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Week in politics: Biden in a precarious place as he runs for reelection

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Just hours before the announcement of yesterday's strikes, President Biden witnessed the arrival at Dover Air Force Base of the remains of the three U.S. service members killed Sunday in the drone attack in Jordan. NPR political correspondent Susan Davis joins us. Susan, thanks for being with us.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: The president said the United States doesn't see conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world. But let all those who might seek to do us harm know this. If you harm an American, we will respond. How to tread that line between retaliation that's a deterrent but doesn't set off an escalation?

DAVIS: The Biden administration is certainly trying to send a clear message that they do not want to see an escalation in the Middle East. There's no indication that there's any public support in the U.S. for that either. But as our national security team has reported, this was the deadliest attack on American troops in the Middle East in about a decade. And that simply is not going to happen without a U.S. military response. Notably, Scott, where the U.S. did not hit is Iran, despite that being the nation that has trained and supported the very militia groups that targeted U.S. soldiers. That's a pretty clear indication that Biden is trying to limit the escalation in the region. An attack on Iran would take that to another level. There are certainly Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill who would like him to do just that, but he's reluctant to do that. But I would note, administration spokesman John Kirby, in a briefing last night, told reporters that the response began last night, but that it's not over. And he said it would not end last night.

SIMON: President Biden was in Michigan Thursday. Between union members, Black voters, white working-class voters, American Muslim voters, Michigan's a state that has extraordinary political complexities, a signature of what the president confronts this fall, doesn't it?

DAVIS: Absolutely. And Michigan is one of the seven states that was decided by three points or less in 2020. Biden won it then, but it's likely going to be close again. You know, these are states that are won on the margins, so shifts within any number of those groups is going to be critical to who wins that state. But Biden got union support this week. He was endorsed by the United Auto Workers. It's maybe not a shock that a Democratic president got that nomination, but it's an indication of the kind of support he's going to have on the ground there. It's not just about the endorsement. It's about what comes with it - money, voter mobilization efforts, door-knocking campaigns, all of those structural advantages that can make a big difference, especially in the closing weeks of a tight race. But the Biden campaign has a lot of work to do in a state like Michigan. Trump - Donald Trump has a deep reservoir of support in the state. He's won more labor support than past Republican presidents, and he's been leading in most of the early polls in the state. So Michigan is absolutely a top-tier competitive state this November.

SIMON: Tech executives got grilled - and I do mean grilled - on Wednesday on Capitol Hill for the effect social media has had on children especially. Are Mark Zuckerberg and other social media executives now kind of in the same position as tobacco executives, accused of marketing a product they know is harmful?

DAVIS: That's probably a fair comparison. You know, this is an industry that really has no friends in Washington. It was almost a public shaming on Capitol Hill, and it's really rare to see that of almost any industry. Scott, this connects with Americans in a very visceral way. Anyone with school-age kids in their home right now is feeling the effects of social media in some capacity. But look. There's some real talk about Congress here. They are not powerless. They have the ability to pass laws and tougher regulations on this industry, and they haven't. Congress hasn't passed a tough tech industry regulation since the '90s. So senators are certainly channeling the public rage this week, but they're not powerless to act. And unless and until Congress does this, it's still going to be up to these companies to police themselves.

SIMON: And, Sue, what is the latest on negotiations over legislation to secure the U.S.-Mexico border, which seems to be tied up with so many other questions right now?

DAVIS: Well, they seem to have a deal, but it's unclear if they have the votes. Senator Chris Murphy - he's a Democrat from Connecticut - and James Lankford, a Republican from Oklahoma, announced they've reached a deal, but they haven't released the terms of it yet. But the Senate is expected to vote on whatever that deal is this week. This is a put-up-or-shut-up moment for the Republicans on Capitol Hill. They provoked this negotiation. They made clear demands about what they wanted to secure the border. Biden and Democrats have ceded a lot of those demands. But Donald Trump doesn't like it and doesn't think it's going to help him win this November. So his allies in Congress are going to have to make a call about whether they want to try to fix a border problem that they say is a serious threat to the national security of the United States or keep the political fight going for the sake of trying to win an election this year.

SIMON: NPR's Susan Davis, thanks so much for being with us.

DAVIS: 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.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.