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Surging Republican Senate candidate responds to Trump, GOP and past controversial tweets

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.

If it’s Friday… President Biden delivers remarks at 3:00 pm ET urging states to use unspent Covid relief funds on police and crime prevention… Jan. 6 committee subpoenas GOP congressmen, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy… NBC’s Benjy Sarlin looks at the baby-formula shortage… And we’re four days away from the primaries in Idaho, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oregon and Pennsylvania.

But FIRST… NBC’s Dasha Burns on Thursday interviewed Republican PA-SEN co-frontrunner Kathy Barnette, who’s been surging in the polls, and here’s what Barnette told her:

On Donald Trump releasing a statement Thursday saying she can’t win the general election

“Then the second paragraph, [Trump said should she] get through, ‘she’s gonna make it. She’ll have a wonderful career. And I will be there to support her.’... And we know that President Trump does not mince words. He’s a very straight shooter. And I look forward to working with the president.”

On why Trump said the first part – that she can’t win

“Because he’s made an endorsement [of Mehmet Oz]. And so I mean, he’s going to stick with that endorsement.”

On abortion

“I am so grateful that our nation is having perhaps one of the most important discussions and that's how do what do we think about life? Right? And especially life of some of the most innocent people. You know, my story, your listeners probably know my story, some of them. But I am the byproduct of a rape. And I have been very firm in the fact that I am an unapologetically pro-life.”

On her 2015 tweet that pedophilia is a cornerstone of Islam

“Yeah, no, I don't think that's me. I would never have said that. Okay, I would have never said that, because I don't believe that.”

On why she organized buses to attend Trump's rally on Jan. 6

“I feel about Jan. 6, the way the left feels about the summer of 2020 when you have Black Lives Matter and Antifa and other groups out there looting and robbing, and everyone was calling it mostly peaceful protests with buildings being burned down behind. You know, the 1st Amendment has five rights – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to petition your government with grievances, freedom to assemble and freedom of the press.”

On what she tells Republicans who are worried about her candidacy

“I will see you on January – on May 18. And I look forward to working with them to win a very important seat. Not just in Pennsylvania, but for our nation.” Our quick take: Because Pennsylvania is a closed-primary state, and because it doesn’t have a history of early voting, it’s tailor-made for a late surging candidate. Also: Rival David McCormick’s Super PAC just dropped a new TV ad hitting Barnette.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is ... 5.

That’s the number of Republican members of Congress that the Jan. 6 committee subpoenaed Thursday, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

It’s an extraordinary step, believed to be the first time Congress has subpoenaed sitting members, and it’s expected to spark a furious debate in court.

In addition to McCarthy, the list includes Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, Mo Brooks of Alabama and Andy Biggs of Arizona, and it comes after the committee previously asked those men to appear voluntarily.

Read more about what the committee is looking for from each lawmaker, as well as their responses, at

Other numbers you need to know today

2: The number of candidates the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee added to its Red to Blue program for strong challengers, including Colorado state Rep. Yadira Carveo in the open 8th District, and Nebraska state Sen. Tony Vargas, who’s running against GOP Rep. Don Bacon.

6: The number of straight days the Dow Jones has fallen as the market continues to tumble.

$450,000: How much former Trump ambassador Randy Evans gave to a super PAC that opposes one of his son’s GOP primary opponents in Georgia’s 6th District.

$4.418: The average price of unleaded gas on Thursday, per AAA, the highest average on record.

$15.50: California’s new minimum wage, due to inflation.

Midterm roundup: Too little, too late?

Some Republicans have reportedly been trying to consolidate the GOP field running for governor in Pennsylvania to stop the rise of conservative state Sen. Doug Mastriano.

Now the field is starting to narrow just days ahead of the May 17 primary. Yesterday, state Sen. Jake Corman dropped out of the race and backed former Rep. Lou Barletta, a Trump ally who ran unsuccessfully for Senate in 2018. And former Rep. Melissa Hart, who is also running for governor, is expected to appear at an event with Barletta today, per NBC News’ Henry Gomez.

Trump hasn’t endorsed in the race, but he hasn’t ignored the primary, either. Trump reportedly encouraged Corman to stay in the race back in April. He also told his supporters to reject former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain, calling McSwain a “coward” for not investigating election fraud.

The question for Pennsylvania Republicans, though, is whether this attempt to consolidate the field is too little, too late.

Elsewhere on the campaign trail…

AL-SEN: A super PAC that spent millions against GOP Rep. Mo Brooks’ Senate bid was primarily funded by Senate Leadership Fund, the super PAC with ties to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, and Alabama GOP Sen. Richard Shelby, The Hill reported.

