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Meet the Press Blog: Latest news, analysis and data driving the political discussion

Smart political reporting and analysis, including data points, interesting national trends, short updates and more from the NBC News political unit.
Image: Illustration of photos depicting voters on line, voting booths, the Capitol, the White House and raised hands.
Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

Majority of adults approve of Biden on Covid, but think health agencies have sent mixed messages

The majority of American adults still approve of President Joe Biden's approach to the coronavirus pandemic, even as those numbers have slipped in recent months. 

Fifty-five percent of adults in Monmouth University's new poll say Biden has done a good job on the pandemic, compared to 38 percent who say he's done a bad job with it. Just 4 percent hold mixed opinions. 

The vast majority of Democrats, 92 percent, think Biden is doing a good job. Independents are split, with 45 percent saying he's done a good job and 46 percent saying he's done a bad job. And 26 percent of Republicans believe Biden is doing a good job on handling the pandemic, compared to 68 percent who think he's doing a bad job. 

Federal government health agencies also get strong marks in dealing with the pandemic, with 55 percent of adults saying they did a good job and 37 percent say they did a bad job.

But at the same time, 59 percent say that those federal health agencies, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention specifically named, have been "giving mixed messages about Covid risks," including clear majorities of Republicans and Democrats. Thirty-nine percent say the agencies have been largely consistent, including a majority of Democrats. 

The poll comes amid rising caseloads and hospitalizations attributed to the more virulent, delta, strain, which is spreading across the country. The country hit 35 million cases this week, with Florida hitting records in new, daily cases as well as what the Florida Hospital Association called a new record of Covid hospitalizations. 

But while vaccination rates have slowed from their spring highs, the CDC reports that almost 50 percent of the total population is fully vaccinated against the virus. That includes 80 percent of those at least 65 years old, a group that has been particularly vulnerable to serious illness or death from the virus. 

Fifty-three percent of adults say they are either very concerned or somewhat concerned that someone in their family could become seriously ill from the virus, up from 42 percent a month ago but well below the levels of concern seen before widespread vaccinations began. 

Forty-eight percent are at least somewhat concerned about catching a new Covid variant, with those who have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine more likely to feel that way than someone who is not vaccinated, according to Monmouth. 

With the CDC issuing new guidance that recommends more people wear masks, and some states issuing either new masking guidance or mandates themselves, 52 percent of American adults say they support either "instituting or reinstituting face mask and social distancing guidelines in their states," a sentiment that falls deeply on partisan lines. 

Monmouth polled 804 adults in the United States from July 21 to July 26. The poll has an error margin of +/- 3.5 percentage points.

Trump political operation banks more than $100 million in first six months of 2021

Former President Donald Trump amassed a war chest of more than $100 million over the first six months of 2022 across his four affiliated political committees as he repeatedly fundraised off of his false claims the election was stolen from him, and spent little from his political enterprise. 

New fundraising reports filed with the Federal Election Committee show that Trump has raised $62 million directly into his Save America leadership PAC, his primary fundraising vehicle for his post-presidential political life. That total includes money that may have been raised in 2020 by other affiliated committees but was transferred over to Trump's PAC this year — Save America closed June with $90 million in cash on hand, with his affiliated committees banking millions more. 

As he publicly floats another bid for president, Trump can't use money raised to Save America for any presidential campaign. But he has broad leeway to spend the money he raises on other political activities (individual donors can donate a maximum of $5,000 a cycle to the group). 

But over the first six months of 2021, Trump only spent $3.2 million, $1 million as a contribution to help fund the America First Policy Institute, a pro-Trump non-profit

Other notable expenses include: hundreds of thousands of dollars on consulting (including $40,000 to the company run by his former campaign manager, Brad Parscale), $68,000 to the "Trump Hotel Collection," and $66,550 to his pollster, McLaughlin & Associates, whose polling Trump pointed to in April to rebut arguments that his power within the party was waning. 

As the Washington Post reported last month, none of the money appears to have gone to directly fund any of the so-called "election audits" that pro-Trump politicians and political forces have pushed for in states like Arizona. 

