First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Explaining the Trump-Cruz bromance
Sure, Donald Trump resurrected the birther debate over Ted Cruz's eligibility to be president (though, in fairness, Trump is right that he didn't bring up the question by himself -- he was asked by news organizations). And, yes, Trump has jabbed at Cruz over immigration. But for the most part, and certainly compared with the rest of the field, Trump and Cruz have had a bromance in the outsider/insurgent lane of the GOP contest. "I like him. He likes me," Trump said of Cruz in an interview yesterday with CNN. For his part, Cruz has gone out of his way -- this entire '16 race -- not to pick fights with Trump. And these numbers from our December national NBC/WSJ poll help explain why: Cruz scores higher among Republican primary voters who say they could see themselves POTENTIALLY support Trump. Cruz gets 38% of these voters, Ben Carson gets 21%, while Marco Rubio gets just 15% and Jeb Bush 7%. (Given that the poll was last month while Carson was still afloat, it's likely that the Cruz percentage could be even higher now.) But among GOP primary voters who would NEVER support Trump, it's Rubio who leads at 26%. These numbers drive home two points: 1) There are two completely different lanes in this GOP contest, 2) Ted Cruz has every incentive NOT to attack Trump.
McCain trolls Cruz on birther charge
One person who's never had much of a bromance with Cruz is John McCain, and he was eager to raise the birther charge yesterday -- despite McCain's own past having been born in the Panama Canal Zone. "I think there is a question [of Cruz's eligibility]. I am not a constitutional scholar on that. I think it's worth looking into. I don't think it's illegitimate to look into it," McCain told a Phoenix radio station yesterday, which Buzzfeed first noticed. When McCain was asked about being born in the Panama Canal Zone (a topic that came up in the '08 election), he replied, "Yeah, it's a U.S. military base. That's different from being born on foreign soil."
Trump to hold a BIG rally in Bernie Sanders' backyard
It could get messy in Burlington, VT, where Trump holds a rally tonight, according to one us. "Officials in Burlington, Vermont are raising concerns about the volume of tickets issued by Donald Trump's campaign for a rally Thursday night, saying that overcrowding could jeopardize public safety. Trump's campaign has reportedly distributed about 20,000 free tickets for an event at a theater that seats about 1,400. 'If Phish was holding a free concert at the Flynn and gave away 20,000 free tickets, we would cancel the event out of public safety concerns,' Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo told the Burlington Free Press. 'We are committed to accommodating the campaign because political speech is the very essence of the First Amendment.' On Wednesday night, Trump tweeted that attendees should arrive early for the rally and that admittance is 'first come, first serve.'"
Bill Clinton back on the trail
After campaigning for his wife in New Hampshire on Monday, Bill Clinton is back on the campaign today -- this time in Iowa, where he holds events in Cedar Rapids and Dubuque.
Rubio talks about his faith in new TV ad
Marco Rubio is up with a new TV ad in Iowa highlighting his Christian faith - and his family. "Our goal is eternity, the ability to live alongside our Creator for all time. To accept the free gift of salvation offered to us by Jesus Christ," Rubio says to the camera. "The struggle on a daily basis as a Christian is to remind ourselves of this. The purpose of our life is to cooperate with God's plan." Rubio continues, "To those who much have been given, much is expected. And we will be asked to account for that. Were your treasures stored up on earth or in heaven? And to me, I try to allow that to influence me in everything that I do."
Biden regrets not running in 2016 contest
In an interview with NBC's Hartford, CT affiliate, Vice President Biden admitted he regretted not jumping into the 2016 race, per MSNBC's Alex Seitz-Wald. "Sure, I regret it every day but it was the right decision for my family and for me, and I plan on staying deeply involved, and we've got two good candidates." Uh, TWO good candidates? Poor, Martin O'Malley.
"And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger…"
File this headline away in your I-never-thought-I'd-be-reading-this-in-a-presidential-race folder: "Donald Trump Picks Fight With Samuel L. Jackson." From the story: "In the midst of his provocative 2016 campaign for the presidency, the Republican presidential front-runner has engaged in a very public feud with 'The Hateful Eight' star and ubiquitous Capital One pitchman actor Samuel L. Jackson. It all started when Jackson claimed in a recent interview with Rhapsody magazine that he'd received a bill from Trump's National Golf Club even though he isn't a member. He went on to say he's golfed with Trump before and added that he was more 'P.T. Barnum than politician.' Never one to let a single slight slip by, Trump took to Twitter, denying any relationship with the popular actor." More: Jackson posted the bill from Trump on his Instagram account with the caption: 'A bill from the guy that doesn't know me & never golfed with me! I'm gonna Block his a** too!'"
Hillary gets endorsement from chair of Congressional Black Caucus
Writing in The Grio, Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, says he's endorsing Hillary Clinton in the '16 presidential race. "The black community matters, and black votes matter, which is why I publicly and proudly support Hillary Clinton for president. She has the record, foresight, and passion to improve the lives of millions of African-Americans. This was not a hard decision," he writes.
On the trail
Donald Trump holds a rally in Burlington, VT at 7:00 pm ET… Hillary Clinton stumps in California… Jeb Bush is in New Hampshire… So is Marco Rubio… Ted Cruz remains in Iowa… Ben Carson also is in the Hawkeye State… John Kasich and Carly Fiorina are in the Granite State… Rand Paul campaigns in Iowa… And so does Mike Huckabee.
Countdown to NBC/YouTube debate in SC: 10 days
Countdown to Iowa: 25 days
Countdown to New Hampshire: 33 days
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