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Trump, McCarthy and the state of the GOP

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.
President Trump Speaks In The Rose Garden Of White House After Meeting With Congressional Leaders On Gov't Shutdown
House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy looks on as President Donald Trump speaks in the Rose Garden on Jan. 4, 2019.Alex Wong / Getty Images file

If it’s THURSDAY… President Biden visits New York, where he sits down for a live interview with MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace at 4:00 pm ET and then attends a pair of fundraisers… Biden warns aides about giving him advice on son Hunter Biden, NBC’s Carol E. Lee and Monica Alba report… Ron DeSantis says he’d eliminate four federal agencies (Education, Energy, Commerce and IRS) if elected president… And all eyes are on the Supreme Court, with final decisions still to be handed down on affirmative action student loans. 

But FIRST... How Speaker Kevin McCarthy reacted to former President Donald Trump this week might have been the most telling news about the state of the Republican presidential race. 

 More telling than the polls, or the activity on the campaign trail, or all of the action in the courtroom.  

To recap: McCarthy said on CNBC that Trump could beat President Joe Biden (which is true) but wondered if Trump is the party’s strongest candidate to do so (which is a fair question). 

“But can anybody beat Biden? Yeah, anybody can beat Biden. Can Biden beat other people? Yes, Biden can beat them. It’s on any given day,” McCarthy said.

Within hours, McCarthy went to Trump-friendly Breitbart News to proclaim that Trump is “stronger today than he was in 2016” (which again is true). 

 The New York Times reports that McCarthy then called Trump, according to three sources familiar with the exchange, two of whom characterized the call as an apology. 

All for saying that Trump could win the 2024 general election but might not be the party’s strongest general-election nominee — which our poll and other surveys show. 

If the speaker of the House can’t relay what the public polls are showing without having to walk back those comments, how are Trump’s 2024 GOP rivals going to be able to effectively criticize him? 

Or even if Trump’s rivals beat him in early primary contests, how will party officials get the former president to admit defeat?

This 2024 GOP presidential race is FAR from over. We have months to go until Iowa and New Hampshire — and potentially months to go after that. And don’t forget all of the indictments and investigations hovering over Trump’s head. 

But IF Trump wins the GOP nomination in a cakewalk — taking Iowa and New Hampshire — we might look back on this week in June as the obvious sign where this Republican contest was always headed.

Headline of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 44%

That’s the portion of registered voters in the NBC News poll who say they would consider supporting a third-party candidate if the 2024 general election came down to a rematch between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.

More Democrats than Republicans say they would be willing to consider a third-party candidate — with 45% of Democrats saying they’d consider someone else and 34% of Republicans saying the same thing.

The demographic groups who are most likely to say they would consider a third-party candidate are Latino voters, young voters, progressive Democrats and Black voters.

While it’s not out of the ordinary to have at least 40% voters willing to consider a bid (and for very few to actually follow through on Election Day), the close margins in past elections underscore how even a small share of third-party voters could affect the presidential race. 

Other numbers to know:

9 points: President Biden’s lead over Trump in battleground Wisconsin, according to a Marquette Law poll of registered voters, which is outside of the survey’s margin of error. 

1 point: Trump’s lead over Biden in battleground Pennsylvania, per a Quinnipiac University poll of the state. 

50%: The share of Pennsylvania voters who disapprove of Sen. John Fetterman’s job, according to that same Quinnipiac poll, with 39% approving. (By comparison, Sen. Bob Casey’s rating is at 44% approve, 32% disapprove.)

100: The number of Biden-nominated federal district court judges that the Senate has confirmed since Biden took office.

60%: The portion of Americans who say that gun violence is a very big problem in the country today, according to a new Pew Research Center poll.

11: The number of people who died in a missile attack at a popular pizza restaurant in Ukraine. 

