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Week In Politics: Marches Are Planned Across The Nation For Voting Rights

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And, of course, events in Afghanistan test the Biden administration. We're joined now by NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: The story of the loss of human lives and fear of the Taliban is most important, but we talk to you about politics. And the sad and tragic news coming out of Afghanistan has political fallout, too, doesn't it?

ELVING: It does. It's been a body blow for Biden this month, the news from Kabul combined with resurgence in COVID. But it can be harder to predict the effects over a longer period. Sometimes there's been a rally-around-the-flag effect for a president, such as George W. Bush after 9/11. But what's happened this month in Kabul is seen more as a failure to perceive the situation and plan accordingly, to heed warnings, to be ready for a highly likely contingency. So in that sense, it's more reminiscent of the Beirut bombing in 1983 that killed more than 240 Marines. Yet, somehow, Ronald Reagan was not really held responsible for that and did not suffer for it politically.

I think we do have to say, in the relatively short term, this cannot help the Democrats in their struggle to hold on to the House and Senate, where they have very narrow margins, in the midterm elections next year.

SIMON: We should note that this week, a number of voices criticized the coverage of the Kabul evacuation, saying essentially, Thursday's bombing was a crime, but U.S. forces have evacuated roughly 117,000 people, and President Biden deserves respect for making a difficult decision and sticking with it.

ELVING: There is that case to be made, and certainly, it will be made in history. There is no easy or tidy way to end a 20-year commitment to a situation, especially one that has simply not improved enough to sustain further commitment. Biden will get some points for sticking to his plan and his priorities.

But on the other hand, it really is easy to see how his critics can speculate about this becoming a permanent millstone. It will be an ongoing crisis in that country well-covered. And it could continue to weigh Biden down and cripple his presidency on other fronts as well.

SIMON: In the midst of all this, the House voted to advance the president's budget plan. There's even a deadline.

ELVING: Yes. Speaker Pelosi managed to buy another month in which to braid all these strands of concerns and all the elements of her very narrow majority in the House. The infrastructure bill - she promised a vote on September 27, then the budget reconciliation bill, which is now in the hands of committee chairs, who are going to build momentum behind it. Maybe this can still work despite all the distractions. And maybe they can work at lifting the debt ceiling into it as well. It will be quite a feat if they manage, but don't rule it out.

SIMON: For many Americans around, the pandemic and the surge of the delta variant loom larger, certainly closer to home, as infections and hospitalizations have risen alarmingly.

ELVING: Yes, COVID is perhaps a bigger political time bomb in the short run than anything else. It certainly matters more in the daily lives of Americans. And plainly stated, the unvaccinated parts of the country are at great risk, greater than a year ago. That's why businesses and governments are requiring shots, masks, social distancing. We know it works, just not how to make people who should know better stop resisting.

And on the hopeful side, we saw movement on two fronts this week. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave full approval to Pfizer's vaccine. And we are seeing court rulings that support mask mandates. That really means if schools want to require masks, they can. So in a state like Florida, that's good news.

SIMON: Let's note a series of voting rights marches around the country today, including one in Washington, D.C. The timing is resonant.

ELVING: This is the 58th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech, which was critical to the passage of the Civil Rights Act that opened the gate to the Voting Rights Act, which by the time it was passed was overwhelmingly popular in Congress. Of course, the Supreme Court has been taking that law apart in recent years, and voting laws in many states are moving in the other direction now because Republicans there feel it was too easy to vote in 2020. If you believe in democracy, you should believe in as many legal voters as possible, and it should not be made more difficult. But the modern myth of massive voter fraud dies hard.

SIMON: And we say that as Chicagoans (laughter). NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.