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America’s ‘culture wars’ are a stalemate

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.
Supporters of LGBTQA+ rights march in Washington, DC
Supporters of LGBTQA+ rights march in Washington, D.C., on March 31, 2023.Andrew Cabaellero-Reynolds / AFP via Getty Images file

If it’s THURSDAY… House Republicans pass bill that raises debt limit — but also slashes spending and rolls back Biden programs… President Biden combats concerns about his age…Ron DeSantis, who’s now expected to enter 2024 race in mid-May, speaks in Israel, per NBC’s Gabe Gutierrez… Disney sues DeSantis over control of self-governing district… And Montana’s GOP legislators censure state’s transgender state representative.

But FIRST... America’s “culture wars” are at a stalemate.

That’s the main takeaway from our new NBC News poll results on race, values vs. tolerance, and acceptance of transgender people.

The overall numbers suggest nuance, but the findings by political party and race are anything but.

Let’s start with the issue of race, where the poll finds 47% of Americans agreeing with Martin Luther King Jr.’s “dream” — that America is a nation where people are judged by their character, not by their race — versus 52% who disagree.

It’s the first time since 2008 in our poll when a majority disagreed that America is a place where people are judged by their character. (Note the last time when a majority agreed that character mattered more than race in our poll — 2015.)

And look at the divisions by political party: 70% of Republicans believe America is a place where people are judged by their character over race, while 72% of Democrats disagree.

Also look at this division: 53% of whites agree that Americans are judged by their character not by their race, versus 61% of Latinos and 80% of Blacks who disagree.

Next is our question on what is a more important goal for society — promoting greater respect for traditional values or encouraging greater tolerance? 

Overall, 50% of Americans pick traditional values, versus 42% who side with tolerance — essentially unchanged when we last asked this question in 2013.

But once again, note the divisions by party: 74% of Republicans choose traditional values, while 67% of Democrats pick tolerance.

And finally, our NBC News poll finds 48% of all Americans who believe that society has gone too far in accepting transgender people, compared with 43% who say it hasn’t gone far enough.

By party, 79% of Republicans say it’s gone too far, versus 76% of Democrats who say it hasn’t gone far enough.

Yet it’s also striking to us that these numbers on transgender acceptance might not be the overall wedge issue that Republicans are hoping for — which ends up dividing the political opposition.

After all, a 48% vs. 43% split isn’t the 60% vs. 40% disapproval on gay marriage that we saw in the early 2000s, or the current 60% vs. 40% belief that abortion should be legal.

And our poll finds that a majority of respondents ages 18-34 (by a 54% to 36% margin) believing that society should go farther in accepting transgender people, as do a majority of Americans who know someone who is trans (by a 67% to 25% margin).

Headline of the day

 Data Download: The number of the day is … 4

That’s how many Republicans voted against a GOP bill on Thursday to raise the debt limit and cut spending — all hard-right members. The holdouts included Reps. Andy Biggs of Arizona, Ken Buck of Colorado, Tim Burchett of Tennessee and Matt Gaetz of Florida, per NBC News’ Capitol Hill team. 

The bill, which Speaker Kevin McCarthy championed, “would lift the federal borrowing limit by $1.5 trillion or through March 31, whichever comes first. It would cut federal discretionary spending to fiscal 2022 levels and impose a 1% growth cap. And it would recapture unspent Covid relief funds; kill Biden’s student debt cancellation plan; rescind IRS enforcement funding; and add new work requirements for able-bodied adult recipients of federal programs like Medicaid,” NBC News’ Scott Wong, Sahil Kapur and Alexandra Bacallao write.

The bill still passed with 217 votes, and without any Democratic support, in part because three lawmakers’ absences lowered the threshold to pass the measure to 217. But the measure is dead-on-arrival in the Democratically controlled Senate, leaving the path to avoid a default uncertain.

Other numbers to know

2: How many Air Force commanders were suspended amid an investigation into a leak of classified documents. The commanders served in the military unit where Jack Teixeira, the leak suspect, worked.  

18,000: The number of migrants in temporary Customs and Border Protection processing centers along the southern border as of Sunday, as a potential migrant surge looms when pandemic restrictions end May 11, NBC News’ Julia Ainsley reports. 

13: The age at which it would be legal for children to access social media, per a new bipartisan Senate bill unveiled Wednesday. 

