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Trump Is the Fighter-in-Chief... But What About Governing?

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.
Donald Trump
In this Feb. 2, 2017, photo, President Donald Trump listens as he is introduced during the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. Two weeks into his presidency, Donald Trump has thrown Washington into a state of anxious uncertainty. Policy pronouncements sprout up from the White House in rapid succession. Some have far-reaching implications, most notably Trump's temporary refugee and immigration ban, but others disappear without explanation, including planned executive actions on cybersecurity and the president's demand for an investigation into unsubstantiated voter fraud. The day's agenda can quickly be overtaken by presidential tweets, which often start flashing on smartphones just as the nation's capital is waking up.Evan Vucci / AP

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.


As we enter Day 21 of Donald Trump’s presidency, one theme of his first three weeks on the job is how he picks fights with, well, almost anyone. Just look at the last 24 hours:

  • Trump appeared to criticize the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel hearing the dispute over his travel ban: “I don’t want to ever call a court biased, so I won’t and we haven’t had a decision yet, but courts seem to be so political and it would be so great for our justice system if they would read a statement to do what's right.”
  • He went after Nordstrom for dropping his daughter's clothing line: “My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person -- always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!”
  • He -- once again -- attacked the news media: "[The American people] have great respect and admiration for the people in this room and the people that you represent. And don't let anyone ever tell you different,” Trump told an audience of police chiefs and sheriffs. “Don't let the dishonest media try and convince you that it's different than that, because it's not.”
  • His press secretary took a shot at John McCain for calling the U.S. military raid in Yemen unsuccessful: “Anybody who undermines the success of that raid owes an apology and a disservice to the life of Chief Owens." When asked by NBC’s Kristen Welker if that was the same message to McCain, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer responded, “That’s my message to anybody who says that.”
  • And this morning, Trump went after Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) for relaying that Supreme Court pick Neil Gorsuch said Trump’s attacks on the judiciary were “disheartening” and “demoralizing”: “Sen.Richard Blumenthal, who never fought in Vietnam when he said for years he had (major lie),now misrepresents what Judge Gorsuch told him?” (In fact, per NBC’s Frank Thorp, a spokesman for Gorsuch said he did use the words “disheartening” and “demoralizing.”)

But where’s the governing?

Yet as Trump picks fights with these different entities -- Democrats, Republicans, businesses -- it’s worth reminding everyone what his administration HAS NOT accomplished. New Attorney General Jeff Sessions became just the eighth member of Trump’s team to win Senate confirmation, versus 26 for Barack Obama at this same point in time in 2009. More importantly, outside of his executive actions, Trump hasn’t made progress on his big-ticket agenda items (Obamacare repeal and replace, tax relief, paying for that border wall). By contrast, Congress passed Obama’s economic stimulus on Feb. 13, 2009, and he also signed the Lilly Ledbetter bill on Jan. 29 and SCHIP expansion on Feb. 4. George W. Bush sent his tax-cut proposal to Capitol Hill on Feb. 8, 2001. Bill Clinton gave his address on health-care reform (and named his wife’s controversial role on it) on Jan. 25, 1993. George H.W. Bush formally sent his budget to Congress on Feb. 9, 1989. And Ronald Reagan signed his first legislation -- to raise the debt limit, of all things! -- on Feb. 7, 1981. Just asking, but if Trump simply stopped tweeting, you could make a case that his approval ratings would be closer to 50% than 40%.

“There no consensus” on GOP efforts to replace Obamacare

As for the GOP efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, Politico writes that Republicans are struggling with several different health-care fixes. “Republican leaders want to get their Obamacare repeal effort back on track. There’s a big problem, though: They’re neck-deep in competing plans to replace the law. Nearly a half-dozen plans have been introduced or are coming — none with the broad support needed to get through Congress and win over the public. And that’s making it far more difficult to repeal a law the GOP has spent six years trying to kill. ‘There’s no consensus,’ said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). From my vantage point, there isn’t a consolidation around a particular thought yet.’ There’s no agreement on how much of Obamacare can be replaced through the budget reconciliation process in the Senate and only the murkiest of timelines when it comes to scrapping the law. The GOP wants to find a proposal that the whole party can get behind, but for now there are merely disparate ideas and warring factions fighting for attention.”

Gorsuch criticizing Trump’s judicial attacks is great politics -- for Gorsuch

Meanwhile, Gorsuch criticizing Trump’s judicial attacks is great politics -- for Gorsuch. NBC News: “President Donald Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court has called the president's recent criticism of the judiciary ‘disheartening’ and ‘demoralizing,’ a spokesman for the nomination confirmation team told NBC News on Wednesday.” Former Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), who has been escorting Gorsuch through the Capitol Hill process, release this statement, per NBC's Frank Thorp: "Judge Gorsuch has made it very clear in all of his discussions with senators, including Senator Blumenthal, that he could not comment on any specific cases and that judicial ethics prevent him from commenting on political matters. He has also emphasized the importance of an independent judiciary, and while he made clear that he was not referring to any specific case, he said that he finds any criticism of a judge's integrity and independence disheartening and demoralizing.”

Trump’s dig at Nordstrom could come back to haunt him

Here's Politico on Trump's anti-Nordstrom tweet yesterday: “Norm Eisen, a former Obama administration ethics czar, called the move “outrageous” on Twitter and said Nordstrom should consider suing under the California Unfair Competition Law, which forbids “any unfair” business act. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) also replied to Trump’s tweet, by “cc”ing the Office of Government Ethics. Casey’s press secretary Jacklin Rhoads said in an emailed statement that the senator ‘feels it is unethical and inappropriate for the President to lash out at a private company for refusing to enrich his family.’ Richard Painter, the former chief ethics lawyer in the Bush administration, weighed in, too, saying the tweet was ‘absolutely unacceptable.’ ‘This is misuse of public office for private gains,’ he said. ‘And it is abuse of power because the official message is clear — Nordstrom is persona non grata with the Administration.’” Just a reminder: If Democrats were in charge of Congress, you’d start having hearings on this ASAP.

Cabinet watch

  • Secretary of State: Rex Tillerson CONFIRMED
  • Attorney General: Jeff Sessions CONFIRMED
  • 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

What were other new presidents doing on February 9?

  • Obama takes his first major domestic trip to Elkhart, Indiana, to plug his economic plan, and he gives his first news conference
  • A U.S. Navy submarine collides with a Japanese fishing boat, prompting the first foreign policy challenge for George W. Bush’s new administration
  • Bill Clinton announces cuts of White House staff and pay
  • George H.W. Bush addresses a joint session of Congress and sends his “Building a Better America” budget to lawmakers
  • Aides to Ronald Reagan suggest he will seek a second term
  • Jimmy Carter meets with employees of the Labor and Commerce Departments and takes their questions