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Biden takes the helm of a polarized, pessimistic and pained nation

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WASHINGTON — When Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. takes the oath of office to become the country’s 46th president Wednesday, he will face an increasingly polarized, pessimistic and pained nation, according to numbers from the latest national NBC News poll.

More than 7 in 10 voters believe the country is on the wrong track, another 7 in 10 think the next four years will remain politically divided, and a majority say they are mainly worried and pessimistic about the nation’s future.

Overall, voters give Biden positive marks for his handling of a transition rocked by an outgoing president who refused to concede his defeat and who falsely claimed widespread fraud and voting irregularities, by a violent attack at the U.S. Capitol in protest of the election results, by an unprecedented second impeachment of his predecessor and by the deaths of more than 170,000 people in the U.S. from Covid-19 since Election Day.

But a majority of all voters don’t have high confidence in Biden’s goals, policies and personal characteristics, and a plurality of Republicans aren’t inclined to compromise with him.

“Donald Trump leaves to Joe Biden a country divided, off on the wrong track, and also with a new sense that the future may not be as bright as we thought,” said Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt of Hart Research Associates, who conducted the survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies.

“This is the America that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris inherit,” Horwitt said.

McInturff, the GOP pollster, noted that Biden’s favorability rating has remained virtually unchanged since the campaign and that he doesn’t appear to have the same honeymoon with the American public that other modern presidents — other than Donald Trump — have enjoyed at the beginnings of their presidencies.

“I don’t sense in this data much of an opening for Biden for the goodwill that we wanted our presidents to have,” McInturff said.

Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who also worked on the poll, puts Biden’s challenge this way: “Biden is on a very thin balance beam.”

‘Downhill,’ ‘frightened,’ ‘civil war’

According to the poll, 73 percent of voters say the country is on the wrong track, compared with 21 percent who say it’s headed in the right direction.

The wrong track number is up by 13 percentage points from where it was in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll right before the election, and it’s the highest percentage for this question since July 2016.

An equal 73 percent believe the nation will remain divided over the next four years, compared to 24 percent who think it will be able to unite.

And by 53 percent to 44 percent, voters say they’re mainly worried and pessimistic about the nation’s future rather than hopeful and optimistic — the first time more respondents have answered “worried/pessimistic” on this question, which dates to 1998.

When voters were asked to describe where America is headed in the next year, some of their replies included:

“Downhill. Well, I don’t think we are going the right direction yet,” a Democratic respondent said.

“Frightened. Extremely sickened. Un-united,” another Democrat said.

“Civil war,” a Republican respondent said.

60 percent approve of Biden’s handling of the transition

The poll shows that 60 percent of voters approve of Biden’s handling of the transition and his preparations for becoming president, compared to 32 percent who disapprove.

The numbers are higher than Trump’s were before he took office (44 percent approval, 52 percent disapproval), but they are lower than Barack Obama’s (71 percent approval, 14 percent disapproval).

The poll also finds that a majority of voters, 55 percent, believe Biden will return the country to the more typical way previous presidents have governed.

But only 37 percent express high confidence that he has the right set of goals and policies, and just 43 percent have high confidence that he has the right set of personal characteristics to be president.

“Unlike the hardened attitudes toward Donald Trump, views about Joe Biden appear softer and not yet fully formed,” said Horwitt, the Democratic pollster.

And Biden is set to face a Republican Party in which more GOP voters want congressional Republicans to stick to their positions (48 percent) than to make compromises to achieve consensus (40 percent).

That’s in contrast to Democratic attitudes as Trump was about to enter the Oval Office in 2017, with more Democrats wanting compromise (59 percent) than adherence to positions (33 percent).

Biden gets high marks on experience, likability, low marks on issues

Finally, the poll finds Biden getting the highest marks from voters on being knowledgeable and experienced enough to handle the presidency (55 percent give him a “4” or a “5” on a 5-point scale), as well as being easygoing and likable (53 percent).

Forty-seven percent give Biden high marks for having the ability to handle a crisis, and 45 percent give him high marks for having high personal and ethical standards.

Voters’ lowest marks come on the economy (39 percent give Biden a “4” or a “5”) and on sharing their positions on the issues (38 percent).

