Week In Politics

May 25, 2019
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The president is in Japan. Congress is out of town on Memorial Day recess. And the plan before everyone skipped town was to finally get a disaster relief bill passed and to get aid to farmers, military bases and communities recovering from hurricanes and wildfires over the last two years. Let's have our Ron Elving pick up the story, Washington editor and correspondent. Thanks so much for being with us, Ron.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: The Senate passed this aid package. They got assurances from the White House the president would sign it. Then what happened?

ELVING: In the House, where it had been approved earlier with big bipartisan support, it was assumed that this reapproval would just happen more or less automatically using a process called unanimous consent. Because so many members had already left for the Memorial Day recess, they were just waiting to see if anyone would object. And one member, a freshman Republican from Texas named Chip Roy, decided to object. And one is all it takes.

SIMON: Any connection that you see to the subpoenas the House has been raining down on the administration?

ELVING: Not directly. It wasn't related to the subpoenas or the contempt of Congress citations or the growing interest among many Democrats about impeachment or the president's threats about ceasing to do business with Congress altogether. But in the broader sense, yes, all of these things are connected. It's another manifestation of how bad things have gotten and how even after a deal is done, some individuals are willing to hold up the show and take it out on the vulnerable, including millions of citizens waiting for this aid in many states and Puerto Rico, where they've been waiting since 2017.

And that had been the president's position, saying that the disaster aid bill should be paid for by spending cuts elsewhere, as Chip Roy said this week, and there should be money in the bill for the immigration crisis on the southern border. But then the president agreed to let the bill go through without border funds and with the Puerto Rico money.

SIMON: And in that - what I can only refer to as acrimonious spirit, this extraordinary exchange between President Trump and Speaker Pelosi - the White House meeting on infrastructure, ordinarily, you'd think both parties could figure out a way to agree on how to spend trillions of dollars on some of their pet projects. But the president walked out, and then that extraordinary back-and-forth ensued.

ELVING: Yes, we've had rough patches in our political history where presidents and speakers have locked horns before. But here we have a multifront confrontation that's taking on a personal dimension that may, in some sense, be meant to be a distraction from the issues at hand.

And this - there's always been an unspoken set of rules that defined this kind of fight and led to an outcome. But here, we just simply don't know how we're going to find our way out of this. The speaker says there's a cover-up happening, but she's praying for the president and the country. Then the president says, she's lost it. And I think a lot of women in particular will find this dynamic all too familiar.

SIMON: Yesterday, a federal judge in California threw another wrench into the administration's border wall plans. What happened there?

ELVING: It never seems to get too far from the border, does it? The federal judge in California issued a ruling that partially and temporarily blocks the president from spending money on a wall that was appropriated by Congress for other purposes. In his ruling, the judge quoted White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney saying on Fox that, quote, "the wall is going to get built with Congress or without it," unquote.

And the judge notes that that position does not square, quote - I'm quoting the judge here - "does not square with fundamental separation of powers principles dating back to the earliest days of our republic." And in those two quotes, Scott, you have the essence of the whole broader confrontation.

SIMON: And what do you make of the - yesterday's move by the Supreme Court about congressional maps in Michigan and Ohio?

ELVING: Not surprising. The court stayed rulings from lower courts that have tried to address partisan gerrymandering in those states. These are states where Republicans can win two-thirds or more of the seats in Congress with just half the actual popular vote in that state. So the high court could've let those rulings stand, let the remapping get started this summer. But instead, it chose to freeze the situation, pending rulings from other states, at least for the moment.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.