The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Gun violence grows during coronavirus pandemic group's data shows
WASHINGTON — A Family Dollar Store security guard murdered in a dispute over wearing a face mask. A coronavirus researcher in Pennsylvania gunned down in an apparent murder suicide. A woman shooting up an Oklahoma McDonald’s after being told the dining area was closed.
Those incidents — all happening within the last month — underscore new data showing that the nation’s gun violence epidemic has grown since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The new data also shows those statistics could soar even higher amidst the protests over George Floyd's killing.
Firearm fatalities increased significantly in April (16 percent) and May (15 percent) compared to the same months in 2019, even while many Americans spent their days sheltered at home, according to new data from the Gun Violence Archive compiled exclusively for NBC News. Those deaths followed unprecedented spikes in gun purchases in March, a trend that continued in April.
"May 2020 has officially had the highest number of mass shootings (56) of any month since we started tracking mass shooting data in 2013,” the Gun Violence Archive said on May 31. The study defines mass shootings as four or more shot and/or killed in a single event.
The group’s data shows that the increase in gun violence is particularly ravaging communities in urban areas.
“You have increased unemployment, the stress of the virus, the stress of having to be at home in communities with high infection rates,” said Igor Volsky, director of Guns Down America. “All of that is like a pressure cooker.”
In some places, it’s even complicating emergency room efforts to treat coronavirus patients, according to Dr. Bellal Joseph, a trauma division chief at the College of Medicine in Tucson, Arizona.
“COVID-19 and gun violence are like super infections. Together they are more deadly,” Joseph said in a new video calling on Congress to close loopholes in the background check system and provide more funding for domestic violence services in the next round of coronavirus relief.
The video is part of an effort organized by Volsky’s group — a broad coalition of organizations including March for Our Lives, Bishops United and the Women’s March galvanizing the legislative push.
“We see many of these patients get infected with COVID-19 while they’re in the hospital,” Joseph said of victims of gun violence.
And some cities are being hit especially hard. In Cincinnati, homicides are more than doubling what they were in 2019. In Louisville, shootings are up 82 percent from 2019. The week after its stay-at-home order took effect, Philadelphia saw 40 shooting incidents, about twice what it typically sees. And Jacksonville, Fla. experienced 17 homicides in March, making it the deadliest March in 15 years.
The House passed legislation with new funding for suicide and domestic violence prevention, but the bill did not include additional funds for frontline violence prevention workers or public education “panic-buying” during the pandemic or loopholes in the gun background check system. It is also unclear whether the Senate will take any of the bill up in session.
According FBI data, there were 3.7 million background checks done in March — which is the most for a single month since the system began in 1998. And federally licensed firearm dealers requested over one million more background checks than they did in March 2019. The trend continued in April, with a 72 percent increase in estimated total number of gun sales-related background checks from April 2019.
The rush of new gun purchases coincided with reports of major increases in domestic violence calls to local police departments and domestic abuse hotlines. Forty-eight states are reporting increases in calls to police or domestic violence hotlines, with some counties seeing spikes as high as 70 percent (Los Angeles County) and 80 percent (Florida’s Treasure Coast) compared to the same month last year.
In April, three researchers warned that the nation is "primed for a suicide epidemic triggered by COVID-19."
“This continued surge in gun sales is bringing new risks into American homes that will linger long after the pandemic,” Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, said in a statement. “The risks are particularly high for the millions of kids in homes with unsecured guns, women sheltering in place with abusers and anyone who is struggling psychologically during this crisis.”
On March 28, the Department of Homeland Security deemed gun stores essential businesses, issuing and advisory to states. On April 10th, the administration issued a new rule allowing federally licensed firearm dealers to provide curbside service and sell guns through drive-throughs.
Now some states are even moving to loosen regulations. The Missouri legislature just voted to require all elementary and secondary schools to allow concealed guns in school by requiring each school to designate a “school protection officer.”
Joe Biden up 11 over President Trump in new poll
WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden leads President Trump by 11 points, and wins support from a majority of registered voters, in a new national poll from Monmouth University.
The new poll, which has Biden with 52 percent support and Trump at 41 percent, shows an increase in Biden's lead over the past three months of Monmouth polling, albeit mostly within the margin of error. Biden led by 9 points in May, 4 points in April and 3 points in March.
