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 first month in office has been anything but a fine-tuned machine
The last 24 hours perfectly summed up President Trump’s first month in office. In a 77-minute news conference Thursday to voice a series of grievances, Trump declared that his administration was running “like a fine-tuned machine,” saying: “I turn on the TV, open the newspapers and I see stories of chaos. Chaos! Yet it is the exact opposite. This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine.” Then, just a few hours later, the frontrunner to replace his ousted national security adviser declined to take the job.
Folks, that’s anything but a fine-tuned machine (though the White House did finally hire a communications director). Indeed, perhaps the best way to describe Trump’s first month is with three Cs — conflict, chaos, and constant. The conflict, of course, has involved the courts, the news media, Mexico, Nordstrom, and even Australia. The chaos? Try the travel ban, “alternative facts,” and the very slow start to Trump’s government. And constant describes how unrelenting the news and Trump’s presence has been over the past month. Sure, there have been good moments (the Gorsuch pick, the meetings with business and union leaders). And, yes, all new White Houses have their struggles. But we’ve never, ever seen a first month like this. To recap:
- Friday, Jan. 20: Trump takes the oath as the nation's 45th president.
- Saturday, Jan. 21: Speaking at the CIA, Trump mischaracterizes his past statements about the intelligence community, misstates the size of his inaugural crowd, and repeats his claim that the United States should have "kept" Iraq's oil.
- Sunday, Jan. 22: Appearing on "Meet the Press," White House counselor Kellyanne Conway says, "Our press secretary gave alternative facts" — about the size of the inaugural crowd.
- Monday, Jan. 23: In a meeting with congressional leaders, Trump repeats claim that 3-5 million "illegals" voted in the election, but there is no credible evidence from experts to back up that assertion. Trump also meets with union leaders.
- Tuesday, Jan. 24: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer responds to Trump's voter-fraud claim: "He believes what he believes."
- Wednesday, Jan. 25: Trump signs border-wall and sanctuary-city executive actions.
- Thursday, Jan. 26: Mexico's president cancels visit to meet with Trump.
- Friday, Jan. 27: Trump signs his immigration/travel ban and holds press conference with British Prime Minister May.
- Sunday, Jan. 29: Trump-ordered military raid in Yemen results in the death of one SEAL Team 6 member and the daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki. “Almost everything went wrong,” a senior military official told NBC News.
- Monday, Jan. 30: Trump fires the acting U.S. attorney general who directed Justice lawyers not to defend Trump's travel ban.
- Tuesday, Jan. 31: Trump unveils his Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch.
- Wednesday, Feb. 1: Trump administration puts Iran “on notice,” as the Washington Post reports on a testy call the president has with Australia’s prime minister.
- Thursday, Feb. 2: The Trump White House announces that the expansion of Israeli settlements “may not be helpful in achieving” Middle East peace, and that it will continue to study the issue.
- Friday, Feb. 3: A federal judge appointed by George W. Bush temporarily blocks Trump's immigration/travel ban
- Saturday, Feb. 4: Trump blasts this judge. “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!”
- Sunday, Feb: 5: 9th Circuit rejects Trump administration request to immediately restore the travel ban. In pre-Super Bowl interview, Trump appears to equate Russia's political violence under Vladimir Putin to violence in the United States.
- Monday, Feb. 6: In front of U.S. military personnel, Trump declares that the news media doesn't cover terrorist attacks.
- Wednesday, Feb. 8: Trump criticizes Nordstrom for dropping his daughter's clothing line. "My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person — always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!"
- Thursday, Feb. 9: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel unanimously refused to reinstate Trump’s travel ban, as Trump retreats on his team’s previous hesitance to recognize the “One China” policy.
- Friday, Feb. 10: Trump holds bilateral meeting and press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Abe.
- Monday, Feb. 13: National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigns — just after the Washington Post first reported that the Justice Department had informed the White House that Flynn could be subject to blackmail; Trump meets with Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau.
- Tuesday, Feb. 14: The New York Times reports that Trump’s 2016 campaign “had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials.”
- Wednesday, Feb. 15: Trump meets at White House with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, as Labor secretary pick Andy Puzder withdraws his nomination.
