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Analysis | A GOP congressman’s case for helping Ukraine

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In today’s edition …  Who Trump is considering for his next vice president  … Johnson will appear with Trump at Mar-a-Lago to discuss “election integrity” … but first …

Why a freshman Republican congressman is urging Johnson to help Ukraine

Seven questions for … Rep. Chuck Edwards (R-N.C.): We sat down with Edwards, who recently returned from a trip to Ukraine, Moldova and Poland with Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Reps. Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.), Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa), Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and Wiley Nickel (D-N.C.). The lawmakers met with President Volodymyr Zelensky; other Ukrainian officials and Bridget Brink, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

We discussed why Edwards — a freshman who defeated Rep. Madison Cawthorn in the Republican primary in 2022 — doesn’t think it’s a good idea to attach border provisions to a Ukraine aid bill, why he thinks House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) will put a bill on the floor even if it costs him his speakership and what he wants his Republican colleagues who oppose Ukraine aid to understand.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

The Early: What did you tell Zelensky about the path forward for the Ukraine aid package?

Edwards: I didn’t tell him so much as my goal was to learn from him. I did express that I and the rest of the delegation was there because we had a great interest in what was taking place in Ukraine, and we get a lot of conflicting information here in the United States. The media doesn’t cover what’s taking place in Ukraine nearly as much as it does other places.

An example is one particular night — I believe it was after meeting with Zelensky — I got back to my hotel, I pulled up my phone, and I’m going through my normal news feed. Of the top 20 stories, 11 were about Israel and Gaza and there was one about Ukraine. The world seems to have lost interest in what’s taking place over there. But the situation is very dire.

The Early: Is the anything in particular you’ve heard conflicting reports about that your trip cleared up?

Edwards: I wouldn’t say conflicting, but I certainly developed a new sense of urgency for what’s taking place over there. Here’s the most powerful statement that I heard on the trip: I was standing in the basement — a dark, dank, moldy, smelly basement, not much bigger than the size of this room — and listening to accounts of survivors of having been locked up in that basement for 27 days. People were dying in that room. I stood in the corner where they piled the bodies as people died. They piled nine bodies in that corner in those 27 days. 

They told a story where there was a young boy, seven years old, that was dying. And they went upstairs to the door, pounded on it and explained to Russian soldiers that they had a seven-year-old child that was dying. And the response was: “Let him die. This is war.” That’s a cruelty that I don’t believe that anybody in this country is aware of that’s taking place.

The Early: What do you see as the path forward now toward sending more aid to Ukraine?

Edwards: I am speaking with our speaker and urging him to get a bill on the floor.

I also learned that there are probably some ways that we can help Ukraine in a fiscally responsible manner rather than just our taxpayers carte blanche paying for the aid. I like the lease-loan program. There’s a great deal of conversation around the advantages of the United States seizing Russian assets and paying for the aid in that manner.

The Early: Some House Republicans have called for adding border security measures to any sort of Ukraine aid bill. What’s your take?

Edwards: I believe that while Americans are unbelievably frustrated with the Biden administration — that he’s not given our border security the attention that it deserves — we need to treat those as two different issues. I think the best path is for us to continue to put pressure on the White House to take action using the powers that they already have.

The Early: How soon do you think Johnson needs to put a Ukraine bill on the floor?

Edwards: Preferably it would be today. I would certainly hope that we can open up a conversation and get something on the floor next week to help Ukraine. They’re running out of ammunition. They have brigades that have no equipment. They’re being fired upon 10 times for every one shell that they can return. The situation is getting dire.

The Early: Do you think bringing such a bill to the floor would lead some of your Republican colleagues to trigger a vote to try to oust Johnson?

Edwards: I can’t predict what any of them will do. But I also know Speaker Johnson, and I don’t think that’s his overriding concern. I think he will stand to do the right thing, no matter what the consequences might be to him personally.

[Ed.: House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) told reporters yesterday that he thought “there are a reasonable number of Democrats who would not want to see the speaker fall” if Republicans seek to remove Johnson for bringing a Ukraine bill to the floor.]

The Early: Many House Republicans are against sending more aid to Ukraine. What is your message to those colleagues after your trip?

Edwards: To recognize that the United States has always stood for freedom, liberty and democracy — and that is very much at risk at this moment. 

Ukraine will have one of two types of governments: It will have a democracy or it will fall and crumble to a Marxist-Soviet murderous dictator. My message is that the world is watching, and America has the opportunity at this moment to define how much we believe in a democratic society.

House to try yet again on FISA

House Republicans will try for a fourth time today to pass extensions to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act after making yet more changes to accommodate the far-right faction of the Republican conference. 

The compromise extends a warrantless surveillance program of foreign nationals for two years instead of five, in hopes that former president Donald Trump is reelected and can implement additional changes. The compromise will also allow a vote on an amendment to require warrants for when U.S. citizens are caught up in the surveillance program in Section 702. 

Trump came out against the bill before 19 Republicans voted against the rule earlier this week. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) told reporters that conversations have been ongoing with the president about the new version. 

