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Biden focuses on the middle as Republicans battle for their base

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 Biden speaks at the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) training center on February 08, 2023 in De Forest, Wisconsin.
President Biden at the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) training center on yesterday in De Forest, Wisconsin. cScott Olson / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — If it’s Thursday ... President Biden heads to Tampa, Fla., to discuss Social Security and Medicare after his State of the Union. ... Biden, in PBS interview, blames ex-staff for discovered classified documents: “They packed up my offices to move them, they didn’t do the kind of job that should have been done.” ... Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., is hospitalized after feeling lightheaded. ... Donald Trump escalates his attacks on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. ... And the death toll in Turkey and Syria now exceeds 16,000.

But first: President Biden said the words “middle” or “middle class” six times during his State of the Union address.

He kept up the theme yesterday in Wisconsin. “For the first time in a long time, we’re building an economy from the bottom up and the middle out,” Biden said.

And expect the president to continue that message today in Florida, where he’ll once again highlight Sen. Rick Scott’s proposal to sunset all federal legislation (including Medicare and Social Security) after five years and require Congress to pass it again if worth keeping.

By comparison, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders never said “middle” in her State of the Union response Tuesday — but did say “woke” twice.

“He’s the first man to surrender his presidency to a woke mob that can’t even tell you what a woman is,” she said. 

Meanwhile, two Florida men — Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis — have either been on the attack or trying to one-up each other playing to the GOP base.

“RINO GLOBALIST,” Trump said of DeSantis, per NBC’s Henry Gomez, with the former president also calling attention to a photo purportedly showing the Florida governor with young women when he was a high school teacher more than 20 years ago.

All the while DeSantis has waged fights over AP curriculum, drag shows and Covid mask and vaccine mandates.

This is the one of the biggest dynamics to watch in the very, very early 2024 presidential race, as Republicans begin competing for the GOP nomination and as Biden looks to run unopposed on the Democratic side.

Biden gets to focus on the middle while Republicans try to win over rank-and-file GOP primary voters.

Quote of the day

“Watch me. That’s all I can say”

President Joe Biden told PBS NewsHour when asked about whether his age gives him any concern when it comes to running for a second term.

Data Download: The number of the day is … more than 16,000

That’s the number of confirmed deaths from the earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria earlier this week, with the toll expected to continue to rise as aid workers go through the rubble. 

Almost 13,000 have died in Turkey, the country says, with the rest dead in Syria or territory controlled by the rebels there. 

More than 20,000 are injured, as U.S. search and rescue teams touch down to assist the first responders.

Other numbers to know:

27.3 million: The estimated number of people who watched Biden’s State of the Union address on television, per the Associated Press.

50%: The portion of Americans in a new Gallup poll who say they are worse off than a year ago. 

15: The number of times Michael Cohen has said he has met with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who recently convened a grand jury to investigate money paid to a former porn star who alleges she slept with former President Donald Trump. 

29: The age of Elian Gonzalez, a Cuban national who made headlines during a custody battle as a child and is now poised to become a member of the island country’s parliament. 

$191 billion: The amount of Covid unemployment payments that were misspent, according to Department of Labor Inspector General Larry D. Turner, Politico reports.  

700%: The increase in border crossings between Canada and the U.S. in one border sector, as more migrants begin crossing from the north

$8.9 billion: That’s how much money was spent on the 2022 midterms, a record amount of money spent on midterm elections, according to an OpenSecrets analysis of federal campaign finance disclosures.

7,000: The number of jobs Disney plans to cut as part of its restructuring and cost-cutting efforts.

90: The number of consecutive life sentences facing Patrick Crusius, who killed 23 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, in 2019. Crusius pleaded guilty to multiple hate crimes and weapons charges on Monday, per the Texas Tribune.

Eyes on 2024: GOP race ramps up

The GOP presidential field is expected to grow in less than one week, when Nikki Haley jumps into the race — and ahead of that, the jockeying among potential contenders continues to ramp up.  

NBC News’ Natasha Korecki and Jonathan Allen scooped that New Hampshire GOP Gov. Chris Sununu is launching a political group allowing him to raise unlimited funds as he mulls a bid (Haley and former Vice President Mike Pence also have similar groups). Sununu said he is “excited to talk about the successes that we’ve had in New Hampshire: lowering taxes, creating educational choices for parents and kids, and building opportunities for businesses to grow and thrive.”

Politico also reports that Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is continuing to build out his new organization

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, another possible candidate, is heading to the nation’s capital next week for three policy speeches focused on U.S.-China relations, per Fox News. 

And Haley herself has continued to tease her announcement next week, releasing a 30-second hype video. The video closes with a clip of Haley at a previous event where she said, “I wear heels. It’s not for a fashion statement. It’s because if I see something wrong, we’re gonna kick ‘em every single time,” and then text flashes on screen that reads, “2/15/23 Where will you stand?” 

But anyone who jumps into the race will have some serious fundraising to do as they take on Trump for the nomination (for more on where the potential contenders’ cash, check out the Meet the Press Blog).

In other campaign news: 

What ever happened to Reagan’s 11th Commandment?: Trump is lobbing new harsh and unsubstantiated allegations at DeSantis amid the 2024 shadow boxing, as DeSantis continues to try to frame himself as above the fray

Big Sky decision: GOP Rep. Matt Rosendale did not rule out a run for Senate in Montana next year in an interview with the Daily Caller. 

Deflection: President Biden blamed his staff in the ongoing classified document saga, saying that “as they packed up my offices to move them, they didn’t do the kind of job that should have been done.” 

Abortion access and the State of the Union: Despite making abortion rights access a centerpiece of his midterm message, President Biden didn’t spend much time talking about abortion during his State of the Union, to the frustration of some activists

Waiting for Feinstein: Politico explores the “extreme awkwardness” plaguing California politics as the Senate race kicks off even though Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein hasn’t announced whether she is retiring. 

A gamble: Nevada Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno is launching a bid against the state Democratic Party chairwoman in an attempt to unify the party, per the Nevada Independent.  

“I’ve been raising hell”: West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (who is up for re-election next year) is criticizing the rollout of the electric vehicle policies in last year’s signature Democratic spending bill. 

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

A House hearing that was supposed to focus on “Twitter’s role in suppressing the [Hunter] Biden laptop story” didn’t go as expected when an old tweet from model Chrissy Teigen insulting Donald Trump stole the focus.

In another hearing Wednesday, Republicans took aim at the Biden administration’s Covid response

NBC News’ Lawrence Hurley reports on how the Supreme Court is being pushed to adopt a new code of conduct.