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In the absence of legislating, politics turns into spectacle and stunts

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.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke interrupts Texas Governor Greg Abbott during a press conference at Uvalde High School in Uvalde, Texas on Wednesday.Allison Dinner / AFP via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — If it’s Thursday ... NBC News recounts what happened the day of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and remembers the students and teachers who were killed. ... Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer signals that no immediate votes will be taken on gun-control legislation. ... Donald Trump confirms he’ll address the NRA on Friday in Houston. … NBC News’ Benjy Sarlin details how gun laws have changed since Newtown. ... The Oz-vs.-McCormick race officially heads to a recount. ... And a note to our readers: We'll be back on Tuesday morning after the Memorial Day weekend. 

But first: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s press conference yesterday on the school shooting in Uvalde took a turn when Democratic gubernatorial nominee Beto O’Rourke rose to confront his opponent.

“This is on you until you choose to do something different,” O’Rourke told Abbott. 

To some, O’Rourke was channeling their outrage and frustration over inaction on gun violence. To others, it was a political stunt.

“Can’t we have just one day, one week, one month, of us all coming together for these children? Not a political stunt?” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who attended that news conference, said on Fox News last night. 

Yet here’s the thing: When legislating breaks down, when partisanship outweighs bipartisanship and when attention-grabbing becomes more important than arm-twisting — our politics gets stuck on spectacles and stunts. 

And both Abbott and Patrick have done their share of stunts, whether it’s Abbott bussing migrants to D.C., directing the State Guard to monitor Jade Helm, or Patrick showing up at a televised Barack Obama town hall in 2016 and asking the then-president why he hasn’t expressed support for police.

Republicans and longtime observers of American politics might not approve of O’Rourke’s actions on Wednesday. 

But they underscore a larger truth: Spectacles and stunts are what our current politics has largely become.  

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 220

That’s how many current members of Congress were in office during the 2012 shooting at a Newtown, Conn. elementary school. That includes two non-voting delegates (from Washington D.C. and the Northern Mariana Islands) and members of both the House and Senate. 

Another 57 were part of the class of 2013 who joined Congress just weeks later, and were preparing to take officewhen that shooting occurred. 

Other numbers you need to know:  

$43 million: That’s how much One Nation, the dark money group tied to the McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund, is reserving in airtime in five Senate battlegrounds over the summer, per Axios. 

More than 100: The number of GOP campaign ads have featured guns, per a New York Times analysis. 

6.1 percent: That’s how much the Congressional Budget Office expects the consumer price index to rise this year, with inflation expected to continue into 2023.

30 percent: The approximate share of the vote Trump-backed candidates have mostly won in contested primaries so far, per the Washington Post.  

Talking policy with Benjy: How gun laws have changed since Newtown 

It’s been almost a decade since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, and gun safety activists have pushed Congress to pass expanded background checks and a new version of the Assault Weapons Ban the entire time, only to meet a wall of Republican opposition. With Americans mourning yet another attack on children, many supporters of gun restrictions are despairing about whether the political system will ever listen to their demands. 

But, as Vox’s Marin Cogan notes, cynicism about America’s response to gun violence can sometimes go too far. For one, activists have forced significant changes in gun laws in response to mass shootings, especially at the state level in recent years. In some cases, they even secured bipartisan support. 

The 2018 Parkland shooting, which set off a wave of youth activism led by student survivors, prompted over a dozen states to pass “Red Flag” laws. These allow people, typically family or law enforcement, to petition a judge to remove guns from individuals who they fear pose a threat to themselves or others. In Florida, the process has been initiated almost 6,000 times since then-Gov. Rick Scott signed it into law in 2018. The Uvalde shooting is prompting the Senate to take a look at a federal version, though its chances are uncertain. 

There have been some smaller federal changes in response to the specifics of individual mass shootings. The Trump administration banned bump stocks at the federal level after their use in the Las Vegas shooting drew widespread attention. Congress passed the Fix NICS Act in 2018, which sought to improve background check records, in response to the Sutherland Springs church shooting, whose perpetrator should have been barred from buying firearms.

These may seem like modest tweaks given the scale of the crisis and a surge in day-to-day gun violence since the pandemic. Not every new gun law is effectively or easily enforced either, although research suggests some state measures, like background checks, can reduce gun deaths. Americans are deeply divided on gun issues, and many states, like Texas, have loosened their laws in the same period. A 6-3 conservative Supreme Court is likely to go further in striking down state gun restrictions. The sheer scale of gun ownership in America, which famously has more weapons than people, also makes it harder for any one law to change the overall environment.

But politics is unpredictable and there’s often more movement under the surface than you might realize. Whatever you think the solution ought to be, don’t assume your voice doesn’t count. 

Midterm roundup: It’s a recount

It seemed inevitable, but around 2:00 p.m. ET Wednesday, Pennsylvania’s acting secretary of state announced it was officially time for a recount in Pennsylvania’s GOP Senate primary. Mehmet Oz currently leads David McCormick in the state count by 902 votes. 

NBC’s Dasha Burns reports that the recount can begin as early as this Friday, but no later than June 1 with the holiday weekend looming. There are still roughly 10,000 ballots (the party breakdown is currently unknown) that need to be counted, a mix of military and overseas ballots, as well as provisional ballots that will ultimately need to be adjudicated. The recount can’t begin until these outstanding ballots are counted. 

And complicating things even more are the 860 GOP ballots received by election officials that are undated. The McCormick campaign is suing to call for these ballots to be counted, while the Oz campaign, the state GOP and the Republican National Committee are arguing the ballots should not count. 

Elsewhere on the campaign trail:

Georgia Senate: Herschel Walker on Wednesday released what his campaign is billing as his first general election ad, which ties Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock to Biden (Walker’s campaign did not respond to a question about whether the ad is going up on TV). Walker is also getting some outside help from Heritage Action’s new super PAC, per Politico.  

Georgia Governor: The Democratic Party of Georgia is launching its first ad buy of the governor’s race, spending $582,000 on the airwaves GA-GOV, per AdImpact. 

Minnesota-01: Former state Rep. Brad Finstad, who served in Trump’s Agriculture Department, declared victory in the special GOP primary to replace the late Republican Rep. Jim Hagedorn, and the second place finisher, state Rep. Jeremy Munson, conceded, per Minneapolis Star-Tribune. (Note: the NBC News Decision Desk has not yet called the race.)

California-40: The Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC aligned with House GOP leadership is up with a new TV ad attacking Republican Greg Raths, whom Republicans don’t want to divert votes from GOP Rep. Young Kim in California’s top-two primary. 

Ad watch: Laxalt bets on Trump

Former President Donald Trump stars in a new ad for Adam Laxalt, Nevada’s former attorney general who is running against Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto. 

“I learned that when the going gets tough, some Republicans just run for the hills. As president, I learned who to count on in the fight to save our great country and there’s no one more trustworthy in Nevada than Adam Laxalt,” Trump says directly into the camera. 

Laxalt co-chaired Trump’s campaign in Nevada in 2020 and led the campaign’s effort to challenge the state’s election results. The ad comes ahead of the Silver State’s June 14 primary, where Laxalt faces Army veteran Sam Brown. 

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a new abortion ban that’s even stricter than the six-week ban he signed just weeks ago, this time banning abortion unless to save the life of the mother, or after a reported rape or incest. 

The New York Times reports that the Jan. 6 committee has heard testimony that former President Donald Trump reacted approvingly to the chants to “Hang Mike Pence” during the attack on the Capitol. 

NBC News’ Adam Edelman explores why some Georgia election workers are returning to the polls.