127 million: The number of people in the U.S. under air quality alerts on Wednesday night

Nearly 80: The number of individuals across multiple states who were charged Wednesday by the Justice Department for alleged health care fraud schemes totaling $2.5 billion, NBC News’ Daniel Barnes reports. 

52%: The number of adults who say they have experienced hate or harassment online, an uptick over the last year. 

20.9%: The gap in turnout between white and Black voters in recent elections in states that are no longer subject to “preclearance” for voting changes after the Supreme Court gutted a section of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, per NBC News’ Char Adams.

Eyes on 2024: DeSantis’ work as governor spills onto the campaign trail

As Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis campaigns across the country for the GOP presidential nomination, he’s also still in charge of running his state. And some of his work as governor has spilled onto the campaign trail. 

On Tuesday, DeSantis vetoed a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill, which would have allowed Floridians to expunge their criminal record if the charges were dropped or they were found not guilty, per NBC News’ Matt Dixon. The move comes as DeSantis has tried to move to Trump’s right on criminal justice, vowing to repeal the First Step Act, one of Trump’s signature pieces of legislation, despite supporting an earlier version of the bill when DeSantis was in Congress.

As governor, DeSantis has also clashed with Disney, highlighting his battle with the company as emblematic of his fight against “woke” policies. That fight is also playing out in court, and DeSantis’ attorneys this week asked that the trial be delayed until after the 2024 election. 

DeSantis’ time as governor is also facing more scrutiny. And on Thursday, the Washington Post reported that DeSantis’ administration “steered $92 million last year in leftover federal coronavirus stimulus money to a controversial highway interchange project that directly benefits a top political donor.” A DeSantis spokesman accused the Post of “trying to make an accusation to play ‘gotcha.’”

Meanwhile, DeSantis continues to lay out his presidential vision, suggesting during a Fox news appearance on Wednesday that he might eliminate four government agencies, saying, “We would do Education, we would do Commerce, we’d do Energy, and we would do IRS.”

In other campaign news … 

“Hands off my family”: NBC News’ Carol E. Lee and Monica Alba report on how President Biden has told his top aides that he doesn’t want to hear political advice related to his son, Hunter. 

Bidenomics: Biden traveled to Chicago Wednesday to tout his economic vision, blasting trickle-down economics, per NBC News’ Summer Concepcion, Mike Memoli, Sally Bronston and Rebecca Shabad. 

Countersuit: Trump is suing writer E. Jean Carroll for defamation — a jury awarded her damages last month related to her allegations Trump sexually abused and defamed her. 

PAC map flap: ABC News reports that top Trump advisor Susie Wiles is the unnamed person in the indictment against Trump — regarding the former president showing a classified map during a meeting. 

Burgmentum: North Dakota Republican Gov. Doug Burgum placed another $800,000 in TV ads, per AdImpact, and is up with a new spot criticizing Biden’s energy policy. 

Parental control: GOP presidential candidates are flocking to the “Moms for Liberty” summit this weekend. NBC News’ Tyler Kincade writes that the group does not plan to endorse in the primary, but the candidates are still courting the group “in large part because of the outsize influence its chapters have had on the local level.”

Primary play: Some Senate Republicans are scrambling to avoid a messy primary in Montana after former Navy SEAL Tim Sheehy jumped into the race this week. National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Steve Daines, R-Mont., told Politico that he is encouraging GOP Rep. Matt Rosendale to say in the House to “build seniority” and “help Republicans hold their majority.” And Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte endorsed Sheehy, per the campaign. 

Stepping down: A county elections director in Arizona stepped down this week, citing “intimidation,” per NBC News’ Michael Mitsanas.

ICYMI: What ELSE is happening in the world

Some Democrats want to replace the chairman of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, which has been led by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., since 2012.

Despite several liberal wins at the Supreme Court this term, NBC News’ Lawrence Hurley reports that the outcomes could favor conservatives in the future.

Biden has started using a CPAP machine to help with sleep apnea, the White House revealed Wednesday after marks from the machine were visible on the president’s face.