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Politics Chat: Climate-related legislation, Biden's approval rating and the midterms

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

This coming week, the Senate plans to vote on the Inflation Reduction Act. That's the legislation that used to be called the Build Back Better Bill. It had been President Biden's signature climate package, but kept getting smaller and smaller and almost disappeared, only to come back with a different name and scaled-down ambitions. Joining me now, as she does most Sundays, with a look ahead in politics is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Welcome, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So this deal on the Inflation Reduction Act - is it a turning point for the Biden administration, which has faced some real headwinds?

LIASSON: Well, it's certainly an accomplishment. It is - has a much smaller price tag than the Build Back Better Bill, as you said. But - and it has a much more politically relevant title. But it does a lot of really big things. It allows Medicare to negotiate some drug prices with Big Pharma. It extends subsidies for Obamacare. It sets a minimum corporate tax rate of 15% so that no billion-dollar corporation can pay zero tax. And it spends the biggest amount ever spent on combating climate change, with incentives for electric vehicles and other clean technologies.

It also reduces the federal deficit, and it comes the same week as passage of the CHIPS bill, which would make the U.S. more competitive with China. And if you look back at what Biden has done earlier, his other accomplishments - he passed a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill, a COVID relief bill, new gun safety laws. He named the first ever Black woman to the Supreme Court. So all in all, it's actually a pretty good record. Whether it's a turning point or not is unclear.

RASCOE: Well, I mean, that being the case, all those things you listed - those are accomplishments. Why isn't Biden doing better in terms of public opinions? You know, our latest poll shows him with a 36% approval rating. Does passing legislation not matter as much to the public?

LIASSON: Well, there is some of that, but that is a good question. If he's passing so much, why is he doing so poorly? I think inflation is the No. 1 reason. It's the economic indicator that affects everyone every day. He's also been singularly poor at messaging. A lot of Democrats say that Biden is rhetorically challenged. A lot of people tell pollsters they think he's too old. But also, some Democrats are saying that they raised expectations too high after winning in 2020. They gave the false impression to their base of what they could do with a very slim majority in the House and no majority in the Senate.

RASCOE: So, you know, looking at this bill that, you know, we've been talking about, if they pass this, will it help Democrats in the fall midterm elections?

LIASSON: That's certainly what Democrats are hoping. They hope, at least at the margins, this will help Democrats in one important way, which is to solve the problem of enthusiasm. You know, there was a decided lack of enthusiasm among Democratic voters, particularly young voters, people of color. They were disappointed the Democrats couldn't deliver in the way they had expected. And the question is, will this bill change that? And remember, it's not just passing legislation. Because even after Democrats sent $1,400 checks to people in the COVID relief bill - no Republican voted for that - polls showed that very few people knew the Democrats had done that. So it's not just getting things passed, it's also convincing voters that you have actually done something for them.

There is - there are some signs that the enthusiasm gap was already closing after the Supreme Court overturned Roe. But I think the bigger question just is whether any of these accomplishments will change the way people feel about the economy. Huge majorities of voters think the country is on the wrong track. Inflation is still the No. 1 concern. And there's anything in this bill that would affect inflation - probably won't do it before November.

RASCOE: You know, there are a bunch of congressional primaries coming this week. Just a - can you give us a little bit on what might be going on with those?

LIASSON: Well, I think the thing to watch for is how these Trump-backed MAGA candidates do in these primaries. You've got Blake Masters running for the Senate in Arizona. You've got Kari Lake running for - in the Republican gubernatorial primary in Arizona. She's a Trump-backed candidate who's actually running against a Mike Pence-backed candidate. You have Eric Greitens in Missouri. These are all candidates that some Republicans are worried about. They worry that they have overshot, that there - have nominated or are about to nominate people who excite the MAGA base but are too extreme to win in the general election in November.

RASCOE: So finally, can you just give us a little bit on the president's health?

LIASSON: Yes. The president has tested positive again. He's had what his physician calls a Paxlovid rebound. In other words, he tested negative on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, took Paxlovid, the COVID drug, and then he tested positive again on Saturday morning. So the White House says he's going to stay at the White House. He's canceled all travel until he tests negative.

RASCOE: That was NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thank you so much for joining us.

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

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.