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Meet the Press Blog: Latest news, analysis and data driving the political discussion

Smart political reporting and analysis, including data points, interesting national trends, short updates and more from the NBC News political unit.
Image: Illustration of photos depicting voters on line, voting booths, the Capitol, the White House and raised hands.
Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

Georgia Republican Lt. Gov. tells MTP he won't run for Senate in 2022

Georgia Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan will not run for Senate in 2022, he told “Meet the Press” on Sunday, saying instead he wants to focus on helping to “rebuild” the GOP after a difficult election that saw Democrats flip both Senate seats and former President Donald Trump raise unfounded accusations of widespread voter fraud in the state.  

One of the top Republicans in the state, Duncan had been seen as a possible candidate to run against Sen. Raphael Warnock in 2022. The Democrat won his election to fill the remainder of the term vacated by retired Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson. But Isakson’s term would have ended in 2022, Warnock will be on the ballot again then.  

“My family and I have talked about it, and we’re not going to run for the U.S. Senate seat. We’re going to stay focused on being the lieutenant governor here in Georgia and we are going to focus hard on trying to rebuild this party and refocus GOP 2.0,” Duncan said Sunday.  

Even though Democrats flipped both Senate seats in 2020, next year's election is expected to be one of the marquee Senate races of the cycle. Former Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who lost to Warnock, has kept the door open to another bid, while other Republicans have been considering it too. Former President Donald Trump recently encouraged Herschel Walker, once a standout football player for the University of Georgia, to run. 

Duncan and other top GOP officials spent much of the past few months defending the state from Trump's unfounded allegations of massive voter fraud, accusations that he said lost Republicans "credibility" in the state. He went onto criticize Trump's tone as "divisive" and add that the former president's "strategy is unwinnable in forward-looking elections." 

Even so, many Georgia Republicans are supporting widespread new restrictions to election laws sparked in part by Trump's baseless allegations. The GOP-led legislature is weighing changes such as ending no-excuse absentee voting and limiting weekend early voting.

Duncan opposes the changes to absentee voting, recently vacating his role presiding over the debate on the issue in protest. He also told "Meet the Press' he was sensitive to concerns that limiting early voting on weekends could primarily hurt black voters since "souls to the polls" drives are popular events at predominately black churches in the south. 

"There’s a lot of solutions in search of a problem. Republicans don’t need election reform to win, we need leadership," he said. 

"I'm one of the Republicans that want more people to vote. I think our ideas help people."

Democratic groups are spending big to support the Covid-19 relief law

WASHINGTON — Unite the Country, a Democratic Super PAC, is the latest outside group to release paid advertisements celebrating the Covid-19 relief package President Joe Biden signed into law on Thursday.  

"It's more money in your pocket, billions to speed up vaccinations, safely reopen schools, and help small businesses come back," a narrator says in the new ad

"Joe Biden kept his word, and that's exactly what your president should do," the ad concludes.  

According to a spokesperson from Unite the country, the ad is a seven-figure buy targeted in the battleground states of Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — all which Biden narrowly won last November, and all of which hold key Senate and gubernatorial contests in 2022. The ad campaign will be mostly featured on digital platforms.

The buy is the latest in a group of Democratic organizations with campaigns airing across the country. 

On Friday, the Democratic National Committee released a new ad that will air nationally and in battleground markets. Entitled, "Help is here", the ad features parts of Biden's speech explaining the Covid-19 relief bill. 

Also this week, the Democratic group Priorities USA said it was placing digital ads — like this one — in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — in support of the new legislation.  

And House Majority Forward, the Democratic outside group that focuses on House races, said it’s launching a $1.4 million ad campaign across nine competitive House districts — like one focused on Texas' 7th district — thanking Democratic members for voting for the relief package.  

Steve Schale, chief strategist for Unite The Country, said it’s critical for Democrats’ chances in the 2022 midterms to see support remain strong for both the rescue plan and for Biden.

“We know the next year is pretty important. All of us who lived in the 2010 trenches remember how hard it was to get across the finish line in a world where almost all of the messaging around the first two years of Obama was negative,” he said.

A look back: How presidents have used their first primetime TV address

WASHINGTON — When President Joe Biden makes his first national prime-time address on Thursday night, he’ll be following in a long tradition of presidents focusing their first televised evening speech on a key White House priority.

