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Week In Politics: Biden Focuses On Foreign Policy

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Foreign policy has been center stage for President Biden for much of the week, even as he tries to press ahead on his domestic goal and his ongoing fight over voting rights.

We have NPR White House correspondent, Scott Detrow, to talk about the week. Scott, thank you.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: President Biden promised to pull troops out of Afghanistan on a tight deadline, and he is. And so far, the Taliban has moved right in, taking over large swaths of the country. I have to say, those of us who covered that war recall the particular cruelty of the Taliban.

DETROW: Yeah.

SIMON: And the possible return of that group now raises alarm, especially about freedom for Afghan women who are now in schools in equal numbers. What - how does President Biden...

DETROW: Yeah.

SIMON: ...Respond to this concern?

DETROW: You know, he's sticking to his initial decision. This is a move a majority of Americans support and that Biden campaigned on. But it's a lot easier to sell the theoretical idea of ending a forever war, as Biden often put it. And it's harder when the consequences of that decision are playing out in real time and those consequences are so devastating for people in Afghanistan, particularly women and girls. Biden gave a second speech this week justifying this move. And then in an extended press conference, he kept defending it. And at times, he was pretty blunt, essentially saying, these things aren't in America's interest to keep defending. And after a full generation there, it is time to go and leave these fights to Afghans.

SIMON: And it's irresistible to point out, this isn't the first time the U.S. has left Afghanistan - or some would say, abandoned.

DETROW: Absolutely. You know, the U.S. was involved in funding military efforts against Russia in the 1980s - suddenly wound down those efforts. And many people have repeatedly drawn a direct line between the vacuum that created and al-Qaida moving in, gaining strength and eventually launching the 9/11 attacks that caused the U.S. to start this war 20 years ago. But while all of those problems have not gone away and now there are these new problems the withdrawal seems to be creating, the Biden administration is adamant that America should be focusing on other issues like China and Russia.

SIMON: And as regards Russia, President Biden spoke with Vladimir Putin yesterday. Sounded like he was pretty blunt.

DETROW: Yeah. The conversation lasted about an hour. And there were some reasons for optimism, as Biden put it afterwards. You know, he sees better communications after that recent summit between the two of them in Geneva. He and Putin struck a deal that allowed the U.N. to continue humanitarian operations in Syria.

But again, just like the Geneva summit, this conversation came back to these rampant cyberattacks and ransomware attacks. Biden is growing increasingly direct, saying these are originating in Russia. And the U.S. expects Russian government to try and stop them. Biden continues to stay vague when he's pressed about when and how the U.S. will retaliate against these attacks. But he's made it increasingly clear that something like that could happen if they don't stop soon.

SIMON: President is set to give a big voting rights speech in Philadelphia next week. This comes as a number of Republican-led efforts across the country aim to change who can vote, when, where, how ballots are cast. What can we expect the president to say? And does it make a difference in this fight?

DETROW: Yeah. I think there's going to be a split here between what Biden says and what he does. This is - he's probably going to say this is a huge problem, a huge priority, that these laws restricting voting access, many based on false claims about last year's election, are an existential threat to democracy. But look at his options. On one hand, the Democratic voting rights bills that Biden backs are being blocked in the Senate because of the filibuster. His administration, on the other hand, is challenging Georgia's new law in court.

But that recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling underscored how unlikely it is that the 6 to 3 conservative court would likely side with a challenge like that, which is why you see the administration focusing on relatively limited options, like Vice President Harris' announcement this week. The Democratic National Committee is going to spend $25 million on voter education and registration efforts in these states. That could make a difference. But it's not the wide-scale pushback that Democrats are demanding and feel is increasingly urgent.

SIMON: NPR White House correspondent, Scott Detrow - thanks so much for being with us, Scott.

DETROW: Sure thing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.