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Trump speaks, aides 'clarify.' Wash, rinse, repeat

by Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann /
Image: Trump prepares to address March for Life participants
President Donald J. Trump prepares to address March for Life participants via teleconference from the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, on Jan. 19, 2018.Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA file

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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 — The Trump Era has produced a familiar pattern: The president says something, his aides walk it back, and then the president says something again. Wash, rinse, repeat.

We saw two examples of this Wednesday — on the thorny subjects of the Mueller probe and immigration.

  • Trump statement: He’s willing to speak “under oath” to special counsel Mueller: “I’m looking forward to it, actually,” Trump told reporters when asked if he would talk to Mueller, per NBC’s Dartunorro Clark. "I would love to do that. I'd like to do it as soon as possible."
  • Trump aide walk-back: That’s still being negotiated: “In a phone interview after Trump’s impromptu comments, White House special counsel Ty Cobb qualified the president’s remarks, saying Trump was willing to testify under oath ‘subject to the terms being negotiated by his personal counsel.’ Cobb said those terms were still being negotiated.”
  • Trump statement: He’s open to a path to citizenship for Dreamers: “‘Over a period of 10 to 12 years,’ Mr. Trump said, ‘somebody does a great job, they work hard — that gives incentive to do a great job. Whatever they’re doing, if they do a great job, I think it’s a nice thing to have the incentive of, after a period of years, being able to become a citizen,’” The New York Times writes.
  • Trump aide walk-back: “fire drill”: “Within hours, Mr. Trump’s off-the-cuff comments to reporters seemed, again, to suggest flexibility. But his remarks sent the White House staff scrambling in what one official called a “fire drill.”

And if you want to see where we’re headed on immigration, here was the headline from Breitbart: “Immigration Shock: Amnesty Don Suggests Citizenship for Illegal Aliens…”

It all raises the question: If Trump is going to say something — and then his aides have to walk it back — what’s the legitimate reason to cover his words when it comes to policy?

The 2018 primary season is about to begin

We are now officially 40 days out from the first primaries of the 2018 midterms — in Texas on March 6. And they will go on across the country for six months.

The primaries include GOP ideological fights (in Arizona and Nevada’s Senate contests), a grudge match that goes all the way back to college (in Indiana’s GOP Senate race), crowded gubernatorial fields that could produce future Republican and Democratic stars (in Florida and Ohio) and a battle between two Staceys (in Georgia’s Democratic gubernatorial primary).

Here’s a calendar of states and contests we’re watching — from March through May — to clip-and-save:

  • March 6: Texas (Lupe Valdez vs. Andrew White in Dem TX GOV, TX-2, TX-7, TX-21, TX-32)
  • March 20: Illinois (JB Pritzker vs. Chris Kennedy vs. Dan Biss in Dem IL GOV, IL-3, IL-6, IL-12)
  • May 8: Ohio (Dem OH GOV including Richard Cordray, Connie Pilich and Dennis Kucinich; Mike DeWine vs. Mary Taylor in GOP OH GOV)
  • May 8: West Virginia (Republicans Evan Jenkins vs. Patrick Morrisey vs. Don Blankenship for the right to take on Joe Manchin in WV SEN)
  • May 8: Indiana (Republicans Luke Messer vs. Todd Rokita vs. Mike Braun for the right to take on Joe Donnelly in IN SEN; Messer and Rokita, both members of Congress, were rivals back at Wabash College).
  • May 22: Georgia (Stacey Abrams vs. Stacey Evans in Dem GA GOV, Casey Cagle vs. Brian Kemp vs. Hunter Hill in GOP GA GOV)

“America First” vs. the rest of the world

Previewing President Trump’s visit to Davos, Switzerland, at the World Economic Forum, The New York Times says that as the Trump administration cries, “America First,” the rest of the world is moving on without the United States. “The world marked a turning point in global trade on Tuesday, when 11 countries agreed to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, announcing they had finalized the pact and expected to sign a deal on March 8 in Chile. It was a remarkable moment for a beleaguered agreement that was conceived and constructed by the United States, then abandoned by Washington when Mr. Trump took office last year.”

More: “Europe and countries including Japan and China are forging ahead with deals that do not include the United States. Thirty-five new bilateral and regional trade pacts are under consideration around the world, according to the World Trade Organization. The United States is party to just one of them, with the European Union, and that negotiation has gone dormant.”

Phil Levy, a senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, observes: “Maybe there was some sort of presumption on the part of the president and his team that if the U.S. said stop, this process would come to a halt. What this shows is that’s not true. The world just moves on without us.”

Reminder: World approval of America’s leadership drops to a low of 30 percent, per Gallup

Last week, Gallup released a global poll showing that approval of U.S. leadership has dropped to a low of 30 percent — down from 48 percent in the last year of Barack Obama’s presidency.

Here are the approval ratings of the job performance of U.S. leadership in some select foreign countries:

  • Israel: 67 percent
  • Philippines: 59 percent
  • Poland: 56 percent
  • Iraq: 41 percent (a new high)
  • Italy: 45 percent
  • United Kingdom: 33 percent
  • India: 29 percent
  • France: 25 percent
  • Germany: 22 percent
  • Canada: 20 percent
  • Australia: 19 percent (a record low)
  • Mexico: 16 percent (a record low)
  • Pakistan: 14 percent
  • Russia: 8 percent

Trump’s day at Davos

The president arrived in Switzerland earlier this morning. At 8:45 am ET, he participates in a bilateral meeting with British PM Theresa May. An hour later, Trump meets with Israeli PM Netanyahu. And then at 1:40 pm ET, he has dinner with European business leaders.

NBC/WSJ poll: 60 percent back marijuana legalization

Here’s another finding from our recent NBC/WSJ poll: Six in 10 Americans support marijuana legalization. Per NBC’s Renee Hickman: “60 percent of respondents supported allowing adults to buy marijuana for personal use. When NBC News and The Wall Street Journal asked the same question in 2014, that number was 55 percent.”

“A broad majority of Democrats — 73 percent — supported legalization, as well as 64 percent of independents. By contrast, only 43 percent of Republican respondents said they supported legalization. Among voters who supported President Donald Trump in 2016, the number was even lower, at 37 percent.” And the poll found that 73 percent of those ages 18-34 support legalization, while just 38 percent of seniors do.

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