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Trump was once a CPAC pariah. Now he's the confab's king

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: President Donald Trump hugs the American flag as he arrives to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2019
President Donald Trump hugs the American flag as he arrives to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2019, in Oxon Hill, Md.Carolyn Kaster / AP file

WASHINGTON — Just five years ago, Donald Trump pulled out of speaking at the annual CPAC conference.

That decision came during the throes of the 2016 GOP nominating contest, when fellow Republicans were questioning Trump’s conservative credentials and when there was talk about a possible walk-out to protest Trump’s scheduled speech.

“Very disappointed @realDonaldTrump has decided at the last minute to drop out of #CPAC — his choice sends a clear message to conservatives,” CPAC tweeted at the time.

Now? Not only is Trump the featured Sunday speaker at this year’s upcoming CPAC conference in Orlando — coming after his defeat, after the GOP lost the Senate and after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol — he’s reshaped CPAC and the conservative movement in his image.

Look at the lineup of speakers at this year’s CPAC: Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., (who spoke at that Trump rally on Jan. 6), Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Texas (who was Trump’s presidential doctor), former Ambassador Rick Grenell and Gov. Kristi Noem, R-S.D.

Compare that with the CPAC lineup from 2013 — the last time the gathering took place after a GOP presidential loss: While you had Cruz and Trump, there also was Pat Toomey (who voted guilty in Trump’s impeachment trial), Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, Bobby Jindal, Eric Cantor and Jeb Bush.

Eight years ago, all of those Republicans were considered prominent conservatives.

But in early 2021, conservatism has become synonymous with loyalty to Trump.

That’s the message that CPAC is sending five years after that 2016 gathering.

Tweet of the day

Report concludes Saudi crown prince behind Khashoggi killing

“The Biden administration will release an intelligence report Thursday that concludes that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, three U.S. officials familiar with the matter said,” per NBC’s Andrea Mitchell and Ken Dilanian.

More: “The intelligence assessment, based largely on work by the CIA, is not new — NBC News was among the organizations that confirmed it in 2018. But its public release will mark a significant new chapter in the U.S.-Saudi relationship and a clear break by President Joe Biden with former President Donald Trump's policy of equivocating about the Saudi state's role in a brutal murder that was widely condemned by members of Congress, journalists and a U.N. investigator.”

It’s been a rough last few weeks for Andrew Cuomo

First came the controversy/scandal over how New York state counted its Covid nursing home deaths.

Now come a different damaging story for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo: “A former aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo published a lengthy essay on Wednesday morning accusing the governor of sexual harassment and outlining several unsettling episodes, including an unsolicited kiss in his Manhattan office,” the New York Times writes.

Can Cuomo, who’s up for a possible fourth term as governor next year, survive this moment?

What about the New York Democratic Party, especially with a NYC mayoral race this year?

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

65: The number of days until the May 1 special election in TX-6

59 percent: The share of Americans who say that say K-12 schools not currently conducting lessons in-person should "wait to reopen until all teachers who want the coronavirus vaccine have received it,” per a new Pew survey

5.6 percent: The number of American adults who now identify as LGBTQ, according to a new Gallup poll.

105: The number of migrant children who had been separated from their families whose parents have been found by a team of lawyers working on reunification

80 percent: The decrease in new Covid cases in nursing homes since the vaccine rollout began

28,438,049: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 80,199 more than yesterday morning.)

508,171: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 3,300 more than yesterday morning.)

54,118: The number of people currently hospitalized with coronavirus in the United States.

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

66,464,947: Number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S.

20,607,261: People fully vaccinated in the U.S.

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

Manchin clears Haaland’s path to confirmation

President Biden’s Interior secretary nominee, Deb Haaland, is on the path to Senate confirmation after Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., announced he’d support her nomination.

“With respect to Representative Haaland and her confirmation hearing, while we do not agree on every issue, she reaffirmed her strong commitment to bipartisanship, addressing the diverse needs of our country and maintaining our nation’s energy independence,” Manchin said on Wednesday.

Manchin signaled earlier this week that he wasn’t sure if he’d support Haaland because of her critical statements against developing federal lands for fossil fuels.

But the White House isn’t giving up on the other Cabinet nomination Manchin has opposed — OMB Director nominee Neera Tanden. Manchin announced last week that he wouldn’t support Tanden’s nomination, and several Republicans followed suit. White House press secretary Jen Psaki has consistently stated that Tanden is the only nominee for OMB that Biden is considering at this time.

Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, made clear on Wednesday night that Tanden is getting into the executive branch one way or another.

“If Neera Tanden is not confirmed, she will not become the Budget Director. We will find some other place for her to serve the administration that doesn't require Senate confirmation,” Klain said on MSNBC.

Today, the Senate is set to vote and confirm Energy secretary nominee Jennifer Granholm.

Shameless plug

NBC News’ Lester Holt will speak with Pfizer Chairman & CEO Albert Bourla in an exclusive interview airing tonight on NBC Nightly News. Tune in!

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Don’t miss the new effort to impeach the attorney general of South Dakota after charges that he lied about a fatal crash.

Chuck Grassley is punting until the fall on his reelection decision.

Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy says she’s seriously considering a bid to unseat Marco Rubio.

Activists say they see a pattern with Biden’s nominees: The ones facing the most heat are people of color.

Biden has picked three people to serve on the USPS board of governors as fights over the postmaster continue.

The Biden administration is facing a squeeze on immigration issues.

The U.S. is set to release an intelligence report that will conclude that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Facebook is banning the Myanmar military from its platforms.

The sister of DC mayor Muriel Bowser has died from Covid.