More than 100 days in, Fauci's style exposes Trump's scattershot approach

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: Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testifies at a hearing of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Capitol Hil
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testifies at a hearing of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Capitol Hill on June 23, 2020.Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images

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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Carrie Dann and Melissa Holzberg

WASHINGTON — President Trump asked a simple question on Tuesday: Why isn’t he getting credit for Dr. Anthony Fauci’s sky-high approval ratings — since he’s Fauci’s boss?

The obvious answer: because Fauci and Trump have treated the coronavirus in two completely different ways. Just look at their statements and actions from yesterday.

Trump downplayed the virus, tweeting: “Cases are going up in the U.S. because we are testing far more than any other country, and ever expanding. With smaller testing we would show fewer cases!”

Fauci, by contrast, sounded the alarm in his congressional testimony on Tuesday. “We’ve been hit badly,” he said yesterday. “It’s a serious situation." Fauci added that in some areas, "we've done very well," citing New York as an example. “However, in other areas of the country, we’re now seeing a disturbing surge of infections."

Trump attended an indoor rally in hot spot Arizona, where most of the attendees — including Trump — didn’t wear masks.

Fauci, meanwhile, urged the public to wear masks. “Everyone agrees in the public health sector that wearing a mask is beneficial. It may not be perfect, as we often say, wear it and don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. It is always better to have a mask on that to not have a mask on. Both for acquisition and for transmission.”

And yesterday at his rally in Arizona, Trump focused on his re-election: “You're fighting against an oppressive left-wing ideology that is driven by hate and seeks to purge all dissent.”

Fauci, on the other hand, focused on combating the coronavirus in the states with surging cases: “Right now, the next couple of weeks are going to be critical in our ability to address those surgings that we’re seeing in Florida, in Texas, in Arizona, and in other states.”

It’s become a common theme in First Read, but we have to say it again: The president of the United States — facing the biggest challenge to the country in the last 75 years — is refusing to lead.

And he’s ceded that leadership to Fauci instead.

Tweet of the day

Words matter

Throughout the campaign and Trump’s presidency, entire news cycles have been eaten up by deciphering what the president meant by a certain comment. Was that a joke? Sarcasm? A threat?

And there’s often a backlash from Trump allies during these news cycles — about how the media is caught up in technicalities … or can’t take a joke … or is tiresomely taking him “literally not seriously.”

But as cliché as it is to say that words matter, precision from the leader of the country very much matters when the consequences of an off-the-cuff remark feel very real to you personally.

  • “When the looting starts, the shooting starts” may just be an off-the-cuff statement if you personally aren’t planning to attend a protest, or don’t have a child who is, or aren’t a person of color. But the precise meaning very much matters if you think that statement puts you or a loved one at risk.
  • “Locker room talk” might seem banal to some. But if you’re a victim of assault, there’s nothing casual about the president’s words and the example he sets.
  • Telling cops “please don’t be too nice” might be just a riff if you’ve never worried that it’s your kid who might end up in the back of a police car.
  • “Slow down the testing” may be a meaningless joke if you’re convinced that Covid is overblown. But if you’ve got a loved one at risk, being able to get a test might feel very much like a life-or-death matter.
  • Injecting disinfectant may seem “sarcastic,” but if you’re a senior citizen looking for any way to protect yourself so you can see your grandkids, you might really want to know exactly what he’s talking about.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

2,352,721: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 29,228 more cases than yesterday morning.)

121,831: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 788 more than yesterday morning.)

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

84 percent: The share of ICU beds in use at Arizona hospitals as of Tuesday.

Nearly 6 in 10: The share of Black Americans who say they believe the death of George Floyd will increase white Americans’ awareness of racial discrimination by police, per a new Washington Post-Ipsos poll.

More than a million: The expected total vote tally in yesterday’s Kentucky primary election, including about 800,000 mail ballots.

Two: The number of Trump-backed GOP candidates who lost to primary challengers in Kentucky and North Carolina last night.

24: The current age of one of those two victorious GOP primary challengers, Madison Cawthorn, who defeated the Trump-backed candidate in the race to replace Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows.

