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.
WASHINGTON — Folks, Joe Biden is getting closer and closer to a 2020 run, but there's one big hitch: He's worried about political attacks and scrutiny on his family. Here's NBC's Mike Memoli:
"No line of attack would be more reprehensible to the former vice president than one directed at his family, and he and his team have been forced to consider that even as they also weigh the political dynamics."
More from Memoli: "Biden's second son, Hunter, has also acknowledged the complications of his personal life recently — a difficult divorce and battles with substance abuse. In a recent statement to Vanity Fair, he insisted they wouldn't affect his father's 2020 planning."
And: "Biden's team has long been working to lay the groundwork for a campaign for months, with mid-March as something of a moving target. Once given a green-light, it would likely take another week or two before any public launch — realistically putting the start into the second fundraising quarter after April 1."
With Bernie Sanders in the 2020 race, Biden's decision to run or to pass could be the last big question remaining when it comes to the composition of the Dem field — outside of Beto O'Rourke (who looks more and more like he's running).
If Biden's in, it potentially changes the math in places like South Carolina and the South (given his standing with African-American voters), and it narrows that pragmatic lane that Amy Klobuchar has been hugging lately.
But if Biden's out, it opens up BOTH South Carolina and the South, as well as that pragmatic lane.
2020 Vision: Is Bernie's long game the right play in 2020?
Here's something to chew on: Bernie Sanders has been far from a leading figure on the biggest issues of the day as it relates to Donald Trump's presidency.
Think about it: the Russia investigation, the border wall, family separations, ethics investigations, Supreme Court nominations, the shutdown. On all of those issues, he's been either a minor voice or a non-figure.
Instead, Sanders - like he did in 2016 - is playing a longer game.
"Our campaign is not only about defeating Donald Trump - the most dangerous president in modern American history," he said in his announcement video. "Our campaign is about transforming our country and creating a government based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice."
It's an interesting gamble: Do Democratic primary voters and general-election voters want transformative change? Or do they just want to replace Trump?
Bernie's betting on the former over the latter.
On the 2020 trail today: Julian Castro, Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bennet are all in Iowa… Kirsten Gillibrand hits Austin, Texas… Kamala Harris has lunch with Al Sharpton in New York… And Howard Schultz's book tour takes him to Los Angeles.
Both Jussie Smollett (who was arrested this morning) and that white nationalist planning a mass terrorist attack (who was arrested yesterday) are emblematic of the cultural debates in this current era.
But ask yourself: Which story is more lethal and dangerous?
Four. That's the number of U.S. Senate seats Democrats will have to flip to regain control of the chamber assuming: 1) they win the presidency in 2020, and 2) that Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., loses his Senate race in a state Trump won 62 percent to 34 percent in 2016.
And now Republicans have found a top GOP challenger to Jones. "Republicans landed a top-tier recruit Wednesday in a race critical to their hopes of holding the Senate in 2020, when GOP Rep. Bradley Byrne jumped into the campaign against the most vulnerable Democrat up for reelection, Alabama's Doug Jones," per Politico.
The question we have: Can Byrne win a GOP primary in Alabama from the right?
Republicans currently hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, with Dems best pick-up opportunities in Colorado, Arizona (where they got former astronaut Mark Kelly to run), Maine, Georgia, North Carolina and Iowa.
Oh, and one bonus number today: 57. That's Sen. Joni Ernst's, R-Iowa, approval rating in the latest Des Moines Register poll.
The Lid: The Six-Million-Dollar Man
Don't miss our flash briefing/podcast from Wednesday, when one of us looked at the $6 million Bernie Sanders' campaign raised in its first 24 hours.
Tweet of the day
ICMYI: Fathers and sons (and daughters)
The latest in NC-9: Mark Harris's son testified that he warned his father about potential illegal activities by McCrae Dowless.
And Kamala Harris's father isn't happy that she joked about Jamaicans smoking pot.
Mike Pompeo says he's "ruled out" a run for Senate.
Miami is making a last-ditch pitch for the DNC convention.
The RNC raised $15.5 million in January.
Other political news stories to put on your radar…
Trump agenda: Families are still being separated
Migrant families are still being separated at the border, according to a report from a Texas group.
A former Trump staffer wants to nullify the presidential campaign's NDAs with a class action lawsuit.
The Trump administration is preparing to establish a panel that will look at whether climate change affects national security.
America's closest European allies are turning down the Trump administration's request to keep troops in Syria after the U.S. withdraws.
The Supreme Court ruled that the state of Indiana could not confiscate a man's $42,000 Land Rover after he pleaded guilty to selling heroin to undercover police officers.
Dem agenda: Northam skips event
Ralph Northam will skip an event at a historically black school.
Can the Green New Deal get through Congress?
House Democrats are making a move to block Trump's declaration of a national emergency.
2020: How Dems are navigating racial politics
Bloomberg has a good look at how racial politics are making things complicated for Democratic candidates.
Bill de Blasio is making a hard left in the wake of Amazon's exit.
Cory Booker is talking tough.