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Politics chat: Negotiating aid to Ukraine and Israel; Trump campaigns in New Hampshire

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

The first Republican primary contest is less than a month away, and former President Donald Trump has done it again. At a rally in New Hampshire yesterday, the Republican front-runner used language that has experts in authoritarian rhetoric raising alarms. Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, bipartisan talks continue on border security and funding for Ukraine. Joining us to discuss all this and more is NPR senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Hi, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So let's start with these negotiations between a bipartisan group of senators and the White House. Fill us in on what's going on there.

KEITH: Yeah. So months ago, the White House asked Congress for a funding package that would include assistance to Ukraine in its war with Russia, border security funds. And in that respect, it would be border agents, investigators to crack down on fentanyl trafficking, things like that. Then in October, they added another ask for Israel aid. But congressional Republicans are insisting that there be immigration policy changes, too. So now the fate of urgently needed funding for Ukraine and Israel is resting on these bipartisan Senate talks.

The House has actually already gone home for the holidays, but the Senate is sticking around at least through early next week. And negotiators came out of their meetings yesterday saying they were making slow progress but hope to possibly agree on a framework by the end of the day today. A White House spokesman said they were encouraged by the progress and believe they are moving in the right direction. Already, though, immigrant advocates are expressing concerns about what the president could agree to. And Republicans are saying they don't think any bipartisan agreement will go far enough. And, of course, nothing is agreed to yet.

RASCOE: Donald Trump visited New Hampshire yesterday as part of his campaign to return to the White House. What did he say at the rally?

KEITH: What didn't he say? He quoted and praised dictators. He said the January 6 rioters, many of whom have been convicted or pled guilty to committing acts of violence, aren't prisoners but are hostages. And then he repeated it for emphasis. And he used a phrase to describe immigrants coming into the U.S. that echoes language used by Hitler.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: They're poisoning the blood of our country. That's what they've done. They poison mental institutions and prisons all over the world - not just in South America, not just the 3 or 4 countries that we think about, but all over the world. They're coming into our country from Africa, from Asia, all over the world. They're pouring into our country.

KEITH: And as is often the case with Trump, it's not entirely clear why he's talking about mental institutions and prisons. But the phrase poisoning the blood of our country is crystal clear, and it isn't an accident. He has said it before. When he did, it produced an uproar and rebukes, and then he said it again yesterday.

Trump also did deliver an economic message, arguing that the record-high stock prices reached last week don't matter because it means rich people are getting richer. It's a populist appeal, to be sure, though when he was president, Trump boasted about stock prices all the time. And he predicted a massive crash if Joe Biden were elected.

RASCOE: Trump hasn't been spending much time in New Hampshire, so did he visit New Hampshire to head off Nikki Haley's momentum?

KEITH: Well, you - as you say, this is Trump's first time in the state in more than a month. And it was a big sports arena rally, not the sort of small Q&A format that is the norm for candidates in New Hampshire. Momentum is a relative term, though. Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley got a really big endorsement last week from the state's popular and anti-Trump governor, Chris Sununu. They have been making the rounds on TV together and holding events with far fewer people than the Trump rally. Sununu's case is that it's between Trump and Haley now.

But Trump is ahead by more than 20 points in an average of recent polls in Iowa, which will go first. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was endorsed by the state's popular governor, Kim Reynolds, and Trump still has a massive lead in polls there. But all those massive leads are also setting very high expectations for Trump. You know, the air of inevitability is a big part of his campaign, running like an incumbent. So he is ramping up campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire and Nevada to make sure that come caucus and primary time, it doesn't look like there's a real competition.

RASCOE: That's NPR's Tamara Keith. Thank you so much for joining us.

KEITH: You're welcome. 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.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.