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Politics chat: House approves aid for Ukraine and Israel, TikTok bill up next

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

After months of indecision and delay, in a rare Saturday session, the House of Representatives approved nearly $61 billion in aid to Ukraine.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARCUS MOLINARO: On this vote, the yeas are 311, and the nays are 112. The bill is passed.

(CHEERING)

MOLINARO: Oh.

RASCOE: Voting in favor - all the Democrats and a little less than half of the Republicans. Some members celebrated the bill's passage by cheering and waving blue and yellow Ukrainian flags, prompting this warning from House Speaker Mike Johnson.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE JOHNSON: OK. The house will be in order. The chair would remind my colleagues to observe proper decorum. Flag waving on the floor is not appropriate. The House will be in order.

RASCOE: The House also passed funding for Israel and Taiwan and added a measure that would require TikTok's Chinese owners to either sell off the popular social media app or be barred from operating in the U.S. Joining me now to discuss all this is NPR's Asma Khalid. Good morning.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So aid to Ukraine has been held up a long time. How did this finally get through?

KHALID: Well, you're right. It has been held up for months, and some hard-line Republican conservatives did not want to see the United States continue sending more money to Ukraine. But ultimately, the package that got through yesterday was passed on a bipartisan basis.

And Ayesha, what was very interesting to me was the creativity in how this aid eventually passed. It was not one package for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan, TikTok, everything. It was interestingly four distinct bills, meaning some of the people who voted against Ukraine aid did vote for aid to Israel. There was a different combination of votes to get this all through.

And I think some of our loyal political listeners probably recall that way back in mid-February, the Senate passed a $95 billion aid package. It was all of these priorities in one bill. And the sticking point for hard-line Republicans was Ukraine.

You know, I think that there is a lot of cynicism about how Washington does not work, and I really think a lot of that cynicism is often validated. But what we saw yesterday was a willingness from Speaker Johnson to work with Democrats, and I think it was also a validation of President Biden's belief in persuasion rather than always thinking that you can publicly attack your critics.

And frankly, we saw Speaker Johnson, I think, at quite a personal risk to himself and his own speakership, come around to support this because, you know, Ukraine aid is not necessarily just deeply unpopular among some ultraconservatives. You saw a majority of Republicans yesterday vote against that part of this package.

RASCOE: These aid bills are heading next to the Senate and included is that measure on TikTok which had 360 votes in favor. Like, how significant is that?

KHALID: Well, 360 votes shows you how much bipartisan agreement there is on this particular issue, a much larger margin than what you saw, for example, with the Ukraine aid. This comes even after Politico reported last week about the pressure campaign TikTok exerted on some lawmakers to try to get them not to support this bill. But members of Congress are ultimately worried that TikTok poses a national security risk.

You know, we have heard from the white House that the president would support signing this. And Biden has said he supports requiring the Chinese company that owns TikTok, known as ByteDance, to either sell its stake in TikTok in a year or face a possible ban from U.S. app stores. TikTok's stance is that such a measure is unconstitutional, that it is a violation of the First Amendment, and there very well may be legal challenges.

But I do think that it is important to note how politically challenging this conversation is for the president and, frankly, for his campaign in an election year. TikTok is hugely popular in the United States, particularly with young voters, and Biden's own campaign is currently on TikTok making videos to reach young voters who have been somewhat skeptical of him.

RASCOE: Biden's been out actively campaigning more and more, and I understand you've been out watching some of this. What have you noticed?

KHALID: Yeah, the president was in Pennsylvania this past week for three days, which I think is also just a sign of how critical the swing state is to his reelection bid. I traveled with him to Pittsburgh and to his hometown of Scranton.

And Ayesha, what stood out to me was just the routine level of protests that the president faces around the war in Gaza. He is routinely protested by people on the left on this issue. And, you know, it's of course, worth noting that not all of these protests are large, but the frequency of them is noteworthy. It is a sign of his vulnerability with young voters, who were a key voting bloc in his 2020 victory.

And, you know, we've seen the president try to reach these voters in other ways, whether it's forgiving some student loans, focusing on abortion. But ultimately, this is something to keep an eye on when the president heads to Virginia and Florida this week.

RASCOE: So finally, tomorrow, with the jury now selected, opening statements begin in former President Trump's hush money trial in New York City. How much of a challenge is this trial presenting for his ability to campaign?

KHALID: Ayesha, I think just the question alone exposes the strange juxtaposition that Trump is in being, both on trial and, in theory, on the trail at the same time. But he has not been out campaigning extensively. He called off his event last night in North Carolina because of the weather. And so the exposure that he is largely getting in the public eye at this moment in time, as the likely 2024 GOP presidential candidate, is not in rallies but, in fact, at the defendant's table in the first criminal trial that we are seeing of a former president in American history.

RASCOE: That's NPR political correspondent Asma Khalid. Thank you, Asma.

KHALID: Always good to talk to you. 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.

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Ayesha Rascoe
Ayesha Rascoe is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and the Saturday episodes of Up First. As host of the morning news magazine, she interviews news makers, entertainers, politicians and more about the stories that everyone is talking about or that everyone should be talking about.
Asma Khalid
Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.