Biden will use his address — scheduled to begin just after 8 p.m. ET — to commemorate the one-year anniversary of restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of Covid-19. He is expected to talk about the more than 500,000 Americans who have lost their lives to Covid-19, as well as his efforts to increase the number of vaccines available to Americans. The president is set to sign the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill into law Thursday afternoon. 

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on International Women's Day as Air Force General Jacqueline Van Ovost, from left, and Army Lieutenant General Laura Richardson, from right, listen during an announcement at the East Room of the White House on March 8, 2021.Alex Wong / Getty Images

Here’s how some of Biden’s predecessors used their first major prime-time TV addresses: 

President Donald Trump: Trump made his first national address on Aug. 21, 2017 to discuss his strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia. Unlike many former presidents, Trump didn’t make his first prime-time speech from the White House. Rather, the former president spoke from Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Virginia.

Trump used the speech to outline new pillars of his foreign policy plan and to announce he wouldn’t pull all troops out of Afghanistan and South Asia. 

“My original instinct was to pull out, and historically, I like following my instincts. But all my life, I've heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office, in other words, when you're president of the United States,” Trump said.  

The former president also used the speech to solicit support for his foreign policy strategy from NATO allies. 

Trump also addressed a joint session of Congress in February 2017. 

President Barack Obama: Obama’s first prime-time televised address was different than both his predecessors and successors: He held a prime-time press conference on Feb. 9, 2009. 

Before taking questions, Obama focused his prepared remarks on the economy and his wish for Congress to pass the stimulus plan. The bill was signed into law about a week later. 

“As long as I hold this office, I will do whatever it takes to put this economy back on track and put this country back to work,” Obama said. 

Political director and chief White House correspondent for NBC News Chuck Todd asks a question to President Barack Obama during a news conference in the East Room of the White House on Feb. 9, 2009.Alex Wong / Getty Images file

President George W. Bush: Bush’s first national address didn’t end up being a long-term focus of his administration – especially given it occurred one month before the Sept. 11th attacks. 

Rather, on Aug. 9, 2001, Bush announced that he would allow federal taxpayer money to be used on stem cell research. The decision was controversial given Bush’s pro-life stance because some stem cell research includes cells extracted from embryos. 

“The issue is debated within the church, with people of different faiths, even many of the same faith coming to different conclusions. Many people are finding that the more they know about stem cell research, the less certain they are about the right ethical and moral conclusions,” Bush said, pointing to the “great promise” embryonic stem cell research offers in discovering treatments and cures for serious diseases.

President Bill Clinton: Clinton used his first televised address on Feb. 24, 1993, to drum up support for his economic proposals ahead of a speech to Congress later that week. 

He called for Americans’ support for a significant shift in economic policy from the Republican presidents before him, laying out plans to hike taxes on the rich and cut spending to control the deficit and reshape the government.

Days later, he took his appeal to a joint session of Congress. Ultimately Congress narrowly passed much of Clinton’s economic plan (former Vice President Al Gore needed to cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate.

President George H.W. Bush: In his Sept. 5, 1989 address to Americans on “the gravest domestic terror threat facing our nation today,” Bush announced his national strategy on drugs.  

The plan hinged on greater law enforcement spending, a program aimed at fighting drug crime in public housing, fighting international cartels, an investment in drug treatment programs, and an anti-drug education effort. 

That speech included the iconic scene of Bush holding up crack cocaine seized near the White House (media reports later found agents “lured the seller” to the spot). 

President George Bush holds a bag of crack cocaine in the Oval Office of the White House on Sept. 5, 1989, after delivering his first nationally televised speech.Dennis Cook / AP file

President Ronald Reagan: Reagan made his first address to the nation just about two weeks after his inauguration. 

On Feb. 5, 1981 Reagan began his economic address by telling Americans “we’re in the worst economic mess since the Great Depression.” 

Reagan’s message to Americans was that the federal deficit was unmanageable and required spending cuts, a hiring freeze and a hold on pending regulations. 

Reagan also introduced his legislative economic package during the address that he would present to Congress about two weeks after his speech. 

President Jimmy Carter: Carter’s first address also came at about the two-week mark — Feb. 2, 1977— and included a heavy emphasis on his national energy policy

He spoke almost immediately after signing the Emergency Natural Gas Act to give him expanded powers to address the natural gas shortage stemming from the oil embargo against America during the 1979s.

