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Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) argued in a testy exchange on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he believes "both Russia and Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election," claiming without evidence that former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko "actively worked" for Hillary Clinton.

The exchange:

KENNEDY: You should read the articles, Chuck, because they are well-documented. And I believe that a Ukrainian district court in December 2018 slapped down several Ukrainian officials for meddling in our elections as a violation of the Ukrainian law. Now, I did not report those facts, and reputable journalists reported those facts. Does that mean that the Ukrainian leaders were more aggressive than Russia? No. Russia was very aggressive and they're much more sophisticated, but the fact that Russia was so aggressive does not exclude the fact that President Poroshenko actively worked for Secretary Clinton.
TODD: My goodness. Wait a minute. Senator Kennedy, you now have the president of Ukraine saying that he actively worked for the Democratic nominee for president. I mean come on. You realize that the only other person selling this argument outside of the United States is Vladimir Putin. ... You have just accused the former president of Ukraine — You have done exactly what the Russian operation is trying to get American politicians to do. Are you at all concerned that you have been duped?
KENNEDY: No. Just read the articles.

The big picture: Last Sunday, Kennedy told Fox News' Chris Wallace he believed a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine tried to hack the Democratic National Committee's computers during the 2016 election. The next day, he told CNN's Chris Cuomo he misheard the question and was wrong, stating, "I've seen no indication that Ukraine tried to do it."

  • The White House's former top Russia expert Fiona Hill testified that the theory that Ukraine interfered in the election is "a fictional narrative that is being perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves."
  • The New York Times has also reported that intelligence officials briefed senators in recent weeks about Russia's years-long campaign to frame Ukraine, but Kennedy told Todd that he did not attend the briefing.

Reality check: Many of the claims of interference that Kennedy cites relate to Ukrainian officials making disparaging remarks about Trump during the campaign, most notably after the then-candidate made comments about the U.S. possibly recognizing Crimea as Russian territory.

  • These scattershot criticisms differ greatly from the top-down, large-scale interference operation that the U.S. intelligence community has concluded was ordered directly by Vladimir Putin.
  • Kennedy also claims that a Ukrainian court ruled that Ukrainian officials had meddled in the U.S. elections by releasing damaging information about former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. However, an appeals court later canceled that ruling, according to the Kyiv Post.

Go deeper:

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Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Scott Eisen/Getty Images

The failure of rich countries to share vaccines and financial assistance with poorer ones during the pandemic will exacerbate the rise in global poverty and could come back to bite them, Nobel Prize-winning economists Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee tell Axios.

Why it matters: Duflo initially believed the pandemic would produce a “more cooperative world order” as rich countries felt compelled to show solidarity with the developing world, potentially boding well for future collaboration on issues like climate change. Now she fears the opposite.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

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A $2.1 billion Capitol security funding bill is heading to President Biden for his signature after the House and Senate passed the legislation on Thursday.

Why it matters: The legislation provides funding for the Capitol Police, the National Guard and other agencies to cover the costs incurred during the Jan. 6 riot.

Biden details new vaccination initiatives as COVID cases surge

Joe Biden. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

President Biden detailed several new initiatives on Thursday to get more Americans vaccinated and slow the spread of the Delta variant.

Why it matters: The plan outlines aggressive next steps from the federal government as COVID-19 cases surge across the country due to the contagious Delta variant and as demand for vaccines has tapered off.