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Trump picks politics over policy on immigration vote

by Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann /

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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

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WASHINGTON — In the immigration debate, President Trump had two options before him: 1) make a good-faith effort to reach a compromise on border security and DACA, or 2) keep immigration as a political issue for his base going into the 2018 midterms and 2020.

He chose Door No. 2, at least when it came to the legislation the Senate considered this week.

Think about it: The measure Trump insisted on — the bill by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, which contained cuts to legal immigration in addition to citizenship for DACA recipients — received just 39 of the needed 60 votes to advance; 14 Republicans voted against it. Compare that with the 52 and 54 Senate votes the bipartisan immigration bills received. What’s more, a similar Trump-backed bill in the House, by House Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte, appears to lack the votes needed to pass that chamber.

As a result, the ONLY way a bill was going to pass was if it was bipartisan and championed by the president. But what did the Trump administration do? It blasted out this press from the Department of Homeland Security about the legislation with the most bipartisan support: “SCHUMER-ROUNDS-COLLINS DESTROYS ABILITY OF DHS TO ENFORCE IMMIGRATION LAWS, CREATING A MASS AMNESTY FOR OVER 10 MILLION ILLEGAL ALIENS, INCLUDING CRIMINALS.” That’s not a statement from an administration that wants a deal.

Trump could have claimed a policy victory by accepting a bipartisan deal that provided more border security (“I got my wall — or something close to it!”) and that legislatively granted legal status/citizenship to hundreds of thousands of DREAMERs (“I did something Barack Obama couldn’t do!”).

Instead, he and his team chose to push a bill that could muster only 39 Senate votes. That’s a long way from last month’s televised bipartisan meeting on immigration, where Trump said he would rely on lawmakers to come up with a solution. "I think my positions are going to be what the people in this room come up with. I am very much reliant on the people in this room," he said. "I know most of the people on both sides. I have a lot of respect for the people on both sides. And what I approve is going to be very much reliant on what the people in this room come to me with."

But the advice that Trump is getting that he and his base NEED immigration as an issue going forward. As Vanity Fair’s Gabe Sherman reported earlier this month, those advising the president “want him to sign an extension for DACA so that immigration is a midterm election issue (the theory being that putting immigration on the ballot will mobilize the base).”

There still is another chance for bipartisan compromise in the Senate

All of that said, there still is a possibility for bipartisan compromise — even after yesterday’s bills went down to defeat. “I think it was important to demonstrate to the president and everybody else what the president was requesting and how much support it had," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said, per NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell. "I think that tells us we need to go in a different direction.”

In other words, the bipartisan group could change/tinker its legislation to make it more palatable to the White House. But it’s really hard to put the toothpaste of that DHS press release back into the tube.

"The White House's position and from DHS were just really over the top," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. told reporters, per Caldwell. "The president has the ability to lead on this issue. He’s got to take the reins back from the people in the White House who can never get to yes."

Ron Brownstein: Washington’s stalemate over immigration and guns isn’t going away

The Atlantic’s Ron Brownstein makes a smart point about both the immigration and gun-control debates: They aren’t going away, because the two parties — and their two bases — are fundamentally divided on those issues.

“On both matters, Republicans are championing primarily non-urban and predominantly white constituencies that want fewer immigrants and more access to guns. Democrats reflect a mirror-image consensus: Their voters coming from diverse urban areas usually support more immigrants and fewer guns,” Brownstein writes. “The predictability of deadlock testifies to the power of the intertwined cultural, demographic, and economic divide now separating urban and non-urban America—and how closely the nation’s partisan split follows the contours of that larger separation.”

Two Russia-related developments to keep an eye on

One, here’s NBC’s Hallie Jackson: “Steve Bannon, who served as President Donald Trump’s chief strategist, was interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller over multiple days this week, NBC News has learned from two sources familiar with the proceedings.”

And here’s CNN: “Former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates is finalizing a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller's office, indicating he's poised to cooperate in the investigation, according to sources familiar with the case. Gates has already spoken to Mueller's team about his case and has been in plea negotiations for about a month. He's had what criminal lawyers call a ‘Queen for a Day’ interview, in which a defendant answers any questions from the prosecutors' team, including about his own case and other potential criminal activity he witnessed.”

Here are the first big TV ads from Democrats in response to the GOP tax law

On Thursday, Senate Majority PAC, the Democratic Super PAC for Senate races, unveiled these two TV ads (with a price tag of $1.8 million, it said) in Indiana and Missouri:

The Indiana ad in support of Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind.: “The new tax law by Congress — it gives 83 percent of the benefits to the richest 1 percent, adding $1.5 trillion to our national debt. And to pay for it, there's a plan to cut Medicare for seniors. That's why our senator, Joe Donnelly, said no."

The Missouri ad in support of Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.: “Out-of-state billionaires coming to Missouri to attack our senator. But here's what they're not telling you: Claire McCaskill supported a middle-class tax cut. Josh Hawley? He supported the tax plan giving 83 percent of the benefits to the richest Americans and corporations, adding $1.5 trillion to our national debt. And to pay for the tax giveaway, there's a plan to cut Medicare for seniors."

The message from the two ads: The GOP tax law benefits the rich; it adds $1.5 trillion to the debt; and Republicans plan to cut Medicare to pay for it.

Romney launches his Senate bid

He's in. In an announcement video Friday morning, Romney says "I have decided to run for United States Senate because I believe I can help bring Utah’s values and Utah’s lessons to Washington. Utah is a better model for Washington than Washington is for Utah." One line that stood out to us here, by the way: "Utah welcomes legal immigrants from around the world, Washington sends immigrants a message of exclusion."

And it looks like Kevin Cramer will do the same in North Dakota

“Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota said Thursday that he intends to run for Senate against Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, setting up a tough race for the incumbent in a state President Trump won by a huge margin,” the Washington Post writes. “Cramer’s kickoff announcement is scheduled for Friday evening in Bismarck.”

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