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Trump Torches the Political Landscape — and Gets Away With It

All the latest on the Senate GOP health care bill and Donald Trump's criticism of Attorney General Jeff Sessions
President Donald Trump waves after speaking to Boy Scouts during the National Boy Scout Jamboree in Glen Jean, West Virginia on Monday.Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images

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.

Trump torches the political landscape — and he’s getting away with it

In the last 24 hours, President Trump has publicly attacked his attorney general and acting FBI director, politicized the major Boy Scout gathering, and engaged in outlandish and factually inaccurate rhetoric (“Obamacare is death!”) And here’s the thing: He’s getting away with it, particularly with members of his own party. Where are the GOP Senate demands that he can’t fire his attorney general (who happens to be one of their former colleagues), because it’s an affront to an independent judiciary? Where are the Republican criticisms that he shouldn’t inject politics into the Boy Scouts? And where are GOP calls to cool it on the health care rhetoric, no matter your position on Obamacare? None of what we saw in the last 24 hours is normal, especially if you’re the party of character and values. And it all comes before today’s big health care vote.

Plenty of GOP senators and House members love to privately complain about Trump’s behavior — and they even publicly chastise him. But they've never punished him for his behavior; he's never faced a consequence for it. It's somewhat surprising that there isn't one GOP senator (let alone a dozen) who decide his treatment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions is enough for them to not vote on health care. And yet, crickets…

Key Senate health care vote is now a jump ball

With Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., returning to the Senate, Republicans now have a realistic chance to pass today’s key vote that begins debate on their health care efforts — the motion to proceed. Given that Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is a NO on the motion to proceed, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can lose only ONE MORE of the following senators:

  • Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska
  • Dean Heller, R-Nevada
  • Rand Paul, R-Ky.
  • Mike Lee, R-Utah
  • Shelly Moore Capito, R-W.V.
  • Rob Portman, R-Ohio
  • Jerry Moran, R-Kansas

However, if he loses two — or more — the legislative effort comes to a screeching halt. But here’s the thing: McConnell hasn’t officially announced what happens NEXT if the motion to proceed is successful. Axios reports that the Senate could vote first on a straight repeal-only bill and then the Senate replacement bill (the Better Care Reconciliation Act). And if neither measure passes, the Senate would vote on amendments to the legislation the House cleared back in May. Bottom line: No one really knows WHAT legislation senators are voting proceed to. Just consider this exchange on “Fox News Sunday” over the weekend:

FOX’S CHRIS WALLACE: Senator Thune, as the number three Republican in the Senate, do you know what you're going to be voting on next week? Is it repeal, or is it repeal and replace?THUNE: It's voting to get on the bill, Chris. It's voting to open the debate…WALLACE: But — but — but without getting too far into the weeds, I know the first -- when you get on the bill, the bill is the house bill, which nobody likes. The question -- including a lot of people in the House. Then Senator McConnell is going to offer a substitute, the first amendment, and is that going to be repeal or repeal and replace?THUNE: I think ultimately that's a judgment that Senator McConnell will make at some point this week before the vote, depending on how these discussions go.

That was on Sunday. And as Trump tweeted this morning, “ObamaCare is torturing the American People.The Democrats have fooled the people long enough. Repeal or Repeal & Replace! I have pen in hand.” So even the president doesn’t know what he wants — repeal or repeal and replace.

Fact-checking Trump on health care

On Monday, President Trump declared that every pledge Washington Democrats made to pass Obamacare “turned out to be a lie. It was a big fat ugly lie.” So using that same standard, what did Trump say yesterday on health care and the Senate GOP efforts?

Trump’s claim: "The problem is we have zero help from the Democrats. They’re obstructionists, that’s all they are."

In fact: While it’s true that not a single Democrat supports the Senate Republican plans to repeal and/or replace Obamacare, Democrats were shut out from crafting the Senate replacement legislation.

Trump’s claim: "The Senate bill protects coverage for pre-existing conditions."

In fact: As NBC’s Benjy Sarlin and Jane Timm write in their fact-check of Trump’s remarks yesterday, “[I]t’s expected that any replacement will include a proposal by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that would allow insurers to sell less-regulated plans that could charge people with pre-existing conditions higher premiums or block them from joining — two practices that are banned under Obamacare. Under this system, customers could still purchase coverage that keeps Obamacare’s protections for pre-existing conditions, but health experts and the nation’s top insurance lobby, AHIP, warn these people would pay significantly higher premiums.”

Trump’s claim: Obamacare has caused "nothing but pain," adding that it has “broken our healthcare system, it’s broken, it’s collapsing, it’s gone."

In fact: Obama’s Affordable Care Act has insured millions of more Americans, and its benefits have helped prevent personal bankruptcies from extraordinary medical costs. While some Americans, including those in the middle class, have had to pay more on the individual market, others, especially poorer Americans, pay less. As for Trump’s claim that Obamacare is collapsing, Sarlin and Timm say, “The CBO has indicated Obamacare exchanges are stabilizing, although it suggested some sparsely populated areas may struggle to find insurers. Nor did it find various Republican replacements would make markets significantly more stable.”

A dysfunctional administration

President Trump began his Tuesday morning by attacking, well, his own attorney general — Jeff Sessions, who was the first senator who endorsed Trump in 2016. “Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!” Trump tweeted. And then he blasted the acting FBI director. “Problem is that the acting head of the FBI & the person in charge of the Hillary investigation, Andrew McCabe, got $700,000 from H for wife!” (In fact, McCabe’s wife received money from a PAC tied to Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, and she made that run for office BEFORE McCabe headed up Clinton probe.)

It is stunning that the president is attacking his attorney general for not taking action against Trump’s political opponent (who was cleared of any wrongdoing), and blasting the acting head of the FBI (which is investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election). Let’s also take a step back and realize that, in the span of a week, we have an attorney general tossed under the bus, a secretary of state reportedly wanting to quit, and a new communications director hired against the will of the person who normally makes this hire -- Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.

Using the U.S. military and Boy Scouts as political props

We’ve seen President Trump make overtly political remarks honoring the New England Patriots and recognizing the Air Force Academy’s football team. But how he politicized the U.S. military on Saturday and then the Boy Scouts — of all organizations — on Monday was shameful. "Now we need Congress to do its job and pass the budget that provides for higher, stable, and predictable funding levels for our military needs that our fighting men and women deserve,” he said Saturday in front of U.S. Navy personnel in commissioning a new aircraft carrier. “[S]o call that congressman and call that senator and make sure you get it. And by the way, you can also call those senators to make sure you get healthcare." And then on Monday in front of the Boy Scouts, Trump reveled in his 2016 win, elicited boos when he referred to Hillary Clinton, and asked: “Did President Obama ever come to a Jamboree?” The crowd booed, even though Obama was a Boy Scout (unlike Trump).

All tied up in Virginia

Despite earlier polls showing Democrat Ralph Northam with the edge over Republican Ed Gillespie in Virginia’s gubernatorial race, a Monmouth poll released yesterday found the contest tied, 44%-44%, among likely voters. The general election takes place in November.