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Biden addressed the debt ceiling drama in a rare Oval Office speech

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Biden is ready to turn the page on a drama that has threatened the U.S. economy for months. The deal raises the debt ceiling and avoids default. Speaking from the Oval Office last night, Mr. Biden described the compromise.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: No one got everything they wanted, but the American people got what they needed. We averted an economic crisis.

SIMON: The speech was carried live on most networks. NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid was watching and joins us now. Asma, thanks so much for being with us.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Good to be here.

SIMON: This was the first time the president has given a speech from behind that big Resolute desk in the Oval Office. What point should he want to make for the American people?

KHALID: You know, Scott, he emphasized that this was a win for the country, that the U.S. avoided what could have become a financial catastrophe. And it was striking to me that Biden was rather effusive in his praise for the Republican speaker, Kevin McCarthy. But really, I think one of the main messages here was this emphasis on the notion of bipartisanship.

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BIDEN: I know bipartisanship is hard. And unity is hard. But we can never stop trying because of moments like this one, the one we just faced where the American economy and the world economy is at risk of collapsing. There's no other way.

KHALID: You know, in addition to this emphasis on finding consensus, there's another message that the president was trying to send last night, and I think that was rather political. He highlighted his own political Democratic priorities. You know, he spoke about what he was able to protect throughout this process, Medicaid and Social Security chiefly among them, and also about what he still wants to achieve, like raising taxes more on the wealthy and big corporations.

SIMON: Asma, in reaching this deal, Congress performed what is considered to be a basic obligation, paying the debts of the United States. So why did President Biden choose this moment to make these remarks from the Oval Office?

KHALID: Well, you know, throughout the debate, throughout the negotiations, the president was rather reluctant to talk about the process. And that stood in stark contrast to Republicans who were constantly talking to the press. This White House has made a point of saying that Biden does not negotiate in public. And I think this speech was an opportunity at the end of the process for Biden to look presidential and above the fray. And, you know, it's noteworthy. It came at a time when the 2024 presidential race is beginning to heat up, and it allows him to provide some contrast with what we saw from the field of Republicans this week who were quibbling amongst themselves.

SIMON: Polling has shown that the American people are really concerned about the economy, and a lot of people do not approve of the way they see the president has handled it. Does this debt ceiling deal address those concerns?

KHALID: Well, you know, economic data points are looking upbeat. There were new jobs numbers yesterday that were strong. Inflation has been coming down for the last 10 consecutive months. But at the same time, this debt drama did create questions about whether the country is really in the clear. I spoke with a Democratic pollster yesterday, Celinda Lake, who said voters have begun to feel a bit more positive about the state of the economy, but they are nervous about whether or not this stability is really here to stay. She says that voters need to see these positive economic trends continue for a number of more months in order to really feel confident and ultimately for Biden to get the kind of political credit that he is seeking.

SIMON: NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid, thanks so much.

KHALID: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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