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Trump Has Less Than a Mandate — and That Means a Short Leash

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: President-elect Donald Trump
President-elect Donald Trump speaks at a rally on Dec. 17, 2016, in Mobile, Alabama.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.

Less than a mandate...

The good news for Donald Trump a month after his presidential victory: 50% of Americans approve of the way he’s handling his transition and preparations for becoming president, while 41% disapprove, according to a new NBC/WSJ poll. That’s a higher approval/favorable number than he ever received during the campaign. But here’s the bad news: Trump’s 50%-to-41% score significantly trails Barack Obama’s 71%-14% at this same point in time, or Bill Clinton’s 73%-13%. (The NBC/WSJ poll never measured George W. Bush’s transition approval in Dec. 2000, because the Florida recount was still going on when that poll was released.)

So this honeymoon phase is as good as it gets for a president-in-waiting, and President-Elect Donald Trump is facing a divided country. What’s more, as the Electoral College meets today (more on that below), Trump’s 306-vs.-232 electoral votes ranks 46th out of 58 elections, and him losing the popular vote by 2.1 percentage points is 47th out of the last 49 elections, per the New York Times.

...Which means a shorter initial leash with the American public

Republicans now control the White House, the Senate, and the House — the first time they will hold all three since the Bush years. And they will use that power to make sweeping policy changes (the same NBC/WSJ poll finds 68% of Americans believing that Trump’s presidency will change the way things are done in government). But Trump and the GOP also have a shorter initial leash — at least in terms of public opinion — than any other victorious party in modern times, according to our poll.

Don’t expect a lot of drama (or much change) when the Electoral College meets today

The 538 electors from the presidential race will officially meet today in their states to vote for president and vice president — and send those results to the U.S. Senate, to secretaries of state in each state, and to the National Archives. Those electors are chosen by the candidate winning a state (or the District of Columbia) in the November 8 presidential contest. (Remember, when someone votes for a candidate, they’re actually voting for that candidate’s slate of electors.)

So despite the pleas from some liberals out there, will Trump be denied the 270 electoral votes he needs for the presidency? Don’t bet on it. In NBC’s final count, Donald Trump enjoyed a 306-232 lead over Hillary Clinton. So he would have to suffer 37 defections to fall below the 270 electoral votes needed for the presidency. And it’s highly UNLIKELY that you’ll see more than a handful of defections. “The electors are mostly people connected to the political party leadership in their states,” Richard Pildes, a professor of constitutional law at New York University School of Law told “So if you try to picture how this might happen, it would have to be the party leadership in some group of states that is convinced to abandon Trump." And if even Trump falls below 270 electoral votes, the fate of the presidential contest then will be determined by the U.S. House of Representatives — which is controlled by the GOP.

More from the NBC/WSJ poll: 55% concerned about Russia’s interference in election

More than half of Americans say they are significantly bothered by the news that hackers working in connection with a foreign government were involved in trying to influence November’s presidential election, according to our NBC/WSJ poll. In the survey, 43% of respondents say they are bothered a “great deal” about the interference, while an additional 12% were bothered “quite a bit.” By contrast, 23% of Americans say they aren’t bothered at all by the news, 8% said “very little” and another 10% said “just some.” But there’s a notable partisan divide on this question: A combined 86% of Democrats are bothered a great deal/quite a bit by the interference, versus just 29% of Republican respondents who say this; 49% of independents say they are bothered either a great deal or quite a bit.

But just 37% believe Russia’s actions helped Trump win the election

Despite more than half of Americans being concerned about Russia’s interference, just 37% believe the actions helped President-elect Donald Trump win the presidential contest, while 57% say it didn’t make a difference. The NBC/WSJ poll also finds 31%of Americans believing that Trump’s relationship with Russia’s Putin is too friendly and not appropriate, versus 24% who don’t believe it’s too friendly; 44% have no opinion. Once again, there’s a striking partisan divide: 61% of Democrats say Trump is too friendly with Putin, compared with just 8% of Republicans who believe that. “There’s just an overwhelming partisan filter to the responses,” says Republican pollster Bill McInturff, whose firm co-conducted the NBC/WSJ poll with the Democrats from Hart Research Associates. The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted Dec. 12-15 of 1,000 adults — including nearly half of them by cell phone — and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points. The rest of the NBC/WSJ poll comes out later today.

