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.
Trump’s complicated pitch to the Muslim World
Wanna get away? Well, President Trump is doing exactly that later this afternoon, when he departs on a weeklong trip to the Middle East and Europe. His first stop is Saudi Arabia, where he delivers a speech on Sunday to the Muslim World -- and it’s a complicated pitch given his rhetoric, both during the presidential campaign and even after. That rhetoric includes:
- “I think Islam hates us”: That’s what he told CNN in March 2016. “There’s tremendous hatred there,” he added.
- “A total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”: That was the Muslim ban Trump introduced in December 2015. That call was later revised to nations “compromised by terrorism” -- and eventually to the controversial travel ban he unveiled in his first days as president. Strikingly, Trump’s original December 2015 Mulism-ban statement has been scrubbed from his campaign’s website. But guess what the URL address still reads: “donald-J. trump-statement-on-preventing-muslim-immigration.”
- “So we should have kept [Iraq’s] oil… Maybe you’ll have another chance”: That’s what Trump told CIA employees during his second day as president, repeating what he said during the campaign. “Four years ago, I said bomb the oil and take the oil. And if we did that, [ISIS] wouldn't have the wealth they have right now,” he said during a February 2016 debate.
- “Take out” the families of ISIS members: "The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don't kid yourself. When they say they don't care about their lives, you have to take out their families," Trump told Fox in December 2015.
- "We have to maybe check ... the mosques": "We have to maybe check, respectfully, the mosques and we have to check other places because this is a problem that, if we don't solve it, it's going to eat our country alive," he said in June 2016.
Still, Saudis to give Trump a royal welcome
That rhetoric aside, the leaders of Saudi Arabia are expected to give Trump a warm embrace. “The Saudis with whom I have spoken are prepared to roll out of the red carpet for the visiting U.S. president, and he will eat up their hospitality,” the Atlantic’s Andrew Exum writes. The New York Times has more: “Saudi Arabia and its Persian Gulf allies were so angry over President Barack Obama’s Middle East policies that they appeared prepared to dismiss Mr. Trump’s remarks as campaign rhetoric, and to see in him a possibility of resetting relations.” Oh, and there’s also this: “$110 Billion Weapons Sale to Saudis Has Jared Kushner’s Personal Touch.”
Trump's affinity for Michael Flynn seems odd, Nicolle Wallace saysMay 19, 201703:37
The rest of Trump’s overseas trip
Trump departs for Saudi Arabia this afternoon, and he arrives there Saturday morning and stays there through Sunday. Trump spends Monday and Tuesday in Israel. He meets with the Pope on Wednesday. He’s in Brussels on Thursday for NATO meetings. And then he’s in Sicily, Italy for the G7 gathering on Friday.
NYT: The time Trump called Comey to see if the FBI would put out word that he wasn’t under investigation
Back in the United States, Comey is back in the news. “President Trump called the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, weeks after he took office and asked him when federal authorities were going to put out word that Mr. Trump was not personally under investigation, according to two people briefed on the call,” the New York Times reports. “Mr. Comey told the president that if he wanted to know details about the bureau’s investigations, he should not contact him directly but instead follow the proper procedures and have the White House counsel send any inquiries to the Justice Department, according to those people. After explaining to Mr. Trump how communications with the F.B.I. should work, Mr. Comey believed he had effectively drawn the line after a series of encounters he had with the president and other White House officials that he felt jeopardized the F.B.I.’s independence. At the time, Mr. Comey was overseeing the investigation into links between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia.” Meanwhile, asked yesterday if he ever urged Comey to close the investigation into Michael Flynn, Trump said, “No. No. Next question.”
Trump’s different answers on the special counsel
When Robert Mueller III was announced as the special counsel to look into the Russia investigation, President Trump released this statement APPEARING to give his consent to the move. “As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know – there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly,” Trump said in that statement. But then here’s what he said yesterday, per NBC’s Savannah Guthrie:
Q: You made a point about the special counselor, and you believe it hurts this country.TRUMP: I believe it hurts our country terribly, because it shows we're a divided, mixed-up, not-unified country. And we have very important things to be doing right now, whether it's trade deals, whether it's military, whether it's stopping nuclear -- all of the things that we discussed today. And I think this shows a very divided country. It also happens to be a pure excuse for the Democrats having lost an election that they should have easily won because of the Electoral College being slanted so much in their way. That's all this is.
But then later yesterday afternoon at his news conference with Colombia’s president, Trump said: “I respect the move, but the entire thing has been a witch hunt. And there is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign, but I can always speak for myself -- and the Russians, zero.” So what is it: Respect? Or witch hunt?
Lieberman to FBI appears to be about one thing — getting support from John McCain and Lindsey Graham
Well, it looks like former Sen. Joe Lieberman is the frontrunner to be Trump’s new FBI director, and picking Lieberman ensures Trump of this -- getting votes from Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham. After Graham said on “Meet the Press” last Sunday that the next FBI director should come from “within” the agency’s ranks and be a non-politician (neither of which apply to Lieberman), he later gave this ringing endorsement: “Liebermann would be a great choice. I talked with Joe. I think he's interested in the job. He has superior virtue. He's a guy we all of us know and respect.” And here was McCain to PBS: "Joe Lieberman has more experience than all of my Democratic colleagues combined. So screw them. And you can quote me." But as for those Democratic colleagues, don’t expect a lot of support for Lieberman.
Is Pence trying to distance himself from Trump?
NBC’s Vaughn Hillyard: “Vice President Mike Pence has been kept in the dark about former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn's alleged wrongdoing, according to a source close to the administration, who cited a potential ‘pattern’ of not informing the vice president and calling it ‘malpractice or intentional, and either are unacceptable.’” Hmmmmmm…..
Reminder: Millennials aren’t monolithic
Not surprisingly, a majority of millennial Americans — 58% — disapprove of President Trump’s job performance, according to a GenForward polling oversample of millennial voters (ages 18 to 34). But per NBC’s Renjini Antony, there’s a significant difference by race: Young African Americans disapprove of Trump by a 78%-9% margin (-69); millennial Latinos disapprove of him by 71%-15% (-56); and young Asian Americans disapprove of him by 70%-15% (-55). Yet disapproval among white millennials is 47%-34% (-13). What’s more, while young people of color overwhelmingly view the Democratic Party more favorably than the Republican Party, white millennials are more split. The GenForward poll was conducted April 14 to May 1.
Internal Northam poll has him leading Perriello by 17 points in the VA GOV primary
Finally, we mentioned Thursday the Washington Post poll showing Tom Perriello leading Ralph Northam by two points, 40%-38%, in Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial primary. But according to an internal Northam poll (conducted May 15-17), the lieutenant governor leads Perriello by 17 points, 50%-33%.