SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
President Biden's trip to Louisiana yesterday to survey the damage from Hurricane Ida came as his administration faces a number of major crises, from the withdrawal from Afghanistan to another COVID surge. We're joined now by NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Good morning, Franco.
FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Hi.
SIMON: Please begin by telling us about the president's visit yesterday.
ORDOÑEZ: Well, the president met with local leaders and took a tour of some of the harder-hit areas. He walked the streets, met with residents and gave some hugs to families who are hurting. And he said it's time not just to make repairs, but to make things stronger.
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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We got to not just build back to what it was, put the same old poles up. We got to build back better. We got to build back more resiliently. And we got to make sure we do the same thing across the board.
ORDOÑEZ: You know, this, of course, has echoes to what he says about his economic plans. But Biden tried to emphasize, you know, Republican support as well and said this was not about politics but helping people.
SIMON: Want to turn to Afghanistan now because, of course, even though U.S. troops are out of the country, there are still thousands of Afghans who helped the U.S. over the course of the 20-year war who now need to be resettled. How's the Biden administration approaching this?
ORDOÑEZ: It's a big challenge. Refugee groups have been told to be ready for about 50,000 vulnerable Afghans. I spoke with Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of the Lutheran Immigration Refugee Services. She said right now, groups like hers have more questions than answers.
KRISH O’MARA VIGNARAJAH: The evacuation of Afghan refugees was chaotic, but their resettlement doesn't have to be. We need to see White House-level oversight of an effective and efficient whole-of-government response.
ORDOÑEZ: Now, President Biden is bringing in more help. He tapped former Delaware Governor Jack Markell to be the White House point person to coordinate all the work.
SIMON: When the Obama administration worked to resettle Syrian refugees in 2015, they ran into opposition. This is a - it's a touchy subject for many Americans, isn't it?
ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, that's right. There are some Republicans who oppose resettling the refugees, warning they could be dangerous. The White House has really pushed back, citing a robust screening process on U.S. military bases and sometimes in third-party countries beforehand. And Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said yesterday that the United States has a moral imperative to protect those Afghans who helped the United States during the two decades of war.
SIMON: Franco, I don't want to reduce compelling human situations to just politics. But there are political implications for the Biden administration in this tough period, too, aren't there?
ORDOÑEZ: There really are. And it has been a tough few weeks - the hurricane, a chaotic withdrawal in which 170 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members were killed, but also, Scott, the resurgence of the pandemic. The delta variant is ripping through parts of the country where vaccination rates are lower. And Biden had some tough job numbers, which the president blamed on the spreading variant. A new NPR/PBS/Marist poll shows his approval ratings are down to just about 43%.
Biden ran for office promising to be a steady hand on the world stage and bringing the country back physically and economically from the pandemic. He will talk this week about his next steps to deal with the delta variant. And he really also wants to talk about his domestic agenda, you know, the big spending package he wants Congress to pass which has been overshadowed during this really tough time.
SIMON: NPR's White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez, thanks so much for being with us.
ORDOÑEZ: Thank you.
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