Biden's Russia Policy Is Complicated By Domestic Pressures President Biden is getting ready for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin next month. Domestic politics are making Biden's approach to the talks even tougher.

Biden Wants A 'Stable, Predictable' Relationship With Russia. That's Complicated

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Biden wants to ease tensions with Russia, so he's getting ready for a summit with President Vladimir Putin. That's one reason his top diplomat, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, was meeting with his counterpart this week, laying the groundwork. Here in Washington, there is tension over Biden's Russia policy. White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez has more.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: President Biden has said the days of rolling over to Vladimir Putin are over. He imposed new sanctions for Russia's interference in the elections and the SolarWinds cyber hack. But he also wants to work with Russia.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The United States is not looking to kick off a cycle of escalation and conflict with Russia. We want a stable, predictable relationship.

ORDOÑEZ: Right now, that relationship is in a pretty bad place. But he's trying to avoid mistakes made by his predecessors who had similar goals.

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GEORGE W BUSH: We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul.

ORDOÑEZ: That was former President George W. Bush, who famously said he looked Putin in the eye and found him to be trustworthy.

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BUSH: I wouldn't have invited him to my ranch if I didn't trust him.

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ORDOÑEZ: Then there was former President Obama, who called for a reset in relations. And then came former President Trump. He repeatedly pushed back against intelligence that showed Russia tried to help him win office.

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DONALD TRUMP: I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this. I don't see any reason why it would be.

ORDOÑEZ: The issue of Russia hung over his time in office and his first impeachment trial. And that has made an already difficult issue poisonous. Here is Samuel Charap, who worked on Russia issues for Obama's State Department.

SAMUEL CHARAP: Having anything other than hawkish views in public on Russia issues became risky.

ORDOÑEZ: Take the case of Matthew Rojansky. He's a respected scholar and director of the Wilson Center Kennan Institute. The White House was considering him for an important job at the National Security Council, but then came a hostile Twitter campaign accusing him of being on the Kremlin's payroll and being anti-Ukrainian.

CHARAP: Took a number of us aback that he was sort of labeled controversial.

ORDOÑEZ: Charap and dozens of other former officials signed an open letter saying the criticism was outrageous.

THOMAS GRAHAM: Matt was the most recent case, we thought, of what was a broader problem that we've seen with - around the discussion of Russia policy.

ORDOÑEZ: That's Thomas Graham, who was a top Russia adviser to George W. Bush. He said Rojansky was smeared.

GRAHAM: There's a group of individuals who jump on to social media and try to destroy or undermine the integrity of the people who oppose their views on Russia.

ORDOÑEZ: Rojansky declined comment for this story.

It's a bigger issue than just one job. Charap said the extreme politics at home could make it harder for Biden to reach his goals on Russia.

CHARAP: This is really about the public policy debate and whether we can have open debate and discussion and people with a variety of views are not stigmatized for having those views.

ORDOÑEZ: He says a fulsome debate is even more important now, especially with the Biden-Putin summit just around the corner. Franco Ordoñez, NPR News, Washington.

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