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Politics Chat: Biden Promised Normalcy, But He Is Struggling To Rein In The Chaos


Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election with promises to return a sense of normalcy to the country. Seven months into his administration, little seems under his control right now. The exit from Afghanistan is chaotic. The delta variant is fueling a surge in coronavirus infections, and illegal crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border are reaching historic highs. To try to make sense of it all is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson, who joins us now. Hey, Mara.


DAVIS: So the Pentagon is now looking to commercial carriers to help evacuate Kabul. How much damage has the handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal done to Biden right now, especially as a president who prides himself on his foreign policy skills and reputation around the world?

LIASSON: Well, it's hurt him. We don't know how much it's going to hurt him over time. His approval ratings have slid below 50, although that slide started pre-Afghanistan, mostly with the delta variant. But there's no doubt that when a president's image of competence and credibility, two things that Biden ran on, is hurt, that's really bad. Jimmy Carter saw it with the hostage crisis. George W. Bush saw it with Katrina, and Trump saw it with COVID.

DAVIS: Republicans in the past few days, including one-time Biden friend Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, have gone so far as to suggest that Biden could be warranting an impeachment inquiry, depending on how the withdrawal of Afghanistan goes in the end. Obviously we know impeachment politics are tricky. We've dealt with them a lot in the past couple of years. But how serious of a threat should the Biden administration be taking that as?

LIASSON: I think that they should take the threat of impeachment seriously. The big question is, what about the impact of impeachment? Impeachment has almost become something that an opposition Congress just does.

DAVIS: Yeah.

LIASSON: And they - it's almost like a slap on the wrist. The president doesn't get removed. I think what the White House is hoping is that over time, Afghanistan fades from the headlines - which it already has started to do, except for on cable - that the economy stays up and COVID stays down and that the public who is supportive of the basic decision in Afghanistan to get out - they don't like the execution - that that helps him over time. Right now, it seems like the loss of credibility of the U.S. with our allies and our enemies as - the U.S. image as the indispensable superpower that's going to defend democracy in the face of advancing authoritarianism - that's taken more of a hit than domestic politics would hurt Biden.

DAVIS: When it comes to the pandemic, it obviously played a big role in Biden's victory over Donald Trump. There were promises earlier this year that life would be back to normal by the Fourth of July. We're seeing a very different - heading into a very different fall. What's the Biden administration strategy for where we go from here, in terms of the pandemic strategy?

LIASSON: He just tries to get everyone boosters if he can and get people who are vaccine-hesitant their first and second vaccine shots where he needs to. I don't think we're going back to lockdowns, but you're right. You can't have a feeling that you're returning to normalcy if your business isn't open. And that's still job one for the Biden administration.

DAVIS: All of this happens as we were seeing the surge at the border. Democrats are right now actively considering putting immigration reform legislation into a budget bill. Do you see that as a politically risky attempt for Democrats, or could it be a political advantageous moment, considering no president has been able to get much done on immigration for a generation or more?

LIASSON: Well, I think that it's risky if Democrats tried to pass something big and comprehensive on reconciliation with Democratic votes only. But remember, the DREAMers bill - that's legalizing people who were brought here as young, young infants, sometimes, undocumented - that used to have bipartisan support. Lindsey Graham was a co-sponsor of the DREAMers bill, so maybe they could put that on without tremendous blowback. But remember, immigration now fits into this Republican attack on Biden as being incompetent. Why couldn't he handle the surge at the border? Why didn't he anticipate it? Why didn't he have a plan?

DAVIS: That's NPR's Mara Liasson. Mara, thanks so much for your time.

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

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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