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How the 50-50 Senate limits Democratic ambitions

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.
Senator Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., speaks to a reporter outside the Senate Chamber on Feb. 13, 2021.
Senator Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., speaks to a reporter outside the Senate Chamber on Feb. 13, 2021.Greg Nash / Pool via Reuters

WASHINGTON — The worst-kept secret in Washington is that President Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package remains on track for passage, and that Republicans have been unable to find a successful message against it.

At least so far.

The other poorly-kept secret is that any one Senate Democrat has the ability to torpedo a Biden policy proposal or nominee — like when Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., announced Friday that he wasn’t supporting Biden OMB pick Neera Tanden. (And this morning, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, also said she was opposing Tanden.)

That’s the fundamental reality of the Democratic-controlled (barely) 50-50 Senate.

Where there is 100 percent Democratic consensus — on pandemic relief, on nominees, maybe infrastructure, maybe modest Obamacare fixes — Senate Democrats will usually have the votes for passage.

Especially when they can avoid a GOP filibuster (like when using budget reconciliation).

But when there’s not 100 percent Democratic consensus — on Tanden or a $15-per hour minimum wage — Democrats won’t have the votes.

It’s really that simple.

Repeating the “Big Lie”

Here’s another simple political reality to remember: Joe Biden won November’s presidential election.

Fair and square — with no instances of widespread voter fraud.

But Republicans are still having a difficult time admitting that reality.

Here was House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., on Sunday:

ABC: "I asked you, is [Biden] the legitimate president of the United States, and do you concede that this election was not stolen? Very simple question. Please just answer it."

Scalise: "Look, once the electors are counted, yes, he's the legitimate president. But if you're going to ignore the fact that there were states that did not follow their own state legislatively set laws, that's the issue at heart, that millions of people still are not happy with and don't want to see happen again."

And just look at some of the panel discussions at the upcoming CPAC confab, which begins later this week:

“Protecting Elections Part 2: Other Culprits: Why Judges & Media Refused to Look at the Evidence.”

“Protecting Elections Part 3: The Left Pulled the Strings, Covered It Up, and Even Admits It.”

“Did Your Vote Count? Ask the Experts.”

It’s all advancing the untruth that the 2020 election wasn’t fair and square.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

28,223,342: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 204,518 more than Friday morning.)

501,092: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 5,800 more than Friday morning.)

56,159: The number of people currently hospitalized with coronavirus in the United States.

344.4 million: The number of coronavirus tests that have been administered in the United States so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

63,090,634: Number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S.

18,865,319: People fully vaccinated in the U.S.

66: The number of days left for Biden to reach his 100-day vaccination goal.

About 10 million: The number of Texans without access to safe drinking water.

3.5 million: How many bottles of water have been distributed in the state so far.

More than $1.3 billion: The damages sought by Dominion Voting Systems in the company’s defamation suit against MyPillow’s Mike Lindell.

Biden’s day

At 12:05 p.m. ET, President Biden makes an announcement on small business. At 6:00 p.m. ET, he delivers remarks on the lives lost due to the coronavirus, and he participates in a candle-lighting ceremony. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki holds her briefing at 12:30 p.m. ET, while the White House’s Covid team talks to reporters at 3:00 p.m. ET.

Merrick Garland finally gets his hearing

President Biden’s pick for attorney general, Merrick Garland, will testify today in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. And based on excerpts from his opening statement released over the weekend, Garland will stress the Department of Justice’s civil rights record.

“Celebrating DOJ's 150th year reminds us of the origins of the Department, which was founded during Reconstruction, in the aftermath of the Civil War, to secure the civil rights promised by the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. The first Attorney General appointed by President Grant to head the new Department led it in a concerted battle to protect black voting rights from the violence of white supremacists, successfully prosecuting hundreds of cases against members of the Ku Klux Klan,” Garland is slated to say.

He'll add, “150 years after the Department's founding, battling extremist attacks on our democratic institutions also remains central to its mission.”

While Garland’s confirmation isn’t truly in doubt, NBC’s Pete Williams and Julia Ainsley report that Garland will face tough questions regarding investigations of Biden’s son and former President Trump’s actions.

MTP Compressed

Miss “Meet the Press” on Sunday? You can catch up here. Dr. Anthony Fauci and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten discussed the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the nationwide struggle to reopen schools. Former Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) talked about how the power crisis in his home state has put small government principles in the spotlight amidst the Republican Party’s struggle to define itself in the post-Trump era.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Joe Biden is upending the Trump administration’s approach to vaccinations.

Biden will announce changes to the PPP program aimed at better aiding small and minority-owned businesses.

A new forecast from the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects tough times ahead for those in occupations that require the lowest levels of education.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he won’t back Trump in 2024.

Trump is expected to speak at CPAC on February 28.

The impeachment effort may be over, but the legal push to hold Trump and other officials accountable for false claims of election fraud is going strong. (And federal authorities are also looking into figures like Roger Stone and Alex Jones for their role in the Jan. 6 riot.)

The fallout from the winter storm in Texas continues, with anger increasing toward Gov. Greg Abbott.

A former Trump aide is ramping up for a primary challenge to Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, who voted for Trump’s impeachment.