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Here’s why Biden had to stand by his statement on Putin’s future

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.
President Joe Biden speaks in Warsaw, Poland, on March 26, 2022.
President Joe Biden speaks in Warsaw, Poland, on March 26, 2022.Evelyn Hockstein / Reuters

WASHINGTON — If it’s Tuesday ... Ukrainian and Russian delegations meet in Istanbul for peace talks. ... President Joe Biden welcomes Singapore’s prime minister to the White House. ... Biden later pays his respects to the late Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, who lies in state. ... NBC’s Henry Gomez recaps last night’s GOP Ohio Senate debate. ... NBC’s Benjy Sarlin digs into the latest Democratic proposal to tax billionaires… And Covid plummets as most important issue in NBC News poll. 

But first: There’s reason why Biden had to stand by his ad-libbed “this man cannot remain in power” remark about Vladimir Putin, despite Democrats’ best efforts to clarify it and walk it back. 

Because the public already has low confidence in the president’s ability to manage the Russia-Ukraine war, as our latest NBC News poll finds 28 percent saying they have a “great deal” or “quite a bit” of confidence, versus a combined 71 percent with “just some” or “very little” confidence. 

“I wasn’t then — nor am I now — articulating a policy change,” Biden told NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell on Monday. “I was expressing the moral outrage that I feel, and I make no apologies for it.”

Biden’s “this man cannot remain in power” comment — and then the administration’s subsequent walk-back — were always going to have a greater impact domestically (raising the question of who is calling the shots at the White House) than internationally (because Putin is going to hear what he wants to hear). 

And that’s why Biden didn’t back down, but also made clear that regime change isn’t a policy goal. 

Tweet of the day

Midterm roundup: Angling for Trump’s nod 

Most of the GOP Senate hopefuls in Ohio appeared to be angling for former President Donald Trump’s endorsement during last night’s debate, where “misinformation about the 2020 election dominated” the discussion, per the Columbus Dispatch. Trump has so far stayed out of the crowded and contentious primary, which is set for May 3. 

State Sen. Matt Dolan was the only candidate to acknowledge that Biden was legitimately elected and he referenced the Trump-size elephant in the room, saying, “There are people up on this stage who are literally fighting for one vote, and that person doesn’t even vote in Ohio,” per NBC’s Henry Gomez.

Yesterday was also a big day for ad bookings in the Senate race. Former Treasurer Josh Mandel booked $500,000 worth of airtime, Dolan booked $118,000, and Mike Gibbons booked $47,000 for the GOP primary, while Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan reserved $87,000.

Elsewhere on the campaign trail:

Missouri Senate: Democrat Trudy Busch Valentine, an heir to the Anheuser-Busch fortune, joined Missouri’s Senate race, prompting Democratic state Sen. Scott Sifton to drop out and endorse her, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Oregon governor: Oregon Republican Christine Drazan is going up on the air at the end of the month for the first time this cycle with a $100,000 ad buy. 

Illinois governor: In what’s shaping up to be a big money battle, Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker booked another $500,000 in TV time, while Republican Richard Irvin booked almost $1 million. 

Tennessee 05: Tennessee legislators approved a bill requiring congressional candidates to reside in the state for at least three years, and in the country they’re running in for at least one year, sending the bill to GOP Gov. Bill Lee’s desk. If enacted, the bill would disqualify Trump-backed Morgan Ortagus from running in Tennessee’s new 5th District, but it could also be challenged in court, The Associated Press reports.  

Maryland redistricting: After a court ordered Maryland legislators to draw a fairer congressional district map, saying the previous map disadvantaged Republicans, state Democrats on Monday night unveiled a plan that would significantly improve the chances of Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., of winning re-election, the Baltimore Sun reports.

And NBC’s Shaquille Brewster reports from Delaware County, Ohio, on how inflation is affecting voters. 

