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The era of big Covid mandates is ending

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: California mask mandates to end
A man gets a haircut in Los Angeles, Calif., on Feb. 8, 2022.David Swanson / Reuters

WASHINGTON — If it’s Wednesday ... President Biden meets with CEOs from electric utilities to discuss fighting climate change. ... Mitch McConnell calls Jan. 6 a “violent insurrection.” ... Stacey Abrams apologizes for mask-less photo in Georgia governor's race. ... Mehmet Oz and David McCormick battle over China in the Pennsylvania Senate contest. ... Rep. Henry Cuellar has a new TV ad in Texas; 28th District race. ... And U.S. captures first gold medal of Winter Olympics.

But first: The era of big mandates is over.

Or at least it’s heading in that direction.

That’s the unmistakable conclusion after New York today becomes the latest blue state to end its indoor mask mandate, joining California, Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and Oregon in loosening their Covid restrictions.

It all comes as Omicron cases are on the decline, as more than 75 percent of Americans have received at least one vaccine dose, and as Democrats find themselves on the defensive on masks and other Covid restrictions.

It’s also a case where the nation’s politics and public health aren’t aligned, with the CDC guidance still suggesting that 99 percent of Americans should be wearing masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status

And where Democratic governors and the Biden White House aren’t aligned either, with the Biden administration still refusing to loosen its mandates and guidelines.

One other thing: These mandates are coming to an end without Democrats taking a victory lap — while Republicans argue that Democratic governance has been wrong this entire time.

“We should be pointing to the fact that these successes are because of things that we did,” Dem pollster Brian Stryker tells the New York Times. “Democrats need to take the win on how far we’ve come.”

The Biden White House’s Covid response team holds a press briefing Wednesday morning.

Data Download: The number of the day is … 43 percent

That’s the portion of American adults who say that former President Donald Trump “bears a lot of responsibility for the violence and destruction” on Jan. 6, per a new poll from Pew Research conducted Jan 10-17 of this year.

That’s a decline of 9 percentage points since last January, when 52 percent said Trump bore “a lot” of responsibility.

Fifty-seven percent of Republicans and those who lean toward the party believe Trump bears no responsibility for the attack on the Capitol, a view shared by 12 percent of Democrats. And majorities of Republicans both say they have little or no confidence the Jan. 6 committee’s investigation will be fair, and believe Trump either definitely or probably won the 2020 election.

Other numbers you need to know today:

400 million: Approximately the number of confirmed Covid cases in the world since the start of the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins University, an increase of about 100 million in the last month.

$57 billion: The price tag for the overhaul of the Postal Service, which passed the House with broad bipartisan support on Tuesday.

7: The number of medals (including one gold) won so far by the U.S. Olympic team.

Tweet of the day

Midterm roundup

Democrat Stacey Abrams, who is running for Georgia governor, apologized during a CNN interview for posing mask-less in a photo with masked children.

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo endorsed David McCormick in Pennsylvania’s GOP Senate primary. The former hedge fund manager has praised China in the past, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, which has already fueled attack ads from celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz (who has his own ties to China, per Politico). McCormick launched a new TV ad responding to the attacks.

Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, launched a new TV ad with less than three weeks to go until his March 1 primary race against attorney Jessica Cisneros. In 30-second spot, Cuellar touts his work with Republicans and says he supports “fully funding law enforcement and border security.”

Rep. Jason Smith, R-Mo., has decided not to run for Senate, NBC’s Scott Wong reports, instead vying for the Ways and Means Committee chairmanship. Maryland GOP Gov. Larry Hogan also passed on a Senate run.

Republicans are relying on a diverse slate of candidates to retake the House, Politico reports. More than 253 women and 228 people of color have filed to run for the House as Republicans, per the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Members of the Kansas state Senate overrode Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of the new congressional map, despite initially falling short of the votes to do so, the Kansas City Star reports. The override effort now heads to the state House.

An outside group called the Arkansas Patriots Fund launched an ad boosting Republican Jake Bequette, who is challenging Sen. John Boozman in a primary, spending $332,000 on an ad buy on Fox News, per AdImpact. The ad tracking firm reported that neighboring Oklahoma GOP Sen. James Lankford, who is also being challenged in a primary, placed a $140,000 TV ad buy.

Ad Watch: Old statements come back to bite

A Republican-leaning PAC supporting Alabama Senate candidate Katie Britt is attacking Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., in a new ad airing in the state.

Brooks secured former President Trump’s endorsement in April, but the Alabama Futures PAC is resurfacing his old anti-Trump statements. In the 2016 clips featured in the ad, Brooks says he won’t endorse Trump ahead of the 2016 Republican primary elections and adds, "I don't think you can trust Donald Trump with anything he says.”

The ad later endorses Katie Britt and a narrator claims that she’s “always been 100 percent pro-Trump.” Alabama Futures PAC has so far booked over $1.4 million worth of ad time in the Senate race.

Brooks’ anti-Trump comments were also used in ads against him when he ran for Senate in 2017. Brooks came third in a special election primary to replace former Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Ohio Democratic Rep. Joyce Beatty says Kentucky Republican Hal Rogers told her to “kiss my a—” when she asked him to put on a mask at the Capitol’s underground subway. Rogers later apologized.

The Supreme Court’s recent decision to allow Alabama to hold its primary under contested congressional district lines has Democrats arguing it will dilute the power of Black voters.

Congressional staffers looking to unionize are unclear where to go next, as the unique setup of the workplace adds roadblocks to the union drive.

NBCLX looks at the political giving history of the owners of the teams in Sunday’s Super Bowl.