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By Mark Murray, Chuck Todd and Carrie Dann

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

Trumped: GOP field divided over Trump’s controversial comments

Any day the political conversation in the 2016 presidential race is about Donald Trump isn’t a good day for the Republican Party. Translation: The GOP has had a rough last few weeks. Indeed, it’s now been nearly three weeks since Trump, during his presidential announcement, referred to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” bringing drugs and crime into the United States. And the rest of the Republican field finally started responding to those comments over the long July 4 holiday.

  • Here was Ted Cruz on “Meet the Press” defending Trump in a way. “I salute Donald Trump for focusing on the need to address illegal immigration. The Washington cartel doesn't want to address that… He has a colorful way of speaking. It's not the way I speak. But I'm not gonna engage in the media's game of throwing rocks and attacking other Republicans.”
  • On other hand, here was Rick Perry criticizing him on ABC: “I've said very clearly that Donald Trump does not represent the Republican Party. I was offended by his remarks.”
  • Here was Chris Christie: “The comments were inappropriate and they have no place in the race.”
  • And Jeb Bush, whose wife is Mexican, was maybe the most forceful: “To make these extraordinarily ugly kind of comments is not reflective of the Republican Party. We're going to win when we're hopeful and optimistic and big and broad rather than ‘Arr, grr’ angry all the time.”

Oh, and here was Trump firing back at Jeb Bush, per NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell: “Jeb Bush once again proves that he is out of touch with the American people. Just like the simple question asked of Jeb on Iraq, where it took him five days and multiple answers to get it right, he doesn’t understand anything about the border or border security. In fact, Jeb believes illegal immigrants who break our laws when they cross our border come out ‘out of love.’”

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Too little, too late?

Despite the new GOP criticism of Trump, former RNC Chair Michael Steele said on “Meet” yesterday that the damage has already been done, especially considering that it took weeks for Trump’s detractors in the GOP field to respond -- and especially since the party itself hasn’t condemned Trump. “[T]he fact that you're not coming out on something that everyone in the country reacted to this, and you didn't, the party didn't, and those who want to be president didn't until, what, this week?” The New York Times’ Carolyn Ryan added, “When you’re behind a mattress company that it's not a good thing for a party.” Ouch.

Hillary’s rope-a-dope

Donald Trump wasn’t the only 2016 headache over the July 4 holiday. So was how the Hillary Clinton campaign handled reporters in New Hampshire -- by encircling a rope around them during a July 4 parade. Look, we get that Clinton is the only 2016 candidate so far who has Secret Service protection (because she’s a former first lady), which presents challenges for the candidate and the press in a parade setting. We also get that she was trying to talk to crowd, not to reporters. And we get that Hillary (because she’s the frontrunner and because of her past history with the press) is rarely going to get the benefit of the doubt on this type of story. But come on: This was such an unforced error and bad optics -- on an event that was ALL ABOUT the optics.

The early 2nd-quarter returns

The filing deadline isn’t until next week (July 15), but here are the early 2nd-quarter *campaign* fundraising returns:

  • Hillary Clinton: $45 million-plus
  • Bernie Sanders: $15 million
  • Ted Cruz: about $10 million

In a sign of our new brave world in the Super PAC Era, Cruz’s press release on his 2nd-quarter haul cited raising “over $51 million” -- $4 million in the 1st quarter, $10 million the 2nd quarter, and the expected $37 million-plus his Super PACs have apparently raised. Come again: A campaign is supposed to have no coordination with its Super PACs, but a campaign is touting the money the Super PAC has raised? And it’s including that amount on its campaign press release?

South Carolina legislature set to consider removing Confederate flag

South Carolina’s legislature today is expected to take up removing the Confederate flag from its statehouse grounds, the New York Times says. “The State Senate, encouraged by Gov. Nikki R. Haley and many other elected officials, is scheduled to consider a bipartisan proposal to move the battle flag… If the Senate approves the measure, the debate will shift to the House; Republicans control both chambers. A survey of lawmakers by The Associated Press, the South Carolina Press Association, and The Post and Courier, a newspaper in Charleston, found last month that there was most likely enough support in the legislature to approve the plan.”

Closing in on a possible nuclear deal

On “Meet the Press” yesterday, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell gave an update on the Iran nuclear talks. “This is the end game. They're closing in on a possible nuclear deal. But there are still some big obstacles as of [Sunday],” she reported. So what is the progress? First on sanctions, their staffs' tentative agreement to lift the U.S. and European sanctions. But they still have to get the foreign ministries to sign off on that when they get back here a few hours from now. Also where are the disagreements? There still are plenty. They still have not figured out how to automatically reimpose UN sanctions if Iran cheats. And disagreements on how much access UN inspectors will have to Iran's sensitive and military sitesas well as unresolved pressure about Iran's past nuclear research.”

All eyes on Greece -- and the European Central Bank

Lastly, here is NBC’s update on the situation in Greece: “Partying on the streets of Athens overnight spelled out a Europe-wide hangover on Monday, after more than 61 percent of Greeks voted to reject tough economic bailout conditions. While the poll marked a victory for Greece's fiery Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, it threatened to jeopardize further the nation's crippled economy as well as the future of the European currency. All eyes now are on the European Central Bank to see whether it will maintain emergency funding for Greek lenders. The bank's policy makers are expected to meet Monday and if the funding is suspended Greek banks would suddenly need to repay it — which could be mean the country crashes out of the eurozone.”

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