The NBC News poll was conducted Jan. 10-13, 2021, among 1,000 registered voters — 590 of whom were reached only by cellphone — and has an overall margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

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Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy ‘seriously considering’ Senate bid against Rubio in 2022

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WASHINGTON — Rep. Stephanie Murphy is taking preliminary steps toward challenging Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio in next year’s midterm election, launching the kind of statewide “listening” tour that often precedes a campaign and is being done virtually because of the pandemic.

“I’m seriously considering [running for Senate] either in ’22 or ’24,” Murphy said in an interview with NBC News on Wednesday.

“The only person Marco Rubio cares about is Marco Rubio,” the third-term Democrat charged. And, she added, “I know what it takes to defeat a powerful Republican incumbent because I’ve done it.”

But first things first — the kind of soft launch that’s designed to build statewide name-recognition and is not explicitly about mounting a campaign. A four-minute video accompanying the announcement of her virtual “Cast Forward” tour of the state has all the hallmarks of a modern campaign launch biopic.

“My family escaped communist Vietnam and we were rescued by the U.S. Navy, and so I owe this country my life,” Murphy says in the video. “My parents, facing a future where their children would not have opportunity or freedom or democracy, decided that we might die in search of light, that that was better than to live on in darkness.”

Murphy would be facing a campaign with a state party in turmoil after Joe Biden won the presidency but lost Florida by three-and-a-half points in November. Republicans control the governor’s office and both U.S. Senate seats.

Rubio, who lost the GOP presidential primary to Donald Trump in 2016, won re-election to his Senate seat that year by about 8 percentage points, and he dodged a potential political maelstrom when Ivanka Trump decided against a rumored primary challenge for next year.

Earlier this week, Murphy played down a possible Senate bid in an interview with NBC News.

“I’m really kind of focused right now on doing my job, serving my community,” Murphy said then. “Of course, there will come a time where I hope I can, you know, share my experiences of winning in a district that very much mirrors the state more broadly. But this isn’t the moment. Right now, I’m really focused on trying to get the next Covid bill across the finish line.”

By Wednesday, she was less coy, acknowledging that she’s actively considering a campaign against Rubio. But she insisted that her listening tour isn’t designed as the platform for that bid.

“This isn’t about that,” she said.

The sessions will focus on five areas, according to a news release set to go out widely on Wednesday: Covid response; combating misinformation; fighting climate change; advancing social justice; and countering voter suppression.

The virtual tour is designed to help Florida Democrats find the right message to attract voters in the midterms, no matter who their candidates for various offices are, Murphy said.

“I think I have some ideas and experience to offer, but most importantly I want to listen,” she said.

As for Washington Democrats who think Florida is a waste of time and money for their party — and there are more than a few of those in the nation’s capital — Murphy said it’s winnable.

“Florida isn’t a red state,” she said. “It’s a hard state.”

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Michel Barnier makes thinly veiled threat to UK if EU boats are shut out of British waters

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MICHEL BARNIER has issued a thinly veiled threat to the UK saying its waters must remain open or Britain risks losing access to the EU’s electricity markets.

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Lawyers have found the parents of 105 separated migrant children in past month

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WASHINGTON — The lawyers working to reunite immigrant parents and children separated by the Trump administration reported on Wednesday that they have found the parents of 105 children in the past month.

The steering committee of pro-bono attorneys and advocates working on reunification said it had yet to find the parents of 506 children, down from 611 on Jan. 14, 2021, the last time it reported data to a federal judge overseeing the process.

Of those 506 children, the lawyers said the parents of about 322 are believed to have been deported from the U.S., making it more difficult to find them.

The lawyers are not required by the judge to say how many of the parents and children have actually been reunified.

The Biden administration recently formed a task force that will place the responsibility of finding and reuniting the families separated by the Trump administration, primarily under the “zero tolerance policy” of 2018, in the hands of the federal government. In their court filing on Wednesday, lawyers representing the separated families and working to reunite them said they would work with the task force going forward.

Lawyers for the Justice Department said they expect the task force will “resolve many — if not all — outstanding issues” related to the lawsuit out of the Southern District of California that resulted in the reunification process overseen by the judge.

One reason it has been so hard to find parents who were separated from their children is that many agreed to be deported without their children in order to allow their children to remain in the U.S. to claim asylum, their lawyers say.

Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project and a lawyer representing the separated families in the lawsuit, has said the task force should commit to bringing back those deported parents to the U.S. under special protections in order to reunite with their children.

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