More than 100 state legislators to join Texas Democrats in D.C. to push for voting bill

Democratic state legislators from around the country will travel to Washington, D.C., this week to join Texas Democrats in a push for federal voting legislation, multiple participating state legislators told NBC News.

At least 104 legislator from 29 states and Puerto Rico are attending in person, a source familiar with the plans told NBC News.

They hope to secure meetings with senators, who are still in town to wrap work on a bipartisan infrastructure package ahead of a scheduled August recess, and are planning a march and rally for Tuesday, Florida state Rep. Anna Eskamani said.

Speakers at the rally are expected to include Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Jeff Merkeley of Oregon, Ben Casey of Pennsylvania, and Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, according to Eskamani. The large delegation of state legislators will include Democrats from Georgia, Arizona, and Michigan, where Republicans have advanced or enacted sweeping voting restrictions.

An announcement of the plans is expected later Monday. The campaign comes after a group of Democratic senators began work on a slimmed-down bill they hope can garner more support.

Washington advocacy groups are footing the bill for lawmakers' travel and lodging, with funding coming from groups including Center for American Progress Action, End Citizens United, and Black Voters Matter Fund, the source familiar with the plans said. Eskamani said she is paying for her own flight, however.

The Orlando Democrat said she hoped the state legislators would be able to share the everyday reality of how the election changes affects voters and state legislatures. 

“When you’re a U.S. senator you’re representing an entire state, you’re not thinking about the districts or specific polling sites,” she said. “But we are, we see it every day.”

Democratic members of the Texas House of Representatives fled to D.C. last month to block passage of GOP-backed voting restrictions by denying the legislative chamber the quorum needed to conduct state business. Those state legislators have been lobbying for federal voting legislation with lobbying meetings and a steady stream of media events for weeks.

Still, there no clear path for federal voting legislation in the current Congress. At least two Democrats are unwilling to abolish or modify filibuster rules that require 60 votes — at least 10 Republicans in this Congress — to advance legislation. Republicans have largely remained opposed to any federal voting legislation.

Biden accepts posthumous Kosovo honor for late son's work

President Joe Biden is accepting one of Kosovo’s highest honors on behalf of his late son, saying the fledgling Balkan nation “is in the hearts of the entire Biden family.”

At a ceremony this weekend, Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani will present a posthumous Presidential Medal on the Rule of Law to Beau Biden, who traveled to Kosovo in 2001 to help establish the country’s judicial institutions and the rule of law as it was establishing its independence from Yugoslavia.

“Beau’s work in Kosovo was heartfelt. He fell in love with the country,” Biden said in a video message that will air during the presentation Sunday. “At the time, Kosovo still bore the fresh wounds of war and a justice system hollowed out by decades of totalitarian rule. But Beau could see what you could do, Beau could see even then the future that was possible for your proud country.”

It’s the second time Kosovo has offered a major tribute to Beau Biden, who served as Delaware’s attorney general and was readying a campaign for governor when he lost his battle with brain cancer in 2015. A year later, during his last year as vice president, Biden visited the country with members of his family for the dedication of a roadway near Camp Bondsteel in Beau Biden’s name. 

The president’s brand of diplomacy has always been grounded in personal connections. And because Kosovo’s independence is not universally recognized, it has worked to maintain its close ties with Washington. Kosovo’s capital city also includes major routes named for former Presidents Bush and Clinton. 

In his remarks, Biden said his son was “just one of many” people dedicated to Kosovo’s independence, and said he accepted the honor on behalf of all who helped build its institutions over the past two decades. He also said he was pleased to ensure that Kosovo would be receiving American doses of Pfizer’s Covid vaccine “within weeks.”

The U.S. ambassador to Kosovo will receive the medal at Sunday’s ceremony, which also includes a popular Kosovo singer performing songs from one of Beau Biden’s favorite bands, Coldplay

Teachers' union leader Weingarten backs new masking guidance

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten is throwing her support behind masking students in schools, saying Wednesday that while vaccines are the “number-one, gold standard” when it comes to keeping schools open, masking can fill an important role, too.

