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The Third Week of Trump's Presidency Feels Like the Third Year

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Trump returns to the White House from Florida
President Donald J. Trump returns to the White House from Florida, where he spent the weekend at his Palm Beach estate Mar-a-Lago, in Washington on Feb. 6, 2017.Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

Is this Week 3 of Trump’s presidency? Or Year 3?

Maybe the most remarkable aspect to President Trump’s first three weeks in office is how they look and feel like three years. Consider:

  • Trump’s job-approval rating is in the low 40s, according to recent Gallup and Quinnipiac polls -- territory that former Presidents Clinton, Bush 43, and Obama didn’t reach until years into their time in office.
  • The country is completely polarized, with 84% of Republicans supporting suspending immigration from “terror-prone” countries, and with 84% of Democrats opposing it, per Quinnipiac. (Independents are 40% support, 53% oppose.)
  • A court battle -- over Trump’s immigration ban -- has captivated the country.
  • And Congress is already engaged in trench warfare (see Senate Republicans silencing Elizabeth Warren).

If this is the honeymoon period, well, the couple is already sleeping in separate beds and calling their parents to complain about their spouse. This isn’t to say that things can't get better; they certainly can. But this isn’t how you want to start. Don’t miss NBC’s track of Trump’s first 100 days in office.

McConnell’s Mistake: Silencing Warren amplified her message

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is a shrewd tactician (example: his Supreme Court blockade last year against Merrick Garland). But we’re not sure if his decision to silence Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) for reading Coretta Scott King’s letter opposing Jeff Sessions from back in the 1980s was a smart play. If the goal was to keep people from reading/hearing that letter, well, that backfired. Scott King’s letter “said that Sessions, who was then U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, had used the ‘the awesome power of his office to chill the pre-exercise of the vote by black citizens,’” NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell and Frank Thorp report. If the goal was to keep Warren from repeating her message, well, that didn’t work. “I hope that everyone reads Coretta Scott King's letter because … she talks about what it meant when he was a U.S. attorney, the actions he took,” Warren told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow last night. And if the goal was to help Sessions with his Democratic colleagues, well, that didn’t go over well, either. Of course, Sessions is still on track to win confirmation today as attorney general -- simply by Republicans holding the line -- but he will begin his tenure with a lot more Americans aware of what Martin Luther King Jr’s widow said about him and his civil-rights record. Now maybe McConnell’s goal was to elevate Warren as the face of the Democratic Party (2020?). But more than anything else, last night only justified Senate Democrats to continue these talk-athons. They’ve now dominated two news cycles (DeVos, Sessions).

It also was selective enforcement of the rules

“McConnell and other Republicans said Warren violated Senate rules. The rule, No. 19, says senators cannot ‘directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator,’” Caldwell and Thorp add. “At times in the past, [Democratic leader Chuck] Schumer said in a statement released by his office, Republican senators have accused their colleagues of telling ‘a flat-out lie,’ of ‘stirring up global hysteria to score political points’ and of engaging in ‘bitter, vulgar, incoherent ramblings.’ That last one came from Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, who last may denounced Schumer's predecessor, former Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, for what he called ‘cancerous leadership’ designed to ‘protect his own sad, sorry legacy.’”

Cabinet watch

  • Secretary of State: Rex Tillerson CONFIRMED
  • Attorney General: Jeff Sessions NOMINATED
  • Treasury: Steve Mnuchin NOMINATED
  • Defense: JamesMattis CONFIRMED
  • Homeland: John Kelly CONFIRMED
  • Interior: Ryan Zinke NOMINATED
  • HHS: Tom Price NOMINATED
  • HUD: Ben Carson NOMINATED
  • Education: Betsy DeVos CONFIRMED
  • Commerce: Wilbur Ross NOMINATED
  • Transportation: Elaine Chao CONFIRMED
  • Labor: Andy Puzder NOMINATED
  • Agriculture: Sonny Perdue NOMINATED
  • Energy: Rick Perry NOMINATED
  • Veterans Affairs: David Shulkin NOMINATED
  • OMB Director: Mick Mulvaney NOMINATED
  • U.S Trade Representative: Robert Lighthizer NOMINATED
  • UN Ambassador: Nikki Haley CONFIRMED
  • Environmental Protection Agency: Scott Pruitt NOMINATED
  • Small Business Administration: Linda McMahon NOMINATED
  • CIA Director: Mike Pompeo CONFIRMED

Yemen withdraws permission for U.S. special operations in country after botched raid

As the Trump administration continues to stress that the U.S. military raid in Yemen was a success, here’s yet another story undercutting that claim. “Angry at the civilian casualties incurred last month in the first commando raid authorized by President Trump, Yemen has withdrawn permission for the United States to run Special Operations ground missions against suspected terrorist groups in the country, according to American officials,” the New York Times writes. “Grisly photographs of children apparently killed in the crossfire of a 50-minute firefight during the raid caused outrage in Yemen. A member of the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, Chief Petty Officer William Owens, was also killed in the operation.”

Trump’s Day

The president speaks to police chiefs and sheriffs at 9:00 am ET.

What were other new presidents doing on February 8?

  • As Barack Obama grapples with failed nominations and the tricky stimulus negotiations, Vice President Joe Biden tells a security conference that the White House wants to “press the reset button” with Russia.
  • George W. Bush formally sends his $1.6 trillion tax cut proposal to Congress
  • Bill Clinton creates the Office of Environmental Policy
  • George H.W. Bush continues to publicly support Defense Secretary nominee John Tower amid eroding support for the pick
  • Ronald Reagan’s team prepares a huge package of budget cuts dismantling a host of federal programs
  • Jimmy Carter holds his first formal news conference