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 'stability' and 'competence' questioned by key GOP senatorAug. 18, 201703:17
Trump more isolated after worst week yet
WASHINGTON — For a presidency that’s contained some ups and many more downs, this has been President Trump’s worst week in office — highlighted by his controversial comments about Saturday’s violence in Charlottesville. (The other weeks that come close to worst of the Trump Era were when he fired FBI Director James Comey, and when health care went down to defeat in the Senate.) Consider the events of the past six days:
- Saturday, August 12: He condemns hatred and violence “on many sides”: "We condemn in strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides." (After Trump walks away without taking questions, reporters shout, "Mr. President, do you want the support of these white nationalists?" "Do you call that terrorism, sir?" Trump doesn’t answer.)
- Monday, August 14: He amends his remarks from Saturday, pleasing many GOP lawmakers: "Racism is evil," he says from the White House. "And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans."
- Tuesday, August 15: He returns to blaming both sides for Charlottesville: "What about the alt-left? They came charging at the alt-right. Do they have any semblance of guilt?... I think there's blame on both sides." (He also says some of the white nationalists were “very fine people.” “You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.”)
- Wednesday, August 16: Business leaders withdraw from White House advisory councils, and those councils are disbanded: "It is a leader's role, in business or government, to bring people together, not tear them apart," JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon says.
- Thursday, August 17: Trump attacks fellow GOP senators (Lindsey Graham, Jeff Flake) and embraces Confederate monuments: “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,” he tweets.
- Thursday, August 17: The head of Fox News’ parent company blasts Trump: “I can’t even believe I have to write this: standing up to Nazis is essential; there are no good Nazis,” James Murdoch, CEO of 21st Century Fox, writes in a memo.
- Thursday, August 17: Prominent GOP senators rip Trump: "The president has not yet … been able to demonstrate the stability, nor some of the competence, that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful. And we need him to be successful,” says Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. "What we want to see from our president is clarity and moral authority. And that moral authority is compromised when Tuesday happened,” Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., tells Vice.
So that’s been Trump’s week, and we didn’t include his bogus (and anti-Muslim) story about General Pershing on Thursday, or strategist Steve Bannon’s “They got us” remarks on North Korea from Wednesday, or the Trump voter who writes in the New York Times: “I Voted for Trump. And I Sorely Regret It.” It’s been that kind of week…
More Confederate monuments removed as emotional debate continuesAug. 18, 201703:01
14 killed in terrorist attacks in Spain
“A major anti-terrorism operation was underway in Spain on Friday after a van plowed into crowds on Barcelona's La Rambla tourist hot spot, killing 13 people and wounding more than 100 in the worst of a wave of attacks,” per NBC News. “As security forces hunted the van's driver, who was seen escaping on foot, six people and a police officer were run down by a car in a separate attack eight hours later in Cambrils, a town south of the city. Police shot dead five of the Cambrils attackers, who were wearing fake suicide belts. One woman hit in the second attack died Friday of her injuries.”
Trump resurrects debunked myth about General Pershing after the attack
NBC’s Benjy Sarlin: “President Donald Trump appeared to cite an apocryphal story about an American general executing dozens of Muslim prisoners in the Philippines and defiling their bodies with pig blood in the wake of a deadly terror attack in Barcelona, Spain, Thursday.”
More from Sarlin: “After first condemning the attack and offering the United States' support, the president said to "study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught," an apparent reference to a debunked legend about World War I-era General John J. Pershing that Trump repeatedly recounted in his speeches on the campaign trail.”
And: “‘He took fifty bullets, and he dipped them in pig’s blood,’ Trump said at a rally in South Carolina in February 2016. ‘And he had his men load his rifles and he lined up the fifty people, and they shot 49 of those people. And the fiftieth person he said “You go back to your people and you tell them what happened.” And for 25 years there wasn’t a problem, okay?’ Historians have said this particular story about John J. Pershing, the World War I-era general, is not based on historical evidence and appears to have been spread by chain emails.”
How Confederate monuments have become an issue in Virginia’s gubernatorial race
Here’s what one of us wrote about how the issue of Confederate monuments — after the unrest and violence in Charlottesville — is playing in Virginia’s competitive gubernatorial race.
“Democratic nominee Ralph Northam, the state's lieutenant governor, backs their removal. ‘I support [the] City of Charlottesville's decision to remove the Robert E. Lee statue,’ Northam said Wednesday. ‘I believe these statutes should be taken down and moved into museums. As governor, I am going to be a vocal advocate for that approach and work with localities on this issue.’”
“And Republican nominee Ed Gillespie, who narrowly lost a bid for U.S. Senate in 2014, wants them to stay. ‘I believe that decisions about historical statues are best made at the local level, but they should stay and be placed in historical context,’ he wrote on Wednesday.”