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
WASHINGTON — For a White House already defined by chaos, disorganization and policy reversals, this has been a particularly turbulent week in Donald Trump’s presidency. To recap:
- Communications Director Hope Hicks is leaving the White House, while National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster is expected to be replaced by early next month, per MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace.
- Trump — again — attacked his attorney general, tweeting: “Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse. Will take forever… DISGRACEFUL!"
- The president announced new tariffs on steel and aluminum, later saying that “trade wars are good and easy to win.”
- Son-in-law and top adviser Jared Kushner lost his top-secret security clearance, raising the question about how seriously the Trump White House had been handling classified information (given that Kushner was viewing the Presidential Daily Brief)
- Trump held a listening session with Democratic and Republican lawmakers on guns, but the NRA later said he reversed the positions he had taken in that meeting (more on that below).
- On top of it all, there were more key developments in the Russia investigation, including the news that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is asking witnesses if Trump had advanced knowledge of the WikiLeaks releases, and the report that Mueller is looking at the president’s business dealings in Russia.
And it’s just Friday morning, so we have hours to go until the weekend begins.
NBC’s Vivian Salama, Hallie Jackson and Kristen Welker report that Trump has been depressed about Hicks’ departure. “Behind the scenes, sources suggest that morale is waning at the White House. Two people close to the administration tell NBC News that the president is angry and depressed after losing Hicks, whom he had looked upon as one of his own children.”
The New York Times adds that the president “is isolated and angry, as well, according to other friends and aides, as he carries on a bitter feud with his attorney general and watches members of his family clash with a chief of staff he recruited to restore a semblance of order — all against the darkening shadow of an investigation of his ties to Russia. The combined effect is taking a toll.”
And the Washington Post writes that the “shortest month of the year delivered 28 days of tumult that many inside and outside the White House say could mark the fall of the House of Kushner.”
Over the last year, we’ve chronicled the chaos, disunity and turbulence inside the Trump White House (see here, here, here and here), and so it’s easy to become numb to what’s happened over the last few days. But you can’t ignore how this week has felt more chaotic, more divided and more turbulent than the others. And we’re just 13 months into this presidency.
The NRA says Trump has retreated on his gun control rhetoric
On Wednesday, Trump criticized lawmakers — Democratic and Republican — for being “afraid of the NRA.”
TRUMP: I’m a fan of the NRA. There’s no bigger fan. I’m a big fan of the NRA. They wanna do it — these are great people, these are great patriots, they love our country. But that doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. It doesn’t make sense that I have to wait till I’m 21 to get a handgun but I can get this weapon at 18, I don’t know. So I was just curious as to what you did in your bill.
TOOMEY: We didn’t address it, Mr. President, but I think we—
TRUMP: You know why? Because you’re afraid of the NRA, right?
And what did they discuss? “I had a great meeting tonight with @realDonaldTrump & @VP,” the NRA’s Chris Cox tweeted. “We all want safe schools, mental health reform and to keep guns away from dangerous people. POTUS & VPOTUS support the Second Amendment, support strong due process and don’t want gun control.”
That “due process” line appeared to be in response to Trump’s “Take the guns first, go through due process second” remark on Wednesday.
Per NBC’s Peter Alexander, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders held a brief gaggle with reporters, saying that the president still stands by everything he said on guns during Wednesday’s meeting with lawmakers. She said in last night’s meeting with the NRA, Trump reiterated that he’ll continue to support the Second Amendment.
Trump’s great economic experiment
As for Trump’s tariffs and his talk of a “trade war,” we’re about to embark on a fascinating economic/political experiment: What happens to a growing, full-employment economy when you add big tax cuts, more spending and tariffs?
Well, we’ll find out in a year or two.
NBC’s Jonathan Allen writes that Republicans aren’t happy with Trump’s tariff move. “‘I would have preferred a more targeted approach as to the product and as to the country where it's coming from,’ [Sen. Rob] Portman said. ‘I come from Ohio. We're a big steel state, we want to protect our steel workers — we've lost 1,500 steelworkers in the last couple years — but want to be sure that it's not going to also hurt the automakers and the other users of steel, manufacturers.’”
“His rebuke was mild compared to much of the instant cavalcade of Republican criticism of Trump's plan, which included a warning from South Dakota Sen. John Thune, a member of GOP leadership, that the president's trade policies could be ‘very harmful to the economy.’ Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., warned that the tariffs would amount to "a massive tax increase on American families.’”