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Politics chat: Debt ceiling negotiations; immigration reform


Who should worry about the ongoing standoff over the debt ceiling?

SAMANTHA SANDERS: Seniors or people with disabilities who get Social Security payments, military personnel and veterans benefits, federal employees, people who are getting support from programs funded by federal money like SNAP for food stamps, housing assistance, and then that has a big ripple effect on the economy from there.

RASCOE: So pretty much everyone. That's from a conversation elsewhere in the program, breaking down what defaulting could mean for the average American. So stay tuned for that. Right now, we'll talk about the politics of the debt ceiling and more with our own Tamara Keith, White House correspondent and host of the NPR Politics Podcast. Hi, Tam.


RASCOE: And happy Mother's Day.

KEITH: And to you as well.

RASCOE: Thank you. So let's start where we always start on the debt ceiling, which is to say that this is a fight over money that Congress has already authorized to spend.

KEITH: Correct. And the full faith and credit of the United States is at stake. It is, in essence, the leverage in a fight over what the federal government will spend in the future. There are negotiations ongoing. The White House and House Republicans don't even agree, though, on what they are negotiating over. There are some areas of possible common ground emerging, but it's not clear that that will be enough to produce a measure that House Republicans can get behind. They want to reverse Biden administration legislative accomplishments, and they want dramatic spending cuts to a fairly narrow piece of the budget pie. The White House is pushing to keep out a lot of what House Republicans want. And you have to remember that a lot of these House Republicans have never voted to support a bipartisan bill to raise the debt ceiling. And it's not clear they will now. As President Biden characterized this whole process yesterday, he said we're moving along. It's hard to tell.

RASCOE: And so what is happening this weekend? Are - you know, are people out there burning the midnight oil? Let's keep in mind that both the Treasury and the Congressional Budget Office say that time runs out in just a couple of weeks.

KEITH: I don't know the hours that they're working, but high-level staff meetings between the White House and the Hill are happening this weekend. They met yesterday. They're expected to meet again today. President Biden was supposed to meet with these congressional leaders on Friday, but that meeting was scratched, and it was widely interpreted as a sign that they were at least making some progress at the staff level and that it was too soon to bring back the big leaders. But as we speak, the so-called Big Five meeting isn't back on the books yet. A source familiar with the plan says Tuesday is the most likely date, but it isn't set.

RASCOE: So is the debt ceiling taking up all of the air on the Capitol because ending pandemic restrictions is having an effect at the border, and immigration is something that lawmakers need to address, right?

KEITH: Yeah. I mean, the current immigration laws are totally outmatched by immigration patterns that are just dramatically different from what they were in the 1980s when Congress last passed comprehensive immigration reform. There are more families and children coming, more people seeking asylum, fleeing violence, poverty and political persecution in their home countries. House Republicans passed an immigration bill, but it was more of a message bill. And in the meantime, Title 42 has ended. And to the surprise of many, at least in these first few days, the flow of migrants illegally crossing is actually down a little bit from its peak earlier this month. But the numbers are still high, and everyone is watching closely.

RASCOE: So looking ahead, President Biden is set to travel to Japan for a meeting with a group of seven major industrial countries and then to Australia on May 24. What's his plan there?

KEITH: Well, the first question is whether he will actually be able to leave on time for this trip or whether he will get bogged down in debt ceiling discussions. At the G-7 meeting, much of the discussion will be about countering Russia. In Australia, the theme is more about countering China. As always, Biden will be selling the U.S. as a trusted global leader, but it will be a harder sell if the threat of the U.S. defaulting on its debts is still looming out there.

RASCOE: That's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thanks, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome, 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.
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.