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Biden’s handling of Ukraine has not translated to support on the home front

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 Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Olena Zelenska at Mariinsky Palace in Kyiv, Ukraine
Joe Biden with Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Olena Zelenska at Mariinsky Palace in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Feb. 20, 2023. Evan Vucci / AP

WASHINGTON — If it’s Tuesday ... President Biden, after his surprise visit to Ukraine yesterday, delivers a speech on the one-year war there from Poland. ... Russia’s Putin falsely claims Ukraine and the West started the war, announces suspension of participation in New START nuclear treaty. ... Ron DeSantis encroaches on Trump’s turf with addresses to law enforcement groups, NBC’s Natasha Korecki reports. ... Larry Hogan says on “Meet the Press” he won’t run for president if his candidacy would help Trump. ... And it’s Primary Day in Wisconsin’s closely watched state Supreme Court race.

But first: President Biden has played his cards on Ukraine about as well as any president could.

He anticipated Vladimir Putin’s invasion, he mobilized the West to economically isolate Russia, and he made Monday’s surprise visit Ukraine.

Yet those moves haven’t resonated with the American public — at least not yet.

According to last month’s NBC News poll, just 41% of Americans said they approved of Biden’s handling of the war between Russia and Ukraine — including 71% of Democrats, but just 36% of independents and 14% of Republicans.

Maybe more troubling for Biden, the poll also found the public split down the middle on Congress providing more funding and weapons to support Ukraine.

Forty-nine percent of Americans said Congress should provide more funding and weapons to Ukraine, versus 47% who said it should not.

The biggest divides here were by party (67% of Dems said Congress should provide more to Ukraine, compared with just 32% of Republicans), by age (older Americans were much more supportive of aid to Ukraine) and by education (those will college degrees are more supportive than those without college degrees).

Notably, our latest poll was conducted before Biden’s surprise Presidents’ Day visit to Ukraine, as well as before today’s dueling speeches between Biden and Putin. 

So it’s possible these numbers could change.

But right now, there’s a real disconnect between the president’s actions on Ukraine and the public’s attitude.

Ukraine hasn’t been a political liability for Biden. Yet it hasn’t been a net positive for him, either.

And ahead of his expected re-election, he needs to turn it into a positive.

Headline of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … $9.2 million

That’s how much money has already been spent on ads through Tuesday’s primary in the closely watched state Supreme Court race in Wisconsin. The election is technically nonpartisan, although the four candidates have staked out clear liberal and conservative positions. Four candidates are competing in the primary, and the Top 2 vote getters will advance to the general election on April 4. 

The top spender on the airwaves is an outside GOP group called Fair Courts America, which has spent $2.8 million on ads boosting conservative Daniel Kelly, a former state Supreme Court justice. The group is funded largely by GOP megadonor Richard Uihlein. Liberal Janet Protasiewicz, a Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge who has been endorsed by EMILY’s List, has spent $2.2 million. 

And a liberal group called A Better Wisconsin Together Political Fund has spent nearly $2.2 million on ads against conservative Jennifer Dorow, a Waukesha County Circuit Court judge who presided over the high-profile trial of a man who killed six people after driving his car through a local Christmas parade. The fourth candidate in the race is Everett Mitchel, a liberal Dane County Circuit Court judge.

Other numbers to know:

98: The age of former President Jimmy Carter, who entered hospice care last week following a series of hospital stays.

6.3: The magnitude of an earthquake that hit the Turkey-Syria border on Monday, two weeks after a larger earthquake killed 44,000 people.

1: The number of people killed in a shooting at a Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans on Sunday night. 

102: The number of children as young as 13 year old the Labor Department found to be working cleaning slaughterhouses across eight states.

3: The number of students injured in last week’s shooting at Michigan State University who were no longer in critical condition. Two others are still listed as critical. 

12.8%: The amount by which Covid deaths have increased in the last two weeks. 

$11.99: The amount a Meta Verified subscription will cost on the web, as the company launches a verification service for Instagram and Facebook. 

18 months: The amount of time in prison a GOP consultant was sentenced to for his role in trying to direct money from a Russian national to former President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Eyes on 2024: DeSantis hits the road

Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., may not have announced a presidential bid yet, but he’s hardly been subtle about his national ambitions, and continues to draw a significant amount of oxygen in this burgeoning race. 

He spent Presidents’ Day weekend speaking to law enforcement groups in New York City, Philadelphia and Chicago hosted by an affiliated non-profit. (Illinois Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker has been one of DeSantis’ chief antagonists in recent months, and the Republican’s visit to Chicago has become a flash-point in the tight mayoral race there.)

And DeSantis will travel to Alabama, California and Texas around the release of his book later this month, NBC News’ Natasha Korecki reports

These events, along with a spate of press conferences and legislative endorsements back home, continue to help him shore up his standing with the Republican base as he appears poised to enter the presidential race as a co-frontrunner. 

(Former Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who knows a little bit about trying to leverage lofty standing in the GOP into a challenge to Trump, told NBC News’ Henry J. Gomez on Friday that DeSantis is probably in a “better” spot than he was in 2016). 

And DeSantis’ moves have provoked pushback from Trump, who spent another day lambasting his former ally on his social media platform, this time calling him a “RINO in disguise” and trying to frame him as a member of the party establishment, and releasing his own crime plan Monday evening, after DeSantis’ events.  

In other campaign news: 

Something special: Voters in Virginia’s 4th Congressional District are heading to the polls Tuesday in a special election to replace the late Democratic Rep. Donald McEachin. Democratic State Sen. Jennifer McClellan is expected to prevail in the deep blue district.  

Finding the right lane: The New York Times explores whether New Hampshire GOP Gov. Chris Sununu can capture the “normal” lane if he decides to run for president. 

Hogan’s choice: Former Maryland GOP Gov. Larry Hogan, a vocal Trump critic, told “Meet the Press” on Sunday that he would consider not running for president if his candidacy could inadvertently help Trump win the Republican primary.  

Biden’s team and playbook: The Biden team is struggling to find a campaign manager for his expected re-election run, and he could announce his run as soon as April, NBC News’ Mike Memoli, Jonathan Allen, Carol E. Lee and Alex Seitz-Wald report. Biden’s team, meanwhile, is working to set up his 2024 playbook, which mirrors his 2020 strategy, as “competent beats crazy,” the New York Times reports. 

The last dance?: NBC News’ Natasha Korecki looks at the possibility that Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot could fall short of even making a runoff in her re-election bid next week.  

Thinking about it: Republican Kari Lake, who lost last year’s race for governor, is moving closer to a Senate run with a potential June announcement, the Washington Post reports. Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb also tweeted over the weekend that he is “seriously considering” a Senate run. 

Trump troubles: The Washington Post’s recent Republican focus groups found a significant chunk hoping to vote for someone else to win the party’s 2024 presidential nomination. The Associated Press notes that Trump hasn’t visited Iowa as a 2024 candidate yet even as other rivals head to the state (Trump announced a handful of staff hires in Iowa this past weekend). And NBC News’ Daniel Barnes reports that lawyers representing Proud Boys accused of seditious conspiracy plan to subpoena Trump to testify

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Ohio’s Health Department is opening a clinic in East Palestine, Ohio, the site of a train derailment that sent toxic chemicals into the air, as health concerns due to the chemicals rise.

President Biden and several Republican senators are on the same side in a case in front of the Supreme Court on limiting tech company immunity, which the Court will hear on Tuesday.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., called for a “national divorce” between liberal and conservative states.

And the Biden administration is considering a new rule that would not allow migrants to claim asylum at the Southern border if they had not previously tried to claim asylum in another country, like Mexico.