Latest spike in coronavirus cases sparks new political debates

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.
An ambulance at Arizona General Hospital in Laveen on June 10, 2020.
An ambulance at Arizona General Hospital in Laveen on June 10, 2020.Ross D. Franklin / AP

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
SUBSCRIBE
By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Carrie Dann and Melissa Holzberg

WASHINGTON — The political conversation may have moved on to other topics — like race, police reform, Confederate generals and President Donald Trump’s complaints about his poll numbers.

But the coronavirus hasn’t moved on from infecting and killing Americans across the country.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases has now surpassed 2 million — up more than 20,000 cases from yesterday.

What’s more, an average of about 800 Americans are still dying of coronavirus every single day, according to the COVID 19 Tracking Project — a grim baseline that may be difficult to push lower as more activities resume, NBC’s Benjy Sarlin reports.

"I really hope we can reduce it, but am not particularly optimistic on this point,” Tara Smith, an epidemiologist at Kent State, tells Sarlin. "Effective tracing and adequate testing is still lagging in most areas, and mask use from my experience is not universal."

Indeed, as Trump heads to Dallas, Texas today for a roundtable with law enforcement officials and to raise money for his presidential campaign, the Lone Star State reported its largest single-day increase in coronavirus cases, as well as a new high in hospitalizations, per the Texas Tribune.

And Arizona — where Trump is scheduled to hold a political rally on June 23 — also has seen its cases and hospitalizations increase over the past two weeks.

With this new wave of coronavirus cases hitting the country, Sarlin adds that the political debate over it could be far uglier than it was back in April and May, when surveys showed relatively broad consensus in following social distancing guidelines and wearing masks.

But that consensus faces new challenges: Governors, mayors and public health experts are facing criticism for backing mass in-person protests after demanding restrictions on even small gatherings for months, which some experts worry will undermine their credibility on future health guidance.

The president is resuming his rallies, which will likely bring these issues to the fore again. It’s still unclear how the public might react if a health officials called for a return to strict social distancing measures to ward off a surge in an area that’s reopened.

And then there’s the growing Democratic-versus-Republican divide over the coronavirus.

Among the 44 percent of voters in our latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal who say that their state is moving too quickly in re-opening, they back Joe Biden over Trump by a 71 percent-to-23 percent margin.

But among the 38 percent of voters who believe their state is moving too slowly in re-opening, they support Trump over Biden by 70 percent to 21 percent.

If the spread of coronavirus worsens, one can also already see the outlines of a nasty blame game with some singling out protestors and others arguing governors reopened too much too soon, Sarlin says.

The second wave of partisan battles may be right around the corner.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

2,010,847: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 22,840 more than yesterday morning.)

113,671: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 929 more than yesterday morning).

21.47 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 1,500: The number of new coronavirus cases reported in a 24-period in Arizona, where officials fear a new spike.

1921: The year when a white mob destroyed the black business district and killed hundreds of black residents in Tulsa, where Trump— on Juneteenth — plans to hold his first rally since the coronavirus lockdowns.

A year: How long Amazon says it will ban police departments from using its facial recognition software in order to give the federal government time to develop regulations for it

More than 1,250: The number of former DOJ employees calling for a probe of AG Bill Barr’s involvement in the clearing of protestors in Lafayette Square

Tweet of the day

2020 Vision: Ossoff moves past 50 percent

With 87 percent now in, Jon Ossoff is at nearly 51 percent in the Democratic Senate primary in Georgia — above the 50 percent threshold needed to avoided a runoff.

The AP has called the race for Ossoff. But NBC News has not yet called it, though it certainly seems likely that Ossoff will stay above 50 percent.

The Dem primary winner will face Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., in November.

Ad Watch from Ben Kamisar

In today’s ad watch, Rep. Joe Kennedy III is trying to make the argument that the nation’s reckoning on race means that it’s time for new blood.

In his new spot released yesterday, filled with images of the recent protests and the memorial for George Floyd, Kennedy argues that “this is a moment that will define a generation.”

“We are angry and we are grieving. And we will not look away as innocent black lives are taken. We will not look away from the violence of racism and hate,” he says.

“We will not follow the failed politicians and the policies of the past. And we will not return to normal because normal was broken and this country was built to be something better.”

Kennedy doesn’t mention his September primary matchup with incumbent Sen. Ed Markey, who is 35 years his senior.

But the call comes after Kennedy made a more pointed argument at a spicy debate this week, when he argued that Markey was not known for addressing “racial justice and criminal justice” during his career, while Markey called Kennedy a “progressive in name only.”

Moving ahead — with or without Trump

Congressional Republicans seem to be looking for compromise with the Democratic counterparts – whether or not President Trump is on board. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott told our Hill team on Wednesday that they see areas of agreement with Democrats when it comes to a police reform bill, and they don’t feel the need to be on the same page with Trump on every policy prescription.

Here’s what Graham said when asked if he’s spoken to the president about the legislation: “I haven't talked to the president, but I talked to a couple of Democrats and here's the question from me: Do we want this to be sort of political dueling points ,or do we want to try to find common ground like we did with criminal justice reform? I'm cautiously optimistic there's a growing market for an outcome that takes the proposals of the Democrats, marry it up with what Sen. Scott's working on get in a room somewhere and see if you can find some common ground for some of it. I think that's possible if people want to get to yes.”

And here’s what Scott said when asked if the president could be an obstacle in bipartisan-backed reform: “If history is a teacher, the president has been receptive for the last three years on the priorities that I've brought to him I try to make sure that they're sensible and directed toward the American people and not toward partisan and or politics at all. Hopefully he'll have the same approach.”

As for the president, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany made clear that ending qualified immunity for police officers is a non-starter for Trump in any legislation.

The Lid: Don’t hold your breath

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at why “Election Night” is probably a thing of the past.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

President Trump says he will “not even consider” renaming military bases named for Confederate leaders.

What might “defunding the police” look like in the real world? Programs in cities like Dallas and Milwaukee offer some examples.

How do officials in Jacksonville feel about having a convention there?

The State Department IG, before he was fired, was probing why an award was revoked from a Finnish journalist who criticized Trump on social media.

Some activists are not happy with the idea of Biden picking Kamala Harris for VP due to her past record as a prosecutor.

The Solicitor General, who has defended some of the Trump administration’s most controversial policies before the Supreme Court, is expected to step down.