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Politics chat: How the UAW strike could help or hurt Biden and Trump's 2024 campaigns


The United Auto Workers strike is rolling along, and we're faced with the threat of impending government shutdown. Those are just two of the big developing political stories this week, and NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is here to tell us more about them. Good morning, Mara.


RASCOE: OK. Let's start with the government shutdown. The White House is getting federal agencies ready for one, while House Republicans left town for the weekend without any kind of deal. What's the sticking point here?

LIASSON: The sticking point is that no matter how many concessions Speaker Kevin McCarthy makes to his hard-right Republicans, they will not vote to fund the government. So a shutdown does seem imminent by October 1. We don't know how long a shutdown would last, but millions of federal workers would lose their paychecks. Some federal agencies would shut down, although Social Security and Medicare checks are supposed to continue to go out. But it would be a very big disruption.

RASCOE: Do House Republicans have any kind of off-ramp right now? And I guess by House Republicans, I really mean House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. I mean, it seems like he's kind of been painted into a corner by his own party.

LIASSON: There is no off-ramp in sight. It's hard to imagine a weaker speaker than Kevin McCarthy - took him 15 ballots to get the job, which was unprecedented. He has an extremely tiny majority, can't afford to lose very many votes. And he can't seem to get his own party to agree on a plan, a way forward out of this. He even went as far as to say this of his own party - quote, "this is a whole new concept of individuals who want to burn the whole place down." And that's extraordinary.

He said that after Republicans voted down the defense bill, which is one of those bills that, historically, has had no problem passing and has always gotten a lot of support among Republicans. So this looks like a Republican conference that is ungovernable and unable to govern, including with their constitutionally required task of originating all government spending bills. And there's one other little factor here, which is that Donald Trump is against McCarthy's plans to keep the government open.

RASCOE: But, Mara, it - can't McCarthy get this passed with a bipartisan majority of Republicans and Democrats? Like, the votes are there.

LIASSON: Yes, the votes are there. He could do that - but at the risk of losing his job because the far-right Republicans have made it very clear that if McCarthy can't pass this bill without relying on Democrats - in other words, if he passes it with help from Democrats - they will put through what's called a motion to vacate the chair, meaning they want McCarthy to lose his job. So to them, even worse than a government shutdown is avoiding a government shutdown with Democratic votes. Bipartisanship, in this case, is worse to them.

RASCOE: Democrats are having their own issues right now with New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez being indicted on bribery charges last week. And yesterday, Senator John Fetterman from Pennsylvania became the first Democratic senator calling for Menendez to step down. What's going on there?

LIASSON: Well, that is a big vote of no confidence from his fellow senator, Fetterman. But even more important is that Menendez is hemorrhaging support from New Jersey Democrats. The governor of New Jersey, Democrat Phil Murphy, has called on Menendez to resign. He has a safe Democratic seat in a blue state. And already, New Jersey Democratic Congressman Andy Kim, who's also called for Menendez to resign, has announced that he will run against Menendez in the Democratic primary.

RASCOE: OK. So another big economic and increasingly political story - the United Auto Workers strike. Here's the union's president, Shawn Fain, on Friday.


SHAWN FAIN: We invite and encourage everyone who supports our cause to join us on the picket line, from our friends and families all the way up to the president of the United States.

RASCOE: And President Biden on Friday said he'd take them up on that offer.

LIASSON: That's right. He might be the first president to ever walk a picket line. You know, he's very proud of calling himself the most pro-union president in history. And it's true - the United Auto Workers strike has landed smack in the middle of the presidential election. Biden is going because, of course, the strike poses a potential peril to him. If it goes on and spreads to more locations, it could hurt the economy and hurt his reelection bid.

RASCOE: Former President Donald Trump said he will visit the striking autoworkers this week in Michigan. He's skipping the second Republican presidential debate, just like he did the first one. Will he be welcomed by the striking workers?

LIASSON: That is a good question. Certainly, the base of Donald Trump's support is white working-class voters, like a lot of autoworkers. He's saying that Biden's green energy electric car policies are responsible for the autoworkers' problems. That has some validity because EVs do require fewer workers, and the factories that make them, like Tesla, aren't unionized. But we don't know how Trump will be received. He's been arguing that autoworkers should break with their leadership, but the autoworkers seem pretty solid. This is a fraught, dramatic moment not just for the labor movement but for the presidential race. You've got two candidates who believe they each have a lot of blue-collar street cred and a bond with the people on the picket lines.

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

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.

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