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Week in politics: Trump awaits indictment; debt ceiling negotiations continue

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

It's the indictment that didn't or maybe hasn't yet. The week began with Donald Trump saying he would be arrested as part of the Manhattan district attorney's investigation into hush money to pay Stormy Daniels. It ended with Trump uncuffed on the road in Waco. NPR senior Washington editor and correspondent Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: Donald Trump called for protests. The New York Times said he was ready for a spectacle. But what happened?

ELVING: A spectacle happened. It just wasn't real. It was virtual, the product of computer-generated deepfakes people saw on social media. You know, this is the age we live in, Scott. And in some ways, it's ideally suited to Trump. A large part of his strategy has been to deny or question what is reported and create doubt as to what's fact and what's fiction. That has been his style as a candidate and as a president. And it's now his strategy as a legal defendant, who is also a candidate again. And at the same time, we have Trump saying, in the real world, that if he is indicted, there will be, quote, "death and destruction," unquote. So there we have a different question. Does that, in itself, constitute an incitement of violence or threat against legal authority? We will see if indeed Trump is indicted in the real world.

SIMON: So far, Republicans have, more or less, rallied around the former president, but a muted rally?

ELVING: Well, it may not have been as full-throated as he would like, but we do expect some really rousing reaction in Waco, Texas, today. Trump is holding a rally there to officially open his 2024 campaign. It's something of a do over because he also launched that campaign last year at Mar-a-Lago. So far, Trump's defense in all of his legal travails has been to play the victim, complain about law enforcement, call it all a political prosecution and a witch hunt.

If Trump is indicted, there will be courtroom proceedings, and we will find out what law enforcement has on him, if anything. Saying anything else at this point is mere speculation and premature. But we should mention that a federal judge in Washington this week rejected the claim of executive privilege for Trump's inner circle. That means former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and others may have to testify about the January 6 riot that sacked the Capitol. We do expect the judge's order to be appealed.

SIMON: President Biden celebrated 13 years since the signing of the Affordable Care Act this week. Kind of an odd-numbered anniversary, but it allowed him to draw a distinction between his party and congressional Republicans as debt ceiling negotiations continue. What would Republicans like?

ELVING: If you were around in March of 2010, you remember Biden's comment about the Affordable Care Act being a big deal and...

SIMON: I remember it. We just can't quote it. Yes.

ELVING: ...Being - he was introducing Obama and caught on a hot mic. And it has been a big deal, the signature achievement of the Obama-Biden administration and a target for Republicans ever since. As for the new budget negotiations, it was signaled this week that the House Republicans want deep spending cuts but will not hold out for a plan to balance the budget. We shall see. If they were to hold out, though, it would probably mean a stalemate and very possibly a default on U.S. debt this summer, which would be the first in our history.

SIMON: Wasn't part of the budget wrangling, but I'd like to get to hear what you have to say about the Parents Bill of Rights that passed the House.

ELVING: It was a big feature of last fall's elections - the images of angry or frightened parents protesting at school board meetings. And this has to do with their concerns about public schools using their tax dollars to teach their kids liberal values particularly on race and gender and sex. House Republicans know this bill has probably no chance, really, in the Senate, but this is very much a case of literal virtue signaling. It's all about that base. The Republican candidates want to court certain voters they know they need to court to win.

SIMON: Meanwhile, that other chamber, the Senate, is not what we'd call a full house yet, is it?

ELVING: It could be soon. Well, we expect Mitch McConnell to return. He is 81. He's been out since he had a fall, suffered a concussion. His staff says he'll be back. Also, the new senator from Pennsylvania, John Fetterman, is said to be recovering from an episode of depression. And another Democrat, Dianne Feinstein, is expected back soon from her treatment for shingles. So not a full roster we've seen recently for either party in the Senate, but that should change soon.

SIMON: Ron Elving, thanks so much.

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

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.