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It's been a brutal two months for the 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: Congress Prepares For Second Impeachment Trial Of Donald J. Trump
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell walks to the Senate floor at the Capitol on Feb. 8, 2021.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Just how brutal have the last two months been for the Republican Party and the conservative movement?

The party's biggest donor (Sheldon Adelson) passed away.

So did its most influential communicator over the last 25 years (Rush Limbaugh).

Its two most recognizable leaders (Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell) are in a feud over the former president’s role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

State parties are censuring any Republican who dared to vote to impeach Trump or find him guilty, which Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the No. 2 Senate Republican, says amounts to “cancel culture.”

And the state that's become the leading example of conservative governance (Texas) finds itself in tatters after its power crisis, and its junior U.S. senator (Ted Cruz) has been ridiculed and scorned.

Oh, and the party just lost control of the Senate just a month ago.

There’s no doubt that, electorally, the GOP can bounce back; the political hole it was in was much deeper back in 2009.

But it faces new existential questions that it didn’t a decade ago.

What is the party’s message and identity (outside of devotion to Trump and “owning the libs”)? Is it really a new working-class party (but one that still pursues big tax cuts for the wealthy)? Is it for limited government (even though it enacted unprecedented spending and deficits during the Trump Era?)

Where will its money come from? (Not only did Adelson pass away, but the Koch network is no longer fully aboard the GOP train. And the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has embraced Biden’s Covid-19 relief plan.)

What happens if Trump doesn’t run in 2024, which is always a possibility?

And here’s maybe the biggest question of all for the GOP: If it takes back control of the federal government — the House, Senate and the White House — how does it govern?

It’s one thing to win majorities in our polarized country, it’s another to know what you want to do with those majorities.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

At least 47: The number of people dead due to the ongoing winter storm and frigid temperatures.

28,018,824: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 69,851 more than yesterday morning.)

495,292: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 2,700 more than yesterday morning.)

62,300: The number of people currently hospitalized with coronavirus in the United States.

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

57,737,767: Number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S.

16,162,358: People fully vaccinated in the U.S.

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

Talking policy with Benjy

Is Biden’s immigration push for real? House and Senate Democrats put out major new immigration legislation with President Biden’s backing on Thursday that would create an eight-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and overhaul the legal immigration system.

But the early conversation among supporters is less about the policy details than how the administration plans to make them reality.

Advocacy groups have no illusion about Republican support, which means passing anything significant requires blowing up the filibuster (so far, no luck) or including it in a reconciliation package and hoping it can pass muster with Senate rules while keeping every Democrat on board. The White House and Democratic leaders say they’re keeping their options open.

Chris Newman, an activist with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said activists have grown well-trained to distinguish between “issue people,” who float box-checking proposals with no chance of passing, and “accomplishment people,” who have a credible plan to pass legislation and to use executive action to protect vulnerable immigrants in the interim. And the difference will likely hinge on Biden’s leadership.

The politics for both parties are different now. The GOP side of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” that produced the 2013 immigration bill is either dead (John McCain), forced into political exile (Jeff Flake), or has moved toward the Trumpian right (Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham). The political motive for the GOP to pass a bill — winning over Latino voters — has also disappeared, with Trump proving that the party could move to the extreme fringe on immigration and not only win in 2016, but even make inroads with Latino voters in 2020.

Democrats have changed, too. With GOP votes off the table, the new bill drops enforcement provisions aimed at winning them over in 2013, like doubling the border patrol and funding 700 miles of fencing. And Democrats and advocates are more open to breaking up a bill into smaller parts in the hopes of getting something -- the DREAM Act, or legislation on farmworkers or TPS recipients -- into law after decades of failed attempts.

A busy week ahead

When senators return to Washington on Monday, they’ll get to work on a packed legislative agenda, confirmation hearings and votes.

The Senate will begin considering President Biden’s Covid-19 relief bill, as well as his immigration plan. And that will be in addition to two important Cabinet confirmation hearings.

Biden’s Attorney General nominee, Merrick Garland, will testify before the Judiciary Committee on Monday and Tuesday. While Garland’s confirmation isn’t really in doubt, his hearing was long postponed because of disagreements between now-committee Chair Dick Durbin and former Chair Lindsey Graham.

Biden’s Health and Human Services nominee, Xavier Becerra, also will testify next week, and his path to confirmation is shaping up to be more of a partisan fight than what we saw for other Biden’s nominees.

The California attorney general, along with Biden’s nominee for associate attorney general Vanita Gupta, are the targets of a new ad campaign by three conservative groups: the Judicial Crisis Network, Heritage Action for America and Americans for Public Trust.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

The Biden administration says it’s ready to reopen talks with Iran and other world leaders about reentering a nuclear deal with Tehran.

And Biden will outline his foreign policy approach in his first appearances at a G-7 meeting and the Munich Security Conference.

The U.S. is rejoining the Paris Climate agreement. So, what’s next?

Bernie Sanders is building a powerful policy portfolio.

Native American communities are pushing the Biden administration for more resources after showing themselves to be a powerful voting bloc in 2020.

Don’t miss what’s going on in Georgia, where GOP lawmakers are trying to pass measures that would severely curtail early and absentee voting.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is accused of using vaccine distribution to reward potent political groups.

Ivanka Trump has reportedly told Marco Rubio she won’t run for his seat.

State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta is running for Senate in Pennsylvania.

The Trump lane in the Ohio Senate contest is getting more crowded.

Bob Dole has stage 4 lung cancer.