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Politics Chat: Biden's Approval Ratings Fall

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Needless to say, this is not the way the White House wanted to see the summer end. It was supposed to be a time for the country to get back to normal - right? - and a time for President Joe Biden to promote the big spending plan at the heart of his domestic agenda. But instead, the crisis in Afghanistan dominated the administration's focus along with the pandemic's fourth wave. And on Friday, some disappointing economic news. Here's Biden.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: There's no question the delta variant is why today's job report isn't stronger. I know people are looking - and I was - hoping for a higher number. But next week, I'll lay out the next steps that are going to - we're going to do to combat the delta variant to address some of those fears and concerns.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Those fears and concerns are showing up in the president's poll numbers, too. We have many questions for NPR White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe. Good morning.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ayesha, I mean, no way to - other than to talk about it as not a great moment for this presidency. What does the president need to do this week when he talks about specifically the pandemic?

RASCOE: This has been a top issue for voters. It's part of the reason why Biden was elected. A majority of voters still approve of how he's handled the pandemic. But the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll and other polls show that approval is slipping. The White House really hoped that the U.S. would have turned the corner by now. Back in July, they were celebrating. They had no masks. They - you know, they were talking about vaccinations. Instead, the Delta variant is spreading. Cases are up. And there are fights about masks at schools. And, you know, there is a large contingent of people who don't want to get vaccinated. The problem for the administration is that it's unclear what, if anything, can be said or announced to change that. But Biden has to give the perception and the impression that he has this under control.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, I mean, under control. But that NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll shows that 61% of people also disapproved of the way Biden handled the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, though that's not the whole story.

RASCOE: You know, at this point, there is wide support for ending the war but not about how it ended, right? like, And it's not clear what the long-term implications will be for Biden's presidency. But right now, in this moment, it's weighing down his poll numbers. There will be a lot of focus this week on the war and its chaotic end because of the anniversary of 9/11.

On Saturday, Biden will travel to all three sites of the 9/11 attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Right now, the administration will have to continue to address the fact that there are still Americans and Afghans that helped troops left behind in Afghanistan and the fact that the administration is having to work with the Taliban - the people that the U.S. fought for all those years who are now in control.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the White House had wanted to spend time promoting the big spending proposal for infrastructure, climate, child care and other domestic priorities instead of dealing with all this. With the president's approval ratings down, I mean, does that hurt his plans for his agenda?

RASCOE: It certainly doesn't make it any easier. Biden wants to make progress this month. You know, the country is getting closer to 2022, the midterm elections. The White House and congressional Democrats do have the imperative that they want to have something to show voters to make their case that they should keep their majority. So that may push them to move. There are some big deadlines coming up for government funding and to raise the debt limit, lots of pressure to pass a package. This past week with the natural disasters, Hurricane Ida, big wildfires near Lake Tahoe, Biden has been trying to use that to make the case that the country needs to update its infrastructure in response to climate change. And he's going to be visiting New York and New Jersey this week to survey damage from flooding after Ida.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe. Thank you very much.

RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.