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'History of lying,' 'jail time' — welcome to the latest progressive-vs.-establishment fight

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.
Rep. Ocasio-Cortez Campaigns With Ohio Congressional Candidate Nina Turner
Ohio Congressional Candidate Nina Turner speaks at a campaign rally in Cleveland on July 24, 2021.Jeff Swensen / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — You have to go back to Obama vs. Clinton in 2008 to think of a nastier Democratic primary than what’s playing out in Tuesday’s special primary election in the Cleveland-Akron area to fill the congressional seat vacated by HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge.

And what also makes this primary between Nina Turner and Shontel Brown stand out is that it’s the latest installment of the Bernie Sanders-vs.-establishment wars that have been roiling the party over the last six years.

This weekend, in fact, Sanders stumps for Turner (who was his 2020 campaign’s national co-chair), joining the likes of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and progressives Keith Ellison and Cornel West, who are all helping the former state senator.

Also this weekend, House Minority Whip Jim Clyburn campaigns for Brown, and Hillary Clinton has endorsed the Cuyahoga County Council member.

What has resulted, NBC’s Henry Gomez writes, is a race whose national ideological fault lines have overshadowed local issues like poverty and gun violence.

"All of that has kind of gotten drowned out in a battle that's become about a lot of things that have nothing to do with the city of Cleveland," Turner endorser David Pepper told Gomez. "And that's been pretty painful to watch."

Just how nasty is the race, which strategists from both sides say is a coin flip?

"Turner has a history of attacking and lying about Democrats,” one Brown TV ad goes. “Turner harshly criticized President Biden. She even attacked Biden for choosing Kamala Harris as vice president."

Here’s an ad from outside group backing Brown: “Our country is more polarized than ever. And Nina Turner stokes division instead of bringing people together. Turner refused to support Joe Biden over Trump."

Turner’s campaign has fired back with this ad: “Shontel Brown — she voted to give $32 million to a company connected to her boyfriend and family, voted to give herself a $7,000 raise while opposing Biden's $15 minimum wage plan.”

And to top them off, there’s this new Turner ad: “Now a new report reveals Brown's facing investigation by the Ohio Ethics Commission for voting to give millions of dollars to a company connected to her boyfriend and family. Brown could face criminal charges and, if convicted, jail time.”

(Brown’s campaigned responded, “Only Nina Turner would run a ‘lock her up’ ad against another Democrat days before the election. This ad is verifiably false, and is an attempt to deceive voters.”)

High stakes for progressives

The stakes for the progressive left in this contest couldn’t be greater, especially after Turner started out with the early lead.

After primary victories by Joe Biden in 2020, Terry McAuliffe in Virginia and Eric Adams in New York, progressives haven’t fared too well in recent high-profile primaries.

Two things can be true at the same time: Progressives have pushed mainstream Democrats farther to the left on policy over the last four years.

But when it comes to actual contests, they’ve had less success.

And we’ll be watching this race on Tuesday to see if that trend changes.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

35,000: The number of estimated symptomatic Covid infections among vaccinated people in America per week, per internal CDC slides reviewed by the Washington Post.

34,819,913: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 114,578 more than yesterday morning.)

615,885: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 458 more than yesterday morning.)

344,071,595: The number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S., per the CDC. (That’s 710,071 since yesterday morning.)

49.4 percent: The share of all Americans who are fully vaccinated, per the CDC.

60.3 percent: The share of all American adults at least 18 years of age who are fully vaccinated, per CDC.

Talking policy with Benjy

Will there be a wave of evictions? Eviction protections during the pandemic have been a patchwork policy, NBC’s Benjy Sarlin writes. After a moratorium on evictions passed by Congress expired last year without a replacement, President Trump ordered a new one through the CDC. But federal courts ruled it was unconstitutional in June and ordered it to shut down by July 31. Now, the Biden administration is asking Congress to extend it, citing rising cases of the Delta variant.

There’s another story behind the eviction moratorium that’s also been a theme of the Covid response — an overburdened bureaucracy that’s struggled to manage the scale of relief.

The vast majority of the $45 billion in housing assistance that Congress passed in December and March to help keep renters and landlords afloat during the moratorium is still unspent due to a variety of snafus at the state and local level. An NBC News investigation found 26 states had disbursed less than 10 percent of their initial funding.

Housing advocates worry that tenants will be thrown out before they and their landlords can access aid that would keep them in their homes. The White House called on state and local governments to “urgently accelerate their efforts to disburse these funds given the imminent ending of the CDC eviction moratorium” and said there was “no excuse” for failure. They’ve also directed Americans to a federal website to help see if they qualify for state or local programs.

This has been a recurring issue in the pandemic. Workers faced hurdles to accessing unemployment programs throughout the pandemic. PPP, the program to keep businesses afloat, was beset with various problems that initially made it harder for smaller companies to access the money. The IRS took months to set up the new child tax credit and there are concerns that millions of the most vulnerable eligible recipients might not access the benefit.

Congress has taken steps to address these issues and there’s plenty of evidence the programs still have had a dramatic impact. A new report by the Urban Institute found poverty rates plummeted in 2021 as vulnerable families received tens of thousands of dollars in aid, leaving many in better financial shape than they were before.

But the difficulties accessing benefits means more people are likely to fall through the cracks. And it’s a problem that long predates the pandemic: The Atlantic’s Annie Lowrey dubbed it a “time tax” in a must-read piece on how antiquated systems and a maze of rules make it harder for aid to reach the people who need it most. With potentially trillions in new spending teed up this year, making sure the money gets out is as important as authorizing it.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Michigan’s longest-serving senator, former Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, has died.

The first evacuated Afghans arrive in U.S. as Taliban surges in wake of military withdrawal.

President Biden says federal workers must get vaccinated or face testing and urges $100 payments for newly vaccinated.

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Speaker Nancy Pelosi are key faces in the Democratic, two-track infrastructure plan.

NBC’s Sahil Kapur and Benjy Sarlin dig into why Mitch McConnell is backing the bipartisan infrastructure deal.

Simone Biles said she was still suffering with "the twisties” on Friday and "literally cannot tell up from down," raising serious doubts about whether she will be able compete in her individual events at the Tokyo Olympics.