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Biden assesses midterm results — even as some key races remain undecided

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Republicans may yet take charge of one or both houses of Congress. But to President Biden, the relatively small change amounts to a vindication.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: This was supposed to be a red wave. You guys - you were talking about us losing 30 to 50 seats, and this was going to - we're nowhere near - that's not going to happen.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some analysts did foresee huge Republican gains on Tuesday, although our colleagues at NPR talked of a range of possibilities. The mixed results leave Biden's White House with a better chance of governing and Biden's party with a better chance of gaining ground again in 2024.

FADEL: We're joined now by NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thanks for being here, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Yep. Good morning.

FADEL: Good morning. So there are still a number of races that haven't been called, but it looks quite possible President Biden will spend his final two years in office with at least a GOP-controlled House of Representatives. What did he say about how he's going to approach the next two years?

KEITH: He said that the message he took from the election was that the American people want him to work together with Congress. And to that end, he plans to invite leaders over to the White House later this month. But I have to say, he was also unapologetic. Asked what he would change about his approach, Biden said this.

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BIDEN: I'm not going to change anything in any fundamental way.

KEITH: He said many of the policies Democrats in Congress passed in recent months that they'd been campaigning on haven't had a chance to take effect yet. And he said he would defend that legislation against any efforts to roll it back by exercising his veto pen if it gets to that point. And he said he would also be open to working with Republicans. But I have to say that sounded like just Biden being on brand rather than actually predicting a great period of bipartisan productivity. He also wished Republicans luck if they plan to spend the next two years doing investigations - either of his son Hunter or more serious policy pursuits like the withdrawal from Afghanistan, and certainly if they were to try to pursue impeachment.

FADEL: OK, so this idea of bipartisanship - I mean, not the norm these days, right, Tam? So how is he going to get anything done in the next two years?

KEITH: There were a couple of bipartisan successes in the last couple of years.

FADEL: Yeah.

KEITH: If Democrats are able to hang on to the Senate, then Biden would at least be able to keep getting judges confirmed, which is something he has already done at a record clip. With narrow margins, Democrats in the last couple of years already had Biden scaling back his ambitions, and he had to do some things through executive actions, like student loan forgiveness, which is getting hung up in court as often happens with executive actions. So you could expect to see more of that. Republicans, if they do win majorities, will have very narrow ones and will likely face their own internal battles. There are just a few things that truly have to get done, like funding the government.

FADEL: Right.

KEITH: And Biden, in his press conference yesterday, predicted that those ultimately will be bipartisan efforts. They kind of have to be.

FADEL: OK, so the big question after a midterm is whether the president plans to run for reelection. So how did Biden answer this time?

KEITH: Well, he answered it in a couple of different ways. He reiterated that he does plan to run and that the midterms didn't affect that. He was asked about the possible rivals of Donald Trump or Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

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KRISTEN WELKER: Who do you think would be the tougher competitor, Ron DeSantis or former President Trump? And how is that factoring into your decision?

BIDEN: It'll be fun watching them take on each other.

FADEL: Is there anything else that stood out from this press conference?

KEITH: Yeah, that's the thing about press conferences, is reporters can ask about all different kinds of topics.

FADEL: Right.

KEITH: And one asked about Elon Musk and whether he is a threat to national security, especially with his acquisition of Twitter, with funding some of it from foreign governments, including Saudi Arabia. And Biden chose his words very carefully. He said that he thinks Elon Musk's cooperation and/or technology relationships with other countries is, quote, "worth being looked at," whether or not he's doing anything inappropriate, Biden added. And he's not suggesting that, he said, but that it is worth looking at it.

FADEL: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith, thank you so much.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.