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Biden is the Democratic front-runner, but a vulnerable one

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: Former vice president Joe Biden arrives to speak at a rally in support of striking Stop & Shop workers in Boston
Former vice president Joe Biden arrives to speak at a rally in support of striking Stop & Shop workers in Boston, Thursday, April 18, 2019.Michael Dwyer / AP

WASHINGTON — Joe Biden’s first 96 hours as a candidate sums up his place right now in the 2020 Democratic field.

He’s the front-runner — but a vulnerable one.

  1. Biden reported raising $6.3 million in his first 24 hours, besting Beto O’Rourke’s $6.1 million mark and Bernie Sanders’ $5.9 million. But part of that haul (a reported $700,000) came from that high-roller fundraiser on Thursday, and the former vice president had four months to prepare for that initial fundraising burst.
  2. A Washington Post/ABC poll released over the weekend showed him leading the pack (on an open-ended horserace question). But the same poll found a majority of Democratic respondents – 54 percent — saying they had no preference.
  3. In his first 96 hours, Biden’s racked up more notable endorsements than the Dem competition. And this morning, NBC’s Mike Memoli reports that Biden also received the nod from the International Association of Firefighters. But the former vice president’s endorsement lead is a narrow one – and it comes mainly from Dem politicians from the Delaware/Pennsylvania region.
  4. In his first sit-down interview since his announcement, Biden appeared on The View, taking on questions about touches that made women uncomfortable, and about his handling of Anita Hill. He seemed to be more aware of the former (“I have to be more aware,” he said. “It’s my job to read”) than the latter (“I’m sorry she was treated the way she was treated.”) Umm, he was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during that Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearing.

Bottom line: 96 hours in, Biden looks more like John Kerry of 2004 (the slight front-runner in a volatile Democratic field) than Al Gore of 2000 or Hillary Clinton of 2016.

In Pittsburgh this afternoon, the former vice president delivers his first speech as a 2020 candidate – on rebuilding the middle class.

The latest in the subpoena wars

Attorney General William Barr is threatening NOT to testify before the House Judiciary Committee this week, NBC’s Alex Moe and Allan Smith report.

At issue: Barr and his team appear opposed to Democratic and Republican committee lawyers – in addition to the lawmakers – asking him questions.

“Members of Congress should be the ones doing the questioning,” Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec told NBC News. “He remains happy to engage with members on their questions regarding the Mueller report.”

More from Moe and Smith: “On Sunday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said Barr would not ‘dictate the format of the Judiciary Committee,’ CNN reported.”

"The witness is not going to tell the committee how to conduct its hearing, period," Nadler said, adding that if Barr does not appear on Thursday, his committee "will have to subpoena him, and we will have to use whatever means we can to enforce the subpoena."

Rabbi who survived synagogue shooting speaks to MSNBC (and Trump)

Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, whose synagogue and congregants were the victims of a mass shooting on Saturday, spoke on "Kasie DC" last night.

On the shooter: “Well what he needs to know, I want - - everyone wants to know, hating Jews is hating humanity. We are all humans.”

On speaking to President Trump: “I was totally in awe. I am shocked to accept to receive a call from the White House… He was so gracious and generous with his words. Exceedingly comforting to me, to my community and he spoke to me like a friend, like a buddy and I didn’t realize I’m talking to the president of the United States of America.”

2020 Vision: Biden doesn’t look like the last Dem candidate

FYI: Politico reports that Montana Gov. Steve Bullock just hired a new communications director and an Iowa hand.

In short, expect the Dem field to GROW heading into the first debate in June…

On the campaign trail today: Biden delivers remarks on rebuilding the middle class in Pittsburgh at 3:30 pm ET… Beto O’Rourke continues to campaign in California… And Pete Buttigieg has lunch with Al Sharpton before appearing on The Daily Show.

Data Download: The number of the day is … 54 percent.

Fifty-four percent.

That's the share of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who say they don't have a preference for a 2020 candidate yet, according to a new Washington Post/ABC poll.

That's pretty much unchanged from a poll in January, when 56 percent declined to name one candidate that they currently support.

The Lid: Restoration vs. Revolution

Don’t miss the pod from Friday, when we noted the two distinct messages and policies coming from Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.

Tweet of the day

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

Don't miss this big look from NBC's Alex Seitz-Wald and Adam Edelman on the making of Mayor Pete.

The International Association of Firefighters is formally backing Joe Biden.

White nationalist violence is becoming a top issue for 2020.

Three of the most influential women in progressive politics are launching a new organization to boost female lawmakers.

Other news that’s out there…

Trump agenda: Gitmo chief is out

Guantanamo Bay's chief commander is out.

Kellyanne Conway again defended the president's "very fine people" comments over the weekend.

Steve Mnuchin says that trade negotiations with China are "in the final laps."

The Washington Post profiles Betsy DeVos, a Trump Cabinet survivor.

2020: Pete and Al…

Pete Buttigieg is planning a meeting with Al Sharpton.

Republicans are warning about socialism in 2020. But do voters care?

Joe Biden is heading to Philadelphia.

Democrats aren't sure that Biden is a true front-runner, POLITICO writes.

And Democrats are fretting that their economic message isn't strong enough.