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Politics chat: Unrest on Capitol Hill, election updates and analysis

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

We begin the week on a positive note with a government that's able to function, by which we mean it's funded. Congress has again agreed on how much it's going to spend and on what, and President Biden put his signature to it yesterday. How functional that makes the government - well, that's in the eyes of the beholder/voter. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now. Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So what Congress finally passed this weekend was the stickier stuff - money for defense, financial services, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services and more. Talk about that.

LIASSON: That's right. This is the most basic function of Congress - to keep the U.S. government open, serving the people. But we now consider it a huge achievement when Congress avoids a government shutdown. You know, earlier this month, they passed another big funding bill. That was for the Veterans Administration, agriculture, military, construction, transportation. Now with this second giant bill, the rest of the government is funded, but a majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives voted against this bill, and that means that Speaker Johnson still faces the possibility of being ousted by his far-right members, just as his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, was when he relied on Democratic votes to fund the government.

Marjorie Taylor Greene, representative, has filed a, quote, "motion to vacate." That means a motion to fire the speaker. She hasn't called for a vote just yet, but what we might be seeing is a kind of new model where the speaker not only relies on Democratic votes to pass essential pieces of legislation like funding the government, but also that he relies on Democratic votes to keep his job. That's something Democrats weren't willing to do for Kevin McCarthy, but if it comes to a vote to oust Johnson, Democrats are now saying they might be willing to help him stay in office.

RASCOE: Here's what Republican Scott Perry of Pennsylvania had to say about the choice lawmakers had with this spending package.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SCOTT PERRY: What is the left, the Democrats - what are they going to run on when they pass this bill? Twenty-two thousand border agents, 41,500 detention beds, 22,000 border agents.

RASCOE: So a Republican - for a Republican to complain about border security, that makes me think that there's still some unrest up there on Capitol Hill.

LIASSON: Yes, there certainly is. You know, the hard-right wing of the Republican conference in the House didn't like this bill. They also didn't like the fact that Speaker Johnson had to work across the aisle, rely on Democratic votes to pass it. And what makes Johnson's job even harder going forward is that two more Republican members have just resigned, Ken Buck of Colorado and Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin. Their seats are going to be empty till November. That means that Republicans' slim majority got even slimmer, and Congress still has a lot on its plate, including aid to Ukraine, which is another thing that a majority of Republicans in the House also oppose because Donald Trump is against it.

RASCOE: Well, but where does that leave aid to Ukraine, then?

LIASSON: Well, what's interesting is if it came to the floor, it would probably get 300 votes. It has big bipartisan majority support, but not the support of a majority of the Republicans in the House. There is an effort to bring it to the floor with a legislative maneuver called a discharge petition. That would circumvent Republican leadership. There's also a new proposal that would make aid to Ukraine in the form of a loan that would have to be repaid. Some Republicans think this might be more acceptable to Donald Trump, who has opposed aid to Ukraine so far.

RASCOE: Well, I mean, the subtext of everything that we've been talking about, the kind of - the odor in the room, if you will, is the voting in November. Like, what's your feel about the 2024 election at the moment?

LIASSON: Well, the race looks very close. Polls in battleground states show Trump still leading by a little bit. Most of them are within the margin of error, so it looks like a toss-up. By some other metrics, Biden is doing well. He and the Democrats have raised lots more money than Donald Trump and the Republicans, and Trump is also spending tremendous amounts of money on his legal bills. He's been having trouble coming up with the almost half a billion dollars that he needs to post a bond while he appeals the judgment against him in these civil cases. And Biden is struggling with rifts in the Democratic coalition over the war in Gaza. So these are two candidates who are unpopular, and both have tremendous challenges.

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

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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