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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell defends Supreme Court on abortion

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is navigating the politics of the recently leaked draft of the Supreme Court decision on abortion rights. It's thrown a spotlight on the deep partisan divide in American politics. But there is one area where the two parties are coming together, and that's helping Ukraine fight the Russians. NPR's Deirdre Walsh sat down with the Senate minority leader to discuss these issues in his office in the Capitol yesterday.

Deirdre, hello.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTINEZ: Now, if this leaked opinion ends up becoming the final ruling, it would put the Supreme Court out of sync with most Americans who consistently in polling say they support some right to abortion access. What did Mitch McConnell have to say about that?

WALSH: He defended the conservative majority on the Supreme Court. And he said it wouldn't be the first time the court and the American public weren't in sync. He pointed to a case from 1989, when the Supreme Court struck down a Texas law banning the burning of the U.S. flag. The court held then that burning the flag was protected speech. Here's what McConnell said.

MITCH MCCONNELL: If you took public opinion polls on that issue, people would overwhelmingly support a legislative prohibition of flag burning. But the Supreme Court interpreted that as a violation of the First Amendment, freedom of speech. So for the Supreme Court to - on any issue - to reach a decision contrary to public opinion is actually what the Supreme Court is about. It's to protect basic rights, even when majorities are in favor of something else. It happens all the time. So I don't think that's particularly unusual.

MARTINEZ: Now, Democrats are reworking their message going into the midterms to paint Republicans as out of step with voters on abortion rights. How did the senator respond to that?

WALSH: McConnell acknowledged that abortion is going to be an issue in many races, especially at the state level. But he really downplayed what he thought is going to happen in congressional races. Let's listen to McConnell again.

MCCONNELL: In terms of the politics of it, if, in fact, this becomes a final decision, I think it will be certainly heavily debated in state legislative and governor's races because the court will have, in effect, returned this issue to the political process. My guess is in terms of the impact on federal races, I think it's probably going to be a wash.

MARTINEZ: Now, on Ukraine, McConnell does agree with Democrats on the need to get more weapons and security to help this U.S. ally.

WALSH: He does. The Senate is expected to vote next week on a nearly $40 billion package in aid. McConnell gave the administration some credit about its handling of the situation. And here's McConnell talking about his conversation with President Biden about Ukraine.

MCCONNELL: For myself, I've been saying the victory - the goal ought to be victory from the beginning. They are now saying that. I think that's good. I think we're all in the same place. In fact, I called the president to suggest in the strongest possible fashion that we separate this issue out from the other discussions we're having with regard to the COVID package and Title 42 and all of that and move it quickly because the Ukrainians need it and because we have plenty of time to sort out the other issues. He called me back in 15 minutes, agreed, which I deeply appreciate it. And so we're all on the same team on this. The Russians need to lose. The Ukrainians need to win.

MARTINEZ: Call him back in 15 minutes - now, McConnell and Biden are on the same team on Ukraine right now. But there are some in the "America First" wing of the GOP that are not, right?

WALSH: I asked him about that. You know, all House Democrats voted for that aid package, but there were 57 House Republicans who voted no. McConnell made it clear he doesn't agree with them. Here's him talking about that group.

MCCONNELL: Well, on this issue, I don't agree with them. And we'll see how big a group that is. I think we're all acutely aware of Russian atrocities. I think we - most Americans and most Republicans - believe that we ought to - that this is a clear example of right and wrong, of good and bad. And America and the democratic world is standing together, by and large, in opposition to this brutal and completely unwarranted invasion.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Deirdre Walsh, thanks a lot.

WALSH: Thank you.

MARTINEZ: And for more of the interview with Senator McConnell, tune in to the NPR Politics Podcast. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.