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Week in politics: Divides among Democrats; GOP tensions; remembering Rosalyn Carter

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Biden gave thanks yesterday for the release of the first group of hostages and said it was just a start.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Over the next few days, we expect that dozens of hostages will be returned to their families. We also remember all those who are still being held.

SIMON: The president said he was in contact with leaders of Qatar, Egypt and Israel to try to be certain every aspect of the agreement is implemented.

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BIDEN: You know, this extended pause in the fighting brings a critical opportunity to deliver much needed food, medicine, water and fuel to the civilians in Gaza. And we are not wasting one single minute.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving joins us now. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: The president remains a staunch supporter of Israel, but we did just hear him underscore how the cease-fire is part of the release of the hostages that will also help aid reach citizens in Gaza. Will this assuage some of the voices in his own party who differ with the president on this issue?

ELVING: We should be clear - everyone supports the hostage release and the humanitarian aid getting through. But unless this pause becomes a real cease-fire, it's not likely to silence those voices in Biden's party - not all of them, not for long. You know, Biden was already in the Senate when the Yom Kippur War happened in 1973, and that was a time when support for Israel was all but automatic in both parties. But Democrats now have many voters who don't have the same history of support for Israel. Many focus on the Palestinians as victims of oppression. They tend to be younger voters, often people of color, people who supported candidates other than Biden in the primaries in 2020. And they have been highly critical of his stance on this crisis.

SIMON: And the conflict in the Middle East is just one of the tensions in domestic politics these days, isn't it?

ELVING: Yes, it does come home. Right now, it seems fair to say tension dominates our political life. There are stark differences about Israel and Hamas but also about the extent of our support for Ukraine and the global challenge of immigration, not just on our southern border but at various points around the world. Witness the recent right-wing pushback elections in Europe and the stunning outburst of violence in Dublin this past week. In this country, there's also rising tension about the coming elections. Most voters say they don't want a rerun of the two candidates from 2020, but our two-party system does not seem able to give us anything else. So we will see third-party options and independent candidates next year, even though history tells us such candidates cannot win. They can only tilt the result one way or the other in ways we can't always predict.

SIMON: Ron, we spoke last week about lawmakers threatening to smack each other around Capitol Hill. There are enormous divisions among House Republicans and just not enough bridges, aren't there?

ELVING: You know, that's right. Things did seem to settle down on Capitol Hill this week but only because Congress was out of town. It's not just about leadership. It's contentious. And it has been contentious on fundamental divisions among Republicans over the role of government, the size of government, federal spending, cultural issues and even constitutional issues like the separation of church and state. The Republicans need to deal with these if it's going to make their strongest case to voters in 2024. It's not all just Biden vs. Trump. And one particular issue for Republicans is adapting their position on abortion. The party leans towards stricter and stricter limits, even as voters are consistently rejecting them.

SIMON: Ron, funeral's going to be held next week for Rosalynn Carter. We remember her this week. She brought grace to some tough times in this country, didn't she?

ELVING: Tough times indeed. It was the third year of Rosalynn Carter's husband, Jimmy, in the White House, and at that time, inflation was over 11%. It is now 3.2. Unemployment was 6%. It's now under four. We sometimes think that challenges from our past that we survived were somehow less daunting than the ones we're facing now, even when the opposite is true. Rosalynn Carter did all she could as First Lady, providing and projecting calm and courage and inspiration for Americans then and now.

SIMON: Ron Elving, thank you.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. 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.
Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.