“The real problem — our failure to plan for the future or to take energy conservation seriously — started long before this winter, and it will take much longer to solve,” Carter said, before asking Americans to conserve energy while the government would make efforts to expand energy production while providing Americans with tax incentives.

Missouri Secretary of State Ashcroft declines Senate bid to replace retiring Blunt

WASHINGTON — Missouri Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft announced Wednesday he would not run to replace the retiring Sen. Richard Blunt, R-Mo., as the senator's retirement has prompted a scramble to fill the open Senate seat. 

"Our hearts are in Missouri and we cherish the opportunity to continue raising our family here. Service to Missourians is a profound privilege in which we intend to persist and honor in every respect," he tweeted to explain his reasoning for not running. 

"We hope those who pledged support to me will devote their efforts to electing the eventual Republican nominee."

Ashcroft is the latest high-profile name to rule out a bid, but the first major Republican to do so after Blunt's announcement. Former Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill (now an NBC and MSNBC analyst) and 2016 Democratic nominee Jason Kander have both said they will not run. 

On the GOP side, there are still a handful of prominent candidates publicly weighing a bid. 

Rep. Ann Wagner said in a statement that she's considering a bid, as did Rep. Billy Long in an interview with Springfield's KY3

Former Gov. Eric Greitens has also signaled his openness to running. He resigned in 2018 amid investigations related to allegations of campaign finance violations, as well as an unrelated affair where he was accused of blackmail, invasion of privacy and sexual misconduct.

And other Republicans may jump in as well. 

On the Democratic side, former state Sen. Scott Sifton announced his bid last month and has the backing of dozens of state lawmakers, as well as State Auditor Nicole Galloway and former Kansas City Mayor Sly James. And Marine veteran Lucas Kunce announced his bid after Blunt made his decision.

With weeks to go before Louisiana special House elections, new filings show best-funded candidates

WASHINGTON — Just weeks before two special elections in Lousiana, new campaign finance reports show there's a clear gap between the haves and the have nots looking to win each seat. 

Each party is favored to hold onto the seats each won in November. Republicans have the edge in the Fifth Congressional District, where Republican Luke Letlow won a runoff last December but passed away from Covid-19 before he could take office. And Democrats are the favorite in the Second District, which was vacated by Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond, who decided to join the White House.  

Julia Letlow, the widow of the former congressman-elect who is running as a Republican, leads the cash race in the Fifth District. She raised $682,000 through February and started March with $521,000 banked away. Letlow has won a smattering of Republican endorsements in her quest for Congress, including House Minority Whip and Lousiana Rep. Steve Scalise, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and the Lousiana State GOP. 

The only other Republican who appears to have filed by the FEC's Monday deadline is Sancha Smith, who raised less than $10,000. Sandra Christophe, a Democrat and social worker who ran last cycle, just short of $70,000 for her bid and closed February with $50,000 in cash on hand. 

In the Second District, three candidates raised at least $100,000, two Democrats and one Republican. 

State Sen. Troy Carter, Sr., raised more than any other candidate with $519,000, ending February with almost $292,000 in cash on hand. Karen Carter Peterson, who previously ran the state's Democratic Party and was in leadership at the Democratic National Committee, raised about $450,000 and had $208,000 cash on hand. Along with others who have weighed into the race, Richmond is backing Carter while Democratic voting-rights activist Stacey Abrams endorsed Carter Peterson. 

Claston Bernard, the former Olympic decathlete endorsed by the Louisiana Republican Party, raised $113,000 and had $38,000 in the bank at the close of February. 

Voters will cast their ballots in both races on March 20, with the top two vote-getters (regardless of party) moving onto a runoff election if no candidate can win the majority in March. 

Former FDA officials urge Biden to nominate a permanent commissioner

WASHINGTON — Five former U.S. Federal Drug Administration officials sent a letter to President Biden on Tuesday pressing him to name a new permanent commissioner for the agency. 

The call comes as some medical experts and members of Congress are raising questions about whether a leadership void compromises approval of additional tools, beyond vaccines, needed to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, like rapid antigen testing.

The letter, obtained by NBC News, urged Biden to prioritize securing the FDA's leadership team including "seeking a formal nomination and confirmation of an FDA Commissioner." 

The Food and Drug Administration headquarters in White Oak, Md., on Aug. 29, 2020.Andrew Kelly / Reuters

"The coming days and weeks will require further timely and effective actions, for example to support the development of antiviral treatments and advance the availability of reliable, easy-to-use tests,” wrote former commissioners Robert Califf, Scott Gottlieb, Mark McClellan, Margaret Hamburg and Andrew von Eschenbach.

