WASHINGTON — If it’s Friday ... The Senate approves deal to avert railroad strike. ... The Supreme Court takes up case over President Biden’s student-loan-forgiveness plan. ... The 11th Circuit ends special master review of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago documents. ... A CNN poll on the Georgia Senate runoff among likely voters: Warnock 52%, Walker 48%. ... Arizona county that originally balked at certifying midterm results finalizes its tally. ... And Biden recommends that South Carolina be Democrats’ first presidential primary instead of New Hampshire (though implementing that might be next to impossible, since New Hampshire state law stipulates it will always go first).
But first: We’ve seen Donald Trump look weak before — after “Access Hollywood,” after his 2020 presidential loss and certainly after Jan. 6.
Yet we’ve never seen Trump as weak as he looks now, just 17 days after announcing his 2024 presidential bid.
There’s the growing GOP backlash to his Ye/Fuentes dinner (which only looks worse now after the rapper’s jaw-dropping praise of Hitler). There’s his continued defeats at the courts. There’s that Marquette poll showing Gov. Ron DeSantis faring better against Biden than he does. There’s his less-than-impressive list of GOP endorsements (especially for an ex-president). And there’s the lack of his activity after his presidential announcement.
(Where’s the trip to Iowa? Or New Hampshire?)
But the biggest reason for his weakened state is that he’s now a multiple loser for the GOP.
Republicans lost the House when he was president in 2018. He lost re-election in 2020. The GOP lost control of the Senate in the 2021 Georgia runoffs (due in large part to his contesting of the 2020 results). And the GOP just underperformed in the 2022 midterms — thanks to his picked candidates (Mehmet Oz, Blake Masters, Kari Lake, Tudor Dixon, Tim Michels and we’ll see what happens to Herschel Walker on Tuesday).
It’s also that stench of losing that helps explain why Trump’s vice president (Mike Pence), his secretary of state (Mike Pompeo) and his former U.N. ambassador (Nikki Haley) seem poised to run against him in 2024.
Now there are plenty of reasons why you shouldn’t discount Trump’s presidential chances — a potentially divided and crowded field, his diehard base of supporters, his resiliency and his continued gravitational pull with GOP voters and politicians.
(What happens, after all, if Trump gets indicted by Biden’s Justice Department? Do Republicans cut ties with him? Or do they rally to defense as they’ve done time and time again?)
Yet this time feels different.
Data Download: The number of the day is … 80
That’s how many senators voted to impose a labor agreement the White House brokered with rail unions back in September, which some unions opposed, averting a rail strike that would have rocked the economy. It will now head to President Joe Biden’s desk
Fifteen senators — 10 Republicans, four Democrats and Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders — opposed the measure, while Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., voted present, per NBC News’ Capitol Hill team. Senators rejected an amendment that would have added seven days of paid sick leave for rail workers by a vote of 52 to 43, falling short of the 60-vote threshold needed for adoption.
But the measure garnered support from a handful of Republicans who could be eyeing higher office, including Indiana Sen. Mike Braun, who recently filed to run for governor, and potential gubernatorial candidate John Kennedy of Louisiana. Some GOP senators with former and/or future presidential ambitions also voted for the amendment, including Texas’ Ted Cruz, Florida’s Marco Rubio, Missouri’s Josh Hawley, and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham.
Other numbers to know:
2: The number of the three-member Cochise County board of supervisors who voted to certify the election Thursday, after Republican members had previously refused to do so, leading to a lawsuit.
200: How many Maine lobsters Democratic Rep. Jared Golden said in a tweet that the White House purchased for its state dinner, as he called on the Biden administration to meet with the state’s lobstermen.
7,500 to 8,000: About how many times per day that Customs and Border Protection officials are apprehending migrants at the border, per NBC News’ Julia Ainsley.
85%: About how many Covid deaths over the last four weeks were among people at least 65 years old, per an NBC News analysis of CDC data.
16: The number of peers in Greenville, North Carolina who died from overdose since 2013, a microcosm used by The Washington Post in a new feature that catalogs the devastation the opioid epidemic has wrought on communities across the country.
11 years: The prison sentence levied against Joel Greenberg, a former friend of Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., in a sex trafficking case.
Chart of the day: Where Tony Evers outperformed Mandela Barnes
Runoff watch: Another allegation of domestic violence against Herschel Walker
Cheryl Parsa, a former girlfriend of Republican Senate nominee Herschel Walker, made new claims in an interview with The Daily Beast that Walker assaulted her in 2005.
“His massive hands were on my chest and throat,” Parsa said, describing a scene she says took place after she confronted Walker about concerns he was cheating on her. “I thought he was going to beat me.”
Parsa, who is not the first of Walker’s former partners to accuse him of violence, also provided the news outlet with photos of herself with Walker. Walker’s campaign did not comment to The Daily Beast.
Elsewhere on the trail, former President Barack Obama rallied for Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, joking about Walker’s recent residency in Texas and questioned Walker’s “competence” and “character.”
NBC News is reporting on the efforts to mobilize Latino voters ahead of next week’s runoff.
And NBC News’ Marc Caputo and Sahil Kapur report that Walker’s campaign is sounding the alarm about the massive fundraising gap between his campaign and Warnock’s.
Eyes on 2024: Calendar debate
President Joe Biden has finally weighed in on the debate over the Democratic Party’s presidential nominating contest, calling for South Carolina (the state that injected new life into his 2020 primary bid) to go first on the 2024 nominating calendar, a top Democratic source tells NBC News’ Alex Seitz-Wald, Jonathan Allen and Natasha Korecki.
The new proposed order would then have New Hampshire and Nevada follow on the same day, followed by Georgia and then Michigan, two senior party officials tell the trio.
And while Biden didn’t explicitly lay out his preferred list of states in a new letter to the party, he does call for the end of caucuses and the importance of having early states that reflect the country’s diversity, which could spell trouble for Iowa.
The news came the night before the party’s Rules and Bylaws Committee is set to meet to hash out any potential changes to the calendar, which has been the subject of fierce jockeying already.
Read more on NBCNews.com and read more from the trail below:
King likely running again: News Center Maine reports that Maine Independent Sen. Angus King is likely to run for another term in the Senate.
DeSantis bristles at Trump question: Insider reports that Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis dismissed a question about former President Trump, a constituent of his, by arguing “I also got 22 million others,” adding “we like to look out for everybody.”
A Pennsylvania comeback?: Bloomberg reports that Pennsylvania Republican Dave McCormick, who lost the Senate primary to unsuccessful nominee Mehmet Oz, is considering running for Senate again.
ICYMI: What else is happening in the world
An inspector general concluded Thursday that IRS audits in 2017 and 2019 that included FBI leaders James Comey and Andrew McCabe were random, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments regarding Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan.