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Politics chat: Pence drops out of 2024 race; new entry in Democratic primary race

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

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

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: The war in Israel is intensifying. Hamas is still holding hostages taken during those attacks on October 7. Civilians in Gaza are suffering and dying. And President Biden is walking a very tight rope right now. How - what is he saying?

LIASSON: There - President Biden is definitely walking a tight rope. He has supported Israel in public but pressured the leaders of Israel in private to show restraint in its offensive. The risks for Biden politically are extreme. Because of his tight embrace of Israel, he could be blamed for Israeli atrocities. Also, if the conflict in Gaza becomes a wider war, a regional war, it would upend Biden's foreign policy, destabilize the world in so many ways, embolden China and Russia.

And then there's, what happens if Israel succeeds in defeating Hamas, which is certainly not guaranteed? Who governs Gaza after that? What happens next? Can Biden get the Arab world and Israel to agree to a two-state solution? Remember, neither Hamas nor the Netanyahu government was interested in that. So the risks are extreme.

RASCOE: Former Vice President Mike Pence spoke in Las Vegas yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE PENCE: The Bible tells us that there's a time for every purpose under heaven. Traveling across the country over the past six months, I came here to say it's become clear to me this is not my time.

RASCOE: So he says he's suspending his campaign for the Republican nomination. Why now, before anyone has voted? And where does that leave the race?

LIASSON: The answer to why now is pretty simple. He's really run out of money. It's just hard to continue if you don't have millions of dollars. And remember, Mike Pence represented the old Republican Party, not the new Trump-centric party. Pence was the guy who wouldn't do what Trump wanted and overturn the election results for Trump in January of 2021.

This leaves the Republican primary race pretty much where it was before he dropped out, which is that Trump is ahead by curvature of the Earth. He's ahead by, in some polls, 50 points over his next competitors, and everyone else is in single digits or low double digits. And there's - really hasn't been anyone who's emerged who could truly challenge Trump for the nomination.

RASCOE: But Pence was Trump's vice president. So even though he's - now, I guess, doesn't represent Trump, and he's - or Trumpism. He's a devout evangelical Christian. And, you know, he does have a calm demeanor, but he's very similar to the new House speaker, Mike Johnson. And the Republican Party is treating Pence and Johnson very differently, though, right?

LIASSON: That's true. The two men are similar in their positions but with one gigantic difference, which is that Pence was running against Donald Trump, and Johnson was running with Donald Trump's endorsement. This is the party of Trump. And that's what's important in the Republican Party today, not ideological or policy positions.

RASCOE: And what's next for Johnson? 'Cause he's going to try to take control of a Republican conference that's been all over the place in the House. Is the GOP going to try to pivot from the chaos of the last three weeks?

LIASSON: They're going to try, but what we don't know is whether Mike Johnson is going to be able to turn the House Republican Party into a governing party. Remember, Democrats used to be the party that was so fractious and diverse. Now it's Republicans that don't seem to be able to get their act together. Remember, Nancy Pelosi had a similar tiny majority just like Mike Johnson has today, but she managed to keep her Democrats together in a way that John Boehner and Paul Ryan and then Kevin McCarthy couldn't with Republicans.

So can Johnson do any better? Can he keep the government open? It's supposed to shut down in just a few weeks. Can he lead the House Republicans to pass support for Israel and Ukraine and Taiwan? Just because we have a new speaker doesn't mean that the deep divisions in the Republican Party have gone away.

RASCOE: In the 30 seconds we have left, Minnesota Congressman Dean Phillips says he's challenging President Biden for the Democratic nomination. What's the congressman's aim?

LIASSON: Well, his aim is to defeat Biden, but his challenge may not go anywhere. It's still amplifies Biden's weakness because Phillips' big beef with Biden isn't ideological. It's that Biden can't win because he's too old. That's exactly what Republicans are saying. And even if primary challenges don't defeat incumbents, they really weaken them - just ask Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush.

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

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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