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Republicans say Newsom recall is all about the virus. That's not how it started

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: California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a news conference after touring the vaccination clinic at City College of San Francisco
California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a news conference after touring the vaccination clinic at City College of San Francisco on April 6, 2021.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — With California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom about to face a likely recall election, it’s worth asking the question — why?

You might think it’s in part because of his hypocritical night out at the swanky French Laundry restaurant while he was telling Californians to stay inside.

You might also think it’s in part because of frustration over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the related public-health restrictions and the vaccination rollout.

And you’d be right.

But if you look at the actual recall petition that appears poised to have secured enough signatures, there’s no mention of the virus at all.

Instead, that petition — dated on Feb. 20, 2020 — criticizes Newsom with a laundry list of grievances, none having anything to do with the pandemic.

Here’s a taste: “People in this state suffer the highest taxes in our nation, the highest homelessness rates, and the lowest quality of life as a result. [Newsom] has imposed sanctuary state status and fails to enforce immigration laws. He unilaterally overruled the will of the people regarding the death penalty.”

Those sound like the attacks Republicans have been lobbing at Democrats for decades, and they’ve been filing similar recall petitions against Newsom since he took office. But while those previous recall efforts failed, this one is on the verge of making the ballot thanks in no small part to the virus, even if it’s not explicitly mentioned in the official petition.

This all goes to prove one important rule of politics: Timing can be everything.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

60 percent: The share of Americans who say the country should do more to hold police accountable for mistreatment of Black people, per a new Washington Post-ABC poll.

33 percent: The share who say the country is doing too much to interfere in how police officers do their job.

32,075,725: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 66,055 more than yesterday morning.)

574,321: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 827 more than yesterday morning.)

218,947,643: Number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S.

24.5 percent: The share of Americans who are fully vaccinated.

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

Tweet of the day

Talking policy with Benjy

What to make of the new GOP infrastructure plan: A group of Senate Republicans rolled out a $568 billion infrastructure plan of their own on Thursday, with backing from leadership.

It was more pamphlet than a proposal, consisting of two pages and was light on details. But it was revealing about where the two sides overlap and where there’s fundamental disagreement. Here are the main divides:

Climate, climate, climate: Republicans who introduced the proposal emphasize that they view infrastructure issues more narrowly than Democrats, keeping things tightly focused on roads, bridges, rail, water and broadband.

In theory, their proposed investments are all compatible with Biden’s plan, if smaller overall. But Democrats see infrastructure and climate issues as indistinguishable, in line with Biden’s pledge this week to slash emissions 50 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels. To name just one example: Biden’s plan includes incentives for Americans to buy electric vehicles and funding for thousands of new charging stations. The GOP plan not only leaves these items out, it proposes new fees on electric car drivers as a pay-for.

“It’s a question of ‘Do you fill in the pothole?’ or ‘Do you repave the road with a more durable type of pavement that also consists of more reflective material to benefit the environment?’” Linda Blimes, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, told NBC News.

The care economy: While Republicans said they were open to negotiating with the White House on climate, they’ve so far drawn the line on including big-ticket items like the Biden plan’s $400 billion investment in long-term care for the elderly and disabled.

“That alone makes it unacceptable to me,” Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., told reporters on a call, saying the omission would leave out “women in the workforce who are often burdened by caregiving responsibilities for two different generations of their families.”

How to pay: Democrats want to raise taxes on corporations to fund their plan, but Republicans are adamantly opposed, instead favoring some mix of “user fees” on transportation (but not a gas tax, Capito said) and repurposed funding from the last COVID-19 bill, which they argue spent more than was needed on state and local aid. The White House has shown zero interest in the idea, and Democrats clearly think the politics favor their approach. It’s not clear how to bridge the divide without both sides agreeing to put it on the credit card.

“The Republican response to their friends, the mega-corporations, is you won’t have to pay one single penny, one single penny,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said on a call with reporters. “Who’s going to pay for it? Middle-class families.”

Breaking down tomorrow’s Louisiana House runoff

Saturday’s the runoff in the Louisiana-02 special election to succeed former Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., who resigned his seat to serve in the Biden White House. And the contest pits state Sens. Troy Carter and Karen Carter Peterson to represent this majority Black district that encompasses Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

In the original free-for-all primary last month that started off with 15 candidates, Carter got 36 percent of the vote, and Carter Peterson (no relation) got 23 percent.

Carter has been endorsed by Richmond, House Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). Carter Peterson, meanwhile, has backing from Stacey Abrams, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

The two candidates are largely aligned on policy positions, but Carter is open to working across the aisle while Carter Peterson is looking to promote a progressive agenda within Congress, NBC’s Amanda Golden reports.

“When it's all said and done, the person who can actually get the job done — when philosophical beliefs and voting habits are similar, then you look for a person that has the capacity, the temperament, and the ability to build relationships and to work with people,” Carter told Golden. “I've demonstrated that throughout my entire career.”

“I am unapologetically Democratic, but I also understand the significance of working with everyone,” he added. “My opponent simply doesn't have that skill set.”

“Women and progressives and young people are uniting behind us across the district,” Carter Peterson said in an interview with Golden, saying she feels momentum heading into Saturday. “We're feeling that energy on the ground from people who are looking for change and bold and courageous leadership.”

Shameless plug

Don’t miss episode 3 of “Meet the Press Reports” over on Peacock, in which Chuck takes a deep dive into water access and security.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Former President Donald Trump’s attempts to weigh in on the GOP in 2022 are frustrating party leaders.

Trump’s allies in the House are still airing his grievances with the nation’s intelligence agencies.

Biden is expected to propose new taxes on the rich to pay for the next phase of his recovery plan.

How do the U.S. and China navigate the climate challenge?

Joe Manchin is endorsing Lisa Murkowski.

Ronna McDaniel is hinting at a run for governor in Michigan.

And Andrew Yang is facing heat over comments he made to an LGBTQ group in New York City.