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Biden wants to win over young voters. They want him to do more about climate change

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Vice President Kamala Harris is headed to the international climate summit known as COP28 in Dubai this weekend. The White House says President Joe Biden asked Harris to go to emphasize the importance of the conference and to showcase U.S. leadership on climate at home and abroad. But young people in particular have been pushing Biden to do more when it comes to climate. They have been calling for Biden himself to attend the global meeting. Here to talk about the politics around all of this is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Hey, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Juana.

SUMMERS: So Mara, why is the question of who will attend this summit so significant?

LIASSON: Well, first of all, the purpose of the summit is to see if these big fossil fuel-consuming countries can meet their promises to keep the Earth from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. Politically, who goes for the United States is important because this is an example of the difficulty Biden has had with young voters. Young people care very deeply about climate, about the state of the Earth that they're going to inherit, and the White House was feeling the pressure. A source familiar with the plans to send the vice president told our colleague Deepa Shivaram that that pressure made them decide to send Vice President Harris.

So climate was a big part of Biden's campaign for president in 2020. He's taken some big actions related to climate change since then. He's in Colorado today actually talking about wind power. The Inflation Reduction Act that he signed put huge investments into climate policy - $370 billion. He doesn't get a whole lot of credit for that. But young voters want him to do more. They want him to solve problems and not just on climate. They want the high cost of housing addressed. They want the Israeli-Hamas war to be ended. They want student loan forgiveness. And they're frustrated that Biden can't do more.

SUMMERS: I want to stick with the war here for a second because that is an area that has been another really big disconnect between the administration and young voters, right?

LIASSON: Absolutely. The war in the Middle East is a motivating issue for young voters, young people right now. This is one place where Biden and young people pushing for an end to Israel's military actions are actually at odds. On climate, they agree. They just think Biden should be doing more. The Middle East is where there is a real policy difference between young voters, between voters of color - very important parts of the Democratic base - and the Biden administration. Whether this issue will hurt Biden next year depends on how long the Hamas-Israeli war lasts. But right now, it's showing some deep rifts inside the Democratic Party which could be a real problem for Biden.

Now, climate is not going away. It's going to be an issue now. It's going to be an issue next year. We'll have to see how big of an impact it has on motivating young people to either vote for Biden, stay home or find a third party alternative.

SUMMERS: OK, back to the summit. Vice President Harris is going to go. What has her role been in engaging with these young voters that the administration needs?

LIASSON: The White House has used her as an ambassador to young voters, to the Democratic base, on a whole lot of issues. She's gone on the road. She's talked on college campuses about climate change, about abortion, about gun laws. It hasn't all been smooth for her. At one of her last stops, protesters were shouting about the administration's approach to Gaza. But it's just not clear if Harris is going to be the person to galvanize the youth vote.

SUMMERS: I mean, young people were a huge part of the Biden coalition in 2020, as you know well. What does it mean in 2024 if they do not show up and vote?

LIASSON: It means there's a huge problem for Joe Biden. This is really important. He is not at risk of losing young voters to Trump. He's at risk of young voters not being enthusiastic. This is going to be a close election, a turnout election. Biden needs every single base Democratic voter to show up at the polls. We know from polling that Republicans are already more enthusiastic about voting in 2024 than Democrats are, so Biden can't afford any apathy among his supporters. And, you know, having a voter who stays home or votes for a third party is really the same thing as losing a vote to Trump because the person who gets a plurality of votes in states is the one who wins all the electors. That's our system. It's not a popular vote system. That's why turnout and enthusiasm really matters.

SUMMERS: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thank you as always.

LIASSON: You're welcome. 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.

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.