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Week In Politics


President Trump's impeachment trial will probably begin within days. The confrontation with Iran reminds Congress of their powers in decisions to go to war. And Iowa feels the Bern. NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving joins us now from Chicago. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott. Your hometown salutes you as always.

SIMON: Oh, thank you. And I salute right back. So, Ron, the respected Des Moines Register poll out last night shows Bernie Sanders on top in Iowa. He's at or near the top in the other early states. He's raised a ton of money. This was a candidate who's often dismissed as too old, too socialist, even had a heart attack in the middle of the campaign. What's he done right?

ELVING: You know, it is remarkable. And he was interrupted by that heart attack, but some people might say he was re-energized by that episode. Since then, he's picked up some key endorsements among the party's new stars, people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. And he's as Bernie as ever, maybe more so. He's got near-total name recognition and a dedicated cadre of true believers, and he leads the pack in fundraising with his multi-million donor base of supporters - that's not dollar; that's donor base.

Still, his lead in Iowa is not dominant. He's at 20% with three other candidates bunched right behind him. Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg are in there, but both have fallen back after making big moves in 2019. Joe Biden is down in the pack in Iowa, but he's running roughly even in New Hampshire. And he's well-positioned in the next two events in Nevada and South Carolina to bounce back. And let's not forget that Biden, like Bernie, benefits from the oldest asset in politics - name recognition.

SIMON: Several Democratic senators running for president will sit in the impeachment trial - Senator Sanders, of course, Warren, Klobuchar, Booker. That'll take them off the campaign trail just before voting starts, but will it give them exposure?

ELVING: It might, but that's not how the trial will be structured. The senators are tantamount to a jury. They will have a chance to ask questions and vote but only as members of a body of 100. That doesn't compare to being there in Iowa wooing voters in person. In fact, the timing of this could not possibly be worse for them. It looks likely to tie them down for virtually all the last two weeks before the Iowa caucuses on February 3. So it's a gift to Biden and Buttigieg and Andrew Yang and all the other non-senators who can feast on all those vote-winning opportunities.

SIMON: In addition to impeachment, the Senate will consider its version of the War Powers Resolution, which is intended to, among other things, restrain the president on Iran. The House passed its own version this week, even got a few Republican votes. What's the Senate likely to do?

ELVING: The House vote was nonbinding but stinging nonetheless. The president would veto it if it came to his desk, but it won't because the Senate's going to pass something different. The Senate measure could be the bigger problem for the president because at least two Republicans there have signaled that they're distressed with his current policies on Iran. They fear it could become the latest Middle East war and possibly the most costly yet. So if they can pick up another Republican or two, they could pass something there that would be more embarrassing for him.

SIMON: President Trump ran on a platform against foreign military involvements, even endured criticism when he ordered U.S. forces to abandon the Kurds. Foreign policy seemed to have come back into the campaign briefly this week when he ordered the assassination of Gen. Soleimani. Where do American voters seem to be on these questions?

ELVING: Polls show voters highly skeptical on this prospect. They think it was reckless for President Trump to knock out the Iranian general. They thought we were done in the Middle East, done in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria. We'd been told that we had destroyed al-Qaida and ISIS, so why do we still have drone strikes killing top officials of foreign governments? What is the real threat to America in all of this? What do American citizens see for their own lives in this latest conflict?

SIMON: NPR senior editor and correspondent 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.