70: How many years the United States’ alliance with South Korea has lasted, an anniversary marked by a state visit from South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and his wife this week. 

$40,000: The value of a condo a Minnesota county sold on behalf of an elderly resident when she failed to pay some taxes, which was at issue in oral arguments at the Supreme Court Wednesday. 

51: The number of months one associate of Steve Bannon was sentenced to on Wednesday for his role in defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors in a fake fundraising scheme. 

3: The number of states that have enacted laws banning investing based on social and environmental, or ESG, criteria, Pluribus News reports. 

Eyes on 2024: Country roads lead to a GOP primary

There’s big news expected to come out of West Virginia today — news that will set the stage for a marquee GOP primary and potentially a pivotal general election race. 

West Virginia Republican Gov. Jim Justice is expected to announce a Senate bid, NBC News’ Julie Tskirkin reports, flanked by two GOP senators, West Virginia’s Shelley Moore Capito and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham (according to three people familiar with the plans), as well as Justice’s photogenic dog, Babydog

Tsirkin also reports that Justice spoke with former President Donald Trump ahead of the announcement, according to a source familiar with the conversation.

As he announces his bid, Justice is expected to highlight the recent tax cuts he signed into law and address abortion head on, Tsirkin adds. 

Justice will be seeking the GOP primary alongside GOP Rep. Alex Mooney, who is endorsed by the conservative Club for Growth and has also made a play for Trump’s endorsement. Mooney also placed his first broadcast TV ad buy on Wednesday, reserving $11,000 in airtime starting on Thursday and running through May 1 on two local markets and on Fox News. 

His new ad goes directly at “Liberal Jim Justice,” mocking him with video of him awkwardly putting on a mask during the beginning of the pandemic, arguing his pandemic policies hurt businesses, and criticizing his record on taxes. 

Justice and Mooney will be vying for their party’s nomination in a state that Trump won by 39 percentage points in 2020, but it’s not clear who their Democratic opponent would be, as Sen. Joe Manchin has not committed to running for re-election. 

In other campaign news…

Ron to run: Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis is set to jump into the presidential race as soon as mid-May, NBC News’ Matt Dixon and Natasha Korecki report, with one source telling them that DeSantis will first launch an exploratory committee. 

The unhappiest place on Earth: Disney is suing DeSantis, alleging a “targeted campaign of government retaliation” amid a months-long feud over Walt Disney World’s governance. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley needled DeSantis by evoking one of Trump’s pejorative nicknames for the Florida Republican. 

Ceasefire: Politico reports that DeSantis told a Japanese media outlet he wants to see a “ceasefire” in the war between Ukraine and Russia. 

More polls: new Fox News poll shows President Joe Biden leading the Democratic nomination field with 62%, followed by Robert Kennedy Jr. at 19% and Marianne Williamson at 9%. The same poll found Trump on top of the Republican field with support from 53% of GOP primary voters, followed by DeSantis at 21% and the rest of the field in single digits. 

Is age but a number?: NBC News’ Peter Nicholas and Mike Memoli dig deeper into Biden’s age as a potential weakness as he runs for re-election. Also on Wednesday, Haley questioned whether Biden would "make it" until the end of his second term. 

Trump trials: Writer E. Jean Carroll testified in her civil lawsuit against Trump, saying that “I’m here because Trump raped me.” Also on Wednesday, a federal appeals court ruled that Trump could not block former Vice President Mike Pence from testifying in an investigation into Trump’s role in the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the Capitol and his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. 

Asa’s in: Former Arkansas GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson formally announced his presidential bid Wednesday. 

The elephant not in the room: The Washington Post reports that the GOP’s draft 2022 autopsy report doesn’t mention Trump amid concerns from some Republicans that his handpicked candidates and focus on re-litigating the 2020 election may have hampered the party. 

Powerful friends: Trump now has the committee chairs for both the House and Senate campaign arms in his corner (in their personal capacities). 

ICYMI: What ELSE is happening in the world

Supreme Court justices are under fire for signing a commitment to ethics principles after calls for the court to strengthen its formal rules for financial disclosures, NBC News’ Rose Horowitch and Lawrence Hurley report.

Hunter Biden’s legal team met with prosecutors from the Justice Department to discuss potential charges against him stemming from a Delaware investigation.

Hours before it went into effect, a Missouri judge halted a law that would have restricted access to gender-affirming care for adults and children.