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The Week In Washington


And we're going to turn to NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving now to talk about an eventful week in politics. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: President Trump was in Ohio on Thursday. He was expected to talk about his infrastructure plan. Crowd got a little something different, didn't they?

ELVING: You know, the staging was just fine. There were lots of shiny, new, colorful hard hats, but the president had been cooped up for several days with no public appearances, and he apparently needed to vent. So Ohio got a flashback to 2016. The president talked about Syria and Korea and NASA and Obamacare and Hillary and immigration and Roseanne Barr's new show and how well that's doing. And he did say that we had spent trillions and trillions building up foreign countries while allowing our own infrastructure to fall into total disrepair. But he did not talk much about his own plans for actual roads and bridges.

SIMON: Is it just hard to do that right now, or he goes with the crowd? What happens?

ELVING: Infrastructure is a subject he likes to mention but not dwell upon. And at this point, he has given us the outline of a big program for roads and bridges, but it relies on the states and private companies to put up most of the money and make it happen. So infrastructure just doesn't seem to engage his imagination the way foreign policy does.

SIMON: And about that Syria pledge - are U.S. military leaders concerned at what seems to be a pretty spontaneous vow to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria will just give back the territory to ISIS and its allies?

ELVING: Military leaders don't have news conferences to dictate policy, but they have said again and again, and sometimes in public, that they think that they need to stay in Syria until ISIS is utterly eradicated there. Now, the president said in Ohio that we would be out, quote, "like very soon." And that has stirred concern within the ranks.

SIMON: The president mentioned his ouster of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. Some members of the Trump administration had signaled that for some time. Mr. Shulkin, of course, is a holdover from the Obama administration. And there have been questions about some of his travel, but it seems that there are other reasons, too.

ELVING: The president mentioned only the issue of efficiency in the VA. But Shulkin himself says that other players in the administration in the White House wanted him and the VA to move faster in getting private sector care for vets as an alternative to the VA. And there are some vets who get some private care now. But there are powerful elements within the administration and outside the administration who want to be much more aggressive in moving in that direction, and both Shulkin and his deputy are opposed to privatization and wanted to protect the idea of the VA, as we've noted.

SIMON: President Trump appointed as his replacement doctor and Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, a White House physician. Some people have questioned his qualifications to lead a major federal agency. And I wonder, does this spotlight questions that have been raised about the qualifications of - we can list the many people in Mr. Trump's Cabinet?

ELVING: Ronny Jackson has been the White House physician under three presidents. He's best known for that January news conference in which he praised President Trump's health, said he could easily serve in healthy two terms. But it does raise again the issue of personal chemistry over conventional qualifications.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, 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.