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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:

Significant majority of Republicans don’t believe Biden’s win was fair

Almost two-thirds of Republicans believe that President Joe Biden did not legitimately win the 2020 election, even as more than six-in-ten Americans overall believe he won fair and square, according to a new Monmouth University poll.

The survey, conducted February 25 – March 1, found that 65 percent of Republicans believe that Biden’s win was solely the result of voter fraud. What’s more, 29 percent of Republicans say they will never accept Biden as president. 

The belief in widespread fraud among Republicans persists despite a multitude of probes, intelligence assessments and court rulings that have found no evidence that either domestic fraud nor foreign interference affected the election results. But former President Donald Trump spent months spreading baseless allegations of widespread fraud nonetheless. 

That belief was also echoed by rioters who breached the Capitol on January 6 in the effort to stop the election results from being certified. 

A young boy holds onto a fence as pro-Trump supporters rally to defy the election results hours after Biden was named President-elect, outside the Maricopa County elections building on Nov. 7, 2020 in Phoenix.Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images file

The Monmouth poll found that a majority —  53 percent of Americans — support an independent commission to look into the Capitol breach. That includes 62 percent of Democrats and 49 percent of Republicans.

Another 37 percent of Americans say internal investigations into the breach should suffice. 

Americans broadly support investigating into the failures of Capitol Police preparation for the attack (81 percent), the growth of militant groups (76 percent), the role of white nationalists in the insurrection (70 percent), and allegations of voter fraud (59 percent.) 

Still, a combined 26 percent of Americans — and 40 percent of Republicans — say that the anger that led to the Jan 6. riot was either fully (8 percent) or partially (18 percent) justified.

The poll also showed relatively high awareness of white nationalism and the QAnon conspiracy theory, both of which have been linked to those arrested in connection with the events of January 6. 

About two-thirds (64 percent) of Americans say that white nationalism is a problem in the United States, while 34 percent say it is not a problem at all. 

And two-thirds of Americans have heard of QAnon. Twenty-seven percent have heard a lot, while 38 percent have heard a little. But just two percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of the theory.

Congress gets boost of Covid-19 vaccines for staffers

As access to Covid-19 vaccines expands across the country, Congress will soon be increasing the number of staff that will receive the vaccine, multiple sources tell NBC News.

8,000 new vaccine doses were expected to be delivered yesterday, a source familiar told NBC News. The doses will be split evenly between the House and Senate, 4,000 each. 

Lawmakers were previously given access to the Covid-19 vaccine in December as an emergency measure for continuity of government purposes. In the personal office of each Senator, five staff members were given access to the vaccine, with two additional staff per Senator given access just last week. In the House, however, only two staffers per congressman were given access to the vaccine.

The U.S. Capitol building exterior is seen at sunset in Washington, March 8, 2021.Sarah Silbiger / Getty Images

That’s all changing now, after a notice sent to House offices last night by the Capitol physician gave further details on distribution. Each House office is getting 6 doses for staff, and 16 per committee, with additional doses allocated to institutional and support staff, two sources add. 

A Senate aide says the additional doses allocated to the upper chamber continue to be prioritized for restaurant workers, custodians and all the support staff that make the Capitol run.

While most Senators have been vaccinated, NBC News spoke to four that haven’t gotten their shots — yet. Senators Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) say they haven’t gotten the vaccines for different reasons.  

Johnson and Paul, who both had Covid-19 in the last year, told reporters they don’t need the vaccine because they’ve already had the virus — something studies show is not a scientifically-sound reason for choosing to ditch the shot. Scott, meanwhile, said he is still consulting with his doctor on whether or not to get the vaccine.

As of early March, 1 in 4 House lawmakers have still not been fully vaccinated despite having access to the vaccine since December, according to a letter from GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

Biden gets chance to show his Irish roots on St. Patrick's Day

The White House is going green — literally, not figuratively, as President Joe Biden would put it. The presidential mansion's north facade will be illuminated in green Wednesday evening in one of many tributes to Ireland planned on Biden's first St. Patrick's Day as president. 

