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Five months in, the U.S. hasn't succeeded in combating the pandemic

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: Covid testing
A testing associate dressed in personal protective equipment (PPE) helps people waiting in line to check in at a COVID-19 testing center at Lincoln Park on July 7, 2020 in Los Angeles, Calif.Mario Tama / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: The United States has failed at combating the coronavirus.

And it keeps on failing.

First, President Trump downplayed the seriousness of the virus and later sent mixed messages about it.

Then came the Trump travel restrictions from China and Europe, which didn’t keep the virus away and may have further contributed to its spread.

Then there was the big testing failure, which resulted in a lost month to combat the coronavirus.

Next came the economic re-openings in the South and West, and the results are in — with Arizona, California, Florida and Texas all seeing their cases and hospitalizations increase.

Yesterday, Tulsa’s health director said the president’s 6,000-person indoor rally late last month “likely contributed” to a surge of cases in the city.

And now the president is calling for America’s schools to fully reopen?

Sure, there have been individual successes along the way — more testing, more protective equipment and more federal money to keep many businesses afloat.

But consider this comparison that NBC’s Peter Alexander made on “Today” this morning.

Germany, Denmark, Norway and Sweden — the four countries Trump cited yesterday that have reopened their schools — had a combined 1,000 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday.

The United States had nearly 60,000.

Sean Doolittle, the closer for the World Series Champion Washington Nationals, might have said it best: Sports (and other trappings) are the reward of a functioning society.

But the U.S. isn’t functioning when it comes to combating the coronavirus — as fatalities are once again on the rise.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

3,073,999: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 61,603 more cases than yesterday morning.)

133,282: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 956 more than yesterday morning.)

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

500: The number of new cases in Tulsa County in the last two days, a surge which the city’s top medical official says may be linked to the president’s rally there.

Nearly 14 percent: The number of new coronavirus cases in the U.S. recorded just in Texas.

77 percent: The share of Americans who say that “defund the police” is a call to change the way police departments operate, not eliminate them entirely, according to a new Monmouth poll.

35 percent: The share of Republicans in the same poll who said that racial discrimination in the U.S. is “not a problem,” up from 15 percent who said the same in early June.

$700 billion: The price tag on Joe Biden’s newly-unveiled plan for American manufacturing and innovation.

Talking policy with Benjy: Biden-Sanders unity edition

The unity committee organized by the Biden campaign to find common ground with Bernie Sanders supporters released its draft proposal on Wednesday, and the process may have been the bigger story than the policy, NBC’s Benjy Sarlin says.

During the primaries, Biden sidestepped a number of activist demands from the left, including abolishing ICE, decriminalizing border crossings, legalizing marijuana, banning fracking, and the biggest one, Medicare for All. More recently, he’s avoided calls for defunding the police.

None of those positions changed in the draft proposal, which gives Biden more running room to dodge President Trump’s regular accusations that he’d be a stalking horse for the party’s more radical wing.

But Biden’s platform was already relatively progressive on each of these issues compared to previous nominees as he followed the party’s broader move to the left. Some of the objections to his candidacy in further left circles were as much about trusting him to follow through on his stated plans given his more centrist history as they were about the details.

In that sense, the unity committee seems to be a success so far. Faiz Shakir, Sanders’ campaign manager and a participant in the unity effort, told NBC News the results were "consistent with the Joe Biden who is evolving with the times.” Sanders himself and allies praised Biden on Wednesday for engaging with their side in good faith and accepting a few new policy goals on issues like climate, health care and education. If they feel they have buy-in on his agenda, it could help smooth his path both in the election and if he gets a chance to govern.

Tweet of the day

2020 Vision: The Dem small-dollar machine keeps rolling

On Tuesday, Democrat Amy McGrath, who narrowly won her Senate primary in Kentucky last month, announced raising a whopping $17.4 million for the second quarter.

Democrat Jaime Harrison, who’s taking on Sen. Lindsey Graham in South Carolina, raked in nearly $14 million for the quarter, per NBC’s Ben Kamisar and one of us.

In Maine, Dem Sara Gideon raised $9 million.

In Montana, Dem Steve Bullock said he raised $7.7 million.

In North Carolina, Democrat Cal Cunningham brought in $7.4 million for the quarter.

And in Kansas, Dem Barbara Bollier raised $3.7 million, NBC’s Liz Brown-Kaiser writes.

Those are all presidential-level totals — during a time when the economy nosedived into recession/depression territory.

For comparison, Beto O’Rourke Senate fundraising juggernaut brought in $10.4 million during his second quarter in 2018.

Ad watch from Ben Kamisar: Here comes the GOP cavalry

In case you missed it, the cavalry is coming to help Republicans in Georgia.

Yesterday, One Nation and Senate Leadership Fund announced plans to book about $22 million in new TV ads for the state, which will have two GOP-held Senate seats up for grabs in the fall (Fox News first reported the buys). One Nation is also putting about $4.3 million into Kentucky for an August TV buy.

A recent Fox News poll found Joe Biden up 2 points on Trump in Georgia, with Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., leading Dem nominee Jon Ossoff by just 3 points. And while Mitch McConnell still appears to be in the driver’s seat in Kentucky, Amy McGrath has an unprecedented amount of money for a challenger (see above).

These new buys in typically safe Republican states highlight how the expanding map is diverting resources towards states the GOP had hoped would be home to easy victories, money that won’t be spent on top-tier races in states like Colorado, Arizona, Maine and North Carolina.

McConnell wants to limit stimulus payments

While Senate Republicans haven’t rolled out a full plan on what they want in the next round of coronavirus relief, it seems Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is certain that direct payments would only go to those making $40,000 per year or less.

Here’s what he said yesterday: “Now, the people that I think have been hit the hardest during this whole episode have been people making $40,000 or less, many of them work in the hospitality business, hotels, restaurants. We're going to be acutely aware of that particular segment of our population going into this next package that we'll be putting together in the next few weeks.”

House Democrats did pass another relief package that totaled $3 trillion back in May, which included direct payments to the same income thresholds as the CARES Act — which nearly unanimously passed the Senate. But according to McConnell, that is a nonstarter.

McConnell said the House “did come [back to session] a couple of days and throw together a $3 trillion unserious package that would have doubled what we already have done. I can tell you confidently it won't be $3 trillion, that bill is not going anywhere.”

The Lid: Police blotter

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at recent polling about what Americans really thinking of the “defund the police’ movement.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Joy Reid is MSNBC’s newest primetime host, with a new hour called “The ReidOut” airing at 7pm ET weeknights starting July 20.

Russia has been working to build its power in Afghanistan, even as the U.S. looks for the exits.

If Trump does strip international students of their ability to stay in the U.S. if their schools don’t have in-person classes, these six states would bear the brunt. (But some top universities are suing the administration over the move.)

Joe Biden is slamming Trump as the “commander in chief who doesn’t command anything.”

Amazon is the latest company to put pressure on the Washington football team to change its name.