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
Trump has the opportunity for a reset. Can he seize it?
After a chaotic and controversial first month in office, President Trump’s week has the potential for a bit of a reset — a new national security adviser, a revised travel ban, even a stop this morning at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. But here’s the $64,000 question: Can Trump enjoy a no-drama week? The stakes are important, given that Congress is on recess with many of its members holding town halls across the country, and given that Trump’s approval rating stands at historic lows for a new president. This week is a big opportunity for the president and his team. Can they seize it?
The administration speaks with more than one voice
Over the last few days, key Trump administration officials have made comments that directly contradict the president on key issues, suggesting that the administration speaks with more than one voice. Consider:
- Vice President Mike Pence on Monday: "Know this: The United States will continue to hold Russia accountable, even as we search for new common ground which as you know President Trump believes can be found”
- Trump: “There are a lot of killers. We've got a lot of killers. What do you think? Our country's so innocent?" Trump said in response to Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly who remarked in an interview that “Putin’s a killer.”
ON IRAQ’S OIL
- Defense Secretary James Mattis: “We’re not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil.”
- Trump: “If we kept the oil you probably wouldn't have ISIS because that's where they made their money in the first place. So we should have kept the oil, but OK. Maybe we'll have another chance,” Trump said at the CIA in his second day as president.
ON THE AMERICAN NEWS MEDIA
- White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on NBC’s “Meet the Press”: “I can assure you he believes in the free press, the First Amendment, he loves our constitution. We just want to get this stuff back on the rails and more honest in regard to these really big accusations that are coming at us.”
- Trump: “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”
During the 2016 general election, Trump and running mate Pence often seemed to be running parallel campaigns, NBC’s Benjy Sarlin observed. But parallel campaigns are one thing; parallel governments are another.
As a reporter asked Pence yesterday at a NATO news conference, “You’ve given your assurances today here in Brussels to European leaders that the U.S. is committed to working with Europe. President Trump says very different things. He has said that the EU is a vehicle for Germany, that the UK was smart to get out of the expected other countries to follow. Who should European leaders listen to, you or President Trump?” Pence’s answer: “The United States is expressing strong support for NATO even as we challenge NATO and challenge our allies to evolve to the new and widening challenges. And further meet their responsibilities.” But can you express strong support when an administration is saying different things?
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again, Part 1
“President Donald Trump on Monday named Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster as his national security adviser, a week after Michael Flynn resigned from the post,” per NBC News. “During a news conference at his Florida resort, Trump said McMaster was ‘highly respected by everybody in the military’ and is ‘a man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience.’ Flynn resigned last Monday amid allegations that he misled Vice President Mike Pence and other senior officials about his communications with Sergey Kislyak, Russia's ambassador to the United States. Another military man who was considered a top contender for the job, retired Navy Vice Adm. Robert Harward, turned down Trump's offer last week.”
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again, Part 2
NBC’s Peter Alexander on “Today”: “This morning, new details about the White House's plan to replace its so-called ‘travel ban’ now held up in the courts. One official tells NBC, the trump administration is backing off an explicit ban of all Syrian refugees, but the new executive order will still halt travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries.”
How Trump watching a Fox News segment — and then commenting on it — created a diplomatic controversy with Sweden
The New York Times has the tick-tock. “On Friday night, Fox News aired an alarming six-minute segment in which the host, Tucker Carlson, interviewed a documentary filmmaker about a crisis of violence in Sweden ignited by the recent wave of Muslim migration... After watching the program, Mr. Trump threw a line into a speech the next day suggesting that a terrorist attack had occurred in Sweden the night before... The Swedes were flabbergasted. 'We are used to seeing the president of the U.S. as one of the most well-informed persons in the world, also well aware of the importance of what he says,' Carl Bildt, a former prime minister of Sweden, said by email on Monday. 'And then, suddenly, we see him engaging in misinformation and slander against a truly friendly country, obviously relying on sources of a quality that at best could be described as dubious.'"
More: While aides sought to clarify that Mr. Trump’s remarks were about a rising tide of crime in general, rather than any particular event or attack, the president chose to escalate. In a Twitter post on Monday, he accused American journalists of glossing over a dark and dangerous situation in Sweden. ‘Give the public a break,’ he wrote. ‘The FAKE NEWS media is trying to say that large scale immigration in Sweden is working out just beautifully. NOT!’”
CPAC drops Milo Yiannopoulos
“A major conservative conference disinvited Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos on Monday after a conservative advocacy group, Reagan Battalion, posted clips in which he appeared to defend sexual relationships between young teenagers and adults in certain circumstances,” NBC’s Benjy Sarlin writes. “‘We continue to believe that CPAC is a constructive forum for controversies and disagreements among conservatives, however there is no disagreement among our attendees on the evils of sexual abuse of children,’ American Conservative Union President Matt Schlapp, whose group organizes the Conservative Political Action Conference, said in a statement.”
Dems pick their new party chair on Saturday, and they’re happy to see the race end
President Trump speaks at CPAC on Friday, and Democrats will choose their next party chair one day later. NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald: “The Democratic National Committee will pick a new chairman in Atlanta on Saturday — the last possible weekend allowed by the party's charter, which states the election must be held "prior to March 1" following an election. The timing was intended to give party members ample time to consider their future after an unexpected loss. But the length of the race has also allowed tensions to fester between the establishment and progressive wings. And it has hobbled the national party's ability to both respond to Trump and capitalize on the unprecedented grassroots opposition to him. For Democrats on both sides of the chairmanship fight, the election cannot end soon enough.”
The president visits the National Museum of African American History and Culture at 8:30 am ET. He receives an NSC briefing at 4:00 pm ET, and then has dinner with the Vice President at 6:30 pm ET.
What were other presidents doing on February 21?