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Week in politics: Biden attends G20 summit in India; impact of Georgia election case

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Biden is in India this weekend for a summit featuring leaders of 19 countries and the European Union - almost. Two notable absences are going to be Vladimir Putin of Russia and Xi Jinping of China. NPR's Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: Indian Prime Minister Modi is the actual leader of G20 because of the group's system of rotating chairmanship. Does President Biden have an opportunity at this summit to reassert American leadership on a range of issues?

ELVING: Yes, but an opportunity wrapped in a complex set of challenges. Modi wants to appear close to the U.S. and has played up his relationship with Biden this week, much as he did his relationship with former President Trump. The U.S. wants to build relationships with India and other important states around China, including South Korea, Japan, the Philippines and even Vietnam, which Biden will visit on this trip.

SIMON: What about the president's own leadership profile on a week in which we saw more polls saying that his leadership - as reflected, at least, in public approval ratings - is not rated highly as we enter an election season?

ELVING: These polls tell us Biden's facing headwinds with the voters. It has to do with higher prices, especially for gasoline, housing, certain foods. That's frustrating for the Biden people because most economists now believe the economy can return to low levels of inflation without the recession widely predicted just a few months ago. If that's true, it's quite a feat. Yet a sizable majority of Americans tell pollsters that Biden's policies have made the economy worse.

And that's more than a messaging problem. It's a reflection of deep partisanship - certainly, Republicans are united against him - but also of a sense the average American has that too many things cost too much more than they did just a short while ago - gasoline, first and foremost, and certain foods - eggs primarily - 40% increase in the cost of eggs. And the cost of buying a home has greatly increased due to higher interest rates but also to the historically short supply of homes on the market. People don't live in the macroeconomy, Scott. They live in their own household economies. And right now that's his biggest problem, along, of course, with Ukraine and relations with China and Russia.

SIMON: And speaking of Russia, what kind of friend does Moscow have in Elon Musk?

ELVING: Musk is the kind of friend who is primarily a friend to his own interests. This week it was revealed in a new book that Musk had refused to make his StarLink technology available to Ukraine at a crucial moment in the fighting last year, taking sides, as it were. That made it impossible for the Ukrainian drones to operate and allowed Russian warships to sit in a Black Sea harbor and fire missiles into Ukraine. And that incident has not been forgotten.

SIMON: The election interference case out of Georgia - we and many others, of course, have referred to it as sprawling because the district attorney there brought charges against 19 people, including, of course, former President Trump. We have learned this week that it could have been even more sprawling.

ELVING: Yes. What is the next level beyond sprawling? This report shows the special grand jury that investigated the 2020 election aftermath in Georgia had originally recommended charges not just for the 19 who have been charged but against 20 others, as well - 39 defendants in all, including three senators, Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and two former senators who were Republicans from Georgia. They were not charged. Also charged was national security adviser Michael Flynn and a long list of Trump operatives and Georgia state Republican figures. So the Trump camp has suggested that the prosecutors in Georgia were out of control. This report suggests quite the opposite. They were weighing the evidence against each defendant very carefully and trying to charge only the clearest, strongest cases.

SIMON: And so we're going to confront an election season in which we have any number of trials going on, aren't we?

ELVING: Yes, we are. There are going to be trials in Georgia, in Washington, D.C., in Florida, perhaps also in New York. And we have never had a situation such as this before.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much.

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.