While Trump and Biden have a strong hold on members of their own party (and those who identify as conservative and liberal respectively), Biden has clear, double-digit leads among independents and moderates.
Biden is winning majority or plurality support from most demographic breakdowns in the poll.
He holds majority support from Democrats, independents, liberals, moderates, women, voters between the ages of 18-34, voters between the age of 35-49, voters 65 years old and older, voters making less than $50,000, voters making more than $100,000 and non-white voters.
The Democrat also has a plurality with male voters and those making between $50,000 and $100,000.
Trump has majority support from Republicans, conservatives, voters between the ages 50-65, and non-Hispanic whites.
Fifty-seven percent of voters view Trump unfavorably, compared to 38 percent who view him favorably. For Biden, his unfavorable rating is 49 percent and his favorable rating is 42 percent. Both candidates have seen a dip in their favorability from recent Monmouth polls.
While most of the poll interviews took place before Trump's visit to St. John's Church, which came after protestors were forcibly cleared so that Trump could walk to the church from the White House, more voters have confidence in Biden to handle race relations than in Trump.
Fifty-two percent of voters say they have at least some confidence in Biden to handle race relations (17 percent say a great deal, 35 percent say some), while 40 percent say the same about Trump (22 percent say great deal, 18 percent say some).
“The race continues to be largely a referendum on the incumbent. The initial reaction to ongoing racial unrest in the country suggests that most voters feel Trump is not handling the situation all that well," Patrick Murray, the Monmouth University Polling Institut director, said.
As America still tries to manage the coronavirus pandemic, the new poll finds voters split on how it will affect Trump's reelection chances, although voters are more pessimistic about the impact on Trump than they were in April's poll.
Thirty-eight percent of voters say Trump's handling of the outbreak makes it less likely for him to be elected, compared to 31 percent who felt that way in April. Eighteen percent said it makes Trump more likely to be elected, compared to 27 percent from April.
But a plurality, 41 percent, said the handling of coronavirus makes no difference as to Trump's reelection chances, up from 36 percent in April.
Monmouth polled 742 registered voters by phone from May 28 through June 1. The results have a +/- 3.6 percentage point margin of error.
New poll: Majority believe anger that led to George Floyd protests justified
WASHINGTON — A majority of Americans say that the anger that has led to nationwide protests in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd is justified, and nearly six-in-ten now say that police officers are more likely to use excessive force against a black person than a white one when faced with a dangerous situation, according to a new Monmouth poll.
The poll finds that 57 percent of Americans believe that protestors’ anger is “fully justified,” while another 21 percent say it is “partially justified.” Just 18 percent say the anger motivating the protests is not justified at all.
The public expresses more ambivalence about specific actions taken in those protests, which have included the burning of a police precinct as well as looting in major cities. Just 17 percent said protestors’ actions are “fully” justified, although another 37 percent say they are “partially” justified.
The poll also notably found a jump in the public’s belief that black people face unequal treatment at the hands of police. Fifty-seven percent — including 87 percent of black Americans and 49 percent of white Americans — say that police are more likely to use excessive force with a black person than with a white person in the same situation. That’s up from just a third of Americans who said the same in a Monmouth poll of registered voters in 2016.
Additionally, three-quarters of Americans — 76 percent — now say racial discrimination is a major problem in America, up from 68 percent in 2016.
President Donald Trump’s job approval rating in the new survey shows 42 percent of the public approving and 54 percent disapproving. That’s a downtick — although within the poll’s margin of error — from a 43 percent to 51 percent split in May.
The Monmouth poll was conducted from May 28 to June 1 and has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points.
D.C. mayor 'not concerned' about voting going past city-wide curfew
WASHINGTON — D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said she doesn't expect voters to have issues voting until polls close at 8 p.m. despite the city being under a 7 p.m. curfew on Tuesday.
"We know that people have been voting in this primary, which is today, since May 22. They know the hours, they have 22 voting locations all across the District of Columbia that they can go to, and polls are open until 8 p.m., and you won't have any problems going to vote," Bowser said.
Bowser's remarks come a day after peaceful protests in D.C. were aggressively broken up before the same 7 p.m. curfew went into effect on Monday night. According to the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department Chief Peter Newsham, protestors were forcefully dispersed around the White House by federal police, not by D.C. police.
