Broken branches: America's checks have become imbalanced in the Trump Era

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.
Image: President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr leave the Rose Garden on July 11, 2019.
President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr leave the Rose Garden on July 11, 2019.Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

Now that we’ve moved on from New Hampshire, it’s time to turn to two of the most consequential political stories over the last week playing out in Washington, D.C.

Donald Trump’s purge after his impeachment acquittal and what seems to be his clear effort to reduce Roger Stone’s recommended prison sentence.

Beyond Trump punishing those who complied with the law and rewarding those who broke it, and beyond how normalized this behavior has become, what stands out is how paralyzed Washington is to do anything about it.

Democrats already impeached the president, and it just seems to have emboldened him after Senate Republicans voted to acquit him.

And while some Republicans have expressed concern ("I think this is a situation where [Trump’s] tweet [on Roger Stone] was very problematic," Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said yesterday), there’s still no penalty at all from the GOP.

Our system of government is built on checks and balances, and we’re seeing what happens when those go away.

By the way, former White House chief of staff John Kelly is speaking about Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s ouster from the White House after Trump’s acquittal.

“[Vindman] did exactly what we teach them to do from cradle to grave,” Kelly said a speech Wednesday, per the Atlantic. “He went and told his boss what he just heard.”

It’s just that others — especially those in Congress — aren’t speaking out.

And not doing anything about it.

Sanders' new warning

Bernie Sanders says it would be “divisive” if pledged-delegate winner doesn’t become nominee, something that contradicts his 2016 position.

One of the reasons why some believe that Bernie Sanders is the front-runner for the Dem nomination is that, in a multiple-candidate field, he might have the easiest time to get a plurality of pledged delegates in the delegate race.

And, the thinking goes, if you get the most pledged delegates — whether it’s 51 percent, or 47 percent, or 35 percent — the Democratic superdelegates (who would get to vote on a second ballot) wouldn’t overturn that result.

Speaking with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes last night, Bernie Sanders articulated that view.

“In general, I think it is a fair statement to say that it would be very divisive. The convention would have to explain to the American people, 'Hey, Candidate X got the most votes and won the most delegates at the primary process, but we're not going to give him or her the nomination.” I think that would be a divisive moment for the Democratic Party.”

Except Bernie Sanders, his campaign and his supporters didn’t exactly share that opinion in 2016, when it was clear by April’s New York primary that Hillary Clinton had a plurality of pledged delegates (she would get a majority of pledged delegates by June).

Check out this Politico article from March 2016: “Sanders’ campaign thinks the next few weeks of the campaign calendar favor him and is preparing plans to make the uphill case to the superdelegates — the 718 activists and elected officials who can vote however they please — that his late-breaking momentum would make him a stronger nominee that they should support over Clinton.”

In other words: The superdelegates don't have to automatically break to the winner of the pledged delegates.

In fairness to Sanders, he eventually did endorse Clinton.

But his campaign back then wasn’t arguing that it would be “divisive” to deny the nomination to the pledged-delegate winner.

Tweet of the day

2020 Vision: Goldilocks and the three other candidates

The exit poll from Tuesday’s Democratic primary in New Hampshire showed some interesting numbers on voters’ perceptions of the major candidate’s ideology.

  • Bernie Sanders: 50 percent too liberal, 3 percent not liberal enough, 43 percent about right.
  • Joe Biden: 8 percent too liberal, 39 percent not liberal enough, 45 percent about right.
  • Elizabeth Warren: 40 percent too liberal, 10 percent not liberal enough, 44 percent about right.
  • Pete Buttigieg: 6 percent too liberal, 21 percent not liberal enough, 66 percent about right.

On the campaign trail today

Later this evening, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Tom Steyer attend a LULAC town hall in North Las Vegas, while Bernie Sanders participates via livestream… Elizabeth Warren holds a town hall in Arlington, Va… And Michael Bloomberg stumps in the Super Tuesday states of North Carolina and Texas.

Dispatches from NBC’s campaign embeds

Michael Bloomberg isn't apologizing for comments he made about stop-and-frisk caught on tape, per NBC's Maura Barrett: “It was five years ago and it's just not the way that I think, and it doesn't reflect what I do every day. I led the most populous, largest city in the United States and got re-elected three times," Bloomberg said. "The public seemed to like what I do.” Asked multiple times if he would apologize for the content of the recordings, Bloomberg did not apologize.

And South Carolina officials aren't ready to get behind Sanders, NBC's Gary Grumbach flags this from Rep. Joe Cunningham, "South Carolinians don’t want socialism,” Cunningham said in the Post & Courier. “We want to know how you are going to get things done and how you are going to pay for them. Bernie’s proposals to raise taxes on almost everyone is not something the Lowcountry wants and not something I’d ever support.” Asked if he would support Sanders if he becomes the Democratic presidential nominee, Cunningham rejected the premise of the question. “Bernie Sanders will not be the nominee,” he said.

Data Download: The number of the day is … 457,000

457,000

That’s the total turnout number in the 2020 New Hampshire primaries, according to secretary of state Bill Gardner.

The sum includes 300,000 voters in the Democratic primary and 156,000 on the Republican side, surpassing Gardner’s predictions and breaking the record for the number of ballots cast in the state in a year with an incumbent president.

The Lid: Spreadsheet jockeys

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at how much we’re all about to care about delegate math.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

The chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, who oversaw the caucus process, is out.

Mike Bloomberg is spending big on Facebook.

And Bloomberg is taking heat for his past comments linking the recession to the end of “redlining.”

Tom Steyer may have become a factor with black Democrats in South Carolina.

And Steyer’s wife is moving to South Carolina.

Trump Agenda: Trump vs. Roger Stone’s judge

The president isn’t ruling out a pardon for Roger Stone.

And Trump is going after the judge in the Stone case now, too.

House Democrats are asking the Secret Service about its payments to Trump’s company.

2020: The Bloomberg Factor

Jonathan Allen reports on the looming Bloomberg factor.

The New York Times looks at how Bloomberg is leveraging his company for the presidential race.

Elizabeth Warren’s campaign is at “a crossroads.

Will Joe Manchin reconcile with the president after voting for impeachment?

Michael Bloomberg picked up endorsements from two CBC members.

Here’s the backstory on Bloomberg’s dash to contain the stop-and-frisk story.