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Trump’s looming indictment gives ‘24 rivals an opening

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: Donald J. Trump
Former President Donald Trump watches the NCAA Wrestling Championships on Saturday in Tulsa, Okla. Sue Ogrocki / AP

If it’s TUESDAY… House GOP committeemen chairmen ask Manhattan D.A. to testify before Congress ahead of potential Trump indictment… Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis breaks his silence on looming Trump indictment… President Biden issues his first veto, blocking investment rule… Candidates debate at 1:45 pm ET in closely watched Wisconsin Supreme Court race… And that Wisconsin contest, plus the Chicago mayoral runoff, take place two weeks from now on April 4. 

But FIRST... Ron DeSantis finally broke his silence Monday on the possible indictment in New York against Donald Trump.

He attacked Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg, calling him a “Soros funded prosecutor.” But then the Florida governor did something else: He repeated the most salacious part of the case against Trump.

“I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair. I just I can’t speak to that,” DeSantis said when asked about the matter at a news conference, per NBC’s Ali Vitali, Kyle Stewart and Kate Santaliz.

The assembled crowd laughed, Vitali, Stewart and Santaliz add.

And Trump fired back at DeSantis. “Ron DeSanctimonious will probably find out about FALSE ACCUSATIONS & FAKE STORIES sometime in the future, as he gets older, wiser, and better known.”

Yet there’s a different argument Trump’s rivals could make against the GOP presidential frontrunner — that a second Trump presidency will once again be weighed down by investigations, trials and a potential constitutional crisis.

All making it difficult for Trump to govern.

In fact, that was EXACTLY the closing argument Trump made against Hillary Clinton in the final days of the 2016 presidential campaign — after then-FBI Director James Comey said he was once again looking into Clinton’s emails.

“She’ll be under investigation for years. She’ll be with trials. Our country, we have to get back to work,” Trump said of Clinton on Nov. 4, 2016.

He added the next day, “If she were to win, it would create an unprecedented constitutional crisis.”

More: “Her current scandals and controversies will continue throughout her presidency... Look, it’s gonna be virtually impossible for her to govern.”

That message worked for Trump in 2016. Could it work for his GOP rivals in 2024?

Headline of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is ... About 1/2

That’s by how much the world will need to cut its greenhouse gas emissions before 2030 if it wants to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, according to a new report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN IPCC.  

That 1.5 degree Celsius threshold is an important benchmark set by climate scientists because an increase above that is more likely to ultimately lead to “dramatic shifts in Earth’s entire life support system.” per CNBC.

“There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all,” the report’s authors say.

Other numbers to know

1: The number of legislative vetoes President Joe Biden has issued, after he vetoed a new investment rule Monday that was passed by both chambers of Congress. 

9: How many votes short a no-confidence vote in France’s government fell short of passing Monday, as the nation’s parliament instead narrowly passed a controversial plan to raise its retirement age. 

420,000: The approximate size of the public student population in Los Angeles, where the Unified School District will close Tuesday as teachers begin a three-day strike

9,000: The number of workers Amazon plans to lay off, the company announced Monday.

$9.25 million: The amount that the city of Philadelphia will pay to protesters who were tear gassed and shot with rubber bullets during 2020 protests following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. 

4: The number of Oath Keepers who were found guilty of conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding for their role at the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021.

382: The point-increase by which the Dow Jones index went up Monday, as stocks rebounded from Friday’s slide. 

12: The number of people in Mississippi that have been infected with a potentially deadly, drug resistant fungal infection that’s been spreading across the U.S. at an alarming rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Eyes on 2024: Still Trump's House — for now

Trump doesn’t have a huge number of congressional endorsements for his re-election campaign, but he still has a strong grip on the GOP. Just look at how House Republicans reacted on Monday to Trump’s possible indictment as they gathered in Florida for their annual retreat. The potential indictment dominated questions and conversations for GOP leaders and rank-and-file members, NBC News’ Scott Wong, Ali Vitali and Kyle Stewart report from Orlando. 

