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September is set to be a defining month for Biden, congressional Democrats

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 about the response to Hurricane Ida at the White House on Sept. 2, 2021.
President Joe Biden speaks about the response to Hurricane Ida at the White House on Sept. 2, 2021.Evan Vucci / AP

WASHINGTON — After a rough August for President Biden and his party, September — as well as the rest of the fall — will answer some important questions on Biden’s legislative agenda, the Covid situation and the Democrats’ political outlook heading into the 2022 midterms.

1. Just how big will the Democrats’ budget reconciliation package be?

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and the left want it at $3.5 trillion, while Axios is reporting that Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., isn’t going to budge above $1.5 trillion. The price-tag answer will determine how ambitious the package will be, as well as the size of the tax increases to pay for it.

Also worth asking here: Is Manchin by himself? Or is there a silent bloc of Democratic senators supporting him?

2. Can Democrats finish their reconciliation work before Sept. 27?

Remember, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed to put the Senate’s bipartisan infrastructure bill to a vote by Sept. 27. Can Senate Democrats complete their reconciliation by this date — to keep both measures on the same track? And if not, would progressive House Democrats really vote against the infrastructure package?

3. Which congressional investigations/hearings get more attention — Jan. 6 or Afghanistan?

Before last month, the House’s Jan. 6 investigation was certain to be main congressional event, at least outside of the infrastructure/reconciliation work. But after Afghanistan’s fall to the Taliban and the chaotic U.S. withdrawal, bipartisan senators and members of Congress have plenty of questions for the administration.

4. Will the Labor Day travel, packed football stadiums and the new school year lead to another increase in Covid cases?

The positive news regarding the Delta variant is that U.S. Covid cases have begun to flatline.

But does all of the increased activity (travel, school, sporting events) change that?

5. Was last month’s disappointing jobs report a temporary blip? Or something that lasts at least another month?

We’ll find out with the next monthly jobs report, in early October.

6. How many states follow Texas’ lead on abortion?

And could it include battlegrounds like Georgia, or even quasi-battlegrounds like Ohio?

7. Can Democrats survive the upcoming gubernatorial recall in California, as well as November’s gubernatorial contest in Virginia?

Both contests will tell us a lot about how engaged the Democratic electorate is in both of these blue/blue-leaning states, especially with Biden’s overall job rating now in the low 40s, per recent national polls.

Vice President Kamala Harris today campaigns for Gov. Gavin Newsom in California.

Calendar watch

By the way, here’s a helpful clip-and-save calendar for the political events we’ll be watching throughout September.

  • Today, Sept. 8: Vice President Harris campaigns with California Gov. Gavin Newsom, while NBC10 Boston co-hosts a Boston mayoral debate in the contest to replace Marty Walsh (who is now Biden’s Labor secretary).
  • Thursday, Sept. 9: Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks at the Reagan Foundation and Institute, plus another Boston mayoral debate.
  • Saturday, Sept. 11: 20th anniversary of 9/11.
  • Sept. 14: Election Day in California’s gubernatorial recall, as well as the free-for-all preliminary contest for Boston mayor.
  • Sept. 16: Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin square off in their first general-election debate.
  • Sept. 17: Arkansas GOP Sen. Tom Cotton speaks at the Pottawattamie County GOP’s Lincoln Reagan Dinner in Iowa.
  • Sept. 26: Germany holds its federal elections.
  • Sept. 27: The House’s self-imposed deadline to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
  • Sept. 28: McAuliffe and Youngkin face off in their second debate, this time in Northern Virginia.
  • Sept. 30: Congressional deadline to fund the government to avoid a government shutdown.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

7.0: The magnitude of the earthquake that hit Mexico last night that killed at least one person.

$30 billion: How much the White House is requesting for disaster relief and to resettle Afghans.

40,405,525: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 257,662 more since yesterday morning.)

654,748: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 1,526 more since yesterday morning.)

371,280,129: The number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S., per the CDC. (That’s 1,068,102 more since yesterday morning.)

53.2 percent: The share of all Americans who are fully vaccinated, per the CDC.

64.3 percent: The share of all U.S. adults at least 18 years of age who are fully vaccinated, per CDC.

75 percent: The share of all U.S. adults at least 18 years of age who have received at least one Covid vaccine dose, per CDC.

Youngkin’s trio of new TV ads

In Virginia’s race for governor, Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin is out with three new TV ads.

The first is a spot featuring testimonials from sheriffs who say they support Youngkin and oppose Democrat Terry McAuliffe.

The second has Youngkin saying to camera that he’ll eliminate Virginia’s grocery tax. “Saving a little extra on milk and bread and all of this, it adds up,” he says in the ad.

And the third ad — similar to a digital spot he’s already released — is Youngkin talking about the Covid-19 vaccine. “I'm a business guy who loves numbers, and the numbers show Covid vaccines save lives. That's why I chose to get the vaccine. It's your right to make your own choice. And I respect that. I do hope you'll choose to join me in getting the vaccine.”

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Democrats are hitting the gas on the multitrillion-dollar bill to expand the social safety net.

President Biden is set to announce a new, six-pronged strategy on fighting the Delta variant, Reuters reports.

Monica Lewinsky told NBC’s “Today” that former President Bill Clinton “should want to apologize” to her.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the state’s controversial elections bill into law on Tuesday, and also defended the state’s new restrictive abortion law not having a specific exception for rape victims by arguing Texas “eliminate all rapists.”

The New York Times profiles six families whose lives were uprooted by recent wildfires.

Richmond is set to remove its Robert E. Lee statue Wednesday morning.