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Trump’s rivals have their opening. Will they take it?

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.
People rally outside the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. U.S. Courthouse, in Miami
People rally outside the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. U.S. Courthouse, in Miami, on June 13, 2023.Rebecca Blackwell / AP

If it’s WEDNESDAY… Donald Trump pleads not guilty in federal classified documents case… Trump lashes out at the charges against him: “Today, we witnessed the most evil and heinous abuse of power in the history of our country”… He also vows to appoint a special counsel to investigate President Biden if he wins the White House… And Biden speaks at a League of Conservation Voters dinner at 7:55 pm ET.

But FIRST… If you’re a Republican who truly wants to be the party’s presidential nominee in 2024, now is your chance to defeat Donald Trump. 

Are you willing to take it?

That’s the message from veteran GOP strategist David Kochel. “If you aren’t willing to criticize [Trump], ask yourself why you’re running to defeat him,” he said

We’ve seen Chris Christie go directly at Trump.

Asa Hutchinson has called for the former president to withdraw from the 2024 race. 

And Nikki Haley has defended Trump, then said Trump was being “reckless with national security” if the charges are true, and then said she was inclined to pardon Trump if he’s found guilty.

That’s about it. 

Now NBC’s Allan Smith, Katherine Doyle, Matt Dixon and Natasha Korecki have Republican strategists going on background — so not with their names attached — acknowledging that the charges against Trump are serious. 

The article includes these lines from someone in Ron DeSantis’ orbit. 

“I don’t know what’s going to happen in Georgia,” this person said. “But the man is going to prison. It’s happening. So at this point, where we are is ‘Who’s going to be the nominee?’ … Donald Trump broke the law, and frankly, I’m not a never-Trumper. I’m really not. But this is too much.”

More: “This is something that if you were to get George Washington, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson and sit them down and explain to them what’s happening … they would disagree with what Donald Trump was doing and would agree that he should be prosecuted.”

But no one is saying that on the record. 

And that reveals — at least right now — where GOP primary voters are on this issue.

Headline of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 1

That’s how many of the 18 House Republicans in districts that voted for President Biden in 2020 have specifically criticized Trump over the allegations he’s facing in the classified documents case. 

The one Republican is Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon, who said it was “obvious what the president did was wrong” and that “there’s no way to defend that.” 

The rest have either ignored the indictment, deflected, criticized the indictment or issued general statements that didn’t weigh in on the allegations against Trump, per new reporting from NBC News. 

Read more on NBCNews.com

Other numbers to know

77: The age that former President Donald Trump is turning today, his birthday.

11: The number of months in a row that inflation has eased in the U.S., according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics released Tuesday, the Washington Post reports.

2: The number of House lawmakers who were newly admitted to the House Freedom Caucus this week, per Politico. 

$58,000: The amount that Michigan Republican Party Chairperson Kristina Karamo and others have been ordered to pay in legal fees for a lawsuit filed ahead of the 2022 election regarding absentee ballots.

2.7%: An independent, non-partisan group’s estimate of what next year’s Social Security cost of living increase could be, significantly less than this year’s increase. 

Almost 5 months: The length of time between Rep. Gregory Steube’s hospitalization for a fall from a ladder and him playing tonight as starting pitcher for the Republican Congressional Baseball Game team.  

7.3%: The portion of U.S. retail-store beer sales that was made up by Bud Light last month, knocking it from the top-selling beer spot, which was taken over by Modelo Especial, the Wall Street Journal reports. 

Eyes on 2024: Trump back in campaign mode

Former President Donald Trump was quick to switch to campaign mode after his arraignment on Tuesday, visiting Cafe Versailles in Miami — a well-known Cuban restaurant and frequent campaign stop — and then heading to Bedminster, N.J., to address his supporters. 

“They want to take away my freedom, because I will never let them take away your freedoms. They want to silence me because I will never let them silence you,” Trump said per NBC News’ Vaughn Hillyard, Dan Gallo and Jake Traylor, later adding, “Nov. 5, 2024, justice will take back our country and we will make America great again.”

Hillyard also spoke to Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung after the event, who said that Trump will not appear at a political event until June 24, when he will address the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s policy conference, but the former president will appear on Fox News on Monday and conduct local radio interviews. 

Cheung said Trump’s post-arraignment event shows that Trump will “keep campaigning” and that the indictment “won’t stop him.” 

“What did the other candidates do today? Do we know? We know where Trump was,” Cheung said, adding, “There’s no oxygen for the other candidates.”

In other campaign news…

Mum’s the word: President Joe Biden and his top aides have “ordered” the Democratic National Committee and his re-election campaign not to comment on Trump’s indictment, Politico reports. 

Saying no to No Labels: The Washington Post reports that a group of Democrats, including former senators and Biden allies like former White House chief of Staff Ron Klain, are meeting with anti-Trump Republicans about how to counter a possible third-party No Labels presidential bid

Outside the courthouse: Entrepreneur and presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy took advantage of the attention on Trump’s arraignment, holding a press conference outside of the courthouse where he called on the rest of the presidential field to commit to pardoning Trump if he is convicted. 

Burgum’s buddies: North Dakota GOP Gov. Doug Burgum picked up his first congressional endorsements on Tuesday, with both of the state’s GOP senators — John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer — saying they are backing Burgum’s presidential bid. 

Grand jury gamble: Nevada’s state GOP chairman Michael McDonald, and the party’s vice chairman, Jim DeGraffenreid, were spotted entering a federal courthouse in D.C. on Tuesday where a grand jury is investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the Capitol and Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, NBC News’ Natasha Korecki, Ryan J. Reilly, Victoria Ebner and Katherine Doyle report.

Navigating Trump: Kentucky GOP Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who has been endorsed by Trump, side-stepped questions about Trump’s legal issues as he campaigns for governor. Cameron told reporters that “Kentuckians have concerns about the weaponization of government power,” per the Associated Press.

‘Lose Cruz’: Democrats are launching a super PAC aimed at countering Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz’s re-election, NBC News’ Jane C. Timm reports

ICYMI: What ELSE is happening in the world

The Wall Street Journal reports that the CIA warned Ukraine against attacking the Nord Stream pipelines last year. 

Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, is putting a hold on Department of Justice nominees in the wake of Trump’s indictment.