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Week In Politics: George H.W. Bush's Legacy And A Big Week Ahead For The Senate

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Leading the tributes to President George H.W. Bush were several former presidents and the current president. President Trump said of Mr. Bush, with sound judgment, common sense and unflappable leadership, he guided our nation and the world to a peaceful and victorious conclusion of the Cold War. President Bill Clinton, who defeated Mr. Bush for the presidency in 1992, gave thanks for his great long life of service, love and friendship. Ron Elving, senior Washington correspondent, joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: He was the last of a different generation - sometimes called the greatest generation. He served in World War II, congressman, former U.S. ambassador to China and the United Nations, director of the CIA, vice president and then after that finally president.

ELVING: You know, when he first sought the Republican nomination in 1980, Scott, his TV ads called him, quote, "a president we won't have to train," unquote. And that was a nod to all that preparation and experience he had had even before he was vice president.

SIMON: What do you see the legacy of George H.W. Bush?

ELVING: That he managed the transition to the new world of global relationships after the Cold War. He was an internationalist and a diplomat by nature, and he believed in coalition power abroad and compromise on the big issues at home, including on spending and taxes even if it cost him politically within his own party.

SIMON: A busy week in the U.S. Capitol, and there are some signs Republicans, some of them, may no longer be marching as ordered by President Trump. What were the signs that that you saw the president - that some senators might be willing to defy the president on some issues?

ELVING: There were significant pushback votes in the Senate this week on Saudi Arabia policy and on a judicial nomination and on a bill to protect Robert Mueller and his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

SIMON: But did the Senate do anything about Robert Mueller?

ELVING: We've seen extraordinary, new revelations this week as Ryan was talking about a few minutes ago, revelations about President Trump's business dealings with Russia both before and during the 2016 campaign. That prompted Republican Jeff Flake and Democrat Chris Coons in the Senate to try, again, to pass a law protecting Mueller from being fired or otherwise derailed. There is a clear majority now for such a bill in the Senate, if they could only get a vote on the floor, but they've been blocked by Republican leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans.

SIMON: The Senate had second thoughts about confirming a new federal judge - another sign of some independence from the administration - Thomas Farr. What happened there?

ELVING: The biggest service the Senate has performed for this president has been the confirming of nominees who are now recasting the federal judiciary. It's been rare for any of these nominees to be deemed too far out of the mainstream to be confirmed. But this past week, Thomas Farr of South Carolina was denied confirmation because two Republican senators stood up and said no. One was Flake, who has been already resisting confirmations to protest the way his bill - his Mueller protection bill has been blocked by the leadership. The other was Tim Scott, African-American Republican senator from South Carolina, the only black Republican in the Senate. Farr has been accused of helping to intimidate black voters in the past, and that was just too much for Scott.

SIMON: Then, of course, the Saudi issue. President Trump still declines to blame the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, for his apparent involvement in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. A lot of the Senate feels differently.

ELVING: The clearest Senate signal of all this week was the anti-Saudi vote. The Senate got more than 60 votes, more than a dozen Republicans, to advance a measure ending U.S. aid to the Saudi campaign in Yemen where they're waging a proxy war against Iran with U.S. help. So there were more than a dozen Republicans, as I say, even after a special briefing with Mike Pompeo and Jim Mattis, the secretaries of state and defense, who echoed the president's statement about there being no smoking gun in Khashoggi's death.

SIMON: But they didn't like the fact that Gina Haspel, the head of the CIA, who has a different opinion, apparently, wasn't invited or permitted to testify.

ELVING: We did not get to hear from Gina and that - I would think that was disturbing to a number of senators in both parties.

SIMON: Ron Elving, NPR senior Washington correspondent, thanks so much for being with us.

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

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.