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.
Here come the Republican retirements
WASHINGTON — Looking ahead to next year's congressional midterm elections, maybe the biggest political development over the past week has been the back-to-back retirements from moderate House Republicans who represent swing districts.
On Wednesday, Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash. — whose district broke for Hillary Clinton in 2016, 47.7% to 44.7% — announced he wasn't seeking re-election. The next day, Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa. — the leader of the moderate House Republicans, whose district went for Trump, 51.8% to 44.2% — made the same move.
Democrats need to net a gain of 24 pickups to take back the House of Representatives. But now there are three open seats due to retirements where Dems now have great to decent shots at winning, in order - Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's in Florida (which Clinton won, 58.5% to 38.9%), Reichert's in Washington state and Dent's in Pennsylvania.
This is where the other big news this week - Trump cutting the spending/debt limit deal with Democrats - comes in: How many congressional Republicans see the deal as a last straw? If it's every Republican for himself/herself, you're probably going to see more retirements. As Politico writes, "The president has made clear he has little interest in leading the Republican Party — whether that means acting to defend its majorities or serving as its ideological ballast."
And the more GOP retirements, the better chance Democrats have at hitting or exceeding that 24 number.
The loneliness of being a moderate in the House of Representatives
Dent's retirement, however, appears to be more about the loneliness of being a moderate in Washington DC rather than about the 2018 midterms — given that Trump narrowly won the district last year.
"As a member of the governing wing of the Republican Party, I've worked to instill stability, certainty and predictability in Washington. I've fought to fulfill the basic functions of Government, like keeping the lights on and preventing default," Dent said in a statement announcing that he wouldn't seek re-election.
But these days, it's no fun being a moderate in the House of Representatives, whether you're a Democrat or Republican. (That's much less true in the Senate, where the Susan Collinses, Lisa Murkowskis and Joe Manchins have much, much more influence.)
Ten years ago, the Republican political establishment would have seen Dent as the perfect person to take on a Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa. But the party has changed to the point where it's immigration hardliner Rep. Lou Barletta who will be Casey's likely GOP opponent.
Donald Trump Jr. said he wasn't aware if his father played any role in crafting the initial statement about his June 2016 meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer
"Donald Trump Jr. took questions Thursday from Senate investigators about his meeting with a Russian lawyer and other topics central to inquiries into Russian influence in the 2016 election, but he frequently said he could not provide important details, according to people who attended the hearing," the Washington Post says.
More: "Trump Jr. said he was not aware of what role, if any, his father might have played in drafting an early explanation of the meeting that was widely criticized as misleading."
And: "Another Democrat in attendance, Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), did not respond to a request for comment after the hearing, but his office later distributed a memorandum of federal statutes prohibiting lying to Congress, suggesting them as something 'to keep in mind regarding Donald Trump Jr.'s testimony today.'"
The NYT on the fake Americans Russia created to influence the 2016 election
Speaking of the Russia investigation… "The Russian information attack on the election did not stop with the hacking and leaking of Democratic emails or the fire hose of stories, true, false and in between, that battered Mrs. Clinton on Russian outlets like RT and Sputnik," the New York Times writes. "Far less splashy, and far more difficult to trace, was Russia's experimentation on Facebook and Twitter, the American companies that essentially invented the tools of social media and, in this case, did not stop them from being turned into engines of deception and propaganda."
"An investigation by The New York Times, and new research from the cybersecurity firm FireEye, reveals some of the mechanisms by which suspected Russian operators used Twitter and Facebook to spread anti-Clinton messages and promote the hacked material they had leaked. On Wednesday, Facebook officials disclosed that they had shut down several hundred accounts that they believe were created by a Russian company linked to the Kremlin and used to buy $100,000 in ads pushing divisive issues during and after the American election campaign."