During an interview on MTP Daily, Weingarten framed masking in schools as a necessary strategy right now, even if it’s not a convenient one. 

“I hate wearing a mask. Every time I wear a mask, I have a hard time breathing because I'm an asthmatic. But we figured out how to do it, and we figured out how to teach kids with it, and we figured out how to open schools with it,” Weingarten said.

“The bottom line is: If we want kids to be in school, and we want everybody to be safe, and we want to keep schools open, this is what the scientists, this is what the pediatricians are telling us we need to do because of Delta. And let's just all try to put the politics to the side and try to do this to keep, to get schools open.”

Her comments come one day after CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky announced new guidance recommending that all children wear masks in classrooms as concerns rise about the transmissibility of the new Delta Covid variant. But debates over mask mandates have already been raging ahead of this coming year, with some states like Texas outlawing mask mandates in schools. 

Some cities and states are requiring that employees, including public-school teachers, get vaccinated or be subjected to regular testing. 

When asked about vaccine mandates for staff, Weingarten explained that while over 90 percent of the union’s members are vaccinated, members are split on whether they want a vaccine mandate for themselves or kids.

“You need to negotiate any kind of vaccine mandate,” Weingarten says. She added that she’s a “big proponent of vaccines,” but the issue is developing trust around public health guidelines because of the politicization of vaccines.

McConnell to launch radio ads calling for people to 'take advantage of this miracle and get vaccinated'

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will soon run radio ads in Kentucky to promote vaccination efforts, a source familiar with his plans confirmed to NBC News.

The new ads, paid for by McConnell's campaign account (he won reelection last year and doesn't face voters again until 2026), will connect McConnell's childhood polio diagnosis to the new fight against Covid, calling on Americans to "take advantage of this miracle and get vaccinated." 

"As a young boy, I faced a different disease. I contracted polio. Back then, it took decades for us to develop a vaccine. This time, thanks to American investment and ingenuity — and especially thanks to the tireless work of our scientists, doctors and health care heroes— it took less than a year for us to develop three highly effective Covid vaccines," McConnell says in the to-be-released ad. 

"This is not complicated. Ninety-seven percent of people hospitalized for Covid are not vaccinated. If you haven’t been vaccinated, do the right thing for you — for your family — and get vaccinated right now," he adds, directing listeners to the government vaccination website "Vaccines.gov." 

The push from McConnell comes as the highly contagious Delta variant spreads across the United States. Spikes in cases and hospitalization, as well as new developments in understanding the variant's effects, have led to new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that all people wear masks in areas with low vaccination rates, and that school children should too, regardless of vaccination status. 

The spikes are particularly acute in states with low vaccination rates, many of which are in America's South. Covid-related hospitalizations in Louisiana increased by 169 between Monday and Tuesday, an increase the state's Department of Health called the largest since March 2020. 

Many prominent Republicans have criticized vaccine mandates and some have questioned the vaccines themselves. 

But as the virus rages, particularly in his home state, Louisiana Republican Sen. John Kennedy told NBC News that he's planning to release another public statement endorsing vaccines, and that he is listening to the recommendations of health care professionals when it comes to things like masking and vaccinations. 

"When a booster is available, I’m gonna take it. My wife’s taking it, my son’s taking it. And frankly, I’m so confident in it that [if] they told me, 'Kennedy, with the booster, you gotta take a shot in your eyeball,' I’d probably do it,” he said. 

"It scares the hell out of me, it’ll kill you dead as a doornail, I’ve seen it. And we’ve got a way to stop it. You don’t have to take it if you don’t want to — this is America — but it scares me to death."

Virginia governor ad watch: 'Election integrity' and puppies

It's a busy day on the airwaves in the Virginia gubernatorial race, with both candidates launching new ads in the race to define Republican Glenn Youngkin as the political newcomer seeks to upset former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe. 

