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The political state of the Biden presidency remains lackluster, poll shows

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.
Joe Biden walks to the West Wing after returning to the White House
Joe Biden walks to the West Wing after returning to the White House on Jan. 30, 2023.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — If it’s Friday ... The U.S. military spots suspected Chinese surveillance balloon hovering over Montana. ... President Biden and VP Harris deliver remarks at DNC meeting. ... GOP leaders tap Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders to deliver State of the Union response. ... Republicans vote to remove Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., from House Foreign Affairs Committee.

But first: The state of the Biden presidency is … not as strong as the 2022 midterm results suggested. 

That’s the clear conclusion from our latest NBC News poll — as we head into next week’s State of the Union address, as the president speaks today to the DNC, and as the 2024 presidential race is just beginning. 

Despite a series of legislative wins, positive economic news and those better-than-expected midterm results, Biden’s overall job rating in the poll is 45% among all adults and 46% among registered voters — essentially where it was in our previous survey right before the midterms. 

(By comparison, Monmouth and Marist have Biden at 43%, while Pew has him at 38%.)

Just 36% of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of the economy, and 41% approve of his handling of foreign policy and the war in Ukraine.

What’s more, a combined 67% of voters in the NBC poll say they have reservations or are very uncomfortable about Biden running for president in 2024, versus 32% who are enthusiastic or comfortable. 

(Donald Trump’s numbers on this question are almost identical: 66% reservations/uncomfortable, versus 34% enthusiastic/comfortable.)

Maybe most troubling for Biden in the poll are his presidential ratings, with 50% of Americans giving him low marks for uniting the country, and with 54% giving him low marks for having the mental and physical health to be president. 

Now the White House and Democrats would counter that, despite those kinds of numbers, they just had the best first-year midterm since Bush 43 in 2002, and they’d be right. (But what was the more powerful force last November — perceptions of Biden or perceptions of Trump-backed candidates?)

They’d also point out that Biden is still tailor-made to defeat Trump again in 2024, and our poll shows that Trump remains more unpopular than the current president. 

And they’d argue that, despite Biden’s poll weakness, he’s a better option than another wide-open Democratic primary that would inevitably lead to more establishment vs. progressive fights — plus another competition to prove to Democratic voters who has the most left-of-center policies. 

But the numbers are the numbers, and they signal a presidency that’s not as strong as Democrats would want it to be heading into 2024.

Headline of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … $3,300

That’s the new individual federal campaign contribution limit for the 2024 election cycle, a $400 increase from the limit last cycle.  

Remember, the cap treats primary and general elections as separate, so the maximum a person can give to an individual candidate who makes it to the general election is $6,600.  

Other numbers to know:

588,000: The number of migrants who crossed the border since March 2021 and were released in the U.S. without court dates, per NBC News’ Julia Ainsley.

3: The number of Republicans who previously said they wouldn’t vote to remove Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee who ultimately went on to do so.

8: At least how many people died in the severe ice storms that hit the South and left 370,000 without power. 

Almost 1,000: How many children separated by Trump-era border policies who have not yet been reunited with the families, per Reuters

19,273: The number of suspected ghost guns recovered and traced last year, per Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives data reported on by Axios.

1: The number of detainees from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba released Thursday, with potentially two more set to be released in the coming weeks.

5: The potential number of years in prison facing a man who pleaded guilty to threatening Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga.

60%: The portion of Americans who are not confident police officers are adequately trained to avoid the use of excessive force in the U.S., according to a new Washington Post-ABC poll.

Eyes on 2024: Questions about GOP nominee support are 2016 rewind

In 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump refused to say he would back the eventual GOP presidential nominee, and some Republicans refused to believe that nominee could be Trump. Well, that same storyline played out on Thursday. 

Trump even told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that he would “give you the same answer I gave in 2016 during the debates. It would have to depend on who the nominee was.”

Former Maryland GOP Gov. Larry Hogan, a staunch Trump critic weighing his own run for president, also joined Hewitt’s show on Thursday. When asked “If Trump is the nominee, does Larry Hogan support him?” Hogan replied: “Yeah, I just don’t think he’s going to be the nominee, but I’ll support the nominee.”

But Hogan later clarified on Twitter: “Trump won’t commit to supporting the Republican nominee, and I won’t commit to supporting him. As I have repeatedly said, I fully expect to support the Republican nominee — who I don’t believe will be Trump.”

In other campaign news:

An early-state swing: After her expected presidential announcement, former U.N. Ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley will travel to New Hampshire and Iowa, per NBC News’ Julia Jester and Ali Vitali.

Pompeo’s hot take: About a week after he downplayed the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during an interview that “We delivered a peaceful transition on Jan. 6, 2021, exactly as our Constitution requires.” 

The Gas Stove Protection and Freedom Act: Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, are out with a new bill that would prevent the use of federal funds to ban gas stoves. 

The GOP’s new primary moves: The Hill explores how the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s endorsement of Indiana Rep. Jim Banks’ Senate bid is a signal the party is changing its tune on wading into competitive Senate primaries. 

Waiting for Cardin: Some Democrats are preparing for potential Senate bids if Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., decides not to run for re-election, Politico reports.

Pelosi makes her pick: Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday she’d back Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff’s California Senate bid if Sen. Dianne Feinstein decides to retire. 

Not MISS-ing an opportunity: Politico explores why Democrats believe they could have a shot at winning the Mississippi governor’s race. And Pluribus News reports GOP Gov. Tate Reeves has avoided a significant primary challenge, now that this week’s filing deadline in the race has passed.

Freedom of disassembly: Arizona Republican Rep. David Schweikert, who will likely be a Democratic top target in 2024, is leaving the Freedom Caucus, per NBC News’ Kyle Stewart

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Check out Thursday’s information session on what it’s like to be an NBC News embed. And if you’re interested, apply here

NBC News’ Courtney Kube and Carol E. Lee broke the news Thursday that the American government spotted a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon hovering over the country. 

The Tyree Nichols police report is at odds with video of the brutal traffic stop before his death. And during a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus on Thursday, Biden said he hopes’ Nichols’ death will push Congress to pass police reform

Arkansas GOP Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders will give the Republican response to Biden’s State of the Union address.