IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Harris says Manchin, Sinema shouldn't be 'absolved' on protecting democracy

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.
Vice President Kamala Harris on \"Today.\"
Vice President Kamala Harris on "Today."TODAY

WASHINGTON — If it’s Thursday ... President Biden travels to the Senate to discuss the Dems’ voting rights legislation. ... NBC’s Benjy Sarlin breaks down the latest Medicare for All proposal in California. ... David McCormick jumps into the Pennsylvania Senate race. ... And Cleveland Plain Dealer’s editorial board pleads with Sen. Rob Portman to reconsider retiring.

But first: NBC’s Craig Melvin sat down with Vice President Kamala Harris, and here are excerpts of the interview — including Harris saying that Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., shouldn’t be “absolved from the responsibility of preserving and protecting our democracy.”

On why the United States isn’t doing better in the Covid fight

Harris: "So let me start with saying that people are rightly frustrated with where we are. We’re frustrated. We’re all frustrated. ... But I think it’s a mistake, and it would be a mistake, to suggest that we’ve not seen great progress. If you think back to March of 2020, we were all wiping down the boxes that we got if we ordered things online. There was no vaccine."

On when the 500 million Covid tests will be sent to every American?

Harris: "Shortly. So they’re gonna go out shortly."

Melvin: "Next week, or?"

Harris: "They’ve been ordered. They’ve been ordered. We — I have to look at the current information. I think it’s gonna be by next week. But soon. Absolutely soon. And it is a matter of urgency for us."

Melvin: "Should we have done that sooner?"

Harris: "We are doing it."

On Biden comparing senators who oppose the voting rights legislation — and changing the filibuster to pass it — to Bull Connor and Jefferson Davis

Harris: "President Biden took the, I believe, right and courageous step to say that Senate rules should not get in the way of protecting the American people’s access to the ballot. And he compared this time to a previous time in our history, which is apt for comparison."

On whether Senate Democrats can pass it before the MLK Day holiday

Harris: "I will not absolve the 50 Republicans in the United States Senate from responsibility for upholding one of the most basic and important tenets of our democracy, which is free and fair elections and access to the ballot for all eligible voters."

Melvin: "What about Senator Manchin? What about Senator Sinema?"

Harris: "I don’t think anyone should be absolved from the responsibility of preserving and protecting our democracy — especially when they took an oath to protect and defend our Constitution."

On whether we’ll see the same Biden-Harris ticket in 2024

Harris: "I'm sorry, we are thinking about today. I mean, honestly, I know why you're asking the question, because this is part of the punditry and the, the gossip around places like Washington, D.C. Let me just tell you something: We're focused on the things in front of us. We're focused on what we need to do to — to address issues like affordable childcare."

Tweet of the day

Midterm roundup

The Republican Senate primary in Pennsylvania continues to grow, with former hedge fund executive David McCormick jumping into the race. McCormick’s campaign has been long-expected — he’s spent more than $2 million on TV ads so far (including a new spot declaring he’s running). And McCormick is already facing attacks from his GOP opponents. A super PAC supporting Mehmet Oz has launched a website and ad knocking McCormick’s work on Wall Street, per the Washington Examiner.

The AP reports that McCormick and Oz, along with former ambassador Carla Sands, are also facing carpetbagging criticisms. McCormick launched another new ad featuring two of his high school buddies in an early attempt to head off those attacks.

“Hillbilly Elegy” author JD Vance, who is running in the crowded Ohio GOP Senate primary, raised more than $1 million in the last fundraising quarter of 2021. His campaign did not release Vance’s cash on hand number.

The divisive Senate primary in Ohio has prompted the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s editorial board to plead with GOP Sen. Rob Portman to reconsider retiring. Portman told NBC News’ Frank Thorp that he read the op-ed. “I mean, I’ve made my decision,” Portman said. Asked if he would reconsider at all, Portman said, “I appreciate the sentiment.”

Former Wisconsin GOP Gov. Tommy Thompson did not rule out another run for governor, telling WISN 12, "Everything is on the table," the 80 year-old Thompson told WISN 12. "I'm not saying it's in the cards. But, I'm physically and mentally capable of doing anything."

Talking policy with Benjy: Medicare for All (of California)

Medicare for All, a defining issue of the 2020 primaries, has largely fallen out of the national conversation with President Biden in office and Democrats struggling to squeeze more modest health care goals through narrow majorities.

But there’s at least a little movement at the state level in California, where progressives are pushing to make one of the largest economies in the world a test case for single-payer health care. That effort took a step forward this month when Democratic state Assembly member Ash Kalra released a list of taxes to finance his health care bill, AB 1400, which was stymied in 2017 by a lack of detailed pay-fors.

Much like Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s single-payer plan, Kalra’s proposal tries to tilt its tax hikes towards the wealthy. It would include a tax on gross receipts for businesses with over $2 million in review, a series of surtaxes on incomes over $150,000, and a payroll tax of up to 2.25% on incomes over $50,000. At the same time, Californians would no longer have to pay premiums and deductibles.

“While single payer could lead to lower health care costs overall, it would significantly scramble who pays for health care,” said Larry Levitt, executive vice president for health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

A tech startup with high revenue and few workers might see a huge tax increase that dwarfs whatever savings they might get from no longer having to offer health coverage. But a small business in a labor-intensive field with dozens of workers might benefit from significantly lower health care costs. This had led to criticism from groups like the conservative leaning Tax Foundation, which argue it would arbitrarily pick winners and losers that its tax on gross revenue – as opposed to net revenue – would threaten businesses with low profit margins.

None of this is close to happening anytime soon. Enacting the new plan would require a two-thirds vote of legislators, the governor’s signature (which is not a given), a voter ballot initiative, and a complicated set of federal waivers to redirect Medicaid, Medicare, and Affordable Care Act funding. But it’s a sign the Medicare for All movement is still working to turn its aspirational goals into more concrete proposals that can be scored, debated, and potentially passed.

Data Download: The number of the day is … $10.5 million

That’s how much of his own money Ohio Republican Senate hopeful Matt Dolan has put into his Senate race, according to NBC’s Henry Gomez.

Eight million of that is a personal contribution, with just $2.5 million a loan he can pay back. It’s a big personal investment into his campaign that’s allowed him to book $4 million in future TV ads. And it comes in a race where many of his other rivals have sunk millions into their own campaigns, including at least $11 million by investment banker Mike Gibbons, $3 million by former car dealer Bernie Moreno and $2 million by former state party chair Jane Timken.

And it comes as Dolan continues to be one of the few Republicans seeking statewide office in the entire nation who is not trying to hug Trump tight.

Other numbers you need to know today:

12: That’s how many House Republicans are retiring with Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, R-Ind., announcing he is not running for re-election.

6: That’s how many hospitals will receive new help from federal medical teams to deal with Covid-related surges, per NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell and Leigh Ann Caldwell.

465,000: How many fewer students enrolled in colleges for fall 2021, as enrollment has dropped 6.6 percent.

33 percent: That’s the share of Americans approving President Biden’s job performance in the new national Quinnipiac poll.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy says he won’t cooperate with the Jan. 6 panel, which requested information from him on Wednesday.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has Covid and says he feels “extremely unwell.”

South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham told Sean Hannity, when asked about whether he’d back Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, that he’s only voting for a leader who has a “a working relationship with President Trump.”

Florida’s House Speaker is backing an abortion bill similar to the Mississippi law currently facing the Supreme Court, which would ban most abortions after 15 weeks.