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Politics chat: Biden addresses racism; GOP visits Ukraine; Penn. primary this week

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KATHY HOCHUL: Yeah, I'm angry. I've seen violence from guns on the Brooklyn subway and now in the streets of Buffalo. It has to stop. It has to stop.

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

That's New York Governor Kathy Hochul late last night talking about the deadly mass shooting at a grocery store in Buffalo. She spoke out about guns and about what she called a feeding frenzy of hate on social media platforms. Joining me now to talk about this and other political news is NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Good morning.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

RASCOE: Tam, I mean, when things like this happen, unfortunately, we have a kind of playbook that always happens. Democrats call for restrictions on guns. Republicans say justice should be served. Is that what's happening this time?

KEITH: You know, there's certainly some of that - the thoughts and prayers, the outrage that this could happen again. But there is something different here, and I want to read a bit to you from the statement President Biden put out last night. Quote, "A racially motivated hate crime is abhorrent to the very fabric of this nation. Any act of domestic terrorism, including an act perpetrated in the name of a repugnant white nationalist ideology, is antithetical to everything we stand for in America."

The word gun isn't in his statement at all. There is no mention of gun violence. I went back to Biden's last statement about a mass shooting about a month ago in Sacramento. And obviously, the circumstances were very different, but much of the focus in that statement was on the weapons, on the tragedy of gun violence in any form. And this is just a different conversation.

RASCOE: This time, there's an open discussion about white supremacy driving the shooter because of the trail that he seems to have left online. Like, does that mean that this political conversation will be very different from the ones that have happened before?

KEITH: You can already see the lines starting to be drawn, with Democrats talking about the threat of white supremacy and violent extremism and Republicans saying they are painting with too broad a brush. This is also a debate that played out last week up on Capitol Hill with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Attorney General Merrick Garland testifying before Congress. The Biden administration has, for some time, been saying that the greatest domestic threat facing the U.S. is racially or ethnically-motivated violent extremism. And specifically, they talked about white supremacy.

In a House committee hearing, Mayorkas got a lot of pushback from Republicans who asked for specific examples and argued that this was a narrative being pushed by the Biden administration that just isn't true. Some argued that the real threat is an invasion from the southern border. This country is a stew of conspiracy theories and extremism, but American politics and politicians are ill-equipped to come together to solve it because the political incentives are just to stoke more division and distrust.

RASCOE: Tam, let's move on to something else that happened yesterday. There was a surprise visit to Ukraine led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Who else was there, and what did they do?

KEITH: It was a small group of Republican senators. They met with President Zelenskyy and his advisers and reaffirmed U.S. support for Ukraine as it defends itself against Russian aggression. This comes as the Senate is poised to pass another big chunk of funding - a huge chunk of funding to support Ukraine. And it's interesting that this was a Republican trip. Very recently, there had been a Democratic trip led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But the message is very much the same - both party leaders there, with their colleagues, to tell Ukraine that the U.S. is on their side and that the U.S. has a stake in this fight.

RASCOE: That's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thanks, Tam.

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

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.