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Why Trump's Call with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte Matters

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.
Image: President Rodrigo Duterte speaks before his departure for Japan, at the Ninoy Aquino International airport in Paranaque, Metro Manila
President Rodrigo Duterte speaks before his departure for Japan at the Ninoy Aquino International airport in metro Manila in the Philippines on Oct. 25, 2016.ERIK DE CASTRO / Reuters

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.

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Trump’s phone call with Philippines leader deserves a lot more attention

President-elect Donald Trump’s telephone created plenty of news over the weekend -- whether it was that “congratulatory” call with Taiwan’s leader, his tweets aimed at China, or even his criticism of SNL. But there was another bit of news involving Trump’s phone that deserves a lot more attention -- his call with Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte. “In a statement Saturday, Duterte shared details of a seven-minute conversation that took place Friday. He said that during the call, Trump endorsed his campaign against drug users and dealers — a campaign that has left at least 4,500 Filipinos dead in about five months. Trump told Duterte that he was doing it the ‘right way,’ according to Duterte’s account,” the Washington Post writes. And Reuters reports that, on that Friday call, Trump invited Duterte to the White House, according to a Philippines official.

Trump’s transition team hasn’t confirmed the anti-drug campaign endorsement -- or the White House invitation

In a statement released Friday afternoon, Team Trump didn’t confirm the endorsement of Duterte’s anti-drug campaign, or inviting him to the White House. All it said was: “President Rodrigo Roa Duterte of the Philippines offered his congratulatory wishes to President-elect Trump. In their conversation, they noted the long history of friendship and cooperation between the two nations, and agreed that the two governments would continue to work together closely on matters of shared interest and concern.” But the Trump-Duterte call deserves a lot more attention. In addition to the thousands of Filipinos who have died as a result of that anti-drug campaign, don’t forget that Duterte called President Obama a “son of a bitch” and told him to “go to hell.”

Was that phone call with Taiwan simply “congratulatory” or “intentionally provocative”?

As for Trump’s phone call with another world leader -- Taiwan’s -- the Washington Post says that it was months in the making and “intentionally provocative.” But if so, why did the Trump team downplay after the news of the call first surfaced? “The President of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency. Thank you!” Trump tweeted, adding: “Interesting how the U.S. sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment but I should not accept a congratulatory call.” And on “Meet the Press” yesterday, Vice President-elect Mike Pence said, “I mean, it's striking to me that President Obama would reach out to a murdering dictator in Cuba and be hailed as a hero. And President-elect Donald Trump takes a courtesy call from the democratically-elected president of Taiwan and it becomes something of a thing in the media.” But then on Twitter yesterday, Trump WAS provocative with China. “Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into… their country (the U.S. doesn't tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don't think so!” Our take: Trump is playing with Chinese firecrackers. This could be popular, politically -- until it impacts American wallets.

Conflict of interest watch

Why Ivanka Trump sitting in on that Japanese PM meeting was problematic: “Ms. Trump is nearing a licensing deal with the Japanese apparel giant Sanei International… The largest shareholder of Sanei’s parent company is the Development Bank of Japan, which is wholly owned by the Japanese government,” the New York Times writes.

When conspiracy theories become dangerous

We’ve seen false and unproven conspiracy theories throughout our history -- that JFK was assassinated by the Mafia or Cubans, that Bill and Hillary Clinton murdered Vince Foster, or that 9/11 was an inside job. But those conspiracy theories came before the internet or before it really took off. Yet here’s a conspiracy theory in the age of the internet and fake news: “A North Carolina man was arrested Sunday after he walked into a popular pizza restaurant in Northwest Washington carrying an assault rifle and fired one or more shots, D.C. police said,” the Washington Post says. “The man told police he had come to the restaurant to “self-investigate” a false election-related conspiracy theory involving Hillary Clinton that spread online during her presidential campaign.” More: “The popular family restaurant, near Connecticut and Nebraska avenues NW in the Chevy Chase neighborhood, was swept up in the onslaught of fake news and conspiracy theories that were prevalent during the presidential campaign. The restaurant, its owner, staff and nearby businesses have been attacked on social media and received death threats.”

Carson accepts HUD job

NBC's Katy Tur and Alastair Jamieson: “President-elect Donald Trump will nominate ‘tough’ former Republican primary rival Ben Carson as Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the transition team announced Monday. A statement described Carson as a ‘distinguished national leader who overcame his troubled youth in the inner city of Detroit to become a renowned neurosurgeon.’” NBC’s Hallie Jackson has more: “A quick reminder about the bad blood between Trump and Carson early in the primaries - most notably, Trump calling Carson ‘pathological’ and making the comparison to child molestation. The New York Times compiled this handy list of Trump's greatest hits vs. Carson. Carson was an early endorser of Trump's, publicly backing him on March 11 at Mar-a-Lago as he praised Trump ‘energy’ and called him cerebral. After Trump's election, there was some speculation that Carson could end up in a high-level administration position, perhaps at HHS. But Carson apparently declined, telling the president-elect he "doesn't have the experience to run a federal bureaucracy," per Peter Alexander.

Trump’s growing list of secretary of state possibilities

NBC’s Kristen Welker reports on Trump’s growing list of secretary of state possibilities: “Transition officials say he’s eyeing Jon Huntsman, a former ambassador to China under President Obama (and a former presidential candidate),” Welker said on “Today” this morning. “The one-time Utah governor was critical of Mr. Trump during the campaign – at one point even calling for Mike Pence to replace him after that 2005 Access Hollywood tape surfaced. Huntsman joins a number of other potential candidates, including Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon-Mobil, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, David Petraeus, and Mitt Romney.”

Cabinet Watch

Here is our running list of possible candidates we’ve been hearing about so far. We’ll continue to update it as the president-elect’s team makes its choices final.

  • Secretary of State: Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton, Bob Corker, Mitt Romney, David Petraeus, Rex Tillerson, Lee Raymond, John Kelly, Jon Hunstman
  • Attorney General: Jeff Sessions OFFERED
  • Treasury: Steve Mnuchin OFFERED
  • Defense: Mattis OFFERED
  • Homeland: Michael McCaul, David Clarke, John Kelly
  • Interior: Sarah Palin, Mary Fallin
  • HHS: Tom Price OFFERED
  • HUD: Ben Carson OFFERED
  • Education: Betsy DeVos OFFERED
  • Commerce: Wilbur Ross OFFERED
  • Transportation: Elaine Chao OFFERED
  • Agriculture: Rick Perry, Sid Miller
  • CIA Director: Mike PompeoOFFERED
  • UN Ambassador: Nikki Haley OFFERED
  • National Security Adviser: Michael Flynn OFFERED
  • RNC Chair: Ronna Romney McDaniel, David Urban