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Politics chat: How inflation, midterms and Trump will affect the Jan. 6 hearing

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

And this week's January 6 hearing lands amidst political tensions that are even more heightened. Midterms are just over a month away and, you know, it's just control of Congress at stake. For some perspective, we're joined by NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Hi, Franco.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Hey, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So put the work of this committee in the context of all of the politics around it.

ORDOÑEZ: Right. I mean, the committee is in a race against the midterms. It's a temporary committee that basically expires at the end of the current term. And if Republicans take back the House, they're pretty certain to shut it down completely. You know, we just heard from Representative Lofgren. She's clearly keeping things close to the vest, you know, not wanting to signal anything much about the upcoming hearing or the possibility of any recommendations about criminal charges. You know, the committee is trying at least to keep politics out of this.

But, of course, politics are a big part, and there's a lot of pressure on Lofgren and the other Democrats to finish their work and issue a strong report laying out their findings. The committee did, as she noted, lead efforts to pass legislation to close loopholes in the election certification process. But of the nine House Republicans who voted with Democrats, all of them are retiring or lost their primaries.

RASCOE: And then there are also these revelations about all of the other Trump investigations that keep coming out.

ORDOÑEZ: Right. You could argue that the January 6 committee is, you know, going to try to claw back some of the attention from all that. You have the FBI search and the Department of Justice investigation of classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago, and now the ongoing battle between the DOJ and Trump's legal team over the special master. And then last week, the New York attorney general filed a lawsuit against Trump, his business and his family, charging them with fraud. It's a lot.

You know, I should probably also note on the January 6 front that the Oath Keepers trial is slated to start this week. Five members of that group face seditious conspiracy charges. Prosecutors are basically going to try to show that they were part of a plot to stop the transfer of power.

RASCOE: Franco, let's shift to President Biden. There have been - or there's been more troubling economic news over the last few days, and that's never good for the party that holds the White House.

ORDOÑEZ: Right. It's a tough moment for the president on that front. It's likely to play into the midterms, where Republicans have been hoping to attack President Biden and Democrats on the economy and high inflation. You know, Biden was having a really good run at the end of the summer, capitalizing on his legislative wins and attacking Republicans on things like abortion and rights and democracy.

I was with Biden last week when he attended two Democratic fundraisers in New York, and he painted, in stark terms, that the midterms were a choice between basically the Biden way and the way of extreme followers of Trump, who he calls MAGA Republicans. But leaders of the Republican Party want voters to look at the midterms as a referendum on Biden's first two years. And polls have shown that the economy is one of president's vulnerable spots.

RASCOE: And, you know, in the minute we have left, this week, Biden hosts a domestic summit on hunger and health. But this is also a pressing issue on him internationally, right?

ORDOÑEZ: Right. You know, this is the first time the White House has done this kind of summit since former President Richard Nixon was in office five decades ago. It's part of his plans to end hunger by 2030 - Biden's plans, that is. But as you note, it's been an issue worldwide. It was actually a big part of Biden's speech at last week's United Nations General Assembly. The war in Ukraine has exacerbated problems in the developing world, but many of those countries impacted the most have been reluctant to take sides in the war. I spoke with Samuel Charap, who was a top adviser in the Obama administration. He says Biden sees this as a chance to further isolate Russia if he can convince those countries to stand with allies against Moscow.

SAMUEL CHARAP: Biden is competing for the hearts and minds of the sort of swing states in the global competition between Russia and the West.

ORDOÑEZ: You know, Biden's message is the U.S. is ready to work with countries on the issues they care about, such as food security and energy security. But it's also about pressing them to stand up for international norms.

RASCOE: NPR's Franco Ordoñez. Franco, thank you so much.

ORDOÑEZ: Thanks, Ayesha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.