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Chicago mayoral runoff sets up progressive vs. moderate clash

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.
Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson.
Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson.AP

WASHINGTON — If it’s Thursday ... President Biden attends the Senate Democratic caucus lunch after addressing House Democrats a day before. ... Speeches at CPAC gathering in Maryland begin, with Sens. Ted Cruz, J.D. Vance, Rick Scott, Mike Pompeo and others all taking the stage. ... Vice President Harris casts another Senate tie-breaking vote, tying her for second all-time among nation’s vice presidents, per NBC’s Frank Thorp. ... And keeping up with the Never Trumpers. 

But first: April 4 already is set to feature a test drive of the 2024 general election — when battleground Wisconsin holds its competitive state Supreme Court contest. 

And now April 4 also is the date of a race that could end up being a test case of what big-city voters want heading into 2024 — the Chicago mayoral runoff between former schools chief Paul Vallas and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson.

Indeed, Vallas vs. Johnson couldn’t be a starker choice.

Vallas, the moderate white former CEO of Chicago’s public schools, has called for more police on the streets and has the backing of the Fraternal Order of Police.

“We can’t turn Chicago around until we are safe to walk our streets,” he says in one of his TV ads.

Johnson, the Black progressive county commissioner, instead wants to deploy mental-health professionals to deal with mental health crises to free up police to focus on violent crime, and he has the support from the Chicago Teachers Union.

“The safest cities in America invest in people. We need a mayor who’s tough and smart about reducing crime,” Johnson says in one his ads.

Vallas has been hit for his Twitter account liking a series of tweets that used racist language, per the Chicago Tribune.

Johnson, meanwhile, has been attacked for past calls to “defund the police.”

It all sets up quite the contrast for Chicago voters, especially in our post-Covid, post-George Floyd, post-2020/2022 political world. 

And the winner could very well help define the Democratic Party heading into next year.

Quote of the day

“Folks, y’all know how much we’ve gotten done. A lot of the country still doesn’t know it. That’s why the big job in front of us is implementing the laws we passed, so people start to see it in their lives.”

-- President Biden to House Democrats gathering in Baltimore.

Data Download: The number of the day is … 29

That’s how many tie-breaking votes Vice President Kamala Harris has cast in the Senate, tying her with John Adams for the second most tie-breaking votes in history, per NBC News’ Frank Thorp V. Harris broke a tie on Wednesday in a vote over a judicial nominee. 

The record for tie-breaking votes is 31, which is held by former Vice President John C. Calhoun. Thorp points out that Biden did not break any ties in the Senate when he served as vice president. 

Other numbers to know: 

2: How many Senate Democrats sided with Republicans to pass a resolution overturning a federal rule that allows retirement fund managers to take environmental, social and corporate governance factors (ESG) into account when making investments — likely setting up Biden’s first veto. The two Democrats were West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Montana’s Jon Tester.

$35: How much Eli Lilly will cap the out-of-pocket cost of insulin per month, per a new announcement Wednesday. 

$1.6 billion: How much the White House plans to spend to investigate and recapture stolen pandemic relief funds and aid victims of identity theft.

$619 million: The value of a new weapons sale to Taiwan that was approved by the U.S., the Pentagon said Wednesday.

30,000: How many gallons of liquid propane were in a tanker on a train that derailed and ended up on its side outside of the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport. 

6%: The dip in mortgage applications last week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s seasonally adjusted index.  

$21,000: How much restitution New York City will pay the more than 300 people who were corralled by police and accused of excessive force during a 2020 protest after the killing of George Floyd. 

1.8 million: The number of gallons of hazardous liquid wastewater that have been hauled away from the site of a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, prompting health concerns from residents in communities where the toxic waste has been brought to be disposed.

Eyes on 2024: Keeping up with Never Trumpers

Two of the more prominent “Never Trump” Republicans from last year’s Congress made headlines Wednesday — former Reps. Liz Cheney, Wyo., and Adam Kinzinger, Ill.

Cheney will join the University of Virginia as a professor of practice through the fall, where she’ll be working with the Center for Politics. And Politico reported that Kinzinger is launching an ad campaign to combat extremism in both parties that will include television and digital ads, as well as a guerilla marketing campaign like what was spotted on Capitol Hill this week. 

Where the two go from here remains to be seen, but both perches will make the former lawmakers far less visible than they were just months ago, when they served on the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the Capitol. 

In other campaign news: 

On the sidelines: House Republicans who have sought Trump’s endorsement in their own races largely aren’t returning the favor, and instead staying out of the presidential primary so far in a sign that Trump’s influence in the party may be waning, per Politico.

DeSantis’ new media friends: Grid reports on how Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis has been leaning on new conservative media outlets to help build prominence on the right. 

Ain’t no party: A Florida state House member has offered a new bill that would bar the Democratic Party from the state for its past support of slavery. 

See you in court: Republican Kari Lake, who lost last year’s race for Arizona governor and is weighing a Senate run, is taking her election challenge to the state Supreme Court

Backing Lee: Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass endorsed Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee in the state’s open Senate race. 

Keeping up with the 2022 GOPers: Two prominent GOP candidates from last cycle, former New York Rep. Lee Zeldin and Washington’s Tiffany Smiley, are launching political action committees. 

If at first you don’t succeed: The Dispatch reports that former GOP congressional candidate Hung Cao is meeting with National Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Daines about a potential Senate bid in Virginia. 

King’s gambit: Maine Independent Sen. Angus King, who is up for re-election next year, says he will “probably support” the resolution to block Washington D.C.’s new crime law, according to NBC News’ Frank Thorp V. 

End of an era: Democratic strategist Guy Cecil is stepping down from his role leading Priorities USA, which he’s led since 2015.

New leaderships: CHC Bold PAC, is the campaign arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, has a new leader — California Democratic Rep. Linda Sánchez, the first woman to hold that position, per a press release. 

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Newly declassified documents show that the U.S. has not linked any foreign adversaries to the Havana syndrome after a thorough review of intelligence.

The Senate Judiciary Committee questioned Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday about why no people who protested outside of Supreme Court justices homes haven’t been charged.

Pennsylvania residents that live near the site of a train derailment in Ohio tell NBC News they have been left out of recovery efforts following the release of toxic gasses and chemicals after the derailment.