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Week in Politics: Israel offensive and Biden campaign, Trump appeals to NYC voters

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

We turn now to Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: Israel's prosecution of its war against Hamas is controversial in many places around the world. Is that reflected in polling numbers here in the U.S.?

ELVING: It has affected Biden's numbers in several categories of voters - Muslims, people of Arabic heritage, African Americans to some extent and also younger voters. And he may also have lost votes among some of Israel's strongest supporters, who have been bristling at his attempts to restrain Israel or to condition U.S. aid.

But surveys of all kinds agree the big issue for voters remains the economy. And by that, they usually mean inflation, the cost of groceries, rent and gas. We should add that immigration also matters in this election. Abortion matters in this election. But polls point to those prices and the perception that Biden has not done enough to bring them down.

SIMON: Donald Trump campaigned in the Bronx on Thursday. Does that mean New York is in play?

ELVING: No, but the real target here wasn't New York. The outcome in that deep-blue state is not in doubt. Trump's ultimate target here may be what he called - or what we call - reachable swing voters in other states that are not as blue as New York, perhaps, but that do have big cities of their own - states Trump won in 2016 but lost in 2020 - so Pennsylvania with Philly and Pittsburgh, Georgia with Atlanta, Detroit, Mich., Milwaukee, Wis., Charlotte, N.C., and so on. The turnout and the margin in those cities will be critical to the outcome in those states.

And the statewide polls are so close there. Trump doesn't have to win in communities of color. He just needs to lose by less to narrow Biden's margin among those voters. So here he is in a park in the South Bronx in a district where he got a tiny fraction of the vote in 2020, making a pitch for people to give him another look. If he can move urban voters even a little, it could make a big difference.

SIMON: It's easy to overlook the fact that, technically, we're still in the presidential primary season. Nikki Haley continues to draw votes even though she's left the race and has endorsed Donald Trump. Will her supporters follow?

ELVING: Some will, maybe most. But people who were independent enough to be voting for Haley this spring might still have problems with Trump in the fall. While the rest of Haley's voters - they might well have come home to the party nominee in November whether Haley was doing so or not. Now, we have seen it takes a great deal to get committed Republicans to vote for Joe Biden, even if they wish they weren't voting for Donald Trump.

SIMON: Illegal crossings at the southern border are down. Is that why immigration reform was blocked again this week?

ELVING: Well, the crossings have eased, but you won't hear a lot about that from Senate Republicans. That's not what drove this vote. This was a revisiting of the big compromise immigration bill that a bipartisan group of senators reached last winter after months of negotiation.

That deal had some momentum. It seemed to have a chance as part of the foreign aid package for Ukraine and Israel. But House Republicans wanted nothing to do with it, especially after it got a thumbs down from Donald Trump, and so it was removed from that Ukraine-Israel package.

This week's vote was intended to highlight all that again and perhaps to remind people how it all happened and the role Trump played, possibly as a prelude to a shift in policy that may be coming from the White House, which may mean to move toward more aggressive enforcement.

SIMON: Coming weeks should be the last of Donald Trump's criminal fraud trial in Manhattan. Despite previous vows, Mr. Trump didn't testify. So all that's left is closing arguments. It's a legal proceeding, but political effects, of course, right?

ELVING: Yes. And a lot of people in the media will be hanging on every word of those closing arguments, along with others who follow the news daily and hour by hour. But unless the closing arguments take off in unexpected directions, it may all seem like more of the same. Then the case goes to the jury, and we wait on their findings and beyond that on the public reaction.

If there's an acquittal or, more likely, a hung jury, it's clearly a win for Trump. If he's convicted, conventional wisdom says it will hurt him with some voters. People don't like the idea of voting for a convicted felon, but millions have been willing to overlook far more about Trump than they have about other presidential candidates before, so we can't say it won't happen again.

SIMON: Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. 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.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.
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