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Week in politics: Classified materials leak; abortion drug rulings

MILES PARKS, HOST:

And we turn now to NPR senior Washington editor and correspondent, Ron Elving.

Ron, good morning.

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

PARKS: Thanks for being here. So let's start with that leak, again, allegedly by a 21-year-old member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard of highly sensitive documents revealing classified information about the role of the U.S. in the war in Ukraine. How is this leak playing out politically?

ELVING: There's a lot of objection being heard from foreign capitals, of course. It's always embarrassing to have eavesdropping revealed. It makes everyone feel seen and heard and not in a good way. Back home, we have outliers, such as Marjorie Taylor Greene, congresswoman from Georgia, praising the alleged leaker for being an enemy of President Biden. And you have President Biden trying to play down the damage while former President Trump calls it the greatest embarrassment ever and then compares it to his own documents issue to dismiss the latter. Meanwhile, Pentagon officials, as you say, are trying to emphasize that there are processes in place to secure classified information. Now, here's Pentagon Press Secretary Pat Ryder - he's an Air Force brigadier general - fielding questions about the leak on Thursday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAT RYDER: Let me just emphasize my point, that this was a - you know, we have rules in place. Each of us signs a nondisclosure agreement, anybody that has a security clearance. And so all indications are, again, this is a criminal act, a willful violation of those and, again, another reason why we're continuing to investigate and support DOJ's investigation.

ELVING: And, Miles, the young man in question here, Jack Teixeira, is accused of being the leaker and has been charged as a spy. Obviously, this is embarrassing. It's not the kind of spying we normally associate with that term. But putting this material on the internet is extraordinarily effective. The internet is a great leveler and force multiplier. And the United States might find it's going to be beneficial to Russian military planners. It could be divisive in terms of the NATO alliance and the coalition resisting Russia in Ukraine. So maybe the bottom-line question for the moment is this - if our government can't manage some degree of computer security in this area, what about other areas? Does this implicitly put us all at risk?

PARKS: I want to get your thoughts, Ron, on abortion as well 'cause the Supreme Court has stepped in and paused restrictions on the medical abortion drug mifepristone, at least temporarily, while it looks at a lower court ruling that would have dramatically curbed access to the drug. Now, the Supreme Court's ruling last year, the Dodd (ph) decision seemed to play a big role in last year's elections. What do you think this mifepristone fight and then also all the other developments we've seen around abortion - what kind of role is that going to play in 2024?

ELVING: It's always tricky to predict who is going to be galvanized or mobilized on an issue this volatile 18 months in advance of an election. But the big question in the meantime will be, what are the other court decisions? What do the courts do between now and then, most especially the U.S. Supreme Court? But right at the moment, based on what we've seen over the past year, it's a question of whether it'll be bad for Republicans or very bad for Republicans.

This issue mobilizes younger voters, who otherwise would be less likely to vote. We saw that in Kansas and Kentucky last year. We saw just this month in Wisconsin, it also motivates women. And when women and young people turn out, Democrats tend to win especially in swing states. On the Republican side, though, in the primaries, we're likely to see a competition among candidates at all levels to see who can be most clearly and vociferously anti-abortion. And then, those Republican nominees will face a very different environment in their November elections.

PARKS: Right. I was thinking exactly that when we saw the news out of Florida, where Governor DeSantis this week signed a six-week abortion ban, which, we should note, wouldn't go into effect until 30 days after the state Supreme Court rules on a challenge to the state's existing 15-week abortion ban. But what are your thoughts on that?

ELVING: Ron DeSantis is all in on abortion restrictions, functional bans, in effect, because he knows this is not just a contest with Donald Trump for the nomination for president next year. It's all about winning the beating heart of the Republican Party. And right now, that is still the voters who turned to Trump in 2016. So DeSantis seems to believe that those voters are the present and future Republican Party. And while right now they're mostly still loyal to Trump, that could change, and the only candidate who's clearly capable of beating Trump is Trump. And if this frontrunner should stumble, this extraordinary frontrunner who's actually a former president, one way or another, DeSantis wants to make sure the lion's share of Trump's people come to him. He doesn't want to share them with other Republican hopefuls.

PARKS: Moving on to Tennessee now, where two Black lawmakers expelled from the Republican-led state house after participating in a protest on gun control - they were reinstated. What did you make of the back-and-forth in Tennessee?

ELVING: You know, we have to remember all these things were involved - gun issues, the murder of children, the stunning willingness, eagerness, in fact, among Republican legislators to oust these two young Black colleagues. Had they sanctioned or rebuked them in some other manner, it would not have gone this way. But instead, they put Tennessee in a bad light in front of the whole country. And there's a strong sense around these events that they've created a pair of new aces for the Democratic Party in Tennessee, and they are now instantly recognizable political figures.

PARKS: NPR senior Washington editor and correspondent Ron Elving.

Thanks, Ron.

ELVING: Thank you, Miles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Miles Parks is a reporter on NPR's Washington Desk. He covers voting and elections, and also reports on breaking news.
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.