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Politics chat: Biden under pressure for his stance on Israel-Gaza war

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

We're going to turn now to the view from Washington on this with White House correspondent Asma Khalid. Good morning, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So there have been a lot of developments this past week. President Biden called for temporary limited pauses for humanitarian reasons. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately rejected that call, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken was just in the region trying to head off a wider conflict. What can you tell us about the administration's current stance on this situation?

KHALID: You know, at this point, there are really three main priorities for the White House. I would say, first and foremost, the administration sees Israel's right to defend itself and supporting that right as, really, its guiding principle. The White House has been calling on Congress to provide an additional $14 billion in military aid.

Secondly, the administration is working to get additional humanitarian aid into Gaza and to get people out, and that includes the hostages that Daniel was mentioning. You know, to your point also, Ayesha, they have called for temporary pauses that could potentially, in their view, allow that to happen.

And then I would say the third point that, really, this administration is focused on is containing this conflict, ensuring that it does not spread beyond the Gaza Strip. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was meeting with Arab leaders yesterday. He was, in fact, in the West Bank even earlier today. And Blinken said that, you know, all of these Arab leaders want to ensure lasting peace and security in the region.

But I will also say that standing right next to Blinken yesterday, you heard the Jordanian and Egyptian foreign ministers call for an immediate cease-fire. And that is just, frankly, not where the Biden administration is. A senior administration official briefed reporters Friday evening and flatly said that a cease-fire is not the word to use. The official said that, ultimately, that would come down to when Israelis feel secure and ensure that something like what happened on October 7 could not happen again.

RASCOE: There are some Democrats criticizing Israel's action. I would imagine that is putting pressure on President Biden.

KHALID: Yeah. I mean, the message that we have been hearing from the White House, I would say, and even, in fact, we heard from the podium in the White House press briefing room, is that the administration is not drawing red lines for Israel. But I will say also in the last week, you have seen more vocal criticism from some Democratic lawmakers. I'm thinking of someone like Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, who called for a cease-fire. You know, at the same time, there are also internal frustrations bubbling up. Hundreds of USAID staffers have signed an anonymous letter pushing for an immediate cease-fire. There are also reports of dissent at the State Department.

And, you know, I would say within the administration, Ayesha, I have heard myself from people who have reached out that there are kind of, I will say, internal debates about the morality of this wholehearted support for Israel. You know, you look at the polling - the Democratic Party as a whole is not lockstep behind what the Biden administration appears to be doing. You do see some internal debate amongst Democrats, particularly among younger voters, and you're going to naturally see some of that same division that you see in polling in the administration itself.

And, you know, yesterday there was a massive protest in D.C., for example, calling for a cease-fire. And I will say, you know, this is something unusual to see under a Democratic president, are folks who - in fact, some of those folks at the protests are people who, in fact, voted for Joe Biden. It's very different than some of those protests you saw, you know, going back in the early 2000s under the Iraq war, under a Republican administration.

RASCOE: Since the start of the war in Gaza, immigration has sort of fallen off from national headlines, but a group of Democratic mayors in D.C. this past week were asking the federal government for more help and resources. How do you see immigration factoring into our current politics?

KHALID: Well, I asked Ruy Teixeira about this. He's a longtime political demographer. And he points out that when you look at polling, there appears to be widespread dissatisfaction with how President Biden is currently handling immigration.

RUY TEIXEIRA: You can convince people your party's for a fair humane immigration system that's under control. I think that will be to your benefit. But I think Democrats have a steep hill to climb at this point.

KHALID: You know, these Democratic mayors have said that they don't have the resources to deal with the migrants who've been arriving in their cities. The Biden administration has asked Congress for additional money to deal with this situation, but it's not clear that's going to come through.

RASCOE: So a bunch of key elections coming up on Tuesday - which ones are you watching?

KHALID: OK, well, I will keep it to one 'cause I know we don't have loads of time, Ayesha, and that is Ohio. I think Ohio is a real preview for how abortion rights might factor into 2024. Ohioans will be voting directly on an amendment around abortion. It is, to my understanding, the only explicit abortion issue on the ballot this year. It could really give voters a sense of how critical this issue might be in the 2024 election.

RASCOE: That's NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid. Thank you so much, Asma.

KHALID: Always good to talk to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) 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.
Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.