IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

2020 really is an Election Year like no other

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.
Image: George Floyd
A protester holds a sign in front of New York Supreme Court demanding justice for George Floyd, on May 29, 2020, in New York.Mary Altaffer / AP file

WASHINGTON — We’ve had intense, consequential presidential elections before (1968, 2000, 2008 and 2016).

We’ve had recessions (most recently in 2008-2009).

We’ve had mass protests (1968 comes to mind).

And we’ve had pandemics (1919, 1968).

But as political/policy consultant Bruce Mehlman points out in his latest presentation, we’ve never had all four taking place at the same time, creating an election year unlike any other in modern American history.

In fact, 1968 might be the closest parallel to our 2020 election, but ’68 featured a healthy U.S. economy, with the unemployment rate never dropping below 4 percent that entire year.

We cover the daily coronavirus fatalities in the U.S. (now approaching 140,000 since February); we’ve talked a lot about the current unemployment rate at 11.1 percent; and we’ve seen how the protests for racial justice have shaped American politics.

But we’ve never had all of them — a pandemic, a recession and mass protests — taking place in a consequential election year and testing our democracy.

By the way, Mehlman makes another important point in his presentation: past American crises have always grown the government — like after the Great Depression, 9/11 and the Great Recession.

And that brings us to Joe Biden’s climate/infrastructure speech yesterday ...

Talking policy with Benjy: Biden climate edition

Joe Biden’s climate speech on Tuesday was a BFD, to put it in Biden-speak, NBC’s Benjy Sarlin observes.

Biden’s new plan, a $2 trillion investment in clean energy infrastructure, research, and production, is relatively similar to what he campaigned on in the primaries. But the whole Democratic field had big climate plans. Perhaps the biggest question in the race was how much they would prioritize passing them relative to agenda items like health care, immigration, guns, or student debt.

On Tuesday, Biden didn’t just recommit to passing climate, he made it a centerpiece of his economic response to the pandemic. That dramatically raises its odds of becoming reality, because the next administration could have far more running room to pass major spending bills in early 2021 than anyone imagined just a few months ago. It also could make it easier to sidestep some debates about how to finance it, since the current crisis provides a simple justification for short-term deficits, especially if the spending is part of a jobs program.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

3,452,797: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 68,812 more cases than yesterday morning.)

137,384: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 982 more than yesterday morning.)

41.76 million: The number of coronavirus tests that have been administered in the United States so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

7 votes: The separation between Trump-backed Tony Gonzales and Cruz-backed Raul Reyes in unofficial results in the TX-23 primary.

Three: The number of felonies Kansas GOP Rep. Steve Watkins has been charged with in an investigation of potential voter fraud

Tweet of the day

2020 Vision: About last night’s runoffs

In Alabama’s GOP Senate runoff, former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville easily defeated former Sen. and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, 61 percent to 39 percent – an outcome President Trump celebrated on Twitter.

Tuberville will face Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., in what will be the GOP’s best Senate pickup opportunity this November.

In Texas’s Democratic Senate runoff, MJ Hegar beat Royce West, 52 percent to 48 percent, in a contest that was much closer than expected (and closer than the ad spending had suggested).

Hegar takes on Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in the fall.

Also in Texas, Trump-backed Ronny Jackson won the Republican runoff to be the party’s nominee in the ruby-red TX-13 district.

In the GOP’s TX-22 runoff, Fort Bend County sheriff Troy Nehls easily beat GOP donor Kathaleen Wall, and Nahls will face Democratic foreign-service officer and 2018 candidate Sri Preston Kulkarni in what will be a competitive general election this November.

In TX-23, Tony Gonzales (backed by Trump, Kevin McCarthy and retiring Congressman Will Hurd) holds a 7-vote lead (!!!!) over Raul Reyes (who’s supported by Ted Cruz). The eventual winner will compete against Dem nominee Gina Ortiz Jones, who narrowly lost to Hurd in 2018 in this district that Hillary Clinton won in ’16.

And in TX-24, progressive Candace Valenzuela easily won the Democratic runoff, and she’ll face former Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne in November.

Ad watch from Ben Kamisar: GOP ad features Pence, not Trump

Today’s Ad Watch takes a look at a new spot from pro-Trump Super PAC America First Policies that dropped this morning, one that features a lot of Vice President Pence and not so much of President Trump.

Pence praises Trump’s “leadership” that’s helping to get America back to work, and the spot briefly shows the president signing the USMCA. But that’s it.

The entire spot is a voice-over from Pence over the typical campaign ad trappings of things like Pence on the trail, workers on the factory floor and a majestic shot of a church.

“It’s because of what you’ve done, because of the leadership the president provided — we’re going back to work, we’re going back to worship. And I promise you that in the days ahead, we’re going to continue to create a solid foundation for whatever challenges may lie ahead,” Pence says.

It’s a good reminder that in 2016, Republicans leaned on Pence during rough patches to convince the Trump skeptics to stay on board. And if Trump continues to flounder, Pence may be called upon to do that once again.

McConnell considers more money for schools

As school districts across the country decide how and if schools will reopen in the fall, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hinted that additional funding for schools to reopen safely could be considered in the Senate. Here’s what McConnell said during an event in Kentucky:

“To have school safely, it's going to require some changes. Masks for the kids, social distancing, they probably can't have that many people in class rooms, so they may have to go to shifts, all of that will have transportation issues associated with it. And so, I know they're going to need help in order to keep the kids safely in school. Because we're not going to be able to operate like they would normally,” McConnell said.

President Trump has pushed hard for schools to reopen in-person instruction regardless of the coronavirus, and he said this about teachers and students who feel unsafe returning to the classroom: “I would tell parents and teachers that you should find yourself a new person whoever’s in charge of that decision cause it's a terrible decision. Because children and parents are dying from that trauma too, they're dying because they can't do what they're doing. Mothers can't go to work because all of a sudden they have to stay home and watch their child, and fathers, what's happening you know there's a tremendous strain on that whole side of the equation.”

The Lid: Race to the bottom

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we highlighted the stark racial differences in how coronavirus — and its economic effects — are impacting Americans

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is in the hospital with an infection.

The White House says it wants to cut the CDC out of the data collection process for coronavirus infections, citing concerns about the reliability of the data.

The Trump administration is backing off its plan to disallow foreign students from staying in the U.S. legally if their schools do not have in-person classes this fall.

A new Cold War between the U.S. and China may have already begun, writes NBC’s Ken Dilanian.

The governor of Missouri says President Trump will be “getting involved” with the case of the St. Louis couple who pointed weapons at Black Lives Matter protestors.

Joe Biden is making a play in Texas.

Mary Trump has one word for the president: ‘Resign.’