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With eye on 2024, Biden takes sides in Democratic Party’s crime debate

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.
Joe Biden with Chuck Schumer at the Senate Democratic Caucus luncheon on Capitol Hill
Joe Biden with Chuck Schumer at the Senate Democratic Caucus luncheon on Capitol Hill, on March 2, 2023.Evan Vucci / AP

WASHINGTON — If it’s Frdiay ... President Biden, at the White House, holds a bilateral meeting with German Chancellor Scholz. ... It’s Day 2 of the speeches at CPAC, with Nikki Haley addressing the gathering. ... Donald Trump speaks to the conference on Saturday. ... House Ethics Committee opens an investigation into Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y. ... 2024 Republicans are about to descend on Iowa. ... And Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is hospitalized with shingles, leaving Dems with 49 working senators.

But first: President Biden picked a side in his party’s still-ongoing debate over crime and policing when he announced that he wouldn’t stop a GOP-backed bill blocking Washington, D.C.’s overhaul of its criminal code, which has drawn criticism for being too lenient on some criminal offenses. 

It's a bill D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser had vetoed, though the city’s council overrode it. 

“I support D.C. Statehood and home-rule — but I don’t support some of the changes D.C. Council put forward over the Mayor’s objections — such as lowering penalties for carjackings. If the Senate votes to overturn what D.C. Council did — I’ll sign it,” Biden tweeted Thursday

Make no mistake: With Biden focused squarely on 2024, this was a political move. Just think of the attacks he might have faced — “Joe Biden supports lowering the penalty for carjackings” — had he supported the D.C. bill, even though the sentencing revisions are complex and nuanced.

Yet this was also the leader of the Democratic Party picking a side after three years of “defund the police,” cash-bail reforms and debates about whether progressive prosecutors have struck the right balance on crime and punishment.

It’s not lost on us that Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa. — who hails from Biden’s favorite battleground state — said he was backing the GOP bill blocking D.C.’s reforms immediately after Biden made his announcement.

It’s also worth noting that this entire debate over crime and policing is taking place less than a month after Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn., was attacked in her D.C. apartment building. (Craig voted for the GOP bill immediately after the assault.)

And as we wrote yesterday, it’s all happening as Chicago embarks on a mayoral runoff election that’s expected to be dominated by crime and policing issues. 

Data Download: The number of the day is … 4

That’s how many Democratic senators have already said they would support a measure overturning the D.C. law that changes the city’s criminal code, per NBC News’ Frank Thorp, Julie Tsirkin, Liz Brown-Kaiser and Ryan Nobles. The group includes West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, Arizona’s Mark Kelly, Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey, and Maine’s Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, who are all up for re-election next year. 

That number is enough for the bill blocking the D.C. law to pass, since it only needs majority support due to procedural rules for these specific measures. And that number could grow when the Senate votes on the bill, which could happen next week. 

Two senators facing competitive re-election races next year — Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., have not yet announced how they will vote. 

“I still gotta get updated on what the damn thing does,” Tester told NBC News. He later added, “If it reduces penalties for crimes that I think are bad crimes, then it’s going to influence how I vote.”

Other numbers to know:

$2 million: How much money the GOP outside group American Action Network, which is aligned with Speaker Kevin McCarthy, is spending on TV and digital ads targeting vulnerable House Democrats and accusing the party of wanting to cut Medicare benefits, per Axios. 

16 million: The number of families enrolled in an expiring program that lowers broadband payments for low-income households. 

0.9%: The increase in carbon dioxide emissions from energy production in 2022, a record high. 

Over $100,000: How much the Federal Election Commission fined the Minnesota state GOP for campaign finance violations, per the StarTribune

29%: The gap in homeownership between Black and white Americans, the largest in a decade

56: The number of child pornography-related counts the College Park, Md. mayor was charged with on Thursday. He’s since resigned. 

3: The number of hours a jury deliberated before convicting South Carolina lawyer Alex Murdaugh of murder in the slayings of his wife and son.

110,000: The number of homes and businesses without power across Texas after brutal storms passed through the state. 

Headline of the day 

Eyes on 2024: We’re going to Iowa

What’s a better sign of a presidential cycle kicking into full gear than a slew of candidates descending on Iowa? 

That’s what we saw on Thursday, when news broke that three different politicians would head to the Hawkeye State soon — former President Donald Trump, Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and former Ambassador Nikki Haley. 

Haley (who already traveled to the state as part of her recently announced bid) will return for events on March 8, 9 and 10 for town halls and a foreign policy event with Iowa GOP Sen. Joni Ernst. She’ll overlap slightly with DeSantis, who will promote his book in the state on March 10 and appear with the state’s governor, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, who has said she’s staying neutral ahead of her state’s nominating caucus. 

And Trump heads to the state for the first time during his 2024 bid on March 13, where he’ll speak at an education event. 

In other campaign news:

De$antis: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is setting a goal of $1 million for a fundraising event in order for him to make a special trip to show up in person at the event, in a sign that DeSantis is in high demand for donors, NBC News’ Jonathan Allen and Natasha Korecki report. 

Focused on Ron: Trump is planning to attack DeSantis over five different areas, including his past support for entitlement cuts and his response to the Covid pandemic, per Axios. 

Building Biden’s team: Biden’s team is building a “national advisory board” of campaign surrogates ahead of his expected re-election run, per the Washington Post. The group already includes more than 20 high-profile figures in the party including multiple governors.

Uninvited from the party: Texas’ state GOP is voting to censure Rep. Tony Gonzales for votes on protecting same-sex marriage and in favor of a bipartisan deal on gun legislation. 

Friends like these: Former Vice President Mike Pence repeatedly would not commit to backing Trump if he wins the GOP presidential nomination during an interview with CBS

Florida man: Six years after Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., won the closest Senate race in the country, Democrats admit that defeating Scott will be difficult, per National Journal. Potential candidates who could take on Scott include former Democratic Reps. Stephanie Murphy and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and state Sen. Sevrin Jones. 

Opting out: Rep. Mark Amodei, Nevada’s only Republican member of Congress, told the Nevada Independent that he will not challenge Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen next year.

Supreme Showdown

Wisconsin’s Supreme Court race is heating up, with about one month to go until the April 4 election. Here are the latest developments in the race this week:

Up and at it: Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Janet Protasiewicz, the liberal candidate, has spent over $1 million on TV ads since the Feb. 21 primary, according to AdImpact. A Better Wisconsin Together, a pro-Protasiewicz outside group, has spent over $900,000 in the same time frame. Both entities have attacked Daniel Kelly, a former state Supreme Court justice and the conservative in this race.  

Family feud: The only pro-Kelly group that has spent money on TV ads since the primary is Fair Courts America, which has spent over $750,000. That group is funded primarily by Richard Uihlein, a GOP megadonor and founder of a shipping supply company. According to state campaign finance filings, he gave $1.5 million to the group before the primary. But A Better Wisconsin Together, a competing group supporting the liberal candidate Protasiewicz, received $250,000 before the primary from his cousin, Lynde Uihlein, who often donates to progressive causes.

To recuse or not to recuse: Earlier this week, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that Protasiewicz promised to recuse herself from any cases involving the Wisconsin Democratic Party if elected, an issue which has donated to her campaign. Meanwhile Kelly has not made the same promise, instead saying he would evaluate recusal on a case-by-case basis.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

In a letter hand delivered to President Biden, Sen. Peter Welch, D-Vt., urged the president to take action to calm the recent surge of violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said she was targeted by a man who made violent threats against Jewish members of the state government.