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Week in politics: President Biden's support for Ukraine; Sen. Tim Scott in Iowa

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Russia's invasion of Ukraine is entering its second year and shows no signs of soon ending. President Biden marked the anniversary with a surprise trip to Kyiv. He announced another $2 billion worth of weapons and imposed additional sanctions on the Russian metals and mining sector. Ron Elving joins us.

Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: The president's trip was risky, bold, apparently planned in secret for months. Let's listen to a bit of what the president said to President Zelenskyy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Freedom is priceless. It's worth fighting for for as long as it takes. And that's how long we're going to be with you, Mr. President - for as long as it takes.

SIMON: Ron, with a year's perspective, what do you see as being at the root of President Biden's deep commitment to Ukraine?

ELVING: Biden is a product of the Cold War era and everything that meant in American politics and American life. He remembers the days of the Soviet Union. So it does not take much to reawaken his old suspicions and fears about Moscow. Then, when he was chairman of Senate Foreign Relations a couple of decades ago, he watched the rise of Putin and the kind of regime that Putin was building. And at the same time, Biden's been around long enough to recognize, as a politician, the kind of issue that can potentially create national consensus, national unity. And Ukraine has given him that, a counterweight, if at the minimum, to the problematic withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 - that it hurt Biden badly in his first year.

SIMON: At the same time, the Associated Press found support among Americans in the U.S. to provide weapons to Ukraine has fallen from about 60% last May to 48% currently. Is that some kind of warning sign for the administration's policy?

ELVING: Potentially so. And it's there in other polls as well. But it's important to note that fall-off has been largely accounted for by Republicans. A year ago, most of the Republicans told pollsters that they were all-in for Ukraine and that the United States should be doing more for that country. Later, some time after that, they began expressing doubts. Polls now find that 40% of Republicans think the United States should dial back on its commitments to Ukraine or cut that country off entirely. Support has also fallen off among independents, but not nearly as much.

And now we hear some Republican figures saying that there should not be a, quote, "blank check," unquote, for Ukraine or that Ukraine's border with Russia should not be the big focus, that we should be more concerned about the U.S. border with Mexico. Former President Trump has been maybe a little ambivalent about Ukraine, initially praising Putin's handling of the crisis - Putin's - and sounding alarms about spending U.S. tax dollars, of course, to support NATO or to help a foreign country. And maybe his main rival for the nomination in 2024, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, has also sounded ambivalent about it and used that blank-check language and also said that Putin only invaded because Biden was so weak.

SIMON: South Carolina Senator Tim Scott toured Iowa this week, where the first Republican Party caucus will take place in 2024. You know, the February foliage in Ankeny is just beautiful. So he went there to see the - take a look at the leaves? Actually, they're not there in February. But go ahead. Yes.

ELVING: Let's be frank. No senator goes to Iowa in this season unless that senator is prepared to be accused of presidential ambition. And when he was there, well, his speech had a lot in common with that of Nikki Haley, who was also there this month. And both Scott and Haley spoke of new leaders. That was their language in the Republican Party. Interesting side note - Scott first became a senator as an appointee to fill a vacancy, and the Republican governor who appointed him in South Carolina was Nikki Haley.

Now, it's unusual for a state of any size to have two presidential candidates head to head in the same party, let alone in a smaller state such as South Carolina. Of course, many will say neither Haley nor Scott is running to be president, but to be vice president. That doesn't mean either or both would not like to be president, just that either would be more than happy to be vice president first.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving. Thanks so much for being with us.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF LINK WRAY'S "RUMBLE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.

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