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Politics chat: New conditions for military aid; Trump attacks NATO

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:

A new presidential directive allows the U.S. to pause or suspend military aid to countries that violate international protections of civilians. This could make it easier for the Biden administration to secure funding for Israel and Ukraine. And former President Donald Trump on the campaign trail, saying he would encourage Russia to attack NATO allies if they didn't fulfill their financial commitments to the alliance. NPR political correspondent Sarah McCammon joins us now to sort all this out. Good morning, Sarah.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Hi, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: So we'll get to Trump in a moment. Let's start with the new conditions on military aid. How would they make it easier for the administration to secure funding?

MCCAMMON: Yeah, this move from the White House - it appears to be aimed at shoring up divisions within the Democratic Party. President Biden, you know, has offered a strong support for Israel since the Hamas attacks that killed more than 1,200 Israelis, with hundreds of hostages taken into Gaza - many still there, as we just heard. Israel's response has killed at least 28,000 people in Gaza, according to Palestinian health officials. And with that continued devastation, Biden has been under pressure from the left wing of the Democratic Party to roll back support for Israel. So some Democrats and human rights groups have welcomed this step from Biden. But some have also raised concerns about how well this directive would be enforced. For now, the Senate is working on a $95 billion standalone military aid package without a border deal attached to that.

ELLIOTT: Let's talk a little more about that military aid package. Remind us how we got here.

MCCAMMON: So you'll remember, there was a bipartisan deal negotiated by Republican Senator James Lankford last week that had just about everything Republicans had said they wanted as far as a border deal. It would have reformed asylum laws, given the president more authority to close borders and expel migrants, along with aid for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan. Senate Republicans voted to block that after former President Trump pushed back on it. He suggested Democrats would agree to the border deal because it would help them in the presidential election. So Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer decided to move forward with military aid alone. And that bill may get a vote in the Senate this week.

ELLIOTT: OK, Sarah, now let's talk about the comments that former President Trump made while campaigning in South Carolina yesterday ahead of that state's upcoming primary. What exactly was he saying about NATO?

MCCAMMON: Well, Trump again claimed credit, as he has before, for getting NATO members to pay their share to support the alliance while he was in office. But he took it further this time. He claimed that one of the presidents of a, quote, "big country" asked him what would happen if they did not pay and were attacked by Russia. And here's what Trump said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: You didn't pay. You're delinquent. He said, yes, let's say that happened. No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You got to pay. You got to pay your bills.

MCCAMMON: So again, suggesting he would encourage Russia to attack NATO allies - and we want to make clear, Debbie, NATO allies do not owe the U.S. money for NATO-related efforts. Trump also renewed his attacks on President Biden. He alluded to the big headline this week that came out of a special counsel report, raising questions about Biden's age and memory.

ELLIOTT: Well, that's certainly been the buzz in Washington this week or this past week over that special counsel report and what it could mean for President Biden's reelection. What's your take, Sarah?

MCCAMMON: Well, as you'll recall, on Thursday the special counsel looking into Biden's handling of classified documents announced that it had decided not to bring criminal charges. But the special counsel said that Biden had presented himself to investigators as a, quote, "sympathetic, well-meaning elderly man with a poor memory" - you know, not the headline you want when you're running for reelection. Now, it's important to note the special counsel was appointed by Trump. Democrats have been making that point, including Vice President Kamala Harris. On Friday, she reminded reporters that these interviews with the special counsel happened the same weekend as the Hamas attacks on Israel and said that Biden was in the front and on top in responding to that crisis. She said the report's characterization was gratuitous and politically motivated.

ELLIOTT: Thanks, Sarah. That's NPR political correspondent Sarah McCammon.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
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