessor, Scott Pruitt has received death threats because of his bold actions at EPA. Record clean Air & Water while saving USA Billions of Dollars. Rent was about market rate, travel expenses OK. Scott is doing a great job!” Trump tweeted.

And it was even more newsworthy that Pruitt — who has endured recent headlines for renting a condo from an energy lobbyist for $50 a night, and for high-priced official travel — is only the latest Trump figure who has been accused of crossing an ethical line, including the president himself. Consider:

  • The president, while in office, continues to promote his businesses. (Yesterday, Trump congratulated Masters champion Patrick Reed by mentioning his Doral golf course. (“Congratulations to Patrick Reed on his great and courageous MASTERS win! When Patrick had his amazing win at Doral 5 years ago, people saw his great talent, and a bright future ahead. Now he is the Masters Champion!)
  • Trump’s Mar-A-Lago resort doubled its initiation fee to $200,000 after a surge in membership applications following Trump’s presidential victory.
  • Billionaire investor Carl Icahn resigned from his role as a White House adviser amid allegations that he pushed for regulatory changes that benefited his investments.
  • White House counselor Kellyanne Conway encouraged Fox News viewers to buy Ivanka Trump’s fashion products. The White House said it “counseled” Conway afterwards.
  • Conway also was accused of violating the Hatch Act for attacking Democrat Doug Jones before Alabama’s Senate contest. The Trump White said Conway did nothing wrong.

And that’s all in the span about 14 months in office.

GOP senator: Trump needs to explain his “endgame” on tariffs

“Republican Sen. Mike Rounds on Sunday said President Donald Trump needs to explain his ‘endgame’ to the American people when it comes to imposing tariffs on goods from foreign countries and said the U.S. should ‘quit fighting with Mexico and Canada,’” NBC’s Kailani Koenig writes.

“‘I have no objections with the president, long term, trying to fix the relationships with China and holding them accountable,’ Rounds said on Sunday’s ‘Meet The Press.’ ‘Intellectual property in particular, they're stealing from us. But let’s just be clear, strategically, number one: we need other trading partners to help pick up the slack. And second of all, and this is, to me, absolutely important: I think he needs to be able to explain to the American what his endgame is. Where does he want to go? What's his final goal?”

Heidi Heitkamp is betting on small-state politics to save her seat

NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell: “On an unseasonably cold spring day this week, Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp entered a meeting with a group of foster care workers who greeted her with the kind of warm familiarity that she is hoping might help save her job. In this small state's largest city, Heitkamp found plenty of friendly faces — she hugged a former intern, reminisced with a woman whose children were delivered by the senator's physician-husband and chatted with a fan of the local radio show hosted by Heitkamp's brother.”

Caldwell adds, “Those are the kind of deep connections the first-term senator is banking on to shelter her from the coming waves of Republican attacks in what is billed as one of the most competitive races in the country.”

Meet the Press presents “The Lid”

Starting today, be sure to check out our afternoon/evening flash news briefing – The Lid. Whether it’s news about politics, election data, our industry-leading polls, Chuck Todd and the NBC News Political Unit run down the most important stories from Washington every weekday evening to help you make sense of it all.

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