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.
Is the Trump White House headed for its first staff shakeup?
When the going gets tough in any White House — Republican or Democratic — the tough, well, often start shaking up their team. But it usually doesn’t happen this early. A White House official tells NBC’s Peter Alexander that some White House aides have been encouraging President Trump to consider firing National Security Adviser Michael Flynn for not acknowledging that he spoke to Russia’s ambassador about the sanctions the outgoing Obama administration slapped on Russia — something he and Team Trump denied. On “Meet the Press” yesterday, White House Senior Policy Adviser Stephen Miller refused to say if Trump still had confidence in Flynn.
TODD: [D]oes the president still have confidence in his national security adviser?MILLER: That's the question that I think you should ask the president, the question you should ask Reince, the chief of staff. I'm here today as a policy adviser. And my focus was on answering the policy questions that you have. General Flynn has served his country admirably. He is a three-star general. He's head of the defense intelligence agency. And I look forward to having more discussions about this in the future.TODD: So the White House did not give you anything to say other than—?MILLER: They did not give me anything to say.
Ouch. But it's not just Flynn. Christopher Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax Media and close friend to Trump, said in an interview that Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was in over his head. And Politico reports that Trump is complaining to friends and allies about Flynn, Priebus and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. "While Trump is unlikely to make any immediate staff moves, senior administration officials say, he has ramped up his contact with people he trusts outside the White House and has expressed concerns about how things are going," Politico adds.
Why Flynn is on thin ice
The Washington Post’s David Ignatius explains, "A national security adviser’s success depends on maintaining trust, especially with his White House colleagues. After Flynn’s changing statements about a sensitive issue, he has a trust deficit that can only be filled with a full accounting of what happened — one that is consistent with any record that was compiled by U.S. intelligence agencies of his calls with [Russian Ambassador] Kislyak." Per NBC’s Alexander, Hallie Jackson, and Kristen Welker, several aides have been encouraging President Trump to fire Flynn, but multiple White House sources say a move is "not imminent." As one senior official told us, He's "fine — for now." Asked whether it's fair to say his job is in jeopardy? "(Long pause) It's not fair — for today."
White House: All options are on the table in responding to 9th Circuit’s ruling
Also on “Meet” yesterday, the White House’s Miller said that all options are on the table in how the administration responds to the 9th Circuit’s refusal to reinstate its travel ban. “Well, we're considering all of our options right now ... That includes: You can continue the appeal in the 9th [Circuit]. You can seek an emergency stay at the Supreme Court. You can have a trial hearing on the merits at the district level. Or you can take in en banc for the emergency hearing also at the 9th Circuit. And yes, you could pursue additional executive actions.” And Miller took a shot at the 9th Circuit’s decision. “There's no such thing as judicial supremacy. What the judges did, both at the ninth and at the district level was to take power for themselves that belongs squarely in the hands of the president of the United States.”
Team Trump doubles down on unsubstantiated claim of widespread voter fraud
Speaking of Miller, he repeated Trump's unsubstantiated claim that there was rampant voter fraud in the 2016 election. “I can tell you that this issue of busing voters into New Hampshire is widely known by anyone who's worked in New Hampshire politics. It's very real. It's very serious. This morning, on this show, is not the venue for me to lay out all the evidence. But I can tell you this — voter fraud is a serious problem in this country,” Miller told ABC. “You have millions of people who are registered in two states or who are dead who are registered to vote. And you have 14 percent of non-citizens, according to academic research, at a minimum, are registered to vote, which is an astonishing statistic.”
But the Washington Post says that Miller's claims are false. “PolitiFact New Hampshire in November gave the state’s governor, Chris Sununu, a ‘Pants on Fire’ for claiming that voters were bused in — and Sununu quickly retreated from his comment. New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner said voter fraud was not widespread problem, largely because the law requires voters to show a valid identification at the polls.”
More: "A 2012 Pew Center on the States study found problems with inaccurate voter registrations, people who registered in more than one state (which could happen if the voter moves and registers in the new state without telling the former state) and deceased voters whose information was still on the voter rolls. But the primary author of the Pew report tweeted in response to Trump’s staff’s claim that he ‘can confirm that report made no findings re: voter fraud.'"
When Mar-a-Lago’s private dining area turns into a command center to deal with North Korea
If email/phone/document security is important when handling sensitive information — as we learned during the 2016 presidential campaign — what do folks make of how Team Trump turned the dining area at Mar-a-Lago into a command center in dealing with North Korea’s missile launch?
Here’s CNN: "Sitting alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with whom he'd spent most of the day golfing, Trump took the call on a mobile phone at his table, which was set squarely in the middle of the private club's dining area. As Mar-a-Lago's wealthy members looked on from their tables, and with a keyboard player crooning in the background, Trump and Abe's evening meal quickly morphed into a strategy session, the decision-making on full view to fellow diners."
More: Trump's National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and chief strategist Steve Bannon left their seats to huddle closer to Trump as documents were produced and phone calls were placed to officials in Washington and Tokyo. The patio was lit only with candles and moonlight, so aides used the camera lights on their phones to help the stone-faced Trump and Abe read through the documents.”
Trump Cabinet Watch:
- Secretary of State: Rex Tillerson CONFIRMED
- Attorney General: Jeff Sessions CONFIRMED
- Treasury: Steve Mnuchin NOMINATED
- 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: 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
At 11:25 am ET, President Trump holds a bilateral meeting with Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, and the two will hold a joint press conference at 2:00 pm ET.
What were other new presidents doing on February 13?
- Congress passes the $787 billion stimulus bill and sends it to President Barack Obama’s desk
- George W. Bush travels to Norfolk for a speech to troops; en route, he tells journalists he believes it’s time to “move on” from investigations into the Clintons
- Bill Clinton dines with Prince Charles and the Gore family
- George H.W. Bush uses a speech in New Hampshire to launch his new federal budget plan
- The Reagans head to Camp David for the weekend, their second trip to the presidential retreat
- Jimmy Carter and his brother, Billy, hash out the details of the president’s sale of shares in the family’s peanut warehouse business as he works to comply with his conflict of interest arrangements