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Politics chat: Biden administration's post-war vision; RNC primary calendar


The resumption of fighting in Gaza poses a challenge for the Biden administration. President Biden has come under fire for his steady support of Israel, while images of civilian deaths in Gaza flood social media and sway voter sentiment in the U.S. And some comments made by Vice President Kamala Harris to Arab leaders while attending the U.N. climate summit in Dubai are, as we just heard, getting a lot of attention. NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro joins us now to help break it all down. Good morning, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So Vice President Harris made some pretty strong statements yesterday about the U.S. position on a post-war Gaza and West Bank. What can you tell us about what she said?

MONTANARO: Yeah, a couple specific things. You know, she said that under no circumstances would the U.S. permit forced relocation of Palestinians, that the U.S. opposes any changes to Gaza's borders after the war. And she told reporters that Israel has the right to defend itself but that far too many Palestinians have been killed. And, you know, this is all very tricky politically for President Biden. I mean, the president is seeking reelection but has seen a decline in approval with younger voters and Arab Americans in particular, key Democratic base groups that are upset with his handling of the war. You know, there's a year to go until next year's presidential election, and he has time to rally Democrats. But people are very passionate about this, and it's going to be tough for Biden to strike a balance with younger voters, Arab Americans, on the one hand, with Jewish Americans and persuadable voters in the middle who want to - who want support to tilt toward Israel.

RASCOE: So moving closer to home, the Republican National Committee's primary calendar is out, and it looks like they'll have their delegates nominated pretty quickly, right?

MONTANARO: Yeah. I don't think people fully have their heads wrapped around the fact that this is all going to be over pretty quickly. You know, after Super Tuesday, March 5 - 16 states vote that day - almost half the delegates will be allocated, and by the end of March, more than 70% of them will already be distributed. So that means the GOP nominee is largely going to be known before Trump's trials even start in earnest. You know, remember, his first trial date is March 4, the day before Super Tuesday. And this means that despite polling showing that about half of Republicans say they wouldn't want to vote for Trump if he's convicted of a crime, the nominee is going to be known long before there could be a possible conviction for any of the charges he's facing.

RASCOE: And on Friday, D.C. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan ruled that Donald Trump is not immune from criminal prosecution, and claiming immunity as a former president was a big chunk of his defense strategy in these cases. So where does that leave things?

MONTANARO: Sure. I mean, this came down to whether the court bought that Trump was performing official duties as a - as president during that rally on the ellipse before the crowd moved to the Capitol on January 6 or if he was acting as a candidate. You know, the court said that he was a first-term president who was up for reelection and acting as a candidate, and that means he's not immune from lawsuits against him from, say, Congress or law enforcement officers who were injured that day. So this leaves Trump pretty vulnerable to these lawsuits now, which will be allowed to continue. Trump, though, of course, could and likely will appeal either to the D.C. Court of Appeals or directly to the Supreme Court. So this is probably not going to be the final word on this.

RASCOE: In the about 30 seconds we have left, the fourth GOP debate is happening this week in Alabama. Talk to us about that.

MONTANARO: Yeah, I mean, the same thing I've been looking for in the last two debates is what I'm looking for here, which is whether Nikki Haley or Florida Governor Ron DeSantis can separate themselves to be the principal alternative to Trump. Are they going to directly go after each other, you know, strategically here? You know, Haley, the former South Carolina governor, has been surging lately, not just in polling but with a big endorsement from the Koch brothers political network. Super PACs DeSantis - who's supporting DeSantis have been going after Haley, trying to drag her down, even comparing her to Hillary Clinton. What is DeSantis going to do on the stage? That is a big question for me.

RASCOE: That's NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Thank you so much, Domenico.

MONTANARO: Hey, thank you. 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.
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.

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