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Politics chat: Biden vows to continue support for Israel, aid package in the works

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

President Joe Biden called Iran's attack on Israel unprecedented and says the U.S. is coordinating a diplomatic response with other allies. Joining us now is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: What else has the president said about this attack?

LIASSON: The president says he is going to be convening his fellow G7 leaders to coordinate that united diplomatic response. He says he's going to stay in close touch with Israel's leaders and that he's going to remain vigilant to all threats against U.S. facilities or forces in the region. And he says, we won't hesitate to take all necessary action to protect our people.

RASCOE: Biden has been under pressure from his party over his support for Israel as the war in Gaza has dragged on. What is the political challenge that he faces at this particular moment?

LIASSON: Well, the biggest political challenge is whether this - these attacks start a new cycle of retaliation and the war widens to become a regional Middle East conflict. That's what the White House doesn't want to happen. And he - the White House is clearly hoping that both Israel and Iran can claim success. Israel, with American help, shot down most of these Iranian drones, even though an Israeli leader says this conflict is not over. We have heard from Iranian leaders, as Carrie just mentioned. Also, Iran's military chief, Major General Mohammad Bagheri, said in his view, the operation has ended. We do not intend to continue. So if it - if this is the end of it, a tit-for-tat response, that's what the White House wants.

RASCOE: The House is shifting its schedule around this week to consider an aid package to Israel. This has been held up for a very long time. What have Republican leaders in the House had to say about the attack?

LIASSON: They are going to be putting legislation on the floor supporting Israel, saying that in light of Iran's unjustified attack, they're going to change their legislative schedule. They're going to consider legislation that supports Israel and holds Iran accountable.

RASCOE: Johnson got a boost last week from former President Donald Trump, who - on Friday, he didn't squash the idea of getting military aid to Ukraine in the form of a loan. So what can you tell us about that? Does that seem like a legitimate option or an option that could actually get through Congress?

LIASSON: Yes, it does. And remember, that Ukrainian aid package includes aid to Israel. And Mike Johnson has been under pressure from his far-right wing of his party that - especially Marjorie Taylor Greene - if he puts Ukraine aid and Israel aid, that package that the Senate passed, on the floor of the House, she will move to fire him. But when he went down to Mar-a-Lago, he got a real boost from Donald Trump. Donald Trump said he was doing a really good job. He also did not dump on the idea of sending aid to Ukraine as he has done in the past. He said that he would consider this idea of making Ukraine aid alone. This is something that Trump himself actually suggested earlier this year.

And, you know, we've been talking about this Ukraine aid package every Sunday morning for the last several weeks, and no new military aid to Ukraine has passed Congress since Republicans took control of the House. Meanwhile, Ukraine is running out of ammunition. Russia is advancing. There is enough support in the House to pass this package of aid to Ukraine and Israel and Taiwan, with most of the Democrats voting for it and some Republicans. And now with Donald Trump not dumping on it, maybe it has a new lease on life, especially because of the Republicans' desire to support Israel after this Iranian attack.

RASCOE: Well, Mara, I wanted to ask you about the challenge that Biden is facing when it comes to Israel and the conflict in the Middle East. Talk to me about what is going on in the economy right now and the conflicting signals we're getting and what that means for him, as president, who's trying to say that he's done well with the economy.

LIASSON: Oh, you mean that inflation ticked up?

RASCOE: Yes.

LIASSON: Yes. That's not good. That certainly is not what Biden wants. He wanted a nice soft landing. We just don't have that yet.

RASCOE: Can I ask you - very quickly, what is Trump's stand on abortion? He's been all...

LIASSON: (Laughter) Good question.

RASCOE: ...Over the place. Where does he stand on abortion right now?

LIASSON: Well, that's really interesting. He was asked questions because, of course, Arizona State Supreme Court upheld a 19th-century law banning most abortions. And yes, that law was passed before Arizona was a state. It was a territory, and it was passed before women had the right to vote. But he was asked - Trump was asked, are you pro-life or pro-choice? And he said, you know what my answer is.

But you're right. He's been all over this issue on every side. But he has boasted about appointing the Supreme Court justices that overturned Roe. And now abortion is on the ballot in lots of states. It probably will be on the ballot in Arizona, too. And it's a good issue for Democrats. It's something that Democrats think will goose up turnout, will bring suburban voters out for them, especially women. And in Arizona, it's really important because Arizona is an important swing state.

RASCOE: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you so much.

LIASSON: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHILLY GONZALES' "OREGANO") 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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