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Politics chat: What Biden's diplomatic trips say about U.S. foreign policy

MILES PARKS, HOST:

Former President Donald Trump held a rally last night in Waco, Texas, kicking off his presidential campaign. He framed it as a last stand for him and his supporters.

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DONALD TRUMP: And 2024 is the final battle. That's going to be the big one.

PARKS: And while he has not yet declared his run officially, President Biden seems to be doing the same thing with several trips on his and his cabinet's itinerary. We're joined now by NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid. Good morning, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Good morning, Miles. Good to speak with you.

PARKS: Yeah, good to talk to you, too. So let's talk with that Trump rally in Texas last night. It was Trump's first major campaign event for 2024, and it comes as he's facing this potential indictment.

KHALID: Yeah, that's right. You know, this potential indictment has been expected to come down from a grand jury in New York. And Trump himself recently suggested that he could be arrested as a result of it. He's been on a sort of verbal tear on social media, attacking the Manhattan DA, suggesting that, quote, "potential death and destruction" might follow if he were to be charged. And, you know, last night in Waco, Texas, he went on to criticize the justice system. He said the U.S. is turning into a banana republic. And I will say, Miles, you know, his speech to me was a reminder of some of the perils Republicans face in renominating him. You know, he spent chunks of his speech focused on his own personal legal predicament rather than people's problems, you know, rather than any real vision for a second term in the White House.

PARKS: OK. And so at the same time, President Biden, who has not yet declared that he's running in 2024 - he made his first visit to Canada, and he came away with this new deal on migration, which has been a really thorny issue for his administration.

KHALID: I mean, migration has actually been a real political challenge, I would say, for both Biden and the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau. And this new deal will allow Canada to send asylum seekers who cross at unofficial border areas back to the United States and then vice versa. The United States will be able to do the same with people who are trying to enter from Canada. My understanding is that this deal is the result of something that the Canadians had been urging. But, you know, to your point, Miles, immigration, broadly, is a very tricky political issue for President Biden. You know, Republicans repeatedly blame Biden for the number of migrants who've been crossing into the country illegally, particularly from the southern border. And migration, I think, is an issue that, no doubt, the GOP will continue to try to hammer Biden over.

PARKS: I see that Biden's also traveling within the country, right? I mean, he's doing this Investing in America tour, which I feel like sounds like something that he would do if he was trying to sell a piece of legislation to Congress. But there is no legislation that he's selling here.

KHALID: Yeah. There's no new bill trying to get through Congress. His administration is basically barnstorming the country for the next three weeks, trying to sell the public on the legislation that it has already passed, specifically legislation around an economic agenda. The first stop is going to be Durham, N.C., on Tuesday. I'm going to be heading there with President Biden. He'll be visiting a semiconductor manufacturing facility that's - planning to build - I'm sorry - a new facility in that area. And that's a result of the big CHIPS Act that Congress passed last year.

This all comes ahead of a likely reelect bid by the president. And I will say that is the key context here. I was speaking with Democratic pollster Celinda Lake recently, and she told me that some 75% of Americans have a negative view of the economy right now. And she says that is worrisome for Democrats because people do not vote on the actual metrics in an economy. They vote based on the direction that they think it is headed.

PARKS: I think the No. 1 challenge for Democrats going into 2024 is we have to get even on the economy. The president and the Democrats are not getting enough credit for what they've done.

KHALID: And so, Miles, the thinking at the White House is that the public just needs to be better informed about what Biden has done. Of course, this assumes that, you know, as campaign rhetoric heats up for 2024, people will be paying attention to policy over politics.

PARKS: And Vice President Kamala Harris is also traveling. She's in Ghana today. And the administration is calling this a, quote, "future-oriented trip." What does that mean?

KHALID: Well, you know, Miles, I will say the subtext here, like much of the Biden administration's global strategy, is on countering China. You know, you have to, I think, view this trip in the context of this preoccupation with China. And the Biden administration's push comes to Africa at a moment in time when China has boosted its own presence in the region. And so, you know, throughout this trip, the vice president can offer a contrast to the continent of what the United States has to offer.

She'll be traveling to Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia. It'll be a week-long trip. And administration officials told reporters that she'll intend to discuss issues related to democracy, technology, economic growth, food security and, of course, Russia's war in Ukraine. I will point out she is the highest-ranking Biden administration official to visit the continent to date. A number of other officials have recently visited, and Biden himself is expected to make a trip to Africa later this year.

PARKS: That's NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid. Thank you so much, Asma.

KHALID: Happy to do it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Miles Parks is a reporter on NPR's Washington Desk. He covers voting and elections, and also reports on breaking news.
Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.