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Hochul prepares to step into the spotlight and a political opportunity

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: Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul speaks in Scarsdale, N.Y.
Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul speaks in Scarsdale, N.Y. on June 7, 2021Lev Radin / Sipa USA via AP file

WASHINGTON — Now that New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo is stepping aside, future Gov. Kathy Hochul has an immense responsibility, as well as an immense opportunity.

She will take office in the midst of a crisis, as Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations are rising. And she will be following a governor who raised his profile throughout the pandemic with his out-front messaging on how to tackle the virus (though that story is far more complicated than it may have initially seemed).

While Covid is her first, second and third priority as incoming governor, Hochul is stepping into an important political opportunity too — as the first woman to assume the position in state history, she has a straightforward path toward staking her claim as the frontrunner for the 2022 gubernatorial election, even if it won’t be easy.

She’s not the same politician who won the backing of the National Rifle Association in 2012, nor the one who opposed granting drivers’ licenses to undocumented immigrants back in 2007. And now, as the state’s highest-ranking Democrat who has spent six years building experience as the lieutenant governor (but admittedly someone with a far smaller public profile than her predecessor), she has the chance to seize the mantle of not just as the leader of the state, but the leader of the New York Democratic Party. And she’ll be doing so with the built-in advantages of incumbency.

Hochul probably has the rest of the year to consolidate Democrats around her and fend off a potentially serious primary challenge, but not much longer. There’s no shortage of aspiring candidates waiting in the wings, carefully examining the new terrain and calculating whether Democrats are ready to rally around Hochul or wanting for another option.

For someone like Attorney General Letitia James, whose star is shining as bright as ever after her probe into Cuomo, it’s a difficult calculation. This may be the most open a gubernatorial race will be until at least 2030. But with her credibility as high as ever, she may want to continue helming her office’s investigation into the Trump Organization and take the risk there will be another shot at higher office down the road.

Cuomo’s departure changes the GOP calculus too — last week was probably the high watermark for the GOP’s chances at flipping the governor’s mansion, as Hochul represents a likely return back to a political dynamic far more favorable to the Democrats.

If she can act quickly to kick the New York Democratic world back into orbit, Hochul can put herself in a great position to win a full term.

Which Republicans backed the infrastructure deal?

Briefly lost in the Cuomo news, the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed through the Senate with a robust 69-30 vote Tuesday, NBC’s Hill team reports.

With big bipartisan deals relatively rare these days, and all 50 Democrats backing the bill, the division in the GOP paints an interesting picture. Its leader, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, voted yes, and praised President Biden in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. The rest of the GOP leadership team, except retiring Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, voted no.

All three of the party’s three retiring senators — Blunt, North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman — supported it.

But only one GOP senator facing a difficult reelection backed the bill, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who has long leaned on a moderate streak in her appeals to voters. (Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley voted yes and is up for reelection next year, but is considered a heavy favorite if he decides to run.)

Other Republican yes votes included more moderate Republicans like Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, but some staunch conservatives like Idaho Sen. Jim Risch too.

And as former President Trump continues to blast the bill and threaten primary challenges for those who cross him, in-cycle Republicans like Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford, South Dakota Sen. John Thune, Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Indiana Sen. Todd Young, and Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson all voted no (Moran and Young were previously part of a bipartisan group that negotiated the early stages of the bill).

But as happy as Washington is to have a real moment of bipartisanship, infrastructure has been Congress’ white whale for years. This isn’t a group likely to continue to make grand bargains ahead of the 2022 election.

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Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

52: The number of civil arrest warrants signed by the Texas House speaker for Democratic House members as he ratchets up the pressure on those who are trying to block new voting restrictions by not showing up.

13: The number of terms Wisconsin Democratic Rep. Ron Kind will have served in the House before he retires.

5: The number of Democrats currently planning to run for reelection who currently represent House districts won by former President Trump in 2020.

28: The number of days House Democrats are cutting recess short, returning on Aug. 23 to work on the reconciliation bill.

36,157,417: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 111,063 more than yesterday.)

621,873: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 811 more than yesterday.)

352,550,944: The number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S., per the CDC. (That’s 617,769 since yesterday.)

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

61.2 percent: The share of all American adults at least 18 years of age who are fully vaccinated, per CDC.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

The New York Times has a deep dive into Cuomo’s final days before he announced his resignation.

The Taliban has taken control of nine Afghan cities in less than a week, and some believe Kabul will fall within the year.

Per the Washington Post, all the fires in Siberia are larger than those in Greece, Turkey, Italy, the U.S. and Canada combined.

The Senate approved the budget resolution early Wednesday morning on party lines, the first big step in the path toward the Democrats passing their $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill.

Former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen told Senate investigators that former President Trump inquired about a draft complaint that argued for throwing out the Electoral College votes of six swing state over unfounded fraud allegations.