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Politics chat: Latest on the classified documents found; Republicans delay raising the debt ceiling

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

The FBI found more classified documents at President Biden's private Delaware residence on Friday. The White House is still dealing with the criticism over the two-month delay in disclosing the discovery of the first set of documents. And all this is happening on the background of a tense congressional showdown over the raising of the debt ceiling. We're joined now by NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

RASCOE: So these latest documents, we're told, were found during a consensual search of the president's private residence. And all of this is happening while we're also hearing that the president's chief of staff is stepping down, right?

LIASSON: That's right. The Justice Department on Friday, as you said, completed a search of President Biden's home in Wilmington. They did turn up some more classified documents. Some of them date to his time in the Senate, some of them date to his time as vice president. The White House says it is fully cooperating with the Justice Department. But this is exasperating Democrats, and it's worrying them. They think Biden can't afford to have this kind of problem just when he's about to announce for reelection.

But you're right - there is one White House staffer who's not going to be sticking around to deal with this particular problem, and that is Ron Klain, the chief of staff. He is reported by multiple media outlets to be preparing to depart. He is the longest serving Democratic White House chief of staff in more than 50 years, and he's an even longer time top Biden staffer. So the White House will be losing a lot of Biden institutional memory. But this is pretty rare. This is a White House that has had very relatively little attrition and turnover.

RASCOE: And so, you know, moving on to that other big problem that the White House is facing - the debt ceiling. The Treasury Department said it could move some cash around, like we all do when we've got to pay some bills, to fund government spending. But that's for now. So what's the plan for House Republicans? Like, what are they trying to do here?

LIASSON: Well, the Republicans say that they will not raise the debt ceiling until there are some negotiations and spending is cut. The White House says it will not negotiate with what they call hostage takers. They want the Republicans to come out and say, what will they cut? Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the defense budget - those are the biggest items in the budget. Donald Trump actually released a video over the weekend telling Republicans not to touch Social Security or Medicare.

But this is a very different kind of Republican majority in the House. It's more of a government shutdown party than a party that is focused on the basic functions of governance, like paying bills. And also the new MAGA majority in the House is not as beholden to the institutional forces that used to pressure Republicans to perform basic functions of governance, like big business or big donors. They're much more attuned to social media and conservative TV. So there is this feeling in the business community and in Washington that the risks of actually defaulting on the debt, which would have terrible consequences for the United States economy, is actually much bigger this time.

RASCOE: Well, you know, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy compared the government to a child, saying you don't just hand it a credit card and max it out. But, you know, I mean, isn't this a different type of situation? Because the time to cut spending would be when the budget is being set, presumably, and not when the bills are due? Or am I getting that wrong?

LIASSON: Yes, you're getting it right. And this is why people get cynical about Washington, and they think government is dysfunctional. This is not a budget negotiation where you're arguing about your spending priorities. This is spending that has already been approved by Congress. This is money that has already been spent. And we have this crazy system where, unlike ordinary people, Congress can spend over there, quote, "credit card limit" or debt limit. And then later, because they're their own credit card company, they can take a separate vote to raise their credit limit. The credit - the debt limit was raised three times during the Trump administration, and Republicans didn't seem to mind that at all.

RASCOE: In the 30 seconds we have left - you know, today would have been the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. You know, Vice President Kamala Harris will be giving a speech in Tallahassee, Florida, today talking about what the administration is doing. What can you say about that?

LIASSON: Well, the politics of abortion are really changing. Anti-abortion activists won the legal battle - they got Roe overturned in the Supreme Court - before they had won the battle for public opinion. And now the question is, where do the new battle lines get drawn? Will abortion opponents try to ban abortion or will they try to do something more modest? And for the first time, Democrats feel the abortion issue is something that is actually working for them politically.

RASCOE: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thank you so much, Mara.

LIASSON: 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.
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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