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Politics chat: Biden's silence on the developments around Trump

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

The airwaves are buzzing with news of the indictment of former President Donald Trump on 34 counts of business-related fraud. And everyone has something to say about it except the White House. Here's President Biden leaving the White House on Friday, emphatically not answering any questions about Trump's situation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I have no comment at all on Trump. I have no comment on that. I'm not going to talk about Trump's indictment.

RASCOE: We're joined now in studio by NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Good morning, Franco.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So we just heard President Biden basically say in every way possible, no comment. So why isn't he speaking about this?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, you know, Ayesha, it's interesting because as you know, having covered Biden, as well, I mean, he doesn't really stop to speak with reporters that often when he leaves the White House, but he did yesterday when he knew that that was the question that every reporter wanted to ask him. And as you just noted, it was no comment, no comment. Will this divide the country? No comment. Is this politically motivated? No comment. It was all these different variations. But, you know, it is kind of his strategy, you know, all along dealing with the former president, you know, which is to kind of show that he's staying or trying to stay out of the political fray. Don't comment on a political or an active investigation and say at least that he's focused on the Biden agenda.

RASCOE: So like we said earlier, everybody's got an opinion on this, you know, including the American people. And you were looking at some polls taken last week, right? Like, what did those numbers tell you?

ORDOÑEZ: Ayesha, the numbers tell us that Americans are divided and, not surprisingly, along party lines. NPR actually did one of those polls along with PBS and Marist that came out just before the indictments did. And it showed that 9 out of 10 Democrats say the investigations are fair, and 8 out of 10 Republicans call them a witch hunt. It's so tribal that, you know, even some Republican opponents of Trump who could, you know, try to use this to their advantage, you know, in the Republican primaries coming up are instead coming to his defense. And that's because - you know, in large part because they see the polls. You know, another poll from Quinnipiac found that 93% of Republicans feel this case is politically motivated. That's really high.

RASCOE: OK, so, I mean, speaking of how things look to the voters, like, as Trump is getting indicted, Biden on Monday is leaving for Minneapolis as part of his Invest in America tour. He's touting the investments of his administration in the American economy. Like, is he going to be able to get that message out when everybody is focused on what's happening with Trump?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, there's no question that so much focus, especially in D.C. and nationally, is going to be on the Trump indictment and him coming up to New York. And how is it going to happen? But the White House is really more focused on the local coverage in these battleground states. And when I talk with Democratic strategists, they actually see this as an opportunity. Ben Tulchin - he's a Democratic pollster. I talked to him, and he says the arrest is actually - it actually provides a nice contrast between Biden and Trump.

BEN TULCHIN: The White House couldn't ask for a better setup. President Biden gets to look very presidential, go around the country telling a good story about the economy and tackling inflation, while the split screen will be former President Trump getting - possibly getting arrested.

ORDOÑEZ: And, Ayesha, it's not that Democrats aren't, you know, kind of worried about this. You know, they see some of these polls. There's independents who see this as politically motivated, as well, I'll just note. You know, it's really a complicated situation. But, you know, the Democrats also point to Trump's track record when he is the focal point of the national narrative. And when that happens, Democrats have benefited, as we saw in, you know, several of the last elections.

RASCOE: We got - in less of the - less than a minute we have left, President Biden is expected at some point to formally announce running for 2024. Like, what is he waiting for? Why hasn't he done it?

ORDOÑEZ: (Laughter) You know, the short answer is we don't entirely know, but it looks like it could be pretty soon. I mean, he's made a lot of policy moves to kind of position himself more in the center. You know, there was the D.C. crime bill and not opposing Republican efforts to kind of overturn it, drilling in Alaska and some really tough policies on immigration. And look. You know, this week he's going to Minnesota, as we noted. You know, he's fanning out, along with members of his administration, to talk about the economy. You know, and these are very key states, battleground states. So he's making the moves that you need to do to run.

RASCOE: That's NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Thank you, Franco.

RASCOE: Thanks, Ayesha. 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.
Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.