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Politics chat: Trump rally in Nevada, Biden tries to pass border deal

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Well, we just heard all about the challenges facing President Biden in South Carolina. But, of course, he will be running against someone - probably former President Donald Trump. To hear how he's doing there and more about both campaigns - 'tis the season, people - we're joined by NPR's senior White House correspondent, Tamara Keith. Good morning.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: OK, so tell us a bit about Trump's campaign. He won in New Hampshire on Tuesday. You were there covering the primaries. Biden has turned to South Carolina. Is Trump focusing on that state at all?

KEITH: Well, there is a month until the Republican primary in South Carolina. So far, according to the AdImpact database, Trump has spent virtually nothing on ads in the state. Meanwhile, Nikki Haley and her allied super PACs are up on the air to the tune of several million dollars. But it's her home state, and unless something dramatic changes, it really could be her last stand. In a speech yesterday, she turned up the temperature in her criticism of former President Trump. She said that in his victory speech in New Hampshire, he was, quote, "totally unhinged."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NIKKI HALEY: He was a bit sensitive. And I think that it - and I think his feelings were hurt. But he threw a temper tantrum out on stage - seriously - threw a total temper tantrum and was talking about revenge.

KEITH: She's campaigning like someone who isn't giving up anytime soon, but she's under a lot of pressure from Trump and his allies to get out of the race. And real talk - he is currently way ahead in the polls in South Carolina, her home state, and every other state, too.

RASCOE: Trump held a rally in Las Vegas, Nev., last night. He spoke for over an hour. On the GOP primary calendar, Nevada actually comes before South Carolina. So what did Trump have to say there?

KEITH: Well, you know, it was a pretty typical sidewinder of a speech, which now includes a regular feature of bragging about passing a cognitive test. Nevada Republicans move to award all of their delegates through a caucus rather than the primary which is also happening. So Trump is guaranteed to get all of the delegates. He's basically already won in Nevada, and he's acting like the nominee, exerting power over the party in other ways, including trying to tank a bipartisan immigration deal that is still being negotiated in the Senate. This is him last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: As the leader of our party, there is zero chance I will support this horrible open borders betrayal of America. It's not going to happen.

KEITH: Immigration is an area of vulnerability for President Biden. And I hear voters all the time bring up concerns about border security unprompted. About that border deal, House Speaker Mike Johnson is saying that it is likely dead on arrival in the House for Trump and House Republicans who oppose it. There are a few things going on here. They are quite happy to have the perfect be the enemy of the good. They think they might get something better if Trump is president. And they also just want to have an issue to bludgeon President Biden and Democrats with for the next 11 months, and a bipartisan deal could deprive them of that.

RASCOE: So what is President Biden saying about all this? Like, are the immigration talks in trouble? Are they on life support? What's going on with them?

KEITH: I cannot assess the patient.

RASCOE: OK (laughter).

KEITH: But I will say that President Biden did talk about it last night in South Carolina. He said the White House has been engaged on this for months, and he is really pushing Congress to make it happen. He said that the legislation that's being talked about would go a long way to improve the border situation and would give him power to shut things down that he doesn't believe he has now.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: If that bill were the law today, I'd shut down the border right now and fix it quickly. A bipartisan bill would be good for America and help fix our broken immigration system and allow speedy access for those who deserve to be here. And Congress needs to get it done.

KEITH: You know, that is not the kind of tough language about the border that you normally hear from Democrats. But for Biden, arguing that this bill is tough on the border could make Republican opposition to it look more like politics and less like substance. Also, though, it is linked to funding for Ukraine and Israel that Biden wants very badly. Negotiators in the Senate say they hope to have language out this week, but they've said that before. And what were already very difficult negotiations have probably gotten a lot more complicated now that this thing is fully part of the presidential race.

RASCOE: NPR senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith, thank you so much for joining us.

KEITH: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEAN BROWN'S "BLUES ON THE BLVD. PART 2") 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.
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.