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Debt ceiling to dominate agenda of Biden-McCarthy meeting

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.

WASHINGTON — If it’s Wednesday ... President Biden meets at the White House with Speaker Kevin McCarthy. ... Vice President Harris attends Tyre Nichols’ funeral in Memphis. ... Republican Nikki Haley is expected to announce presidential bid on Feb. 15, NBC’s Ali Vitali reports. ... Former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan also looks likely to jump into race, saying he’s “giving serious consideration to running.” ... And the latest NBC News poll finds voters are uncomfortable with Biden and Trump in 2024.

But first: Speaker Kevin McCarthy enters his meeting today with President Biden holding a weaker hand when it comes to public opinion. 

In our latest NBC News poll, 54% of Americans say congressional Republicans will be too inflexible in dealing with Biden, compared with 45% who believe Biden will be too inflexible with Republicans.

The poll also finds congressional Republicans being more unpopular overall (27% favorable, 48% unfavorable) than congressional Democrats are (36% favorable, 45% unfavorable).

Additionally, McCarthy holds a weaker hand when it comes to history and credibility — as he pushes for spending cuts as a condition for raising the debt limit.

In the four years of Donald Trump’s presidency, the debt exploded from $20 trillion to nearly $28 trillion, with that increase representing 25% of the current public debt.

All in just four years. 

And Trump raised the debt limit three times during his presidency — without any hostage-taking or political guns held to the president’s head (and with the opposition party providing key votes).

Yet there is a significant difference between the two parties, explaining why Republicans are willing to fight even with this weaker hand.

A Pew poll released Tuesday shows 64% of Republicans and GOP leaners saying that they prefer party leaders stand up to Biden even if that makes it harder to address critical problems, versus 34% preferring that leaders work with Biden to accomplish things even if it means disappointing GOP voters.

The numbers are essentially flipped among Democrats: 58% say Biden should work with Republicans to accomplish things even if the outcome disappoints Democratic voters, compared with 41% who want the president to stand his ground — even if it makes it harder to get things done.

So McCarthy has a weaker hand. But he also has a more uncompromising base.

Chart of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … $9.5 million

That’s how much money Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., had in his campaign account as of Dec. 31, per a new fundraising report filed Tuesday with the Federal Election Commission. Fundraising reports were due for the last quarter of the year, which spans Oct. 1 through Dec. 31. Manchin has yet to announce whether he’ll seek re-election, but his latest fundraising report shows that if he does run, he’ll be starting his campaign with a sizable war chest. 

Manchin’s campaign had more money in the bank than any other Senate Democrat facing a competitive race next year, whose cash-on-hand totals ranged from $2.9 million (Montana Sen. Jon Tester) to $4.4 million (Nevada Sen. Jacky Rosen). That doesn’t include former Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., who had $8.2 million in her campaign account, although she has also not said if she’s running for re-election.

Just two GOP senators — Florida’s Rick Scott and Texas’ Ted Cruz — could face competitive races next year. Scott’s campaign ended 2023 with $4 million on hand, while Cruz’s campaign had $3.4 million.

Other numbers to know:

2: That’s how many committees Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., temporarily recused himself from on Tuesday as he faces multiple investigations into his background and finances.

1,600: The number of roads in Texas that have dangerously frozen over due to a winter storm and should be avoided, according to Gov. Greg Abbott. 

2.9%: The amount by which the International Monetary Fund expects the global economy to grow in 2023, up from its outlook last fall. 

More than $10 million: The amount that a legal defense fund could total for Hunter Biden and others who are targeted by GOP congressional investigations.

2,000: The number of jobs PayPal plans to cut in the latest set of tech sector layoffs.

2: The number of emperor tamarin monkeys found in Texas after they went missing from the Dallas zoo in the latest example of a string of suspicious incidents at the zoo.

9: The number of Republican-led states asking a federal judge to strike down a part of DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which protects undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.

Eyes on 2024: Nikki Haley set to make her move

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is expected to launch her presidential run on Feb. 15, NBC News’ Ali Vitali reports, which would kick off a contested GOP primary. 

Sources tell Vitali that Haley’s announcement, which was first reported by the Post and Courier of Charleston, is expected to take place in the Palmetto State and invitations could go out as soon as today. 

Former President Donald Trump said over the weekend that he had spoken to Haley on the phone, and he encouraged her to run, per NBC News’ Vaughn Hillyard and Garrett Haake. Haley served for two years as Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations

And Haley likely won’t be the last Republican to jump into the race. 

Former Maryland GOP Gov. Larry Hogan told Fox News he is “taking a close look at it,” per Vitali. And Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis continues to be viewed as a potential candidate. 

In other campaign news: 

Hoosier candidate: The Senate Republican campaign arm is backing Rep. Jim Banks’ Senate bid after former Gov. Mitch Daniels announced he wouldn’t run for Senate. 

RNC report: A new internal report from Republican National Committee’s “Election Integrity Team” calls for a “permanent infrastructure” in each state involving “election integrity officers” and new training for poll workers, the Washington Post reports.

Freshman senators make ’24 endorsements: Two freshmen Republican senators, Ohio’s J.D. Vance and Missouri’s Eric Schmitt, endorsed Trump this week

Trump calls for ban on gender-affirming care for minors: Trump released a new platform against gender-affirming care to minors, equating it to “child sexual mutilation,” calling for a federal law recognizing gender assigned at birth and warning that doctors or hospitals that provide that care will run afoul of federal safety standards. 

Gallego’s challenge: The Washington Post explores whether Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego can energize Latino voters as he runs for Senate in Arizona. 

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

The FBI searched the offices of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in mid-November, NBC News confirmed

President Biden will meet with the Congressional Black Caucus to discuss police reform on Thursday. 

Democratic Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signed a sweeping abortion-rights bill into law on Tuesday that enshrines the right to an abortion into state law.