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Week in politics: Biden under pressure for Israel policy after attack on aid workers

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The killing of seven aid workers in Gaza by an Israeli drone strike this week stirred international anger and prompted a rare and swift apology from Israel. The slain workers were among the roughly 200 aid workers killed in Gaza since the war started six months ago, after Hamas launched an attack on southern Israel. We'll have more on how that war is going later in our program. President Biden had a tense phone call this week with Prime Minister Netanyahu, in which he said the strike and situation in Gaza were unacceptable and urged an immediate cease-fire. NPR's Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks for being with us.

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

SIMON: Hardly the first time President Biden has expressed frustration with Netanyahu, but is there something different this time?

ELVING: The level of anger and determination here has been different for the public and for policymakers. The threat to change policy has gone from some outspoken Democrats in the Senate to the White House itself. Biden had that phone call, for what it's worth, but Israel's stated intent is to destroy Hamas once and for all - urban warfare, with more than 30,000 killed so far, mostly women and children. The U.S. has tried to restrain Netanyahu and his government with little to show for it.

SIMON: As you mentioned, several top Democrats urged the president to change his policy on Israel. What are they asking for, and would it change reality on the ground there?

ELVING: They want a cease-fire and release of hostages like we had briefly last year. Some would like to pause U.S. aid to the Israelis. Others would like to cut back on the overall size and unconditional nature of that aid. Israel wants F-15 fighter jets and $10 billion in aid overall. Pausing that or trimming it might slow the tempo and destructiveness of the Israeli war policy and make it more possible for some more aid to get through.

SIMON: Some other news this week - no presidential candidate for the group No Labels. What does that tell us about politics today?

ELVING: Two-thirds of the voters in America tell pollsters they are not happy with the rematch between Trump and Biden. So it seems the best of times to organize a third party or an independent candidacy, but raising the money and the organization and just getting on the ballot in many states remains a challenge. And No Labels wanted a person who already had national stature or a statewide credential, at least - someone plausible with bipartisan appeal. And they talked to dozens of prospects without finding anyone they liked who was willing to do it. Now, inside the parties, it's been more than 40 years since we had a real primary threat for an incumbent president. And this year, in a sense, we have two incumbent presidents running, one in each party - Biden, of course, and also Trump, at least in the minds of his most ardent supporters.

SIMON: A couple of competing polls to ask you about. The NPR/PBS/Marist poll has President Biden at 50%. Wall Street Journal poll shows former President Trump ahead in six of seven swing states.

ELVING: That's right. This week, there was that poll you mentioned and others showing what was, in effect, a dead heat. But The Wall Street Journal ran that poll, seven of swing states showing Trump winning in six of them. So that points to the prospect of perhaps another 2016, with one candidate possibly winning the national popular vote, but the other candidate winning in the Electoral College and thereby winning the presidency.

SIMON: Labor Department released strong jobs report - over 300,000 jobs added in March, unemployment at 3.8% and inflation has slowed. This has got to be good news for an incumbent.

ELVING: Yes, it's certainly a better story than the alternative. If we were where we were a year ago, it's hard to see how Biden could be competitive. And this week, we heard the economy created 50% more jobs than expected. The jobless rate came down. Wage levels rose modestly. That's the kind of soft landing or rosy scenario economists dream of. But as we say often, families don't live in the world of macroeconomics, and you can't pay your rent with statistics. And at the microeconomic level, living is still a challenge, as it has been since COVID. And slower inflation still looks like higher prices to people buying gas and groceries.

SIMON: Ron Elving, thanks so much.

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.