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

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AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:



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

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 never fail to stand by them.

RASCOE : NPR’s national political correspondent Mara Liasson is joining us. 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 an unexpected and horrific attack. Biden has been a staunch Israel supporter for a long time, and Israel enjoys bipartisan support in Congress. Biden has clearly put aside tensions between Israel and the U.S. over the domestic reforms that Netanyahu is implementing. A senior administration official briefing the press yesterday stated that it is not clear, and it’s still too early to say whether or not this conflict will impact the talks between Saudi Arabian and Israel. Normalizing relations between Saudi Arabia, Israel and Iran is a priority for the Biden administration in order to push Iran out of the region and to push China away. These talks are just beginning. What’s happening in Congress this week? Republicans still don’t have a speaker.

LIASSON: No, they don’t. They are returning Tuesday and voting on a new Speaker is supposed to take place this week. Steve Scalise, from Louisiana, is a member of the House Leadership, so you’d think that would give him a slight advantage. However, his opponent, Jim Jordan, from Ohio, has been endorsed Donald Trump. These two men have a similar ideology. They are both conservatives, but only one has Trump’s endorsement, which is important in the House of Representatives. You’ll probably see these two jockeying each other in the coming days. Remember that Kevin McCarthy, the ousted speaker, took 15 ballots before he was elected. 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. It is unclear whether the new speaker will have to follow the same rules as McCarthy. The rule states that only one member is required to trigger a recall, or a motion of vacate, i.e., fire the speaker. To change this rule, the Republicans would require 217 votes. They only have a small majority. The Democrats won’t bail them out. We’re also watching to see what happens with the eight candidates on the right who voted against McCarthy. They have a lot of power with this rule. Would they give it up? Matt Gaetz, the leader of this group in Florida, has stated that he is open-minded about a rule change. Now that American voters are saying they want leaders to get things done, we’ll find out if this is true.

RASCOE : The American people say that they want leaders with the ability to do so. 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. A government shutdown is imminent. McCarthy was able to pass a bill for short-term funding of the government with Democratic votes. It’s because of this that the hard-right Republicans were so angry at him. This kept the government running for another 45 days. Will there be a shutdown of the government after this time period? If so, for how long? It could have an impact on the politics of 2024. This will allow Democrats to portray the GOP as being extremists and uninterested in governing. There are 18 Republicans who represent districts won by Joe Biden in the House. These are the Republicans in danger. Democrats need only five seats in order to regain the majority 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 started the process of building more wall along the border with Mexico. He campaigned and promised not to do that. What is happening here?

LIASSON: Right. He didn’t campaign on wall construction. He did not like Donald Trump’s Wall, but he is now building it. Congress has allocated funds for an additional 20 miles of wall. He must spend the money. He claims he failed in his attempts to convince Congress to use this money for another purpose. He claims he had no choice. However, he could have taken the matter to court and tried to get out. Immigration politics are changing. Illegal immigration is not just a Republican issue. They’re telling the White House they are overwhelmed with 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.

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