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Politics chat: Biden campaigns on Infrastructure Bill, attacks Trump


President Biden says he sees shovels in the ground and cranes in the sky as he looks at the projects funded by the bipartisan infrastructure bill he signed in 2021. And he's drawing a contrast with his predecessor.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Four years of Infrastructure Week, but it failed. He failed. On my watch, instead of Infrastructure Week, America's having Infrastructure Decade.


BIDEN: Decade.

RASCOE: That's Biden in Nevada on Friday, announcing $8.2 billion in federal funding for 10 major passenger rail projects across the country. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So passenger rail - it's not as sexy as sending astronauts to the moon, but it is a lot of money - billions of dollars going to states. Is it something that's going to get people worked up and maybe get them to vote for President Biden?

LIASSON: Well, that is unclear, and not necessarily. You know, President Biden has made sure that a lot of federal dollars from infrastructure legislation go to create jobs for non-college-educated workers, often in red states. But polls show a lot of voters don't know anything about this, or when they do see, for instance, $1,400 COVID relief checks in the mail, which not a single Republican voted for, a lot of them think they got the checks from Donald Trump, who wasn't even in office. So it's hard for Biden to get this message across.

RASCOE: Biden likes to refer to Trump, Donald Trump, as the former guy if he talks about him at all, but he went after him by name in Las Vegas last week or this past week. Do you think that's a new tactic?

LIASSON: Yes, I do, but when an incumbent is as unpopular as Biden is now, with Trump beating him in the polls nationally and in key battleground states, he has to try to make the election a referendum on his opponent. And we know from polling that the biggest motivator of voter behavior these days is something called negative partisanship - that is, people go into the voting booth to motivated to cast their vote against someone, not necessarily for their own candidate. And that's what he's got to do.

RASCOE: So tomorrow, Biden heads to Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, Trump is due to testify in the New York civil fraud trial against him and his company. But it doesn't seem like, you know, not being out on the road campaigning is really denting Trump's approval ratings among Republicans, right?

LIASSON: Not so far. And in some ways, you could argue that all of these indictments have increased his support inside the Republican Party, made his core supporters even more energized and devoted to him. But we have no idea what will happen as these cases grind on, including the criminal trials for mishandling classified information, for trying to overturn the election. What happens to public support, what happens to independent voters and swing voters if Donald Trump is convicted? We have never seen a campaign like this. We certainly have never seen a presidential campaign waged from the courthouse steps. But that is what Trump will be doing month after month after month.

RASCOE: The U.S. vetoed a U.N. resolution calling for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Arab governments condemned the veto. Are American policy makers in sync with the American public on Israel and Gaza?

LIASSON: Look, polls still show majority American support for Israel, but there definitely are big disconnects, especially inside the Democratic Party. You just heard about the college president who was forced to resign. Young voters, voters of color, Arab American voters, all very important parts of the Democratic coalition, are unhappy with President Biden's steadfast support of Israel. And it's not just voters. Democratic members of Congress - more and more of them are calling for a cease-fire or for making aid to Israel conditional.

RASCOE: OK. In the about 30 seconds we have left, what's the latest on aid to Ukraine?

LIASSON: Well, the latest is that there is no more aid to Ukraine, and there probably won't be for the rest of this year. Republicans are blocking it in Congress. Some of them share Trump - Donald Trump's animus toward Ukraine and positive feelings toward Vladimir Putin. Other Republicans don't want to vote for aid to Ukraine unless they get big concessions from Democrats on U.S. southern border policy. And meanwhile, Vladimir Putin is very happy. One Russian propagandist said on Russian state TV, well done, Republicans - that's good for us.

RASCOE: That's NPR's Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you so much.

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

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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.