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Politics chat: Biden struggles with inflation; Jan. 6 committee hearings continue

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Make no mistake about it. I understand inflation is a real challenge to American families.

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

That's President Biden Friday after the Labor Department reported that consumer prices have pushed the annual inflation rate to its highest point in over 40 years. Scott Detrow is an NPR White House correspondent, and he joins us now. Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So I want to start by highlighting some of the interesting that we just heard from Dennis Briggs in Pittsburgh. Gas prices are a big problem for him, but he's reacting by expanding his business.

DETROW: Yeah, and that's just the latest indication that it's really a strange economy in the end, right? Gas prices are high. Housing costs are high. Inflation now seems to be picking up again this month. And the White House is conceding it's going to remain a real long-term problem. At the same time, unemployment remains low. Many businesses are still struggling to find employees, so they're offering bonuses and higher salaries. Workers really have a lot on their side, a lot of leverage, and that is leading to high consumer spending and high demand that hasn't dropped down. So it's a mixed picture, but it's clear a lot of people are pessimistic about it. And that has created a huge political problem for Joe Biden, and he's still kind of struggling with how to really respond.

RASCOE: Moving on to the issue of guns. You know, in 10 or 15 minutes, we'll hear from a resident of Buffalo about how that city is still recovering from the shooting there. There was Uvalde. And on today's date in 2016, the Pulse shooting happened in Orlando. But so this is a big issue, but there seems to finally be a deal for some restrictions. What do we know about that?

DETROW: Yeah, a big announcement just now from a bipartisan group of senators. Negotiators, you know, said all along that any sort of deal here would be much more narrow than the proposals that President Biden and many Democrats have been calling for. This agreement would not bar assault weapon purchases for people under 21. That's something we've heard a lot about. But it would require expanded background checks for people under 21 buying guns. Some other things in this deal - more money for school safety, expanded mental health outreach in schools. And there's one thing that was another big focus on the negotiations as they played out behind closed doors, that this deal would provide funding to states that have red flag laws and programs that remove weapons when courts determine someone to be a danger. So just to be clear, that would not be a new federal red flag law, but it would incentivize states to pass their own measures.

RASCOE: So you know, the key thing is, is this a done deal?

DETROW: Always the key thing, right? You know, the big fact about this announcement, it includes 10 Republicans, and that's huge. That means this bill would have enough bipartisan support to move forward in the Senate, and that's what's been missing all along on guns. You know, so down the line, I think I would have a lot of questions about support from Democrats who have pushed for much more broad legislative responses. But right in the minutes after this deal gets announced, we've had a statement from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer supporting it. We just got a statement from President Biden. I'll read you part of it. This is a quote - "Obviously, it does not do everything that I think is needed, but it reflects important steps in the right direction." It would be the most significant gun safety legislation to pass Congress in decades. And one other big thing coming in is several of the key gun violence prevention groups are backing it. So that is a lot of momentum. And I think it's a reflection that, you know, the Senate has been the hurdle all along. So something that could pass the Senate is really worth backing to gun advocates, even if they want much more done.

RASCOE: You know, tomorrow, there is another public hearing in the January 6 committee. That's the other big thing that's happening in Congress right now. In last week's primetime hearing, the chair and vice chair of the committee, Bennie Thompson and Liz Cheney, they laid out their case, right? I want to know what's coming up tomorrow and in the following hearings that will actually, you know, kind of put some meat on the bones of that case.

DETROW: Yeah. I think it is worth underscoring that 20 million people tuned in to last week's hearing, and that's a big deal, you know, given that this is really viewed by a lot of people as a last-ditch effort to break people out of this partisan frame that more and more people are viewing January 6 through. As Thompson put it in the opening statements, he said this is the culmination of an attempted coup to overturn the election and keep Trump in power. So going forward, the hearings this week are really going to lay out what happened between the election and January 6, how Trump and people around him tried to plot to overturn the election. The hearing coming up tomorrow is going to be all about what Trump knew at the moment. It's clear the committee is going to say he was well aware he lost the election. He was shown that time after time after time, and he chose to lie about it and get people to believe his lies.

RASCOE: I mean, are you getting the sense that the committee's argument is that Trump, he knew there was going to be some type of violence, but because Bennie Thompson said we don't know - he said yesterday on WEEKEND EDITION that we don't know that Trump directed anyone to attack the Capitol?

DETROW: Yeah, I mean, I think there's a clear sense that they're going to argue that he knew this would be a big threat to stop the electoral vote count, right? He told people to come. He talked about marching to the Capitol. And there was a preview in that primetime hearing, a lot of detail about what Trump was doing as the attack played out, encouraging it, you know, even according to people in the White House, saying, well, maybe we should hang Mike Pence when there were reports the crowd was chanting that. A lot more specifics on that front coming soon.

RASCOE: That's NPR White House correspondent and NPR Politics podcast host Scott Detrow. Scott, thanks.

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