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Week in politics: Debt ceiling deal; Republican presidential candidates

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Biden last night delivered his first prime-time address from the Oval Office.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The only way American democracy can function is through compromise and consensus. And that's what I work to do as your president, you know, to forge bipartisan agreement where it's possible and where it's needed.

SIMON: President got the agreement that he desired and worked for on the debt ceiling. Following every little twist and turn of this, of course, has been NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: The debt ceiling is about to be signed, sealed and delivered. Was last night's speech what amounts to a victory lap?

ELVING: Well, if Biden doesn't deserve one now, it's hard to imagine when he will. In the last few days, he has seen overwhelming bipartisan support in the House, in the Senate for his deal to lift the debt limit. It was a deal he'd struck with Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a deal McCarthy could sell to Republicans in the House yet also a deal Biden could sell to enough House Democrats that they actually provided more votes for the deal than the majority Republicans did. Biden had a big assist there from House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries. So the center held, and there is more than enough credit to go around for all those involved.

Biden did make that crucial point in his speech last night - the dependence on compromise. It's never an applause line to say that. It's not the fuel for a fiery speech, but it's a plain statement of fact. You need some kind of common ground with so many competing and contradictory claims of individual Americans. They need to be modified to accommodate as many of them as possible. And more good news, Scott - 339,000 new jobs reported in May. And yesterday, the financial markets applauded with the best day they've had in a long time.

SIMON: President Biden made a point of commending House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. How does Speaker McCarthy look after struggling to get this job?

ELVING: Fair to say the heaviest lifting in this whole deal fell to McCarthy over the past several weeks. And in this crisis, he looked as masterful as he had looked weak in January when it took those 15 ballots to get him elected. McCarthy worked his own party with a lot of savvy. He kept his friends close and his enemies closer, if you will - to reference the old "Godfather" movies. That gave him several key allies in the home stretch, people whose own careers have benefited from McCarthy being speaker. And he managed to divide his detractors and rivals. In some cases, there were special issues important to individual Republicans, many of them MAGA conservatives. McCarthy could address these. And even if they were adamantly opposed to the deal, in the end, they were willing to stand by their personal debts to McCarthy.

SIMON: Ron, despite this win for President Biden, the list of candidates who are eager to run against him as a Republican next year is growing.

ELVING: We are expecting announcements next week from former Vice President Mike Pence, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and billionaire Doug Burgum, who is also the current governor of North Dakota. We usually see a lot of ambition in the Senate, and it is still there. But for the moment, the people running are largely current or former governors, starting, of course, with Florida's Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson. There has also been considerable support in the party for several other current governors. We're probably going to see the field continue to grow.

SIMON: Why not just get behind one candidate to try and take on Donald Trump?

ELVING: That would work if it were a shared goal. But, of course, each candidate thinks they should be the one that others bow to when the others all bow out. That could still happen. We saw the Democrats consolidate behind Biden in 2020. But for now, it does function as a gift to Trump. It's a replay of the huge field we saw in 2016, a field that let Trump dominate the primaries with way less than half the vote overall. Right now, Trump has to be the heavy favorite of Republican primaries, at least in the polls. But his legal entanglements continue. There may be more indictments soon, perhaps first in the Mar-a-Lago documents case. So this bears watching, and it's going to get more complicated rather than less.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much.

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

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.
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