Three GOP committee chairs — House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., and House Administration Committee Chairman Bryan Steil, R-Wis. — called on Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg to testify before Congress and raised questions about the office’s use of federal funds. Of those three lawmakers, only Jordan has endorsed Trump’s campaign.

GOP Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., one of about two-dozen House Republicans who have backed Trump’s re-election, told reporters that she spoke to Trump on Monday and predicted an indictment will help him politically, per the NBC News team covering the retreat. She suggested Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the potential presidential contender who attacked the Manhattan prosecutor but also appeared to slight Trump, would see “slippage in his polls.”

 “I think you’re going to see President Trump continue to solidify his position in the Republican nomination,” Stefanik said. 

But not everyone was jumping to Trump’s defense. 

“It looks a little political, but I think we’re all exhausted from the drama of Trump,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas. 

In other campaign news…

More legal drama: In a different legal case, Trump’s attorneys is attempting to stop the release of a Georgia grand jury’s report on its investigation into attempts to overturn the 2020 election, per NBC News’ Summer Concepcion, Blayne Alexander and Charlie Gile.

Notable silence: Trump has remained largely silent on the issue of abortion so far, raising some questions from GOP activists, the Associated Press reports. Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion rights group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, told the AP she believes all of the GOP candidates would support a national abortion ban.

Fox and the elephant: Revelations that Fox CEO Rupert Murdoch and other prominent Fox personalities privately criticized Trump haven’t stopped GOP presidential hopefuls from flocking to the network as they court GOP voters, NBC News’ Allan Smith and Natasha Korecki report. Even Trump “is open to returning soon,” they write.

Trippy: A new PAC is launching to boost candidates who support the use of psychedelic drugs to treat mental health conditions and “to secure federal funding to further education and research,” per NBC News’ Alicia Victoria Lozano.

Walk(er)ing away: Former Wisconsin GOP Gov. Scott Walker told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he will not challenge Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin next year, saying, “After getting so much done as governor, I would be bored as senator.”

McCormick spices it up: Republican Dave McCormick, who is considering running for Senate in Pennsylvania again after making an unsuccessful run last year, is launching a new PAC to support down-ballot Republican candidates and grow the party’s mail-in voting efforts, the Dispatch reports. 

The Elephant-eye State: The Washington Post reports on how Iowa has transformed from a swing state to the “Florida of the North.” 

Recruitment watch: Lansing Mayor Andy Schor, a Democrat, announced Monday that he won’t run for Congress in Michigan’s 7th District, which Rep. Elissa Slotkin is vacating to run for Senate, per the Detroit News.

Chicago scoops: NBC News’ Natasha Korecki scooped two developments in Chicago’s mayoral race on Monday: Former longtime Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush has endorsed Paul Vallas, the former Chicago Public Schools CEO, over Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson. And Rev. Al Sharpton will be in Chicago on Sunday for a get-out-the-vote rally, but he is not endorsing a specific candidate. 

Bluegrass bickering: A new ad from an outside group aligned with former Ambassador Kelly Craft’s Kentucky gubernatorial bid hits state Attorney General Daniel Cameron, depicting him as a “soft on crime” teddy bear wearing a “woke” button. 

Cash dash: Fox News reports that Republican businessman Vivek Ramaswamy’s presidential campaign has raised money from more than 10,000 individual donors. While it’s unclear where the Republican National Committee will set the bar, it’s possible the party uses individual donation thresholds as part of its rubric for candidates to qualify for their presidential debates. 

A long shot: Former Michigan Rep. Mike Rogers floated a possible presidential bid in an interview with Fox News

ICYMI: What ELSE is happening in the world

President Biden signed a bill Monday that allows the federal government to declassify as much information as possible related to the origins of the Covid pandemic.

A New York Times story details the decades-old tale behind the Iran hostage crisis and a secretive campaign to influence former President Jimmy Carter’s re-election campaign.

The judge hearing the case between Dominion Voting Systems and Fox News will decide Tuesday whether to issue a summary judgment on any part of the case. 

The cast of “Ted Lasso” visited the White House on Monday to bring awareness to struggles with mental health.