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Week in politics: Garland visits Ukraine; how crime and antisemitism affect politics

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Attorney General Merrick Garland made a surprise visit to Ukraine.

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MERRICK GARLAND: We will stand shoulder to shoulder with you in your effort and in the world's effort to bring accountability to those responsible for the atrocities in Ukraine. And I'm here to let you know that we stand with you.

SIMON: Mr. Garland signed an agreement to provide Ukraine with intelligence that could lead to prosecuting Russia for war crimes. NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks for being with us.

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

SIMON: It's unusual for an attorney general to go on an international trip with business to do. What's the significance of this visit?

ELVING: Vice President Kamala Harris indicated last week that the U.S. and its allies would pursue war crimes charges against Russia. This trip by the top law enforcement official in the U.S. was meant to reinforce that. But there is also a domestic political element here. Biden is reframing the aid to Ukraine as a voting issue for 2024, casting himself and his party as the defenders of liberty and law around the world, casting Russia as an international pariah. He wants to get out in front of this issue because polls show some American voters are growing weary of the war even though the U.S. has not sent troops. Republicans in particular are asking when it's time to dial back before we find ourselves in a war with Russia and possibly with China, as well.

SIMON: Republicans are now in charge of the House, and congressional committees continued their probes of President Biden and his family, both living and deceased. House Oversight Chairman James Comer criticized a U.S. attorney for failing to prosecute Beau Biden, the president's older son, who, of course, died in 2015 of brain cancer. What possible reason is there for this?

ELVING: It is fair game to ask questions about a president's private financial affairs and those of his family where there is evidence. This week, we saw the new House Oversight Committee chairman, James Comer, going after a former U.S. attorney for Delaware for allegedly mishandling sensitive matters about the Bidens, including the notorious Hunter Biden laptop. Republicans have long insisted that device is loaded with incriminating evidence of corruption.

But Comer, as you say, also went after Beau Biden, the president's other son. So the White House immediately fired back for impugning a dead man and one so dear to the sitting president especially given that there is no evidence linking Beau Biden to illegal campaign contributions or even any suggestion of it at issue here. So it's fair to say the GOP investigations of Biden and his family have not been getting off to a good start in Congress.

SIMON: Ron, you and I are two Chicago guys who know everything runs through Chicago at one point. Mayor Lightfoot, Lori Lightfoot, defeated in the first round of elections this week. This is a contest that has national ramifications, doesn't it?

ELVING: Yes, it's connected to many national issues. You have to go back to Jane Byrne 40 years ago to find another Chicago mayor losing like this. But everyone in Chicago wants someone to have some fresh ideas when the issue is crime. The leading candidates who finished 1 and 2 were both outspoken on this issue, especially Paul Vallas, a former school superintendent who got a third of all the votes in this round. But Brandon Johnson, former school teacher and a county official, might be in a better position to put together a winning coalition in the runoff. The next round of voting is April 4th.

Crime is a flashing red light for Democrats in big cities everywhere this year. And in fact, this week, President Biden is expected to take sides in a dispute over the criminal code here in the District of Columbia. The city council here wanted to do - wanted to essentially rewrite the code. And Congress essentially said, no, it's getting too easy on certain kinds of criminals. And Congress gets a say in these local affairs when it comes to D.C. And that, too, is an issue for city residents.

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

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

Corrected: March 3, 2023 at 11:00 PM CST
An earlier version of this report incorrectly stated that Beau Biden died of injuries he received in Afghanistan and Iraq. Beau Biden died of brain cancer.
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.