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Trump's Attacks on the Media Undermine His Credibility

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: President Donald Trump walks through the Cross Hall to the East Room to nominate Neil M. Gorsuch to take Justice Antonin Scalia's vacancy on the Supreme Court on Jan. 31 in Washington, DC.
President Donald Trump walks through the Cross Hall to the East Room to nominate Neil M. Gorsuch to take Justice Antonin Scalia's vacancy on the Supreme Court on Jan. 31 in Washington, DC. President Donald Trump nominated federal appellate judge Neil Gorsuch as his Supreme Court nominee, tilting the balance of the court back in the conservatives' favor.Brendan Smilowski / AFP - Getty Images

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

Trump’s media attack undermines his credibility

Let's recount what happened Monday. First, the president of the United States, in front of U.S. military personnel, declared that the news media doesn't cover terrorist attacks. "Radical Islamic terrorists are determined to strike our homeland, as they did on 9/11, as they did from Boston to Orlando to San Bernardino and all across Europe," President Trump said. "It's gotten to a point where it's not even being reported, and in many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn't want to report it."

Second, the White House then produced a list of 78 attacks from Sept. 2014 to Dec. 2016 to try to prove his point. It didn’t work. “A perusal of the archives revealed that NBC News covered 57 of the attacks on the list, which resulted in the deaths of 745 people — including the Paris terrorist attacks in November 2015, which killed 130 people, left more than 400 others wounded and resulted in hundreds of stories,” NBC’s Hallie Jackson, Corky Siemaszko, and Alex Johnson write.

“By contrast, the 21 attacks NBC News did not cover were smaller incidents in places like Egypt, Bosnia or Bangladesh, resulting in the deaths of just eight people, total. In a number of these incidents the suspects were described only as "unidentified" or "unidentified ISIL" operatives.”

White House: We want wall-to-wall coverage of every attack

You’re doing it wrong if you say the news media isn’t covering terrorist attacks, and the list you release to prove your point includes San Bernardino and Paris. It undermines your credibility.

A senior White House official explained the list this way: “The point here is that these terrorist attacks are so pervasive at this point that they do not spark the wall-to-wall coverage they once did. If you look back just a few years ago, any one of these attacks would have been ubiquitous in every news outlet, and now they're happening so often — at a rate of more than once every two weeks, according to the list we sent around — that networks are not devoting to each of them the same level of coverage they once did.”

So if you take the White House at its word, what it wants is wall-to-wall coverage for every knife attack and every wounding. Why do they want that? What goal does that accomplish? So the White House wants the public to feel more terrorized? To what end?

Appeals court to hear arguments over Trump’s travel ban

NBC News: “The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco will hear arguments over whether to restore the measure, which was suspended by a district judge in Washington state. The court, which has already rejected one government request to reinstate the order, scheduled oral arguments by telephone before a three-judge panel for 6 p.m. ET Tuesday.”

And this is interesting: “In its new filing, the federal government suggested a possible middle ground, giving the court a way to keep some of the executive order intact even if it sides mostly with Washington and Minnesota. Justice Department lawyers argued that the lower-court ruling focused on protecting lawful permanent U.S. residents and other nationals from the seven restricted countries ‘who were previously admitted to the United States and are either temporarily abroad or are here now and wish to travel outside this country — not aliens who are attempting to enter the country for the first time.’”

Trump’s government gets off to a very slow start

After Senate Democrats’ 24-hour talk-athon and after Vice President Pence’s history-making vote, Betsy DeVos is expected today to become just the seventh member of President Trump’s team to win confirmation. By contrast, at this same point in time in 2009, the Senate had confirmed 23 Obama nominees, according to the Partnership for Public Service.

This incredibly slow start in forming Trump’s government is due, in part, to Senate Democrats dragging their feet. (“Cabinet confirmations the slowest since George Washington,” Senate Republicans have declared.) But it is MUCH more than that. For one thing, the Partnership for Public Service says Team Trump has nominated just 35 people to 693 key positions requiring Senate confirmation (or 5%). By comparison, Team Obama had nominated 37 officials by Jan. 30. The other component here is how slowly these nominees submitted their ethics forms, which delayed the confirmation process. Add it all up, and you have an administration that hasn’t even left the gate yet to get on the runway. The Senate vote on DeVos takes place at noon ET.

Cabinet watch

  • Secretary of State: Rex Tillerson CONFIRMED
  • Attorney General: Jeff Sessions NOMINATED
  • Treasury: Steve Mnuchin NOMINATED
  • Defense: JamesMattis CONFIRMED
  • Homeland: John Kelly CONFIRMED
  • Interior: Ryan Zinke NOMINATED
  • HHS: Tom Price NOMINATED
  • HUD: Ben Carson NOMINATED
  • Education: Betsy DeVos NOMINATED
  • Commerce: Wilbur Ross NOMINATED
  • Transportation: Elaine Chao CONFIRMED
  • Labor: Andy Puzder NOMINATED
  • Agriculture: Sonny Perdue NOMINATED
  • Energy: Rick Perry NOMINATED
  • Veterans Affairs: David Shulkin NOMINATED
  • OMB Director: Mick Mulvaney NOMINATED
  • U.S Trade Representative: Robert Lighthizer NOMINATED
  • UN Ambassador: Nikki Haley CONFIRMED
  • Environmental Protection Agency: Scott Pruitt NOMINATED
  • Small Business Administration: Linda McMahon NOMINATED
  • CIA Director: Mike Pompeo CONFIRMED

The Democrats’ new normal

Here’s NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell on the Senate Democrats’ talk-athon against DeVos. “The rare all-night session is a response to a flurry of opposition to DeVos' nomination being generated by their constituents back home and a last-ditch effort to find one more vote for what is shaping up to be a razor-thin confirmation for the Michigan billionaire. Concerns over DeVos, who is a sharp critic of public schools and has personally invested in private and charter schools, have straddled political party lines.

"Two Republicans — Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — are rare defections from their party on a cabinet nomination. They announced last week that they would oppose DeVos' nomination, throwing her confirmation dangerously close to failing. Those two defections, combined with the opposition of every Democrat, leaves just 50 GOP senators supporting her, a margin which would force Vice President Mike Pence to cast the tie-breaking vote on her final confirmation, scheduled for Tuesday."

A vice president has NEVER before cast a tie-breaking vote on a cabinet nomination. While Democrats targeted the Education secretary-to-be might seem like small potatoes, they have to demonstrate to their base that they’re fighting Trump. So expect this to be the new normal for Senate Democrats.

DeVos can survive, but it’s hard to see how she thrives

As for DeVos, she can survive BARELY winning confirmation. But it’s very hard to see how she thrives as Education secretary under such circumstances. Just look back at Chuck Hagel’s tenure as Defense secretary to see how damaged a cabinet secretary can be after such a close — and contentious — vote.

What were other new presidents doing on February 7?

  • Barack Obama spends the weekend at Camp David while the Senate remains in session to debate the stimulus plan.
  • George W. Bush’s CIA Director, George Tenet, warns Congress that a terror group led by Osama bin Laden is “the most immediate and serious threat” to U.S. interests.
  • Yet another of Bill Clinton’s Cabinet nominees faces controversy when Commerce Secretary pick Ron Brown admits not paying Social Security taxes on a housekeeper
  • Regulators put George H.W. Bush’s interim savings and loan crisis plan into effect
  • Ronald Reagan signs his first piece of legislation — to raise the debt limit