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Even in these unprecedented times, Trump's playbook never changes

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: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump listens during a meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House on May 18, 2020.Evan Vucci / AP

WASHINGTON — Ignore the experts, attack the referees and undermine global institutions.

That’s the unmistakable takeaway from President Trump’s recent actions after he’s fired multiple inspector generals.

After he’s — once again — railed against the news media and cheered on supporters who curse at local reporters.

After he’s picked yet another fight with the World Health Organization, threatening to permanently freeze its U.S. funding.

And after — maybe most shockingly of all — he’s admitted that he’s taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventative drug against the coronavirus, despite warnings that the drug shouldn’t be taken outside of hospital settings because it could cause heart problems.

These events are all new, but the pattern has been the same throughout Trump’s entire presidency.

When you ignore the experts, attack and fire the referees, and undermine institutions — no matter all of their imperfections and mistakes — you make it clear that you’re the only one in charge and will do whatever you please, as Politico writes this morning.

And that’s the antithesis of America’s democracy (with all of its checks and balances), as well as its federalism.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

1,521,996: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 21,802 more than yesterday morning.)

91,263: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 1,073 more than yesterday morning).

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

30 days: How long the president says that the World Health Organization has to “commit to major substantive improvements” before the United States permanently halts funding and “reconsiders” its membership in the body.

More than 40,000: The number of National Guard members assisting with coronavirus relief who face a “hard stop” to their orders on June 24, just one day before they’d become eligible for key benefits.

$354 million: The price tag on a new White House effort to shore up the drug supply chain.

911 points higher: The surge in the Dow Jones Industrial Average by yesterday’s close, amid positive news about a vaccine from drugmaker Moderna.

$12.4 million: The amount that White House vaccine adviser Moncef Slaoui will divest in Moderna stock options after the price soared yesterday.

2020 Vision: Meet Biden VP possibility Tammy Baldwin

As part of our continued look at Joe Biden’s VP contenders, we today examine Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.

Strengths: If a VP pick boosts the ticket in his/her home state (and some political scientists believe it could be worth between 2-3 points), then Baldwin makes a lot of sense — since Wisconsin is arguably the tipping point state for 2020. She's a progressive, a generation younger than Biden, and she won her re-election bid handily in 2018. And Baldwin has experience — two terms as a U.S. senator, plus more than a decade of service in the U.S. House.

Weaknesses: Despite her credentials, Baldwin is hardly a household name, and the current news environment might not help politicians with low name ID introduce themselves to the public. She's never been vetted on a national scale. And as the first openly gay politician to win election to the Senate, that history could produce scrutiny and speculation about whether her sexual orientation could hurt the Democratic ticket – similar to what Pete Buttigieg received in his presidential bid.

Other potential oppo stories: Critics have said that Baldwin was too slow to act on a whistleblower report regarding a VA medical facility in Wisconsin that patients referred to as “Candyland” because of its liberal prescription of opioids.

Ad watch from Ben Kamisar: Massie Appeal

What do you do when you are running in a Republican primary, but President Trump hit you with a burn notice earlier this year? You hug Trump even tighter.

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., drew the ire of Trump, as well as many of his House colleagues, in March when he frustrated the bipartisan attempt to pass the first major coronavirus relief bill without calling members back to Washington. That decision won him a series of critical tweets from Trump, who called him a “third rate Grandstander” and said that Republicans should “WIN BACK HOUSE, but throw Massie out of Republican Party.”

But Massie is clearly trying to bury the hatchet — in a recent ad, which begins with a smiling photo of Massie and Trump both doing a “thumbs up” gesture, Massie pans his GOP primary opponent, Todd McMurtry, as a “Trump hater.”

As has been customary in Trump-era Republican primaries, the spot goes on to point to past social media postings from McMurtry criticizing the president. During his campaign, McMurtry has defended the president and has accused Massie of not adequately supporting Trump’s goals in Washington.

It’s not the first time Massie has run the ad — Politico reported in January that his campaign made a small buy around the Super Bowl for Fox News in the West Palm Beach, Fla. area, one timed for Trump’s visit to Mar-a-Lago.

But last week was the first time the ad trackers at Advertising Analytics saw the spot pop up in Massie’s district, meaning that Massie, unsurprisingly, is staying the pro-Trump course despite the president’s recent attacks.

Not much Congress can do about those fired IGs

President Trump has fired several inspectors general in the past few weeks. Can Congress do anything about it? NBC News’ Capitol Hill team reports that they can’t do much. Here’s what our team found:

  • The law requires the president to inform Congress in writing the reasons for the firing of an inspector general within 30 days, per the Inspector General Reform Act of 2008.
  • But the law does not specify reasons a president can and cannot fire an IG. In 2008, the House attempted to declare reasons an IG could be removed in the IG Reform Act, but the Senate stripped that language out of the legislation before it was passed.
  • If the president doesn’t provide written justification for a firing an IG to Congress, no consequences are written into law. President Trump has already ignored the 30-day requirement after his firing of Intelligence Community IG Michael Atkinson.
  • A lawsuit was brought against President Obama by a fired Corporation for National and Community Service IG, Gerald Walpin, but Walpin lost, in part, because the court said Congress doesn’t specify what sort of explanation is good enough, according to the Project on Government Oversight, a good governance group. Like Trump, Obama simply said that he lost confidence in the Walpin.
  • Because Congress’ inability to do much, Sen. Menendez has introduced a bill that attempts to put more guardrails around the firing of IGs, specifying why an IG can be fired.

The Lid: Down on their luck

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at new data about the industries that are bearing the brunt of devastating job losses.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Marco Rubio will be the new acting chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee as former head Sen. Richard Burr battles an insider trading complaint.

NBC’s Sahil Kapur looks at Trump’s new attempts to wage war with his predecessor.

Here’s what AG Bill Barr had to say about the probe into the FBI’s 2016 Russian interference investigation.

NBC’s Monica Alba and Carol E. Lee report that Trump’s team is increasingly using battleground states to showcase their coronavirus response — rather than the hardest-hit areas.

Joe Biden says he would revoke the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.

The New York Times notes that it’s no longer taboo to suggest you’re in the running for VP.

There’s been lots of talk about a black female VP. What about a Latina?

Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford of Nevada has admitted to an extramarital affair.