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Democrats regroup amid stalled agenda

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: House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer
From left, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer conduct a news conference on plans to move forward with the Build Back Better Act and the infrastructure bill in the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 5, 2021.Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — If it’s Tuesday ... Inflation hits a new high of 8.5 percent. ... President Biden tours an ethanol plant in Menlo, Iowa and announces new measures to lower gas prices. ... The British and Australian governments are investigating whether Russia used chemical weapons in Mariupol. ... Florida legislators back down from their redistricting standoff with Gov. DeSantis. ... And Finkenauer faces a ballot challenge in Iowa Senate.

But first: As Democrats face the reality that they may not have another major legislative victory before the midterms, they’re also facing a related problem — how to energize their party’s disengaged base.

Rahna Epting, the executive director of MoveOn, which organizes progressive activists, didn’t mince words in an interview with NBC News' Benjy Sarlin.

"Do I wish we passed Build Back Better? Heck yes I do. Do I think we’d be in a better position with voters? Hell yes I do,” she said. Epting went on to tout Democratic accomplishments, including the American Rescue Plan, the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.

“The case we need to make is it takes a while to dig out the hole the Trump Republican Party left us,” she said.

In the meantime, Republicans look like they're much more energized about the midterms. Remember our NBC News poll from March? That showed Republicans with a whopping 17-point advantage in enthusiasm.

Now President Joe Biden is trying to gin up excitement about his accomplishments, launching a new rural infrastructure tour, which kicks off today in Iowa. It remains to be seen whether that could help energize his supporters. In the months since the infrastructure package became law, Biden’s approval rating has only continued to drop.

Epting told NBC News that Democrats’ message to those frustrated with slow progress boils down to: consider the alternative.

“This is a moment in American history where it is us versus MAGA. And when I say ‘us,’ I mean it's not just progressives, not just Democrats, it's everyone who believes in liberal democracy,” she said.

Epting said the Jan. 6 committee’s hearings, which are expected to shift to a public, televised stage next month, are “a huge opportunity for Democrats to finally start calling out today’s Republican party for what it is.” But Democrats who try to use the hearings for any political benefit also risk undermining the hearings themselves, which Republicans have already dismissed as “a political show.”

Of course, something else (like the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision) could still shake up the midterms. But, for Democrats, that window is quickly closing.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 3

That’s how many signatures are at the center of former Democratic Rep. Abby Finkenauer’s case to get on the Senate primary ballot in Iowa. Two Republicans filed a challenge focused on those petition signatures, arguing that they did not include the correct date. A state judge agreed, ruling Sunday that Finkenauer did not qualify for the ballot in her race against GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley.

Finkenauer is taking her case to the state Supreme Court, which has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday, NBC’s Dareh Gregorian and Rebecca Shabad report.

Other numbers to know:

7: The number of House GOP candidates the Congressional Leadership Fund endorsed yesterday, all running in districts Biden won by 7 points or more, per Axios.

$23 million: The amount of money the Democratic Governors Association raised in the first quarter of 2022, according to the group.

$33 million: The amount of money the Republican Governors Association raised in the first quarter of 2022, according to the group.

120: The number of proxy votes taken by Rep. Kai Kahele, D-Hawaii, this year, according to the Honolulu Civil Beat. His prolonged absence from Washington has prompted speculation that the first-term congressman could run for governor this year.

6: The number of charges for which Jan. 6 defendant Thomas Robertson was found guilty on Monday. Robertson was the second defendant to take his case to trial and be found guilty.’

10 cents: The amount by which the Biden administration expects gas prices to drop at over 2,300 stations across the country after new initiatives the president plans to announce today.

80,632,912: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials.

990,735: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far.

Midterm roundup: Walkin’ on Sunshine

Florida GOP lawmakers backed down from their standoff with Gov. Ron DeSantis over the state’s new congressional map. Republican leaders in the state legislature wrote in a memo to legislators that they were “awaiting a communication from the Governor’s Office with a map that he will support,” NBC’s Jane C. Timm reports.

Meanwhile, DeSantis continues to build his campaign coffers as he runs for re-election in the Sunshine State. He’s now raised more than $100 million for his campaign, per the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Elsewhere on the campaign trail:

New Hampshire Senate: Sen. Maggie Hassan is the latest vulnerable Democrat to criticize Biden over immigration, telling WMUR after her trip to Texas, “The administration really needs to step up here, develop a plan and get more resources to the southern border.”

Pennsylvania Senate: Celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz has a new TV ad touting his endorsement from former President Donald Trump, NBC’s Marc Caputo reports. Oz also picked up an endorsement from Rep. Fred Keller, R-Pa. Former hedge fund manager David McCormick, meanwhile, released a new video featuring Oz’s past comments on Hillary Clinton, Anthony Fauci, China, gender identity, gun control and Trump.

Ohio Senate: Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, raised $4.1 million in the first fundraising quarter of the year for his Senate race, per the Vindicator in Youngstown.

Wisconsin Senate: Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes raised $1.7 million in the first quarter of 2022, his Senate campaign announced Tuesday. They added that the average donation was $40 and this quarter’s donations came from almost 44,000 individual donors.

Michigan 11: Our Revolution, a group founded by former Sanders campaign staffers, endorsed Democratic Rep. Andy Levin in his primary race against fellow Democratic Rep. Haley Stevens.

Texas 28: The primary runoff between Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar and attorney Jessica Cisneros saw its first major outside spending yesterday. The Working Families Party spent $219,000 on canvassing to boost Cisneros, the Texas Tribune reports. Cuellar and Cisneros will face off on May 24.

Ad watch: Stitt strikes back

Oklahoma GOP Gov. Kevin Stitt is fighting back against dark money flooding the airwaves against him. Stitt, who’s up for re-election this year, has been the target of attack ads from at least three different outside groups who don’t disclose their donors.

Now, he’s turned against them, accusing one group, Conservative Voice of America, of using an actor, rather than an Oklahoma voter, to voice concerns in an ad against Stitt.

“The insiders and casino bosses are spending millions to attack Kevin Stitt because he won't do their bidding, resorting to lies, smears, even actors,” the narrator in Stitt’s ad says.

Stitt has been vastly outspent by these groups, according to AdImpact, an ad tracking firm. Conservative Voice of America has spent over $1.7 million on ads against him. Another group, Sooner State Leadership, has spent $1.6 million attacking the governor. Stitt has only spent $468,000 so far promoting himself.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

A federal trial over the legality of Georgia’s election rules began Monday.

The U.S. asked certain consulate workers to leave Shanghai, which is in the midst of a major Covid outbreak.

In his daily video address, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy alleged that Russians used chemical weapons in Mariupol, a besieged port city. The U.S. hasn’t been able to verify these claims.