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Emerging GOP cracks scuttle united front in virus relief negotiations

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.
Christine Blasey Ford testifies about sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in Washington
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) participates at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on. 27, 2018.Erin Schaff / Pool via Reuters

WASHINGTON — The 2020 presidential race is far from over — and it’s barely getting attention with just 97 days to go.

But Republicans are already drawing battle lines in what could be a post-Trump GOP world.

You have some Republican candidates distancing themselves from Trump, as Hotline has noted.

"The easiest way to win the primary is the easiest way to lose the general," said Peter Meijer, a GOP candidate who’s running for Rep. Justin Amash’s, I-Mich., seat — when he was asked if he supports Trump unequivocally.

You have pro-Trump GOP candidates blasting their opponents for having the gall to have supported Mitt Romney in 2012 (see below for more).

And now you have Republicans denouncing the spending on coronavirus relief — after gladly voting for past measures that ballooned the deficit.

“We have two big government Democrats — Secretary Mnuchin on behalf of the Trump administration and Speaker Pelosi on behalf of binge-spending politicians everywhere — playing gross games with your kids’ money,” Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said in a statement.

Add it all up, and you see why the current negotiations over the coronavirus relief are a potentially disaster for the GOP: Members are already trying to figure out how their statements and votes might play in 2021.

It’s a fractured party — between pro-Trump Republicans willing to do anything for the president, Trump-distant Republicans looking for their own survival in blue/purple areas, and Tea Party Republicans once again focused on the size of government.

Big Tech’s day on the Hill

Yesterday, it was Attorney General Bill Barr’s turn before the House Judiciary Committee. And today, it’s the Big Four tech titans.

Beginning at noon ET, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Google’s Sundar Pichai and Apple's Tim Cook will all testify before the Judiciary’s antitrust, commercial and administrative law subcommittee.

“The executives are set to face hours of questions from members … about whether they hold monopoly-like grips on the digital economy and whether their companies should be broken up or in some way contained,” per NBC News.

And unlike Barr’s testimony yesterday, the grilling will likely be bipartisan.

Democrats and Republicans have their different beefs with these tech firms.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

4,377,969: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 60,941 more cases than yesterday morning.)

150,801: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 1,301 more than yesterday morning.)

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

More than 6,300: The number of cases that have been linked to U.S. colleges.

21: The number of states, according to a new federal report, that are in a “red zone” needing aggressive steps to halt the virus’s spread.

Nearly $2 billion: The amount included in the new coronavirus relief bill to build a new FBI headquarters, a White House priority that took some unhappy Republicans by surprise

Tweet of the day

2020 Vision: Biden’s talking points on Kamala Harris

At the same event where Joe Biden said he’ll choose his running mate by the first week of August – though note he didn’t say announce or unveil, so that could come later – an AP photo captured his talking points on Kamala Harris.

“Harris' name was scrawled across the top, followed by five talking points,” per the AP. “‘Do not hold grudges.’ ‘Campaigned with me & Jill.’ ‘Talented.’ ‘Great help to campaign.’ ‘Great respect for her.’”

“Those are all observations Biden has made about Harris before. But they take on new significance following a recent Politico report that one of Biden's closest friends and a co-chair of his vice presidential vetting committee, former Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, still harbors concerns about Harris' tough debate stage performance and that she hasn't expressed regret.”

Biden says he’ll choose his running mate the first week of August.

Ad watch from Ben Kamisar

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, isn't running for president. He's not even up for re-election this cycle.

But he’s still showing up on the airwaves as campaigns try to use him as a wedge in the Republican Party.

In recent days, we’ve seen Romney’s name repeatedly evoked by Republicans in primaries for Tennessee’s Senate seat and Florida’s 19th Congressional District, with the party’s 2012 nominee framed as a boogeyman (Romney appeared as a foil in a handful of other GOP primary ads this cycle, including in California’s 50th Congressional District and even a few primaries for state legislature seats).

And it seems likely Democrats are trying to seize on the divide in the party over Romney, too — about a month after the Club for Growth evoked Romney’s image to attack Roger Marshall, the mysterious group (with ties to Democrats) meddling in Kansas’ GOP Senate race started attacking Marshall for having backed a “Mitt Romney-like candidate” for president (that would be former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, for those of you scoring at home).

As campaigns use these loyalty tests to ask primary voters to repudiate their party’s 2012 nominee to support their new standard-bearer, it’s yet another reminder of how the GOP has been fashioned in the image of President Trump.

Begun, the bipartisan negotiations have

Bipartisan negotiations have started on the next round of coronavirus relief, even though the president called the legislation “sort of semi-irrelevant” during a White House press briefing.

But his negotiators — Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the sides were “airing our differences” and in the “second inning” of talks.

Here’s more from NBC News’ Hill team: Meadows said Democrats want “$600 on unemployment benefits and $915 billion on state and local aid.” But the Republican proposal doesn’t include any additional money for states and the ceiling for the entire bill is $1 trillion.

The GOP proposal includes $200 per week in enhanced unemployment benefits for the time being.

“They indicated they weren’t willing to negotiate down on the unemployment benefits. They haven’t said the $915 billion is a red line,” Meadows elaborated. But it seems like the Pelosi team didn’t get that message. Pelosi’s spokesperson tweeted on Tuesday night, “State/local aid is a centerpiece of #HeroesAct & essential to how we kill this virus.”

The Lid: Counting, down

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we examined Trump’s attempt to exclude undocumented immigrants from the Census apportionment count.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Trump says he has “never discussed” with Vladimir Putin the intelligence reports indicating that Russia may have paid the Taliban bounties on U.S. soldiers.

The Trump campaign appears to have stopped buying ads in Michigan altogether.

The Republican version of the coronavirus response bill does NOT include an eviction moratorium, which is a priority for Democrats.

A viral video showing NYPD officers arresting a protestor and pushing them into an unmarked van is raising questions about their tactics.

AG Bill Barr yesterday defended the administration’s response to racial justice protests.

Some House Republicans who previously weren’t worried about their reelection contests are starting to sweat.

Here’s the latest on the back-and-forth between the president and Twitter over his retweet of a discredited Covid video.