The new spot from the McAuliffe campaign plays into a strategy they've centered on in recent days — using Youngkin's comments during the primary to connect him to former President Donald Trump's lies about the 2020 election, notably as the issue finds its way back into the headlines amid Congress' investigation into the attack on the Capitol. 

The ad quotes Youngkin talking about the "election integrity" task force he launched "on week one" of his campaign in the GOP primary. 

It comes one day after McAuliffe called on Youngkin to drop out of a local GOP event billed as an "election integrity" rally, accusing the Republican of "promoting Trump's dangerous lies." 

"Glenn, enough is enough. Stop embarrassing Virginia and stop promoting Trump’s dangerous lies. Withdraw from this event," McAullife said. 

The Youngkin camp responded in a statement, criticizing McAuliffe for opposing "requiring a photo ID to vote, which undermines the integrity of our elections and makes it easier to cheat."

And as the hits keep coming from the McAuliffe camp and its allies, Youngkin is out with a new TV ad of his own that aims to make light of the attacks and soften his image. 

In an ad reminiscent to the one Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock launched during his 2020 bid, the narrator castigates the Republican for a slew of tongue-in-cheek "crimes" like leaving dirty dishes in the sink before Youngkin says he's not focused on the negative campaigning. 

"Here come the negative attack ads. Terry McAuliffe is going to try to scare you with lies about me, because he doesn't want to talk about his own extreme views. What's next? I hate dogs?" Youngkin says in the ad. 

What the NBC/WSJ poll got wrong in 2020 — and what we are doing to fix it

Political polls of all stripes swung and missed in the 2020 presidential election.

In fact, according to a recent American Association for Public Opinion Research report, the cumulative error was the largest in 40 years.

That includes the performance of our national NBC News/Wall Street Journal, which showed Joe Biden leading Donald Trump by 10 points in the final survey before the election, when Biden’s eventual popular-vote victory over Donald Trump was 4.5 points, 51.3percent to 46.8 percent.

In the months after the election, the bipartisan team of pollsters who conduct the national NBC News poll — the Wall Street Journal is no longer a partner — evaluated the poll and its 10,000 interviews in all of 2020 compared with actual voters from states’ voter files.

Some of the findings from the analysis:

  • The actual electorate was whiter and older than our poll showed: In our October merged surveys, 18 percent of voters were 65+ (when actual senior voters were 26 percent, per the modeled voter file), and 72 percent were white-non Hispanic (when they were actually 74 percent).
  • The poll overstated Biden’s support among seniors: One reason why is because of the percentage of Black seniors (versus white seniors) was higher than it turned out to be.
  • The poll overstated Biden’s support in urban areas (and also slightly in rural areas) compared with the actual results: "Our analysis of county-based data shows our over-estimation of Biden's margin over Trump was primarily concentrated in urban areas across geographies," the pollsters said.
  • The poll was slightly too Dem-leaning: The modeled party score from our voter file (D+9) and our October surveys (D+8) was more Democratic than the actual 2020 voters turned out to be (D+5).

The NBC pollsters found other complicating factors, including declining poll participation rates, the coronavirus pandemic (blue-collar voters made up 19 percent of registered voters for the poll in 2019 and 20 percent in the Jan. 2020 survey, but they were 17 percent for the rest of 2020), and Trump’s unique role (Biden was +10 on the ballot, but it was D+5 in congressional preference).

Going forward, here are the changes the pollsters are making:

  • They are adjusting samples to be slightly older and keep white non-Hispanics above 70 percent of registered voters.
  • They are incorporating additional quotas by age and ethnicity, and will use a geography-based sampling frame based on size and county type.
  • They will ask undecided voters again for a final preference between the Republican or Democratic candidate if forced to make a decision today.
  • And they will closely track the percentage of blue-collar workers in our surveys.

Tuesday marks election day in Texas House special election

Texans in the state's Sixth Congressional District will choose a new member of Congress Tuesday between two Republicans, Susan Wright and state Rep. Jake Ellzey. 

Democrats have no candidate on the ballot after Wright and Ellzey finished in the top slots of the first round of voting in May. Now, both Republicans are running for the right to replace the late former GOP Rep. Ron Wright, Susan Wright's husband. 

