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As Trump hits a new low, a dwindling number of Republicans speak up

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: President Donald Trump holds a Bible while visiting St. John's Church across from the White House after the area was cleared of people protesting the death of George Floyd
President Donald Trump holds a Bible while visiting St. John's Church across from the White House after the area was cleared of people protesting the death of George Floyd, June 1, 2020.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Charlottesville. Helsinki. Ukraine.

Those have been the iconic low moments of Donald Trump’s presidency. But after Monday night, you can add another low to the list: St. John’s Church.

“Lawmakers, former elected officials and religious leaders voiced outrage at President Donald Trump after police used tear gas and flash bangs against peaceful protesters outside the White House to clear the crowd for Trump to do a photo-op at St. John's church on Monday evening,” per NBC News.

“He didn't come to church to pray, he didn't come to church to offer condolences to those who are grieving, to commit to healing our nation," the bishop who oversees St. John’s Church told NBC’s Craig Melvin on “Today” this morning.

And as with Charlottesville, Helsinki and Ukraine, the question we have this morning: Which — if any — Republican elected officials will criticize Trump?

After Charlottesville, Sens. Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio and Jeff Flake, plus then-House Speaker Paul Ryan, all criticized the president in some form or fashion for saying there were two sides to blame over a white nationalist rally.

After Helsinki, Sens. Bob Corker, John McCain and Flake all took issue with Trump’s comments that blamed the United States for the state of U.S.-Russia relations.

But after Ukraine — and after McCain, Flake, Corker and Ryan were no longer in Congress — only one Republican elected politician, Mitt Romney, voted to say that Trump abused his power in asking a foreign government to investigate his 2020 rival.

Bottom line: The number of Republicans willing to criticize the president has gotten smaller and smaller over the last three and a half years.

And we’ll find out today if that trend continues — over having the police teargas peaceful protestors and even clergy.

All for a photo opportunity.

Tweet of the day

“He wanted the visual”

“Multiple sources tell NBC News that President Trump's unannounced walk Monday evening from the White House through Lafayette Square to visit Saint John’s Episcopal Church ‘was his idea’ because he ‘wanted the visual,’” NBC’s Geoff Bennett, Monica Alba and Shannon Pettypiece report.

More from the trio: “The president was frustrated by reporting that Secret Service officers ushered him to the White House bunker during Friday night's unrest.”

And: “One source tells NBC that the visit was meant to make Trump look strong and in charge -- in that it had all the elements of ‘pushing protestors out of his space, sending in the troops, leaving the White House, and visiting a church.’”

Biden set to deliver remarks in Philly

Meanwhile, Joe Biden’s campaign has advised that the apparent Democratic presidential nominee will deliver remarks in Philadelphia on the civil unrest after George Floyd’s death.

Biden will criticize Trump over yesterday’s actions near the White House, NBC’s Mike Memoli reports.

“When peaceful protestors are dispersed by the order of the president from the doorstep of the people’s house, the White House — using tear gas and flash grenades — in order to stage a photo op at a noble church, we can be forgiven for believing that the president is more interested in power than in principle. More interested in serving the passions of his base than the needs of the people in his care,” Biden is expected to say, per released excerpts of his remarks.

And Biden’s speech in Philly comes after a local radio producer was beaten up on Monday by counter-protesters wielding baseball bats.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

1,816,664: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 23,535 more than yesterday morning.)

105,556: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 714 more than yesterday morning).

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

Less than half: The share of black adults in the U.S. who now have a job.

1992: The last year when the Insurrection Act was invoked — in response to the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles.

Eight plus the District of Columbia: The number of states where primaries will be held Tuesday amid concerns that they’ll be disrupted by civil unrest and coronavirus concerns.

26,000: The number of COVID-19 deaths that the federal government counts in nursing homes, significantly lower than other estimates.

About 7 in 10: The share of Americans who say they’d be likely to get a coronavirus vaccine if available, per a new Washington Post-ABC poll.

2020 Vision: Previewing today’s primaries

Today, several states, as well as the District of Columbia, are holding primaries.

