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Politics chat: U.S. reacts to conflict in Israel, Republicans to select House Speaker

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Here in Washington, President Biden at the White House yesterday strongly condemned the attacks against Israel.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The United States stands with Israel. We will not ever fail to have their back.

RASCOE: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So Biden said he offered Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu all appropriate means of support. Was it surprising at all to see Biden so forcefully come to Israel's defense?

LIASSON: Not at all. This was a big, unexpected, horrific attack. Biden's been a longtime staunch supporter of Israel, and there's been bipartisan support for Israel in Congress. Clearly, Biden put aside the tensions between the U.S. and Israel over what Netanyahu is doing domestically in terms of his domestic reform. But a senior administration official who briefed the press yesterday said that it's not clear - it's too early to tell whether this conflict will affect the talks between Saudi Arabia and Israel. One of the Biden administration's priorities is to normalize relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel in order to sideline Iran in the region and crowd out China. And those talks have just begun. It's unclear to the administration whether these attacks will have any effect on them.

RASCOE: In terms of Congress, what's going to be happening there this week? Republicans still don't have a speaker.

LIASSON: No, they don't. They're coming back Tuesday, and they're supposed to vote on a new speaker this week. There are two candidates, Steve Scalise from Louisiana - he's part of the House leadership, which you would think would give him an edge - but his opponent is Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio who has been endorsed by Donald Trump, which might be more important. There's not a big ideological difference between these two men. Both are very conservative, but one has the endorsement by Trump, which really matters in the House of Representatives. I think you'll see a lot of jockeying by these two over the next coming days. There's no indication that either of them has the 217 Republican votes it takes to win. Remember, Kevin McCarthy, the ousted speaker, took 15 ballots before he was elected speaker.

RASCOE: So, I mean, speaking of Kevin McCarthy, I mean, he lasted less than nine months before he was ousted. Will the next speaker have the same troubles?

LIASSON: He very well might. The question is whether this new speaker will be held to the same rule as McCarthy was. That rule says that just one member can trigger a recall vote, trigger a motion to vacate - in other words, to fire the speaker. And to change that rule, you would need - the Republicans would need 217 votes. They have a very small majority. They can only afford to lose a handful of votes because the Democrats aren't going to bail them out here. And one of the things we're watching is what about those eight hard-right candidates who voted to depose McCarthy? This rule gives them an enormous amount of power. Would they want to give it up? Matt Gaetz of Florida, who's a leader of this group, has said he's open-minded to a rules change. We'll see if he really is.

RASCOE: So now American voters say they want leaders who can get things done. What are the long-term political implications of this mess in the House?

LIASSON: Well, in the short-term long term, it looks like the House won't get anything done. There's a looming government shutdown. Remember, McCarthy passed a short-term government funding bill with Democratic votes. That's one of the things that made the hard-right Republicans so angry with him because he crossed the aisle for this. And that kept the government open for 45 more days. But when that time is up, will there be a government shutdown? And if there is, how long will it be? If so, it could affect 2024 politics. It will give Democrats an opportunity to paint the GOP as extremist and not interested in governing. Remember, there are 18 Republicans in the House that come from districts that Joe Biden won. They are the endangered Republicans. And Democrats only need five seats to get the majority back in the House. So we'll see if this affects the talks to pass a budget.

RASCOE: President Biden did something surprising last week. He took the first steps to build more of the wall along the Mexico border. He had campaigned against doing that and said he wouldn't. What is happening here?

LIASSON: Right. He campaigned on, I think, not one foot of wall. He didn't like Donald Trump's wall, but now he's building it. Congress allocated money for another 20 miles of the wall. He has to spend that money. He says he tried and failed to get Congress to use the money for something else. He says he has no choice, although he could have gone to court to see if he could get out of this. But the politics of immigration are changing. It's not just Republicans who care about illegal immigration. Right now you've got blue-state and blue-city politicians in Massachusetts, New York, Illinois who are telling the White House that they're overwhelmed by asylum-seekers. They've been critical of Biden, and they want him to do something.

RASCOE: How will that affect political support for Biden?

LIASSON: Well, I think it depends if he can get the border under control. I don't think a lot of Republicans who have immigration as their top issue will vote for him, but this is something that Democrats and independents care about, too.

RASCOE: NPR's Mara Liasson, thank you so much for joining us.

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.

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.
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