Conservative political group Heritage Action will score the vote on the amendment requiring a warrant on U.S. citizens as part of Section 702, urging lawmakers to vote for it. The vote will be used as a part of its policy scorecard that determines how conservative a lawmaker is. 

“If Congress reauthorizes Section 702 without strong reforms, lawmakers will have missed a massive opportunity to end some of the federal government’s glaring abuse,” Heritage Action executive vice president Ryan Walker said. 

Speaker Johnson will appear with Trump at Mar-a-Lago this afternoon to discuss “election integrity.” But the meeting comes as Johnson’s speakership is under threat from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and as Trump continues to make Johnson’s life more difficult by inserting himself in internal policy disputes.

We’re watching to see if Trump rallies to Johnson’s defense. 

Vice President Harris will give a campaign speech on abortion today in Tucson, three days after the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that an 1864 law forbidding almost all abortions in the swing state. She’ll be joined by Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego, who’s running for the state’s open Senate seat; Mini Timmaraju of the advocacy group Reproductive Freedom for All; and an array of state and local officials.

“Here’s what a second Trump term looks like: more bans, more suffering, less freedom,” Harris is expected to say. “But we are not going to let that happen.”

Democrats hope 2024 election will be about abortion

White House reporter Tyler Pager files this week’s White House Notebook:

“It’s the economy, stupid.”

The phrase, coined by James Carville, at the time a top strategist on Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign, has long been a guiding principle for Democratic and Republican candidates. The idea is that when voters head to the ballot box, they will vote with their wallets.

This cycle, the Biden campaign believes it has a strong economic case to make to voters, specifically pointing to booming job growth and a low unemployment rate. But persistent inflation continues to bedevil Biden and his party, as they have struggled to explain to Americans why prices keep rising.

So as Biden continues to grapple with an unpredictable post-pandemic economic recovery, Democrats are increasingly hopeful that Carville’s edict may not hold true in November. Instead, they hope the 2024 version of Carville’s slogan will be: “It’s abortion, stupid.” And this last week showed precisely why.

On Monday, former president Donald Trump said abortion policy should be left to the states. The next day, Arizona’s conservative Supreme Court revived a near-total ban on abortion, leading to outcry from both Democrats and some Republicans. Trump himself even criticized the ruling.

After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Democrats found electoral success on the issue in the 2022 midterms and in last year’s Kentucky governor’s race. As states around the country have further restricted abortion access since the high court decision, Democrats are hoping the issue remains potent for voters in November.

But whether it outranks the economy remains unclear. A recent survey from Pew Research Center found that nearly three-quarters of Americans say strengthening the economy should be a top priority for Biden and Congress — outpacing any other issue.

The latest bad news for Biden on the economic front came from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Wednesday when they reported prices rose 3.5 percent from March 2023 to March 2024, which is up slightly from the 3.2 percent annual figure in February.

Biden tried to project an optimistic outlook after the inflation report, but it did little to tamp down on anxiety within the Democratic Party.

“We’re in a situation where we’re better situated than we were when we took office where we — inflation was skyrocketing,” Biden said Wednesday during a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. “And we have a plan to deal with it, whereas the opposition — my opposition talks about two things. They just want to cut taxes for the wealthy and raise taxes on other people.”

He added: “They have no plan. Our plan is one I think is still sustainable.”

Follow all of Tyler’s reporting here and give him a follow on X here.

What Donald Trump wants in his next vice president — and who he’s considering

Our colleagues Marianne LeVine, Josh Dawsey and Ashley Parker answer the question on everyone’s mind this election cycle: Who will Donald Trump pick to be his running mate? 

Here’s what you need to know about the search for his ideal vice president: 

The qualities: “Trump’s perfect vice president looks the part: attractive and telegenic. They are ideally Black or a woman, though that’s not required. And they are most certainly not taller than Trump himself,” our colleagues write.

  • “Trump wants someone he sees in person but doesn’t see too much, his advisers say. He does not necessarily want a successor as the leader of the MAGA movement; he would prefer that the Republican Party duke it out for his endorsement in four years, one adviser said. He wants a No. 2 who has won in the past. And he wants someone who will never contradict his false claims about the outcome of the 2020 election.”
  • “But more than anything, he wants someone who can help him win.”

The candidates: “Who is in and out depends on the day. Trump has fixated in some conversations on J.D. Vance, four people close to the campaign say. Trump’s allies have also discussed Republican Govs. Doug Burgum of North Dakota, Kristi L. Noem of South Dakota and Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Arkansas; Sens. Katie Boyd Britt (R-Ala.), Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) — who several allies have been quick to note ‘looks the part’ — Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.); Reps. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) and Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.); and Kari Lake, a MAGA star who lost Arizona’s gubernatorial race in 2022. Trump has even floated Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s name to guests on the patio at Mar-a-Lago, although his advisers decry that idea.”

  • “He may still pick a political newcomer — perhaps someone from the business world. He certainly won’t pick Mike Pence.

Thanks for reading. You can also follow us on X: @theodoricmeyer and @LACaldwellDC.

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