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Congress to grill TikTok CEO amid app concerns

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.
Shou Zi Chew, chief executive officer of TikTok Inc., speaks in Singapore, on Nov. 16, 2022.
Shou Zi Chew, chief executive officer of TikTok Inc., speaks in Singapore, in 2022.Bryan van der Beek / Bloomberg via Getty Images

If it’s THURSDAY… President Biden marks the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act at 1:00 pm ET before departing for Canada, where he meets with PM Justin Trudeau… As political world waits on Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg and grand jury, special counsel in DC approves “crime fraud exception” in probe of Trump classified documents… Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis changes his tune on Russia, calling Putin “a war criminal”… And Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., inches closer to making a decision on a 2024 White House run.

But FIRST... When TikTok’s CEO, Shou Chew, addresses the House Energy and Commerce Committee at 10:00 am ET, he’ll argue that the app is safe, secure and economically important, per NBC’s Scott Wong.

He’ll add that it has a whopping 150 million users in the United States.

And then there’s the politics: Democrats are concerned that any action to ban TikTok will drive away the young voters (read: mostly Dem voters) who use the app.

Yet here is what the U.S. intelligence community has said about TikTok.

“Its parent company is controlled by the Chinese government, and it gives them the potential to leverage the app in ways that I think should concern us,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said during a speech last December at the University of Michigan.

“So you’ve got a data-collection issue, which could be used to conduct all types of data operations and traditional espionage,” Wray added on Capitol Hill earlier this month.

“It’s the algorithm ... that enables them to conduct influence operations... That’s particularly concerning because it’s not clear we’d be able to detect that.”

“And third and finally, it’s the control of the software, which gives them access to millions of devices.”

Gen. Paul Nakasone, director of the National Security Agency, said at that same hearing: “One-third of Americans get their news from TikTok every single day. One-sixth of American youth say they’re constantly on TikTok. That’s a loaded gun.”

Headline of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is ... 38%

That’s the share of Americans who approve of President Biden’s job in the new AP-NORC poll, the lowest mark the poll’s found since July. That’s about the same as the 39% mark that the Grinnell College National Poll found in its Wednesday release. 

But Biden fares better in Grinnell’s favorable rating, at least when compared to his possible presidential rivals. 

Forty-four percent of Americans view Biden favorably, a higher mark than all the other GOP presidential hopefuls tested (former President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence and former Ambassador Nikki Haley). 

So while polling continues to suggest Biden would be in a very tight general election race against his most likely opponent, Trump, the favorability edge harkens back to an old Bidenism: “Don’t compare me to the almighty, compare me to the alternative.”

Other numbers you need to know today

0.25%: The percentage-point increase to interest rates announced by the Federal Reserve Wednesday, the ninth increase since last March. 

Around 25: The number of times armed Russian jets have flown over a U.S. military garrison in Syria, violating an agreement between Russia and the U.S.

86: How many senators voted to keep the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force in place, which was used to authorize multiple counterterrorism efforts after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. A bipartisan group of nine senators voted to repeal the 2001 AUMF, per NBC News’ Frank Thorp. 

2: The number of lawmakers who sent a letter to HCA Healthcare Inc., the country’s largest hospital company, after an NBC News report shed light on unsafe conditions at a Florida hospital.

$130: The price Moderna plans to place on each dose of its Covid-19 vaccine when it starts distributing them commercially, the Wall Street Journal reports. Moderna’s CEO Stéphane Bance told a Senate panel Wednesday that the price is needed to “ensure that anyone who wants a vaccine can get one at a location convenient to them.”

2: The additional number of Republican candidates identified by Fox News whose military records were improperly released by the Air Force

9%: The share of students in AP classes that Black students make up, despite being 15% of all high school students in the U.S. 

$8,000: How much the state of Texas would give parents each year to cover home- or private-school costs if they wanted to leave the public school system, under a new package of bills in the state legislature that Republicans are calling The Texas Parental Bill of Rights

Eyes on 2024: Waiting in the wings

The GOP waiting game is not just for former President Donald Trump’s possible indictment. It’s also for the Republican presidential primary, with the field unchanged for more than a month as potential candidates and their allies continue to maneuver ahead of possible runs. 

On Wednesday NBC News’ Ali Vitali, Ryan Nobles and Liz Brown-Kaiser reported that Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., is “inching closer” to a decision and plans to host donors at a summit in the Palmetto State next month and continue his travels to early primary states. 

Also on Wednesday, a super PAC supporting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who isn’t in the race yet, added Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign manager Jeff Roe as an adviser, NBC News’ Dasha Burns reports. 

The super PAC’s leader, Ken Cuccinelli, told the Associated Press that “there’s no way” DeSantis should launch a presidential run before Florida’s legislative session wraps up on May 5. DeSantis, meanwhile, is continuing to push his agenda, recently moving to expand a law barring instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity to include all grade levels. 

In other campaign news…

Who says you can’t go home?: Biden is “leaning toward” anchoring his re-election campaign in Wilmington, Del., but he is also still considering once again basing his campaign in Philadelphia, per Reuters.

Pence on the stand: The Washington Post reports that former Vice President Mike Pence’s team has “privately accepted” that Pence may have to testify against Trump as part of the Justice Department’s investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

$enate recruitment: Republicans are looking to recruit “filthy rich” Senate candidates, Politico reports, noting there are at least 10 candidates in multiple battleground states who are “seriously considering” spending their own money on potential campaigns. 

Texas run ‘em: Texas is one of Democrats’ few Senate pickup opportunities, and Inside Elections reports that Democrats view Rep. Colin Allred and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro as possible contenders. But if neither runs, the list of potential candidates grows substantially, and could include Arizona Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly’s twin brother, Scott, and state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde and has been a vocal proponent of gun reform after the mass shooting at an elementary school there. 

Gallagher’s choice: Some Republicans believe Wisconsin Rep. Mike Gallagher could be their best recruit to take on Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Politico reports. But Gallagher has said he is focused on his work leading the new China Select Committee.

Denied: The Arizona Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to the 2022 election from Republican Kari Lake, who is considering a Senate run in Arizona and continues to falsely claim that she won last year’s gubernatorial race, per the Arizona Republic. But part of Lake’s case remains alive as the court sent one of her claims regarding signature verification back to a lower court. 

Convention confab: A group of Democratic governors in the Midwest are asking Biden to pick Chicago to host the 2024 Democratic National Convention, making the case that Democrats must work to protect their “blue wall,” NBC News’ Natasha Korecki reports.

Michigan GOP under fire: The Michigan Republican Party is facing bipartisan criticism, including from the Republican Jewish Coalition, for social media posts comparing restrictions on guns to the Holocaust. New chairwoman Kristina Karamo, who rose to prominence casting doubt on the 2020 presidential election and lost a statewide bid this year, defended the posts in a statement. 

Debate night in Chicago: The Chicago Tribune reports that mayoral hopefuls Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas sat down for a forum Wednesday night that took a deep dive into their policy plans. 

ICYMI: What ELSE is happening in the world

Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. was invited to meet with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman to discuss the U.S.’ opposition to proposed changes to Israeli law.

Recent U.S. bank collapses are deepening the stalemate regarding the debt ceiling on Capitol Hill. 

The White House is disbanding its Covid-19 response team in May, the Washington Post reports.