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Photos: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images; Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Republican Sen. Mitt Romney told Axios' Mike Allen in an interview with "Axios on HBO" that he believes Republican lawmakers stay quiet on their Trump criticisms for fear of losing the Senate or the presidency to Democrats, especially Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

The big picture: Republicans are often willing to criticize the president privately, but they avoid making public statements for fear of backlash. Romney argues that conservatives are trying to maintain the perception of a united front to voters so as not to risk internal shakeups that could lose them the Senate or Oval Office.

  • Warren has also been rising in the polls, challenging polling leader Joe Biden and bringing progressive policies to the forefront of the Democratic primaries.

Romney told "Axios on HBO":

  • "There's no upside in going on out and attacking the leader of your party, 'cause that's just gonna let someone come in and primary you on the right. So people want to hang onto their job."
  • "But there's another reason, which is more elevated. And that is people ... genuinely believe, as I do, that conservative principles are better for our country and for the working people of our country than liberal principles and that if Elizabeth Warren were to become president, for instance, or if we were to lose the Senate, that it would not be good for the American people."
  • "And they don't want to do something which makes it more likely for Elizabeth Warren to become president or for us to lose the Senate. So they don't want to go out and criticize the leader of our party because they feel that might have the consequence of hurting our country longer term."

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Dems race to address, preempt stimulus fraud claims

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Biden officials are working to root out the systematic fraud in unemployment and Paycheck Protection Program claims that plagued the Trump administration’s efforts to boost the economy with coronavirus relief money, Gene Sperling told House committee chairmen privately this week.

Why it matters: President Biden just signed another $1.9 trillion of aid into law, with Sperling tapped to oversee its implementation. And the administration is asking Congress to approve another $2.2 trillion for the first phase of an infrastructure package.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Biden close to picking Nick Burns as China ambassador

Nicholas Burns. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Nicholas Burns, a career diplomat, is in the final stages of vetting to serve as President Biden’s ambassador to China, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: Across the administration, there's a consensus the U.S. relationship with China will be the most critical — and consequential — of Biden's presidency. From trade to Taiwan, the stakes are high. Burns could be among the first batch of diplomatic nominees announced in the coming weeks.

Biden's Russian sanctions likely to achieve little

President Biden announces new sanctions against Russia. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Despite bold talk from top administration officials, there's little reason to think the Russia sanctions package President Biden announced Thursday will do anything to alter Russian President Vladimir Putin's behavior or calculus.

Why it matters: While it's true some elements of the package — namely, the targeting of Russia's sovereign debt — represent significant punitive measures against Moscow, it leaves plenty of wiggle room for the Russian president.