RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Biden will be in New York and New Jersey today to survey damage from Hurricane Ida. The storm killed more than 40 people in the two states. His visit comes after a tumultuous few weeks for the president. His administration has been criticized for the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the summer spike in COVID cases and the slow U.S. economic recovery. We've got NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith with us this morning. Hi, Tam.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hi.
MARTIN: So, I mean, the president's going to make this trip to New Jersey, New York. Expectedly, I'm sure, he's going to look at some of the damage. And he's going to talk with officials. Is there anything exceptional about this trip, though?
KEITH: Yeah. This is a most traditional presidential trip surveying storm damage. And he did this last week in Louisiana. He does it now again in New York and New Jersey - all the same storm. But an administration official tells me that the president will also make a larger case about climate change and the need for investments in resilient infrastructure. It's a tie back to the infrastructure legislation Congress will be working on this month. You know, given the frequency of these severe weather events, it gives the president an opportunity to pitch this idea that infrastructure needs to be able to stand up to more extreme storms and heat waves, improving things like the power grid or levees, storm water systems, even.
MARTIN: So I nodded to the fact that it's been a difficult couple of weeks on a whole series of fronts - right? - for the president. Do we expect him to talk today if he's in front of reporters at all about Afghanistan and the COVID spikes?
KEITH: He certainly could be asked about those things. He has - he's not been running towards questions recently, I will say. On Afghanistan, the messaging on that has really moved over to the State Department, where they are still working to get some Americans out of Afghanistan, as well as those who've helped Americans. Moving it to the State Department put some of the bright political light off of President Biden, which is good for him because this has not been a good issue for him. NPR, PBS NewsHour and Marist polling indicates that the public has a lot of concerns with the handling of the withdrawal. On COVID, the president said that he'd be announcing a plan to tackle the delta variant. That speech is set currently for Wednesday. It's not clear what new tricks the administration has to battle COVID. There so far - there's only so far that they have been willing to go in terms of mandates for vaccination, for instance. They've left vaccine verification to the private sector. And that hasn't really gotten off the ground. The administration had been talking about September 20 as a start to opening up third doses to people as sort of an immunity booster.
KEITH: But it's looking like that may not really be on track either. It may be that boosters aren't available for all vaccines or to all people. The Biden administration has something of a habit lately of creating these deadlines that end up creeping or getting redefined.
MARTIN: What about the broader economy? I mean, last week we got news of far fewer jobs were created than were expected, the delta variant obviously adding to this. How's the administration responding?
KEITH: Certainly. The president is getting pressure from progressives to extend unemployment benefits, which expired yesterday, leaving millions of people without those benefits. The administration seems to have no appetite, though, for extending those benefits.
MARTIN: All right. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. We appreciate it. Thank you.
KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.