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Trump returns to the immigration playbook

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
by Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Andrew Rafferty /
Image: Donald Trump at Border Wall
President Donald Trump speaks during a tour as he reviews border wall prototypes on March 13, 2018 in San Diego, as Rodney Scott, the Border Patrol's San Diego sector chief, listens.Evan Vucci / AP file

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WASHINGTON — When the going gets tough for President Trump, he typically turns to the issue that he and his base care most about – immigration. And that’s probably the best way to view the president’s immigration tweetstorm over the last few days after what’s been a rough news environment for him (the spending bill he signed into law, Stormy Daniels, more administration turnover and a plunging Dow).

And you can probably bet that this will be the playbook for Trump and the GOP in the midterms – play up immigration and MS-13. After all, we saw them do it in last year’s gubernatorial race in Virginia and last month’s special congressional election in Pennsylvania, although those strategies didn’t exactly help them win.

Trump uses his bully pulpit to bully those standing in his way

And that’s maybe the best way to view Trump’s OTHER tweets over the last few days – aimed at Amazon (and the Washington Post) and other news organizations. What’s more, the tweets have tried to create alternative realities that don’t exist.

Here was Trump blasting Amazon, ostensibly because Amazon’s Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, whose coverage the president doesn’t like: “While we are on the subject, it is reported that the U.S. Post Office will lose $1.50 on average for each package it delivers for Amazon. That amounts to Billions of Dollars. The Failing N.Y. Times reports that ‘the size of the company’s lobbying staff has ballooned,’ and that... does not include the Fake Washington Post, which is used as a ‘lobbyist’ and should so REGISTER,” Trump tweeted over the weekend.

(In fact, Amazon and e-commerce companies have HELPED increase revenue for the Postal Service.)

Here’s Trump discrediting the news media and touting conservative-leaning Sinclair TV, which just happens to have a merger that’s being reviewed by the Trump administration: “So funny to watch Fake News Networks, among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with, criticize Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased. Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke,” the president tweeted yesterday.

And he added this morning: “The Fake News Networks, those that knowingly have a sick and biased AGENDA, are worried about the competition and quality of Sinclair Broadcast. The “Fakers” at CNN, NBC, ABC & CBS have done so much dishonest reporting that they should only be allowed to get awards for fiction!”

And speaking of bullying and creating alternative realities, here’s Jill McCabe, wife of fired former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, writing in the Washington Post: “Andrew’s involvement in the Clinton investigation came not only after the contributions were made to my campaign but also after the race was over. Since that news report, there have been thousands more, repeating the false allegation that there was some connection between my campaign and my husband’s role at the FBI… To have my personal reputation and integrity and those of my family attacked this way is beyond horrible. It feels awful every day. It keeps me up nights. I made the decision to run for office because I was trying to help people. Instead, it turned into something that was used to attack our family, my husband’s career and the entire FBI.”

Update on Trump’s Great Economic Experiment

A month ago, we noted that Trump – cutting taxes during a time of near full unemployment and instituting new tariffs that could potentially spark a trade war – was embarking on a great economic experiment. Well, here’s an update:

“The Chinese government hit back Monday at President Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum by acting on a threat to put tariffs as high as 25 percent on imports of 128 American-made products, including pork and seamless steel pipes,” the New York Times says.

What’s more, the Times adds, stock markets plunged yesterday. “Even after a fast start to 2018, stock markets finished the first quarter down for the year — the first quarterly decline since 2015. It suggested that a period of calm and steadily rising markets had given way to a turbulent new era with a bearish bent.”

By the way, the Dow has been up 19 percent since Trump took office. By comparison, it was up 32 percent for Barack Obama during the same time period (from inauguration to the April of his second year as president).

Roger Stone’s August 2016 email

“I dined with Julian Assange last night”: Turning to the Russia investigation, longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone has insisted he was joking about his references contacting WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange. But the Wall Street Journal has this: “In an email dated Aug. 4, 2016, Mr. Stone wrote: ‘I dined with Julian Assange last night,’ according to a copy of the message reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Mr. Stone is a longtime informal adviser to President Donald Trump who at that point had no official campaign role.”

“In an interview, Mr. Stone said the email to Mr. Nunberg was a joke and that he never communicated with Mr. Assange in 2016. 'I never dined with Assange,' he said. The email 'doesn't have any significance because I probably didn't go…there was no such meeting. It's not what you say, it's what you do. This was said in jest.'"

This would be pretty easy to fact-check: Was Stone in London in August 2016?

Embattled Esty won’t run for re-election

“Connecticut U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty said Monday she won't seek re-election amid calls for her to resign because of her handling of a sexual harassment case involving her former chief of staff,” the AP wrote yesterday. “The Democrat issued a statement saying she has determined it's in the best interest of her constituents and her family to end her time in Congress at the end of this year ‘and not seek re-election.’ Esty is in the middle of her third term.”

The Connecticut Post first reported last week on Esty’s handling of that sexual harassment case.

The Cook Political Report has moved the race from Solid Democratic to Likely Democratic, writing: “The 5th CD is the most competitive district in Connecticut. Its Cook PVI score is D+2, making it less Democratic than all but two other New England districts. In 2016, it voted for Hillary Clinton 50 percent to 46 percent, down from President Obama's eight-point margin in 2012… In light of her self-inflicted scandal, Esty's exit is probably good news for Democrats' chances of holding the seat. Connecticut's filing deadline (June 8) and primary (August 14) are relatively late, so both parties more than two months to plot their course.”

Rundown on the 2018 midterms

In case you missed them, here are some of the recent midterm developments that we’ve chronicled on our “Rundown” blog: Dem donor Tom Steyer, who has been airing TV ads calling for President Trump’s impeachment, said he’s not looking beyond the midterms… And late last week, Joe Biden said he was endorsing Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

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