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Analysis: Biden administration faced with severe weather, the economy, and aggressive Russia

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I just want the people of Florida to know we see what you're going through, and we're with you. We're going to do everything we can for you.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Biden speaking yesterday in the same week in which the crisis in Ukraine deepened.

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PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

SIMON: And that's Vladimir Putin announcing his annexation of more of Ukraine. We turn now to NPR senior Washington editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: And let's begin with the storm. We're seeing more severe weather and - I think it's fair to say - more and more politicalization of severe weather. I - now, I remember debates over federal aid to Hurricane Sandy victims in 2013.

ELVING: Sandy seems like so many years ago, Scott. President Obama worked closely with Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey despite the distance between them, politically. Christie even acknowledged that just before Election Day in - back in 2012. Now, the storm hit in late October of 2012, and it was still an issue in 2013, as you say, as victims were still awaiting compensation. And again, there was collaboration between state and federal governments. Indeed, it does seem like a long time ago. But so far, at least, the federal government and the Florida state government seem to have been in sync. We'll see if that can prevail over the natural tension between Biden and Governor DeSantis, who's one of several Republicans who want to run against him in 2024.

SIMON: Ukraine now - the White House characterized Vladimir Putin as, quote, "raving and absurd." And even if that's correct, he has nuclear weapons at his command and seems to be making more and more nuclear threats.

ELVING: The speech we saw Putin give on Friday could rightly be called disturbing. This is a man with nearly absolute power in a country that is a nuclear power. And he sounds increasingly desperate. Every move he has made in Ukraine for the past seven months has gone badly awry. He now holds this sham annexation to lend legitimacy to his land grab, relying on a referendum conducted at gunpoint. Russia is trying to shore up its frontline forces with people arrested for protesting and with Ukrainians drafted from occupied villages. Does anyone think they'll be more effective or more loyal to Putin than the Russian troops who've been fleeing for weeks from the front or the prospective draftees stampeding for the border by the hundreds of thousands?

SIMON: Let me ask you to turn your gaze to the economy here at home. Yesterday was the end of the week, the month and the quarter. And the numbers aren't heading upward. Do you see any candidates in the midterm election campaigning against the Federal Reserve that is independent by design?

ELVING: In a sense, many of them are, but they don't talk about the Fed. They talk about the Democrats in power, whom they hold responsible for the Fed. Now, this past month, the Fed raised interest rates by yet another 75 basis points, practically begging for a recession to bail them out on inflation, the inflation that the Fed had thought would be transitory, going away as COVID went away. Now they can see they were wrong, but slamming on the brakes too late will be painful. So anyone in office, especially the party of Joe Biden, is in the crosshairs. And next week, we're going to see some big indicators on the economy. That will include the jobless report for September.

SIMON: Ron, what are you watching in the midterms? Are the polls to be believed? Can they be?

ELVING: Yes and no on the polls. You would be wrong to take them as absolute indicators but also wrong to assume they're wildly off base. The difference may come down to a very few percentage points, within what pollsters call the margin of error, which, by the way, is actually wider than most of us realize. As for what they're telling us, the Democrats are doing better than you would expect given the conditions we've just been talking about, especially in races for governor and senator but probably not well enough to hold the House.

SIMON: NPR senior Washington editor and correspondent Ron Elving. You think we'll have a chance to talk about the election in the weeks coming up very much?

ELVING: (Laughter) I'm afraid that's inevitable, Scott.

SIMON: All right. Well, we'll set some time aside. Thanks, as always.

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.
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