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Politics chat: Biden focuses on policies in final stretch before polls close

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

If it feels like the midterms have been going on for weeks or just a very long time, it's because they have been. Early voting has been underway in several states and campaigning is intense. We're joined by NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid, who has been on the road these last few days with President Biden. Good morning, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: OK, so the president is out rallying voters in several states. What's the message he's projecting in these final days of campaigning for his party?

KHALID: You know, his essential message is that Republicans are going to come after government programs like Medicare and Social Security. We've been hearing a lot of that on the campaign trail these last few days. You know, Biden is a long-time former senator, a lawmaker. And so in his campaign speeches, he's not necessarily delivering stirring speeches. He's running through a list of all the bills he signed and what they do - from curbing climate change to lowering prescription drug costs, to protecting veterans, to boosting semiconductor manufacturing in the U.S., to improving infrastructure. And, you know, frankly, as I listed them all out there, you know, Ayesha, there are a bunch of laws that Democrats have passed to this point, some with bipartisan support. And a lot of the changes the president has introduced, like lowering the cost of insulin, are objectively popular. As we were about to fly off from San Diego to Chicago on Friday, the president came over to us reporters and told us that what gives him the most confidence about the midterms at this point is the policies themselves.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We're going to win this time around, I think. I feel really good about our chances. I haven't been in all the House races, but I think they're going to keep the Senate and pick up a seat. I think we have a chance of winning the House. I don't think we're going to not win keeping the House. So I'm optimistic. I really am.

RASCOE: Well, that sounds very upbeat. And the president, you know, as you said, has been talking about, you know, strong job numbers and some economic growth. But voters are dealing with inflation and other issues. Like, how has he been addressing that?

KHALID: Ayesha, inflation is really the key issue in this election. It has been top priority for voters for months, and it has been a real challenge for this White House. As one Democratic analyst told me, no message is going to be able to divert people's attention away from their wallets. And so in this final stretch, the president is now trying to turn the inflation story on its head and make the case that if Republicans take control of Congress, inflation will get worse, that they will try to repeal laws that will cut costs. He's trying to convince voters that this election is a choice on the economy and also on democracy. Here's how he put it at a rally in San Diego for Congressman Mike Levin.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: I said this election is not a referendum. It's a choice, a basic choice. So I call on Democrats when everything is at stake and mainstream Republicans and independents to come together to meet this moment.

RASCOE: OK. So you traveled with the president to New Mexico, California and Illinois. Those are pretty safe Democratic states. And then you went to Pennsylvania yesterday, which is, you know, neck and neck for a Senate race and could decide the control of the Senate. Biden had a big guest there. Tell us what that was like.

KHALID: That's right. Biden was joined by former President Barack Obama, and it was like a rock concert. The vibe was really different than some of his other campaign events. Over 7,000 people filed in to Temple University in Philadelphia. A lot of young people and Democrats have been eager to energize young voters. This was actually the first time that Biden and Obama had appeared together at a campaign event. Obama has been trying to get out the Democratic vote in states like Arizona and Georgia, which both have extremely competitive Senate contests. And the president, President Biden, has stayed away from those states, frankly, because his approval rating is low and his presence could possibly hurt the Senate candidates more than it helps. But yesterday, Obama and Biden joined forces to campaign for Democrats in Pennsylvania. Ayesha, I also want to point out that former President Donald Trump was also in Pennsylvania yesterday, and the fact that there were a trio of presidents past and present in Pennsylvania on the same day to me is a sign of how important that state is going to be in determining control of the Senate.

RASCOE: That's NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid. Thank you so much, Asma.

KHALID: Always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.
Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.