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Trump and the GOP made their biggest 2020 gains in these South Texas counties

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: Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando
Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Fla., on Feb. 28, 2021.Octavio Jones / Reuters

WASHINGTON — Last week, we examined the counties — in Georgia — where Democrats made their biggest gains since 2008.

Today, we look at the counties — in Texas — where Donald Trump improved his vote share the most between 2016 and 2020. In fact, of the six counties in the entire United States where Trump made his biggest gains during this span, five were in South Texas. (Madison County, Idaho was the other.)

Here are the five Texas counties:

Starr (Texas)

  • 2016: Clinton 79.1 percent Trump 18.9 percent
  • 2020: Biden 52.1 percent, Trump 47.1 percent

Maverick (Texas)

  • 2016: Clinton 76.5 percent, Trump 20.7 percent
  • 2020: Biden 54.3 percent, Trump 44.8 percent

Jim Hogg (Texas)

  • 2016: Clinton 77.2 percent, Trump 20.3 percent
  • 2020: Biden: 58.8 percent, Trump 40.9 percent

Kenedy (Texas)

  • 2016: Clinton 53.2 percent, Trump 45.2 percent
  • 2020: Biden: 33.5 percent, Trump 65.5 percent

Zapata (Texas)

  • 2016: Clinton 65.7 percent, Trump 32.8 percent
  • 2020: Biden 47.1 percent, Trump 52.5 percent

What do these five Texas counties have in common?

They’re all smaller (or in some cases, tiny) counties not far from the U.S.-Mexico border where more than 9 in 10 residents are Latino. These counties also have unemployment and poverty rates well above the national average, few residents holding college degrees and in most cases, a significant majority of residents born in state.

Post-mortems have looked at how Latino voters in this region may have been influenced by Biden’s rhetoric on oil and gas or law enforcement reforms, as well as how Democrats’ in-person outreach was inadequate even before it was curtailed by the pandemic.

But immigration reporter Jack Herrera had maybe the best take on these voters: They’re not monolithic Latinos; they’re Tejanos.

As the GOP chair of Starr County told Herrera: “It’s the national media that uses ‘Latino.’ It bundles us up with Florida, Doral, Miami. But those places are different than South Texas, and South Texas is different than Los Angeles. Here, people don’t say we’re Mexican American. We say we’re Tejanos.”

Texas rolls back mask mandate, contradicting CDC

Speaking of the Lone Star State, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday that his state would be rolling back its mask mandate and fully opening businesses; Mississippi made a similar announcement.

"It is now time to open Texas 100 percent," Abbott said.

"Covid has not suddenly disappeared," he added, "but state mandates are no longer needed."

But the moves by Texas and Mississippi contradict the caution from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"I am really worried about reports that more states are rolling back the exact public health measures we have recommended to protect people from Covid-19," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said this week.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

28,819,708: The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the U.S., per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 56,253 more than yesterday morning.)

518,482: The number of deaths in the U.S. from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 1,504 more than yesterday morning.)

46,388: The number of people currently hospitalized with the coronavirus in the U.S.

357.1 million: The number of coronavirus tests that have been administered in the U.S. so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

78,631,601: Number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S.

26,162,122: People fully vaccinated in the U.S.

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

92: The number of days between Neera Tanden’s nomination to be Office of Management and Budget director and her withdrawal yesterday

85: The age of civil rights leader and former President Bill Clinton's adviser Vernon Jordan, who died Monday

6: The number of books authored by children’s writer Dr. Seuss that have been pulled from publication by his estate after a long reckoning with the books’ racist imagery

Talking policy with Benjy

Big Obamacare changes, little drama: Veteran health care reporter Jonathan Cohn has a new (and excellent) book on the history of Obamacare that's appropriately titled “The Ten Year War” after the long decade of efforts to repeal it. This week poses a very different question: What if there was a war over Obamacare -- and nobody showed up?

