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For Biden, foreign policy has taken a backseat to domestic affairs

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.
An Israeli artillery unit fires shells towards targets in Gaza Strip, at the Israeli Gaza border, on May 19, 2021.Tsafrir Abayov / AP

WASHINGTON — It’s been a big foreign-policy week for Joe Biden’s young presidency – escalating violence in Gaza, Thursday’s announced cease-fire and now Friday’s White House meeting with South Korea’s president.

But maybe the biggest takeaway from NBC News’ reporting on Biden’s handling of the rocket and missile launches in the Middle East is how much of it was centered on his desire to return back to domestic issues.

Biden’s approach “was driven by a singular goal: to end the violence as soon as possible so he could train his focus back onto his domestic agenda,” NBC’s Carol E. Lee, Mike Memoli, Ayman Moyheldin and Andrea Mitchell write.

“To accomplish that, Biden chose not to publicly lay bare disagreements with his Israeli counterpart, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, although the two have their differences. He said little publicly about the issue and entertained few questions about the topic. During a trip to Michigan this week, Biden even joked about running over a reporter who wanted to ask him a question about Israel. And he backed Netanyahu's assault on Gaza to an extent that surprised some fellow Democrats and angered others.”

Those of us who covered Biden when he chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — or when he ran for president in 2007-2008 — might be surprised how little foreign affairs has steered his early president.

But amid a pandemic and big pushes on infrastructure and jobs, Biden’s main focus so far has been on domestic issues.

Not international ones.

Virginia Democrats make their pitches

Frontrunner Terry McAuliffe emerged relatively unscathed from the third debate less than three weeks before the June 8 Democratic primary in Virginia’s gubernatorial race, with more attacks aimed at GOP nominee Glenn Youngkin than the former governor.

But the debate allowed each of the five Democrats running for governor to make their pitch why they — and not their opponents — are the best candidate to face off against Youngkin in the fall.

Here was McAuliffe: “I'm here because the leadership of the Black Caucus of Virginia came to me and said, ‘Terry, no one leaned in more for the Black and brown community than you did.’ ... We need experience now to lead us outta this very tough crisis. I did it before. I'll do it again. And I have big, bold plans.”

Here was former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy: “So the Republican Governors Association is attacking me because they are worried, and they should be. They know that I am the most electable in this race because I will out-inspire and outwork the Republicans in November. I flipped a Republican district while pregnant with twins and being out-spent and out-endorsed.”

Here was state Sen. Jennifer McClellan: “We don't have to choose between a new perspective and experience, because I bring both. I bring the experience of someone whose parents lived through the tyranny of Jim Crow, during the Depression. And I came to the General Assembly as a 32-year-old Black woman from the most Democratic district in the state, operating in a body that was most white, Republican men over 50.”

Here was Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax: “I believe the experience that we've had over the last four years — being part of the most progressive administration in the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia — is something that has really resonated with millions of voters around the commonwealth. I have been proud of the work that I've done to break the ties to expand Medicaid.”

And here was Del. Lee Carter: “Are people who are struggling to pay the rent because the Amazon deal jacked up the price of their housing gonna be excited to vote for any of the four candidates that supported it? Of course, they're not. ... I'm the only candidate in this Democratic primary who's never taken a single dime from fossil fuel corporations, who's never taken a single dime from big banks.”

Youngkin fires back

Meanwhile, Youngkin released a statement responding to the debate, in which he knocked McAuliffe and invoked Carroll Foy in the process.

“It was abundantly clear ... that Terry McAuliffe is just another all-talk, no-action career politician desperately clinging to power. The only thing ‘big and bold’ about him is his long list of failures and willingness to say anything regardless of the truth. I wholeheartedly agree with what Jennifer Carroll Foy said: we need to elect a new kind of leader, not recycle the same old policies and politicians of the past.”

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

14: The combined number of times Terry McAuliffe said the names “Youngkin,” “Trump” or “Biden” at Thursday’s debate.

3: The combined number of times the four other Dem candidates — in total — said those names.

33,219,226: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 28,241 more than yesterday morning.)

592,505: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 627 more than yesterday morning.)

279,397,250: The number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S.

35.2 percent: The share of Americans who are fully vaccinated.

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ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Some of NBC’s top reporters take a look inside Biden’s strategy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian American in Congress, is taking on a more prominent role in the crisis.

Biden sat for an interview with David Brooks.

Politico reports that Biden is reaching out to local GOP officials as he tries to win support for his infrastructure bill.

Prosecutors say that Rudy Giuliani’s legal profession does not shield him from having his electronics seized.

The Senate may vote next week on the January 6 commission — but it looks likely to run into a filibuster.

Biden has signed an anti-Asian hate crimes bill into law.

The Arizona secretary of state says Maricopa County should replace voting machines turned over to an audit contractor because of concerns about election integrity.