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Week In Politics


To politics now. Any week with talk of impeachment can't count as a good one if you're in the White House. But even so, this week seemed especially bad for the Trump White House on the air and at sea. We'll explain that. NPR senior Washington editor and correspondent Ron Elving joins us. Ahoy, Ron.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Permission to come aboard, sir.

SIMON: Please. We'll get to explain that. Of course, special counsel Robert Mueller's public remarks were on Wednesday - widely covered. Then Attorney General William Barr sat down with CBS. That was widely covered. On Saturday, whose message seemed to cut through?

ELVING: Mueller's TV statement was a game changer, Scott. He gave us the first video and audio of Mueller speaking since he took this job two years ago. Mueller told the nation he had not exonerated the president on obstruction of justice, thereby contradicting the president and crossing swords with Attorney General William Barr. Mueller practically begged the country to read his report, which, of course, most people haven't, which is why they accepted what Bill Barr said about it. And by the way, that could include the president himself. Maggie Haberman of The New York Times, well known for her longtime, close observation of Donald Trump, said she doubted the president had actually read the report and suspected he was just now realizing that it did not exonerate him on obstruction of justice.

SIMON: Mr. Mueller pointedly didn't go beyond what was in the report released a month and a half ago. All the same, a great more number of Democrats came out for impeachment. At some point, can Democrats criticize the president for obstructing justice if they don't respond by acting on impeachment?

ELVING: Well, it still appears to be the plan, at least for the moment, to do just that - inquire but don't impeach. Here's the question Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others have been asking. What sense does it make to impeach in the House if you have no shot of conviction and removal in the Senate, especially if polls show the public is ambivalent about it? So some Democrats are calling for impeachment proceedings, but you also see those in Congress and in the busload of presidential candidates who are talking about opening an impeachment inquiry, which means taking the process to a kind of mezzanine level, if you will, an effort to get at more evidence without committing to anything.

SIMON: Mezzanine, impeachment inquiry. Let's finally get to the sea metaphor and explain what we're talking about because there's been this dust-up - to really mix up the metaphor - over the warship McCain.

ELVING: Yes. The ghost of John McCain returned this week. The Navy destroyer that was renamed for the late senator was in the harbor that the president visited in Japan. And someone seems to have given orders to, quote, "minimize the visibility" - that's the Navy's phrase - of that ship, the John McCain, during the president's photo-op in the harbor. So there seemed to have been orders from Washington. Was it the White House? The president says he wasn't involved, but it's becoming an issue for acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, who has yet to be confirmed by the Senate.

SIMON: The president's tariff threat about Mexico - is it more than just a threat? Do you think those tariffs are actually going to go ahead just as we're battling - as there's a battle over tariffs on Chinese goods?

ELVING: It's a real question, but for the moment at least, Mexico and global stock markets are taking it very seriously. Whether the president was upset about Mueller or the continuing buildup of migrants at the border, he changed the subject on Thursday night by threatening a new round of escalating tariffs on everything Mexico sends north to the U.S. And he says Mexico has to do more to stop those migrants from Central America. But as you say, this comes just as Congress is weighing a new trade deal with Mexico and Canada. So even the threat of new tariffs sent markets reeling around the world at the end of the week. And the Dow closed at its lowest point since January.

SIMON: Michael Wolff's book, the new one, you've read it?

ELVING: Yes, I have. This is the guy who wrote the runaway bestseller "Fire And Fury." The fire continues in the sequel, which is titled "Siege: Trump Under Fire." And as a portrait of the president, Scott, it is scabrous indeed.

SIMON: Our 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.