One major dynamic at play here has been the endorsement battle.

Wright has the backing of former President Trump (and a slew of other GOP voices like the Club for Growth, Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas, and Reps. Elise Stefanik, N.Y., Kay Granger, Texas, and Chip Roy, Texas. 

And Ellzey is supported by former Energy Secretary and Texas GOP Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas.

While fundraising data from the race lags by a few weeks because of federal campaign finance deadlines, through July 7, Ellzey had a significant fundraising lead. He had raised $1.74 million up to that point, spending $1.25 million with $490,000 in cash on hand. By comparison, Wright had raised $740,000, spending $577,000 with $164,000 in cash on hand. 

But Wright has had the advertising edge, thanks to air-cover from the Club for Growth, which has spent $420,000 on ads benefitting Wright, according to AdImpact (that's more than any other individual entity in the race). 

Trump has repeatedly reiterated his endorsement over the race's final weeks, and recorded a robocall for the Wright campaign down the stretch. A pro-Trump super PAC reportedly linked to Trump's 2016 campaign manager, Cory Lewandowski, dropped $100,000 on last-minute TV-ads to boost Wright. 

Progressive group buys $2 million in ads to push tax hikes on wealthy

The advocacy group Tax March is giving air cover to President Joe Biden’s push for higher taxes on wealthy Americans, buying $2 million worth of ads over the next three weeks in swing states and districts calling on upper earners to pay more.

“If you can afford to launch yourself in space, you can pay your fair share in taxes,” a narrator in the ad says, featuring footage of Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Richard Branson, who have dabbled in space exploration.

The ads will run on TV and digital platforms in Washington, D.C., NBC News has learned, as well as in Wisconsin (targeting Republican Sen. Ron Johnson), New York’s 24th district (targeting GOP Rep. John Katko) and Iowa’s 1st district (targeting GOP Rep. Ashley Hinson), said Maura Quint, the executive director of Tax March.

The ads will begin Tuesday and last until Aug. 15, she said. They come as Democrats prepare to advance a $3.5 trillion budget measure that will serve as the vehicle for Biden’s proposed economic safety net expansions and tax hikes on corporations and those making above $400,000.

“Increasing taxes on the wealthy is a beneficial thing across the board,” Quint said in an interview, describing it as a means to bridge income inequality, pay for Biden’s economic spending proposals and prevent billionaires from attempting to buy politics.

Quint cited the popularity of tax hikes on high earners in surveys and said it “will be very disappointing” if Democrats cannot achieve that while they control the White House and Congress. “We’re going to be fighting very, very hard to push these policies.”

The group also said it's planning to buy a billboard to promote the cause in Times Square, the home of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat.

Trump records robocall for Texas' Wright ahead of special election runoff

Former President Donald Trump has recorded a robocall for Republican Susan Wright ahead of her face-off against GOP state Rep. Jake Ellzey in Tuesday's runoff election. 

Wright tweeted audio of the robocall this past weekend, with Trump reiterating his endorsement of Wright and calling on supporters to vote for her. 

"I'm asking you to go out and vote for a great Republican, a great woman, Susan Wright," Trump says in the robocall. 

"She's outstanding. Like me, she's strong on immigration, she's tough on crime, and she's going to cut your taxes." 

Wright and Ellzey are running in the Texas Sixth District runoff after both were the top vote-getters in the May election to replace the late Rep. Ron Wright, who died earlier this year. Texas election laws have the top-two candidates in a special election move onto a general election unless one wins a majority of the vote on the first ballot.  

Trump went on to praise the former congressman in the robocall, saying that his wife will "carry on Ron's legacy." The call notes that its distribution will be paid for by the Wright campaign. 

The news of the robocall wasn't the only Trump-related development in the race over the weekend. Make America Great Again Action Inc, a super PAC reportedly helmed by former 2016 Trump campaign manager Cory Lewandowski, reported a last-minute, $100,000 TV-ad expenditure aimed at boosting Wright.