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Week in politics: Consequences for China; Zelenskyy asks for help; Court confirmation

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Biden continues to try to increase pressure on Russia, working with U.S. allies and trying to undercut any Russian efforts to get help from China. NPR's Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: The president had a two-hour call yesterday with China's leader, Xi Jinping. What do we know about what was said?

ELVING: Short version, we don't really know. The White House has not provided a transcript or even really a detailed summary. But the Chinese have provided a readout that suggested that they don't want to be lectured about Ukraine and Russia or Taiwan, for that matter, and they were miffed that the Biden administration wanted to talk about any of this with them in this manner.

Instead, we're told that President Biden laid out a program of consequences - that's the word that was used - economic sanctions akin to those imposed on Russia and Russians - not as severe, to be sure, but akin to them, depriving China of some of its access to markets in the U.S. and Europe if they decide to go with the Russians on this.

SIMON: Ukraine's President Zelenskyy spoke to U.S. lawmakers this week - memorable appearance, asked for more help. An answer came hours later when President Biden announced an additional $800 million in security assistance but not a no-fly zone.

ELVING: Not a no-fly zone - now, that seems clear. But, Scott, it's hard to imagine you could be the leader of Ukraine right now and not be begging the world to intervene, to send troops, to send their fighter jets or at least to eliminate the Russian bombing from the air by setting up a no-fly zone. He has to be doing that. Zelenskyy must. But he also has to know that European powers and the United States are not going to go for any of those measures, including the no-fly zone, with all the risks of nuclear confrontation that that entails.

At the same time, by building up a lot of public expectation and support around the no-fly demand, he's making the Western countries more likely to max out on everything else. If you can't give us what we want, give us what we need. This is how he makes sure he gets the military aid and economic aid that NATO and the U.S. can give him and that it comes as fast as possible.

SIMON: The House also passed a bill suspending normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus - overwhelming support in both parties. Eight Republicans did vote against it. And what's their reasoning?

ELVING: The reasoning is you can't impose sanctions with one hand and then continue to shower trade benefits on the Russians with the other. The Russians have benefited enormously on normal trade status. And by the way, this is supremely important to the Chinese as well to have that same status. As for those votes against the measures, well, there is a cadre in that party who object to the Biden administration's handling of this crisis, and they want to register that.

SIMON: We learned about the death of Alaska's single representative to the House. He was the longest-serving member of the current Congress. And that's Representative Don Young, who was 88 years old.

ELVING: Don Young, longest-serving Republican not only in the current House, but in House history. He was elected in 1973, and surely one of the most colorful congressmen we've had at any stage in congressional history. Old-school does not begin to cover it with Don Young. He was raised in California, went to Alaska around the time it became a state, inspired by Jack London. He started his career as mayor of the town of Fort Yukon, Scott. He wound up being chairman or the top Republican on powerful committees over decades in Washington, a very conservative Republican who had, nonetheless, an independent streak, willing to work with Democrats on behalf of his home state. His North Star was always Alaska.

SIMON: Looking ahead to Monday - confirmation hearings for President Biden's pick to replace Justice Stephen Breyer on the Supreme Court begin. What are you watching for?

ELVING: One thing that we expect Republican senators to go after is her history as a judge of favoring pro-abortion rights. They will call it legislating from the bench.

SIMON: This is Judge Ketanji Brown...

ELVING: Yes, that's right.

SIMON: Ketanji Brown Jackson, yes.

ELVING: That is right. And another is her record of defending drug dealers and other street criminals. Of course, she did this as part of her job as a public defender shortly after law school. That's an important part of guaranteeing some semblance of equal treatment under the law. But let's just say it's not a lucrative job. No current members of the Supreme Court are former public defenders, and neither are very many of the Senate Judiciary Committee members. That's the committee handling these hearings.

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

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