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Is history repeating itself? Haley declines to pick early fight with Trump

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.
Image: Nikki Haley
Nikki Haley takes the stage as she launches her 2024 presidential campaign in Charleston, S.C., on Feb. 15, 2023. Meg Kinnard / AP

WASHINGTON — If it's Thursday ... President Biden plans to deliver remarks on shot-down aerial objects. ... VP Harris arrives in Munich to attend Munich Security Conference. ... Nikki Haley talks to NBC’s Craig Melvin after presidential launch: “We need new blood. We need new leadership. Because we have some serious challenges.” ... Mike Pence says he’ll fight a subpoena from the special counsel investigating Trump, per NBC’s Vaughn Hillyard. ... And Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., files FEC paperwork to run for California Senate; spokesperson says announcement will come before end of month.

But first ... Nikki Haley mentioned Donald Trump’s name just one time in her speech Wednesday officially announcing her presidential bid (regarding the former president nominating her to be U.N. ambassador).

Yet after the speech, NBC’s Craig Melvin asked Haley several questions about her old boss and new GOP opponent. And each time, she pulled her punches.

On her previous declaration she wouldn’t challenge Trump if he ran in ‘24

“But when I first said I wouldn’t run against him, Afghanistan hadn’t fallen. We didn’t see the rise in inflation like we’ve seen. We didn’t see what was happening in our schools the way it was. And we didn’t see the results of the midterms that we just had.” 

On what she told Trump in a phone call about her bid

“And so what I told him, and what I am saying now, is it is time for a new generation of leaders. We have to stop all of these people who have been in D.C. for so long. ... We need new blood. We need new leadership. Because we have some serious challenges.” 

On Jan. 6

“I have said Jan.6 was a terrible day. We should never let that happen ever again. I criticized him for that, and I stand by that criticism because that was warranted. I have said he was a good president in the way that he lifted up so many people economically. And he did real good in this country. That can be true, too.”

“The problem is the media wants everybody to either be 100% Trump or 100% anti-Trump. I don’t work that way.”

On Trump’s election denialism

“We saw a lotta things happen during Covid that wouldn’t normally happen, that created some mischief that shouldn’t have been there. Is Joe Biden the president? Yes. Joe Biden is the president. We shouldn’t question that. Do I think that everybody needs voter ID like what we did in South Carolina so that we know that everybody’s vote is valid? Yes.”

Our take: Haley didn’t take the bait against Trump (other than her generational dig), which isn’t too surprising at this early juncture.

But it does give us some flashbacks to 2016, when Trump’s opponents declined to go after him and assumed others would do the dirty work — before it was too late.

By the way, here’s what Trump just posted about Haley, per NBC’s Olympia Sonnier: “The greatest thing Nikki Haley did for our Country, and the Great State of South Carolina, was accepting the position of United Nations Ambassador so that the incredible then Lieutenant Governor, Henry McMaster, could be Governor of South Carolina, where he has done an absolutely fantastic job. That was a big reason why I appointed Nikki to the position.”

Headline of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 4

That’s how many former Trump administration officials were briefed Wednesday on China’s aerial surveillance program, following revelations that China deployed spy balloons in the U.S. during Trump’s time in office, NBC News’ Carol E. Lee and Ken Dilanian report.

Intelligence officials briefed former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former National Intelligence Director John Ratcliffe and former national security adviser Robert O’Brien for over an hour on Wednesday evening. Former National Security Adviser John Bolton was briefed separately.

The briefings come as Biden is expected to make public remarks, potentially as early as Thursday, about the unidentified objects the military has shot down in recent days, per NBC News’ Peter Nicholas, Kristen Welker, Mike Memoli and Peter Alexander. Biden has faced calls from within his own party to share more information about the incidents.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told NBC News’ Courtney Kube that no one has claimed ownership of the unidentified objects, but said they were shot down because of potential threats to commercial aviation and their potential to collect intelligence. 

Other numbers to know:

1: The number of people killed in a shooting at an El Paso, Texas mall on Wednesday, while three were injured. The mall is next to the Walmart where 23 people were killed and 22 were injured in a mass shooting in 2019.

5-7 months: The amount of time left before the U.S. runs out of money, according to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office, after the nation hit a debt ceiling in January.

48%: The portion Americans who favor sending more weapons to Ukraine, according to a new AP-NORC poll, down from 60% of adults who said the same in May 2022. 

64%: The share of U.S. consumers who say they are “just getting by,” up slightly from 61% last year. 

$16 billion: The value of tax refunds the IRS has already issued this year, just a few weeks into tax season.

30 meters: The amount of sideways melt per year from the “Doomsday Glacier” in Antarctica, a glacier that could cause more than half of a meter of global sea level rise. 

Eyes on 2024: Trump, Haley pick up congressional endorsements

Now that there’s another GOP presidential hopeful in the race, and a handful of others clearly signaling their intentions, Republican lawmakers are continuing to pick their favorites for their party’s nomination. 

We saw two new Republican endorsements on Wednesday: South Carolina Rep. Ralph Norman became former Ambassador Nikki Haley’s first endorsement, while Wyoming Rep. Harriet Hageman officially backed former President Donald Trump. 

Hageman’s the 18th Republican House member to declare their support for Trump’s 2024 bid (five senators are also backing him), according to our count. 

In other campaign news: 

Haley draws fire from her opponents: Trump is welcoming Haley to the field by attacking her on her past support for entitlement cuts, as well as her past praise for the former president, while former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused her of leaving the Trump administration too early

He’s gonna fight for his right to not be a party to this case: After attending an event in Minnesota, former Vice President Mike Pence told reporters he would “fight” a special counsel subpoena as part of the investigation into Trump’s actions surrounding the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.  

Lee moves closer to Senate bid: California Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee filed paperwork to run for Senate, a move a spokesperson said comes as she prepares to officially announce later this month, per NBC News’ Ali Vitali and Haley Talbot. 

Gov. Noem heads to Washington: South Dakota GOP Gov. Kristi Noem spoke in D.C. Wednesday about countering China, saying: “If President Biden will not stand up for freedom and the security of the people, you better believe that I will,” per NBC News’ Julia Jester. 

The daily update from DeSantis-land: Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Wednesday his plan for a “Digital Bill of Rights” for Floridians, per NBC News’ Garrett Haake.  

Santos for Congress? Embattled Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., is considering running for re-election, per CNN.

Staying neutral: Iowa GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds plans to stay neutral in her party’s presidential caucuses, Reynolds told the Des Moines Register.

Power struggle in Nevada: The Nevada chapter of the AFL-CIO is backing Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno’s challenge to the sitting state Democratic Party chair Judith Whitmer.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world 

The FBI has searched the University of Delaware twice in recent weeks as it continues to investigate Biden’s handling of classified documents. 

The gunman who killed 10 people at a Buffalo supermarket last year was sentenced to life in prison without parole on Wednesday.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., won’t be charged with any crimes following a sex trafficking investigation by the Justice Department.

Senators from both parties are calling for an investigation into a disastrous train derailment in Ohio earlier this month, NBC News’ Liz Brown-Kaiser and Zoë Richards report.