Bowser added that she is "not concerned about voters feeling scared" to vote at any point during the day.
The D.C. Board of Elections chose to focus on mail-in ballots and limiting the amount of in-person voting sites due to the coronavirus pandemic, Bowser said.
"There have been heavy requests for mail-in ballots, and a lot of people across the District of Columbia have voted," Bowser said. She also noted that early in-person voting has been open since May 22.
Because of the emphasis on mail-in ballots, Bowser also cautioned that it would be unlikely for D.C. to announce election winners on Tuesday night.
Rep. Steve King on the ropes and other Tuesday races to watch
WASHINGTON — Amid the coronavirus pandemic and widespread protests following the death of George Floyd, primary contests will take place Tuesday in eight states, as well as the District of Columbia.
The race that has generated the most buzz is in Iowa’s 4th Congressional district where controversial GOP Rep. Steve King is getting a primary challenge from state Sen. Randy Feenstra. With all of the news and discussion about race in America, the verdict of Iowa Republicans will be significant. But there are several other notable down-ballot primaries occurring outside of the Hawkeye State’s fourth House district.
Here are the contests on the NBC News political unit’s radar:
Iowa Senate: Democrats will pick their Senate nominee Tuesday to face GOP Sen. Joni Ernst in the fall. The favorite is businesswoman Theresa Greenfield, and national Democrats feel confident that she’ll get the 35 percent-plus needed to avoid a party convention to decide the nomination.
Montana Governor: In Montana’s race to replace term-limited Gov. Steve Bullock (who’s running for Senate), Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte — who assaulted political reporter Ben Jacobs in 2017 — is competing in the GOP gubernatorial primary against state Attorney General Tim Fox and state Sen. Al Olszewski. The Democrats running for governor are Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney and businesswoman Whitney Williams.
New Mexico’s 2nd District: Republicans Yvette Herrell and Claire Chase are competing in a GOP primary for the right to take on Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small — who flipped the seat in 2018 — in the fall. A Democratic group has been airing TV ads in the race in an apparent attempt to put a thumb on the scale for Herrell and against Chase.
New Mexico’s 3rd District: Former CIA officer Valerie Plame is running in a crowded Democratic primary to replace retiring Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (who’s running for the Senate). EMILY’s List has endorsed Teresa Leger Fernandez.
—Ben Kamisar and Liz Brown-Kaiser contributed.
Biden vows to address institutional racism if elected
In the midst of the nationwide demonstrations protesting the death of George Floyd while being knelt on by a Minneapolis police officer, former Vice President Joe Biden promised to address the protestors' anger by combating institutional racism and providing steps for their economic mobility if he’s elected in November.
Wearing a blue paper mask, Biden spent roughly an hour listening and taking notes on the concerns expressed by black community leaders gathered in Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, Del., Monday. Though all fourteen leaders expressed support for Biden, they did not hold back on criticizing his role in passing the 1994 crime bill and in the Obama administration for not charting the path for the community to reach economic prosperity.
In response, Biden promised he would make sure that an economic relief package he tries to pass within the first 100 days of his presidency would correct the “institutional structures” and “economic structures” that the black community needs to succeed. Though he did not provide specifics, the apparent Democratic nominee said he will soon deliver “very serious national speeches” on how to revive the economy for everyone and lay out specific plans to address housing, education and access to capital.
He also committed himself to establishing a national police oversight board in his first 100 days to “fundamentally change” training and stamp out bias within the ranks.
The nationwide protests sparked by the tragic death of 46 year-old George Floyd has brought Biden more to the forefront of the conversation both literally and figuratively as he tries to broadcast himself as a possible consoler and listener-in-chief. Overnight protests in Wilmington this weekend prompted Biden to leave his home for the second time that week to visit the aftermath on Sunday. It also moved him to hold his first in-person campaign event Monday so he could be close enough to hear leaders concerns.
“You're the ones who trained me, I'm not being facetious, you really are. And so it's a good place for me to start," Biden said of why he chose to learn from members of his hometown rather than fly to protest hotspots.
