IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Under cloud, CPAC becomes a tale of who’s showing up — and who’s not

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.
Former President Donald Trump at CPAC in Dallas on July 11, 2021.
Former President Donald Trump at CPAC in Dallas on July 11, 2021.Dylan Hollingsworth / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

WASHINGTON —  If it’s Wednesday ... Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot fails to make mayoral runoff, becoming first Chicago mayor to lose re-election in 40 years. ... Former school chief Paul Vallas and Cook County commissioner Brandon Johnson advance to April 4 runoff. ... Conservative Supreme Court justices express strong skepticism about President Biden’s student-loan relief. ... Biden addresses House Democratic retreat in Baltimore. ... And more than $1 million has already been spent on ads in Wisconsin’s state Supreme Court race — in the first week of general election.

But first: Let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room at this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference.

The lawsuit accusing Matt Schlaap — who runs the organization that hosts CPAC — of fondling a GOP operative who worked on Herschel Walker’s Senate campaign last year. 

Schlapp’s lawyer has denied the allegation. But the Washington Post recently confirmed that the former Walker staffer shared his story with friends and family — via text messages and a video — immediately after the alleged incident took place.

Amid the legal back and forth, the early story of this week’s CPAC gathering, which begins in earnest on Thursday, are the no-shows, as NBC’s Natasha Korecki and Jon Allen write (even though no politician has pointed to the allegation against Schlapp to explain their decision to skip the confab). 

No Ron DeSantis. No Mike Pence. No Speaker Kevin McCarthy. No Mitch McConnell. No RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel.

Now Donald Trump will be there (speaking on Saturday afternoon). So will Nikki Haley (Friday). As will former Brazil President Jair Bolsinaro, Steve Bannon, Devin Nunes and MyPillow’s Mike Lindell, as well as Sens. Ted Cruz, Tim Scott, JD Vance, Marsha Blackburn and Tommy Tuberville. 

One story about CPAC has been its evolution over the past decade — first as a gathering that united much of the conservative movement and GOP, then as a venue Trump pulled out from in 2016 due to resistance from some conservatives, and then as a conference Trump remade in his own image after becoming president. 

Yet the other stories dominating CPAC are the allegation against Schlapp, as well as the other co-frontrunner in the early 2024 presidential race who isn’t appearing (but is going to Club for Growth retreat later this week). 

Ron DeSantis.

Headline of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 40

That’s how many years it had been since a Chicago mayor lost a bid for re-election — until Mayor Lori Lightfoot failed to advance in Tuesday’s primary. Lightfoot, the city’s first Black female and openly gay mayor, did not emerge as one of the top two vote-getters in the nine-candidate field, NBC News’ Natasha Korecki reports. 

Instead, the two candidates headed to an April 4 runoff are Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas, the former CEO of Chicago public schools. 

“Ideologically, the choice between Vallas and Johnson is stark,” Korecki writes. “Vallas ran as a moderate law-and-order candidate, while Johnson ran on an unabashedly progressive agenda.”

Other numbers to know:

36: The number of people dead after a train collision in northern Greece, the Washington Post reports. 

6: The number of senators introducing a rail safety bill in the wake of February’s train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

5%: The increase in pedestrian deaths in the first half of 2022 over the same period last year, 3,434, per the Governor’s Highway Safety Association.

3: The number of crew members of the movie “Rust” suing Alec Baldwin in claims related to the fatal shooting of the movie’s cinematographer.  

14: The number of Democratic lawmakers who signed onto a new letter calling on President Joe Biden to appoint a new Architect of the Capitol aimed at shoring up restrictions on carrying guns on the House campus, per NBC News’ Ryan Nobles and Haley Talbot.  

6: The record number of Black statehouse speakers in the U.S., after Pennsylvania State Rep. Joanna McClinton received the gavel on Tuesday.

30: The estimated number of schools where Iranian officials believe hundreds of schoolgirls were poisoned by nitrogen gas.

Eyes on 2024: Congress gets first classified docs briefing

One of the more unpredictable and wide-reaching stories ahead of the 2024 election is the looming investigations into the handling of classified documents found on properties belonging to three major possible presidential candidates — President Joe Biden, former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence.

While NBC News’ Ryan Nobles, Frank Thorp V, Liz Brown-Kaiser and Dareh Gregorian report that the congressional “Gang of 8” (top congressional leaders and top lawmakers on the intelligence committees) received their first briefing on the investigation Tuesday, there appears to be bipartisan belief the briefing didn’t go far enough. 

“While today’s meeting helped shed some light on these issues, it left much to be desired and we will continue to press for full answers to our questions in accordance with our constitutional oversight obligations,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., and Vice Chair Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said in a joint statement after the briefing. 

With top lawmakers in both parties not satisfied with what they’ve learned from Congress, this remains both a political, and congressional, story worth watching. 

Read more from NBC News here

In other campaign news:

Biden vs. “MAGA Republicans”: Biden traveled to Virginia Beach on Tuesday to warn of potential GOP spending cuts that could threaten health care, setting up the looming spending battle as one against so-called MAGA Republicans. 

Good morning, Baltimore: Biden will join House Democrats in Baltimore Wednesday for their annual retreat, with this year’s meeting focused on developing a “messaging strategy” heading into 2024, per NBC News’ Scott Wong and Peter Nicholas.  

Georgia Republicans want to ease voter eligibility challenges: New legislation in the Georgia Senate, backed by Republicans, aims to make it easier to challenge voters’ eligibility

Reeves signs transgender bill: Mississippi GOP Gov. Tate Reeves, who is up for re-election this fall, signed a bill blocking access to transgender health care for minors

Florida man, national plans: Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is considering traveling to early presidential nominating states soon, NBC News’ Ali Vitali and Haley Talbot report. 

Sununu on Sirius: New Hampshire GOP Gov. Chris Sununu told Sirius XM that he “very well may” run for president.” And he slammed Democrats’ effort to remove New Hampshire as an early primary state, saying, “Can I say they can go suck it? Is that appropriate?”

Hail to the fundraisers: Michigan Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin raised $1.2 million on the first day of her Senate campaign, per The Detroit News

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

President Biden has nominated Judy Su, the deputy secretary of labor, to lead the department.  

NBC News reports from Russian-annexed Crimea as Ukraine fights to take it back. 

Israel has continued to back Ukraine, despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

Speaker Kevin McCarthy defended his decision to give Fox News’ Tucker Carlson exclusive access to thousands of hours of security footage from Jan. 6, 2021.