Podesta says the FBI contacted him only once -- two days AFTER WikiLeaks released his emails

Don’t miss this exchange from “Meet the Press” yesterday:

JOHN PODESTA: I will share this with you, Chuck. The first time I was contacted by the F.B.I. was two days after WikiLeaks started dropping my emails.CHUCK TODD: But let me pause here.PODESTA: The first—TODD: Two days after?PODESTA: Two days after. So October 7th, let's go through the chronology. On October 7th, the Access Hollywood tape comes out. One hour later, WikiLeaks starts dropping my emails into the public. One could say that those things might not have been a coincidence. Two days later, the F.B.I. contacted me, and the first thing the agent said to me was, "I don't know if you're aware, but your email account might have been hacked."TODD: When did you know?PODESTA: Yeah, I said, "Yes, I was aware of that."[snip]TODD: October 9th is the last time you have heard from the F.B.I. at all?PODESTA: Yes.

For the rest of what you might have missed on “Meet,” be sure to check out comPRESSed.

How the bluest state became the reddest

NBC's Dante Chinni and Matt Rivera: “The American political landscape has changed a lot over the past 25 years but there is no more dramatic shift than the one that has pushed this state from deep blue to ruby red. In the 1992 presidential election, Democrat Bill Clinton won West Virginia by a solid 13 percentage points. In November, Republican President-elect Donald Trump captured the state in a walk — winning it by more than 40 percentage points. The forces behind that turnaround are complex. The decline of the coal industry and the changing demographics of the political parties explain part of it. But underneath that are the peaks and valleys of the Appalachian Mountains that make West Virginia what it is: picturesque, resource-rich and remote.”

McCrory signs legislation limiting successor's powers

"Outgoing North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory has signed a measure limiting the powers of his soon-to-be Democratic successor, Roy Cooper, a move critics are calling an unprecedented power grab orchestrated by the state's Republican-controlled legislature," per NBC News. "The bill McCrory signed on Friday merges the State Board of Elections and State Ethics Commission into one entity comprised equally of Democrats and Republicans. Previous state law would have allowed Cooper to put a majority of Democrats on the board, which sets the rules for the state's notoriously burdensome balloting. The measure also makes elections for appellate court judgeships partisan by requiring candidates to be listed on the ballot alongside their political party. Cooper said Friday he will challenge the move and has threatened to sue the legislature."

Cabinet Watch

  • Secretary of State: Rex Tillerson OFFERED
  • Attorney General: Jeff Sessions OFFERED
  • Treasury: Steve Mnuchin OFFERED
  • Defense: JamesMattis OFFERED
  • Homeland: John Kelly OFFERED
  • Interior: Ryan Zinke OFFERED
  • HHS: Tom Price OFFERED
  • HUD: Ben Carson OFFERED
  • Education: Betsy DeVos OFFERED
  • Commerce: Wilbur Ross OFFERED
  • Transportation: Elaine Chao OFFERED
  • Labor: Andy Puzder OFFERED
  • Agriculture: Sid Miller, Heidi Heitkamp
  • Energy: Rick Perry OFFERED
  • Veterans Affairs: Scott Brown, Jeff Miller, Adm. Michelle Howard
  • OMB Director: Mick Mulvaney OFFERED
  • CIA Director: Mike PompeoOFFERED
  • UN Ambassador: Nikki Haley OFFERED
  • Environmental Protection Agency: Scott Pruitt OFFERED
  • National Security Adviser: Michael Flynn OFFERED
  • Small Business Administration: Linda McMahon OFFERED
  • RNC Chair: Ronna Romney McDaniel OFFERED