Members of the community stressed to Biden that while they’re ready to help him, he needs to acknowledge that they are expecting something in return for their votes that helped springboard him to become the apparent Democratic nominee. Two people suggested that he start by choosing a black woman as his vice president.
While Biden did not commit to choosing a black running mate, he tried to reassure the community he would make the right choice because Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, the state’s first black female representative, is leading his vice presidential vetting committee.
Before wrapping his roughly 35 minute remarks, Biden acknowledged that fully stamping out racism to the community’s liking may be difficult to do under the terms of his presidency, if elected. He reminded listeners that changing the systemic racism in the judicial system requires voters electing a Democratic Senate so they can start appointing judges to balance the dozens of conservative ones that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has shepherded through confirmation.
Biden then asked the community for help, acknowledging how they had always “given me hell when you thought I screwed up” and set him on the right course to best uplift black America.
“I know I make mistakes, but to quote an old Talmudic expression, 'what comes right from the heart goes straight to the heart' and it's going to come from the heart but I need help,” Biden said. “I need help and advice as we go along as to what I should, you think I should be doing.”
Kansas Senate primary field set as Pompeo sits race out
WASHINGTON — The field is set for the Republican Senate primary in Kansas, and it doesn't include Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Despite speculation that he could run, Monday's filing deadline came and went.
Now, Republicans are left with a field of candidates who have traded bitter exchanges amid concerns from Republicans that the acrimonious primary could jeopardize their party's control of the seat.
Pompeo seemed to flirt with the idea of a run in his home state throughout the year, holding official events in Kansas as reports said he spoke with conservative activist Charles Koch about the race.
With the field set, the top GOP primary candidates are former Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who lost to Democrat Laura Kelly in the gubernatorial race in 2018, and Rep. Roger Marshall, who's been endorsed by former Sen. Bob Dole.
To try and get their arms around a large, and brutal primary, the Kansas GOP went so far as to ask two candidates, Kansas Senate president Susan Wagle and former Johnson County Commissioner Dave Lindstrom, to drop out (Wagle ultimately did).
The Republican candidate will likely face off against Democratic state Sen. Barbara Bollier. Bollier, a former Republican, has outraised all of the Republican candidates. And the GOP hasn't been pleased that Kobach could be leading their ticket again. When Kobach announced his candidacy, the National Republican Senatorial Committee said he'd be putting the Senate majority at risk.
“Just last year Kris Kobach ran and lost to a Democrat. Now, he wants to do the same and simultaneously put President Trump’s presidency and Senate Majority at risk,” National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesperson Joanna Rodriguez said at the time. “We know Kansans won’t let that happen and we look forward to watching the Republican candidate they do choose win next fall.”
Outside groups spending big for Greenfield in Iowa with primary a day away
WASHINGTON — With Iowa's congressional primary elections one day away, Democratic groups are spending big money to help Democrat Theresa Greenfield over the finish line.
Greenfield has some big names in her corner — the DSCC, NARAL, EMILY's List, the Brady PAC, BOLD PAC and former Iowa first lady Christie Vilsack are among her backers. And some of her key allies are flooding the airwaves ahead of Tuesday's Senate primary, where Democrats look to find their nominee to face off against Republican Sen. Joni Ernst.
In the past seven days, Women Vote! (a PAC aligned with EMILY's List), Senate Majority PAC and Greenfield’s campaign have spent almost $1.8 million on TV, Advertising Analytics shows. Greenfield's top opponents, Michael Franken and Eddie Mauro, have spent just $165,000 combined.
Mauro's recent ads have taken aim at Greenfield's business record, but his spending has been just a drop in the bucket when compared to the pro-Greenfield spending.
Franken's ad messaging has centered on his Des Moines Register endorsement and his biography, and don't take jabs at his opponents.
The big spending and influx of attack ads aimed at boosting Greenfield come in a race that has an uncommon wrinkle — if no candidate reaches 35 percent of the vote on Tuesday, the party will choose its nominee at its convention.
So Greenfield and her allies are trying to flood the zone in the race’s final days in the hopes of wrapping things up for good on Tuesday.
Demings: 'Long overdue' for nationwide review to address police misconduct
WASHINGTON — Florida Democratic Rep. Val Demings, a former police chief, called Sunday for all law enforcement agencies to re-evaluate standards and practices in order to address police misconduct, a call that came after protests across the country related to the death of a man in Minnesota police custody last week.