Recent presidents have all laid claim to at least some Irish ancestry every March 17 — President Barack Obama even joked about the missing apostrophe in his last name — but Biden boasts the most direct claim to the Emerald Isle of any president since John F. Kennedy. 

His great-great-grandfather Owen Finnegan brought his family to New York from County Louth in 1849, and Patrick Blewitt, another great-great grandfather, brought his family from County Mayo two years later. Biden's maternal grandparents, Ambrose Finnegan and Geraldine Blewitt, married each other in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1909.

Green water flows in the fountain on the South Lawn of the White House in celebration of St. Patrick's Day on March 17, 2012.Joshua Roberts / Getty Images file

Covid-19 protocols are putting a damper on what would otherwise be a more robust celebration of St. Patrick's Day in the Biden White House. But officials say they're making the most of the holiday nonetheless. In addition to lighting the White House green, they will dye both the North and South Lawn water fountains green, reprising Obama's tradition, which was an homage to Chicago. 

Biden will start the day at home in Wilmington, Delaware, attending a St. Patrick's Day Mass, before he returns to Washington for a virtual bilateral meeting with Ireland's prime minister, Micheál Martin. A White House official said he will be wearing an array of shamrocks sent straight from Ireland on his lapel. The bowl of shamrocks, traditionally presented in person by the taoiseach, as the Irish prime minister is called, was sent ahead to Washington by the Irish government. 

And officials fully expect that Biden will be quoting Irish poets a time or two during the day, including at the annual Friends of Ireland luncheon traditionally held at the U.S. Capitol, which is also going virtual this year. Biden, who is especially fond of Seamus Heaney, often jokes that he quotes Irish poets so often not because he's Irish, "but because they're the best poets."

Biden made a multiday visit to Ireland in his final year as vice president in 2016, touting the resilience and inherent optimism of the Irish and Irish Americans. "I think we Irish are the only people in the world who are actually nostalgic about the future," he said in his keynote address in Dublin. 

Asked in an interview Sunday whether he expected Biden to return now as president, Martin told CBS News: "I invited him  to Ireland, and he just said to me, 'Try and keep me out.'"

Poll: Majority of Iowans, one-third of Republicans, hope Grassley won't run again in 2022

Fifty-five percent of Iowans, including a significant portion of Iowa Republicans, say they hope Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, decides not to run for what would be his eighth term in the Senate in 2022, a new poll out of the state shows. 

The new survey from the Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll, conducted by the prominent Iowa pollster Ann Selzer's Selzer & Co., found that just 28 percent of Iowans hope Grassley will run for another term. Another 17 percent say they are not sure. 

A majority of Democrats and independents (77 percent and 54 percent respectively) say they hope Grassley does not run, a sentiment shared by 35 percent of Republicans. Fifty percent of Republicans, however, say they hope he does decide to run, compared to 11 percent of Democrats and 27 percent of independents. 

Grassley is currently 87 years old and is the oldest Republican senator serving in the body (Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is just a few months older than him). Grassley's age has prompted questions as to whether he'll run again — he's told reporters he'll decide later this year and has, in the meantime, filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to begin fundraising for a possible reelection.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, questions Deputy Treasury Secretary nominee Adewale Adeyemo during his Senate Finance Committee nomination hearing on February 23, 2021 at Capitol Hill.Greg Nash / Pool via Getty Images file

The poll is a mixed bag for Grassley — while he retains a 48 percent approval rating among Iowan adults (with 38 percent disapproving), it's his lowest Iowa Poll approval rating since 1982, according to the Des Moines Register. 

It also found that the favorable rating for Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, has dipped below her disapproval for the first time since the poll began testing her rating in 2015. Forty-three percent of Iowans say they approve of how Ernst, who just won reelection last November, is handling her job, compared to 45 percent who say they disapprove. In February of 2019, the poll found Ernst's approval at 57 percent. 

The Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll surveyed 775 Iowa adults between March 7-10 by telephone (landline and cell phone) in English. The margin of error is +/- 3.5 percentage points. 

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.