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Biden faces major tests with debt ceiling standoff, border surge

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.
President Joe Biden in Springfield, Va., on Jan. 26, 2023.
President Joe Biden in Springfield, Va., on Jan. 26, 2023.Andrew Harnik / AP file

If it’s MONDAY … Police in Allen, Texas, identify shooter who killed eight people at an outlet mall Saturday … President Biden and Transportation Secretary Buttigieg to speak on new compensation rules for flight delays or cancellations at 1:45 p.m. ET … White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre holds a briefing at 2:30 p.m. ET … House Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul threatens to hold Secretary of State Antony Blinken in contempt of Congress over Afghanistan withdrawal documents… 43 Senate Republicans say they won’t support a clean debt ceiling increase.

But FIRST … This is a big week for President Joe Biden. And it’s likely the start of a very difficult summer. 

On Tuesday, Biden will huddle with congressional leaders to try and avert a national default. And on Thursday, Covid-era border restrictions will come to an end, with southern border agents preparing for a massive migrant surge

Both issues will test Biden’s 2020 pitch as the adult in the room who can lower the temperature — and any failure will cut deep. 

The dynamics threaten to put Biden on the defensive and unable to drive the message. And they open him up to criticism from his own party as he continues to struggle in the polls. 

When it comes to the border, both moderate and liberal Democrats feel very comfortable criticizing Biden. If illegal migration gets worse after Title 42 is lifted later this week, expect those criticisms to only get louder. 

The debt ceiling standoff could also be a political loser, with both sides dug in ahead of a potential default next month — Republicans united around spending cuts and Biden trying to pressure them to change their minds and support a clean increase. 

For a president who staked his 2020 campaign on ushering in a return to stability, Biden will likely face more pressure to make some concessions as the threat of economic calamity looms (something the GOP clearly knows). 

On top of all that, his son Hunter’s legal issues could come to a head soon, as a Republican press conference Wednesday will be the latest in the GOP attempt to up the pressure on Biden. 

One looming problem for Biden: He’s hardly starting from a position of strength. 

Both the recent Gallup and Washington Post-ABC polls found Biden’s approval at all-time lows (37% and 35% respectively).

On arguably the most important issue for a president’s re-election, the economy, the Post poll shows Biden struggling — 54% of adults say former President Donald Trump handled the economy better during his presidency.

And Americans continue to question whether the 80-year-old president should even be running again.

So unless a grand bargain is within reach, the only good news for Biden world may be in whatever bad news surfaces on the right, whether that be Trump indictments, presidential primary fights, or any potential GOP overreaction in the debt ceiling fight. 

Headline of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 43

That’s how many Senate Republicans signed a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer stating that they would not support a clean debt limit increase without spending cuts, NBC News’ Julie Tsirkin reports. 

“The Senate Republican conference is united behind the House Republican conference in support of spending cuts and structural budget reform as a starting point for negotiations on the debt ceiling,” they wrote in the letter, which Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, led.

The signatories include each member of GOP leadership, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The six Republicans who did not sign the letter include Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Josh Hawley of Missouri, John Kennedy of Louisiana, and Mitt Romney of Utah. 

The White House responded to the letter, per NBC News’ Mike Memoli, with deputy press secretary Andrew Bates saying in a statement, “Every one of these Senators just announced to the country — and their constituents — that they are holding millions of American jobs, businesses, and retirement accounts hostage.”

Other numbers to know

47%: The portion of Democrats who want the party to nominate “someone other than Biden” in 2024, according to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll

8: The number of people, believed to be migrants, killed in a Texas border city over the weekend when a vehicle rammed into them at a bus stop. 

500,000: The number of Americans who could lose their jobs if the U.S. defaults on its debt for even a week, per the Congressional Budget Office and the Treasury Department. 

14: The number of years a man was sentenced to prison for assaulting police officers during the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. It’s the longest sentence yet for a Jan. 6 defendant. 

12: The number of years Syria was absent from the Arab League, before the group invited the nation back on Sunday. 

