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Politics chat: More aid to Ukraine; Penn. Republican primary likely to be recounted

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

While in Seoul yesterday, President Biden signed a bill granting Ukraine an additional $40 billion in assistance. And if you're thinking it's unusual for a president to sign a bill into law while overseas, you're correct. Joining me now is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So this bill was finalized on Thursday, but Biden was not able to sign it before leaving for Asia. So according to a White House official, it was sent on a commercial flight - like, that's how urgent the administration viewed this aid to Ukraine. And it was passed the Senate - it passed the Senate with an 86-11 vote. So what does that tell us, Mara?

LIASSON: I think it tells us that even with increased polarization, there are a few things that both parties in Congress can agree on, and supporting Ukraine's ability to defend itself against Russian - Russia is one of them. And, you know, Donald Trump came out against this bill. He - but still, a majority of Republican senators voted for it. And I think it means that one of the biggest legacies of President Donald Trump, this autocrat-friendly approach to foreign policy - the big bear hug for Hungary's Viktor Orban, the embrace of Vladimir Putin - isn't sticking, at least among Republicans in Congress. And, you know, Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, tried to make that point. He traveled to Ukraine recently with a delegation of Republican senators to show support for President Zelenskyy.

RASCOE: And so, I mean, some Republican primary voters were getting a taste of what they think is important. What can you tell us so far about the strength of Trump's endorsement with them?

LIASSON: So far, the candidates that Trump has backed have won more than they've lost, but it's not an overwhelming number of wins. In Ohio, his endorsement of J.D. Vance seems to have taken him from the back of the pack to win that primary. But his pick in the Republican primary for governor in Idaho lost by 20 points. And his pick in the Republican primary for Georgia governor is flailing. That primary is Tuesday. In Alabama, which also holds a primary on Tuesday, Donald Trump actually unendorsed Mo Brooks, who has actually surged in the polls since then. So that's a mixed result.

And some of the candidates that Trump picked to endorse, he picked very late in the race when they were already way ahead, like Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania. Mastriano is an election denier. He attended the January 6 Stop the Steal rally. And he's the kind of Trump candidate that's emerging victorious in some of these primaries and is making Republican Party officials nervous because they're not sure that extreme candidates like that can beat Democrats in November, especially in swing states like Pennsylvania.

RASCOE: So speaking of Pennsylvania, the Republican Senate primary race there has yet to be resolved. What's happening there?

LIASSON: What's happening there is it looks like it's heading for a recount. The Trump-backed candidate, celebrity TV doctor Mehmet Oz, and former hedge fund CEO David McCormick are separated by less than 0.5% of the vote, which is the trigger for an automatic recount in Pennsylvania. Remember, Trump campaigned against McCormick. He disparaged him as a liberal Wall Street Republican, a money manager for China, not MAGA enough. And Trump has suggested to Oz that he should just declare victory, say stop the count, say anything else would be an attempt to steal the election. But so far, Dr. Oz has not done this. Instead, his campaign indicates that they're confident he can win this primary fair and square.

RASCOE: Well, that sounds like a familiar strategy...

LIASSON: Yes, very familiar.

RASCOE: ...That Trump is pushing. So whoever wins will face off with Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, who's now a stroke survivor. In the minute we have left, you know, what can you tell us about him?

LIASSON: Yes, he is a stroke survivor. Fetterman voted for himself using an emergency ballot from the hospital. That didn't hurt him in the Democratic primary. He won in a landslide. It looks like he's going to win every single county. His opponent was Congressman Conor Lamb, who's a moderate former Marine, the kind of Democrat that history tells us has the best chance of winning in Pennsylvania. But Democratic primary voters rejected that model.

And Democratic operatives I've talked to say they think Fetterman is the kind of modern candidate who can win because he has a very strong personal brand. He's very recognizable. He's 6-foot-9. He's got a shaved head and a goatee and tattoos, and he wears hoodies and shorts to public events. And he has a huge following on social media. And he's won statewide before. So Democrats think he might have a better chance to solve one of their most difficult problems, which is the collapse of support for Democrats among white working-class voters. And Fetterman is progressive on some issues - "Medicare for All," legalizing marijuana - but he's not for a ban on fracking, which is a big business in Pennsylvania. And on that one, he's right where the majority of Pennsylvania voters on - are. So Democrats are hoping that in a year that's difficult for them, they could hang on in Pennsylvania.

RASCOE: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thanks, Mara.

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

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.