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Week in politics: U.S. sends more money to Ukraine; inflation up; midterms approach

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Biden has approved another $800 million of assistance to Ukraine, including the first shipments of artillery and more sharing of intelligence. NPR's Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks so much.

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

SIMON: And this shipment brings total U.S. aid to Ukraine to $2.6 billion since the Russian invasion - lot of money, some impending economic sacrifice for Americans, beginning with gas prices. So far, is the president winning support?

ELVING: In Congress, yes, support for Ukraine is strong and largely bipartisan, although there are some holdouts on the Republican side. Aid for Ukraine was actually the engine that pulled the big overall spending bill through Congress last month. And this week, Republicans were pushing for more sharing of U.S. intelligence information with Ukraine. Still, this is not a moment of national unity such as we saw after the terror attacks of 9/11 or after the attack on Pearl Harbor 80 years ago, and it's not done much to empower President Biden on other fronts. So the biggest political impact of this war at this point is probably the booster shot it's given to inflation in this country as well as elsewhere around the world.

SIMON: And the president's been blaming Vladimir Putin for price increases, which we should note, as we have all this week, climbed again in March - 8.5% compared to a year earlier. Never popular, especially so in an election year, is it?

ELVING: Few numbers are as toxic in our politics as inflation. You could argue we have higher tolerance even for unemployment than for inflation, especially when the big driver is energy. People see that scary number on big signs at every gas station in the country all day long, every day. And energy is a cost factor for most of what we buy. So we've reached 8 1/2, and the real question now is how high it will go and for how long. Some observers think we may be at the peak for this round of inflation or near the peak. Then we see wholesale prices come out this week at 11%, so not much relief in sight there. Democrats are going to have to try to pin this on Putin, call it the Putin inflation, just as Republicans will call it the Biden inflation. And at the moment, the Democrats have to be glad the midterms don't come until November.

SIMON: And with that in mind, James Carville, Democratic strategist, was on MSNBC. He said Democratic voters don't realize just how much President Biden's done for workers, for low-income families and the general public with his Supreme Court pick.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAMES CARVILLE: If you're a Democrat - I don't care what you are, what gender you are, what race you are, what anything - if you don't see that and you're not outraged and it doesn't make you want to vote, I can't do anything for you. You're just a whiny, complaining person.

SIMON: Now, Mr. Carville has been preeminent among Democratic strategists who've warned the party against - he says they care more about language or pronouns and bathroom signs, what he calls faculty lounge politics, than rising prices or crime - issues that affect every voter. Are Democrats too divided to share a message about what their policies might have accomplished?

ELVING: You know, people know James Carville because 30 years ago, when he was getting Bill Clinton elected president, he was famous for saying what the election was all about. He said, quote, "It's the economy, stupid." And he's been consistent over the years in stressing lunch bucket issues, traditional middle-class concerns, trying to pry the party away from its more recent attachment to social equality, identity politics. And there's no question that in the long term, equity and climate are of profound importance. But Carville is still a political consultant at heart, and his focus is not on the long term. It's on the next election.

SIMON: Republican National Committee says the party's withdrawing from the presidential debate system, accuses it of being biased. Do you think it is?

ELVING: The presidential debate commission itself has been a bipartisan operation from the start. Its members included some highly partisan people, but from both sides. Now, some Republicans have been inclined to see bias in some of the moderators, the media people who referee these events. There was a CNN correspondent who was controversial back in 2012 for correcting something Mitt Romney said in the debate. But this move by the RNC was not about 2012. It's about 2024. And it may well have been a negotiating tactic in that regard, trying to get an edge before those negotiations even begin.

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

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