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Photo: Getty Images

President Trump spoke with Vladimir Putin this afternoon, and congratulated him on winning re-election on Sunday. After the call, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was asked whether Trump felt the election had been free and fair, and said it wasn’t up to the U.S. to “dictate" how Russia holds elections.

The bottom line: Trump is not alone in congratulating Putin — leaders in France, Germany and elsewhere have done so this week, as Barack Obama did in 2012. But past administrations certainly have seen it as America’s role to call balls and strikes when it comes to elections abroad, and weigh in when democratic institutions are being undermined. A departure from that approach would be welcomed not only by Putin, but other leaders of pseudo democracies around the world.

“Look, in terms of the election there, we’re focused on our elections. We don’t get to dictate how other countries operate. What we do know is that Putin has been elected… We can only focus on the freeness and fairness of our elections.”
— Sarah Sanders

What to watch for: Will the White House take a similar position on elections in Venezuela in May, which are widely expected to be a farce? Based on past comments, probably not.

More on the call

Trump and Putin discussed:

  1. Meeting in the near future to discuss “the arms race,” per Trump.
  2. North Korea and shared national security priorities, per the White House readout.
  3. “The problem of Syria” and “the internal crisis in Ukraine,” per the Kremlin readout.

Per Sanders, Trump did not raise:

  1. Russian election meddling.
  2. The poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal with a chemical weapon in the U.K., which the U.S. and its allies have said Russia is responsible for.
  3. Instances of ballot stuffing, and Putin’s efforts to undermine any serious competition in the election.

Sen. John McCain's response: “An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections."

Flashback: Obama called to congratulate Putin in 2012, when he returned to the Russian presidency after a four year hiatus. Obama, who was attempting a “reset” with Russia at the time, didn't raise electoral issues either, though the State Department did. In the ensuing days, Obama held a press conference and Press Secretary Jay Carney a gaggle, and neither fielded questions about Russia (though the election did come up in Carney's first full briefing the following week).

Go deeper

Complaint to FTC: Amazon search results full of potentially deceiving ads

Photo: Nigel Kirby/Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Amazon does not sufficiently distinguish between its search results and paid ads, potentially "deceiving millions of consumers," according to a complaint filed to the Federal Trade Commission.

Why it matters: Joan Moriarty, research director for the Strategic Organizing Center, a coalition of labor unions that filed the complaint, told the Washington Post the group is "very hopeful" that the FTC will investigate the complaint because Lina Khan (D), a known Amazon critic, is now chair.

3 hours ago - Health

Pfizer-BioNTech: Booster doses more effective at blocking Omicron

Prepared doses of the BioNtech-Pfizer Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine in Germany on Dec. 7. Photo: Thomas Kienzle/AFP via Getty Images

Pfizer and BioNTech said Wednesday that two doses of their COVID-19 vaccine were significantly less effective at neutralizing the Omicron variant in early lab tests, but a three-dose regimen was more effective.

Why it matters: Omicron, which has been labeled a variant of concern by the World Health Organization after being identified by scientists in South Africa last month, has forced vaccine makers to reassess the effectiveness of their vaccines against this specific new form of coronavirus.

Mike Allen, author of AM
3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden unveils "Building a Better America" branding

President Biden speaks on infrastructure while visiting a bridge in Woodstock, N.H., last month. Photo: John Tully/Getty Images

President Biden today launched a new website and unveiled bold new branding as part of a nationwide tour to sell the benefits of his infrastructure package.

Why it matters: The White House says passage of the new law shows the ability to "forge bipartisan consensus and prove our democracy can deliver big wins" even in these toxic times.

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