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Putin's Ukraine move raises new questions for Biden's presidency

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: Joe Biden
President Joe Biden speaks the about the long-delayed cleanup of Great Lakes harbors and tributaries polluted with industrial toxins at the Shipyards, on Feb. 17, 2022, in Lorain, Ohio.Alex Brandon / AP

WASHINGTON — If it’s Tuesday ... Russia’s Putin orders troops into Ukraine. ... Germany halts approval of Nord Stream 2 pipeline. ... President Biden’s Supreme Court interviews are already underway. ... U.S. Covid hospitalizations keep declining. ... Virginia GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s approval rating is underwater. ... Kari Lake takes to the airwaves in the Arizona governor's race. ... And there’s a city council race we’re watching today in Jacksonville, Fla.

But first: Russia’s movement into Ukraine raises several questions — both international and domestic — that we won’t have answers to for weeks. If not months.

On the domestic front, just how much of President Biden’s time, energy and agenda will now be focused on Ukraine (during a global pandemic, rising inflation, already a rough political environment, and with a State of the Union address coming up next week)?

How much of a political liability does it become for Biden and Democrats? And can it produce any political unity in the U.S.? (“It is no coincidence that Vladimir Putin is invading Ukraine under Joe Biden’s weak and feckless leadership,” Ohio Senate hopeful Jane Timken said in a statement. John James, who is running for Congress in Michigan, tweeted, “A weak White House has costs.” Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio didn’t name-check Biden, but tweeted, “Weakness invites aggression.”)

On the international front, how united does Europe remain? (The more united Europe is against Russia, the more political cover for Biden.)

Did NATO expansion — with the United States’ help — contribute to this crisis, as Tom Friedman argues?

Will Putin stop at Ukraine?

And maybe most important of all, what does this all mean for democracy, territorial sovereignty and the post-Cold War order?

We don’t have answers yet to any of these questions.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 41 percent

That’s the percentage decrease in Covid hospitalizations over the past two weeks (as of Monday afternoon), down from about 118,000 to about 69,000, per NBC’s analysis.

That comes as the average daily Covid cases dropped 64 percent over that same time period, from 304,000 to about 108,000. As has been the case during virtually all of the pandemic, the average daily deaths have trailed that decline, dropping about 13 percent from 2,665 to 2,308 as of Monday.

Other numbers you need to know today:

41 percent: That’s Virginia GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s approval rating in the latest poll from the Wason Center for Civic Leadership at Christopher Newport University.

3: The number of Trump-backed primary challengers speaking at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference this week including David Perdue, Harriet Hageman and Kelly Tshibaka.

1: The number of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates who also will be speaking at CPAC: Tulsi Gabbard.

$24 million: How much members of the U.S. women’s national soccer team will receive in a gender discrimination settlement.

Midterm roundup

Today, voters in Jacksonville, Fla., head to the polls to fill an open city council seat that local party leaders on both sides say carries symbolic importance heading into the midterms, NBC’s Shaquille Brewster reports.

“We’ve put more money, more resources, more energy into this single city council race than any city council race in our history,” Duval County’s Republican chair Dean Black told Brewster. “We understand that we cannot let leftist, woke ideology take root in our town, and we will pull out all the stops to stop it in its tracks.”

The matchup between Republican Nick Howland and Democrat Tracye Polson is taking place in one of the counties NBC News is tracking as part of our “County to County” series. Duval County was a longtime GOP stronghold that’s seen major demographic shifts that have boosted Democrats in recent cycles.

The county’s Democratic chair, Daniel Henry, said Tuesday’s race will signal whether Duval “will remain blue,” after Democrats flipped it for statewide candidates in the 2018 gubernatorial and 2020 presidential races, even as Republicans held on to local offices.

“This special election is almost a test as to whether or not local Republicans will be able to continue to control the county despite the growth that they're seeing with voter population.”

The top Republicans spending in Pennsylvania’s GOP Senate primary, including Mehmet Oz, David McCormick and Carla Sands, skipped last night’s primary debate. But that didn’t stop real estate developer Jeff Bartos from criticizing the trio as “political tourists,” per the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.

A standoff in Ohio over the state’s new legislative districts is leading to a “constitutional crisis,” NBC’s Heidi Prryzbyla reports from the Buckeye State.

Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who is running for governor of Arkansas, weighed in on the Wisconsin governor’s race. She backed former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch in the GOP primary.

Trump’s new technology company just launched a new social media app, Truth Social. The app topped the list of free apps in the store yesterday morning.

Fox News reports that former U.S Attorney Christine Nolan is running for Vermont’s open Senate seat as a Republican.

NRSC Chairman and Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., is out with his own 11-point plan of policies ahead of the midterms.

Ad watch: Kari Lake takes to the airwaves

Former news anchor Kari Lake is running the first TV ad of her Republican campaign for governor in Arizona. In the commercial she introduces herself as “the Trump-endorsed candidate for governor,” before launching into a lie about the 2020 election.

“If you're watching this ad right now, it means you're in the middle of watching a fake news program. You know how I know it's fake? Because they won't even cover the biggest story out there: the rigged election of 2020,” Lake tells viewers.

This is, of course, false. There was no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election and a Republican-led audit in Arizona confirmed this fact.

Lake is the second candidate in the race for the Republican nomination to air ads on TV. The first, Karrin Taylor Robson, has already aired multiple ads in her favor, highlighting an endorsement from former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Dr. Paul Farmer, a doctor who founded a global nonprofit that provided health care to millions in poverty, has died.

The Washington Post’s Dan Balz looks at new analysis from prominent center-left analysts that warn Democrats they remain in a “politics of evasion.”