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Trump has been missing in action in the shutdown fight

by Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann /  / Updated 
Image: Trump prepares to address March for Life participants
President Donald J. Trump prepares to address March for Life participants via teleconference from the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, on Jan. 19, 2018.Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA file

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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.

WASHINGTON — In the 56 hours and counting since the federal government has been shut down, President Trump hasn’t held a public event and isn’t scheduled to have one today. He hasn’t spoken with reporters or even left the White House. And he hasn’t been a real player in the negotiations to reopen the government.

Bottom line: Trump, who campaigned for the presidency on his deal-making skills, has been missing in action.

Yes, he’s tweeted during the shutdown. “This is the One Year Anniversary of my Presidency and the Democrats wanted to give me a nice present. #DemocratShutdown,” he said on Saturday morning. “Democrats are far more concerned with Illegal Immigrants than they are with our great Military or Safety at our dangerous Southern Border,” he added. (But he’s also been watching TV, it seems. “Thank you to Brad Blakeman on @FoxNews for grading year one of my presidency with an ‘A’-and likewise to Doug Schoen for the very good grade and statements. Working hard!” he tweeted last night.)

And on “Meet the Press” Sunday, White House congressional negotiator Marc Short said the president had been on the phone over the weekend with Republicans — but not with Democrats.

TODD: Where's the president? I say this because we didn't see him yesterday. He didn't make a single public appearance...

SHORT: Well, the president has been involved. Yesterday he was speaking to Leader [Mitch] McConnell, Leader [Paul] Ryan. He also spoke to Kevin McCarthy. He also met —

TODD: Republican, Republican, Republican. No [Chuck] Schumer, no [Nancy] Pelosi.

SHORT: He met with, he met with Sen. Schumer on Friday. It's been well-publicized.

Are White House aides intentionally trying to limit Trump’s exposure and interactions with Democrats — fearful that he might make a deal with Democrats? (“Privately, some of his closest advisers admit the president is an erratic dealmaker who can unexpectedly overturn negotiations like a flimsy coffee table,” the Washington Post says.)

Or is he unable to articulate, exactly, what he wants when it comes to immigration? (“As the government shutdown continued for its second day on Sunday, one thing was clear to both sides of the negotiations to end it: The president was either unwilling or unable to articulate the immigration policy he wanted, much less understand the nuances of what it would involve,” the New York Times writes.”)

Whatever the reason, the president is missing from the debate.

With a Senate vote to reopen the government at noon ET, will Democrats trust McConnell’s 'intention' to address DACA?

Here’s the latest reporting on the shutdown from NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell, Frank Thorp and Andrew Rafferty: “The Senate adjourned Sunday night without taking a vote and without reaching a deal to reopen the government. The shutdown will last into a third day as Senate leaders agreed to hold a vote on a three-week funding bill Monday at noon.

“After a bipartisan group of senators came up with a potential path forward and floated it by Senate leaders, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky gave a ‘status update’ at just after 9 p.m. Sunday, laying out the contours of how to address the issues the Congress has yet to agree on, including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. He said that if an agreement isn't reached on a myriad of issues by the next funding deadline, Feb. 8, then it is his ‘intention’ to bring up the legislation.”

More: “McConnell's statement was enough for two Republicans, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona, to say they would support the bill. They were two of the four Republicans who helped to block the short-term funding bill on Friday, which led to the shutdown.

“Democrats set a meeting Monday morning to hear from Schumer on the specifics of what is being proposed. Many Democrats said they didn't trust McConnell to follow through on his "intention" to allow a vote on DACA, pointing to McConnell's promise to Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, during the tax debate to allow a vote on legislation to stabilize the insurance markets under the Affordable Care Act, which hasn't yet happened.”

Pence, in front of U.S. troops, blasts Democrats for shutdown

“Though it is considered unusual for the president or vice president to attack the opposition party while speaking to members of the military, [Vice President Mike] Pence took the opportunity to place the blame for the stalemate in Washington squarely on Senate Democrats,” NBC’s Andrea Mitchell and Phil McCausland report.

Pence told the troops while in the Middle East: “Despite bipartisan support for a budget resolution, a minority in the Senate has decided to play politics with military pay. But you deserve better. You and your families shouldn’t have to worry for one minute about whether you’re going to get paid as you serve in the uniform of the United States.”

In fact, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked a measure on Friday to ensure the military was paid during the shutdown.

Conservative Bill Kristol, who served as former Vice President Dan Quayle's chief of staff, commented on Pence’s remarks: “Depressing. The Vice President, visiting American troops abroad, uses them as props for a partisan political message.”

Ron Klain, who worked for Al Gore and Joe Biden, added: “I worked for two Democratic VPs; @BillKristol was CoS for VP Quayle. None of them would have given a speech like this, abroad, with troops as a prop.”

Trump’s presidential quality ratings have declined in his first year on the job

Our latest NBC/WSJ poll shows that President Trump’s job rating — which stands at 39 percent — has been fairly stable over his first year as president: His high has been 44 percent (Feb. 2017), and his low at 38 percent (Oct. 2017).

But what HAS changed are his presidential qualities. Check out this decline in the percentage of Americans giving him high marks on these characteristics:

Being direct and straightforward in communicating with the American people

  • Feb. 2017: 50 percent gave him high marks
  • Jan. 2018: 43 percent (-7)

Being firm and decisive in decision-making

  • Feb. 2017: 57 percent
  • Jan. 2018: 42 percent (-15)

Changing business as usual in Washington

  • Feb 2017: 45 percent
  • Jan. 2018: 35 percent (-10)

Being effective and getting things done

  • Feb. 2017: 46 percent
  • Jan. 2018: 36 percent (-10)

Being honest and trustworthy

  • Feb. 2017: 34 percent
  • Jan. 2017: 29 percent (-5)

Being knowledgeable and experienced enough to handle the presidency

  • Feb. 2017: 29 percent
  • Jan. 2018: 28 percent (-1)

Having the right temperament

  • Feb 2017: 18 percent
  • Jan 2018: 19 percent (+1)

NBC’s Lester Holt reports live from North Korea

NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt is reporting exclusively from North Korea, and today, he reported from Masikyrong Ski Resort, a modern ski resort about four hours outside the capital city of Pyongyang, where he was told that athletes from North and South Koreawill training for the Olympics.

“We were also invited here, I suspect, because it is not what people expect to see in North Korea – a modern ski resort, it’s got patriotic music and videos playing from the screen here, and a lot of families out enjoying themselves,” Holt reported.

Women march against Trump — again

NBC’s Kristen Welker reported on “Today” this morning: “The rallies this year marked the anniversary of President Trump’s inauguration and the first women’s match, which brought out millions world-wide. This year had the same energy — but a new focus: getting women to the polls and into office.”

Missouri Gov. Greitens says there was “no blackmail” and “no violence” in affair

“In his first interview since acknowledging an extramarital affair, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens said Saturday that there was ‘no blackmail’ and ‘no threat of violence’ by him in what he described as a months-long "consensual relationship" with his former hairdresser,” the AP writes.

“Greitens told The Associated Press that he has no plans to resign from office as a result of the affair, despite calls to step aside from several Republican and Democratic state lawmakers. ‘I'm staying. I'm staying,’ he said twice for emphasis, adding about his relationship with his wife, staff and supporters: ‘We're strong.’”

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