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Nikki Haley has a case to make as a Trump, DeSantis alternative in ’24

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.
Nikki Haley at a rally for Herschel Walker in Hiram, Ga
Nikki Haley at a rally for Herschel Walker in Hiram, Ga., on Nov. 6, 2022. Nathan Posner / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images file

WASHINGTON —  If it’s Thursday ... President Biden and VP Harris meet with Congressional Black Caucus to discuss police reform after Tyre Nichols’ fatal beating. ... U.S. expands its military presence in the Philippines as China looms in region. ... Speaker McCarthy describes meeting with Biden as “a good conversation.” ... Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., says he’s still undecided about 2024 re-election bid, per NBC’s Sahil Kapur. ... Nancy Pelosi backs Adam Schiff in California Senate if Feinstein doesn’t run. ... And a new Virginia poll has Biden’s approval rating at 45% in the state among registered voters, while GOP Gov. Youngkin’s is at 56%.

But first: For all the talk about Donald Trump vs. Ron DeSantis in the 2024 contest for the Republican presidential nomination, don’t lose sight of another GOPer who’s about to enter the race later this month

Nikki Haley.

She’s a former governor with national security experience (as Trump’s U.N. ambassador).

She was a rare member of Trump’s cabinet who didn’t get mired in scandal or controversy.

She hails from all-important South Carolina, where she’s expected to launch her presidential bid.

And she’s demonstrated pragmatism and political acumen — working to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse’s grounds after the 2015 mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

Haley has her challenges, of course. She’s had difficulty navigating the Trump waters after the Jan. 6 attack (see here then here); she appears to have no calling card in the GOP culture wars the way Trump and DeSantis do, which could penalize her with the party’s base; and is there room for both Haley and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., if he also runs?

But if the eventual 2024 nominee somehow isn’t Trump or DeSantis, Haley might have the best case to make out of the rest of the potential field. 

Headline of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 2

That’s how many House Republicans changed their minds on how they would vote on a resolution to remove Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., from the Foreign Affairs Committee, which is expected to come up on the House floor today.  

As of late last week, at least three Republicans — Spartz, Colorado Rep. Ken Buck and South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace — had said they would not vote to oust Omar, endangering the GOP effort. McCarthy can only afford to lose three votes, with Florida Rep. Greg Steube recovering at home from a recent fall.

But Spartz said Tuesday that she would support the resolution after meeting with McCarthy and securing additional language allowing members to appeal a vote to remove them from committees, per NBC News’ Capitol Hill team. Buck also flipped his vote after speaking with McCarthy about the potential for a rules change to make it more difficult to oust lawmakers from committees.  

Other numbers to know 

0.25%: The Federal Reserve’s increase of the federal funds rate on Wednesday, the smallest hike since last March. 

29%: The increase in solitary confinement in the federal Bureau of Prisons’ special housing units from December of 2015 to this past January. 

3: The vote margin of victory for lobbyist Amy Carnevale, the Massachusetts Republican Party’s new chair, over incumbent chairman Jim Lyons.  

20: The number of Republican attorneys general who signed a letter warning CVS and Walgreens that “their announced plan to use the mail to distribute abortion pills is both unsafe and illegal.” That warning goes against a recent Justice Department opinion earlier this year that said the practice did not violate a 1873 law

$5 million: How much former Philadelphia City Council member Allan Domb loaned his mayoral campaign, meaning he has more money to spend on his campaign than the other seven candidates combined, per the Philadelphia Inquirer 

Eyes on 2024: Key Democratic senators still undecided on re-election

Arguably the Democratic Party’s two most important senators up for re-election next year — Montana Sen. Jon Tester and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin — both told NBC News on Wednesday they hadn’t decided whether they’ll run. 

Tester represents a state that Donald Trump won by about 16 points in 2020, and Manchin represents a state Trump won by almost 39 points. Both men are seen as Democrats’ best chance to hold both seats. And neither would tell NBC News’ Sahil Kapur whether they plan to run again. 

“Who knows?” Manchin said. “Our primary is not until May of 2024. And there’s nobody wanting in the wings or champing at the bit.”

“I’ve got a few things to think about,” Tester said.

Both men still have time to decide, and Democrats will breathe a sigh of relief if they decide to run. But if either (or both) take a pass, then they might start feeling anxious.  

In other campaign news: 

A litmus test: The anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America’s top political strategist told the Associated Press the GOP’s presidential candidates must back a federal ban on abortion, though that ban can include exceptions for rape, incest or life of the mother, to win its approval 

Virginia is for lovers (of Glenn Youngkin): A new poll from Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy found Virginia votes giving Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin a 56% approval rating, and President Biden a 45% approval rating, per a press release. 

Michigan GOP looks for a path forward: NBC News’ Henry J. Gomez reports on how Michigan Republicans are trying to pick up the pieces after a rough showing in the 2022 midterms. 

Lake to Iowa: As Arizona Republican Kari Lake considers a Senate bid, she’s holding two February events in Iowa, where she graduated from high school and college, according to NBC News’ Vaughn Hillyard

Roll Tide Roll: Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis will be the headline speaker at the Alabama Republican Party’s Winter Dinner next month, Hillyard reports. 

Waiting for Asa: A new super PAC has launched to boost former Arkansas GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson if he runs for president, per Fox News.

Trump bets on Banks: Former President Trump endorsed Indiana Republican Rep. Jim Banks’ Senate campaign. 

Cruz-ing into 2024: Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is being “uncharacteristically cool” about his presidential ambitions, Politico report, as he is also up for re-election to the Senate next year. Politico also breaks down some of Cruz’s potential Democratic challengers, including former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.

Worried about ’24: NBC News’ Jane Timm reports on how, despite a relatively smooth 2022 election, officials are still concerned about attempts to undercut future elections.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Arizona Republican Rep. Andy Biggs said he will file impeachment articles against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. 

Hunter Biden’s lawyers want the Justice Department to investigate Trump allies for “accessing, copying, manipulating, and/or disseminating Mr. Biden’s personal computer data.”