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 — The Interior Department announced Tuesday that Florida is exempt from the Trump administration’s new move opening up offshore drilling, raising questions about whether the Trump team is playing favorites with particular states.
“President Trump has directed me to rebuild our offshore oil and gas program in a manner that supports our national energy policy and also takes into consideration the local and state voice. I support [Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s] position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver. As a result of discussion with Gov. Scott’s [sic] and his leadership, I am removing Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in a statement.
Consider that Florida — unlike coastal states like California and Virginia — is a state that Trump won in 2016 and would like to win again in 2020. Also consider that Scott is likely to be a Senate candidate this year (and would campaign on how he protected Florida’s coastline to the Trump administration’s move). And consider that President Trump owns a certain coastal property in Florida.
The question: Do California and Virginia also get the same “local and state voice” consideration to protect their coastlines? “We’d like a word in Virginia,” Gov.-elect Ralph Northam tweeted at Zinke last night. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra also tweeted Zinke: “California is also ‘unique" & our ‘coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.’… If that's your standard, we, too, should be removed from your list. Immediately.”
Exempting Florida — but not other states — appears to be the kind of transactional favoritism that many good-government observers worried about when Trump became president. Bottom line: The Trump administration has invited lawsuits if it doesn’t extend the same kind of exemption to other states that want it.
Judge’s ruling scrambles DACA fight
Speaking of lawsuits… “A federal judge on Tuesday night ordered the Trump administration to revive part of the program that protected children illegally brought to the United States by their parents from being deported, calling the administration's abrupt decision to end the program last year ‘arbitrary’ and ‘capricious,’” NBC’s Alex Johnson writes. “U.S. District Judge William Alsup issued a preliminary injunction Tuesday night in San Francisco ordering DHS to resume accepting renewal applications from people who are already protected under DACA while challenges to the September order work their way through the courts. But DHS doesn't have to accept new applications, he ruled.”
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The New York Times adds that Judge Alsup “cited several of Mr. Trump’s Twitter posts that expressed support for the program. He noted that in September, the president wrote: ‘Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really!’ Such tweets, the judge said, bolstered the idea that keeping the program going was in the public’s interest.”
Tuesday’s immigration meeting was good TV, but it made very little progress in reaching a deal on DACA
Our takeaway from yesterday’s bipartisan White House meeting on immigration was that VERY LITTLE progress was made on resolving the fate of the DACA program, especially if you buy the contention from former Homeland Security chiefs that an agreement needs to be reached THIS MONTH — in order to begin processing DACA applications before Trump’s self-imposed March 5 deadline.
Here’s NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell: “A bipartisan meeting between President Donald Trump and members of Congress on Tuesday appears to have moved negotiations forward, however slightly, on how to address the fate of undocumented immigrants under the DACA program.”
Our question: How much progress is it really to reach a deal to move negotiations forward? Especially when the clock is ticking?
If you viewed yesterday’s meeting through the prism of trying to make President Trump look in command, then you could argue yesterday was a good day, especially if you’re a Trump supporter. “Many in the media have spent the last week hyperventilating over a phony writer’s opinions, but the American people just witnessed President Trump lead arguably the most transparent, substantive policy discussion with Congress — maybe ever,” the Republican National Committee crowed. (Of course, we also remember that Blair House summit on health care that Barack Obama led in 2010.)
But if you viewed the meeting through the lens of actually reaching a deal — especially when Trump is now talking about a “bill of love” — it’s hard to see how much progress was made.
Fusion GPS founder’s testimony: FBI was already investigation Trump-Russia ties before dossier
Turning to the Russia story, NBC’s Ken Dilanian and Mike Memoli write about Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s, D-Calif., move to release the transcript of Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee. “By the time the FBI sat down in September 2016 for a full interview with the ex-British spy who had been researching Donald Trump’s Russia connections, the bureau had already received information raising concerns about possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, according to a transcript made public Tuesday.”
More: “‘They believed Chris [Steele] might be credible because they had other intelligence that indicated the same thing,’ Simpson said. ‘One of those pieces of intelligence was a human source from inside the Trump organization.’ He added that the FBI had a ‘walk-in’ whistleblower who was someone in Trump’s orbit. However, two sources close to Fusion GPS told NBC News that Simpson’s testimony inaccurately conflated what he had been told, and that the human source was actually George Papadopoulos, the Trump campaign aide who has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller.”
Democratic report: U.S. remains unprepared for future Russian election interference
Staying on the Russia front, NBC’s Mike Memoli writes, “One year after U.S. intelligence agencies detailed the scale and scope of Russian efforts to undermine the 2016 presidential elections, the United States still lacks ‘a coherent, comprehensive and coordinated approach’ to countering potential future threats from the Kremlin or elsewhere, a new Democratic congressional report finds.”
“President Donald Trump’s negligence in acknowledging and responding to the threat of continued Russian interference is among the biggest factors leaving the U.S. at risk, Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee assert in the report released Wednesday.”
Arpaio bid creates a potential headache for GOP in Arizona
Finally, the big news out of Arizona yesterday: “A mix of doubt and horror erupted online Tuesday after former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio announced that he will seek Jeff Flake's Senate seat. In 2017, Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt of court for ‘flagrant disregard’ of a federal judge’s order to halt his signature immigration round-ups. He was pardoned by President Donald Trump,” the Arizona Republic writes.
“Arpaio, 85, was sheriff for 24 years. His tenure was marred by charges of racial profiling, birtherism and cruel conditions for inmates at his Tent City. In 2016, Maricopa County voters elected Democrat and former Phoenix police sergeant Paul Penzone as sheriff.”
Yes, you can argue that an Arpaio candidacy could help establishment favorite Martha McSally, because Arpaio and Kelli Ward could split the conservative vote. But as the New York Times’ Alex Burns muses, some thought Roy Moore and Mo Brooks would help Luther Strange in Alabama. And make no mistake, Arpaio is a potential Roy Moore-like candidacy in Arizona.