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Team Trump to Donors: Pull the Plug If Congress Fails Us

A report says Vice President Pence’s chief of staff pitched wealthy GOP donors to ditch the party if the GOP-led Congress can’t pass the president’s agenda.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a fundraising event in Lawrenceville, New Jersey on May 19, 2016.Eduardo Munoz Alvarez / AFP - Getty Images

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

Trump Team to donors: Pull the plug if Congress fails us

Largely lost in all the other news — the Las Vegas shooting, President Trump’s trip yesterday to Puerto Rico, his visit today to Vegas — was Politico’s report on Vice President Pence’s chief of staff pitching wealthy GOP donors to ditch the party if the GOP-led Congress can’t pass the president’s agenda.

“I’m not speaking on behalf of the president or vice president when I say this,” Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, said in an audio recording Politico obtained of the closed-door meeting. “But if I were you, I would not only stop donating, I would form a coalition of all the other major donors, and just say two things. We’re definitely not giving to you, No. 1. And No. 2, if you don’t have this done by Dec. 31, we’re going out, we’re recruiting opponents, we’re maxing out to their campaigns, and we’re funding super PACs to defeat all of you.”

Ayers added, “[I]f we’re going to be in the minority again, we might as well have a minority who are with us as opposed to the minority who helped us become a minority.”

Ayers also warned that the GOP was in for a midterm shellacking if they don’t pass the president’s agenda: “If we do what we’ve told the American people for almost a decade we’re going to do on Obamacare, and if we pass tax cuts, we’re going to have a governing majority for a very long time,” he said. “If we fail to do those two things, people who say, ‘Well we can’t lose the Senate, it’s way too favorable,’ I disagree with that. I totally disagree with that.”

And at the end of the meeting, one female attendee asked Ayers to make sure she was understanding him correctly: “Are we all willing, in order to get the tax bill passed, to contact all the people we donate money to — which is a long list — and tell them the money stops coming if they don’t get something done!”

Ayers answered, “If there’s one exception to that, that’s the RNC,” he said. “But yes.”

In our conversations with Pence World, they stress that he never criticized any congressional Republican by name, and that he was simply urging the Republican Party to take action on GOP ideas like passing tax reform by the end of the year.

But if you’re Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell or House Speaker Paul Ryan, how else do you interpret the remarks as anything less than a threat — that if Congress doesn’t act, then Team Trump is coming after you? How does this help recruit GOP candidates for the midterms? And does this endorse the view that there are two parties on the right — the Trump Party and the Republican Party?

Recapping Trump’s day in Puerto Rico

Yesterday, we wrote that Trump being the nation’s comforter-in-chief isn’t one of the president’s strengths. Well, here was his day Tuesday in Puerto Rico to inspect the damage from Hurricane Maria.

  • He said Puerto Rico should be “proud” that its death toll wasn’t as high as New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina: “Sixteen people versus in the thousands. You can be proud of all of your people, all of our people. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people.” (After Trump departed, Puerto Rico’s governor updated the death toll to 34, per NBC’s Ali Vitali.)
  • He mentioned (or joked?) about the cost of the hurricane relief: “I hate to tell you Puerto Rico but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack, because we’ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico and that’s fine. We’ve saved a lot of lives.”
  • And he tossed out paper towels to Puerto Ricans like he was taking jump shots: “While distributing food, paper towels, and batteries at the Cavalry Chapel, the president remarked, ‘There's a lot of love in this room.’”

Trump yesterday was less feel-your-pain Oprah and more a jubilant Thornton Melon from the 80s flick “Back to School.”

Trump heads to Las Vegas

And today, President Trump travels to Las Vegas, where he will meet with patients and medical professionals at 1:00 pm ET after Sunday’s deadly shooting there. At 2:50 pm ET, he visits with civilian heroes and first responders. And he departs Las Vegas at 4:10 pm ET.

If Puerto Rico has thrown the U.S. budget “a little out of whack,” what does that mean for tax reform?

By the way, if the president was indeed serious that hurricane relief in Puerto has “thrown our budget a little out of a whack,” then there’s an important question for every Republican lawmaker: Can this country afford tax cuts?

After all, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center says the current GOP tax-reform proposal will reduce federal revenues by $2.4 trillion over 10 years.

Will Trump have to fire Tillerson after the secretary of state called him a “moron”?

The scoop from NBC News: “Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was on the verge of resigning this past summer amid mounting policy disputes and clashes with the White House, according to multiple senior administration officials who were aware of the situation at the time.”

“The tensions came to a head around the time President Donald Trump delivered a politicized speech in late July to the Boy Scouts of America, an organization Tillerson once led, the officials said.”

“Just days earlier, Tillerson had openly disparaged the president, referring to him as a ‘moron,’ after a July 20 meeting at the Pentagon with members of Trump’s national security team and Cabinet officials, according to three officials familiar with the incident.”

A question: Can you be the commander-in-chief wanting to crack the whip on Iran, and have your secretary of state calling you a “moron” — even if it was months ago?

Remember that Barack Obama was forced to fire General Stanley McChrystal after his comments criticizing the Obama administration. Will Trump have to do the same with Tillerson?

With a month to go, Democrats begin playing Trump card in Virginia’s gubernatorial contest

“This week, [Democrat Ralph] Northam’s campaign released a TV ad directly tying his Republican opponent, Ed Gillespie, to Trump, whose job-approval rating in the state is stuck in the 30s and low 40s, according to polls in the race,” one of us writes.

“‘If Donald Trump is helping Virginia, I’ll work with him,’ Northam says to the camera. ‘But Donald Trump proposed cutting Virginia’s school funding, rolling back our clean air and water protections, and taking away health care from thousands of Virginians.’”

“Northam closes, ‘As a candidate for governor, I sponsored this ad because I’ve stood up to Donald Trump on all of it. Ed Gillespie refuses to stand up to him at all.’”

Murphy leads Guadagno by 14 points in New Jersey, per Monmouth poll

A Monmouth University poll released yesterday shows Democrat Phil Murphy leading Republican Kim Guadagno by 14 points in New Jersey’s gubernatorial race, 51 percent to 37 percent.

Outgoing Gov. Chris Christie’s approval rating in the poll is at 22 percent. And Trump’s approval in the state is at 33 percent.