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Week in politics: Bannon's prison sentence; Trumps subpoenaed; Biden announces deficit drop

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Former President Donald Trump formally subpoenaed by the January 6 committee on Friday. His former adviser, Steve Bannon, was sentenced to prison for contempt of the same committee, as voters are already casting midterm ballots in some states. NPR's 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: Four months in prison for contempt of Congress for Steve Bannon, refusing to testify for the January 6 committee, a $6,500 fine, which seems like he can afford it, given his financial standing.

ELVING: Yes. It's rounding error, compared to his financial standing, but also to his legal bills. Legal bills are often the real penalty in these long-running cases. Bannon is free while this case is appealed. And that may last a while. And there's another Trump confidant and economics adviser, Peter Navarro, who is still facing trial for his refusal to testify to this committee.

SIMON: Committee said they were going to subpoena Donald Trump. Now they have. What exactly would that subpoena compel him to do?

ELVING: Trump is ordered to produce documents on his communications with members of Congress with respect to January 6 and with leaders of the election protests that day. Those are due to Congress by November 4. Trump is also ordered to appear, in person or by video, to answer the committee's questions on or about November 14, possibly for multiple sessions over multiple days. Now, the specific dates make it all sound pretty serious, and it is, but it is also subject to negotiation and appeal.

So we expect Trump will claim he's not subject to this subpoena, and it will be up to the Department of Justice to enforce that subpoena, just as they did by prosecuting Bannon and Navarro for contempt of Congress. But the Department of Justice did not prosecute two White House officials, Mark Meadows and Dan Scavino. And no president has been prosecuted for contempt of Congress. So at some point very soon, we're going to have an election that will possibly produce a new Republican majority in the House that might just dismantle the whole investigation and say January 6 wasn't a big deal.

SIMON: We've been talking for weeks about the primacy of inflation as an issue, as it seems to be forming in these midterms. On Friday, President Biden announced that the federal deficit had dropped by $1.4 trillion this past year. You can hear the jubilance in his voice now.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: $1.4 trillion decline in the deficit. Let me repeat that - the largest ever decline in the federal deficit. Let me be clear. This record deficit reduction includes the cost of my student loan plan and everything else we're paying for.

SIMON: Yet, is this the kind of argument that can sway voters who are still paying significantly more for basics - food, gas, housing?

ELVING: The decline in the deficit is the ultimate case of a glass half full and half empty, Scott. It's down $1.4 trillion, and that's by half, but we still ran a $1.4 trillion deficit in that year. We should remember that spending was largely from the bout with COVID and all the programs Congress and the last two presidents have signed into law, including tax cuts and generous benefits to keep people afloat during COVID and keep the economy alive. The bottom line, though, politically is just that voters are paying those higher prices for nearly everything.

That's why the pollsters find 70% of Americans think the country's on the wrong track and why most polls think the Democrats are likely to lose their majority in the House. The Senate, of course, is a much tougher call. Democrats are defending some of their seats in the West - Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, into Washington. But they are gunning for several in the East, especially in states where Republicans are retiring - Ohio, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. They think they've got shots in Wisconsin and Florida, too. So the vulnerabilities are about even in this 50-50 Senate. But one thing to bear in mind is that in the last two cycles, we have seen Democrats fall short of what the polls had been predicting they could do.

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

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

Scott Simon
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.