NC-SEN: Democrat Cheri Beasley’s internal polling has her in a dead heat with both Republican Rep. Ted Budd and former Gov. Pat McCrory, with the Democrat sporting higher favorable numbers (but lower familiarity among general electorate voters). Read more on the MTP Blog. The National Republican Senatorial Committee is also up with a new ad attacking Beasley’s record overseeing criminal cases.

NV-SEN: Republican Adam Laxalt is up with a new spot highlighting his tenure as the state’s attorney general.

OH-SEN: Democratic Senate nominee Rep. Tim Ryan told Fox News he isn’t sure if he wants to campaign with President Joe Biden, adding he wants to be his own “mouthpiece.”

PA-SEN: Democratic Lt. John Fetterman is out with his closing message — that he’s a “different kind of Democrat” who has the back of normal people. And the New York Times has a deep dive into why Rep. Conor Lamb’s campaign appears to have stalled.

WI-SEN: Former NARAL head Ilyse Hogue is endorsing Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes’ Senate bid, praising his “empathy” and calling him the candidate most likely to flip the seat blue.

GA-GOV: Former Vice President Mike Pence is headlining a May 23 rally for Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who faces Trump-backed former Sen. David Perdue in the May 24 primary, NBC News’ Blayne Alexander and Charlie Gile report. In a statement, Pence called Kemp “one of the most successful conservative governors in America." Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is also joining Kemp on the campaign trail, per Fox News.

NC-11: Former Energy Sec. and Texas Gov. Rick Perry is endorsing Republican Chuck Edwards’ primary bid against Rep. Madison Cawthorn.

Ad watch: A resurfaced petition

A new ad in Pennsylvania is blasting GOP Senate hopeful Kathy Barnette, for supporting the building of a statue of former President Barack Obama.

The ad starts by mentioning comments Obama made about conservatives in 2008, saying some conservative voters are bitter and “cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them.”

“Remember how that made you feel?” the ad’s narrator asks. He adds, “One candidate for Senate doesn't care. In fact, Kathy Barnette wants to build a statue of Barack Obama right next to the one of Abraham Lincoln on Capitol Hill.”

The ad references a petition that appears to be written by Barnette, advocating for erecting statues of Obama, his family and abolitionist Frederick Douglas in Washington, D.C. The petition was written two years ago. NBC News hasn’t independently verified whether Barnette was indeed the person who wrote the petition.

The ad was funded by the USA Freedom Fund, a super PAC that previously supported former Ohio state treasurer Josh Mandel’s unsuccessful run for Senate.

Talking policy with Benjy: We need more formula

The White House announced new steps to combat a shortage of baby formula that’s left parents scrambling to find supplies amid panic-buying, hoarding, and extortionate prices online.

The immediate crisis is tied to an investigation into tainted formula that caused the deaths of two infants, prompted a mass recall of brands by Abbott Nutrition in February, and indefinitely shuttered a key plant in Sturgis, Mich. The Biden administration says it plans to take measures to make it easier to import formula, to allow parents who receive government aid to use it on a wider range of brands, and to crack down on price gouging.

The issue is drawing increasing political attention in both parties. Elected officials, including Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. and Elise Stefanik, D-N.Y., and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah are demanding answers from the FDA both on how they handled the investigation itself and the resulting drop-off in production.

A number of elected officials have suggested using the Defense Production Act to boost supply more quickly. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said they were weighing the option, but companies say they’re already racing to boost production, and it’s not clear whether the law would solve short-term shortages.

“I’m doubtful of much benefit in this strategy, and reopening the closed factory before the FDA clears it would not be a good idea,” Stephen Abrams, a professor of Pediatrics at the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin, told NBC News in an email.

In the meantime, experts say parents struggling to find formula at stores should look into local milk banks, either to help themselves or to contribute for others. “Just like donating blood, nursing mothers can donate their excess breast milk to these banks, that in turn distribute it,” Natalia Summerville, Senior Advanced Analytics Manager at SAS Institute and lecturer at Duke and MIT, told NBC News.

Looking at the bigger picture, the issue touches any number of policy corners. On the anti-monopolist left, critics argue the concentration of formula production in a small handful of companies left the industry vulnerable to disruption and price gouging. On the libertarian right, the villains are tariffs and trade restrictions that make it harder to import formula from abroad.

And of course, there’s always a culture war angle. On the extreme right, Reps. Troy Nehls, R-Texas and Kat Cammack, R-Fla. complained that babies held in border detention facilities were receiving formula during the shortage. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott joined in as well.

ICYMI: What ELSE is happening in the world

If Congress doesn’t authorize new funding to fight the pandemic, the country will be “vulnerable” to worse virus surges this fall, White House Covid coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha told the AP.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., single handedly blocked the unanimous passage of over $40 billion in aid to Ukraine on Thursday.

NBC News’ Jonathan Allen and Natasha Korecki examine the field of 2024 Democratic presidential candidates jockeying for a top campaign spot if President Biden chooses not to run again.