Ad watch: Boozman and Cotton

A familiar face popped up on Arkansas’ airwaves Monday, when Republican Sen. Tom Cotton endorsed fellow Arkansas Republican Sen. John Boozman’s re-election in a new ad

Cotton highlights his teamwork with Boozman in the Senate, saying “In Washington, I depend on John Boozman. We work as a team agreeing on nearly every vote.” 

“John Boozman fights to secure our border. He fights to protect the unborn. He fights to stop Biden’s crushing inflation,” Cotton adds. 

With an endorsement from Trump already secure, this is a second high-profile endorsement for Boozman. Still in his second term, Cotton has become a national figure from the Senate, prompting speculation about whether he’ll consider a run for president in 2024. Boozman has a primary challenger — Jake Bequette, the former New England Patriots draftee.

Data Download: The number of the day is … 3 percent

That’s the portion of Americans surveyed who listed the coronavirus as the most important issue facing the country in the latest NBC News national poll, down 11 percentage points from January, when 14 percent of Americans listed it as their top issue. 

And it’s now the eighth-most important issue on their minds, down from the third-most in January. 

You can read more about the shift on the MTP Blog

Other numbers you need to know today:

$1.7 billion: The increase in funding for fighting violent crime between the 2021 levels and Biden’s 2022 budget proposal.

8: The percentage point lead that New York Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul holds over former Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a hypothetical Democratic primary matchup polled by Siena College. 

80,197,141: The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. 

982,839: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. 

*** Talking policy with Benjy: Biden proposed a new billionaire tax. Will this one stick? Biden unveiled his administration’s proposed budget Monday, headlined by a new “Billionaire Minimum Income Tax” that Biden said would raise $360 billion over 10 years. 

The newest White House proposal would target households with more than $100 million and create a new “minimum income tax” of 20 percent that it defines by counting taxes on both income and unrealized investment gains. 

Biden’s new plan is only the latest Democratic proposal to disrupt the cycle of low taxes, ballooning stock gains and generational privilege at the top. Because investments like stocks are taxed only when they’re sold, it’s currently possible for the ultrarich to hold on to their assets for life, then pass them onto their heirs, at which point their value resets and the prior gains are no longer taxable. In the interim, they can fund a lavish lifestyle by taking out loans against the assets, all while paying a lower effective tax than many middle-class workers. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., memorably campaigned on a wealth tax on households with over $50 million in combined assets, from stocks and houses and boats to paintings. During the “Build Back Better” talks, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., proposed forcing billionaires to pay an annual tax on unrealized capital gains. The White House also pushed Congress to require heirs to pay taxes on inherited gains of over $1 million for individuals.

What these earlier Democratic plans have in common (along with, most likely, Biden’s newest entry) is that they were all ultimately scrapped by Democrats. While Democrats still might pass some kind of bill that raises taxes on the wealthy and corporations, the kinds of measures that most directly target the Jeff Bezoses and Elon Musks of the world somehow keep dying on the vine. 

Warren’s plan raised a variety of concerns, including that a conservative Supreme Court might strike it down; Wyden’s billionaire plan seemed to have legs for a bit, but was dropped from the House Build Back Better bill amid skepticism from Democratic leaders; Biden’s proposal to prevent the rich from passing down huge stock gains was watered down in talks, before ultimately being killed, largely due to opposition from the farm lobby. 

This gets to a larger problem for Democrats governing with a narrow trifecta: Politically, they’d love to emphasize their support for taxing the 1 percent of the 1 percent and contrast it with Republicans like Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., who proposed a minimum income tax on all Americans. 

But any policy that doesn’t make it into a party-line bill this year is missing because at least one Democratic senator opposed it. That means the news in Congress has been focused on their divisions at least as much as their differences with the other side. 

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world 

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed a controversial bill limiting LGBTQ classroom instruction.

The Jan. 6 committee recommends former Trump aides Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino face contempt charges

And the committee will be receiving a trove of emails from former Trump adviser John Eastman after a federal judge ruled Monday that they be released, noting it is “more likely than not” that Trump committed crimes in an effort to overturn the 2020 election. 

‘Biggest fraud in a generation’: The looting of the Covid relief plan known as PPP.