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This Week, The State Of Our Union Was Retaliatory


We're going to go to NPR's senior editor and correspondent of the Washington Desk, Ron Elving, now to talk about this week and the continuing government shutdown. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: How do you see what I think we can fairly refer to now as a face-off between President Trump and Speaker Pelosi? You know, you can't give the State of the Union address here. Well, then, you're not flying to Afghanistan.

ELVING: We've seen face-offs before. President Bill Clinton and Speaker Newt Gingrich, 1995 and 1996. That shutdown drama was highly personalized, as well. And so part of what's going on here, aside from the wall and the workers, is establishing the relationship between the new leader of Congress, which is, after all, a coequal branch of the government, and the leader of the executive branch, the president. And she has been the Democratic leader now since 2002. She's been speaker before. And she thinks that she has accomplished a great deal, just as the president feels his political standing reflects the same.

SIMON: Why don't we hear more from Mitch McConnell in the middle of this shutdown?

ELVING: Because he doesn't want to get in the middle of this. He doesn't feel like he has to. He comes out on the Senate floor from time to time, and he speaks, and he tries not to make news. He doesn't want or need this. He's getting some heat from a handful of his Republican senators who are going to be on the ballot in 2020. And he just hasn't heard from enough of those yet. Most of the Senate Republicans don't want to bail on Trump. They think they can blame the media. They can blame the Democrats. So until that changes, McConnell is not likely to change. He's going to ride it out and survive.

SIMON: The president said he plans to make a major announcement this afternoon on the southern - about the southern border and the shutdown. Do you have any ideas what we can expect?

ELVING: We don't really. We don't know whether the president is going to directly respond to the shutdown or if he is going to take this opportunity to talk more about the BuzzFeed story you were just talking to David about or whether, most likely, he's going to focus on what he sees as the threat to the United States from its southern border, from the people who live to the south of our country. That seems to be the most likely thing, but we'll have to wait and see what the president has to say when he speaks to us this afternoon from the White House.

SIMON: The president met with the North Korean delegation Friday, says there'll be a second meeting with Kim Jong Un. And he announced plans for a new missile defense system, including one in space. Does this president have the mandate or political standing right now to undertake such huge policies when his ability to hold office is under investigation?

ELVING: You know, Scott, he has the office, and he has the authority and the will, so he needs to go forward on these things because that's his job and also because he needs people to see him doing it on a world stage. This morning, the president has gone to Dover, Del., to meet the aircraft that's returning the remains of the U.S. servicemen killed this past week in Syria. Earlier in the week, as you say, he went to the Pentagon. He met with some North Koreans for quite a while and emerged saying he would meet again with Kim Jong Un - date and location still uncertain. All this projects the importance of the presidency, and it sends the message that the nation needs to unite behind him even if his standing at home is at its weakest point yet.

SIMON: More candidates for 2020 this week.

ELVING: Yes, we picked up a couple more this week. Kirsten Gillibrand, senator from New York, is seen as a serious player, even though she announced her candidacy on a late-night comedy show, which people do these days. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democratic member of the House - there are going to be a lot of these candidates. Starbucks magnate Howard Schultz was talking about maybe running as an independent. We're going to break all records, Scott. We're going to need to have brackets just like for the football playoffs.

SIMON: (Laughter) Ron Elving, thanks so much.

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.

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