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Rigged Game: How the college admissions scandal plays in the 2020 race

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: Stanford campus
A Stanford University student walks in front of Hoover Tower on the Stanford University campus in Palo Alto, Calif.Paul Sakuma / AP file

WASHINGTON — The jaw-dropping college admissions scandal that ensnared two Hollywood actresses and embarrassed some of the country’s top universities not only underscores the divide between the haves and have-nots.

It also plays into the hands of the Democratic presidential hopefuls who have made erasing this divide a central message in their campaigns.

Here was Elizabeth Warren in her campaign launch: “Today, millions and millions and millions of American families are … struggling to survive in a system that has been rigged by the wealthy and the well-connected. Hard-working people are up against a small group that holds far too much power, not just in our economy, but also in our democracy.”

Here was Bernie Sanders in his first rally as a 2020 candidate: “We will no longer accept 46 percent of all new income going to the top 1 percent, while millions of Americans are forced to work 2 or 3 jobs just to survive and over half of our people live paycheck to paycheck.”

Here was Kamala Harris in her CNN town hall: “The people of our country, the families of our country, deserve to have leaders who are focused on their needs … as opposed … [to] helping the richest people and the biggest corporations.”

But the story also might play with Trump voters who think college is rigged, although maybe for a different reason — affirmative action.

The nation is rightfully outraged after yesterday’s news, which exposed 1) how the wealthy have tried to take advantage of the system, and 2) how another American institution (higher education) has let us down.

Get ready for the 2020 candidates to seize on it.

Trump embraces Pelosi (on impeachment)

Speaking of an issue playing into someone’s hands… We told you that President Trump and his allies would probably try to take advantage of Nancy Pelosi taking impeachment off the table – at least for now.

And take advantage they did.

“I greatly appreciate Nancy Pelosi’s statement against impeachment, but everyone must remember the minor fact that I never did anything wrong,” Trump tweeted this morning.

The Trump campaign added, “Every single Democrat running for president should be made to answer: do they agree with the speaker who stands in opposition to baseless impeachment charges, or will they risk fracturing the country by bowing to the radical elements in their party?”

By coming out against impeachment – for now – Pelosi gave cover to many of her members.

But she also gave Trump cover, too.

Then again, Pelosi now has leverage over Trump as the arbiter of what’s impeachable, if/when the Mueller story changes.

Brexit has been a bust

Disruption for the sake of disruption doesn’t necessarily lead to the best of political outcomes.

Just ask the Brits across the pond, whose lawmakers — for the second time in the last two months — rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s divorce deal with the European Union.

“Tuesday's defeat came only 17 days before the United Kingdom is due to leave the 28-country bloc,” per NBC News. “It also casts doubt on whether Britain's departure will occur as scheduled — or even at all.”

It’s worth keeping track of: Whose 2016 experiment has been more of a failure – Britain’s Brexit or Trump?

2020 Vision: Schultz’s promises and priorities

Possible third-party presidential candidate Howard Schultz delivers a speech in Miami at 11:00 am ET. And in it, the former Starbucks CEO will outline his promises and priorities, NBC’s Dylan Byers reports.

Among the promises: not signing any law that doesn’t have bipartisan support, and not nominating a Supreme Court justice unless he/she can be confirmed by two-thirds of the Senate.

Among the priorities: getting the federal budget under control, limiting the power of special interests, reducing executive authority.

Our questions: How will someone who has no experience at all in American politics bring Democrats and Republicans together on Supreme Court nominations and reducing the deficit? What would he do that hasn’t been tried before?

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 28

Twenty-eight. That’s the number of tweets and retweets from the president’s Twitter account in the last 24 hours, as of publication time.

That includes

  • Musings on how airplanes are “far too complex to fly,” presidential “harassment” from prosecutors in New York, Nancy Pelosi’s impeachment comments, Gavin Newsom’s death penalty moratorium in California, and the economy;
  • References to climate change as “fake news,” Jews leaving the Democratic Party, and Jay Leno’s thoughts on late night comedy;
  • Two all-caps exhortations to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN and KEEP AMERICA GREAT;
  • And retweets of accounts belonging to his wife, his VP, his daughter, his son Donald Trump Jr., the official White House account and a tweet originally sent in 2016 by a Trump fan in Arizona.

The Lid: Too many cooks

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when one of us looked at how the huge Democratic field is creating a challenge for pollsters charged with figuring out exactly who should be included in their horserace surveys.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

It’s Manafort sentencing Day Two.

Boeing’s chief executive made a personal appeal to the president yesterday as other countries were moving to ground the 737 Max 8. (The FAA is standing by its call not to ground the planes.)

Gavin Newsom will halt executions in California, calling the death penalty “discriminatory” and “inconsistent with our bedrock values.”

Nancy Pelosi has a two-track strategy on impeachment.

Beto O’Rourke is expanding his planned Iowa trip as he ramps up for Decision Day.

And other news stories you shouldn’t miss…

Trump agenda: Start spreading the news

New York’s attorney general is subpoenaing banks about Trump-related projects.

Lisa Page defended herself last year over claims that bias affected federal investigations of Trump and Russia.

Some Fox News advertisers are pulling ads from shows hosted by Jeanine Pirro and Tucker Carlson.

Mike Pence is taking plenty of punches for Trump.

The EU is warning that the risk of a no-deal Brexit has never been higher.

Female vets have had to endure harassment at the VA, the New York Times writes.

Why are Republicans trying to make “Jexodus” happen?

2020: Holding pattern

Democrats are in a holding pattern for the “few weeks” until Biden indicates he’ll make up his mind.

Democratic presidential candidates are all trying to stay competitive in the money race but also prove they’re not beholden to big donors.

Beto O’Rourke and Joe Biden would both add a new strain of centrism to a left-leaning presidential field.