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Why the New York race to replace George Santos is worth watching

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.
Why the New York special election is worth watching
Tom Suozzi and Mazi Pilip.AP; Getty Images

Happening this Monday: President Joe Biden speaks to the National Association of Counties and meets with Jordan’s King Abdullah II… Biden campaign, on “Meet the Press,” blasts special counsel’s report and vouches for the president’s mental fitness… Donald Trump receives backlash after saying he’d let Russia attack NATO countries that don’t pay enough for defense… Nikki Haley campaigns in South Carolina… And super PAC backing RFK Jr. airs Super Bowl TV ad, which draws criticism from Kennedy family members. 

But FIRST… Let us count the ways in which Tuesday’s special election in New York between Democrat Tom Souzzi (a former congressman who used to represent this district) and Republican Mazi Pilip (a Nassau County legislator) is indeed so special.

Follow the N.Y. special election results live

First and perhaps most significantly, if Democrats pick up this seat formerly held by expelled Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., it will reduce the GOP’s razor-thin majority — already one of the smallest in U.S. history — even further.

The current breakdown in the House is 219 Republican, 212 Democrats (assuming full attendance).

Second, the race offers clues about how immigration and abortion are playing for both political parties. 

“Tom Souzzi rolled out the red carpet for illegal immigrants,” goes a recent TV ad from the Congressional Leadership Fund, the main super PAC for House Republicans. “Souzzi helped create our immigration crisis.” 

(If Republicans are able to hold onto this seat after the Santos scandal, they’ll attribute it to the power of the immigration issue.)

Meanwhile, Democrats have been airing this ad seizing on Pilip’s comment referring to herself as “pro-life”: “Mazi Pilip is running on a platform to ban abortion,” the ad from House Majority PAC goes. 

(Pilip said at a recent debate that she would not support a federal ban, but declined to say if she would vote to protect the right to an abortion at the federal level.)

And third and finally, the contest is exactly the kind of race Democrats need to win in November to take back the House. 

Biden won this district — encompassing the northern part of Long Island and part of Queens County — in 2020 by 8 percentage points, per calculations from Daily Kos Elections. Yet in 2022, Santos won this open seat by 8 points.

And the current polling shows the contest is incredibly close, with a Newsday/Siena College poll showing Souzzi leading Pilip by just 4 points among likely voters, 48% to 44%, which is within the poll’s margin of error. 

For more on the race and its national implications, read this piece from

Headline of the day

The number of the day is … 31

That’s how many countries are in NATO — former President Donald Trump sparked a firestorm over the weekend saying he’d let Russia “do whatever the hell they want” to a NATO country that didn’t pay enough of its dues. 

He told rallygoers in South Carolina that while president, he told a world leader that he wouldn’t protect their country if Russia attacked because they were “delinquent.” 

“‘No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You got to pay,’” he recounted. 

The comments sparked a predictable firestorm among Trump’s critics, including the White House and Republicans like former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, as well as a carefully worded comment from NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

But other Republicans rallied around their presidential front-runner, including the top Republican on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio

Eyes on November: Biden’s allies come to his defense

President Joe Biden’s allies came to his defense over the weekend amid fallout from special counsel Robert Hur’s report that described him as “a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”

Vice President Kamala Harris said Friday, “The way that the president’s demeanor in that report was characterized could not be more wrong on the facts. And clearly politically motivated, gratuitous.”

Mitch Landrieu, the national co-chair of Biden’s campaign, told “Meet the Press” on Sunday that “this kind of sense that he’s not ready for this job is just a bucket of B.S that’s so deep your boots will get stuck in it.”

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas also appeared on “Meet the Press” and described Biden as “sharp.”

“The most difficult part about a meeting with President Biden is preparing for it because he is sharp, intensely probing and detail-oriented and focused,” Mayorkas said.

Neurologists described some of Biden’s recent slip-ups and the forgetfulness described in the report as signs of normal aging, per NBC’s Akshay Syal, M.D., and Ghael Fobes. The neurologists also noted that “this type of forgetfulness doesn’t actually predict who ends up having memory disorders,” Syal and Fobes write. 

And while some Democrats were panicking after Hur released his report, it’s worth remembering that it is virtually impossible to replace Biden as the Democratic Party’s nominee for president unless he were to step aside.

In other campaign news … 

Rally rhetoric: At a South Carolina rally Saturday, Trump questioned the whereabouts of Haley’s husband, who is currently deployed with the South Carolina National Guard, saying, “Where is he? He’s gone!

Loyalty test: As Trump jockeys for a second term, NBC’s Katherine Doyle and Jonathan Allen write about how he’s fixed on making sure he stacks his potential administration with loyalists 

The Veepstakes: NBC’s Allan Smith reports on how South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott’s stock is rising in the bid to be Trump’s vice presidential pick, assuming Trump wins the nomination.  

Community meeting: Muslim and Arab American community leaders in Michigan described a meeting with White House officials Thursday as “a somewhat frustrating process,” NBC’s Jillian Frankel and Monica Alba report.

Coordination complaint: The Democratic National Committee on Friday announced that it is filing a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging coordination between Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s campaign and the super PAC supporting him.

Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy: The super-PAC backing Kennedy Jr. ran a 60s-style Super Bowl ad that remade a famous ad that his uncle, former President John F. Kennedy, ran. The candidate ended up apologizing in a statement on X to his family after some criticized it, noting he can’t coordinate with the super PAC by law. 

A stark warning: At Washington and Lee University’s mock convention Saturday, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp warned that “the American people will lose” if “this general election becomes a debate about who can outlast the other 80 year-old politician.”  

He’s running: Former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, on Friday filed to run for the Senate.

He’s also running: Montana GOP Rep. Matt Rosendale on Friday formally launched his campaign for Senate, entering a primary against businessman Tim Sheehy.

He’s not running: Wisconsin GOP Rep. Mike Gallagher announced Saturday that he won’t seek re-election to the House this year.

Special election incoming: Ahead of a crucial special Pennsylvania state House election, the Republican candidate is finding it hard to shed the “MAGA” label that’s been placed upon her, The Washington Post reports.

ICYMI: What ELSE is happening in the world 

The House is expected to take up another vote this week to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Israel says it freed two hostages in an operation Monday morning that Palestinian health officials say killed civilians. 

Migrants living in Chicago are scrambling to find a place to live ahead of a mass eviction of migrants from shelters, NBC’s Daniella Silva reports.

Amid lagging demand for electric vehicles, automaker workers are facing layoffs as production slows, per NBC’s Shannon Pettypiece.