Maybe the most high-profile primary we’re watching is in Iowa’s 4th Congressional District, where controversial GOP Rep. Steve King is getting a primary challenge from state Sen. Randy Feenstra. (With all of the news and discussion about race in America, will Iowa Republicans nominate King? Or reject him?)

Also in the Hawkeye State, Iowa Democrats will pick their Senate nominee to face GOP Sen. Joni Ernst in the fall. The favorite is businesswoman Theresa Greenfield, and national Democrats feel confident that she’ll get the 35 percent-plus needed to avoid a party convention to decide the nomination.

In Montana’s race to replace term-limited Gov. Steve Bullock (who’s running for Senate), Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte — who assaulted political reporter Ben Jacobs in 2017 — is competing in the GOP gubernatorial primary against state Attorney General Tim Fox and state Sen. Al Olszewski. The Democrats running for governor are Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney and businesswoman Whitney Williams.

In New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District, Republicans Yvette Herrell and Claire Chase are competing in a GOP primary for the right to take on Democratic Rep. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small in the fall.

In New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District, former CIA officer Valerie Plame is running a crowded Democratic primary to replace retiring Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (who’s running for the Senate). EMILY’s List has endorsed Teresa Leger Fernandez.

And, finally, given President Trump’s opposition to voting by mail during the pandemic, it’s notable that Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has helped to send primary ballots to all of the state’s registered voters in Maryland — with little to no opposition.

Ad watch from Ben Kamisar

Senate Republicans want to make China happen — as an issue on the campaign trail.

As Senate Republicans have called for an investigation into China’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, we’re seeing the messaging continue to hit the airwaves in Senate races.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee is up with new, China-focused ads in Arizona and Michigan. The Arizona ad builds off a recent spot from GOP Sen. Martha McSally, which centers on China’s role in the pandemic’s spread.

We’re also seeing spots featuring attacks on China hit the airwaves on behalf of Republicans in other Senate races too, like in Montana and South Carolina. And in less competitive races like in South Dakota.

Mentions of China have appeared in some Democratic Senate ads too — Democratic Sen. Gary Peters released his own ad last month touting him being “tough on the Chinese government,” and Kentucky Democrat Amy McGrath took a swipe at Senate Majority Mitch McConnell in a recent ad, attempting to blame him for mask companies outsourcing production to China.

But it’s primarily the GOP taking the issue to the airwaves (just like the president and his allies have been) as they look to defend the Senate majority.

GOP senators react to Trump and the protests

Republican senators are stopping short of calling out President Trump’s rhetoric, despite another night of protests across the country after President Trump called for increased policing measures in a Rose Garden address on Monday.

But the senators are also hesitant to blame the protestors. Here’s a sampling of what Republicans told our Hill team yesterday:

  • Sen. Mitt Romney: I don’t think there’s a speech that the president could give at this stage that is going to calm things down.”
  • Sen. Cory Gardner: “Look I’m confident the American people are going to get through this. Why? Because we’ve seen grave injustice, we’ve seen inequality, we’ve seen hatred, and it has to change. We can’t just simply let this happen anymore. Those voices who are protesting need to be heard.”
  • Sen. Susan Collins: “The president should help to heal the racial divisions in this country. It is at times like this that a president needs to speak to the nation, to pledge to right wrongs, and to calm inflamed passions.”
  • Sen. Mitch McConnell: “In no world whatsoever should arresting a man for an alleged minor infraction involve a police officer putting his knee on the man’s neck for nine minutes while he cries out ‘I can’t breathe’ and then goes silent. Free speech and peaceful protest are central American liberties. Looting, rioting, assault, and arson are violent crimes that have no place, no place whatsoever in our society.”

The Lid: Where we stand

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at what Americans say about systemic racism in law enforcement.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

In yet another new legal filing, DOJ is urging an end to the Michael Flynn case.

Joe Biden says he’ll create a national police oversight board in his first 100 days.

Republicans are building a multi-million dollar legal strategy around limiting vote-by-mail. (And/but, GOP officials are worried that the push against mail-in balloting could hurt them in November.)

It’s official: Mike Pompeo isn’t running for Senate.

A former Minneapolis mayor writes in Politico about the racism that he says permeates the city’s law enforcement.