$48,000: The average price for a new car in March, up 30% from three years ago, the Washington Post reports. 

At least 8: The number of “fake electors” in a Georgia scheme to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election who have been granted immunity in the Fulton County district attorney’s investigation.  

2: The number of people executed in Iran on Monday after they were convicted of blasphemy.

Eyes on 2024: Waiting on Ron

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis had two goals for 2023 — pass conservative legislation during the state’s legislative session, and (possibly) run for president. 

And now that the session has come to a close — with DeSantis signing legislation limiting abortion access, expanding the death penalty, weakening unions, banning children at drag shows, loosening concealed firearm restrictions, and restricting diversity and gender education in schools, among other measures — the presidential speculation continues to pick up steam. 

DeSantis traveled to Wisconsin over the weekend ahead of a potential delegate chase against former President Donald Trump; he’s leaned heavily into his feud with Disney that will now head to a courtroom; and the Washington Post reports that DeSantis is ramping up his fundraising schedule with bundler briefings and donor dinners.

But while the governor’s recent dip in the GOP presidential nominating polls has stifled some excitement for his bid, his camp spent the weekend responding to another bad break — ABC News obtained leaked footage from debate prep during his 2018 gubernatorial bid. 

In it, DeSantis tries to walk a tightrope on the question of whether he disagreed with Trump on anything, and decides to push back firmly on criticism regarding his warning that Florida not vote for Democrat Andrew Gillum, who is Black, and “monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda.” 

In other campaign news…

Party time: Former President Donald Trump is courting delegates to the GOP’s 2024 convention, ensuring he won’t be outmaneuvered like he was in 2016, Politico reports. The effort shows how Trump has shifted “from the political newcomer of 2016 who oversaw a chaotic operation, to the experienced campaigner now playing the inside game.”

Trump trial: Trump will not be testifying in his civil trial where he faces rape and defamation allegations from writer E. Jean Carroll, per the Associated Press. 

Asa’s take: Former Arkansas GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson did not directly answer if he would support Trump if he is the Republican nominee. Hutchinson, who recently launched his own presidential run, said on Meet the Press, “I expect to be on the debate stage. We’re still looking at what is required for that in terms of the pledge,” referencing the potential pledge to support the nominee that the RNC may require in order to participate in debates. 

Who is ​​Julie Chávez Rodríguez?: NBC News’ Peter Nicholas, Nicole Acevedo and Katherine Doyle profile Biden’s 2024 campaign manager, Julie Chávez Rodríguez.

Defending Hunter: Biden defended his son Hunter, who could face tax and firearms charges, telling MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle, “First of all, my son has done nothing wrong. I trust him. I have faith in him.” 

Biden’s cavalry: The Associated Press reports that three outside groups — Future Forward USA Action, Climate Power and Way to Win Action Fund — are launching a $20 million ad campaign to tout Biden’s record on prescription drug costs, energy jobs and the middle class. 

Time for Tim?: Many GOP senators are quick to praise Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., but they aren’t as quick to endorse him ahead of his expected presidential campaign announcement, NBC News’ Scott Wong, Ali Vitali and Stephanie Ruhle report.

Independent streak:  Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., who has not yet said if she’s running for re-election, said Sunday that she does not plan to become a Republican. She told CBS’ “Face the Nation, “You don’t go from one broken party to another.”

A second chance at a first impression: Politico reports on how New York’s new bail proposals in Gov. Kathy Hochul’s budget give Democrats another opening to try to push back on the Republican attacks on the issue that dominated the midterm fight. 

The machine sputters: George Norcross, the longtime Democratic powerbroker in New Jersey, tells Politico he’s stepping back and that “it’s time for others to lead the party.”

ICYMI: What ELSE is happening in the world:

King Charles III was crowned monarch of the United Kingdom of Britain and Northern Ireland during his coronation on Saturday.

Iran has been hiding weapons in shipments of humanitarian aid to Syria, which has enabled attacks on U.S. soldiers, according to leaked documents reviewed by the Washington Post.