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With 'wake-up call,' GOP gets more signs of rough midterm environment

Tuesday was a reminder of how challenging the political environment is for the GOP right now.
Image: Voters cast their ballots at the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center on the Near East Side of Madison, Wisconsin
Voters cast their ballots at the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center on the Near East Side of Madison, Wisconsin on Nov. 8, 2016.Amber Arnold / Wisconsin State Journal via AP file

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 — On Tuesday, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, said he won’t be running for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by former Sen. Al Franken and now held by appointed Sen. Tina Smith – a blow to the GOP’s chances of seriously challenging this seat in November. (Politico notes that "Republican leaders have failed to secure their top-choice candidate in eight of the 10 Senate races in states that Trump won in 2016.")

Then, last night in Wisconsin, Democrats won a state Senate seat that had been in Republican hands over the last 17 years, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes. “Democrats snagged a GOP-leaning state Senate seat in western Wisconsin on Tuesday, buoying progressive hopes that they could ride a wave of victory this fall. Patty Schachtner, the chief medical examiner for St. Croix County, will take the seat that had been held for 17 years by former Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls). Harsdorf stepped down in November to take a job as GOP Gov. Scott Walker's agriculture secretary.”

In response to Schachtner’s win, Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker tweeted, “Senate District 10 special election win by a Democrat is a wake up call for Republicans in Wisconsin.”

The good news for Republicans on Tuesday was that they held other GOP-held seats in South Carolina and in Iowa.

But add them all up, and Tuesday was a reminder of how challenging the political environment is for the GOP right now.

The latest developments in the efforts to avert (or trigger) a government shutdown

NBC's Leigh Ann Caldwell: “House Republican leadership put on the table a short-term government funding bill Tuesday night ahead of an end-of-the week deadline to keep the government open. The proposal, which ignores Democrats' demands for a legislative solution to protect young immigrants known as Dreamers and attempts to further gut Obamacare, appeared unlikely to achieve the support of many Democrats and it’s unclear if it will get the support of enough Republicans.”

Indeed, HuffPost’s Matt Fuller writes that there might not be enough House GOP votes to pass this short-term funding bill without Democrats pitching in. "Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) emerged from a meeting with his conservative caucus late Tuesday night to announce that there currently are not the votes in the GOP conference to pass the CR that leadership laid out," per Fuller. “‘Based on the number of noes and undecideds in the Freedom Caucus, there’s not enough support to pass it with just GOP support in the House,’ Meadows said, adding that there were other members in the conference who may oppose the CR as well."

And via Twitter, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the No. 2 Republican in Senate leadership, said President Trump won't sign into law the Durbin-Graham DACA fix. “The ‘Gang of Six’ deal to fix DACA will not get a vote in the House or the Senate because POTUS will not sign it. Let's go back to the drawing board and get this done: Border Security, end Diversity Visa Lottery, limit chain migration, and fix DACA.”

NBC exclusive: FBI agents showed up at Bannon’s home

“FBI agents showed up at Steve Bannon’s Washington home last week intent on serving him with a subpoena to appear before a grand jury investigating possible ties between President Donald Trump's campaign and Russia, according to a source familiar with the proceedings,” NBC’s Hallie Jackson, Kristen Welker and Julia Ainsley report. “The agents were unaware at the time that Bannon had retained Washington lawyer William Burck just hours earlier, according to two people familiar with the events that took place on Jan. 9. Once redirected, the agents sent the order to Burck, who is also representing two other witnesses in the probe being led by special counsel Robert Mueller, a former director of the FBI.”

More: “Bannon, who served as President Donald Trump’s chief strategist until he departed the White House in August, could end up being interviewed by Mueller’s team before the end of the month, according to one source who agreed to discuss the matter on the condition of anonymity.”

Remember the “Fake News Awards” that Trump is supposed to announce today? They’re not on his public schedule

On Trump’s public schedule today, the president receives his intelligence briefing at 11:00 am ET, and then he travels to Capitol Hill at 3:00 pm ET to attend a ceremony honoring Bob Dole. But what’s NOT on the schedule, as NBC’s Dafna Linzer reminds us: The “Fake News Awards” that Trump promised to unveil today.

Earlier this month, Trump tweeted, “I will be announcing THE MOST DISHONEST & CORRUPT MEDIA AWARDS OF THE YEAR on Monday [Jan. 8] at 5:00 o’clock. Subjects will cover Dishonesty & Bad Reporting in various categories from the Fake News Media. Stay tuned!”

He then rescheduled for today, since he attended the college football national championship game on Jan. 8. “The Fake News Awards, those going to the most corrupt & biased of the Mainstream Media, will be presented to the losers on Wednesday, January 17th, rather than this coming Monday. The interest in, and importance of, these awards is far greater than anyone could have anticipated!”

But when White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked yesterday if Trump was still going through with the “Fake News Awards,” she replied she’ll keep the media posted.

Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., will be delivering a speech from the Senate floor criticizing Trump’s attacks on the free pass, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., does the same in a Washington Post op-ed. “Whether Trump knows it or not, these efforts are being closely watched by foreign leaders who are already using his words as cover as they silence and shutter one of the key pillars of democracy,” McCain writes.

DNC struggles: “I undeniably underestimated the depth of the turnaround job,” Perez admits

Don’t miss this Politico story: "[G]oing into a midterm election that should be the Democrats’ to lose, the DNC is still struggling to bring its factions together and assert itself. Throw into the mix powerful super PACs, the much-better-funded party committees focused on Congress and governors, and more independent voters than ever, and many wonder whether the DNC has a place at all anymore.”

“‘I knew it was a turnaround job when I ran, but I undeniably underestimated the depth of the turnaround job. We had to rebuild almost every facet of the organization, and equally importantly, we had to rebuild trust,” [DNC Chair Tom] Perez said in a recent interview at party headquarters. ‘Not just people who had invested in the DNC, but others — they just felt the party had let them down.’”

Kansas City Star: Five GOP lawmakers in Missouri have called for Greitens to step down

“At least five Republican lawmakers are calling for Gov. Eric Greitens to resign after allegations that he blackmailed a woman in an effort to keep her quiet about an extramarital affair,” the Kansas City Star reports. “Rep. Kathie Conway, a St. Charles Republican and former criminal investigator, encouraged the governor to step down in a piece published Tuesday by The Missouri Times.”

“‘As a former criminal investigator for a prosecuting attorney, I have an idea of what could unfold in the coming weeks. There would be a long process that will be humiliating to everyone involved,’ Conway said. ‘There would be no privacy that can be realistically offered when the governor of a state is under investigation. All the while, our state will continue to be embarrassed on the national stage.’”

“Greitens, a Republican, has admitted to the affair but has vehemently denied the allegations that in 2015 he took a nude photograph of a woman — while she was blindfolded and her hands were bound — and threatened to release it if she spoke about the affair.”