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Trump replaces 'America First' with 'Me First'

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: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally, on Oct. 17, 2019, at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.Jeffrey McWhorter / AP

WASHINGTON — In an inaugural address he delivered just more than 1,000 days ago, President Donald Trump proclaimed that “America First” would guide his agenda.

But on a jaw-dropping Thursday — following a jaw-dropping Wednesday — Trump and his White House made it abundantly clear it was Trump First.

Or Putin and Erdogan First.

From the White House press briefing room, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said Trump had chosen his own Florida golf resort to host next year’s G-7 meeting in the United States.

“That decision is without precedent in modern American history: The president used his public office to direct a huge contract to himself,” the Washington Post says.

Mulvaney also admitted that the Trump administration withheld foreign aid to Ukraine because, among other things, it wanted the country to investigate the conspiracy theory that somehow Russia wasn’t involved in the hacking of DNC emails in 2016.

Question: "So the demand for an investigation into the Democrats was part of the reason that he ordered to withhold funding to Ukraine?"

Mulvaney: "The look back to what happened in 2016 ..."

Question: "The investigation into Democrats."

Mulvaney: "... certainly was part of the thing that he worried about in corruption with that nation. And that is absolutely appropriate."

Mulvaney tried to walk back that comment later in the day.

And then Trump celebrated a ceasefire in northern Syria between Turkey and the Kurds — which gave Turkey everything it wanted.

“The cease-fire agreement reached with Turkey by Vice President Mike Pence amounts to a near-total victory for Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who gains territory, pays little in penalties and appears to have outmaneuvered President Trump,” the New York Times writes.

Ask yourself: Who gains from the G-7 being held at Trump’s golf resort?

Who gains from withholding foreign aid from a country — unless it agrees to an investigation into the 2016 election?

And who gains from the military incursion into northern Syria?

It’s not America.

Data Download: The number of the day is … 69 percent

69 percent.

That was the decline in net operating income for Trump’s Doral golf resort in 2017, according to the Washington Post.

“The Trump Organization says the real problems scaring visitors away are the Zika virus and hurricanes. The Doral club’s revenue rebounded slightly in 2018, according to Trump’s presidential financial disclosures, though it is unclear whether profits went up or down.”

2020 Vision: This week’s forgotten debate

Tuesday’s Democratic debate took place just three days ago.

But it feels more like three weeks ago, right?

That’s the consequence of the impeachment inquiry, plus the situation in Syria, plus the jaw-dropping statements and actions from the White House.

The debate was just an intermission from the bigger drama playing out in Washington.

On the campaign trail

Today: Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro, Tulsi Gabbard and John Delaney stump in Iowa… Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Tom Steyer attend a cook-off in Orangeburg, S.C… Elizabeth Warren holds a town hall in Norfolk, Va... And Mark Sanford also is the Hawkeye State.

Saturday: Bernie Sanders holds his “Bernie’s Back” rally in Long Island City, N.Y., at 1:00 pm ET… Klobuchar, Gabbard and Sanford remain in Iowa… Harris and Booker stay in South Carolina… Buttigieg raises money in DC… And Castro attends a house party in Las Vegas.

Dispatches from NBC’s embeds

Joe Biden Thursday spoke at the DNC’s Women’s Leadership Forum in D.C., where he floated the idea that President Trump will be removed from office before the 2020 election. NBC’s Marianna Sotomayor reports Biden’s remarks: “’He's got another year in office ... maybe. Maybe,’ he said. ‘He's not even smart enough to know what he doesn't know.’” And on Rudy Giuliani, Biden said, “Giuliani, God bless him, reminds me of that old line from Voltaire. Voltaire said, I've never made but one prayer to God. Oh Lord, make my enemies ridiculous. And God granted it. Well God has granted it again to the Democratic Party.”

NBC’s Maura Barrett reports on Kamala Harris’ swipe at Medicare for All in Iowa: “We’re not gonna raise middle class taxes and gonna let you have choice” and “this is a point of distinction between me and some of my colleagues on that stage.” It should be noted that Harris was one of the first co-sponsors on Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All bill.

Tweet of the day

The Lid: Joe Versus the Volcano

Don’t miss the pod from Thursday, when we checked on Joe Biden’s status in the Democratic presidential race after this week’s past debate.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

Despite a declared cease fire, fighting is continuing on the Turkey-Syria border.

Mick Mulvaney now says “there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election,” a reversal of what he appeared to say in a press conference just hours earlier.

Civil rights leaders are criticizing Mark Zuckerberg’s address about free speech in Washington D.C. yesterday.

House Democrats are calling five more Trump officials to testify in the impeachment probe.

Here’s the latest in the Brexit drama.

Trump Agenda: Mitt’s theory

Mitt Romney may have a theory about what happened with Trump’s Syria decision.

Plans to crack down on discipline among the Navy SEALs may have one thing standing in the way: President Trump.

A new poll shows support for the House’s impeachment inquiry at 54 percent.

Rick Perry is leaving by the end of the year, he says.

Two businessmen are pleading not guilty to conspiring with associates of Rudy Giuliani on an illegal campaign contribution scheme.

Don’t look now, but there could be another shutdown fight in November.

FEC chair Ellen Weintraub is speaking out.

POLITICO takes a big look back at Trump’s relationship with Giuliani.

There’s a big legal fight playing out about Roger Stone.. and clips from the movie “The Godfather, Part II.” (Yes, really.)

2020: Is Biden’s firewall holding up?

Biden had a major firewall with black voters. Is it crumbling?

House Democrats are raising big money in the quest to keep their majority.

The AP asks whether Pete Buttigieg has the “warm fuzzies” to win hearts and minds.

Editor's Note

In Wednesday’s newsletter, we misattributed a quotation from Elizabeth Warren criticizing a health-care system that’s “dysfunctional” and “cruel.” In fact, it was Bernie Sanders who made that remark, not Warren. In our online version, we replaced that quote with another from Warren — to make our point about her strengths and weaknesses from the debate. The correction to that original online story can be seen here.