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Biden administration struggles to respond to latest Covid surge

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.
Medical staff treat a coronavirus patient at Western Reserve Hospital in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, on Jan. 4, 2022.
Medical staff treat a coronavirus patient at Western Reserve Hospital in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, on Jan. 4, 2022.Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

WASHINGTON — If it’s Friday ... President Biden speaks on the monthly jobs report. ... Sean Duffy says no to a statewide run in Wisconsin. ... Nick Kristof is off the ballot (for now) in Oregon. ... And just one House Republican attended yesterday’s moment of silence observing Jan. 6.

But first: If not for the Jan. 6 anniversary, the biggest political story this week would have been the coronavirus.

As well as the Biden administration’s missteps to deal with it.

Consider: A million-plus reported new cases a day. Hospitalizations on the rise. Confusion over the CDC’s guidance and messaging. Tests that still haven’t been delivered to Americans.

And then on the same day that President Biden denounced Donald Trump for his role in this Jan. 6 attack – maybe the most forceful speech of his presidency — came this news: A group of former Biden health advisers argued that Covid is “here to stay,” and that the administration needs a new strategy to deal with it.

“Again, the president's goal is to defeat the virus,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in response to a question about that call for a new strategy. “The president's focus and objective now is to save as many lives as possible. And we know what works. And we know that pushing more people, getting more people vaccinated, getting more people boosted, encouraging mask wearing, making sure schools have the resources they need to stay open.”

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: As the virus goes, so goes Biden’s presidency.

And the virus news hasn’t been good.

A coda to the Jan. 6 anniversary

We’ve also told you — repeatedly — how Donald Trump’s hold over the Republican Party has grown since Jan. 6.

We were reminded of that fact yesterday as just a handful of Republican lawmakers either participated or reflected on the anniversary; as Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., criticized Trump over his Jan. 6 actions but said he’d still support him if he were the GOP nominee in 2024; and as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, essentially apologized to Fox News’ Tucker Carlson for calling the Jan. 6 riot a “violent terrorist attack.”

It’s hard to think of a more fitting way to describe the GOP’s relationship with Trump — even after Jan. 6 — than that Ted Cruz interview.

Data Download: The number of the day is … one

That’s the number of Republican members of Congress who attended the moment of silence on the House floor yesterday, per NBC’s Capitol Hill team — Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.

Cheney’s father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, was the only other Republican spotted in the House chamber during that ceremony. (Cheney’s other GOP member on the Jan. 6 Committee, Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger tweeted he had to skip it as he prepares for the birth of his child).

Other numbers you need to know today:

$2.4 million: How much that companies that “pledged to stop or pause their donations” to Republicans who voted against certifying the 2020 election have since given to those lawmakers, per Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

83 million: The number of people in America under winter weather alerts across the country on Thursday.

58,516,837: The number of confirmed Covid cases in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials.

837,074: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News.

0.0033 percent: The Covid death rate of the fully vaccinated in a new CDC study of more than 1.2 million vaccinated adults.

66.3 percent: The portion of the population aged 5 and above who are fully vaccinated for Covid, per the CDC.

Tweet of the day

Midterm roundup

Some Republican Senate candidates used the Jan. 6 anniversary to share conspiracy theories, criticize the committee investigating the attack and equate the attack with riots in the summer of 2020 following the death of George Floyd.

Three Senate candidates — Blake Masters and Jim Lamon of Arizona and former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens — echoed controversial claims that FBI informants egged on the crowd. Ohio Senate hopeful JD Vance said Republicans should investigate “the ridiculous riots and looting” in American cities after Floyd's death when they take over the Senate.

Alabama GOP Rep. Mo Brooks, whom Trump has endorsed in the open Senate race, tweeted that Biden was sharing “false information” in criticizing Trump. And Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said the anniversary was about promoting “a political narrative that all Republicans are insurrectionists.”

Virginia Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria, a member of the Jan. 6 committee, tied her re-election announcement to the anniversary of the attack, saying, “I know that my continued service is not a choice, but a duty to our nation … We cannot allow those who seek to destroy our democracy from within to prevail.” Luria is a top GOP target in 2022 and her seat became slightly more Republican in redistricting. The Cook Political Report rates the 2nd District race a Toss Up.

Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, raised $2.9 million for his Senate campaign in the final quarter of 2021, ending the year with $5 million on hand, per Spectrum News. WMUR reports that Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., raised $3.1 million last quarter and has $5.3 million on hand.

And former Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis., said he would not run in Wisconsin despite Trump’s encouragement. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., also indicated he would not run for governor or Senate in 2022. And the Oregon Elections Division determined that former New York Times columnist Nick Kristof did not meet the state’s residency requirement. Kristof had launched a run as a Democrat and promised to appeal, accusing state officials of trying to silence his campaign.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

A Capitol Police officer sued former President Trump on Thursday, arguing he is partially responsible for the injuries she suffered while defending the Capitol last year.

The Washington Post goes behind the scenes of the decision to go after Trump so forcefully in Biden’s Thursday speech.

New reporting uncovers that Vice President Kamala Harris was at the Democratic National Committee when a pipe bomb was found there on Jan. 6, 2021.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments Friday about the Biden administration mandates on vaccination or testing.