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Questions on race stand out on Day 2 of Supreme Court confirmation hearings

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: Ted Cruz
Sen. Ted Cruz holds up the children's book "Antiracist Baby" by Ibram X. Kendi as he questions Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson during her testimony before a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on her nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, on Capitol Hill, on March 22, 2022.Michael A. McCoy / Reuters

WASHINGTON — If it’s Wednesday ... President Joe Biden departs for Brussels ahead of Thursday’s extraordinary NATO summit. ... It’s Day 3 of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing. ... A tornado rips across New Orleans. ... New polls show Biden’s approval remains in the 30s and 40s. ... Donald Trump rescinds endorsement of Mo Brooks in Alabama Senate. ... Secret audio recording hits Nevada Senate race. ... And candidates debate in Los Angeles mayoral race.

But first: Republican senators really went there in their questions Tuesday to Jackson, who if confirmed will be become the first Black woman to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas: “In your understanding, what does critical race theory mean? What is it?”

Jackson’s answer: “Senator, my understanding is that critical race theory is an academic theory that is about the ways in which race interacts with various institutions. It doesn't come up in my work as a judge, it's never something that I've studied or relied on and it wouldn't be something that I would rely on if I was on the Supreme Court.”

More Cruz: “They include a book called "Anti-Racist Baby" by Ibram Kendi and there are portions of this book that I find really quite remarkable. One portion of the book says babies are taught to be racist or anti-racist, there is no neutrality … Now this is a book that is taught at Georgetown Day School [where Jackson serves on its board] to students in pre-K through second grade, so 4-7 years old. Do you agree with this book that is being taught with kids, that babies are racist?”

Jackson: “Senator, I do not believe that any child should be made to feel as though they are racist or though they are not valued or though they are less than, that they are victims, that they are oppressors.”

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.: “And you told Sen. Cruz that as a board member of the Georgetown Day School, you didn't have any control over what was taught at the school, no control over curriculum, and you weren't aware that the school was pushing CRT. But I would think that there would have been parents that came to you and said, ‘Have you seen these books? Are you aware that this is being taught?’”

Jackson: “No, senator.”

Republican senators also peppered Jackson with questions on child pornography cases, drug crimes and her past work defending Guantanamo Bay detainees, NBC’s Sahil Kapur reports.

But it was those questions on race — for the person who will likely become the high court’s first Black female justice — that stood out on Day 2.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 19

That’s how many primary challengers former President Donald Trump has endorsed against incumbent Republicans so far. Trump’s latest primary endorsement came Tuesday, when he backed attorney John Gordon over Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr.

Trump has backed four primary challengers in Georgia, all running for statewide offices. It’s the most of any state except for Michigan, where Trump has endorsed five challengers (but that includes Rep. Bill Huizenga, who was drawn into the same district as fellow Rep. Fred Upton). With its primary set for May 24, Georgia will be a key early test of the power of Trump’s endorsement in GOP primaries.

Other numbers you need to know today:

13: The number of hours senators spent questioning Judge Jackson Tuesday, with the rest of round one (remarks from Sens. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C.) slated to conclude Wednesday morning before the committee moves onto round two.

34 percent: The percentage of Americans approving of Biden's job in a new national Grinnell College poll (conducted by pollster Ann Selzer).

42 percent: The share of Americans who approve of Biden’s job, according to a new Gallup poll.

80,005,260: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 29,569 more than yesterday morning.)

978,249: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 1,131 more than yesterday morning.)

26: The number of days it took for the U.S. to add 1 million confirmed Covid cases — from 79 on Feb. 25 to 80 million yesterday. By comparison, it took just 11 days for America to go from 78 million to 79 million cases in February.

Midterm roundup: Trump rescinds Mo Brooks endorsement

Trump revoked his endorsement of GOP Rep. Mo Brooks in Alabama’s Senate race, saying in a statement this morning that Brooks “made a horrible mistake recently when he went ‘woke’ and stated, referring to the 2020 Presidential Election Scam, “Put that behind you, put that behind you,” despite the fact that the Election was rife with fraud and irregularities,” referring to Brooks’ comments at a Trump rally.

But that rally was back in August, so what’s changed since then? Brooks has struggled to break through the primary field, which also features Army veteran Mike Durant and Katie Britt, the former chief of staff to retiring GOP Sen. Richard Shelby. Trump said this morning he will be making a new endorsement in the race “in the near future.”

Nevada Senate: The New York Times has audio of former Nevada state Attorney General Adam Laxalt discussing how he’s interviewing outside firms to ready a strategy for handling election-fraud complaints in November. Laxalt has also trumpeted former President Donald Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election and he has Trump’s endorsement in the Senate race.

Pennsylvania governor: It turns out former President Donald Trump had an interesting golf partner last month — GOP Pennsylvania state Sen. Jake Corman, who is running in the crowded primary for governor. In other news from the race, Corman and three other candidates have agreed only to participate in a debate if moderators meet certain criteria, including being a registered Pennsylvania Republican.

Pennsylvania Senate: The airwaves are continuing to heat up in this race, with Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman booking $900,000 in primary TV time and Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb booking another $580,000. After a long lull, the two candidates are putting their foot on the gas — spending $3.2 and $4.2 million respectively so far (in booked and spent ads, per AdImpact).

Wisconsin Senate: Republican Sen. Ron Johnson continues to hit the airwaves early, while his Democratic rivals are stuck in a competitive primary, with another $650,000 in television ads. Meanwhile, Democrat Alex Lasry is up with a new digital ad, seen first by NBC (h/t Natasha Korecki), hitting Johnson on Russia (the campaign says it will have six figures behind it).

Georgia governor: Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams is suing for access to a certain type of fundraising committee that incumbent GOP Gov. Brian Kemp exclusively has access to. Under state law, only incumbent officials and party nominees can form these committees, locking challengers like Abrams out of them until after the state’s primary election. It has already been the subject of an earlier lawsuit filed by Republican candidate David Perdue.

Missouri Senate: Former Gov. Eric Greitens’ ex-wife Sheena stood by her allegations that Greitens physically abused her and their children in a new statement. And GOP Sen. Roy Blunt, who Greitens is running to replace, said Greitens should drop out “if the statements filed with the court are true,” per NBC’s Capitol Hill team.

Alaska At-Large: Alaska GOP Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced the special election dates to replace the late GOP Rep. Don Young, setting the nonpartisan primary for June 11 and a special election for Aug. 16.

L.A. mayor: Five of the top candidates looking to replace Mayor Eric Garcetti (who has been nominated to be ambassador to India) took to the debate stage Tuesday ahead of the June primary.

Ad watch: Crypto PACs spend big

Protect Our Future PAC, a group reported to be funded by crypto executives, is running another ad supporting Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., in her race against fellow Democratic Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux in Georgia’s 7th District. The ad highlights McBath’s commitment to fully funding Medicare and Social Security.

As of Wednesday, the PAC has spent just over $989,000 on this race and it joins two others – GMI PAC and Web3Forward — that are funded by crypto executives.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

White House press secretary Jen Psaki tested positive for Covid. So did Hillary Clinton.

Milwaukee and Nashville are jockeying for the inside lane to host the 2024 GOP convention.

The Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee is weighing a proposal that would make sure its early nominating states are diverse, competitive in a general election and has a “fair, transparent and inclusive” election process, which seems to be aimed at elbowing out Iowa from its spot on the calendar.

Utah’s governor Spencer Cox vetoed a ban on transgender youth participating in girls’ sports, giving an emotional plea for compassion.