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The health of party unity

By Lester Holt, NBC News anchor

The road to health care reform approaches a shaky bridge tonight. Democratic leaders will test the strength of the underpinnings of that bridge – their 60 seat majority in the US Senate – in a vote over whether to allow debate on a health care bill. It will mark the second Saturday night this month that critical votes on health care have taken place on Capitol Hill.

Although tonight's vote is strictly procedural, as GOP Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire told me this morning on TODAY, as far as Republicans are concerned "the gun is loaded," meaning they consider a vote in favor of allowing debate, likely a vote in favor of the bill itself. No Republican is expected to vote yes. At this writing, Democrats believe they have secured all 60 votes they need to open debate. NBC's Kelly O'Donnell is on the hill and will update where things stand when we come on the air.

On tonight's broadcast we will also show you an anguished plea for help by a British couple hijacked at sea by Somali pirates. Their captors have released video of the couple speaking on camera as menacing young men surround them with guns. Of course the pirate's intent is to raise pressure on British authorities to pay ransom for their release. We'll get reaction from London.

Walking through Manhattan's famous shopping districts these days, two things stand out. Holiday decorations are up, and the number of empty store fronts has exploded since last Christmas season. With that said, NBC's Rehema Ellis will report tonight that retailers may be turning the tables on shoppers who be thinking they can once again cash in on bloated store inventories.

Thanks for reading the blog. Please join me later for NBC Nightly News.