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Biden, Congress prepare to respond to Russia's attacks on Ukraine

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: Joe Biden
President Joe Biden speaks about Ukraine in the East Room of the White House, on Feb. 22, 2022.Alex Brandon / AP

WASHINGTON — If it’s Thursday ... The Russian invasion of Ukraine begins. ... Dozens are already killed. ... President Biden says the world will hold Russia accountable. ...Domestically, oil prices surge. ... U.S. Covid vaccinations plummet. ... Democrats enjoy their best redistricting day after developments in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, per the Cook Report’s Dave Wasserman. ... Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., is up with his first TV ad. ... And CPAC is back.

But first: Here’s NBC News’ reporting on the unfolding situation in Ukraine:

“Ukraine is in a fight for its very survival as a nation,” NBC’s Richard Engel said on “Today” this morning.

“The first blasts rang out just minutes after Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a televised speech Wednesday evening saying that he was authorizing military action. He warned other countries that if they tried to intervene they would face a Russian response ‘so severe that no foreign nations have ever experienced it before,” NBC’s Yuliya Talmazan and Alexander Smith report.

Ukraine’s government says 40 of its soldiers and fewer than 10 civilians have been killed. (NBC News has not been able to confirm that report of casualties.)

President Biden released a statement a little after 10:20 p.m. ET, saying that Putin “has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering.”

More from the Biden statement: “Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring, and the United States and its Allies and partners will respond in a united and decisive way. The world will hold Russia accountable.”

Biden also spoke with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy last night and is expected to address Americans today.

The U.S. House of Representatives today will receive an all-member, unclassified briefing call from key Biden administration officials on the situation with Ukraine, per NBC’s Julie Tsirkin. This will follow an already-reported call with U.S. senators at 5:00 p.m. ET.

“Oil prices popped more than 5 percent on news that Russia was launching a military attack in Ukraine,” CNBC says. “U.S. crude futures jumped by 5.23 percent to trade at $96.92 per barrel. Brent crude futures were up 5.4 percent at $102.07 per barrel, crossing the $100 level for the first time since 2014.”

And with eyes on how the international community is responding, what was former President Donald Trump’s take during a phone interview last night with Fox News? That Putin was emboldened by “the weakness and the incompetence and the stupidity of this administration. … It all happened because of a rigged election.”

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 90,000

That’s the average number of people getting their first Covid vaccination each day, per the Associated Press, the lowest it’s been since the early days of the vaccine rollout in December of 2020.

As the omicron wave began just a few months ago, there were days when America put more than 1 million shots in arms (including first, second and booster shots). But demand has slowed to a crawl, even in many areas where people have so far been hesitant to get vaccinated.

Other numbers you need to know today:

945,765: The number of deaths in the United States from Covid so far, per the most recent data from NBC News.

78,901,737: The number of confirmed cases of Covid in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials.

6: The number of states that have yet to complete their new congressional maps, per 538.

23: The number of GOP Senate candidates out of 27 surveyed who did not respond to questions from Politico about NRSC Chairman Rick Scott’s policy agenda.

Midterm roundup

The Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman tweeted that yesterday was “probably Democrats' single best redistricting day yet” thanks to developments in Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

In Pennsylvania, the state Supreme Court picked Democrats’ preferred congressional map, which kept the relative competitiveness of each district intact despite the state losing a congressional seat. A Philadelphia Inquirer analysis found the new map includes six districts seen “as strongly Republican, five as strongly Democratic, and three each as leaning Democratic and Republican.”

The new Pennsylvania map has also led to another incumbent-versus-incumbent primary, with GOP Rep. Fred Keller running against fellow GOP Rep. Dan Meuser in the 9th District.

In North Carolina, a three-judge panel adopted a new congressional map drawn by outside advisers, in another win for Democrats. The new map included a new competitive seat, per the AP. GOP Rep. Dan Bishop tweeted that he is considering running in either the 8th or 9th District, or for statewide judicial office.

Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz’s campaign is spending $21,000 on radio ads in the 28th District, per AdImpact. The Texas Tribune reports that the buy is to boost Cruz’s preferred GOP candidate in that primary, Cassy Garcia, a former Cruz aide.

Ad watch

Kelly’s first TV ad: In the first TV ad of his 2022 re-election campaign, Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., empathizes with the economic hardships many voters are facing right now.

Kelly opens the ad by describing when he realized as a child that his family lived paycheck-to-paycheck. “I remember my mom sitting at our kitchen table having to make decisions about what bill to pay,” Kelly says.

He was first elected to the Senate in a 2020 special election, and he plays on his relative newness to Congress to gain favor with voters. “I know Arizona families are working hard to get by right now, and that's why I won't give up on getting our economy back on track … Too many politicians in Washington have no idea what it's like to wait for that next paycheck,” Kelly says.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Ivanka Trump is discussing a voluntary appearance before the Jan. 6 committee.

NBC’s Marc Caputo and Jonathan Allen go inside the intra-GOP feud over Fla. Sen. Rick Scott’s midterm agenda.

Despite the instability in Europe, world negotiators are expressing hope for a renewed Iran nuclear deal.

GOP Gov. Greg Abbott called on “licensed professionals” and ordinary citizens to report, and for the state Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate, parents of transgender children who receive gender-affirming medical care.