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Twelve months that moved the Democratic Party left of Biden

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 delivers the State of the Union address during a joint session of Congress in the US Capitol's House Chamber March 1, 2022.Jim Lo Scalzo / Pool via AFP - Getty Images

WASHINGTON — If it’s Thursday ... President Biden holds a secure call on Ukraine with the leaders of Australia, India and Japan. ... Biden also conducts his cabinet meeting. ... Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., cracks the door open again on getting a reconciliation deal, per NBC’s Benjy Sarlin. ... Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, and Jessica Cisneros head to a runoff in Texas-28. ... Rep. Van Taylor, R-Texas, ends his re-election bid in Texas-03 after admitting affair. ... And House Jan. 6 committee says Trump was involved in a criminal conspiracy to overturn 2020 election.

But first: If you want to know why Biden used his State of the Union address to call for funding — not defunding — the police and for securing the U.S.-Mexico border, it’s worth revisiting 12 months from June 2019 to June 2020.

Back when Democratic presidential candidates called to decriminalize border crossings: “My plan also includes getting rid of Section 1325 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, to go back to the way we used to treat this when somebody comes across the border, not to criminalize desperation, to treat that as a civil violation. ... And so I want to challenge every single candidate on this stage to support the repeal of Section 1325,” Julian Castro said at a debate on June 26, 2019.

When they called to abolish private health insurance: “I'm with Bernie on Medicare for All. And let me tell you why,” Elizabeth Warren said at that same debate.

When they talked about confiscating guns: "Hell yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47," Beto O’Rourke said at a Sept. 2019 debate.

And when members of the “Squad” argued to dismantle police departments: “You can't really reform a department that is rotten to the root. What you can do is rebuild,” Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., said on June 14, 2020 after the killing of George Floyd.

Importantly, in 2019-2020, Biden was always on the other side of these debates.

Still, you can see how the Democratic Party transformed — at least rhetorically — from June 2019 to June 2020.

And that perception is what Biden was trying to fix on Tuesday night.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 900,000

That’s approximately how many more people voted statewide in the Texas GOP primaries for governor and attorney general than in the Democratic primaries for those offices.

The massive gap in primary turnout is just one reason why Democrats may be less bullish on their hopes of turning Texas blue, not to mention Biden’s lagging approval ratings in the state, as well as the party’s struggles with rural and Hispanic voters.

Read more on the MTP Blog.

Other numbers you need to know today:

1 million: The number of refugees who have left Ukraine in the last week, per the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

4: The number of countries that voted with Russia against yesterday’s U.N. resolution to condemn the “aggression against Ukraine.”

$32.5 billion: That’s how much money the White House is asking Congress to allocate ahead of its March 11 funding deadline, including $10 billion in aid to Ukraine and $22.5 billion to combat the pandemic.

Midterm roundup

Texas Primary Day may have been Tuesday, but Wednesday afternoon brought two major developments.

First, NBC News’ Decision Desk projected that the Democratic primary Texas’ 28th District between Rep. Henry Cuellar and progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros will advance to a May 24 runoff.

But the second — and more shocking — development came from Republican Rep. Van Taylor, who, just hours after being forced into a runoff against former Collin County Judge Keith Self, announced he’s ending his campaign and admitted to having had an affair. Taylor had already angered conservatives with his votes for an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack and to certify the 2020 election. Now, Self becomes the favorite to succeed Taylor in Congress.

Elsewhere on the campaign trail:

Biden traveled to Wisconsin yesterday to sell his agenda. And the latest Marquette Law School poll included some good news for Democrats in the Badger State. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ approval is back up to 50 percent (with 41 disapproving); the GOP-controlled legislature has an approval rating of just 37 percent (with 46 percent disapproving); and just 33 percent of voters view Republican Sen. Ron Johnson favorably (45 percent view him unfavorably).

The Democratic Senate primary race in Wisconsin appears to be wide open — Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (23 percent) and businessman Alex Lasry (13 percent) are the only two candidates in double-digits. Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch is the clear leader in the GOP gubernatorial primary with 30 percent to former Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson’s 8 percent and state Assemblyman Tim Ramthun’s 5 percent. But there are still a ton of undecided voters, 48 percent in that Democratic race and 54 percent in the Republican one.

