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Week in politics: Congress continues spending bill negotiations while Biden is abroad

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

At the Vatican, handshakes, laughter and an exchange of gifts between two of the most prominent Catholics in the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I know my son would want me to give this to you because on the back of it, I have the state of Delaware and the 261st Unit my son served with.

SIMON: President Joe Biden presenting Pope Francis with a commemorative coin that features the insignia of his late son's National Guard unit. The president's in Rome for a meeting with other world leaders after a week of tough negotiations at home with members of his own party. NPR's Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: This is President Biden's second international trip. Does he have a goal for the G-20 summit?

ELVING: He wants to be seen on the world stage, appear with the world's most powerful people. He also wanted to finalize the agreement on ending tax havens. That seems to have been done this morning. There's also talk of measures to address the supply chain crisis. That's a pandemic hangover and a big reason for dramatically slower growth in the U.S.

But this particular trip is really a two-for-one deal. Leg No. 2 on Monday is the Global Conference on Climate Change in Glasgow, Scotland. For all those who see climate change as the challenge of this century, Glasgow may be the more important conference of the two. And the major economies still need to do far more about converting to non-fossil fuels. And we have seen how hard that is to do with the domestic policy and the domestic politics here in the U.S.

SIMON: Well, tell us about the propitiousness of the president beginning his trip by meeting with the pope. By the way, Scott Detrow, covering the trip, and I both noted that President Biden quoted Satchel Paige to the pope...

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: ...On the question of aging.

ELVING: Oh, yes, what a gift. At a moment when Biden has been challenged by divisions in his own party, when so much - so much is at stake, he doesn't seem to be really driving events a lot of the time. And so to have a 90-minute sit-down with the pope and have it report out so positively - well, it's manna from heaven, Scott. The pope appears to have quieted the controversy, at least for the moment, about Biden being a good Catholic and, remember, only the second Catholic president in all our history. And that, too, can help Biden gain back some of the altitude that these last few months have cost him.

SIMON: Congressional Democrats are still at odds over the president's domestic spending proposals, aren't they? What's the latest?

ELVING: Well, the latest is a lot like what we've been seeing, except that progress is being made. There's not much speed in this process. There's urgency, to be sure, but we've still watched months of posturing and posing and virtue signaling to all the various constituencies involved. And progressives this week said once more what they've said right from the start; they won't let the moderate holdouts in the Senate have what they want - their bipartisan hard infrastructure bill - until they've finished the meat and potatoes on their plate, which would be the much larger package of programs that the progressives want - jobs, climate change, education, Medicare expansions, child care, family leave policies and much, much more. But there does seem to have been progress, and now there is a framework, and it costs, well, about half what the original package did. But that is still 1.75 trillion over 10 years, and that's enough to make a difference, especially in the near term.

SIMON: Tight race for governor coming up this week in Virginia, isn't there?

ELVING: Yes, one of the reasons they wanted to get that deal done last week was so they could have a big, showy celebration of democratic unity just before the governors' elections next week in Virginia and New Jersey. These were not tight contests in the early summer, but they have become more so, especially in Virginia, where Governor Terry McAuliffe's polling lead - former governor - has disappeared. It's gone. Republicans there have been able to keep - well, let's say encourage President Trump to stay at bay and focus instead on local issues - parental rights over school boards, things of that nature - and it's working for them.

SIMON: Quickly, what do you make of Adam Kinzinger not running for reelection? He kind of got redistricted out of his district by Democrats, didn't he?

ELVING: Kinzinger came to Congress a decade ago, a 33-year-old war veteran full of promise. He voted for most of Trump's program but was far from an acolyte. And back in Illinois, the Democrats have drawn a new map and dismantled his district, forced him into a primary with another Republican.

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

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