Week in politics: Biden sanctions Russia; first Black woman named to Supreme Court
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
President Biden announced another round of sanctions against Russia within hours of the invasion.
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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Putin's actions betray his sinister vision for the future of our world - one where nations take what they want by force. But it is a vision that the United States and freedom-loving nations everywhere will oppose with every tool of our considerable power.
SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks for being with us.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.
SIMON: The president said every tool of our considerable power, but really not every tool.
ELVING: No, not every tool - at least not yet. The U.S. and the European Union are sanctioning Vladimir Putin himself and many of his top officials, some of his billionaire friends, but not all of them yet. And that list is going to get some scrutiny in the weeks ahead. Clearly, a top priority for Biden and his administration is maintaining unity within the NATO alliance. That's 30 countries, many of which depend on Russia for energy and other basics. They have a different calculus from ours. So bottom line, the toolbox is open - financial, diplomatic and military tools. Maybe we should hope that at least some of those tools never have to be used.
SIMON: Does the president have the support of Congress in how he's handled the crisis and what he proposes to do now?
ELVING: We can say yes. It's as united as we've seen Congress in some time. Democrats are backing Biden, and there's general support from Republicans as well. But this is not quite like the days right after the terror attacks of 9/11. There is Republican criticism of the U.S. response, saying it's too little. It's too late. It's based on weakness. And then there are some Republicans keeping an eye on former President Trump, who earlier this week was still praising Putin for his savvy and his genius, and those are Trump's words. So that puts a strain on the Republican discourse. Still, overall, mainstream Republicans are certainly more sympathetic to Ukraine.
SIMON: Let me raise this, though. How much can the United States really do now to stop Ukraine from being overwhelmed in that it can take years for sanctions to work and Ukraine may only have a few days?
ELVING: It's inspiring to hear how the Ukrainians are resisting but, in the long run, hard to see how they will not be overwhelmed. Nothing is going to stop that short of a direct confrontation between the United States and Russia, and that is a war we have regarded as unthinkable since Russia became a full-fledged nuclear power in the 1950s.
So overrunning Ukraine is one thing. Occupying the country is another. This is a country nearly the size of Texas. It has twice the population of Florida, more than 40 million people. And the lessons of occupation have been painful for the United States over the United - over the history of the United States in just the last 20 years - Iraq, Afghanistan. And these are lessons the Russians should have learned from their own recent history as well.
SIMON: To the U.S. Supreme Court now, the announcement that Ketanji Brown Jackson is President Biden's choice to replace the retiring Justice Stephen Breyer. A short introduction, Ron, please, to Judge Jackson.
ELVING: She is, of course, the first Black woman named to the court, fulfilling a promise that Biden made exactly two years ago this week. She is also the bluest of blue-chip lawyers. She went to a public high school in Miami, then graduated with honors from Harvard and Harvard Law. In her career, she's touched many of the bases in the worlds of criminal and civil law. She was a public defender early on. Then she was in private practice, had a seat on the U.S. Sentencing Commission and a federal judgeship. Then she joined the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, often called the little Supreme Court because it's produced so many of the justices.
SIMON: Contentious confirmation fight like we've seen over the last decade in several instances?
ELVING: At this point, probably not. Something could happen in the hearings, of course. We're seeing some overheated online messages about how radical she is, how she's going to tear the Constitution to shreds and all that. But these are coming from candidates pouncing on the moment to raise money. Most of the current Republican senators will at least give her a hearing. And obviously, the White House would like to see a bipartisan confirmation vote.
SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much for being with us.
ELVING: Thank you, Scott.
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