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Politics chat: Biden back from Europe; Justice Thomas scrutinized; Judge Jackson vote

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

President Biden continues to urge Democratic nations to stand united against Russia for its attack on Ukraine.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Putin has the gall to say he's denazifying Ukraine. It's a lie. It's just cynical. He knows that. And it's also obscene.

RASCOE: That's Biden speaking yesterday in Warsaw, Poland. Meanwhile, revelations about text messages from the wife of a Supreme Court justice continue to keep Washington buzzing. Joining me now to talk about all of this is NPR senior editor Domenico Montanaro. Good morning, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey. Morning, Ayesha, and congrats on your first official day as host.

RASCOE: Thank you very much. Let's start with Biden's speech. You listened to it. What caught your ear?

MONTANARO: Well, Biden's closing line jumped out to me and a lot of other people, obviously, when he said that Putin, for God's sake, this man cannot remain in power. That line was not originally in the speech, so he was freelancing a bit there, and people wondered if he was calling for regime change. The White House immediately said that's not what Biden was doing and walked it back. But he may have been committing a Washington gaffe of telling the truth (laughter) when he didn't really mean to. It's not that shocking that he believes this because he called Putin a butcher, called him a war criminal. That he, you know, wouldn't want him to be in power anymore, sure, I think a lot of people probably think that in the West. But that line was not something he'd coordinated with other Western powers. And we've seen NATO very much talking from the same page since this war began.

RASCOE: And so - and, you know, Biden is known for a bit of going off script, and sometimes that gets him in trouble. But, Domenico, this conflict in Ukraine has been going on now for more than a month. What effect has it had on politics here in the U.S.?

MONTANARO: Yeah, you know, initially we saw something of a rally-around-the flag effect. That's not as much the case now. A new NPR/Ipsos poll shows a majority think he's only doing a fair or poor job on handling the crisis in Ukraine. Most people want him to be stronger, but they also think he's done a pretty good job of not getting the U.S. into the conflict. So some mixed messages there from voters, which is not surprising.

Overall, his approval has mostly stabilized in the mid-40s, where, frankly, most presidential approval ratings have been in the last 15 years in this polarized modern era. The war has also taken some attention off inflation and given the White House something to blame rising prices on - on gas prices, in particular. But we're seeing rising numbers of people saying that inflation is their top concern.

RASCOE: Onto another story - attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election and keep President Trump in office. So last week we learned about these text messages Ginni Thomas, who is the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, that she sent to Trump's - former President Trump's chief of staff, Mark Meadows. It's put her activities and her husband, Justice Thomas, under scrutiny. Domenico, can you bring us up to speed on the story?

MONTANARO: Well, these texts are putting potential conflicts of interest with the Thomases back in the spotlight. And I say back, because Ginni Thomas has been a controversial conservative activist for a long time now. She was a prominent Tea Party activist, worked against the Affordable Care Act, which, of course, came before the Supreme Court. Her activities on behalf of the far right in this country have raised questions about her having the ear of her Supreme Court justice husband.

Traditionally, here in Washington, spouses aren't held responsible for what their partner does because nearly everyone has a job that intersects with politics and power somehow. But being an out-and-out supporter of overthrowing the elected government of the United States - I think that goes beyond that. I'm looking really at what, if anything, Chief Justice John Roberts does. You know, he's acutely aware of how politics of the Supreme Court are and declining views of the court have been in some recent years. I also wonder if this puts some pressure on Congress to potentially make the justices adhere to a federal code of ethics. Right now, there's no rules for Supreme Court justices. But even if the justices were held to that code, Clarence Thomas likely wouldn't face any consequences here because, again, it's his spouse.

RASCOE: Does this put more - in the short - just a few seconds - does this put more pressure on Democratic lawmakers to do something about the Supreme Court?

MONTANARO: I don't know what that would be, though. You know, some progressive activists are calling for Thomas to be impeached, but that's highly unlikely. Congress isn't going to be expanding the court anytime soon, and it's not popular with most Americans. So I think it's another case of Democrats being frustrated with little action on what they see as something they want to find some justice on.

RASCOE: That's NPR senior editor Domenico Montanaro. Thank you.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.