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.
America’s Great Political Divide
So much happened during Donald Trump’s first weekend as president -- and we’ll break it down below -- but don’t lose sight of the biggest political storyline over the last 72 hours: America’s continued divide. In fact, you could argue that the United States today is more politically divided than it was during the brass-knuckled 2016 campaign. In his inaugural address on Friday, President Trump took aim at Washington’s political establishment (“For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost”), big cities across America (“Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones…; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives”), and globalization (“From this moment on, it’s going to be America First”). Then, 24 hours later, millions of women -- as well as some men -- protested against Trump across the country and throughout the world. It was Rural America vs. Urban America. Nationalism vs. Globalism. “American Carnage” vs. Women’s Power. And we have 1,457 days to go in Trump’s presidency.
The whoppers the White House told over the weekend
The other big storyline from over the weekend was the whoppers coming from President Trump and his White House team. Here were three:
Whopper #1: “I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth,” Trump said to the CIA on Saturday. “And they sort of made it sound like I had a feud with the intelligence community.”
In fact: Back in December, Trump’s transition team issued this statement after the Washington Post reported that the CIA concluded Russia tried to help Trump the ’16 election: "These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.” He also tweeted this: “Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?”
Whopper #2: “It looked like a million and a half people,” Trump also said to the CIA, talking about the crowd witnessing his inauguration. “Whatever it was, it was. But it went all the way back to the Washington Monument.”
In fact: There isn’t an aerial photograph showing the crowd extending to the Washington Monument.
Whopper #3: “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration -- period -- both in person and around the globe,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said on Saturday.
In fact: There is absolutely nothing to back up that claim. Photos and crowd-counting experts say the actual inaugural attendance paled in comparison to Barack Obama’s 2009 event. Nielsen ratings found Friday’s TV audience (31 million) ahead of Obama’s 2013 inaugural (21 million) -- but below Obama’s ’09 address (38 million) and Ronald Reagan’s in ’81 (42 million). And DC Metro’s ridership on Friday (571,000) was behind the 2013 inaugural’s (782,000) and 2009’s (1.1 million).
The problem with an “alternative facts” presidency
In response to the whopper that Spicer told on Saturday, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said on “Meet the Press” yesterday: “Our press secretary gave alternative facts.” All politicians and White Houses spin and tell untruths -- think of Watergate, Iran-Contra, WMD, “If you like your health-care plan, you can keep it.” But what happens when a new White House tells you the color of the sky is red? On its first weekend in office? Over the smallest of stories (crowd size)? If a White House can't even be honest on the little stuff, how much credibility does to be an arbiter on the big stuff -- like war, terrorism, or national intelligence?
Rex Tillerson’s confirmation looks like easy sailing now
Here’s another story from over the weekend, and it’s a positive one for Team Trump: “Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham said Sunday they would vote for President Donald Trump's secretary of state nominee, though they had been concerned over his Russian ties for weeks... 'Listen, this wasn't an easy call, but I believe when there's doubt, the incoming president gets the benefit of the doubt,' McCain said." The Senate Foreign Relations Committee this afternoon votes on Tillerson’s nomination. And given his support from McCain and Graham, you can expect that Foreign Relations member Marco Rubio will probably also be a ‘yes’ vote. Also, on “Meet” yesterday, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said that CIA pick Mike Pompeo would get his full confirmation vote today after Dems delayed it.
Trump Cabinet Watch
- Secretary of State: Rex Tillerson NOMINATED
- Attorney General: Jeff Sessions NOMINATED
- Treasury: Steve Mnuchin NOMINATED
- Defense: James Mattis 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 NOMINATED
- 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 NOMINATED
- Environmental Protection Agency: Scott Pruitt NOMINATED
- Small Business Administration: Linda McMahon NOMINATED
Trump’s national security adviser is under investigation?
The final noteworthy story over the weekend: “U.S. counterintelligence agents have investigated communications that President Donald Trump’s national security adviser had with Russian officials, according to people familiar with the matter,” the Wall Street Journal writes. “Michael Flynn is the first person inside the White House under Mr. Trump whose communications are known to have faced scrutiny as part of investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency and Treasury Department to determine the extent of Russian government contacts with people close to Mr. Trump. It isn’t clear when the counterintelligence inquiry began, whether it produced any incriminating evidence or if it is continuing. Mr. Flynn, a retired general who became national security adviser with Mr. Trump’s inauguration, plays a key role in setting U.S. policy toward Russia.”
Ethics lawyers sue Trump over violating Emoluments Clause
Meanwhile, here’s today’s activity: “Heavy-hitting lawyers plan to sue President Donald Trump in federal court Monday over business interests that they say put him in violation of the Constitution by receiving payments from foreign governments,” NBC’s Alex Johnson, Ari Melber, and Hallie Jackson report. “The nonprofit good-government group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, will file the suit Monday morning in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, the organization said. The suit alleges that Trump violated the Constitution the moment he was sworn in as president on Friday because he had not divested his interests in the Trump Organization — among them:
- Leases held by foreign-government-owned entities in Trump Tower in New York,
- Bookings at Trump International Hotel at the Old Post Office in Washington, D.C.
- Payments from foreign-government-owned broadcasters related to ‘The Apprentice’ and other transactions and leases at a broad array of other establishments owned or licensed by Trump. (NBC, which broadcasts ‘The Apprentice,’ severed its business ties with Trump in June 2015. Trump is continuing as an executive producer of the show.)”
Trump schedule’s for Monday
He holds a breakfast with business leaders at 9:00 am ET… he signs executive orders at 10:30 am… He lunches with Vice President Pence at noon… He meets with union leaders and workers at 3:00 pm… Trump holds a bicameral leadership reception at the White House at 5:00 pm… And he meets with House Speaker Paul Ryan at 6:00 pm ET… As for those executive orders, NBC’s Kristen Welker reports: “A White House official tells NBC News that as early as Monday, President Trump is expected to sign an executive order that will put in motion the renegotiation of NAFTA. President Trump is also expected to sign an executive order announcing his intention to withdraw from TPP, a trade agreement among 11 other Pacific Rim countries.”
What were other presidents doing on their third full day in the White House?
What else were new presidents doing on January 23rd, the third full day of their presidency?
- Barack Obama revoked the Bush-backed “Mexico City policy” a directive which essentially barred recipients of U.S. foreign aid from promoting abortion as a method of family planning.
- George W. Bush laid out his education reform plan, “No Child Left Behind.”
- The Clinton administration was entering its third day of tensions with Iraq, with U.S. warplanes targeted by antiaircraft fire in Iraq’s southern no-fly zone. Clinton was also in the midst of searching for a replacement for his withdrawn AG candidate, Zoe Baird.
- George H.W. Bush addressed the March for Life and held his first Cabinet meeting.
- Ronald Reagan was readying a push for his economic plan, and the White House was preparing to receive the freed American hostages from Iran in a matter of days.
- And Jimmy Carter taught a Sunday school class and appeared with his vice president as Walter Mondale prepared for a major diplomatic trip.