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Ukraine gets the U.S. gets a little more united — for now

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: A woman with a child evacuates from a residential building damaged by shelling in Kyiv
A woman with a child evacuate from a residential building damaged by shelling, in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 16, 2022.State Emergency Service of Ukraine via Reuters

WASHINGTON — If it’s Wednesday ... Ukraine President Zelenskyy addresses Congress to ask for more U.S. assistance. ... President Biden speaks afterward to announce an additional $800 million in security aid to Ukraine, per NBC’s Carol E. Lee. ... The Fed is expected to raise interest rates. ... Mike Gibbons gets scrutiny in Ohio Senate. ... Andrew Cuomo is spending millions on ads. ... NBC’s Benjy Sarlin explains how “energy independence” is easier said than done. ... And Herschel Walker muses on evolution.

But first: The United States is more united on Ukraine — at least right now — than on any other recent issue we can remember.

Just look at this polling Pew released Tuesday:

  • 85 percent of Americans (including 88 percent of Democrats and 85 percent of Republicans) want to keep strict economic sanctions on Russia.
  • 77 percent of all adults (including 81 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of Republicans) support keeping large numbers of U.S. forces in NATO countries near Ukraine.
  • 69 percent of Americans (including 80 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of Republicans) favor admitting thousands of Ukrainian refugees into the U.S.

Now we’re not saying that this is a return to the level of U.S. unity we saw immediately after 9/11, or the relative kumbaya days of the late 20th century during the Cold War.

And sure, there have been plenty of policy disagreements on Ukraine — like over whether the U.S. should help with more aircraft, whether it should institute a no-fly zone and whether President Biden has been weak or strong.

But what we are seeing right now is respite from the political back-and-forths this country has been experiencing — even on issues like masks, vaccine mandates and what U.S. history children should learn in school.

It’s a reminder: Having a clear foreign enemy takes the focus away from the domestic political opponent living next door.

Even if it’s temporary.

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Data Download: The number of the day is … $2.4 million

That’s how much former New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has spent on ads since he resigned amid accusations of sexual misconduct, despite him not currently running for elected office.

Cuomo’s ads have claimed the accusations against him were politically motivated and unfounded (while Cuomo has not been convicted on any charges stemming from the lengthy Attorney General report and one prosecutor dropped a misdemeanor charge against him, that same prosecutor called Cuomo’s accuser “credible” and a state trooper is suing him for harassment).

It’s a massive amount of money for someone who isn’t a candidate — he’s spent more than all but two other politicians so far in March, per AdImpact.

Other numbers you need to know today:

47 percent: The percent of Americans who approved of Biden’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, per a new Pew poll. That was higher than his overall job approval of 43 percent.

$16.3 million: How much the Republican National Committee says it raised in February, more than the $14.4 million the DNC told NBC it raised that month.

8: The number of Democratic senators who voted for a joint resolution disapproving of the transportation mask requirement.

9: The number of House Democrats who have tested positive for Covid in recent days following the caucus’ retreat and a late-night vote series.

79,777,616: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 28,447 more since yesterday.)

975,060: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 1,454 more since yesterday.

Tweet of the day

Midterm roundup: Gibbons’ gamble

Ohio’s GOP Senate primary has attracted millions in ad spending, thanks in part to self-funding candidates like investment banker Mike Gibbons. NBC’s Henry J. Gomez reports that Gibbons was the latest Senate hopeful to score a meeting with former President Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. Trump has yet to endorse in the race

But with Gibbons’ rising poll numbers comes more scrutiny. The New York Times reported that Gibbons repeated offensive stereotypes about Asians in 2013. Gibbons was also highlighted in an AP report detailing how he and two other Ohio Senate candidates (former state GOP chairwoman Jane Timken and author JD Vance) have ties to business interests in Russia.

And the primary battle continues to play out on the airwaves. Timken is up with a new TV ad focused on the border.

Elsewhere on the campaign trail:

Georgia Governor: The donors who fueled former Sen. David Perdue’s previous races aren’t writing the same checks for his governor’s race, and some are giving to Perdue’s primary opponent, GOP Gov. Brian Kemp, the AP reports.

Nevada Senate: Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., is out with a new Spanish-language ad, while School Freedom Fund, a group backing former GOP Attorney General Adam Laxalt, is up with a new spot promoting him by criticizing “critical race theory.” The Republican Governors Association booked $1.7 million in the governor’s race starting after Labor Day, per AdImpact.

