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The next battleground over abortion: Ohio

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.
Counter protesters hold placards in favor of abortion and
Protesters hold placards in favor of abortion in Toledo, Ohio in 2022. Stephen Zenner / SOPA / LightRocket via Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — If it’s Thursday ... Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen testifies before the Senate Finance Committee after recent banking failures. ... The U.S. military releases video of Russian fighter jet intercepting American drone over Black Sea. ... A federal judge in Texas appears sympathetic to challengers of abortion pill. ... The Senate confirms Eric Garcetti as U.S. ambassador to India. ... And Ron DeSantis’ likely presidential campaign picks up its first congressional endorsement, NBC’s Ali Vitali reports.

But first: While eyes are on Texas to see how a Trump-appointed federal judge rules in a case seeking to overturn FDA approval of a pill used in medicated abortions, don’t lose sight of what’s also happening Ohio.

That’s where abortion-rights supporters learned they can begin to collect the 400,000-plus signatures needed to get a state constitutional amendment on Ohio’s November ballot that would enshrine a right to an abortion in the Buckeye State.

Already, a group opposing this constitutional amendment, Protect Women Ohio, has launched a $5 million advertising campaign to defeat it.

“Under their proposed amendment to the Ohio constitution, the state ‘shall not interfere’ with individuals getting abortions or sex changes, meaning you could be cut out of the biggest decision of her life,” a narrator says in this 30-second TV ad.

In fact, the proposed amendment does not actually reference a person’s decision to medically transition. It does say, “every individual has a right to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions, including but not limited to decisions on contraception, fertility treatment, continuing one’s own pregnancy, miscarriage care, and abortion.”

The proposed amendment adds that the state government “shall not, directly or indirectly, burden, penalize, prohibit, interfere with, or discriminate against either an individual’s voluntary exercise of this right or a person or entity that assists an individual exercising this right.”

And the amendment says abortion “may be prohibited after fetal viability.”

It’s striking to us how early abortion opponents are working to define this amendment — before the signatures are even collected.

It’s also noteworthy that they’re trying to tie transgender transitioning to the abortion debate.

Still, it’s worth asking if this constitutional amendment is going play out differently than what we saw in Kansas last year.

Headline of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 14

That’s the percentage-point lead former President Donald Trump has with Republican and Republican-leaning voters over 11 declared and potential candidates in a new national Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday. 

The poll is the latest survey showing Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as the co-frontrunners for the GOP nomination (even though DeSantis hasn’t announced his campaign yet), with 46% of those surveyed backing Trump and 32% backing DeSantis. Trump also still has an advantage in a head-to-head matchup with DeSantis, with 51% supporting the former president and 40% supporting the Florida governor. 

Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, who launched her campaign last month, has support from just 5% of those surveyed, while none of the other current or potential candidates have support from more than 3%. The margin of error for the GOP and GOP-leaning voters was plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.

Other numbers to know:

$54 billion: The amount that Credit Suisse will be borrowing from the Swiss National Bank, the lender announced after its shares fell sharply on Wednesday.

3: How many Senate Democrats voted against the nomination of former L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti to be the next U.S. ambassador to India, including Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Mark Kelly of Arizona. But Garcetti’s nomination passed thanks to support from some Republicans. His nomination had been imperiled by concerns about his handling of sexual misconduct claims against a former aide. 

$650 million: How much the government seized in money and assets of exiled Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui, an associate of Trump ally Steve Bannon, who has been accused of a $1 billion fraud scheme

3: The number of weeks that a Nebraska Democratic legislator has filibustered to block all legislation, including a bill banning gender-affirming care for minors. 

49%: The share of Americans who support a “national ban of foreign technology such as TikTok” in that same Quinnipiac poll. Forty-two percent oppose a ban.  

128,877: The number of times Border Patrol officials encountered migrants trying to cross the Southern border in February, the lowest number of encounters in one month since February 2021, according to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol data.

5: The number of years in prison facing a Wisconsin man who pleaded guilty Wednesday to his role in the plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. He agreed in a plea deal to cooperate with prosecutors and will testify against four other men with related charges. 

Eyes on 2024: It’s beginning to look like a presidential primary

What’s a presidential nominating race without a congressional endorsement fight and some attempts to work the refs?

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis may not be a declared candidate just yet, but his expected bid grabbed headlines Wednesday thanks to two developments. 

First: He got his first member of Congress calling on him to jump into the race — Texas Republican Rep. Chip Roy, a Tea Party Republican with conservative chops, but one who didn’t join the majority of his conference to vote against certifying the 2020 election (even though he texted with then-chief of staff Mark Meadows in the days after the election about the campaign’s challenges).  

And second: As NBC News’ Matt Dixon scooped, former President Donald Trump’s super PAC filed an ethics complaint against DeSantis’ “shadow presidential campaign.” 

The big takeaway from that complaint isn’t necessarily the substance; Trump, after all, faced a slew of ethics complaints ahead of his announcement. And it’s not like DeSantis is seeing a groundswell of support from elected Republicans — Trump has the backing of almost two-dozen members of the House and five senators, among others. 

But the Roy endorsement marks just the second sitting member to cross the line against Trump (South Carolina Rep. Ralph Norman is backing former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley), and the first for the man that polls show is Trump’s top rival. 

And the ethics complaint shows that Trump’s allies are elevating their fight against DeSantis, looking to put whatever pressure on their rival that they can. 

In other campaign news: 

Veepstakes: Trump has a long way to go before becoming the GOP presidential nominee, but the Associated Press reports that there is already a “shadow contest” to be his running mate, and that Trump is interested in picking a woman. The AP lists Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Elise Stefanik of New York, as well as Arizona Republican Kari Lake, Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn, and Govs. Kim Reynolds of Iowa and Kristi Noem of South Dakota as potential contenders.

There’s a theme: The Washington Post unpacks the “dark undertones and apocalyptic rhetoric” that has been dominating the GOP presidential primary field so far. 

Not a crime? One of Trump’s lawyers said Tuesday during an interview on MSNBC that Trump followed the advice of his counsel in signing off on a hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels, arguing “that is not a crime.”  

Sitting out: Pennsylvania Republican Kathy Barnette, who made a late surge in last year’s primary, told Politico she won’t run for Senate next year. 

Bringing New Jersey to New Hampshire: Fox News reports that former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is heading to New Hampshire for a town hall at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at the end of the month.  

Not so zen: Self-help author and spiritual adviser Marianne Williamson, who recently launched another presidential campaign, was “verbally and emotionally abusive” to her campaign staff in 2020, Politico reports, citing interviews with 12 former campaign staffers. Williamson denied the allegations.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer asked the National Transportation Safety Board to expand its investigation into Norfolk Southern to include other large rail companies.

President Biden’s years-long relationship with Chinese president Xi Jinping could be the only thing preventing tensions between the U.S. and China from devolving further, NBC News’ Peter Nicholas writes.

The Biden administration issued TikTok’s Chinese owners an ultimatum — sell their stakes in the app or face a national ban in the U.S., the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.