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Week in politics: House passes spending bill; Biden's statements on Gaza make waves

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Well, it took them a while, but Congress finally gave us a spending bill - sort of. It's a stopgap bill, so there's still more to work out. And President Biden is making waves with some statements he made about the war in Gaza, and it might cost him some support. We're joined now by NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: Let's start with this two-tiered stopgap spending bill. You know, it's kind of a weird one for Congress because it funds four federal agencies until January 19, 2024 and then the rest of the agencies for a couple of weeks more. The idea is that this will give Congress more time to agree on long-term spending bills. But there's some surprise that the House was able to get this passed. How did Republican Speaker Mike Johnson get it done?

LIASSON: He got it done with exactly the same formula that got Kevin McCarthy fired. He passed it with Democratic votes. But Mike Johnson is getting a little bit more of a honeymoon from the MAGA caucus in the House than Kevin McCarthy did. He simply has fewer people who hate him, less bad blood with other Republicans - one, because he's a relatively blank slate. He's never even chaired a committee, so he hasn't had a lot of time to make enemies, but also because on social issues, his far-right bona fides are pretty impeccable. He's a culture warrior. He's been at the forefront of legal battles to stop access to abortion, to stop same-sex marriage. He's not just against same-sex marriage. He's also against homosexuality itself. And he was a leader in the legal fight to overturn the 2020 election. Now, we don't know how those positions are going to affect how he leads as speaker over time, but it has given him a lot of credibility in the House with the same Republicans who are very suspicious of anything that funds the government without very deep spending cuts and other policy changes they want, and they don't want to make any compromises with Democrats.

RASCOE: It sounds like they're giving Speaker Johnson some room to run for now. But all is not well among House Republicans, right? Like, our own congressional reporter Claudia Grisales - she witnessed a fight go down, right?

LIASSON: A physical altercation - that's right. Claudia witnessed Representative Tim Burchett, Republican of Tennessee, accuse former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of shoving him. She was right there when it happened. Burchett says McCarthy elbowed him. McCarthy denies this. But the scuffle or whatever you want to call it and the chase that ensued was witnessed by reporters. So Republicans can't get along. They can't decide how they want to govern. And it has gotten so bad that it's come to blows.

RASCOE: Now, President Biden's meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping grabbed a lot of headlines this past week, and that's understandable. But the president made a very strong statement on another international issue, the Middle East, on Wednesday. Here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I made it clear to the Israelis that - to Bibi and to his war cabinet that I think the only ultimate answer here is a two-state solution that's real. We got to get to the point where there is an ability to be able to even talk without worrying about whether or not we're just dealing with - they're dealing with - Hamas is going to engage in the same activities they did over the past - on the 7.

RASCOE: But that runs counter to everything Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants, right?

LIASSON: Right. Well, he and his government are against a two-state solution. They've done everything they can to make it impossible to have a two-state solution, including allowing more and more settlers into the West Bank. But President Biden has been for a two-state solution for a very long time. He went on to say that he's working with other Arab countries on a plan for Gaza and the West Bank, post-Hamas, that includes a Palestinian state. There is a growing consensus that that post-Hamas future, if it happens, will probably not include Netanyahu as the leader of Israel. But that's what the president wants, and now he's talking more and more about it in public.

RASCOE: And President Biden doubled down on that yesterday with an op-ed in the Washington Post.

LIASSON: That's right. He wrote a very long op-ed where he said the U.S. stood in support of Israel but that the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own. And he went on to lay out some basic principles for that state. He said Gaza must never again be used as a platform for terrorism, but there must be no forcible displacement of Palestinians from Gaza, no reoccupation, no siege or blockade, no reduction in territory. And he said that's the solution that he wants. How that happens, whether it happens, how long it takes is still very, very unclear.

RASCOE: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thank you so much, Mara.

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.

Mara Liasson
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.