2020 Vision: Progressives running strong (so far) in last night’s primaries

In Kentucky’s Democratic Senate primary, Amy McGrath leads Charles Booker by 4 percentage points, 44 percent to 40 percent – with just 10 percent of the estimated vote in. Given that most of Fayette County (Lexington) and all of Jefferson County (Louisville) haven’t reported any vote yet, that’s looking like good news for Booker.

In New York’s congressional primaries, it’s going to take a while to count the absentee ballots, but here’s where things stand now:

In NY-16, Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., is trailing progressive challenger Jamaal Bowman by 25 percentage points.

In NY-17, progressive Mondaire Jones has the big lead in the race to replace retiring Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.

In NY-12, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., is clinging to a 570-vote lead over Suraj Patel. (The Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman believes the outstanding ballots should be friendly to Maloney.)

In NY-9, Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., holds a commanding lead over Adem Bunkeddeko.

In NY-14, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., had no troubles against former CNBC reporter Michelle Caruso-Cabrera.

In NY-15, Ritchie Torres has what appears to be a comfortable lead over Michael Blake and Ruben Diaz in the Dem primary to replace retiring Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y.

In VA-5, Cameron Webb, an African-American physician at UVA, won the Democratic primary, and will face Republican Bob Good in what could be a competitive race in the fall.

And in the surprise of the night, 24-year-old Madison Cawthorn (who will turn 25 later this summer) won the GOP primary to replace former Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who is now President Trump’s chief of staff.

Trump, Meadows and other prominent Republicans had endorsed another candidate, Lynda Bennett. Cawthorn would become the youngest member of Congress if/when he wins this GOP-friendly seat in November.

Ad watch: Accentuate the positive

A pro-Biden super PAC is launching a new round of television and digital advertising targeting swing-state voters with an economic case for the former vice president, NBC’s Mike Memoli reports.

Unite The Country’s new $10 million campaign highlights Biden’s work as vice president overseeing the implementation of the 2009 stimulus program to help the United States recover from the Great Recession.

“We’ve been through this before,” the broadcast ad – targeting Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania – reminds viewers.

"14 million jobs created. The auto industry rescued. The longest sustained growth in American history."

“He’ll do it again,” the spot promises.

Unite The Country has devoted its paid media efforts to such positive, economic messaging to boost Biden’s candidacy while another super PAC, Priorities USA, has largely focused on anti-Trump messaging. Unite The Country officials say making an affirmative case for Biden, especially on the economy, is of critical importance as President Trump’s handling of the economy remains one of the few selling points for his reelection in voter surveys.

Dems to block Senate GOP police reform bill

Senate Democrats indicated on Tuesday that they plan to block today’s vote on the GOP police reform bill which would allow debate on the legislation to begin. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called the bill “deeply, fundamentally and irrevocably flawed.”

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker said this on why the GOP was pushing to move forward with a procedural vote: “And this is the richest part of it all, where they are going to blame Democrats for not wanting real reform. And so the question simply is this: Who do you trust on police reform in America? The NAACP or Mitch McConnell? Who do you trust on police reform in America? The ACLU or Mitch McConnell? Who do you trust? The lawyers committee for civil rights or Mitch McConnell?”

You can read more about the Senate’s squabble here.

Over on the House side, the Democrats’ reform bill still hasn’t been voted on – even though Democrats hold enough of a majority to pass the bill without Republican support. So it’s now a question of who has the political capital to force action forward: Democrats who can pass a bill in the House and block GOP bills in the Senate, or Senate Republicans and President Trump who can stop any bill from passing the Senate and ending up on the president’s desk?

The Lid: Money talks

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at how Joe Biden has upped his fundraising game in the age of coronavirus.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

In a virtual fundraiser with Joe Biden last night, Barack Obama said Democrats should feel a sense of “urgency” about November.

A federal prosecutor is expected to testify to Congress today that AG Bill Barr gave inappropriate orders based on political considerations, including exerting pressure to cut Roger Stone a deal.

Trump’s family is going to court to try to block publication of his niece’s critical book about the president.