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Week in politics: Biden calls Israel's bombing 'indiscriminate,' Zelenskyy in the U.S.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Reports of Israel's use of so-called dumb bombs, or bombs that are unguided and less accurate, again raise questions about that use of force in a war that began after Hamas attacked southern Israel on October 7. Then on Tuesday, President Biden said that though the U.S. and EU supported Israel, quote, "they're starting to lose that support by indiscriminate bombing that takes place." Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: The president went on to tell campaign donors that support for Israel was eroding. Was this a jolt to the Israeli government?

ELVING: Yes, a plea and a warning to the Israeli government - Biden is saying, we support you, but we don't support every decision you make. Bibi Netanyahu knows he's at odds with the European Union and the United Nations and others, but it matters far more to his immediate lifeline to keep the United States on board. On the other hand, Netanyahu's avowed mission is destroying Hamas - not just punishing them but destroying them. And he has warned this will take months, as Kat was just telling us. Biden is saying that's a problem. He's saying you can spend five years or 10 years, as the U.S. did in Iraq, or 20 as the U.S. did in Afghanistan. But you reach a point of diminishing returns, and then your original mission becomes something else entirely.

SIMON: The next day, White House press secretary John Kirby seemed to tamp down the president's words.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN KIRBY: We're not going to armchair quarterback this from this particular podium. Let me finish. We're not going to characterize every airstrike. We're not going to speak for Israeli military operations. The president was reflecting a concern that we have had for some time and will continue to have as this military operation proceeds, about the need for reducing civilian harm and being as precise and careful and deliberate as possible.

SIMON: Is he trying to say we support you, but not necessarily all the time?

ELVING: You know, Kirby is the current master of this kind of careful discourse, but you can't dance around the question forever. The interests of the U.S. and Israel are diverging - or at least the interests of their current governments are diverging.

SIMON: And the president is especially careful in an election year.

ELVING: Absolutely he is, and necessarily so. He was talking to donors with perhaps a variety of viewpoints on this. But the president needs to keep as much of his party as he can united behind him. And he knows how divisive this conflict has become among Democrats - not the initial response to Hamas in October, but the ongoing death and destruction. Now, Republicans may not be united on this either, but this is the burden of leadership. Biden's opponents in the GOP can sit back and say this wouldn't be happening on their watch.

SIMON: House Republicans voted this week to approve a resolution formalizing their impeachment probe of President Biden. Where does that leave things?

ELVING: It means 2024 will begin with another round of hearings about Hunter Biden, the president's son. And so far, those have proven little, if anything, about the president himself. But Speaker Mike Johnson would probably rather move on himself. But he has a contingent within his party, urged on by the former president himself, that simply insists on impeaching Biden and doing it as Trump's various trials are set to begin.

And speaking of Trump's legal situation, on Friday, a federal jury ordered Trump's attorney, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, to pay $148 million to the mother and daughter he falsely accused of voter fraud in 2020. That accusation exposed those women to death threats and other consequences, and the number is so large as to be kind of a two-edged sword. It highlights the seriousness of the offense, but it also may bolster his arguments on appeal. And he said Friday, it "underscores the absurdity of the entire proceeding," quote-unquote.

SIMON: President Zelenskyy came to Capitol Hill, asked the U.S. Congress to continue to help Ukraine. He went home empty-handed. Why?

ELVING: Here again, there is a contingent within the Republican majority that is over Ukraine and ready to stop the aid the U.S. has been sending there. As far as the House is concerned, Speaker Mike Johnson hasn't been able to resolve that. There's bipartisan support for Ukraine in the Senate, but that country's fate is being held hostage there to the debate over immigration policy.

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

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. 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.

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.