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Week in politics: Speaker McCarthy's ouster; Trump's fraud trial


And now we turn to the U.S. Capitol - a look at a speakership that didn't last long. House Republicans ousted Speaker Kevin McCarthy after he enlisted the help of Democrats to pass a 45-day budget. The budget question, of course, comes up again in a few weeks. The leadership question is right now. Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks for being with us. Why don't you pointedly use the word unprecedented?

RON ELVING, BYLINE: We haven't seen a situation before where the House was unable to do business at all for an indefinite time for the lack of a speaker, not at least this late in the year. It took nearly a week to get a speaker in January, but this is far more serious. Still, you can't really say it's unprecedented when three of the last four Republican speakers were also forced out by people in their own party. So you remember Paul Ryan retired prematurely after a few years as speaker because he couldn't deal with the House Freedom Caucus. And that was after John Boehner resigned as speaker when he was threatened with a motion to vacate the chair. That's the same motion used this week to reject McCarthy.

Now, even Speaker Newt Gingrich was forced out by his own Republicans. And that was just four years after he had led them to their first majority in the House in 40 years. So we have to say the rebellious spirit of this hardcore group of ultraconservatives has been more or less a constant for a generation now.

SIMON: Also this week, former President Trump's fraud trial proceeded in New York. It's hard not to notice that Mr. Trump treats his visit to the courtroom as campaign stops.

ELVING: Scott, he sees cameras, and he sees an opportunity to reach people. Now, of course, this is not really one of his rallies. And thus far, these outbursts or tantrums have mostly led to scoldings and warnings from the judge. But in Trump's mind, this may all be part of a strategy, making himself the victim, the object of persecution. And if he can succeed in creating that image, he can weld his purist, hardcore supporters all the more closely to him.

SIMON: An interview surfaced this week in which Donald Trump told a right-wing news site that migrants are, quote, "poisoning the blood of our country." I regret having to quote those words because they are racist in a way that recalls Adolf Hitler. Why hasn't every Republican in the country denounced Donald Trump for those words?

ELVING: Why didn't every Republican in the country denounce what happened on January 6? Or why didn't they denounce Donald Trump for proposing, quote, "a total ban on Muslims entering this country," unquote, back in 2015? Some thought that might tank his campaign at the time. Instead, it catapulted him to front-runner. Polls tell us one reason Republicans don't denounce these events and statements is that half of them simply dismiss any and all negative stories about Trump. They don't believe them. It's fake news and all that. And a fair number of Republicans do not react negatively because they do not disagree with these statements, or at least not entirely.

SIMON: Ron, a stunning jobs report yesterday. The economy added 336,000 jobs. The stock market was giddy. And yet polls show a majority of Americans upset, perhaps, by the price of gas and housing are not optimistic about the economy. Does it become politically hard for Democrats to keep trying to convince Americans, no, no, no, we're doing a good job on the economy, when so many Americans just don't feel it?

ELVING: Yes, it does. It may become politically impossible. Most people don't really relate so much to the macroeconomic numbers they hear on the news. They relate to their own microeconomics, their household situations. And you can't say the economy is good for them if their income no longer buys as much food for the family or gas for the car. Biden is right to say that the 300,000 people who got jobs last month may feel pretty good about the economy. But most households already had a job or more than one, and their perspective is quite different. Democrats may think they can roll out the 2020 campaign and run against Trump, and that may have been enough when Biden was the challenger. It might not be enough after Biden's been in office for four years.

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.

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.