Oklahoma Senate: Former Democratic Rep. Kendra Horn jumped into Oklahoma’s open Senate race. And GOP Rep. Kevin Hern is passing on a run, per Politico.

Michigan 04: Michigan state Rep. Steve Carra has been on the wrong end of a roller coaster in recent months. Once the Trump-endorsed candidate to primary Michigan GOP Rep. Fred Upton, redistricting put Upton in a member-on-member primary against GOP Rep. Bill Huizenga. Trump endorsed Huizenga last week, prompting Carra to drop out Tuesday.

Ad watch: Lasry spends big again

Wisconsin Democratic Senate hopeful Alex Lasry is opening up his deep pockets again with a new seven-figure ad campaign, his first to attack Republican Sen. Ron Johnson directly, NBC News reports

In Lasry's new spot, the candidate uses Johnson’s support for Fla. GOP Sen. Rick Scott’s policy plan — as well as recent comments dismissing the importance of pushing for new USPS trucks to be built in the state — to argue Johnson isn’t on the side of working people.

And it plays up Lasry’s union endorsements to frame him as the one that unions think is “the strongest Democrat to beat Ron Johnson.”

Not including the new spending, Lasry had already spent more ($3.5 million) than every other candidate running for Senate in Wisconsin, including Johnson and his Democratic rivals, combined (they’ve spent just over $3 million total).

You can watch the ad, and read more, on the MTP Blog.

Talking policy with Benjy: 'Energy independence' is easier said than done

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has thrown energy prices for a loop, once again reviving fears that America and its allies are too reliant on oil and gas, even after a boom in U.S. production.

Public officials and experts around the world have redoubled calls to adopt clean power and electric vehicles more quickly, even as they often call for more oil production in the short term. It’s not just Russia that’s the issue; back-up options like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Iran all present major security and human rights concerns.

But “energy independence” and “clean power” are not the same thing. While there's tons of benefits to ditching fossil fuels — in addition to the ongoing climate catastrophe, old-fashioned air pollution quietly kills millions — the alternatives still come with their own geopolitical baggage.

A U.S. Geological Survey report in 2020 listed 23 key minerals whose supply chains are at risk, many of which go into clean technologies. The price of nickel, a component in electric vehicle batteries that’s mined in Russia, is soaring since the Ukraine invasion and could slow rollouts of cheaper EV models. Another key battery resource, cobalt, is concentrated in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where there are concerns about labor conditions, corruption and Chinese influence. Almost 80 percent of rare earth metals, key to renewable energy technologies, are imported from China. China also manufactures the majority of the world’s solar panels.

“We are going to be competing for these metals and minerals with many countries that have net-zero targets” for emissions, Melanie Kenderdine, principal of the Energy Futures Initiative, told NBC News. “China might supply us with rare earths, but they and other countries are also going to need them for the clean energy transition.”

Electric vehicles and wind turbines require more mineral resources than fossil-fuel equivalents, but the same supply chain concerns apply to dirtier tech, too. Auto manufacturing of all kinds has slowed due to a lack of semiconductors, an industry dominated by Taiwan, which is another potential hotspot for conflict.

All of this is an increasingly large focus of policymakers’ attention in both parties. The Biden administration made the issue a top priority early on and recently awarded grants to private domestic mining and recycling operations. The House and Senate are discussing bipartisan bills to encourage more domestic high-tech manufacturing, and there are a variety of bipartisan proposals to encourage more rare earth mining in the U.S.

The private sector is taking notice as well, with Ford’s CEO warning that “the supply chain has to go all the way to the mines” for EVs — in part to avoid reliance on countries whose operations raise red flags.

“There are some resources here in this region, the question becomes how to get to them, how to get to them cost competitively and, at the end of the day, maybe the most challenging and most important thing is how to get them sustainably,” Brett Smith, technology director at the Center for Automotive Research, told NBC News.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Sarah Bloom Raskin withdrew her nomination for vice chair of the Federal Reserve after Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., announced his opposition.

Pennsylvania GOP Senate hopeful David McCormick is facing scrutiny over how his hedge fund managed teacher pensions, per the New York Times. And the AP has a deep dive into how McCormick is approaching the race.

The Senate passed a bill making daylight savings time permanent.

Shalanda Young became the first Black woman to lead the White House budget office.

The AP has a primer on the special election to replace former GOP. Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.

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