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Colin Powell's political evolution reflected a changing GOP

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: Colin Powell
Barack Obama speaks with Colin Powell during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House on Dec. 1, 2010.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — Colin Powell’s personal political journey before his death Monday — from possible Republican presidential candidate, to GOP secretary of state, to someone who endorsed Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden — also is a story of the Republican Party’s evolution over the last 13 years.

That evolution was apparent in Powell's own words.

October 2008 (when he endorsed Obama over McCain): “I have some concerns about the direction that the [Republican] party has taken in recent years. It has moved more to the right than I would like to see it, but that's a choice the party makes.”

More: “And I was also concerned at the [VP] selection of Gov. Palin. She's a very distinguished woman, and she's to be admired; but at the same time, now that we have had a chance to watch her for some seven weeks, I don't believe she's ready to be president of the United States, which is the job of the vice president.”

And more: “I'm also troubled by, not what Sen. McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, ‘Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.’ Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?”

2016 (when hacked emails revealed his opinions of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton): “Yup, the whole birther movement was racist. That's what the 99 percent believe. When Trump couldn't keep that up he said he also wanted to see if the certificate noted he was a Muslim. As I have said before, 'What if was?' Muslims are born as Americans every day.”

June 2020 (after Trump’s rhetoric and actions during the aftermath of George Floyd’s death): "We have a Constitution. We have to follow that Constitution. And the president's drifted away from it."

January 2021 (after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol): CNN's Fareed Zakaria: "Do [elected Republicans] realize that they encouraged, at least, this wildness to grow and grow?"

Powell: "They did, and that's why I can no longer consider myself a Republican."

More: "Right now, we need you to be real Americans who we can trust, who can tell the truth, who will argue on the basis of facts, and not just argue on the basis of what their primary looks like."

That was Powell on Palin, on the birther movement, on Trump in the White House, and finally on Jan. 6 and its aftermath.

The last public figure with crossover political appeal?

By the way, here were Powell’s final favorable/unfavorable numbers in our NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll (from Dec. 2004): 71 percent positive, 10 percent negative (+61).

And in March 1996, the NBC/WSJ poll showed Powell leading Bill Clinton in a hypothetical general-election matchup, 47 percent to 38 percent – and that’s when Clinton’s job rating was above 50 percent.

Biden meets separately with progressives then moderates

It’s another day of reconciliation talks for President Biden and the Democrats.

At 2:00 p.m. ET, Biden, Vice President Harris and Treasury Secretary Yellen meet with House progressives. And then at 4:30 p.m. ET, they meet with House and Senate moderates.

And today’s meetings follow the discussion that Biden had with Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., on Monday.

“Inside the White House, officials have been upping the pressure on members publicly and privately, saying the time had come to wrap up talks, according to a person familiar with the discussions,” NBC’s Sahil Kapur and Shannon Pettypiece write.

“Biden will try again to sell the plan to the public Wednesday in his first trip as president to his former hometown, Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he has marked significant moments in the past. The White House said the trip is intended ‘to continue rallying public support’ for the two bills.”

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

$17 million: How much the Wall Street Journal reports that a Haitian gang is asking in ransom after kidnapping American and Canadian missionaries.

$250,000: The amount that Virginia-based Dominion Energy donated to a political action committee and now wants back because it says it didn’t realize the PAC would attack Republican Glenn Youngkin.

12: The number of days it took America to go from 44 million Covid cases to 45 million (for reference, it took 9 days to get from 43 million to 44 million).

45,099,632: The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 120,758 more since yesterday morning.)

730,948: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 2,013 more since yesterday morning.)

408,797,942: The number of total vaccine doses administered in the U.S., per the CDC. (That’s 531,983 more since yesterday morning.)

10,681,175: The number of booster vaccine doses administered in the U.S., per the CDC. (That’s 219,889 more since yesterday morning.)

57 percent: The share of all Americans who are fully vaccinated, per the CDC.

Talking policy with Benjy: Expanding Medicare vs. Medicaid

The politics of the current Democratic health care debates may not make the most sense if you were watching the 2020 primaries.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., was overwhelmingly the choice of young voters in his two presidential runs while losing seniors badly to other candidates, especially President Joe Biden. His signature policy issue, Medicare for All, involved taking a popular government-run program that already covers seniors and extending it to people of all ages.

But the current health care debate in the reconciliation talks inverts that dynamic to some degree. Sanders has championed an expansion of benefits to existing Medicare recipients as his top priority, i.e. seniors. Meanwhile, it’s more middle-of-the-road Democratic leaders, most notably House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., who are pushing hardest for health care for the young and uninsured via the Affordable Care Act, including a potential Medicaid expansion for the working poor.

One could just as easily imagine the situation reversed: Sanders rewarding his young populist coalition by championing government health care for the working poor, and Democratic leadership trying to reward the seniors who voted for Biden in the primaries with a new Medicare benefit that also polls extremely well.

What’s going on here? Some of it’s an extension of the ideological fights over Medicare For All. The left sees Medicare as its preferred vehicle for universal government-run health care. Therefore, anything that boosts it (through better benefits or a lower starting age) is a step in the right direction. And they’re wary of private insurance, which is core to the ACA.

Speaker Pelosi, Clyburn, and Biden were all key players in passing the ACA, which they hope to set up for the long haul. Patching up its problems with low-incomes (Medicaid) and high-incomes (subsidies) could bring the U.S. closer to universal access to coverage. The Medicaid gap is also most politically relevant in states that turned down ACA funding, like Clyburn's South Carolina, as well as Georgia, where Democrats secured their Senate majority with two runoff victories.

Now, Sanders would likely tell you that this is an unfair breakdown. After all, he ran on making Medicare benefits more generous and covering everyone. The Sanders budget plan included help for the ACA. Similarly, there are more moderate Democrats eager to showcase the bill’s Medicare provisions. It’s a handful of centrists who are forcing Democrats to choose sides.

But the reality is that Democrats have limited room to work with, and not all of these priorities are going to stay intact. That sets up a difficult zero-sum game moving forward as it seems clear aid to seniors and help for the uninsured are going to be difficult to combine.

McAuliffe’s rebuttal on education

With exactly two weeks to go in Virginia’s race for governor, Democrat Terry McAuliffe is up with two new TV ads.

The first is a direct-to-camera response to Republican Glenn Youngkin’s attacks on his past comments about parents and schools.

Youngkin has aired weeks of ads including McAuliffe saying “I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” and the push is clearly a central part of his closing message. But with just two weeks to go, McAuliffe says in his new ad that the Republican is taking him out of context (the Youngkin camp tweeted out a rebuttal to that charge).

It's not the only new ad from the McAuliffe camp down the stretch — he’s also trying to go on offense with this new, one-minute spot that links Youngkin to Trump.

On the campaign trail today, McAuliffe discusses the importance of paid sick days at 12:45 p.m. ET in Northern Virginia.

And Youngkin holds an early-vote rally in Stafford, Va., at 12:30 p.m. ET.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

The New York Times reports that the FDA is expected to allow Americans to receive a different Covid-19 booster shot than the ones they initially received.

Former President Trump is suing to block the National Archives from handing over documents related to the Jan. 6Committee’s investigation.

The MTP Blog rounds up what we know about the race for the Senate after the third-quarter fundraising deadline.

Politico looks at the “11-candidate pileup” in the race to replace the late Florida Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings.