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Politics chat: Biden appeals to Congress for aid, awaits new House Speaker


And we turn now to NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So let's stay on the war in the Middle East for a moment and President Biden's reaction to both the Hamas attack and to Israel's assaults on Gaza. What is the balance that he's trying to strike right now?

LIASSON: It's a hard balance to strike. He's trying to support Israel and its right to retaliate while at the same time making sure that Palestinian civilians are not harmed and that Israel abides by the rule of law, the law of war. Biden runs a big risk here because of his tight embrace of Israel. He might be blamed for and held responsible for any Israeli excesses. He also wants to avoid this Hamas-Israeli war from turning into a bigger regional conflict. And if possible, he wants to preserve the chance for the Israeli-Saudi Arabian talks to resume. Those talks have been derailed for now. And, of course, that was one of Hamas's main political objectives. So at least for now, Hamas has achieved success.

RASCOE: And what about the politics of this conflict? Like, what's the calculation there, you know, dealing with, you know, his - lawmakers on Capitol Hill and an election coming up?

LIASSON: Well, the politics are just as fraught as the foreign policy. You know, voters - in terms of President Biden's reelection campaign, voters in the United States usually don't care much about foreign policy unless American soldiers are fighting abroad. But the political implications of this will depend on how long and how ugly the Israeli ground invasion gets. Right now, there is widespread bipartisan support for Israel in the United States, but Biden has to pay careful attention to the left wing of his own party, where there's much less support for Israel's invasion. These are progressive Democrats. Young people are much less supportive. And, of course, there are also constituencies in key battleground states like Michigan, where there are a lot of Arab Americans. That's why you have heard him speak out against Islamophobia.

RASCOE: The president is asking for aid for Israel, as well as for Ukraine and also for humanitarian assistance related to those and other conflicts. I mean, is that something that the House of Representatives can act on without a speaker?

LIASSON: No, they can't. Right now, Biden's package cannot get a vote on the House floor until the House Republicans can figure out how to function. They either can elect another speaker, or they can empower the acting speaker, Patrick McHenry, to put bills on the floor. You know, if that happens, Biden's legislative strategy is pretty clear here. He's asking for a lot of things all at once - tens of billions of dollars for aid to Israel, aid to Ukraine, money for humanitarian assistance in Gaza and money for Taiwan, also for border security here at home.

I think the idea is even though there's opposition to each one of those pieces, there are enough things in there that - for Biden to cobble together a majority. Republicans don't want aid to Ukraine or humanitarian assistance to Gaza, but they do want aid to Israel and border enforcement. Progressive Democrats do want aid to Ukraine and humanitarian assistance but not aid to Israel. So we will see if old-fashioned logrolling as a legislative strategy still works.

RASCOE: The Republican conference in the House is expected to have a forum tomorrow for speaker candidates and possibly a vote Tuesday. Is the path forward any clearer today than it was Friday, after they passed over Jim Jordan of Ohio? What is going on?

LIASSON: Well, the path is not any clearer because so far, no Republicans seem to be able to get 217 votes, which is what they need to become speaker. We've also seen a backlash from moderate Republicans against the hardball tactics of Jim Jordan. They got death threats. Their families got death threats. And it's kind of a case of the revolution eating its young. Republicans were fine with Trump's violent rhetoric, with the MAGA base's violent rhetoric, but they didn't complain then. But now that the violent rhetoric has been turned against them and their families, they didn't like it.

RASCOE: That's NPR's Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you so much.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.