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Week in politics: House approves $14 billion aid for Israel, offset by cuts to the IRS

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And yesterday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke in Tel Aviv.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTONY BLINKEN: As long as the United States stands, Israel will never stand alone.

SIMON: This week, the Republican-led House approved more than $14 billion in military aid for Israel, mostly to bolster the Iron Dome missile defense system and provide more advanced weaponry. But the military aid would be offset by cuts to the Internal Revenue Service. Now, the House bill is all but certain not to pass the Democratic Senate. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called it a stunningly unserious bill. The Biden administration says the bill, quote, "fails to meet the urgency of the moment." We're joined this week by NPR senior political editor Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, thanks so much for being with us.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there, Scott. Good to be with you.

SIMON: So no chance of passage in the Senate, which the new speaker, Mike Johnson, must have known. Do you see the bill as a statement, a gesture, maneuver or...?

MONTANARO: Well, I'd say it's a short-term win because it showed, in his first week, that Johnson was able to keep together his fractious conference. But it's really only pretty minor because, like you said, it's dead on arrival in the Senate. You know, it's this cute and tortured attempt to really keep his members together by funding Israel and defunding the IRS, which is not what the president has asked for. He wants funding for Israel and Ukraine tied together. So the part of governing that Johnson still, you know, has to do, he hasn't quite shown he can do in keeping his conference together while negotiating, compromising, finding common ground, whatever you want to call it, with the other side because Democrats do control the Senate and the White House, and that can't be lost here. He still has to compromise.

SIMON: What does the bill say about how Speaker Johnson might lead on other problems - thinking of Ukraine aid and, of course, funding the federal government?

MONTANARO: Basically, new speaker, same problems until we see otherwise. You think about this pretzel-like maneuver, this Gumby-like bend, maybe, we're seeing Johnson try to do to get...

SIMON: I always knew Domenico, you would...

MONTANARO: (Laughter).

SIMON: ...Cite a classical antecedent, but go ahead, yes.

MONTANARO: There we go. You know, to try to just get just - even just get this IRS-Israel bill passed that's going nowhere. You know, Johnson spent a lot of time this week, you know, talking about the dire nature of the federal debt, yet, according to the Congressional Budget Office, this bill wouldn't even pay for itself. You know, this tends to happen when you decrease the government's ability to go after tax cheats and not be able to collect revenue, which is a thing Republicans are loath to talk about. For them, it's all about spending cuts. But there just isn't enough spending to cut if you're not going to look at Medicare and Social Security to make a dent in the debt, you know? And we're looking at this kind of action with the Israel-Hamas war continuing, a war in Ukraine that's still happening, by the way, and less than two weeks to go until the federal government would shut down.

SIMON: Another Republican presidential debate next week - field's thinning out a bit. Race for the moment is who's second behind Donald Trump - well behind Donald Trump. Where do you see the current field?

MONTANARO: It's like a middle-aged man's receding hairline. The thinning is just starting to show, Scott. Pence is out. DeSantis appears deflated, never having been able to differentiate himself enough from Trump for those who don't want him and convince those who do like Trump that they should go with him instead. It just hasn't gone well for DeSantis. You know, Republicans who don't want Trump appear to be looking for an alternative. And right now, that looks like former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who's on the rise. And Haley is really trying to drive the stake into DeSantis. Here she was taking a shot at DeSantis on "The Daily Show," making fun of these viral images of DeSantis' boots looking turned up at the toe and possibly elevated at the heel.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE DAILY SHOW")

NIKKI HALEY: I've always talked about my high heels. I've never, you know, hid that from anybody. I've always said, don't wear them if you can't run in them. So we'll see if he can run in them.

MONTANARO: So preview, debate this week - Haley is comfortable with this - with the issue set that's going on in the world right now, having been the former Trump ambassador to the United Nations. And I think we can expect her to try to make the most of her moment this week.

SIMON: And quickly, Donald Trump takes the stand next week, right?

MONTANARO: He does. And, you know, it's amazing because it has to have distracted him from his campaign efforts and split his attention because this is his legacy. This is the company with his name on it - someone from Queens trying to make it in the city. And that's really threatened right now because of this fraud trial. And, you know, it's all about the penalty. His political campaign is also at stake here. And there are really two audiences. We've seen a subdued Trump in court, but outside the bombast remains. He's really fighting for his legacy here, Scott.

SIMON: Domenico Montanaro, so good to have you this week. Thanks so much.

MONTANARO: Thank you. 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.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.