Demings joined "Meet the Press" to discuss the protests regarding the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody last Monday after an officer, who has since been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter, pinned him to the ground with his knee on his neck.
“Before, as we dealt with misconduct involving police officers, we’ve always tried to deal with it as an individual department or an individual city or an individual state. But I do believe the time has certainly come, we are overdue for us to look at the problem as a nation," she said.
"Every law enforcement agency in this nation, whether they are 10 persons or 35,000 persons, need to review their hiring standards, their training standards, look at their de-escalation training that they are doing in their department, look at those officers who are training other officers."
The former police officer and Orlando Police chief has said she's being vetted as one of the candidates to be former Vice President Joe Biden's running mate. In a Washington Post op-ed last week, Demings asked her former police colleagues "What in the hell are you doing?"
"When an officer engages in stupid, heartless and reckless behavior, their actions can either take a life or change a life forever. Bad decisions can bring irrevocable harm to the profession and tear down the relationships and trust between the police and the communities they serve," she wrote.
Amid Floyd fallout, Clyburn says it's not the right time for Klobuchar to be named VP
WASHINGTON — House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said Friday that he believes it’s not the right time to choose Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., as apparent Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s running mate in light of the developing events in Minnesota following the death of George Floyd.
While Clyburn acknowledged that Klobuchar “absolutely is qualified” to serve as vice president, he said that the protests that have erupted in her state this week have complicated her chances.
“We’re all victims sometimes of timing and some of us benefit tremendously from timing,” Clyburn said on a call with reporters Friday. “This is very tough timing for Amy Klobuchar, who I respect so much.”
Asked to clarify whether he believes her chances to be chosen are less likely today than they were a few weeks ago, Clyburn said: “That is the implication, yes.”
The senior congressman from South Carolina added that his belief is based on a “gut feeling,” not any personal conversations he has had with Biden or his campaign.
Klobuchar’s record as Hennepin County attorney has come under fire in recent days even though she has not been involved with the police officer who is being accused of killing Floyd. Even so, she has faced increased scrutiny from the African American community in numerous op-eds over the last week that say she should not be chosen as Biden’s vice president because of her lack of prosecuting police misconduct in Minnesota during her tenure.
Prior to ending her presidential campaign in early March, Klobuchar was forced to cancel a campaign event in St. Louis Park, Minn. because black activists overtook the stage to protest her decision to sentence a Minnesota teenager to life in prison for murder while serving as county attorney.
Clyburn, whose endorsement ahead of the South Carolina primary was credited with delivering a jolt of energy into Biden's campaign, did not say outright that this moment calls for Biden to pick an African American woman as his running mate.
However, Clyburn did speak highly of Democratic Florida Rep. Val Demings, who was formerly a police chief in Orlando.
“I think she's a very fine woman. I think she's a very qualified woman. She has the kind of compassion and sensitivity I would like to see in the last president,” he said.
President Trump to resume in-person fundraisers
WASHINGTON — After foregoing in-person fundraisers due to the coronavirus pandemic in March, President Trump is expected to resume the campaign staple in mid-June, according to a Republican National Committee official.
The president will participate in two high-dollar fundraisers next month: one on June 11 at a private home in Dallas — there will be approximately 25 guests and it will cost about $580,600 per couple to attend. The second will take place at Trump's Bedminster, N.J. golf club on June 13. There will also be about 25 attendees and each person will pay $250,000 to attend. POLITICO first reported the campaign's decision.
“Trump Victory’s top priority is ensuring the safety of President Trump and our attendees, and that includes testing all attendees as well as several other safety measures that align with CDC’s guidance,” the RNC official explained.
The White House Medical Unit and U.S. Secret Service will also evaluate all attendees in order for them to be admitted to the event. All attendees will have to test negative for coronavirus on the day of the fundraiser, complete a wellness questionnaire and pass a temperature screening.
The costs of the tests will be covered by Trump Victory, the joint fundraising committee that includes the Trump campaign, RNC and 22 state parties. Each event site will be “professionally cleaned and sanitized” prior to the fundraisers, according to the RNC official.
Trump last attended an in-person fundraiser on March 9 in Orlando, Fla.