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Trump attempts to fix his Putin problem

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, Vladimir Putin
President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands at the beginning of a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, on July 16, 2018.Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP file

WASHINGTON — If it’s Monday ... Negotiations between Ukraine and Russia take place once again. ... U.S. government officials allege Russia has asked China for military equipment. ... President Biden, in Washington, D.C., addresses the National League of Cities and then hits a DNC fundraiser in the evening. ... Sarah Godlewski airs her first TV ad in Wisconsin Senate. ... And Tom Brady’s back with the Bucs.

But first: Former President Donald Trump is trying to fix his Putin problem but he still hasn’t been able to criticize Russia’s leader the same way he treats his other opponents.

“Do you think Putin is going to stop? It's going to get worse and worse. He's not going to accept it. And we don't have anybody to talk to him. You had somebody to talk to him with me; no one was ever tougher on Russia than me,” Trump said in South Carolina on Saturday, per NBC’s Vaughn Hillyard.

Trump added, “The U.S. must make clear to Putin that he has two choices: To negotiate peace right now or face blistering consequences, including a push to permanently eliminate dependence on Russian energy.” (In fact, Biden has already banned Russian oil imports.)

And the former president also said this of Putin: "It happens to be a man that is just driven, he’s driven to put it together.”

As NBC’s Jonathan Allen writes, the war in Ukraine has produced a break between Trump and Republican elites when it comes to Putin.

It’s also split voters in Trump Country, who want the United States to do more for Ukraine, NBC’s Henry Gomez writes.

“I don’t think we’re doing enough,” Republican Mary King said in Steubenville, Ohio. “Ask the public what they are willing to sacrifice,” King added. “I pray every day to St. Nicholas to save the children in Ukraine who are in danger.”

And, of course, the war has only reminded Americans why Trump got impeached for the first time.

“I would like you to do us a favor, though, because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike,” Trump told Ukraine’s Zelenskyy in 2019 after discussing the purchase of Javelin anti-tank weapons.

More Trump from 2019: “There's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great.”

“I think that the release of that transcript showed the world that we had an administration that was ready to trade our national security for personal and political gain,” former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch said on “Meet the Press” yesterday.

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Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 35 percent

That’s the share of unaffiliated voters in North Carolina, a slim plurality of all registered voters (including active, temporary and inactive voters), according to analysis from Dr. Michael Bitzer, a professor at Catawba College in Salisbury, N.C.

Per Bitzer, Democratic registrations follow closely behind at 34 percent, and Republicans at 30 percent. One percent of the state is registered as Libertarian.

Other numbers you need to know today:

59 percent: That’s the portion of U.S adults who say they back a no-fly zone over Ukraine in the new CBS News/YouGov poll.

38 percent: The portion who back a no-fly zone if told it may lead to confrontations with Russian aircraft and be viewed as an act of war by the global superpower, a significant decrease given that new perspective.

$1.6 million: That’s how much Missouri Attorney Gen. Eric Schmitt raised at a recent Mar-a-Lago fundraiser supporting his Senate bid, per Fox News (Trump hasn’t endorsed yet in this race).

Midterm roundup

Trump’s South Carolina rally on Saturday featured two candidates the former president has endorsed against GOP lawmakers whom Trump called “atrocious RINOs,” per NBC’s Vaughn Hillyard — Katie Arrington, who’s challenging Rep. Nancy Mace, and state Rep. Russell Fry, who’s challenging Rep. Tom Rice.

Mace’s campaign responded with a statement focusing on Arrington, while Rice, who voted to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, said Trump was “consumed by spite.” The pair have taken different approaches to their primaries, per the AP.

Elsewhere on the campaign trail:

Politico caught up with Wyoming voters to explore how GOP Rep. Liz Cheney needs support from Democrats and independents to fend off her Trump-backed primary challenger.

Pennsylvania Rep. Conor Lamb released a new version of his first TV ad in the Democratic Senate primary, removing footage of Lamb speaking on the House floor that appeared to violate ethics rules.

And Disney says it is pausing political donations in Florida after criticism related to a new, controversial bill limiting teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in lower grade levels. It also bans teaching “in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate.”

Ad watch: Common sense and mouthwash

Wisconsin State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, who’s running for the Democratic nomination for Senate, released her first TV ad today.

Rather than targeting any of her primary opponents, which include Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Alex Lasry, Godlewski goes after incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson.

“Dairy farms disappearing, prices up, COVID still not gone,” Godlewski says at the start of the ad. “And what’s Ron Johnson done? Voted against new jobs and told us to take mouthwash to cure COVID.”

She then highlights her “common sense” approach to running the State Treasurer’s office and tells viewers, “Common sense is what, quite frankly, we could use in Washington. Practical ideas that just help people. Not mouthwash.”

It’s her first TV ad in the crowded Democratic primary that’s already seen $15.8 million in spending, per AdImpact.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Former President Barack Obama says he tested positive for Covid.

Fla. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is at odds with the state legislature in a redistricting battle, the latest in how the state has become, in Politico’s words, “ground zero for America’s ‘culture war.’”

Journalist and filmmaker Brent Renaud was killed last weekend while reporting in Ukraine.

NBC looks at Alabama Democratic Rep. Terri Sewell’s push to pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

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