That’s the situation playing out so far with the American Rescue Plan, Benjy Sarlin writes. The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan would make a major change to the Affordable Care Act by expanding subsidies for higher income levels for the first time and capping their premiums at 8.5 percent of earnings. In doing so, the law would end the “subsidy cliff” that has made premiums unaffordable for many middle-class customers. It’s a temporary change — just two years — but Democrats are expected to try to make it permanent in a future bill.

Yet unlike every prior policy change to the law, the debate has been so quiet as to barely be audible. It’s too modest a change compared to "Medicare for All" for Democrats to get worked up over. And Republicans, who were burned by ACA repeal bills in 2018, are barely mentioning it.

Just as importantly, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and top health care trade groups are supportive of the tweaks which, unlike other health care proposals, would not require industry players to cut costs or pay more in taxes. That means there’s no corporate money hitting it on the airwaves or in your news feed.

The inevitable debate over a public option is going to be much more contentious and draw pushback from insurers and hospitals. But it’s a development worth watching with the Biden agenda. There are other spending priorities, especially infrastructure, where progressives and big business are potentially aligned – and where Republicans may struggle to find a message on their own.

Tanden withdraws nomination to be OMB director

President Biden’s pick to lead the Office of Management and Budget, Neera Tanden, withdrew her name from consideration, making her the first personnel defeat for the Biden administration.

Tanden’s chance at confirmation continued to dwindle after Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., said he wouldn’t vote for her last month, and also after several other senators followed suit.

The White House still seems set to have Tanden serve in the administration in a role that doesn’t require Senate confirmation. President Biden said in a statement: “I look forward to having her serve in a role in my administration. She will bring valuable perspective and insight to her work.”

Tanden’s withdrawal is far from unprecedented. Donald Trump’s first Labor nominee, Andrew Puzder, withdrew his nomination; Trump later nominated Alexander Acosta. And two of Barack Obama’s nominees to lead the Commerce Department withdrew their respective nominations in 2009 before Obama nominated (and the Senate later confirmed) Gary Locke.

Meanwhile on the Hill on Tuesday, Gina Raimondo was easily confirmed to serve as Commerce secretary with an 84-15 vote.

Biden Cabinet Watch

State: Tony Blinken (confirmed)

Treasury: Janet Yellen (confirmed)

Defense: Ret. Gen. Lloyd Austin (confirmed)

Attorney General: Merrick Garland

Homeland Security: Alejandro Mayorkas (confirmed)

HHS: Xavier Becerra

Agriculture: Tom Vilsack (confirmed)

Transportation: Pete Buttigieg (confirmed)

Energy: Jennifer Granholm (confirmed)

Interior: Deb Haaland

Education: Miguel Cardona (confirmed)

Commerce: Gina Raimondo (confirmed)

Labor: Marty Walsh

HUD: Marcia Fudge

Veterans Affairs: Denis McDonough (confirmed)

UN Ambassador: Linda Thomas-Greenfield (confirmed)

Director of National Intelligence: Avril Haines (confirmed)

EPA: Michael Regan

SBA: Isabel Guzman

OMB Director: Neera Tanden (withdrawn)

U.S. Trade Representative: Katherine Tai

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Moderate Democrats are starting to get antsy with their party’s pushing of issues without more outreach to the GOP. (And, meanwhile, the politics of killing the filibuster are front and center for progressives.)

Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a key voting rights case. Sahil Kapur has a readout of the questions they asked — and the justices who seemed to be wrestling the most with the key issues.

Law enforcement agencies in DC are on alert for March 4, the latest iteration of the date some QAnon adherents believe will be a day of reckoning for former President Donald Trump’s enemies.

The Department of Defense inspector general found in a new review that now-congressman Ronny Jackson made sexual comments about a female colleague, drank alcohol in violation of the rules, and used Ambien while serving as the White House physician.

Some GOP candidates went viral and raised millions in 2020 — only to see huge chunks of the donations go to consulting firms.

Former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens sounds like he’s considering a political comeback — and eying Roy Blunt’s seat. (Greitens resigned in 2018 amid a sexual abuse scandal.)

More Democratic lawmakers are calling for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s resignation.

And don’t miss the Pew Research Center’s detailed look at what we can and can’t learn from 2020 election polling misses when it comes to the polling of issues.