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Week In Politics: How The U.S. Is Responding To The Conflict Between Israel And Gaza

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

We turn now to NPR's Ron Elving, senior editor and correspondent. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: We will be talking about the Biden administration's response to this conflict elsewhere in the show. But what's the response been among lawmakers in Congress?

ELVING: There's a lot to study here. The traditional support of Israel is holding in both parties, but it's under new and serious strains. The Democrats in the House have Muslim members now, and those members are not alone in defending the position of the Palestinians, both in the immediate crisis and in historical terms. And yet, plenty of older, more mainstream Democrats still emphasize the right of the Israelis to defend themselves against rocket attacks from Hamas, et cetera.

For their part, Republicans tend to stand with the embattled Israeli prime minister, Netanyahu, who was barely clinging to power before this crisis and was, of course, a close ally of former President Trump. But even in Republican ranks, there are signs of fatigue with U.S. involvement overseas, so change is coming.

SIMON: The president, of course, has his hands full. He had to deal with the major pipeline cyberattack. He's still trying to push ahead with the infrastructure bill. He met with congressional Republicans on Thursday, didn't seem to come away with any tangible results. What will it take to get that bill passed?

ELVING: Well, like in the Middle East, we can at least say the two sides are still talking. Republicans say they like infrastructure, but mostly just the old-fashioned iron and pavement kinds. And now they might accept an expansion of broadband, but they are not good with helping the transition to renewable fuels or some of the other more visionary elements of Biden's package. So there's a chance the Biden people will split the big bill, the multitrillion-dollar bill, into old and new forms of infrastructure, hoping to pass at least one with bipartisan backing and possibly the other with Democrat votes alone if they have enough Democratic votes.

Now, the big roadblock remains the financing. Republicans remain adamant in refusing to revisit the tax breaks they gave to corporations and wealthy individuals in their 2017 tax bill, while the White House insists it won't put more burden on the gas tax or on user fees. So we'll see who blinks first.

SIMON: Isn't time vital here, though, because the 2 billion - $2 trillion just aren't for roads and bridges, but to create jobs and other elements that are considered crucial to economic recovery?

ELVING: Time is vital. But sometimes time stands still on Capitol Hill. Congress moves slowly, almost imperceptibly, and any opposition party is inclined to resist the priorities of a president they oppose. That, of course, wars with the principle that to get things done, you have to be willing to share credit, to see people you don't like get the credit. And that's hard in these hyperpartisan times.

SIMON: So right after that meeting on Thursday, the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, walked out, along with his Senate counterpart, Mitch McConnell, to take questions. He was asked if members of his conference still dispute the results of the 2020 election. Here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEVIN MCCARTHY: Well, first of all, the conference will decide, but I don't think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election. I think that is all over with. We're sitting here with the president today.

SIMON: And he said that, we will note, after he had just helped oust Representative Liz Cheney for rejecting the falsehood that the 2020 election had been stolen.

ELVING: All in a morning's work, it would seem, for Kevin McCarthy. And all week, he's been demonstrating the two-step required for self-preservation in his party these days. Step one is the functional step, acknowledging that Biden won the election, he is president, it's time to move on. But step two is that you also let Trump say demonstrably false things about that same election. Maybe you don't back him up on all of that - not explicitly, as indeed McCarthy himself clearly did not - but you back off. You let Trump be Trump, and you talk about something else because Trump remains the party's talisman, its symbol and seemingly its main motivating issue even today.

SIMON: NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving, thanks so much for being with us.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.