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Worst fears realized in Trump's overseas trip — and it's not over yet

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.
by Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann /

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WASHINGTON — This week, NATO’s worst fears about President Trump came true. “President Trump jolted a NATO summit on Thursday with a last-minute demand that leaders immediately pour billions into their military budgets, raising questions about his commitment to the alliance, before he reiterated that the United States would still fight on behalf of its Western allies,” per the Washington Post.

The British government’s worst fears about Trump also came true. “In an extraordinary intervention timed to coincide with his UK visit, Mr Trump said Theresa May ignored his advice by opting for a soft Brexit strategy,” The Sun writes. “And he warned her any attempts to maintain close ties with the EU would make a lucrative US trade deal very unlikely.” (Trump also said this about immigration: “So I think allowing millions and millions of people to come into Europe is very, very sad. I think you are losing your culture. Look around. You go through certain areas that didn’t exist ten or 15 years ago.”)

And it’s very likely that, come Monday, the West’s worst fears about Trump’s summit with Russia’s Vladimir Putin will come true, too.

On Thursday, we described Trump as a wrecking ball. But it’s even more than that — in addition to knocking over institutions and policies, the president has sowed chaos and confusion. And there doesn’t appear to be any end game. (After all, stabbing host British Prime Minister May in the back either makes her stronger or empowers Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, and neither option necessarily helps Trump or the alt-right groups he seems to want to promote.)

But the unmistakable conclusion about Trump’s week abroad is how the president has inserted himself in European domestic politics — first over that controversial German pipeline, and then his critical comments about May.

It all reminds us of this interview that Trump’s ambassador to Germany gave last month: “I absolutely want to empower other conservatives throughout Europe, other leaders. I think there is a groundswell of conservative policies that are taking hold because of the failed policies of the left."

And when the ambassador said “conservative,” we’re pretty sure he wasn’t referring to the current center-right governments of Britain and Germany.

The Pentagon is in damage control to reassure NATO allies

“Hours after President Donald Trump departed NATO headquarters Thursday, U.S. military leaders embarked on a full-scale ‘damage control’ operation with calls to their counterparts across Europe to reassure them that America will abide by its defense commitments in the region,” NBC’s Carol Lee, Courtney Kube and Geoff Bennett write. “The overall message from senior military officials in a series of phone calls to members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has been that U.S. military bases in their countries will remain open and American troop levels in the region will not be reduced.”

Yesterday’s congressional hearing on FBI agent Strzok was an absolute disgrace

That’s the only way to describe it after these exchanges like this:

REP. LOUIE GOHMERT, R-Texas: "You've embarrassed yourself and I can't help but wonder, when I see you looking there with a little smirk, how many times did you look so innocent into your wife's eye and lie to her about Lisa --"

CONGRESSMAN: "Mr. Chairman, this is outrageous."

GOHMERT: "The credibility of a witness is always the issue."

CONGRESSMAN: "Mr. Chairman, this is outrageous."

GOHMERT: "The credibility of a witness is always the issue."

CONGRESSMAN: "Shame on you, Mr. Gohmert."

The political world gave House Republicans the benefit of the doubt on their select probe on Benghazi, but that probe never produced any indictments or guilty pleas (and it was ended immediately after the 2016 election). But with this hearing — plus their handling of the Russia investigation (compared with the Senate’s handling) — they’ve sullied the House’s reputation and its ability to conduct legitimate oversight.

And with House Speaker Paul Ryan’s hand-off approach, the buck here stops with him.

Dem group launches ads targeting Heitkamp, Manchin and Donnelly to oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination

NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell and Frank Thorp report that a Democratic-leaning group is launching ads to pressure Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., to oppose Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination. “The ads, obtained by NBC News, are complimentary of the Democratic senators' efforts to preserve the Affordable Care Act but caution that those actions could be nullified by the next high court justice.”

“‘Thanks to Senator Donnelly more than 2.7 million Hoosiers with pre-existing conditions still have access to affordable health care. But those protections are at risk again, this time in the courts,” the narrator says in the Indiana version of the ad. “Kavanaugh refused to uphold key patient protections in the past, and if he joins the court he could vote to end these protections for good.’”

Here’s the spot aimed at Manchin. And here’s the spot directed at Heitkamp.

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