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Here's how Trump is bending the federal government into a campaign tool

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 speaks during a campaign rally in Reno, Nev., on Sept. 12, 2020.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters file

WASHINGTON — Want to know how President Trump is using the machinery of the federal government to benefit his campaign in the final six weeks of the election?

Here’s what Trump and his administration did in just the last 24 hours:

First, he issued an executive order saying his administration would protect those with pre-existing conditions – even though it has backed a lawsuit before the Supreme Court that would strike down those protections (and other provisions) in the Affordable Care Act.

The problem here? “The order states that protecting pre-existing conditions was ‘the policy of the United States’ but did not provide any legislative guarantees that Americans would not lose such protections if the ACA were nixed by the Supreme Court,” per NBC News.

Then Trump promised to send seniors $200 gift certificates to help with their Medicare prescription drugs — with no real way to pay for it or constitutional justification how his administration (and not Congress) has the power of the purse here.

And finally, the Justice Department issued a press release Thursday saying it had started an inquiry into a handful of military ballots in Pennsylvania, bewildering lawyers and election experts because the release revealed the ballots were cast in favor of Trump, Politico writes.

“It is really improper for DOJ to be putting out a press release with partial facts,” Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt told Politico. “And it is career-endingly improper to designate the candidate for whom the votes are cast. There is no federal statute on which the identity of the preferred candidate depends.”

The first two actions — the executive order on the pre-existing conditions and then those $200 gift certificates to seniors — gave the illusion of activity. But they don’t do anything, at least not yet.

And the third — that DOJ press release — is trying to cast doubts on the legitimacy of the election.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

7,013,069: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 48,742 more than yesterday morning.)

204,057: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 1,034 more than yesterday morning.)

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

$4.5 billion: How much New Jersey will borrow as it faces an alarming budget shortfall created by the impact of coronavirus.

$200: The amount on prescription drug discount cards that the president is pledging to send Medicare recipients right before the election. (The source of funding for them remains unclear.)

2020 Vision: Biden remains ahead … in Ohio

Three Fox News state polls among likely voters that were released last night:

Nevada: Biden 52 percent, Trump 41 percent

Ohio: Biden 50 percent, Trump 45 percent

Pennsylvania: Biden 51 percent, Trump 44 percent

And a Quinnipiac poll of the Buckeye State that also was released Thursday had it Biden 48 percent, Trump 47 percent.

On the campaign trail today

Trump begins his day with a “Latinos for Trump” event in Miami and then he holds an evening rally in Newport News, Va.

The AP reports that a Virginia health official is trying to block the rally, saying it’s a threat to public health.

Ad Watch from Ben Kamisar

Today’s Ad Watch focuses on Montana’s Senate race — the battle of the Steves.

They may have the same name, but Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock and Republican Sen. Steve Daines aren’t holding anything back.

Bullock has been focusing on health care, accusing Daines and Republicans of kicking Montanans to the curb, and playing up his administration’s coronavirus response (while defending himself from attacks on that record).

And Daines has followed a similar playbook as national Republicans too — he’s warned Democrats will usher in socialism, criticizing Bullock for his endorsement from Jane Fonda and by trying to link him to riots seen in some cities, as well as talking tough on China.

But there’s been no shortage of focus on local issues like public lands. And in a state where hunting and gun rights play a big role, both candidates are going toe to toe on the Second Amendment too.

It’s a fascinating race between two high-profile candidates, and one that shows how candidates can largely follow the national dynamics while including some important local flourishes too.

Tweet of the day

Talking Policy with Benjy: California’s electric slide

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced this week the state would look to require all new cars sold to be electric by 2035, throwing the weight of the world’s fifth-largest economy behind a rapid transition to clean energy. Existing and used cars could still be gas-powered, NBC’s Benjy Sarlin writes.

The move raises the profile of what’s becoming a critical environmental, economic, and political issue — as well as a looming culture war. While Joe Biden’s own climate plan does not name a target date for ending gas-powered cars, it relies heavily on encouraging quick adoption of electric vehicles with investments in new infrastructure like charging stations. Trump has mocked electric cars in speeches and rolled back President Obama’s auto efficiency standards.

Newsom’s announcement is also a continuation of an ongoing fight with the Trump administration, which has already tried to revoke the state’s authority to set its own emissions standards. That’s one environmental case among many that a right-drifting Supreme Court could end up settling in the president’s favor.

But even just the threat of potential regulations can spur action. Auto companies previously reached a voluntary agreement with California on efficiency standards, enraging Trump. And top automakers are already planning a major pivot to electric vehicles, in part because they anticipate more regulation both in the U.S. and abroad. The United Kingdom has also set 2035 for its own transition to electric vehicles, for example.

The Social Networks

Social media companies are making a push to register voters, particularly younger generations whose turnout has historically lagged behind older groups, NBC’s Anna Karl and Gracie Lund report.

Facebook estimates that as of September 21, they have already helped register 2.5 million users across Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger — on their way to a goal of 4 million by the election. The social network also says that, as of Monday, 39 million people have visited the Voter Information Center through either Facebook or Instagram.

Snapchat, which Pew estimates is used by 62 percent of 18-29 year-olds, says it has registered over 750,000 users — double the amount recorded in 2018.

And while Twitter has yet to release any estimates, the app claims that the app is making its “biggest push ever” to register its users through alerts, hashtags, and prompts appearing on all homepages.

The Lid: Out of work, out of cash

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at how unemployment benefits are running out for millions of Americans — and who’s hit hardest.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Senate Democrats are poised to focus on health care in the Supreme Court fight.

Mitch McConnell says “there will be an orderly transition” as Democrats rings alarm bells over Trump’s comments about the election.

A group of GOP senators is trying to ban transgender girls from competing in girls sports.

Some evangelicals aren’t fans of potential court pick Barbara Lagoa.

One other controversy involving Lagoa — she refused to recuse herself from a Florida felon voting rights case.

A new ruling says that the Census must continue its count for another month.

Officials at the Pentagon are worried that Trump may try to order the military to quell election unrest.

The Trump administration keeps losing environmental rollback cases in court. But a different Supreme Court makeup could change that.

Friends of the Earth Action endorsed Biden.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is back to fighting for more coronavirus relief.