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Wrapping Up A Jam-Packed Political Week


Investigations scheduled then postponed; votes set then stopped; finger-pointing, leaking - a whirlwind week in Washington, D.C. 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: On Monday, which seems a long time ago, the FBI director, James Comey, testified that there is an FBI investigation of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign and contact with associates of Donald Trump. Where does that investigation stand now as you see it?

ELVING: It goes forward on several fronts but in rather ragged formation, I think we need to say. The FBI director, as you say, did testify that there was an investigation. That goes forward at the FBI. That's the part we know least about, but it may be the most consequential because it may be the closest thing to an independent investigation. Now, the House Intelligence Committee is going forward under something of a cloud because, as you've just discussed, the chairman, Devin Nunes, got the story out to some reporters and over to the White House before he had talked to all the members of his committee about some of the new information he was getting about surveillance of some Trump associates after the election. So that has really cast a cloud over that particular part of the investigation.

At the same time, they do plan to have another closed hearing next week. And we don't know what's going to happen with those witnesses you've just been discussing; separate arrangements in each case perhaps. The Senate has an intelligence committee investigation that's trying to go forward and avoid some of these partisan moments and errors unforced that have happened in the House. But there is no sign yet of a truly independent probe by, say, a joint committee or a special committee or a special prosecutor out of the Justice Department.

SIMON: And then let me move to withdrawing the vote on the replacement for the Affordable Care Act. Is that going to make relations between President Trump and congressional Republicans touchier on other issues?

ELVING: Yes, at least in the short term, we would have to expect that, and for a number of reasons. The automatic trust that comes from winning an election together, that is frayed. People in the White House are blaming some of the congressional Republicans for the failure of the repeal and replace bill. And people on Capitol Hill are blaming the White House, and they're blaming each other. The factions are very much on display and in an unflattering light. So tax reform, the next thing they want to do, is going to be harder, and it's going to be harder also because, you know, they committed to making the reform revenue neutral, not adding to the deficit and not raising taxes. So that is going to be harder to do because some of the revenue they were hoping to get in the repeal and replace is now not available. So they're going to have to figure out some other way to offset the big tax cuts they want, especially for higher incomes.

SIMON: Let me try a thought out on you. President Trump isn't used to playing golf on a course that he doesn't own. Was this week's defeat a way of Congress telling the president you're not in Manhattan anymore?

ELVING: Well, I suppose it does have that - it does seem to have that impact. It's not sure that any of the Republicans set out to send that message with what's happened in the past week or over the past couple of months. But the downfall of this repeal and replace effort that was so central to their program, it does tend to send that message nonetheless.

SIMON: I want to turn to the Gorsuch confirmation hearings. Senator Schumer says he wants Democrats to filibuster the appointment. Republicans say they will confirm Judge Gorsuch as justice with 60 votes. What do you foresee?

ELVING: I don't see 60 votes. I don't see eight Democrats defecting to vote for Gorsuch. There was a time that it seemed more possible for that to happen, but the ground has been moving, not because the hearings were terrible for Gorsuch. He - his performance was affable in many respects and certainly well-tempered. And he certainly did try to speak members of both parties in his answers, and he was very careful. Nonetheless, we learned enough about his positions on a lot of issues, and there is still this overhanging grievance about Merrick Garland and how he was denied any process last year when President Obama tried to nominate him to this opening. And there is a tremendous amount of pressure coming from interest groups and progressive activists, and all of that adds up to Gorsuch seeming to be the next front in the battle. And therefore, I don't see eight Democrats defecting to vote for him. That means the Republicans are going to have to invoke the nuclear option and confirm him with a simple majority

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much for being with us.

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

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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.