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 carries a weak hand into Putin meeting
Every time President Trump downplays Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, or fires off a tweet that appears to blame former Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta for the DNC hacking, it only weakens the hand he plays heading into his meeting with Russia President Vladimir Putin. Why? Because it suggests that his interests are aligned with Putin’s — especially when it comes to Russia’s intervention in the ’16 election.
"He's got to go in there with a very strong message and say, 'We know what you did last summer. We're not going to take it anymore. It was unwelcome and you better cut it out,” NBC national security analyst Jeremy Bash said on “Today” this morning. "If he wants to win Putin's respect, he has to be tough with him,” added Michael McFaul, who served as Barack Obama’s ambassador to Russia.
And the New York Times reports that Russia seems to have already out-prepared the United States for today’s meeting. “On the American side, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, said last week that there was ‘no specific agenda — it’s really going to be whatever the president wants to talk about.’ In contrast, Mr. Putin will surely show up with finely honed talking points aimed at forging closer cooperation and reaffirming Russia’s old Soviet role as the equal of the United States in umpiring global affairs.”
By the way, McFaul made the smart point on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that there will be no note-taker in the room, given that the only participants will be the principals (Trump, Putin), their foreign ministers (Tillerson, Lavrov), and translators for each side.
Garry Kasparov: Trump is 'definitely playing into Putin’s hands'
The dispatch from NBC’s Richard Engel: “For President Trump, meeting President Putin may be a way to thumb his nose at critics — to show he's NOT scared of the multiple investigations into his inner circle's ties to the Kremlin. But for Russians who've tried to stand up to Putin, Trump is being played — has been from the start,” Engel reports. “He's definitely playing into Putin's hands,” says Garry Kasparov, a Putin critic and iconic Russian chess master. “Putin's a dictator, and dictators by definition don't play chess, so that's why I believe I have to defend the integrity of my game… I would rather say he's playing a poker game… He's a, he's a poker player, he's a card player, he's a gambler.” By the way, Engel will be borrowing MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow’s 9:00 pm ET timeslot on Fridays for the next month, and Engel’s first edition will focus on Putin.
Senate GOP’s repeal-and-replace efforts had a rough Thursday
With Congress on recess, New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait notes that Senate GOP efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare had a bad day Thursday. First was the news that conservative Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, won’t vote for the Republican bill unless it allows insurers to sell plans that don’t comply with Affordable Care Act rules like Essential Health Benefits. That’s problematic, because making the legislation more conservative hurts support with the handful of GOP moderates/pragmatists. Then came Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, telling town-hall attendees that the Senate needs a bipartisan solution. “It’s worthy of a national debate that includes legislative hearings,” Moran said, per the Washington Post. “It needs to be less politics and more policy.” Remember, Moran isn’t some swing vote here. And third was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying the Senate might need to find a bipartisan fix to Obamacare. “If my side is unable to agree on an adequate replacement, then some kind of action with regard to private health insurance markets must occur,” McConnell said, according to NBC’s Kasie Hunt.
NBC’s Whip Count
Eight Republicans say they are opposed to the current Senate health-care legislation: Remember, they can afford to lose just Republicans, assuming all Democrats are opposed.
- Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
- Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas
- Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah
- Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.
- Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine
- Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio
- Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V.
- Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan.
Federal government’s ethics director resigns
NBC’s Andrew Rafferty: “The head of the federal agency charged with overseeing government ethics announced Thursday he is resigning nearly six months before his term is set to expire. Walter Shaub Jr., the director of the independent Office of Government Ethics, tweeted the resignation letter he sent to President Donald Trump, announcing his last day on the job would be July 19. Shaub’s agency is charged with enforcing the often murky ethics laws in the era of Trump. He clashed with Trump and his advisers over issues ranging from how Trump has handled his business dealings as president to the way the Trump transition was handled and the promotion of Trump businesses from White House staff. ‘The White House accepts Mr. Shaub’s resignation and appreciates his service. The President will be nominating a successor in short order,’ a White House official said in a statement.”