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Politics chat: What a fragmented Republican party means for Biden's agenda


If you stayed up late on Friday night, you might have seen House Republicans shout and wrangle until they got the votes needed to get California's Kevin McCarthy the speaker's gavel. But what remains is a House with a narrow and clearly unaligned Republican majority, which is likely to make governing tricky, to say the least. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins us now. Welcome to the show, Tam.


RASCOE: So a few months ago, we were watching President Biden struggle with members of his own party holding up his economic agenda, although I don't think any pushing or shoving happened that we know about. But now the Democrats must really be relishing all of this chaos in the Republican Party.

KEITH: Oh, indeed they are. Back then, Republicans were gloating that Dems were in disarray, and now it is President Biden who can't look away as McCarthy faced failed vote after failed vote. And there are some unavoidable big votes coming in this year that Republicans won't want to take - passing a budget, raising the debt ceiling. Biden is positioning himself to say Republicans are the party of chaos. And this past week certainly didn't hurt that. As for McCarthy, the next big test of his speakership comes on Monday, when the House votes on a rules package that is basically going to determine how the body will operate in the next two years. And it includes a lot of concessions that McCarthy made to the rebels. That may be hard for moderates to swallow.

RASCOE: So the president is stopping in El Paso today before heading to Mexico City. Let's start with what he's doing on the U.S. side of the border today.

KEITH: Well, he's been under a lot of pressure from Republicans to go to the border and see conditions there himself for a long time, though they are now arguing that he's getting a sanitized version by visiting the port of entry at El Paso. Biden will meet with local officials, Customs and Border Patrol agents and local organizations helping migrants. He is making this trip just as he announced a new big push to reduce the flow of migrants trying to enter the country at the border.

RASCOE: But the president is getting a lot of pushback from activists about that new immigration policy, right?

KEITH: Yeah, the politics here are really tough for him. This is a real undeniable humanitarian crisis, and inaction wasn't an option. But he's being hit from all sides. On the right, he's accused of being too lenient for creating a new legal pathway to the U.S. for people fleeing violence in Nicaragua, Haiti, Venezuela and Cuba. On the left, the blowback has been even more intense, accusing Biden of extending inhumane Trump-era policies by expanding the number of people who will be turned away without their asylum claims even being considered. Biden today is going to call for Congress, as he has many times before, to pass comprehensive immigration reform. But, of course, that is easier said than done. Congress has been trying and failing to do that for more than a decade now.

RASCOE: OK. So now you're in Mexico City. What are we expecting from the president's visit there today?

KEITH: Well, the biggest thing happening today is President Biden's arrival in Mexico, which, believe it or not, has come with its own diplomatic intrigue. Mexico's president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, publicly asked Biden to fly into a new airport that's been a pet project of his. But that airport is 25 miles outside of the city and really quite inconvenient. In the end, though, the U.S. agreed to have Biden land there. And it says a lot about the relationship between the Mexican president and the U.S., says Carlos Bravo Regidor, political analyst based in Mexico City I spoke with.

CARLOS BRAVO REGIDOR: Maybe for an American audience, it would seem like, oh, what a small detail, but, you know, it explains a lot.

KEITH: He says Lopez Obrador has been tweaking Biden since before he even took office, mostly for domestic political purposes.

BRAVO REGIDOR: Lopez Obrador sort of behaves as if he knows - and he's probably right in this - that he has Biden, so to speak, grabbed by the border.

KEITH: Though Mexico did just agree to take in more migrants that the U.S. turns away - 30,000 a month. We may learn more during this trip what Mexico got out of that deal. There will be a summit here in Mexico City in the next couple of days with both the leader of Canada and Mexico, as well as President Biden.

RASCOE: That's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thank you so much.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.