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Week in politics: Speaker Pelosi's husband attacked; midterm analysis; support for Ukraine

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The attack on Paul Pelosi, the spouse of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, comes at a politically fraught time in this country. The midterm elections are the first test of U.S. democracy since the 2020 presidential election, a result of which many Republican candidates running for office in several states still wrongly dispute. NPR's senior Washington editor and correspondent Ron Elving joins us.

Ron, thanks for being with us.

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

SIMON: The investigation into motives, if that's the word, of the attacker goes on. The police chief of San Francisco says the alleged attacker said, where's Nancy? Is there something in America today that has made people feel public officials can be targets for violence?

ELVING: Whether they feel they have permission or not, Scott, many feel they have cause. They have also been goaded by prominent actors in politics and in the media. And it feels as though we have not seen such provocations and such ruthless encouragement of conflict since the 1960s.

SIMON: The attack on the U.S. Capitol in 2021, calls for Mike Pence to be hung, an attack on Representative Lee Zeldin of New York, threats against local election officials and a U.S. Supreme Court justice, the plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan - how can democracy survive if candidates, public officials and their families have to fear for their safety?

ELVING: President Biden made the connection in what he said yesterday. Let's listen to a little bit of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: What makes us think that one party can talk about stolen elections, COVID being a hoax, that it's all a bunch of lies, and it not affect people who may not be so well balanced?

ELVING: So he was linking what happened to Paul Pelosi, to what might have happened to Mike Pence, to others in the Capitol on January 6. And there may be many ways a democracy can die. But surely, one of them is for decent citizens to be driven away from public engagement by the threat of violent consequences for their families. We've witnessed this in the history of many countries over many generations, and we simply don't know where this latest wave of violence will lead our country or when it will end.

SIMON: Of course, these very consequential midterm elections happening - how do you think this affects what may happen as votes are being cast even now?

ELVING: The president's remarks about violence may enrage some people. But Biden's aim right now is to motivate Democrats, to get them out there to vote at a time when he and their party are under siege. They're unpopular in large part because they are in power in a time of inflation and economic anxiety in general. Some of the economic numbers may actually be improving. Others still show pressure upward for inflation. And that inflation is partly a consequence of global conditions, partly a consequence of what our government did to get us through the pandemic. Nonetheless, the economy is expected to bring sizable gains for Republicans in the House of Representatives, where they should take the majority.

The Senate, Scott, remains a tougher call because of individual candidates and circumstances. Democrats are worried that their candidate, John Fetterman, hurt himself in the debate in Pennsylvania last week. Republicans are wondering when there will be an end to new allegations about their candidate, Herschel Walker - in Georgia - and abortions. But there are as many as a dozen Senate races that are just too close to call as we are 10 days from Election Day.

SIMON: Ron, some Republicans in Congress have said the U.S. is paying a steep price to support Ukraine against the Russian invasion, and the U.S. shouldn't write them a blank check. This week, a letter from progressive Democrats - quickly withdrawn - called for seeking a diplomatic settlement. Does this unlikely left-right coalition give Vladimir Putin hope that he can diminish or halt U.S. support for Ukraine?

ELVING: Both parties are sensitive to the sentiments of populists among their most loyal supporters. And populists have tended to be suspicious of foreign aid and foreign involvements for a very long time. Nobody likes the idea of a blank check or a nuclear confrontation with Russia. So that is yet another source of worry for Democrats and for Ukraine as winter bears down for both.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving.

Thanks so much.

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

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.