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Politics chat: Trump wins big in South Carolina, Alabama Supreme Court ruling on IVF

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

In Columbia, S.C., last night, Republican Senator Tim Scott had a question.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TIM SCOTT: Is South Carolina Trump country?

(CHEERING)

RASCOE: Voters in South Carolina's Republican primary have spoken, giving former President Donald Trump a big victory against former Governor Nikki Haley in her home state.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NIKKI HALEY: I said earlier this week that no matter what happens in South Carolina, I would continue to run for president.

(CHEERING)

RASCOE: As for Trump on his win, seems like he's already looking to Election Day in November.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: I just wish we could do it quicker. Nine months is a long time.

RASCOE: Let's bring in Mara Liasson, NPR national political correspondent, for more. Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi there.

RASCOE: So no surprise in South Carolina. The Trump victory had been expected. So what now?

LIASSON: Well, as you just heard, from Trump's point of view, the primary is over. He doesn't want to focus on Nikki Haley anymore. He wants to focus on President Biden. And he did that yesterday in a very big speech but not in South Carolina. It was at the big conservative conference, CPAC, outside of Washington, D.C. Trump hugged and kissed the flag while Lee Greenwood's "God Bless The USA" played. He gave a kind of American Carnage 2.0 speech. He said, a vote for Trump is your ticket back to freedom and out of tyranny. It's your only escape from Biden's fast-track to hell. He referred to himself as a political dissident. He called those who have been prosecuted for the assault on the Capitol on January 6 hostages.

RASCOE: But for all that Trump did talk about in his nearly two-hour speech at CPAC, it's notable what he did not mention. So he did not mention abortion or IVF.

LIASSON: Yes, that was striking. That was the big news last week when the Alabama state Supreme Court, by an 8-1 vote, ruled that frozen embryos are children. They're human beings. And for people who've been campaigning for years for legislation that says life begins at conception, at the moment of fertilization, this is the logical conclusion of those efforts.

But Republicans understand how difficult a political issue abortion has become for them ever since the Supreme Court's decision overturning Roe, and this makes it even more difficult. Republicans are very aware of how popular IVF is. About 80% of people, including evangelicals and people who describe themselves as pro-life, are for IVF. And they've been scrambling over the last several days to say that.

But Democrats are going to be spending millions of dollars to make sure that voters know which Republicans in Congress have been voting or sponsoring the Life At Conception Act. That includes Speaker Mike Johnson. And that act grants equal protection to all people from, quote, "the moment of fertilization."

RASCOE: Well, so what are you watching on this as it plays out? Because, you know, even if Alabama passes legislation to protect IVF, as you said, this is not going to go away as a political issue.

LIASSON: No, this is one of the best issues that Democrats have. They're going to continue to try to use it against Republicans. And they - even if the Alabama state legislature does pass a bill to protect IVF, it still complicates things for Donald Trump. He's been trying to do two things at once. One is he takes credit for toppling Roe v. Wade. He calls attention to the fact that he appointed three conservative justices to the Supreme Court. They made the majority that overturned Roe.

But there are also reports that he wanted to support a national abortion ban at 16 weeks. Sixteen weeks polls pretty well, but a national ban is extremely unpopular - a national ban at any number of weeks. That basically would fly in the face of the states' rights arguments that Republicans have been making on abortion. It means that states like California and New York do not get to decide on their own about this.

RASCOE: So that issue might help Democrats, but in the about 30 seconds we have left, what about the border? Do we have a better sense of what President Biden might do through executive action?

LIASSON: Well, Biden is considering an executive order to try to clamp down on the border. The - and, of course, immigration is as bad an issue for Democrats as abortion is for Republicans. But Biden has always said that he needs legislation to really control the problem at the border. But Donald Trump has made it very clear he doesn't want an abortion - I'm sorry - an immigration bill passed. He wants to use it as an issue against Biden in the election. And that bill is going nowhere in Congress.

RASCOE: That's NPR's 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.

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.