FDA veteran Janet Woodcock has been serving as acting commissioner since Biden took office. 

Rapid antigen testing is being used in other countries, but the FDA has been slow to approve the tests because of accuracy concerns. 

During a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University's school of public health, said the tests could still be useful.

"The FDA has been slow to approve these cheap, rapid antigen tests primarily due to concerns about accuracy and lack of thorough data and maintaining the rigor and high standards of FDA approval are important. However, rapid tests serve a different role than PCR tests and should be evaluated accordingly," Jha said. 

Mike Pence will make first post-White House speech in South Carolina

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Mike Pence will make his first post-vice presidential speech on April 29 in Columbia, S.C. 

The Palmetto Family Council confirmed Pence's speech, and announced Pence will speak to roughly 500 guests. The Palmetto Family Council is a faith-based group that describes itself as having been “on the front lines of the fight to keep biblical values a consideration in the culture at large and in public policy decision.”

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a visit to Rock Springs Church to campaign for GOP Senate candidates on January 4, 2021 in Milner, Georgia.Megan Varner / Getty Images

The Associated Press first reported the speech. 

Pence is widely believed to be planning his own presidential run in 2024, which casts a light on Pence's decision to make his first post-White House appearance in an early primary state like South Carolina. 

Since leaving the White House, Pence joined the Heritage Foundation and the Young America's Foundation, with plans to deliver lectures and launch a podcast. 

Ralph Northam makes first endorsement of 2021 cycle — bucking his attorney general

WASHINGTON — Virginia Governor Ralph Northam endorsed state delegate Jay Jones for Virginia attorney general on Thursday, bucking incumbent Mark Herring who served with Northam and is seeking his third term.

The governor’s endorsement is the first he’s made for Virginia’s 2021 election cycle. And the choice to back Jones — who is young, Black and more progressive — could represent a wider shift in the direction of the Virginia Democratic Party.

“[I]t is time for a new generation of leaders to take the reins. Jay Jones has stood with me every step of the way in our journey to make Virginia a more just and equitable place to live. He has been my partner as we have worked to change our Commonwealth. He also understands the deep scars of racism and will represent the diversity of our Commonwealth,” Northam wrote in a statement.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and his wife, Pamela Northam, arrive to watch first Lady Jill Biden participates in a panel discussion on cancer research and care at the Massey Cancer Center at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., on Feb. 24, 2021.Ryan M. Kelly / AFP via Getty Images file

Northam’s endorsement also raises eyebrows about his relationship with Herring. In 2019, Herring called for Northam's resignation after a yearbook picture surfaced alleging Northam was either in blackface or a Klu Klux Klan costume in the photo. Northam later revealed he wore blackface as a student.

However, days after the initial scandal, Herring revealed he had also worn blackface. He tried to clarify his calls for Northam to resign by saying it was Northam’s flip-flopping explanation of the yearbook photo that was problematic. 

The governor resisted resignation calls and later pushed issues of racial justice and equity to the forefront of his administration. Democrats in Virginia passed legislation banning the death penalty and expanding voting rights. Northam has also been outspoken about changing the names of schools and highways that are named after confederate leaders, and has committed to removing confederate monuments in Richmond.

Northam has not yet made announcements on who he would endorse in the races for governor and lieutenant governor, but Northam served as lieutenant governor when former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe was in office. McAuliffe is now a frontrunner in the Democratic primary.  

The Virginia Democratic primary takes place on June 8.

Chuck Grassley files FEC paperwork for possible 2022 re-election bid

WASHINGTON — Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission Wednesday morning, setting up a possible re-election bid for the 2022 cycle.

Grassley, elected to Congress as a member of the House of Representatives in 1974 and then the Senate in 1980, is the oldest Republican currently serving in the Senate and would be 89 by Election Day of 2022.

The Iowa senator filed a new statement of candidacy with the FEC on Wednesday for the 2022 cycle, which allows him to kickstart his fundraising for a potential bid. Though the paperwork makes him an official candidate in the eyes of the FEC, it doesn't guarantee he'll actually run for an eighth term. Former Georgia GOP Sen. David Perdue, who in January lost his Senate seat in a runoff to now-Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff, announced last week he wouldn't launch another campaign just days after he filed paperwork with the FEC and tweeted he was considering a 2022 bid

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, speaks on Capitol Hill on March 2, 2021.Mandel Ngan / Pool via Reuters

Grassley has told reporters he'll make a decision "sometime in September, October or November," according to the Des Moines Register.

