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Week in politics: Biden wants House Republicans to pass aid to Ukraine

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Expensive times for Donald Trump. A judge says he must pay $355 million more for committing fraud by inflating the value of property and other assets. And, of course, that follows a jury ordering him to pay E. Jean Carroll more than $83 million for defamation. NPR's Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: Costly few weeks for the former president, isn't it?

ELVING: Oh, my. Suffice it to say, most Americans can't fathom what it would mean to be fined a million dollars, let alone 83 million or 355 plus penalties yet to come. It's quite possible the total tab in just these two cases could exceed half a billion dollars. Now, hard to say how much of that Trump will actually have to pay. He says he'll appeal, but there's not an obvious path to overturning these judgments. And this is a New York state case. So there won't be any Trump-appointed judges on the appeals court. Bottom line - this was a worst-case outcome in this civil fraud for the former president, and he still faces up to four criminal trials in the months ahead, beginning on March 25.

SIMON: Of course, big part of the news this weekend is the death of the jailed Russian dissident Alexei Navalny at a prison camp in Siberia. Yesterday, a reporter reminded President Biden that he'd promised devastating consequences if Navalny died in custody.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What consequences should he and Russia face?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: That was three years ago. In the meantime, they faced a hell of a lot of consequences. They've lost and/or had wounded over 350,000 Russian soldiers. They've made a position where they've been subjected to great sanctions across the board, and we're contemplating what else could be done.

SIMON: Ron, what else can be done?

ELVING: To be clear, those Russian casualties and sanctions Biden mentioned were the consequence of Putin invading Ukraine. So Biden is shifting the context a bit in his answer. As for new consequences just to respond to Navalny's death, perhaps a new round of sanctions, perhaps more international outcry that the U.S. could orchestrate and amplify and perhaps also a greater pressure point on the Republican leadership in Congress. House Speaker Mike Johnson just closed up shop in the House, left town for two weeks. He left behind an aid package for Ukraine that needs a vote in the House, after getting a big, bipartisan 70 votes in the Senate, and also an endorsement from Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who called it the most important piece of legislation the Senate had handled in quite some time. If it came to the floor of the House, all sides acknowledge it would pass with votes from both parties. But the speaker, Mike Johnson, fears that if he brings it to the floor, it will spark another rebellion on the far right of his own Republican ranks that could cost him his job, just like it cost his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, in the same position last fall.

SIMON: Ron, what do you think explains why so many elected Republicans, the party of Lincoln, after all, and other leading conservative voices speak up for Russia and the Putin regime?

ELVING: At risk of oversimplifying, the most obvious explanation is the one that applies to so many other things Republican politicians have been saying or doing in the last eight years. They're adopting the attitude and speaking voice of Donald Trump. They either have come to see the world through his eyes, or they fear the consequences to their own political trajectory if they don't adopt that viewpoint or mimic that voice. We saw that Friday when some of Trump's defenders compared his trials on various state and federal charges in the United States to Putin's jailing of Navalny. Some saying it was the ultimate goal of the Biden administration to see Trump die in prison, just like Navalny.

SIMON: Is that why Speaker Johnson says that aid for Ukraine that's currently under consideration shouldn't come up for a vote? Or are there other stated reasons?

ELVING: Johnson says it should not pass because it does not have any provision for dealing with the United States' southern border. He says we shouldn't be doing anything more for Ukraine or for Israel or anyone else until we do something about our own border. Now, the border is an issue that needs addressing. A comprehensive overhaul of the immigration laws is overdue - decades overdue. But it will have to be a bipartisan compromise that does it. And when the Senate was considering just such a compromise earlier this month, Johnson said it wasn't close enough to his preferred version and declared it dead on arrival on his doorstep.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon
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
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.