Ohio’s GOP-majority redistricting commission passed a new congressional map, but it’s up to the state Supreme Court to decide whether it goes into effect.

Arkansas Republican Sarah Huckabee Sanders booked more than $700,000 in air time for her gubernatorial bid, per AdImpact.

Former President Trump hasn’t endorsed in the Ohio Senate race, but that didn’t stop former GOP Chairwoman Jane Timken from using footage of Trump praising her in her latest ad.

Former North Carolina Rep. Mark Walker officially ended speculation he might leave the Senate race to run for the House, filing yesterday to run for Senate, per a press release.

Ad watch: McMullin hits Lee over Russia

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is the focus of Utah independent Evan McMullin’s first TV ad in the Senate race. McMullin, an independent candidate who ran unsuccessfully for president in 2016, is attacking incumbent Republican Sen. Mike Lee for his record on Russia.

The ad accuses Lee of previously opposing sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin and of traveling to Moscow to discuss dropping sanctions against Russia.

“Sen. Lee abandoned our values, making us weak and unsafe,” McMullin, a former CIA officer, says in the ad. Then, he pivots to offering himself as an alternative to Lee, highlighting his time working in national security.

McMullin’s ad is the first we’ve tracked using the war in Ukraine to attack a candidate in a midterm campaign this year.

Talking policy with Benjy: Manchin cracks the door open again

After dancing around the topic for months, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., sent his strongest signal yet that he’s ready to talk with Democrats about a new reconciliation bill to replace the departed Build Back Better.

Manchin told NBC News in February, he’d be intrigued by a bill centered on raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations and cutting prescription drug prices to reduce the deficit. But on Wednesday, in an interview with Politico, he got more specific about what he’d offer his caucus in return and how he’d approach an overall framework for talks.

The big prize: climate, where Democrats believed they were close to a deal with him in December on $550 billion in various tax incentives for clean power, electric vehicles and energy-saving measures. While Manchin said he would want more support for fossil fuels in light of the Russian invasion than he discussed in prior talks, he offered to use revenue raised from taxes and drug reform to back green policy.

“If you do that, the revenue producing [measures] would be taxes and drugs. The spending is going to be climate,” Manchin said in the interview.

As we’ve reported at First Read, climate is the likely foundation of any potential deal — as it’s the one issue that both unites the party and comes with a planetary ticking clock. Manchin linked the issue to energy independence from Russia on Tuesday, a clue to how Democrats may be able to rebrand the bill as an anti-Putin measure with his support.

Anything Democrats get after that would likely be a bonus. Manchin reportedly said he favored an even split between spending and deficit reduction, a key new basis for talks. “And the social issues, we basically have to deal with those” after revenues and climate, he added.

If Democrats were to raise a similar amount of revenue to BBB (about $2 trillion), that could leave room for one or more policies he’s expressed interest in before, like Affordable Care Act fixes (about $400 billion), home care ($200 billion), or some type of pre-K program.

There’s a whole bunch of “if’s” here, though. Manchin’s preferred tax increases conflict with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s, along with some other Democrats, and it may not be possible to reconcile them. House progressives might also balk at a smaller bill or fossil fuel-friendly climate tweaks, though so far they’ve issued few red lines.

But make no mistake, Manchin just cracked the door to reconciliation talks wider than it's been since he walked away from BBB. If he’s serious, especially on climate, there’s going to be enormous pressure on Democrats to look for a deal.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

The Jan. 6 committee argues in a new filing that Trump was involved in ‘criminal conspiracy’ to overturn the 2020 election.

The White House unveiled a new strategy for the next phase of the pandemic.

The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to hold Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearings March 21-24.

Politico looks at the impact of the recent decision by New York City to allow non-citizens to vote in some elections.

Former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, the Democrat who has long been one of the most powerful men in the state, has been indicted for racketeering.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., has long Covid, showing symptoms two years after his diagnosis, and is partnering with other Senate Democrats for legislation to investigate it.