Grassley tested positive for Covid-19 in November but reported his case was asymptomatic and he recovered.

A handful of senators have already announced plans to retire at the end of 2022, with more potentially on the way. 

Alabama’s senior GOP Sen. Richard Shelby announced last month he won’t seek re-election in 2022 after serving in Congress for over 40 years. And Republican Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Richard Burr of North Carolina have also said they won’t pursue re-election bids in 2022.

Two other Republican senators have not said if they'll run again in 2022: Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. Johnson said in 2016 he would only serve two terms in the Senate but has not recently addressed whether he would seek a third one. Blunt told POLITICO earlier this year he had no timetable on deciding whether to run again. 

Hawley ends his confirmation no-vote streak by backing Biden's pick to chair Council of Economic Advisers

WASHINGTON — After voting against all 12 of President Joe Biden's previous Senate-confirmable nominees, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., backed his first nomination on Tuesday, Cecilia Rouse, who the Senate confirmed as Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers by a wide margin.

Hawley's vote makes Rouse the first of Biden's nominees to win the senator's support, as he had previously opposed Biden's whole slate of nominees, including about half that passed with support from at least 80 senators. 

He told NBC News last week that he didn't have an explicit strategy of opposing nominees, adding his test is that he hopes Biden "will nominate folks and pursue policies that will be good for working Americans and good for the middle of the country." 

Ethics watchdog says Rep. Palazzo may have improperly spent campaign, official funds

WASHINGTON — The Office of Congressional Ethics found there is "substantial reason to believe" Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., improperly gave special favors to his brother and misused campaign and official funds on a variety of expenses, including renovations to a riverfront home, according to a new report released Monday. 

The nonpartisan OCE, an independent group that advises the House Committee on Ethics, voted unanimously to recommend lawmakers continue an investigation into Palazzo.

In a 47-page report, the OCE board laid out allegations of wrongdoing by Palazzo that mainly fall into two tranches — improper conduct related to Palazzo's brother, who worked for his campaign, and spending related to a river home he owned and listed as his official campaign headquarters. 

Palazzo's office denied the allegations in a statement, arguing that his conduct was proper and that he will cooperate with the investigation. 

While the board found that Palazzo's brother "provided at least some bona fide services to the campaign committee," it also alleged that "the work Kyle Palazzo performed may have not justified the salary he received." Campaigns must pay employees fair market value, and a failure to do can be seen as receiving (or giving) an improper campaign contribution. CQ Roll Call first reported on the potential wrongdoing in December. 

The congressman's office is also accused of special treatment in helping his brother attempt to update his re-enlistment code with the Navy.

The home in question has been owned by Palazzo's family for about 20 years, the OCE board said. Palazzo himself bought it from his mother and a business associated with her in 2017. The report found the congressman's campaign paid Palazzo's LLC $60,000 in rent for the property, as well as another $22,000 in expenditures for things like landscaping and utilities.

The report claims there's "substantial reason to believe there was not a bona fide campaign need for the space and that the campaign committee did not pay fair market value for its actual use of the property" and that the upkeep expenses "more accurately represented campaign-funded improvements to Rep. Palazzo's personal property." 

There are also other allegations related to Palazzo's use of his staff — that his congressional staff ran personal errands or campaign work during their official work hours.

Colleen Kennedy, Palazzo's communications director, said in a statement that he "welcomes the opportunity to work through this process with the House Committee on Ethics and will fully cooperate with the Committee to show that he has complied with all relevant rules and standards."

She called the matter "a direct result of false allegations made by a primary opponent and the Campaign Legal Center," the campaign finance watchdog group that first raised questions about Palazzo's spending. 

Former Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., a former House Committee on Ethics member, is representing Palazzo, she added. 

"Congressman Palazzo will continue to serve his constituents with honor and integrity, and he looks forward to having this matter concluded as soon as possible," Kennedy said. 

In a statement, House Ethics Committee Chairman Ted Deutch, D-Fla., and Ranking Member Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., acknowledged the referral from the OCE and noted that "the mere fact of conducting further review ... does not itself indicated that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee."