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Politics chat: President Biden begins 2023 with a politically divided Congress


Let's start with politics. President Biden returns to Washington tomorrow, and Congress will be back on Tuesday for what could be a year of intense partisan conflict. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins us to explain how the year might play out.

Good morning and Happy New Year, Tamara.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning, Emily. Happy New Year.

FENG: Thank you. So President Biden said he'd spend these holidays talking with his family about his political future. Does that mean he's going to announce soon whether he'll run for a second term in 2024?

KEITH: All indications are that is where he's headed. And since the midterms, even Democrats who were openly skeptical of Biden have fallen in line behind the idea of him running again. Biden aides, including his chief of staff, have been quite bullish about the president's improved standing and the likelihood of an official announcement coming. Though the timing for that announcement is less clear, and they aren't feeling a ton of pressure because former President Trump, although he announced, hasn't really been campaigning.

FENG: Well, given that Democrats lost control of the House in November, what is President Biden realistically hoping to achieve in the coming year?

KEITH: It's a divided Congress. In the first two years, Biden was shockingly successful at notching bipartisan legislative achievements right up to that big government funding bill that passed at the very end of the year. But there's a big difference this year with Republicans in charge of the House. A Republican House speaker - whoever that ends up being, whether it be Kevin McCarthy or someone else - is not going to want to bring up bills that don't have the support of the majority of their conference.

So much of the Biden administration's focus this year is going to be on implementation. That is making sure that all those bipartisan bills and not-bipartisan bills that passed last year, things like the Inflation Reduction Act and the infrastructure bill, making sure that those are implemented well and also that voters know where they came from.

FENG: All right, let's cross the aisle. What do congressional Republicans have planned?

KEITH: They have a long list of bills, starting with a repeal of the inflation - part of the Inflation Reduction Act that would hire more IRS agents. But that list mostly contains ideas that aren't going anywhere in the Senate. You can also expect a wide range of investigations, everything from looking into what happened with the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan to President Biden's son, Hunter, and his laptop. Here is James Comer, the Republican congressman expected to head up the House Oversight Committee, in a recent appearance on Fox News.


JAMES COMER: We have spent trillions of dollars despite the fact that there had been report after report of waste, fraud and abuse, especially with all the COVID money. And then you take the laptop, which shows that there has been influence peddling on a scale that we've never seen in the United States of America.

KEITH: The Biden White House is counting on Republicans overreaching with these investigations and then the White House being able to say, what about inflation? I thought they ran on inflation.

FENG: Do you have a sense of whether the White House is going to cooperate with congressional Republicans on these issues you just mentioned?

KEITH: This week, the White House counsel sent letters to Congressman Comer, as well as Jim Jordan, who's the Republican who will chair the judiciary committee. And both of them had made urgent requests for documents to administration officials. The White House letter said, in essence, that you can call us back when you are actually in the majority. Ian Sams is a spokesman for the counsel's office.

IAN SAMS: Unfortunately, they're focusing on political stunts. When you make threats of subpoenas while you're still in the minority, it suggests that maybe you're more focused on getting on Fox News than on working together on the important issues facing the American people.

KEITH: So I would just say that the level of cooperation is probably going to depend a lot on the nature of the investigation in question.

FENG: Thank you. That's NPR's White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

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

Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.
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.