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Politics chat: Biden highlights the year's accomplishments in Christmas address

DANIEL ESTRIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Ayesha Rascoe is off for Christmas. I'm Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: Yes, even after 2,000 years, Christmas still has the power to lift us up, to bring us together, to change lives, to change the world. The Christmas story is at the heart of the Christmas - Christian faith. But the messages of hope, love, peace and joy, they're also universal.

ESTRIN: That is President Biden from his Christmas address, one in which he stressed unity and universality, and that is where we will start with NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid. Good morning, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Good morning.

ESTRIN: Politico called it Biden's Merry Christmas yesterday, and he did cap the holiday with some last-minute accomplishments. Walk us through some of those like the spending bill that passed just under the wire.

KHALID: Yeah. Well, that big spending bill was $1.7 trillion and Congress did indeed pass it just ahead of Christmas Eve to keep the government funded. You know, it includes some of the president's priorities such as about $45 billion to continue aiding Ukraine. I will say, though, Daniel, you know, there is no doubt that these last two years included some major laws that were passed purely along party lines only because Democrats wanted to do them - things like the big investments in climate and health care known as the Inflation Reduction Act.

But there are other key pieces of legislation, like investments in infrastructure and semiconductor manufacturing, that passed because Republicans and Democrats decided to work together, and, you know, this is something that the White House has been touting. It is something that they say is central to why Joe Biden ran for president, this vision of bipartisanship. I will say, though, of course, the reality is Republicans are going to take control of the House in January, and it will likely be very difficult to pass any new legislation.

ESTRIN: Well, to that point, even though the president keeps stressing unity, even as recently as his Christmas speech this past Thursday, what happens when there is divided government?

KHALID: Well, Republicans in the House have already been telegraphing their plans to investigate this White House on, frankly, everything from the origins of COVID-19 to the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Some in the GOP have also been eager to investigate the president's son, Hunter Biden, for his business dealings. You know, I think that this is something that Republicans in the House are sort of eager to do at this point in time, given the way that they felt that they were put under scrutiny by Democrats these past two years. That being said, some of the experts that I've spoken with warn that there's a risk in this strategy. There's a danger in perhaps overinterpreting the results of the midterms to see this, you know, potentially backfire in two years during a general election.

ESTRIN: Now, it's not just a Republican House that looms for Biden. We are expecting some movement on Biden's student loan forgiveness and Title 42, the Trump-era policy that allows the U.S. to reject asylum-seekers on public health grounds.

KHALID: Yeah. So first, on student loans, that is all in limbo. It will go to the Supreme Court, who's going to hear arguments on the issue in late February. Then on Title 42, which - you know, I think we should explain to listeners is this policy that has allowed border agents to essentially more quickly turn migrants away. It was supposed to expire this past week, but a group of Republican governors wanted to keep it in place. Long story short, at the 11th hour, the Supreme Court intervened and temporarily kept the rule in place. At this point in time, it is unclear to me how long this kind of legal limbo will remain. But the expectation, even from some Democratic politicians, is that there could be a surge at the border and that the government just frankly is not equipped to deal with that. And really, they need, you know, complete immigration reform at this point.

ESTRIN: We started with Joe Biden's Christmas. Let's end on it. He says he's got some deciding to do this Christmas, right?

KHALID: That's right. He has said that he intends to run for president again, but he added that this is ultimately a family decision. He intends to discuss this with his family, likely over the holidays, and so I expect we will hear some news on that front in the new year.

ESTRIN: Keeping us on our toes. That's Asma Khalid, NPR White House correspondent and co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. Thanks, Asma.

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

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.