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Politics chat: The Biden administration's response to the events in Russia


As the events in Russia unfold, you might have heard, well, not much out of U.S. officials over the past day or so. But we're starting to hear more from officials this morning. We're joined now by NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Good morning, Tam.


RASCOE: OK, so what has the White House said about the situation so far? It seems there was some U.S intelligence on this planned uprising.

KEITH: Right. Although it was shocking to see it actually happen, our colleague Tom Bowman is reporting that according to two U.S. officials he's interviewed, U.S. intelligence had learned earlier this month that Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Group, was planning to take military action inside of Russia. An official I spoke with this morning said even just publicly, Prigozhin's rhetoric had gotten increasingly bellicose of late. For the U.S. and its allies in the region, instability in Russia creates a lot of uncertainty and a lot of risk. You know, Russia is a nuclear power in the middle of a war on a U.S. ally, Ukraine. In an interview this morning with CBS's "Face The Nation," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the U.S. is very focused on the fact that Russia does have nuclear weapons. But he said that there has not been a change in Russia's nuclear posture or the posture of the U.S., but it's something they're watching. Also watching - the president of the United States. He was briefed by top national security and intelligence officials yesterday and has been getting regular updates. In fact, Jake Sullivan, his national security adviser, traveled with him to Camp David for the weekend.

RASCOE: We've learned this morning that there have been some conversations, you know, with and among U.S. allies. What can you tell us about those?

KEITH: Well, according to the White House, President Biden spoke by phone with President Macron of France, Chancellor Scholz of Germany and Prime Minister Sunak of the U.K. The readout is not that revealing. It says they discussed the situation in Russia and affirmed their unwavering support for Ukraine. Blinken spoke with many of his counterparts yesterday, including the Polish foreign minister and the Ukrainian foreign minister. And the official message from those calls, too, is pretty similar, that the U.S. support for Ukraine remains steadfast and that everyone will stay in close coordination as the situation in Russia develops. U.S. diplomats were even in touch with Russia, Blinken said, delivering a message that they have a responsibility to keep U.S. diplomats and citizens safe in Russia.

And, you know, over the last 36 hours or so, U.S. officials in the White House have had pretty strict message discipline as this has all unfolded. And part of that is simply not wanting to give Putin a propaganda victory by giving him any ammunition to blame any of his misfortune on the U.S. And part of that is this is just really an unstable situation, and offering analysis in the middle of it wouldn't really advance us interests. So Blinken has been making the rounds of the network Sunday shows this morning. He told ABC and CNN he didn't think that we've seen the, quote, "final act" of Russian turmoil. He told NBC that this weekend's events revealed more cracks in the, quote, "Russian facade." And he added that it is too soon to tell exactly where they go and when they get there.

RASCOE: OK, let's take a very sharp turn to domestic politics. Republican presidential candidates have all taken a turn speaking at the Faith and Freedom Conference. Meanwhile, President Biden rallied with abortion rights activists - or abortion rights advocates. You know, it really looks like the campaign is in full swing.

KEITH: The campaign is upon us for 2024. That Faith and Freedom Conference is one of those classic campaign cattle calls where every candidate gets to speak for 10 minutes or so and deliver a stump speech to a generally friendly crowd. And there are just a lot of Republican candidates at this point. But it was sort of like Trump and all the rest. Former President Trump got a primetime Saturday evening slot to deliver a much longer speech than the rest of them, and he hit a lot of his greatest hits. You know, that is just the latest sign that he is still the GOP frontrunner despite all of the things that have happened. And all the others are just trying to figure out how to eclipse him, and none of them have gotten even close to figuring that out yet.

Meanwhile, President Biden is set to give what the White House is calling a major address this week in Chicago. Don't know how major it will be, but the topic is supposed to be Bidenomics, Biden - the Biden economic plan and what he has done and what he hopes to do.

RASCOE: That's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thanks so much, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.