- Thursday, Feb. 16: Trump gives wide-ranging, combative news conference from the White House.
Trump’s presser did accomplish one thing: It moved the Russia stories off the front pages
But if yesterday’s news conference did accomplish one thing, it moved the news about Russia OFF the front pages.
- The New York Times: “Trump Delivers Heated Defense of First Month”
- The Wall Street Journal: “Trump Lets Loose Against Critics”
- The Washington Post: “Trump Defends Month in Office”
- USA Today: “Trump Assails Media, Denies Chaos”
- LA Times: “Rowdy Rebuttal”
- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Trump Defends His Work So Far”
- The Boston Globe: “Trump Hits Back at ‘Chaos’ Portrayal”
So that’s definitely good news for Team Trump, and it epitomizes Trump’s ability to distract attention. Then again, we're not so sure the Russia story is going away, especially after Trump didn’t 100 percent deny that anyone in his campaign had contact with Russia intelligence officials. He first said, “I have nothing to do with it,” and then later added, “Nobody that I know of.”
Yet you’ve got problems when these people — Paul LePage, Mitch McConnell, Mark Sanford — are complaining about your first month in office
But these other headlines — from GOP voices — aren’t necessarily good news for Trump. CNN: “Gov. Paul LePage on Trump: 'We got to tell him that the TV show's over and he's gotta move on now.’” Politico: “‘I’m a Dead Man Walking’ Mark Sanford has nothing left to lose. And he’s here to haunt Donald Trump.” The Weekly Standard: “Trump Making it ‘Harder’ on Himself Than Necessary, McConnell Says.” David Brooks: “What a Failed Trump Administration Looks Like.”
Just to emphasize how extraordinary these opinions are, we saw no such complaints from Democratic elected officials and liberal columnists during Barack Obama’s first month in office. Ditto GOP officials and conservative writers during Bush 43’s first month.
Trump’s cabinet by the numbers
Yesterday, Trump announced Alexander Acosta would be his replacement for Andy Puzder, who withdrew his nomination as Labor secretary. “Acosta served as assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division under President George W. Bush, selected by the president in August 2003. Acosta was a member of the National Labor Relations Board and also served as Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division. Most recently, he was the dean of Florida International University College of Law,” NBC’s Ali Vitali and Peter Alexander write. So here’s an updated look at Trump’s cabinet by the numbers:
- 13 of the 15 traditional cabinet selections are men (87%)
- 12 of 15 are white (80%)
- 9 of 15 are those who've never been elected officials or have run for office (60%)
- 6 of 15 are politicians or former political candidates (40%)
- 2 of 15 are women (13%)
- 1 of 15 is African American (7%)
- 1 of 15 is Asian (7%)
- 1 of 15 is Latino (7%)
- 0 are Democratic politicians (0%)
Note: These numbers are for the traditional cabinet slots, and don’t include cabinet-rank posts like EPA administrator, UN ambassador, or SBA administrator.
- Secretary of State: Rex Tillerson CONFIRMED
- Attorney General: Jeff Sessions CONFIRMED
- Treasury: Steve Mnuchin CONFIRMED
- Defense: JamesMattis CONFIRMED
- Homeland: John Kelly CONFIRMED
- Interior: Ryan Zinke NOMINATED
- HHS: Tom Price CONFIRMED
- HUD: Ben Carson NOMINATED
- Education: Betsy DeVos CONFIRMED
- Commerce: Wilbur Ross NOMINATED
- Transportation: Elaine Chao CONFIRMED
- Labor: Alexander Costa NOMINATED
- Agriculture: Sonny Perdue NOMINATED
- Energy: Rick Perry NOMINATED
- Veterans Affairs: David Shulkin CONFIRMED
- OMB Director: Mick Mulvaney CONFIRMED
- U.S Trade Representative: Robert Lighthizer NOMINATED
- UN Ambassador: Nikki Haley CONFIRMED
- Environmental Protection Agency: Scott Pruitt NOMINATED
- Small Business Administration: Linda McMahon CONFIRMED
- CIA Director: Mike Pompeo CONFIRMED
What were other presidents doing on February 17?