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Politics chat: Russia and Ukraine have an outsized impact on American life

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The first U.S. reinforcements for NATO allies are arriving this weekend. President Biden approved sending 2,700 American troops to Eastern Europe, 1,700 to Poland, 1,000 to Romania and 300 to Germany. The reason is Russia's aggression towards Ukraine. Russia and Ukraine - two countries that have had outsized impact on American political life. And that is where we'll start today with NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Hey, Mara. Good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Juana. Nice to be here with you.

SUMMERS: Thanks for being here. So we've just heard from a spokesman from the EU. But in the United States, how strong is the political will when it comes to Russia and Ukraine?

LIASSON: I think in the United States, it's strong. It's bipartisan. There's definitely some dissent inside the Republican Party. People think there are Republican voices, conservative voices who don't think we should be intervening on behalf of Ukraine. There are even some voices like Tucker Carlson at Fox, who's kind of questioned, why should we take Ukraine's side rather than Russia's? But I think in general, the will is strong to try to make the price for Putin if he should invade as high as possible.

SUMMERS: Mara, all of this friction in Eastern Europe is coming just as we're seeing a strong - a string of economic indicators here domestically, as well as some daylight in the coronavirus pandemic. And yet it seems that that good news so far has not shown up in President Biden's polling.

LIASSON: Well, not yet. But there's no doubt that Biden has gotten a spate of recent good news. The latest jobs report was much better than expected. Employment - unemployment is down. Wages are up. GDP growth is up. And as you said, the COVID numbers seem to be dropping. So things are looking a little bit better for President Biden. He also has a Supreme Court seat to fill. That's something that could help unite and energize his party. And, of course, the U.S. just eliminated one of the leaders of the ISIS terror group. And the Republican Party with its new official acceptance of the January 6 insurrection as a, quote, "legitimate political discourse" seems to be reinforcing Biden's midterm election year message, which is that the Republican Party is too extreme. Now, whether this will all push his poll numbers up is unclear.

SUMMERS: Now, about the Republican Party and its position on January 6 - I'm curious, Mara, is the party united there? Or are you seeing any friction, any divisions among Republicans on this?

LIASSON: There are definitely divisions inside the Republican Party. Up until now, most dissent inside the Republican Party has been pretty invisible. It seemed that Trump and Trumpism had taken over completely, but there's no doubt that we're seeing some dissent. You know, when the RNC made it official, when they censured Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney, the two members of Congress who agreed to serve on the January 6 committee, they said that the committee was, quote, "a persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse." And this followed Donald Trump's dangling of pardons for people who are accused of crimes on January 6, his statement that Vice President Pence should have overturned the election. And this has become a kind of litmus test inside the party, not just belief in the big lie that Trump somehow won but also that January 6 was a patriotic protest.

But, as you said, there is pushback. Pence said Trump was wrong. He said that the - it was, quote, "un-American" to assume that any one person, i.e., him, could have determined the result of the election. And you heard from people like Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse and Larry Hogan pushing back against this. It's a small group, but there are many other Republicans who say privately that Trump's fixation on relitigating the 2020 election is something that could really hurt the party. Now, where does that go from here? It remains to be seen.

SUMMERS: Now, Mara, I also see that there are deposition deadlines this week for Trump lawyers Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani to speak to the congressional committee that is investigating January 6. In the couple of seconds we have left here, how effective has that investigation been so far? And what are you watching to come from it?

LIASSON: Well, what's really interesting is that originally, the conventional wisdom was because Republicans boycotted the committee and only Democrats were on it, except for the two Republicans - Kinzinger and Cheney - that it would be easily dismissed as a partisan exercise. But I think the committee is actually coming up with a pretty clear picture of what happened on January 6. They're collecting a lot of testimony, a lot of documents. Some of the - Vice President Pence's staff testified for at least eight hours before the committee. So I think they are presenting a pretty clear picture of Trump's intentions, his desire to use the military or the Department of Homeland Security to seize voting machines. And I think they are presenting a picture of a kind of self-coup in the making, that Trump was determined to overturn the election by any means that he could.

SUMMERS: All right. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thanks, as always.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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