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Week in politics: Biden on the UAW strike; what's behind the impeachment inquiry


The United Auto Workers strike has entered its second day, and President Biden has made it clear which side he is on.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Record corporate profits, which they have, should be shared by record contracts for the UAW.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving joins us. Good morning, Ron.

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

SIMON: Is it surprising for a U.S. president to take sides on such a high-profile strike?

ELVING: To some degree. Presidents have usually preferred to be seen as arbiters between labor and management - presidents of all the people, presidents of all the economic interests. But we have also seen instances in which presidents came down pretty heavily on one side or the other, including Ronald Reagan busting the Air Traffic Controllers union 40 years ago. And it's not unusual for Democratic presidents to voice support, at least for the claims, of organized labor. Biden had the endorsement of the UAW in 2020. It helped him in some of the crucial swing states around the Great Lakes, and he would love to have it again in 2024, but that may require putting a shoulder to the wheel in this dispute in particular and maybe others.

SIMON: There have been some voices, including former Vice President Pence and The Wall Street Journal's editorial page, who say the strike has been brought about by this administration's support for electric vehicles, which may come at the cost of jobs for the current United Auto Workers membership. How does that strike you?

ELVING: It's a factor. The strike is basically about money and getting the workers a share of the auto company's profits. But the electric cars are also important here. The UAW would like Joe Biden to back off on the electric vehicles a bit, and yet they are a big part of Biden's climate change agenda - one of the real changes and one of the real contributions to cleaner air. The auto companies would also like to be competing in that market, too. It's the union that worries that this new generation of vehicles will lead auto companies to employ fewer of their workers, or at least fewer workers in plants or states that are organized by the UAW.

SIMON: President Biden's facing an impeachment inquiry by Republicans in the House of Representatives. Let me just put the question to you this way - over what?

ELVING: The basic allegation is that President Biden profited from the overseas business dealings of his son Hunter - dealings in Ukraine years ago and in China - trading on the Biden name when his father was vice president under President Obama. Now, Hunter Biden is in trouble over plenty of other things - charges of tax evasion, and now a federal indictment for lying about a - about his drug use on a gun license application five years ago. And we should note that Hunter has written a whole book about his drug and alcohol addictions.

House Republicans have been making these allegations of influence peddling for quite some time. They have evidence about Hunter, but we have not seen evidence that Joe Biden was getting money out of these deals. And one of the reasons Kevin McCarthy, the speaker of the House, says they need an impeachment inquiry at this point is to empower them to unearth some such evidence.

SIMON: Speaker McCarthy had said he'd take a vote before beginning impeachment proceedings, but he hasn't. So why did he proceed?

ELVING: The most obvious explanation would be to say he just didn't have the votes for this right now, given his narrow margin of control, but wanted to go forward anyway. Now, this maneuver allows him to do that with the appearance of his chamber's support - a lot of his members have come out and said he's doing the right thing - without actually asking for that support and risking a showdown he could lose. McCarthy's also under a great deal of pressure to pursue this because it's being brought on him by former President Trump. He's used his social media to call out McCarthy and the rest of the Republicans for their failure to impeach Biden up to now. But some of this heat is coming from the House Republicans' Freedom Caucus, which favors impeachment very strongly.

SIMON: Hunter Biden - indicted this week on gun charges. Do you see this personal but very public case as having an effect on the president's ability to conduct his office and, for that matter, his reelection campaign?

ELVING: It's less of a legal or legislative impact, but more of a psychological toll on the president himself. It's also an enormous distraction from the president's job and his reelection campaign. And speaking of that, we now have the prosecutor in the federal cases against Trump seeking a gag order because Trump has been so vocal and aggressive in his public comments about the case, and that could complicate the search for jurors and possibly compromise the proceedings.

SIMON: NPR's 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
Matthew Schuerman
Matthew Schuerman has been a contract editor at NPR's Weekend Edition since October 2021, overseeing a wide range of interviews on politics, the economy, the war in Ukraine, books, music and movies. He also occasionally contributes his own stories to the network. Previously, he worked at New York Public Radio for 13 years as reporter, editor and senior editor, and before that at The New York Observer, Village Voice, Worth and Fortune. Born in Chicago and educated at Harvard College and Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, he now lives in the New York City area.